How to Think Like a Roman Emperor book coverStoicism is a practical philosophy that emphasizes rationality and virtue as the only true goods. Unlike other religious or spiritual practices, Stoicism does not require that you abandon reason or strain your grip on reality; rather, it provides an ethical orientation to life that is fully consistent with our nature as rational, social beings.

Stoicism therefore embraces the original Greek conception of philosophy as a way of life, a subject matter to be practiced rather than simply studied. Far removed from the logical hair splitting of academic philosophy, Stoicism is about living well, with an emphasis on ethics and the attainment of true contentment and excellence of character.

Continue reading “What Marcus Aurelius Can Teach Us About the Practice of Stoicism”

Spinoza EthicsToday, we live a world deeply divided, where people derive life’s meaning from two incompatible sources, religion and science. To Benedict De Spinoza, this would have been a false dichotomy (like much else), as Spinoza, in his 1677 masterpiece titled Ethics, paved a brilliant path that reconciles both our spiritual tendencies and our rational capacities.

Spinoza’s ethics is, principally, about how to live the good life and achieve true freedom through a deeper understanding of reality. But, before can grapple with his moral philosophy and reconcile spirituality with reason, we we must first consider the true nature of reality as described by Spinoza.

Continue reading “Summary of Spinoza’s Ethics”

Theory of Moral Sentiments Adam SmithWhen considering the foundations of morality, the place to start, which is often overlooked, is in answering the following question: why do moral problems present themselves to us in the first place? Other animals don’t seem to ponder the moral implications of their actions, but humans do. Why is this?

To answer this question, a useful place to start is with theory of mind, which is the ability to mentally switch perspectives and to imagine the beliefs, needs, feelings, and desires of others. Children develop this capacity around the age of 4, and you can test for it by using the false-belief task. Here’s an example of how the test might go:

Continue reading “Adam Smith, Interchangeable Perspectives, and the Origin of Moral Problems”

What We Owe Each Other by T.M. ScanlonIn 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 HarrisSam 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”

Aristotle's Way Edith HallVirtue 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”