Keiran Setiya on Philosophy as a Way of Life

The contemporary discourse around philosophy as a way of life has been inspired by the works of many ancient philosophers who actively promoted this idea. The problem with this contemporary debate is that answers to questions about how to live are often drawn directly from these ancient sources. Aristotle, the Stoics, or Epicurus are treatedContinue reading “Keiran Setiya on Philosophy as a Way of Life”

Deleuze, Leibniz, and the Test of the Large and the Small

If philosophy is able to provide guidance on how to live that is superior to reliance on conventions, habits, or impulses, it is because the activity of philosophy embodies a distinctive and more reliable approach to practical reason. But this depends on whether philosophical representations of reality are accurate and comprehensive. There is reason toContinue reading “Deleuze, Leibniz, and the Test of the Large and the Small”

Philosophy and Where One Stands

If philosophy has had one distinctive job throughout it’s history, I think it is captured in this quote from Wilfred Sellars: The aim of philosophy, abstractly formulated, is to understand how things in the broadest possible sense of the term hang together in the broadest possible sense of the term. Most of the philosophers weContinue reading “Philosophy and Where One Stands”

Skepticism As a Way of Life

Originally posted at Three Quarks Daily. Today “skepticism” has two related meanings. In ordinary language it is a behavioral disposition to withhold assent to a claim until sufficient evidence is available to judge the claim true or false. This skeptical disposition is central to scientific inquiry, although financial incentives and the attractions of prestige renderContinue reading “Skepticism As a Way of Life”

Existentialism’s Mistake

Existentialism produced a lot of interesting philosophy and it had much to say about philosophy as a way of life. But it seems to me the core insight of existentialism is mistaken. Existentialism got its purchase from the insight that the death of God (Nietzsche, Heidegger) or the loss of metaphysical foundations for human existenceContinue reading “Existentialism’s Mistake”

The Hard Work of Being a Sensualist

“Live in the moment” has been the advice of sensualists from Epicurus to Camus. Peak experiences, moments of extreme pleasure or catalyzing emotion, can nourish life especially when not burdened with a guilty past or an anxious future. Wine lovers and culinarians (“foodies” in the vernacular) are sensualists or at least we strive to beContinue reading “The Hard Work of Being a Sensualist”

Whither Stability?

In Western philosophy we have had a strong tendency to privilege being over becoming. This was firmly established by Plato when he argued that our constantly changing world of everyday experience is a poor copy of a realm of eternal, unchanging forms. Christianity reinforced this idea of ultimate stability by asserting that God was eternalContinue reading “Whither Stability?”

Creativity and Becoming

This is remarkable advice to young people from the renowned author Kurt Vonnegut about what is important in life. (From Michael Warburton’s Twitter feed.) In 2006 a high school English teacher asked students to write to a famous author & ask for advice. Kurt Vonnegut was the only one to respond. His reply was aContinue reading “Creativity and Becoming”

Deleuze: Aristotle Fails the Test of the Large and Small

I mentioned several weeks ago that I think the most important figure in recent philosophy, who can give us insight into how to think about change and our ability to create change through practical reason, is the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze. He is important because he explains why conventional modes of thinking about reality canContinue reading “Deleuze: Aristotle Fails the Test of the Large and Small”

How To Be Free

“I’m a product of my decisions, not my circumstances” so said my friend Will whose abusive, alcoholic dad was all the motive he needed to never touch booze. This sounds wise but it’s nonsense. If our circumstances influence us they influence our decisions as well. You don’t avoid the consequences of determinism by pointing toContinue reading “How To Be Free”

Morality is Not Like a Science

The scientific method is based on the idea that physical objects or events will always behave in the same way under the same conditions. Thus, a scientific law is universal. H20 boils at 100 C without exception but only if the vapor pressure equals the atmospheric pressure and only if there are no minerals orContinue reading “Morality is Not Like a Science”

Epicurus and the Ethics of Pleasure

Posted initially at Three Quarks Daily. If philosophy is not only an academic, theoretical discipline but a way of life, as many Ancient Greek and Roman philosophers thought, one way of evaluating a philosophy is in terms of the kind of life it entails. On that score, if we’re playing the game of choose yourContinue reading “Epicurus and the Ethics of Pleasure”

Christianity and the Belief that Time and Change are Illusions

It is obvious from both modern biology and contemporary physics, as well as our own experiences, that everything changes. There are no fixed substances or unchanging essences underlying reality. Some things change very slowly but they nevertheless change. But that vision of a continuously changing world is at odds with some our deeply embedded culturalContinue reading “Christianity and the Belief that Time and Change are Illusions”

A Challenge for Ethics and Practical Reason (and why I think Deleuze might help)

If philosophy is not merely an academic subject but a way of life, it is because philosophy can guide our judgments about how to live. In this context, philosophy embodies a distinctive form of practical reason. Practical reason is the capacity to resolve through reflection questions about what to do and how one should conductContinue reading “A Challenge for Ethics and Practical Reason (and why I think Deleuze might help)”

On Philosophers and their Lives

“What was Aristotle’s life?’ Well, the answer lay in a single sentence: ‘He was born, he thought, he died.’ And all the rest is pure anecdote” This is how Heidegger introduced a lecture on Aristotle. This is conventional wisdom among philosophers. The life of the philosopher has little to do with his or her work.Continue reading “On Philosophers and their Lives”