Archive for the ‘philosophy’ tag
Venkatesh Rao is one of the most consistently interesting sources of thorough essays about novel but valuable ideas I know of. He is, typically, a bit too thorough for my patience, but I got further with this essay than most others. The central premise:
We generally fail to understand the extent to which both our sense of agency and identity are a function of memory. If you could coherently extend memories either forward or backward in time, you would get a different person, but one who might enjoy a weak sort of continuity of awareness with a person (or machine) who has lived before or might live after. Conversely, if you went blind and lost your long-term memories, you might lose elements of your identity, such as your sense of your race or an interest in painting.
Right?! Philosophy that interests me.
Consider this is your monthly reminder that Oliver Burkeman is great and you should really read his column. This quote struck me as worthy of excerption:
The trick, I think, is to take his comment not as an instruction about how you ought to think, but a bare description of a psychological truth: if you didn’t mind what happened, then you’d never have any problems. That’s undeniable: “having a problem” and “minding something” are the same. It’s a restatement of the Stoics’ insight into human distress: no event can trigger upset without a belief that it’s undesirable.
I’ve posted a piece (only one!?) by Slavoj Žižek, and have enjoyed a few more. So when out of the giant reading backlog came a really neat piece about what makes his writing so interesting to read, I had to share. A choice quote:
The biggest obstacle facing the reader of Žižek’s work is not the academic trappings — the technical terms, the references to other thinkers — but a writing style that defies convention. Broadly speaking, the general expectation of argumentative writing is that it will lay out a more or less straightforward chain of reasons supporting a clear central claim. Even though we acknowledge that this format is almost never encountered in its pure form, it still remains a kind of ideal. In Žižek’s writing, though, it’s difficult to pick out anything like a “thesis statement,” and the argument most often proceeds via intuitive leaps rather than tight chains of reasoning.
I’m not going to pretend that an old three minute clip from a late night comedian will change your life, but will it? Of course not. Still, it’s an interesting theory worth three minutes of your time.
I link to this story not because it’s exceptionally good (it’s not bad, just unexceptional), but because I find its subject rather interesting. I can’t help but feel affinity for people making points like this:
“The arrogance that says analysing the relationship between reasons and causes is more important than writing a philosophy of shyness or sadness or friendship drives me nuts. I can’t accept that.
“I had a line in the book I cut that said ‘The nirvana would be if the questions raised by Oprah Winfrey would be answered by the faculty at Harvard.’ The questions she asks are the most central – how do we live with other people, how do we cope with our ambitions, how do we survive as a society – though she fails to answer them with anything like seriousness.”
And though I would characterize it as similarly unexceptional, his most recent TED talk was recently made available.
Peter W. Singer, not the famous Australian utilitarian philosopher, considers some of the ramifications of the seemingly risk-free war the United States is carrying out in Pakistan.
And now we possess a technology that removes the last political barriers to war. The strongest appeal of unmanned systems is that we don’t have to send someone’s son or daughter into harm’s way. But when politicians can avoid the political consequences of the condolence letter — and the impact that military casualties have on voters and on the news media — they no longer treat the previously weighty matters of war and peace the same way.
(via The Browser)
Ross Douthat’s latest column raises an interesting idea I’d never fully considered:
In meritocracies, though, it’s the very intelligence of our leaders that creates the worst disasters. Convinced that their own skills are equal to any task or challenge, meritocrats take risks that lower-wattage elites would never even contemplate, embark on more hubristic projects, and become infatuated with statistical models that hold out the promise of a perfectly rational and frictionless world.
I’d never really considered the fickleness of the advice of “to thine own self be true.” After pointing that out, Joshua Knobe found that the answer hinges on your values.
(via Justin Wehr’s Tumblr)
Sam Harris’s argument entails a reasonably straight-forward refutation of free will, but that question doesn’t much interest me. This does:
The men and women on death row have some combination of bad genes, bad parents, bad ideas, and bad luck—which of these quantities, exactly, were they responsible for? No human being stands as author to his own genes or his upbringing, and yet we have every reason to believe that these factors determine his character throughout life. Our system of justice should reflect our understanding that each of us could have been dealt a very different hand in life. In fact, it seems immoral not to recognize just how much luck is involved in morality itself.
(via The Browser)
I’ve been meaning to write something about how wrong the popular culture is about the writings of Karl Marx, but Terry Eagleton knows more about it and probably wrote it better too.
(via The Browser)
Also of note: Eagleton’s good and favorable review of Eric Hobsbawm’s How To Change the World that I refrained from linking earlier because I love the LRB too much (and you can’t yet buy the book in the US).
One of the foundational political questions is: What type of equality do we aspire to have? Namit Arora does a great job highlighting the major types and their problems.
(via The Browser)
It’s not new or news, but it’s a good read that I decided to chase down recently. I thought this (Stephen Mitchell’s) translation more readable than the others I encountered, though it should be noted that there’s a great deal of discord on the topic. Quoth the Wikipedia:
Critics of these versions, such as Taoism scholar Eugene Eoyang, claim that translators like Stephen Mitchell produce readings of the Tao Te Ching that deviate from the text and are incompatible with the history of Chinese thought. Russell Kirkland goes further to argue that these versions are based on Western Orientalist fantasies, and represent the colonial appropriation of Chinese culture. In contrast, Huston Smith, scholar of world religions, said of the Mitchell version, “This translation comes as close to being definitive for our time as any I can imagine. It embodies the virtues its translator credits to the Chinese original: a gemlike lucidity that is radiant with humor, grace, largeheartedness, and deep wisdom.” —Other Taoism scholars, such as Michael LaFargue and Johnathan Herman, argue that while they are poor scholarship they meet a real spiritual need in the West.
Via the Lone Gunman, a perfect example of what internet-length philosophy should look like. I wish I’d written this.
I’ve refrained from commenting on the passing on David Foster Wallace because until that news spread, I might have assumed he was a Scottish revolutionary (or somesuch). But Gong Szeto captures how I feel about it all pretty well:
I can conclude with certainty that everyone I have ever encountered who admired his work are smart, passionate, and engaged people. And even though I have not myself engaged in his (intimidating) writing oeuvre, I see the far-reaching effect he had and continues to have on people around me.
Luke O’Brien has an interesting piece about the philosophies advanced (or not) by the video games of Wil Wright. I admit I’d never much thought about it, but SimCity, The Sims, and Spore can all be read to have very serious real-world philosophical messages. Of The Sims, for example:
“The constraints of consumer capitalism are built into the game’s logic,” wrote Ann McGuire, an Australian academic, echoing earlier complaints about the hypercapitalist SimCity. “The Sims distils and intensifies, through its underlying code, key ideological aspects of late capitalism: self, other, and time are all quantified and commodified. What the player is doing is shopping effectively in order to manage a life in the world.”
This has been going around for some time, and I never found an hour with which to watch it. Today I finally did, and I’m glad for that. It’s well done, and brings new weight to Robin’s question: “How is YouTube not the greatest art project ever?”
I’ve had mixed opinions about Ta-Nehisi Coates’s work in the past, but I really — really really — like this blog post.
Here is the thing — believing that you have fallen because of actions outside of your control, or the collective control of your tribe, rewards you with an unearned sense of the cosmic. It allows you to fashion yourself as heroic — a Hercules robbed by the smallness of Gods. It fills you with an anger which is, at its root, a sort of false power, a weak righteousness that turns your enemies into demons. It was thrilling to believe we’d been kidnapped by white interlopers, as opposed to knowing that, in the words of the great Robert Hayden, we’d been sold off for “tin crowns that shone with paste” for “red calico and German-silver trinkets.”