Embracing Meaninglessness: Wendy Syfret on Nihilism as a Way of Life

If you had to pick a single philosophical doctrine or movement that would be most difficult to defend today, nihilism would be a solid choice. Nihilism is associated with the worst parts of Nietzsche‘s teachings, the rise of Nazi and fascist ideology, the alt-right, and the tendency toward anarchy, chaos, immorality, despair, and destruction. Even the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines nihilism as “the belief that a society’s political and social institutions are so bad that they should be destroyed.”

So writing a book defending nihilism—no matter how many optimistic-sounding adjectives you place in front of it—is a tall order. In fact, it would probably be easier to ditch the term entirely and either invent a new one (like how some authors now use “progressive capitalism” in place of socialism) or, in this case, use a readily available close alternative: existentialism. 

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Why Your Conscious Experience is Nothing More Than a Controlled Hallucination

One way to think about perception, probably the most natural way, is to compare it to a window, where your mind simply reads out reality exactly as it is. That chair over in the corner, for instance, is the exact shape, color, and texture that you perceive it to be, and your mind is simply capturing this object exactly as it exists in the world. 

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Marcus Aurelius and the Practice of Stoicism

Stoicism 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.

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Debating Free Will: Thoughts on the Daniel Dennett/Gregg Caruso Debate

Among the perennial questions of philosophy, free will remains one of the most difficult concepts to reconcile with modern science. On the one hand, our best natural science seems to point to a deterministic universe based on immutable laws of physics, yet on the other, our subjective experience seems to tell us that we have inherent freedom of choice and movement independent of the physical laws. How one chooses to reconcile this paradox largely determines where they stand in the free will debate.

In Just Deserts: Debating Free Will, philosophers Daniel Dennett and Gregg Caruso debate the philosophical merits and moral implications of two opposite and competing positions: compatibilism and free will skepticism (more on those terms shortly). 

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Lessons on Living Well From the Philosophy of David Hume

In a 1776 letter to William Strahan, Adam Smith, reflecting on the life and work of the Scottish Enlightenment philosopher David Hume, wrote the following: “Upon the whole, I have always considered him, both in his lifetime and since his death, as approaching as nearly to the idea of a perfectly wise and virtuous man, as perhaps the nature of human frailty will permit.”

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The Role of Irrationality in the Creation of Modern Science

Unlike the humanities, including philosophy—where the idea of progress is a controversial topic—it is an essentially indisputable fact that science makes considerable progress over time. Why this is the case—and how science actually works—is what Michael Strevens seeks to explain in The Knowledge Machine

The basic argument is that scientific knowledge grows through the application of the “iron rule of explanation,” as Strevens calls it, that demands that all scientific argument be settled by empirical testing alone, and that the results of empirical testing are to be recorded in formal scientific journals for future reference and use. 

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8 Stoic Principles from the Handbook of Epictetus

The Enchiridion, or Handbook of Epictetus, stands as one of the most influential and concise presentations of Stoicism ever published. Written by Epictetus’s student Arrian in 135 CE (Epictetus wrote nothing down himself), the Enchiridion is a succinct summary of Epictetus’s more practical ethical teachings. 

The Enchiridion has remained popular throughout history as a manual for achieving intellectual freedom and happiness regardless of circumstances. In addition to the profound impact Epictetus had on the Stoic philosopher and Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, the Enchiridion has been found in the personal libraries of Adam Smith, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and others, not to mention its direct and indirect influence on modern Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

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Karl Popper on Totalitarianism and the Application of Scientific Method to Politics 

Totalitarianism is defined by the Oxford dictionary as “a system of government that is centralized and dictatorial and requires complete subservience to the state.” Totalitarian governments restrict individual freedoms and rights, prohibit democracy and voting, and maintain strict centralized control over all aspects of public and private life. In a totalitarian government, the collective is prioritized over the individual.

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Three Rules of Life From the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius

The key to understanding the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius—a seemingly disorganized collection of personal notes that were never intended for publication—is to first understand the difference between how philosophy was conceived in ancient times as opposed to now.

Today, philosophy is—along with most other subjects—a highly specialized academic discipline, consisting largely of the formal analysis of language and the theoretical explication of texts. In sharp contrast, philosophy as practiced in ancient Greece, as well as in Marcus’s time, was a way of life. Philosophy was not simply studied; rather, it was practiced in a way that informed every aspect of one’s life, thoughts, and actions. As Pierre Hadot wrote in his classic The Inner Citadel: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius:

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