Philosophy

Some Remarks on the Notion of “Cartesian Dualism” in Continental Philosophy

In the beginning of the 20th century, Western philosophy split into two main schools, analytic and continental philosophy, that – barring exceptions – neither read nor understand each other. My own work and influences are mostly within, or closely affiliated with, the analytic school, but occasionally I read some continental philosophy (as well as some non-Western philosophy). One peculiar term I encountered several times in such reading across scholastic boundaries is “Cartesian dualism”, most recently in Saito Kohei’s Marx in the Anthropocene. To be more precise, it is not the term itself that struck me as peculiar – you’ll find...
Climate ChangeSocial Issues

On Human Overpopulation

A recurring theme among a number of widely divergent political and environmental movements is that of human overpopulation. Often, the claim that there are too many humans has conspicuous racist overtones and is associated with ecofascism, but claims of overpopulation are also made by people with very different political ideas. Much of the popular overpopulation discourse appears to be quite ignorant about what “overpopulation” even means, however, and about what it might imply, so I thought it might be useful to write a few words about this. What even is “overpopulation”? “Overpopulation” is a relative term – it means that...
Climate Change

SotA-R-10: Combined Models 4 and 5 Suggest 62% Change of Exceeding 3°C of Average Global Warming

(This is part 9 of the “Stages of the Anthropocene, Revisited” Series (SotA-R).) The previous episode in this series explained a few problems of the last iteration of the model used to better understand feedbacks between climate change and socio-political and economic circumstances (i.e. “Model 4”). Additionally, in another recent post, I mentioned that the relation between atmospheric carbon and warming is probably better treated as linear, with time lag explaining the discrepancy between a linear equation and the current level of warming. Furthermore, that post also addressed the issue of tipping points (and other neglected feedbacks), leading to an...
Climate Change

The Probability of the End of Civilization in the 21st Century

Climate scientists have been calling recently for more research into warming scenarios of 3°C and above because such scenarios are dangerously neglected. According to mainstream models such levels of warming are by no means impossible or even unlikely, and would have catastrophic effects. Luke Kemp and ten colleagues write: Could anthropogenic climate change result in worldwide societal collapse or even eventual human extinction? At present, this is a dangerously underexplored topic. Yet there are ample reasons to suspect that climate change could result in a global catastrophe. The answer to the question in this quote is obviously “yes”, but that’s...
Climate Change

Tipping Points, Permafrost Thaw, and “Fast” Reduction

Last Thursday a new analysis of the main “tipping elements” in the Earth system was published in Science., The paper and its supplementary materials provide data on likely thresholds and effects of all the main tipping elements that have been discussed in the literature of the past two decades. Furthermore, the supplementary materials also discuss a number of other feedback effects that have been suggested as tipping elements before, but that turn out to be too gradual to be properly classified as such. These effects are at least as important, however, and tend not to be (fully) included in common...
Philosophy

Making Sense of “the Meaning of Life”

Most of this article was written in 2017. I never finished it, but rather abandoned the project halfway §12 for reasons explained below. Until the horizontal line separating old from new, the following is the unchanged text of the 2017 draft. §1. There is a common idea that philosophy is concerned with figuring out the meaning of life. Although there are exceptions, such as James Tartaglia, most academic philosophers will deny this. But when I ask my students during the first day of class of my “Introduction to Philosophy” course what philosophy is about, then “the meaning of life” is...
Philosophy

On Hedgehogs, Koalas, and Other Animals

Outside academia, Isaiah Berlin is probably best known for his distinction between “foxes” and “hedgehogs” based on Archilochus saying that “the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing”. When I first encountered a reference to this distinction I assumed that it had something to do with broad versus narrow knowledge or learning, with the Renaissance/​Enlightenment ideal of the homo universalis (or polymath) versus the academic (hyper-) specialist, or with Thomas Aquinas’s fear of “a man of one book” (homo unius libri), that is, someone who knows one book/​thing really well, but doesn’t know much else. I...
Climate Change

Carbon-neutrality by 2050 (version of June 2022)

(Originally published on December 15, 2020. This version: June 13, 2022. The latest version can be found here.) In the year before publication of the original version of this article (2020) several governments announced that their countries will be carbon neutral by 2050. (Since then, other countries have joined them, but often with different target years. China and India, the world’s two most populous countries, aim for 2060 and 2070, respectively, for example.) This is a cheap promise, as the target is so far in the future that it doesn’t commit them to do any significant now, but even if...
Buddhism

A Note on the Pāli Canon

(Originally posted on April 27. Major revisions on June 3, 2022.) In chapter 5 of A Buddha Land in This World, I wrote that until the sūtras in the Pāli canon were written down they were recited in periodic meetings of monks, but we have no consistent evidence about the nature, form, and frequency of these meetings, nor about how reliable this process was. However, when I reread this, I wasn’t entirely happy with this sentence because it seems to suggest that I think that oral transmission is the biggest problem for the authenticity of the content of the Pāli...
BuddhismPhilosophy

A Buddha Land in This World (New Book)

My new book, A Buddha Land in This World: Philosophy, Utopia, and Radical Buddhism, has just been published. Here is the abstract/back cover blurb: In the early twentieth century, Uchiyama Gudō, Seno’o Girō, Lin Qiuwu, and others advocated a Buddhism that was radical in two respects. Firstly, they adopted a more or less naturalist stance with respect to Buddhist doctrine and related matters, rejecting karma or other supernatural beliefs. And secondly, they held political and economic views that were radically anti-hegemonic, anti-capitalist, and revolutionary. Taking the idea of such a “radical Buddhism” seriously, A Buddha Land in This World: Philosophy,...
Buddhism

Nan-in and the Professor — A Western Zen Parable

“A Cup of Tea” is a short Zen story that is quite famous and popular among Western (Zen) Buddhists. It’s a bit of a peculiar story, however, as I hope to make clear in the following. Before we turn to that, let’s start with the story itself: Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring.The professor watched the [cup] overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”“Like this...
Philosophy

Mythos, Wisdom, and Scavenger Philosophy

According to Karl Jaspers, philosophy arose in the “Axial Age” as a kind of critical reflection on myth and tradition. Nowadays, there is widespread agreement among historians of ideas that the notion of an “Axial Age” is itself a myth, but I think that the other part of Jaspers’ idea is right, that is, philosophy indeed originates in critical reflection on myth and tradition. This doesn’t mean that this defines the scope and purpose of philosophy, of course – as a “mature” discipline, philosophy mostly reflects on itself – but I believe that reflection on this idea about the origins...