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”

Aristotle on Ways of Life

While I’m reflecting on philosophies and ways of life, I thought it would be interesting to look at what Aristotle says about ways of life in his writings on ethics. First, he states that there is a fundamentally human way of life or bios (it always helps to remember that Aristotle founded the science ofContinue reading “Aristotle on Ways of Life”

Philosophies and Ways of Life

In his book What Is Ancient Philosophy?, Pierre Hadot almost singlehandedly resurrected the ancient conception of philosophy as a way of life. Consider this observation about the philosophical schools of Greece and Rome: “For us moderns, the notion of a philosophical school evokes only the idea of a doctrinal tendency or theoretical position. Things were veryContinue reading “Philosophies and Ways of Life”

Idealism and Identity

Personal identity is a deep, and deeply meaningful, subject: at some level, what’s more important than what makes you you? Paradoxically, throughout history and across cultures, often personal identity has been a social construct, tied closely to tribe, clan, family, ethnic group, race, caste, class, societal role, and so on – usually in opposition to some Other (“I’m aContinue reading “Idealism and Identity”