Suggested readings, #41

Here are some interesting articles I’ve come across recently, for your consideration:

Harvard just discovered that PowerPoint is worse than useless. Intuitively, anecdotally, and scientifically, PowerPoint may be the worst business [and educational] tool ever created. (inc.com)

How science fiction imagined the 2020s. What ‘Blade Runner,’ cyberpunk, and Octavia Butler had to say about the age we’re entering now. (Medium)

Behavioral economics’ latest bias: seeing bias wherever it looks. (Bloomberg)

The Stoicism of Augustus. The lost Exhortations to Philosophy. (Medium)

Death by design. We can chose how we live – why not how we leave? A free society should allow dying to be more deliberate and imaginative. (Aeon)

4 Japanese concepts to transform your state of mind. Sometimes we just don’t have the words. (Medium)

Scotland must not become another Catalonia. (Jacobin)

Recent Stoic Meditations, #39

When Fortuna allows, I publish a short morning meditation based on a short quote from a Stoic writer, seeking to apply that ancient wisdom to life in the 21st century. Here are the most recent entries:

“But the way by which we are asked to climb is steep and uneven.” What then? Can heights be reached by a level path? Yet they are not so sheer and precipitous as some think. (listen here)

“For Cato did not outlive freedom, nor did freedom outlive Cato.” On the Stoic conception of suicide. (listen here)

Invulnerable is not that which is never struck, but that which is never wounded. In this class I will show you the wise person. (listen here)

Fortune can take nothing away save what she gave. Now fortune does not give virtue; therefore she does not take it away. (listen here)

Bear adversity with calm and prosperity with moderation, neither yielding to the former nor trusting to the latter. (listen here)

Recent essays, #39

Most of my original writings now appear over at Patreon and Medium. Many are free, but the recent ones are behind a paywall (monthly subscription at $3 for Patreon, $5 for Medium, but the latter comes with access to additional authors as well). Here are some of the most recent entries:

Stoicism and Buddhism: a comparison

Whether we realize it or not, we all have a philosophy of life. That’s the premise of a new book that I co-edited with my colleagues and friends Skye Cleary and Dan Kaufman: How to Live a Good Life — A Guide to Choosing Your Personal Philosophy. The book presents an overview of 15 philosophies or religions, as seen and experienced by the 15 contributing authors. Why include religions? Because we argue that a philosophy of life, at a minimum, is made of two components: a metaphysics, i.e., an account of how the world hangs together, so to speak; and an ethics, i.e., an account of how we ought to live in the world. If that account includes transcendental entities, gods, and so forth, then we have a religion; if it doesn’t, then we have a philosophy. Either way, what counts the most is the ethics.

I am taking advantage of the publication of the book to begin a short series comparing Stoicism with some of the other philosophies covered in How to Live a Good Life, particularly the three big eastern ones: Buddhism, Confucianism, and Daoism, covered respectively by Owen Flanagan, Bryan W. Van Norden, and Robin R. Wang. Let me start with Buddhism, though I have already commented on its similarities and differences with Stoicism. In the rest of this essay I will follow Flanagan’s outline of Buddhism and comment from a Stoic perspective whenever appropriate.

(continue reading on Patreon, Medium)

Is philosophy helpful when tragedy strikes?

Recently, a friend of a close friend of mine committed suicide. His partner is, understandably, distraught. My friend called me up asking if I had written anything philosophical that could be of consolation. I replied that yes, I had, but it would only help if the person in question had adopted a philosophical outlook on life. She had not.

This episode disturbed me, at two levels. At an immediate one, I would have liked to be helpful to my friend’s friend, a fellow human being in distress. At a broader level, I like to think that philosophy is useful in life, both when good things happen, and when tragedy strikes. In this case, it clearly wasn’t.

(continue reading on Patreon, Medium)

Suggested readings, #40

Here are some interesting articles I’ve come across recently, for your consideration:

Nobel winner retracts paper from Science. [This is not good, and not an isolated case either.] (Retraction Watch)

Getting to the Good Place. [About the philosophy-informed television show.] (Killing the Buddha)

Why historical analogy matters. (New York Review of Books)

If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich? Turns out it’s just chance. The most successful people are not the most talented, just the luckiest, a new computer model of wealth creation confirms. [And it applies to science funding strategies as well.] (MIT Technology Review)

On Stoic transcendence. Stoic transcendence is an active exercise that takes us to a new level of understanding about the world. (The Side View)

How to live a Stoic life, in Spanish

Below is an interview I conducted with the prestigious Spanish newspaper El Pais. It covers the basics of Stoicism, how I got into it, and why it is a very useful philosophy of life for the 21st century.

From the description of the video:

What is stoicism and how can it help us manage a life crisis? A doctor and professor of philosophy, Massimo Pigliucci faced a critical juncture with the death of his father and undergoing a divorce. He looked to the ancient philosophers for answers and discovered “virtue ethics,” an approach to life that advances human improvement through the development of values.

“Stoicism tries to eliminate destructive emotions as much as possible while cultivating the positive ones. The Stoics concluded that a good human life is that in which we apply reason in order to improve society. If we improve as people, we will be improving society; and if we work to improve society, we will automatically be improving ourselves,” the professor explains.

Disfrutar!

Recent Stoic Meditations, #38

When Fortuna allows, I publish a short morning meditation based on a short quote from a Stoic writer, seeking to apply that ancient wisdom to life in the 21st century. Here are the most recent entries:

What sets aside human beings from the rest of the animal world is our ability to reason and our propensity to be pro-social. So let’s reason well, and be helpful to fellow humans. (listen here)

If someone gets the habit of writing ungrammatically, their art is bound to be destroyed and perish. In the same way the person of honor keeps their character by honest acts and loses it by dishonest. (listen here)

According to Epictetus, the root of our problems is that we don’t know, or refuse to acknowledge, how the world works. As opposed as to how we wished it worked. (listen here)

A student asks Epictetus whether we should really bother to learn logic. “Would you like me to provide you with an argument?” Yes. “How would you know if my argument is a good one, if you don’t understand logic?” QED. (listen here)

Nobody wants to do what is bad for them. So when the thief steals, he is under the wrong impression about what is and is not good for him. We should therefore pity him, and help him understand, if possible. (listen here)

Recent essays, #38

Most of my original writings now appear over at Patreon and Medium. Many are free, but the recent ones are behind a paywall (monthly subscription at $3 for Patreon, $5 for Medium, but the latter comes with access to additional authors as well). Here are some of the most recent entries:

Should we learn morals from AI?

In a fascinating article published at 3QuarksDaily, moral philosopher Michael Klenk raises the possibility that we could improve the rather obviously sorry state of human moral decision making by turning to Artificial Intelligence. He envisions two types of “moral apps” that may be developed in the future to help us navigate our ethical thickets: ethically aligned artificial advisors and ethically insightful artificial advisors. Klenk wisely concludes by the end of the article that “both ethically aligned and ethically informed artificial advisors are a long shot away from expertise on morality,” and that they both present significant problems of implementation. Still, he seems generally favorable to the notion. I’m not, and here is why.

Let’s begin with the simplest type of moral app envisioned by Klenk, what he calls ethically aligned artificial advisors. The idea is simple and, at first glance, obviously on the mark: just like we are now used to asking advice to apps residing on our “smart” (really: fast data processing) phones about, say, where to go for dinner, or what movie to watch, so we should be able to ask a moral advisor where, for instance, is the nearest vegetarian restaurant, assuming we decided for ethical reasons that we want to eat vegetarian.

(continue reading on Patreon, Medium)

How to make up philosophical problems and then “solve” them

I am not a big fan of Ludwig Wittgenstein. But I have to admit that he had a couple of good points. One was that a lot of philosophical problems (he said all, he was mistaken there) are a matter of unclear or ambiguous language. If we write clearly (which he certainly didn’t!), then we can “show the fly the way out of the fly-bottle,” that is, dissolve, rather than solve, such problems (Philosophical Investigations, 309).

One of my favorite examples of artificially constructed fly-bottle comes from philosophy of mind, in the form of the so-called “hard problem” of consciousness. The problem was invented by David Chalmers, who has since made a career out of it. (Before you ask, no I don’t think for a moment that Chalmers is in bad faith. I just think he’s mistaken.)

(continue reading on Patreon, Medium)