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The Circles of Friendship

As noted last week, Robin Dunbar, who has done amazing research into close personal relationships, is best known for “Dunbar’s Number” – his finding that the typical friends network contains about 150 people (as discussed in a recent post by Arnold Kling). Yet as I also noted long ago in my blog post “Joining the…

Metaphysics in Verse II

Among the strangest conceptions of metaphysics is Aristotle’s fanciful (or perhaps deadly serious) hypothesis of the Unmoved Mover. It’s difficult to understand quite what he was getting at, and I’m not about to formulate a scholarly exegesis of the idea. But I did compose a little poem about it: Had I a god, I’m sure…

The Seven Pillars of Friendship

Love, friendship, and other close personal relationships have been ill-served in the philosophical literature. Aside from Aristotle’s foundational discussion and the occasional essay by the likes of Montaigne, Bacon, and Emerson, few philosophers have contributed deep insights to human relationships. This is disappointing, because as Aristotle observed 2400 years ago we are social creatures for…

Best Self vs. True Self

As previously mentioned, I am skeptical about the notion of the true self. Recently I’ve done some reading that has reinforced this skepticism. In particular, research by the likes of Roy Baumeister shows that human beings tend to identify with the activities and desires that they think are best (either individually or socially) and to…

Metaphysics in Verse

One of the things I do to avoid exposure to the news is immerse myself in poetry. Most recently I’ve been reading English and American poets from the 1500s and 1600s, such as Anne Bradstreet, Samuel Daniel, and Thomas Traherne. At the same time, I’ve started an intensive re-reading of Aristotelian texts and commentary in…

Growing into One’s Nature

Existentialist philosophers insist on the ability – indeed, the responsibility – for human beings to create themselves. This is the import of Sartre’s famous formulation “existence precedes essence”: there is no human essence, and if you believe so then you are engaging in “bad faith” and living inauthentically. Given all that we have discovered so…

Goodness Trumps Uniqueness

Advocates of modern eudaimonism and the “true self” place great value on individual uniqueness. Consider David L. Norton in his 1976 book Personal Destinies (p. 16): According to self-actualization ethics it is every person’s primary responsibility first to discover the daimon [on p. 5 equated with the “true self”] within him and thereafter to live in accordance…

Approaching Excellence

Aristotle is famous for his so-called doctrine of the mean: a particular excellence of character is not the opposite of a single fault (e.g., courage vs. cowardice) but is intermediate between excess and defect (e.g., courage is opposed to both rashness and cowardice). Although some scholars never go deeper than this surface understanding, as I…

The Inner Revolution

One of the key themes of Tolstoy’s War and Peace (which I’m currently reading for the first time) is self-deception. The reader quickly perceives that Nikolai Rostov, Andrei Bolkonsky, and many other characters are fooling themselves about their own worth, thoughts, and actions. There is a connection here to a famous quote from Tolstoy: Everyone thinks of…

Effective Altruism and Ineffective Egoism

The collapse of Sam Bankman-Fried’s crypto empire at FTX and Alameda Research has cast a shadow over the “effective altruism” movement, of which he was a major financer. Ironically, I would argue that in the end he failed at altruism because he was an ineffective egoist! Consider the utter mess he’s made of his life:…

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