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.

Suggested readings, #92

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

Testing positivism. “The Murder of Professor Schlick” brilliantly illuminates an ambitious movement in philosophy. (Standpoint Magazine)

Best time to reopen? Economists are just guessing. Their mathematical skills are formidable, but toss out the dicey assumptions and things get squishy. (Bloomberg)

Philosophy: a history of failure? (3 Quarks Daily) Yet another attempt to show that philosophy has failed. Repeatedly. For a different view, see here.

Why I changed my mind about organics. And why you probably should too. (Medium)

What people actually say before they die. Insights into the little-studied realm of last words. (Atlantic) Scientifically a bit questionable, but interesting food for thought.

The problem of now. The injunction to immerse yourself in the present might be psychologically potent, but is it metaphysically meaningful? (Aeon) A good example of a philosopher who engages in good quality logic chopping, thereby missing the forest for the trees.

Suggested readings, #91

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

The great essay-writing machine. Some questions I ask myself to get stuff written. (Medium)

Sartre’s waiter revisited. Why playing your part does not mean sacrificing your individuality. (Medium)

Tragic life endings and Covid-19 policy. Why last days matter more. (Philosophers’ Magazine) Not sure I buy the author’s argument, but it does make for thought provoking reading.

Here lies the skull of Pliny the Elder, maybe. The Roman admiral and scholar died during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. Might this really be his cranium? (New York Times)

The warped morality of ‘Wonder Woman 1984’. (Forbes) I haven’t seen the movie, but the author makes an interesting case.

What Is and Is Not in Our Power: A Response to Christian Coseru

Below is the first paragraph of a paper I published on the Stoic concept of the dichotomy of control. The paper was written in response to a critical analysis of the dichotomy, as well as of the Stoic principle that we should “live in accordance with nature,” authored by my colleague Christian Coseru. You can download the full paper here.

The ancient Stoics were known for putting forth a number of “paradoxes,” so much so that Cicero wrote a whole treatise to explore them, aptly entitled Paradoxa Stoicorum. Of course, the term “paradox,” in that context, did not have anything to do with logical contradictions, but rather with para doxan, that is, uncommon opinions. Certainly, two of the most uncommon opinions put forth by the Stoics are that we should live “according to nature” and that things in general can neatly be divided into those that are “up to us” and those that are “not up to us.” In my previous article for this two-part symposium, I proposed that these are two cardinal pillars of both ancient and modern Stoicism.

Suggested readings, #90

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

Why haven’t we lost our taste for clickbait? (Medium)

Rudy Giuliani was never really ‘America’s Mayor.’ (Gotham Gazette)

Stoicism versus Jordan Peterson. On the Stoic philosophy of anger. (Medium)

If everyone has a right to be heard, why are some told to keep quiet? (Medium)

To the brain, reading computer code is not the same as reading language. Neuroscientists find that interpreting code activates a general-purpose brain network, but not language-processing centers. (MIT News)

Suggested readings, #89

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

Why you make so many wrong decisions. And why it doesn’t matter. (Medium)

When does a human embryo have the moral status of a person? (Psyche / Aeon)

How foods may affect our sleep. A growing body of research suggests that the foods you eat can affect how well you sleep, and your sleep patterns can affect your dietary choices. (New York Times)

The Beet Paradox. Why the Australians’ peculiar love of beetroot is more than just a cultural curiosity, and puts into question basic assumptions in classical economics. (Medium)

On the moral obligation to stop shit-stirring. (Psyche / Aeon)

More than provocative, less than scientific: A commentary on the editorial decision to publish Cofnas (2020)

image from Wikimedia Commons

Below are the first two paragraphs of a paper I co-authored with several colleagues in the journal Philosophical Psychology. It’s an unusual entry in my list of publications, because it’s a pointed criticism of the editorial decision by the journal to publish a paper defending “scientific” race theory, a position that is ideologically motivated and flatly contradicted by the actual scientific evidence. You can judge the merits of our argument for yourself by downloading the full paper.

We are addressing this letter to the editors of Philosophical Psychology after reading an article they decided to publish in the recent Volume 33, Issue 1. The article is by Nathan Cofnas and is entitled “Research on group differences in intelligence: A defense of free inquiry” (2020). The purpose of our letter is not to invite Cofnas’s contribution into a broader dialogue, but to respectfully voice our concerns about the decision to publish the manuscript, which, in our opinion, fails to meet a range of academic quality standards usually expected of academic publications.

As we read it, Cofnas’s article is a defense of the pursuit of the hereditarian scientific program that explores the alleged genomic differences in IQ between “racially” defined populations (e.g., “blacks” vs. “whites”), claiming that there is a strong and unfortunate tendency among researchers to ignore this line of research due to moral reservations. Cofnas argues that racial classifications, insofar as these may have discrete genetic correlates, could one day partially explain the differences measured in IQ between various populations; ignoring this hypothesis, Cofnas holds, could have potentially harmful consequences.

Suggested readings, #88

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

The long and tortured history of cancel culture. The public shaming of those deemed moral transgressors has been around for ages. As practiced today, though, is the custom a radical form of citizen justice or merely a handmaiden to capitalism? (New York Times)

It’s only fake-believe: how to deal with a conspiracy theorist. As the pandemic has taken a grip, so have the misinformation spreaders. Here are five ways to spot the holes in their logic. (Guardian)

China tests social credit system waters. According to this philosopher, it is hard to see what’s wrong with the Chinese experiment. Can you do better? (Observer Today)

Did Einstein say he believed in the pantheistic God of Baruch Spinoza? Einstein wasn’t afraid to question religion as critically as he did scientific theory. (Snopes)

We can thank Herodotus, the ‘father of history,’ for our knowledge of the ancient world. One of the first to attempt to write down an account of the past, Herodotus helped establish a historical tradition that continues to this day. (Discover)