Most of my original writings now appear over at Figs In Winter, both on Patreon and Medium. The most recent posts are behind a paywall (monthly subscription at $3 for Patreon, $5 for Medium, but with access to additional authors in the latter case). The majority of the material is free to read. Here are some of the most recent entries:
The lure and danger of extreme examples.
One of the main reasons I turned away from modern ethics — either of the utilitarian or of the Kantian-deontological stamp — is that it is both too narrow and too infatuated with thought experiments and increasingly convoluted, extreme (alleged) counter-examples, aimed at knocking down opponent schools, rather than actually being useful to people’s day-to-day lives. In other words, a lot of modern ethics indulges in precisely the kind of things that Seneca warned us against:
“I should like to have those subtle dialecticians of yours advise me how I ought to help a friend, or how a fellow man, rather than tell me in how many ways the word ‘friend’ is used, and how many meanings the word ‘man’ possesses.” (Letters XLVIII.4)
Consider, for instance, the cottage industry informally referred to as “trolleology,” the study of trolley dilemmas. Plenty of professional philosophers spend their careers inventing more and more convoluted scenarios to “test” our ethical intuitions about who we should allow to get hit by a runaway trolley. This has resulted in the piling up of a large literature about situations that will never occur in anyone’s real life, or that — if they did occur — would require a snap judgment based on knowledge of very specific circumstances, not idealized cartoonish thought “experiments.” (continue to read: Patreon, Medium)
Prosochē or not prosochē? On Stoic mindfulness. “Mindfulness” has been all the rage for some time now. And it has, predictably, been criticized on both philosophical and effectiveness grounds. But I’m not concerned with either here. It’s pretty clear to me that while different philosophical traditions that use mindfulness (e.g., Buddhism) do make philosophically questionable assumptions, those assumptions are specific to each tradition, and need to be evaluated case by case. It’s also clear that although the benefits often claimed for mindfulness are likely exaggerated, the word refers to a panoply of mental techniques that are useful for modest but important purposes, such as calming oneself, paying more attention to one’s thought processes, and so forth. So, I’m going to take it as a given that mindfulness refers to a number of different techniques, that are more or less effective, and that are more or less based on certain specific philosophical and metaphysical assumptions. (continue to read: Patreon, Medium)