Big Idea People

When we think of philosophy, we tend to think of theoretical philosophy: cloistered academics, armchair thinkers, and dreamy contemplatives arguing over the fine points of abstruse topics that have little if any practical import. This reputation is, unfortunately, well-deserved, especially in recent times. Yet if we accept the validity of philosophy as a way ofContinue reading “Big Idea People”

Live Long and Prosper

Recently I came across a study entitled “Longevity increased by positive self-perceptions of aging” (Levy et al. 2002 – apparently Becca Levy has a new book out entitled Breaking the Age Code, which I have not read yet). The abstract states: “This research found that older individuals with more positive self-perceptions of aging, measured up toContinue reading “Live Long and Prosper”

Wisdom and Freedom

Why do we continue to find such value in the life wisdom of ancient philosophers like Socrates, Aristotle, Confucius, Lao Tzu, Siddhartha Gautama, Epicurus, and Epictetus? It’s not as if we’re still reading Ptolemy on astronomy or even Euclid on geometry, so why have these philosophical insights endured? In the first chapter of his book TheContinue reading “Wisdom and Freedom”

Egoism, Altruism, and Oxygen Masks

A friend asked me recently if I think that self-improvement is selfish. My short answer was that building up your character is a matter of cultivating your higher self rather than gratifying your lower self, so this activity might exist beyond the dichotomy of egoism vs. altruism. Here’s an analogy that’s fresh in my mindContinue reading “Egoism, Altruism, and Oxygen Masks”

The Meanings of Meaning

If you tell people that you’re interested in philosophy, inevitably someone will ask you about the meaning of life. Although the question might predate The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, ancient philosophers in the Greek, Indian, and Chinese traditions didn’t raise it. Personally I adhere to the aphorism that it’s best not to puzzle over theContinue reading “The Meanings of Meaning”

Delphic Wisdom and Modern Science

Carved into the walls of the ancient Greek temple at Delphi were two proverbs: γνῶθι σεαυτόν (“know thyself”) and μηδὲν ἄγαν (“nothing too much”). Plato mentions them in his dialogue Protagoras, set around 434 BCE, but most likely they were common among the Greeks as far back as 600 BCE or even earlier. Although theyContinue reading “Delphic Wisdom and Modern Science”

Philosophical Professionalism

Robin Hanson recently suggested that we need more generalist thinkers, and that they can be found among the ranks of polymaths, public intellectuals, and professional philosophers. Although I might post again on the topic of generalists vs. specialists, today I’d like to focus instead on the concept of philosophical professionalism. In most fields, a professionalContinue reading “Philosophical Professionalism”