Suggested readings, #100

Here it is, a rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

The abuses of Popper. A powerful cadre of scientists and economists sold Karl Popper’s ‘falsification’ idea to the world. They have much to answer for. (Aeon)

The art of abiding. Why the Dude is a hero not to be emulated (Medium)

The limits of computation. In what sense, if any, is the human brain a computer? (Philosophy Now)

11 science fiction books that are regularly taught in college classes. Add your own to the list! (io9)

Why we need virtue ethics. And don’t be fooled by the picture of Kant accompanying the article… (3 Quarks Daily)

Why easing restrictions will lead to more, not less, collateral damage. By my friend and collaborator Maarten Boudry. (Areo Magazine)

Why are literature and philosophy such an awkward match? A new anthology reveals the perils and rewards of philosophical fiction. Also, why do so many articles recently begin with “Why”? (New Republic)

Suggested readings, #99

Here it is, a rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

The proper application of preconceptions: Curing “the cause of all human ills.” (Modern Stoicism) The Stoic philosopher Epictetus thought he had found the cure to all human ills. Give it a try.

Shaka, when the walls fell. In one fascinating episode, Star Trek: The Next Generation traced the limits of human communication as we know it—and suggested a new, truer way of talking about the universe. (Atlantic)

The “learning styles” myth is still prevalent among educators — And it shows no sign of going away. (Research Digest)

Ancient Rome has an urgent warning for us. The era of the Antonine Plague offers a reminder of what a powerful force nature has been throughout human history. (New York Times)

The Simulation Hypothesis is pseudoscience. (BackReaction) Sabine Hossenfelder nails another one.

Stoicism, Friendship, and Grief

Photo by Tatiana Syrikova from Pexels

Below are the first couple of paragraphs of a paper I have written about how Stoicism deals with friendship and grief. It is a response to a friendly-critical commentary by my Fordham University colleague and friend Brian Johnson, the author of The Role Ethics of Epictetus: Stoicism in Ordinary Life. You can download the full paper here.

Brian Johnson, in his commentary on my effort to update Stoicism, provides a cogent critique of ancient Stoicism and a reasonable suggestion for my attempt to define modern Stoicism. I do not (much) disagree with him in terms of his conclusions, which he applies to the specific cases of friendship and grief, but which also hold for all of the Stoic “preferred indifferents.” I do, however, want to push back on two points: (1) the path he takes to arrive at those conclusions, and (2) the notion that all ancient Stoics would have proposed the same approach to friendship and grief that Epictetus takes.

To begin with, Johnson points out that, for the Stoics, only virtue is good (agathos), while everything else is either worthy (axia) of choice or to be rejected. Hence the famous Stoic distinction between virtue, on the one hand, and preferred and dispreferred “indifferents” (i.e., everything else), on the other hand. However jarring the word “indifferent” may sound to modern ears, we need to be clear about what it means on the Stoic view. Things like wealth, health, education, friendship, love, and so forth are indifferents in the specific sense that they do not make us morally better or worse persons.

Suggested readings, #98

Here it is, a rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

The coup we are not talking about. We can have democracy, or we can have a surveillance society, but we cannot have both. (New York Times) And this one should very much worry us.

How the brain responds to beauty. Scientists search for the neural basis of an enigmatic experience. (Scientific American) As usual, a piece on neuroscience that promises far more than it delivers. Still, some interesting stuff.

What if selling out is the right thing to do? (Junkee) It isn’t, and this article does a decent job at critiquing the much popular Effective Altruism movement.

Metaphysics in free fall. How empty intuitions lead philosophy astray (IAI News) Along similar lines, see also this.

Pseudophilosophy encourages confused, self-indulgent thinking. (Aeon / Psyche) Along similar lines, see also this.

Where have all the lesbians gone? They’re coming out as nonbinary or as men. (The Weekly Dish) A rather controversial take on the relationship between lesbian and transgender identities.

The best science diction of 2020. Sci fi is booming, says Tom Hunter, the director of the Arthur C. Clarke Award for Science Fiction, as he discusses their 2020 shortlist: six novels that embrace classic sci fi narratives, while subverting or reimagining them for a contemporary audience. (FiveBooks)

Suggested readings, #97

Here it is, a rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

Did an alien life-form do a drive-by of our solar system in 2017? (New York Times) We have no good reason to believe it, but it sure sells books.

Aristotle to anti-vax: internet and the decline of reason. (World Crunch) Though one wonders whether reason was ever much higher than it is now.

The tyranny of work. Jobs have become, for so many, a relentless, unsatisfying toil. Why then does the work ethic still hold so much sway? (Aeon)

There are two kinds of happy people. Some of us strive for a virtuous life. Others strive for a pleasant one. We could all use a better balance. (Atlantic) A bit simplistic, but some food for thought.

The inflation of concepts. Human rights, health, the rule of law – why are these concepts inflated to the status of totalizing, secular religions? (Aeon) One of the best articles you’ll read this month.

Suggested readings, #96

Genetics research.

Here it is, a rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

How religion shaped modern economics. In the 18th century, a new Protestant belief that people have control over their destinies fostered the rise of free-market ideas. (Wall Street Journal) A bit too upbeat, in my opinion, about the connection between religion and economics. But food for thought.

In science we trust? Twenty-country Pew survey shows trust in scientists—with major caveats. (Skeptical Inquirer) Major caveats indeed. Despite the title of the piece, there doesn’t seem to be much trust in science. Also, some surprising results…

What if (almost) every gene affects (almost) everything? Three Stanford scientists have a provocative way of thinking about genetic variants, and how they affect people’s bodies and health. (The Atlantic) That was my position for many years as a biologist. Doesn’t look good for prospects of precision human genetic engineering.

Marcus Aurelius in therapy. How to do psychotherapy with a Roman Emperor. (Medium)

Intellectual sins. The longer the Hume racism debate goes on, the more I’m convinced his name should not be removed from The University of Edinburgh’s tallest tower. (Medium) Yet another well balanced piece by Julian Baggini.

Self esteem is overrated. (Skeptical Inquirer) It really is.

Plato, a short guide to all the dialogues. (Britannica)

Suggested readings, #95

Here it is, a rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

The hidden biases that drive anti-vegan hatred. (BBC)

Making sense of morality: Alasdair MacIntyre’s ethics. (Medium) I don’t make sense of ethics that way, but MacIntyre is one of the leading contemporary figures in virtue ethics.

What, if anything, can psychics tell us about all of this? Demand for their services has illuminated another kind of health crisis. (New York Times) They can’t tell us anything, except that people who feel their life is out of control often resort to pseudoscience and superstition. But we knew that already.

Sex is not an act. Why you can’t separate what goes on between the sheets with what happens before and after. (Medium)

How religion shaped modern economics. In the 18th century, a new Protestant belief that people have control over their destinies fostered the rise of free-market ideas. (Wall Street Journal) Far too upbeat for my taste, but some good points.

Toward the Fifth Stoa: The Return of Virtue Ethics

Stoa at Ephesus, photo by the Author

Below are the first two paragraph of a paper I have written about the modern come back of virtue ethics, especially in the form of Stoicism. In the paper I discuss what virtue ethics is and why it came back, address the specific advantages of Stoicism, and propose the outline of a modernized Stoicism for the 21st century (something on which I greatly expand in my most recent book). You can download the full paper here.

Stoicism is back. After a hiatus of about eighteen centuries (if one does not count the brief interval of Neo-Stoicism instigated by Justus Lipsius during the Renaissance1), the Greco-Roman philosophy often (wrongly) associated with suppressing emotions and going through life with a stiff upper lip is back in the news. Literally. Major national and international newspapers and media outlets, including but not limited to The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, the BBC, Der Standard, El Mundo, El Pais, and even Marie Claire, are suddenly talking about Stoicism. The major online community of people interested in the philosophy, on Facebook, counts over 40,000 members.

It is easy and tempting for professional philosophers to scoff at this phenomenon, but it would be unwise. I suggest that what is known as modern Stoicism is to be situated within a broader renaissance of virtue ethics in both technical philosophy and popular culture. I will also argue that this is a clear benefit (despite some caveats) for professional philosophy, for general education, and arguably for society at large. Philosophers should therefore take notice, understand, and insofar as it is possible, contribute to the increasing interest in practical philosophy, of which modern Stoicism is but one manifestation.

Suggested readings, #94

Here it is, a rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

Dostoevsky warned of the strain of nihilism that infects Donald Trump and his movement. (The Conversation)

Caligula’s garden of delights, unearthed and restored. Relics from the favorite hideaway of ancient Rome’s most infamous tyrant have been recovered and put on display by archaeologists. (New York Times)

Why we need climate stoicism to overcome climate despair. (Phys.org)

The paradox of inclusive language. When using inclusive words is a marker of wokeness, does it becomes a means of excluding the un-woke? (Medium)

Playing to lose: transhumanism, autonomy, and liberal democracy. (OUP Blog) Not only is transhumanism incoherent, it is dangerous.

Suggested readings, #93

Here it is, a rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

Stoicism, cold and warm streams. (Medium)

Why your body sometimes jerks as you fall asleep. A closer look at hypnic jerks. (Medium)

The Dunning-Kruger effect may be a statistical illusion. Research finds the effect is statistically due to other psychological factors. (Psychology Today) There may go yet another major result from psychological research that turns out not to stand up to scrutiny. Remember that, the next time you rush to endorse the latest hot paper in psychology.

The irrationality of transhumanists. The unreasonable flaws in the movement’s big claims. (IAI News)

Our improbable existence is no evidence for a multiverse. Experts in probability have spotted a logical flaw in theorists’ reasoning. (Scientific American) Improbably, I completely agree with Philip Goff on this one. But I find it ironic that he, rightly, chastises supporters of the multiverse for the utter lack of empirical evidence, and yet is entirely blind to the very same problem concerning his own pet theory, panpsychism. The fact that I repeatedly pointed this out to him didn’t seem to have any effect.