Atheism is not a recent phenomenon; despite the tendency before Darwin and modern science to believe in supernatural forces and a creator—not to mention the penalties for challenging the doctrine of the Church—freethinkers throughout history have noticed the circularity of the god argument. (god created the universe because the universe can’t exist without god)
The irony of invoking an uncaused being to explain the fact that everything requires a cause was not lost of many thinkers, who noticed that if everything requires a cause, then by definition god also requires a cause. And if god does not require a cause, then you might as well save a step in the process and accept the possibility that the universe is itself uncaused or has else always existed.
Continue reading “The Best Atheism Quotes Through the Ages”
To understand Plato’s ethics, you must first disregard modern conceptions of ethics as natural duties or utilitarian calculations. To Plato, the act of calculating the greatest good or living by the dictates of supernatural authority would have been entirely beside the point: ethics, to Plato, is instead a more personal matter of living according to universal virtues that lead directly to eudaimonia (human happiness, well-being, or flourishing), to a state of inward welfare and contentment.
To Plato, there is no distinction between virtue and knowledge, under the assumption that goodness is not merely a relative term, but a term that refers to something universal and unchanging, otherwise it could not be an object of knowledge. The task of the philosopher (and for all of us), is to determine what goodness is, and then to practice it for its own sake.
Continue reading “Plato on the Four Cardinal Virtues and How to Achieve Happiness”
It is an underappreciated fact that today a surgeon can, if needed, rip open your chest, remove your heart, replace it with another one, and if all goes well, have you discharged in 10 days. This amazing feat of modern medicine, one we may rarely think about, was at one point thought to be nothing more than a science fiction fantasy—and rightly so.
The number of hurdles standing in the way of successful transplantation was enormous. These included figuring out how to suture together blood vessels without leakage or damage to the inner lining, how to keep patients alive by temporarily taking over the function of failed organs (dialysis for kidneys and cardiopulmonary bypass for the heart and lungs), and developing anti-rejection medication to prevent the host immune system from attacking the donated organ. Throw in the ethical and logistical issues associated with procuring and coordinating donated organs and recipient transplant lists and you have one of the most complex and daunting issues in the history of medicine.
Continue reading “Review of When Death Becomes Life by Joshua D. Mezrich”
The Apology of Socrates is an early dialogue by Plato that presents Socrates’ speech of self-defense at his trial for impiety and corrupting the youth. Socrates presents his defense and addresses the charges, but is ultimately convicted. After being found guilty, Socrates was allowed, as was the custom, to propose a less severe penalty, which the court could consider in lieu of death. In this Socrates antagonizes the court by suggesting not a penalty, but a reward, after which he is promptly and unsurprisingly sentenced to death.
Contained within Socrates’ defense speech are three key ideas that outline the revolutionary nature of his teachings, defining the ideals of philosophy and redefining how we should think about wisdom.
Continue reading “Top 3 Ideas from Plato’s Apology of Socrates”
The Skeptics Guide to the Universe by Steven Novella is one of the best books on critical thinking and skepticism since Carl Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World. Although you would hope, in the 21st century, that it shouldn’t have to be explained why treating eczema with turmeric infusions is a bad idea, gullibility for pseudoscience is a recurring feature of human psychology and in need of constant debunking.
The running theme throughout the book is the concept of fallibilism, and how we are all wired to engage in biased and logical fallacious thinking (even self-proclaimed skeptics or critical thinkers). As the authors constantly remind us, this is a tendency we all have to perpetually work to overcome, and that no one is immune to bias simply because they identify as a skeptic.
With that in mind, here are five concepts/tools to become a better critical thinker.
Continue reading “How to Be a Skeptic: 5 Tools for Better Critical Thinking”
Denis Diderot, the French philosopher, art critic, and writer, was described by Voltaire as a pantophile, or the type of person who falls in love with everything they study, from mathematics, science, and medicine to philosophy, politics, literature, and art. So while Diderot never produced a masterpiece that would put him in the highest ranks of philosophy or literature, he did over the course of his life think and write about a wider range of topics than most.
This disposition had several benefits. First, it made Diderot uniquely suited for the position of chief editor of the Encyclopedie, the first and largest project to secularize all human knowledge from the materialist and humanist perspective. More than any other work, the Encyclopedie captured the full spirit of Enlightenment thought.
Continue reading “Denis Diderot on the Art of Freethinking and the Dangers of Religion”
In the previous post I tried to show that grounding morality in objective, universal principles is difficult if not impossible. Rule-based systems are destined to fail because there is always a conflict between consequences and duties, utilitarianism and deontology. General principles will always conflict with patriculars, and vice versa. But the question still remains: how can we avoid the trap of relativism and ground morality is something workable?
That is the intent of this post, to propose a workable theory of quasi-objective morality. I won’t pretend that this is easy, but after thinking on the subject for some time, I’ve made my best effort to put something together that is flexible enough to accommodate the complexity of moral dilemmas yet specific enough to have explanatory and practical value.
Continue reading “Contractualism as the Foundation for Morality”
Sam Harris and Jordan Peterson recently engaged in a debate at the Orpheum Theatre in Vancouver on June 23rd (the first night) and June 24th (the second night). The discussion centered around metaethics (specifically moral epistemology), which focuses on the foundations of ethics. In contrast to normative and applied ethics, which argue for specific actions in specific circumstances, metaethics asks: how can we ground morality in something objective? (If this is in fact possible.)
Both Peterson and Harris made the attempt to answer this question, both asserting that there are objective moral facts and that moral relativism, which asserts that all moral claims are equally good or valid or true, is false. Let’s look at both Peterson’s and Harris’s metaethical positions, starting with Peterson.
Continue reading “Thoughts on the Sam Harris/Jordan Peterson Vancouver Debate”
Virtue ethics, as practiced by Aristotle, can appear foreign to us because it stands in such sharp contrast to modern moral discourse. We are accustomed to thinking in terms of universal laws, the calculation of the “greatest good for the greatest number,” or the adherence to some vague sense of natural laws or obligations.
We ask, “what is the foundation of morality?” as if there exists a scientific answer or source of authority that can resolve the issue once and for all and for all time. But ethics is more personal and complex than this. Edith Hall, in her latest book Aristotle’s Way, shows us an alternative view of ethics established by Aristotle that takes into account this inherent complexity.
Continue reading “Aristotle on the Connection Between Morality and Psychological Well-Being”