Category: Philosophy

Philosophy

Pop-Stoicism as Ideology

Stoicism was a school of Hellenistic philosophy founded by Zeno of Citium around 300 BC. Stoic philosophy consisted of logic, (meta-) physics, and ethics. There has been a bit of an upsurge of interest in stoicism recently among widely different segments of society, ranging from right-wing extremists and male supremacists to Secular Buddhists and self-help gurus. Typically, this resurgent “stoicism” ignores most of Stoic philosophy and focuses on a simplified version of selected ethical doctrines. (And that selection, moreover, depends on the interests of the group that does the selecting.) The most prominent doctrine of this “pop-stoicism” is the idea...
Philosophy

What is Real? (New Paper)

Published yesterday in Organon F: International Journal of Analytic Philosophy (30.2: 182−220). abstract: Two of the most fundamental distinctions in metaphysics are (1) that between reality (or things in themselves) and appearances, the R/A distinction, and (2) that between entities that are fundamental (or real, etcetera) and entities that are ontologically or existentially dependent, the F/D distinction. While these appear to be two very different distinctions, in Buddhist metaphysics they are combined, raising questions about how they are related. In this paper I argue that plausible versions of the R/A distinction are essentially a special kind of F/D distinction, and...
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...
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...
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,...
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...
Philosophy

Is “Philosophy” Racist?

The term “philosophy” without any adjectives or other qualifications is generally understood to refer to Western philosophy. Introductory philosophy or ethics courses typically don’t pay any attention to non-Western philosophers (or merely drop a name once or twice in an attempt to feign a broader perspective), and one can easily get a philosophy degree without ever seriously engaging with Chinese or Indian philosophy. While there has been some pressure to broaden the scope of “philosophy”, thus far very little progress has been made in this respect. One might (and should) wonder: What explains this resistance to a more inclusive understanding...
Philosophy

Technological Immortality

Seven years ago I published a paper arguing against afterlife beliefs and various other kinds of “death denial” titled “The Incoherence of Denying My Death”. The denial of death in this sense is not a denial of physical or biological death so much as it is a denial of annihilation. In that paper I distinguished two ways of denying death, which are distinguished essentially by which word in the short proposition “I die” they deny. Strategy 1 denies the dying part – that is, it argues that I somehow (can) survive my physical/​biological/​bodily death. Strategy 2 denies the “I” in...
Philosophy

Dissonant Reality

There is a persistent belief among both scientists and non-scientists that good theories must be somehow beautiful or elegant or something similar, because reality itself is ultimately – in some relevant sense – harmonious; or in other words, that science must be beautiful/​simple/​elegant/​etcera because the laws of nature are beautiful/​simple/​elegant/​etcera. This belief is particularly influential in physics and mainstream economics (which likes to mimic physics or an image thereof as much as possible). Sabine Hossenfelder has written an interesting book about how this belief “leads physics astray” rather than that it provides useful guidance. For an illustration of how deep...
PhilosophySocial Issues

A Right to Hate?

In August, French blogger Pauline Harmange published a booklet titled Moi les hommes, je les déteste (Me, men, I loathe them), which caused quite a stir in France (and a little bit outside France as well). The book – supposedly – is a protest against misogyny (hatred of women), by taking up the opposite point of view of misandry (hatred of men). “Supposedly”, because I’m not sure exactly about the book’s arguments as it is no longer available and I have thus been unable to read it. In any case, it is not this book itself that is the topic...
Philosophy

On the Idea of an Unconditional (Moral) Rule

In his Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals Kant argued that the moral law (assuming there is one) must be unconditional and universal. As part of that argument he made a famous distinction between categorical and hypothetical imperatives. Imperatives are “ought” (or “should”) statements, such as “you ought to tell the truth”. The difference between the two kinds of imperatives is that hypothetical imperatives depend on a specific kind of condition, namely a desire, while categorical imperatives are universal, unconditional, and absolute. Thus, “if you want human civilization to survive the 21st century, you ought to eat the rich” is...