Here I will be laying out the main ideas of some of history’s most important philosophers. These will be extremely brief, simplified explanations of some of the big ideas for each of these philosophers. This should not be construed as a replacement or substitute for a deeper reading on these philosophers.
In recent years the difference between equality and equity have been discussed more and more. Equality is taken to be the idea that people have equal opportunity while equity is the idea that people (ought to) have equal outcomes. In the former, it means there should be no legal or political impediment to someone entering the market, whether that’s the buying and selling of goods and services or of one’s labor. The latter, equity, says that things like racial, sex/gender, and economic disparities need to be corrected through legal and political policies. But are these the only notions of equality?
The dialectical method, popularized by Plato’s characterization of Socrates, and then updated by Hegel and Marx, is often thought of as a three-step process: person/group A proposes a thesis P, person/group B offers an anti-thesis that contradicts it ~P, and then there is a synthesis of the two that results in a new thesis Y. Hegel introduced the idea that the thesis contains within itself its own antithesis, that a thesis contains contradictions that must be worked out in a process that repeats through multiple aufheben until we arrive at the Absolute. Marx took this and applied it to history: the material conditions of an age contains its own contradictions that must be worked out in a process that eventually leads to a classless, stateless utopia known as communism.
I have written a very lengthy review of The Listening Society: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book One (Metamodern Guides), by Hanzi Freinacht. Because it is so lengthy, it will probably have very few people who read the entire thing. But an argument I made in my review of the final chapter is something interesting that I thought deserved some of its own consideration, and so this post is adapted from my review of the final two chapters in The Listening Society. Keep in mind that although it is not a necessary requirement to have read my review of all the prior chapters to understand this post, it would be helpful.
The Listening Society: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book One (Metamodern Guides), by Hanzi Freinacht; Metamoderna ApS (March 10, 2017), 414 pages
Reality+: Virtual Worlds and the Problems of Philosophy by David J. Chalmers, W. W. Norton & Company (January 25, 2022), 544 pages
An important aspect of many religions, perhaps even the most important aspect, is worship. This is entailed by the facts that 1) the deity or deities are deserving or worthy of worship and 2) people have an obligation to worship the deity or deities. But why are either of these things true?
Most people have some intuitive notion of what freedom is. When I’m at work and have an obligation to dispatch my duties, I am not free, because I’m obligated to do one thing at the expense of any other things I might want to do – take a nap, watch a movie, read a book, etc. During my free time, though, I have the freedom to make those decisions if I wish. Someone in prison is not free because they are not allowed to go where they want; those of us not in prison have the freedom to go where we please. But are these intuitive notions of freedom a good definition for being free?
Possibly the guiding principle of modernity is that any problem can be solved if people just put their minds to it. Science and liberalism have been astonishing successes in raising the standard of living, in an objective sense, for more people than at any other time in history. People like Steven Pinker love to wax optimistic about how Enlightenment values and scientific progress have made the world an objectively better place to live than ever before, with the implication that things will only get better. But is this really true?
In the United States, abortion is one of the most contentious political and moral issues. The split is between the pro-life movement, which wants to restrict and even outlaw abortion as much as possible, and the pro-choice movement, which views abortion is a rights issue, both human rights and women’s rights, to maintain control over their own body and destiny. Yet sometimes it seems like the two sides are arguing past each other. Do either have a good case to make?
Scientists and science enthusiasts can get exasperated by the conflation of definitions between the scientific conception of a theory and the colloquial definition. In the latter, a theory is sometimes considered no better than a guess, and at best what a scientist would call a hypothesis (an educated formulation of a mechanism or explanation). People will say things like “evolution is just a theory” as if that attests to some shortcoming of evolution. In the scientific conception, a theory is the gold standard. It is a set of inferences, explanations, predictions, and interpretations that bring together (sometimes disparate) data, evidence, and observations into a cohesive whole. Theories are what scientists use to make predictions in order to formulate new hypotheses and design new experiments. But what is the nature of a theory? And what is the ontological status of a scientific theory? In what way is a theory true?
Picture your stereotypical incel, doomer, or shitpost internet commenter. This is probably a youngish white male who is a quiet, awkward nerd in real life. Maybe he dons a neckbeard and wiles away his time playing video games and listening to black metal. When deigning to interact with fellow human beings offline, he only manages to contribute the occasional cynical edgelord quip to the conversation only to bask in the discomfort he’s caused. Online this person becomes a know-it-all on reddit and comment sections, interjecting with snarky non-sequiturs and unsolicited contrarianism in order to cultivate a self-identity as some brand of “agent of chaos.” He declares his atheism and libertarianism at every opportunity all the while belittling others for their own sincerely held beliefs. Yet, these charming underachievers are baffled by their inevitable dearth of friends and potential romantic partners.
A few years ago I made a lengthy post on the philosophical arguments against the existence of God. I stated that it was the first in a series. This one is the second in that series. Here I will go through the scientific arguments for why I do not believe in the existence of God. Just like with my philosophical arguments, this will end up being a fairly long post and one which I will revise and add to periodically. As such, what you see may not be the final version of this post.
A common refrain in the news media during these COVID years has been to “trust the science.” This is also a popular mantra when it comes to climate science. Yet, in the United States at least, trust in experts and institutions is at an all time low. The political right is skeptical of climate science, COVID vaccines, and scientific institutions like the NIH and CDC, seeing them as a means for the government to take away rights and for liberals to impose their will. The political left views science as a white colonialist means of subjugating those with other “ways of knowing” and upholding white, male privilege. So the question is: should we trust the science?
Philosophy, unlike science, does not have a reliable method for answering questions. As a result, there are longstanding philosophical questions that have no good answer. Or, perhaps, that have too many answers and no good criteria for determining which is the right one. So, what are the 6 biggest questions in philsophy?
I have made no secret about the fact that I am a philosophical pessimist. Hell, my blog, the one you are reading right now, is called the cynical philosopher. My general disposition is one of nihilism and general misanthropy. This grim view of things is often considered one for the weak. For those who can’t hack it and have given up. I couldn’t agree more with this assessment. But I think there is a case to be made that giving up is a sensible position to take.
The popular, even ubiquitous metaphor used in cognitive neuroscience is that the brain can be likened to a computer. The similarities seem obvious: neuronal activity is binary (a neuron is either depolarized (ON) during an action potential or polarized (OFF) when inactive); our vision and hearing has many aesthetic similarities to a computer display (indeed, the monitor is made exactly to fit the human experience of colors, shapes, etc.); humans process information (we can sit down and think through a math problem, for instance). So on and so forth. But is the “brains are computers” metaphor accurate? And if not, then is adherence to this metaphor slowing down progress in neuroscience?
Nihilism, I contend, broadly comes in two different flavors. There is the nihilism of hopelessness and existential dread, whereby the meaninglessness of everything is more contemplative, yet psychologically paralyzing. I tend to fall more into this camp. The second flavor is selfishness and greed. A person concludes there is no meaning to anything, so why not just enjoy myself?
Philosophy is broadly concerned with two questions: what is there (i.e. what exists)? And what is the good life? The former still holds a prominent place in philosophy. The latter has undergone an evolution. If it is asked now days, it is usually rephrased something more like: how can I maximize pleasure and reduce suffering? But is this the question we ought to be asking?