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”

Einstein's Unfinished Revolution book coverTo understand the enigma that is quantum physics, it’s best to start with the relatively easier problems of classical physics.

Classical physics was invented by Galileo, Kepler, and Newton to deal with everyday macroscopic objects that you can see with the naked eye or with the assistance of telescopes. Classical physics—equipped with calculus and its associated equations—can describe the precise location, speed, direction, and trajectory of any visible object, from airplanes and cannonballs to stars and planets.

If you were to take a snapshot of the solar system at this moment in time, you could measure, using the equations of classical physics, the position and velocity of each planet and could predict the precise location of any one planet at any future time (within a small margin of error up to a limited but significant amount of time). The mechanics of the equations are complex, but the problems are fully soluble.

As Lee Smolin explains in his new book, Einstein’s Unfinished Revolution, this turns out to not be the case at the smallest of scales. When you start asking what matter is made of—atoms, protons, electrons, photons, quarks, etc.—a new type of physics is required, quantum physics. Quantum mechanics was invented in the early twentieth century to explain quantum physics, and seeks to describe how quantum particles behave and interact with each other.

Continue reading “Philosophy Meets Physics: The Competing Interpretations of Quantum Mechanics”

Philosophy As a Way of LifePhilosophy has evolved over the course of its history in such a way as to have essentially split into two distinct disciplines: 1) philosophy as a way of life, and 2) philosophy as a technical discipline.

At its inception, in ancient Greece, philosophy was practiced, not simply studied. That meant, for example, that you did not collect arguments piecemeal from different sources and present them for rhetorical effect—this, to the Greeks, was nothing more than sophistry.

Instead, you immersed yourself within a particular school, internalizing a unique perspective by which you could orient your place in the world and practice living the good life. If you were a Platonist or a Stoic, you lived as a Platonist or Stoic, applying the relevant principles and developing the habits of mind that built your character according to the ideals of the school.

Continue reading “Pierre Hadot on Practicing Philosophy as a Way of Life”

Karl Popper SelectionsKarl Popper, a 20th century Austrian-British philosopher and professor, has the distinction of being lesser-known among the general population (compared to thinkers of lower caliber) while simultaneously being recognized by many philosophers and scientists as the greatest philosopher of the 20th century.

Sir Peter Medawar, winner of the Nobel Prize for Medicine, said, “I think Popper is incomparably the greatest philosopher of science that has ever been.” Sir Hermann Bondi, the mathematician and astronomer, stated, “There is no more to science than its method, and there is no more to its method than Popper has said.” Popper’s influence is also just as strongly felt today, as the physicist David Deutsch recently wrote a book titled The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World, which is essentially an extension of Popper’s ideas.

Continue reading “An Introduction to the Philosophy of Karl Popper”

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”

Rene Descartes MeditationsWe all hold innumerable beliefs with varying degrees of certainty, but few of us have challenged the veracity of those beliefs to the degree that Rene Descartes did in the Meditations on First Philosophy. Descartes wrote:

“Some years ago I was struck by how many false things I had believed, and by how doubtful was the structure of beliefs that I had based on them. I realized that if I wanted to establish anything in the sciences that was stable and likely to last, I needed – just once in my life – to demolish everything completely and start again from the foundations…I am here quite alone, and at last I will devote myself, sincerely and without holding back, to demolishing my opinions.”

Continue reading “Rene Descartes and the Search for Certain Knowledge”

Stoa_of_AttalosIn the spirit of both Plato and Aristotle, Stoicism is a version of eudaimonic virtue ethics that asserts that the practice of virtue is both necessary and sufficient to achieve happiness and contentment.

Founded in Athens by Zeno of Citium in 300 BCE, Stoicism has a rich history and several prominent historical adherents (including Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius), making Stoicism an eminently practical philosophy, concerned primarily with ethics, proper conduct, and emotional mastery.

Continue reading “A Short Guide to the Practice of Stoicism”

David Hume Enquiry Concerning Human UnderstandingThe upcoming movie Breakthrough tells the story of a teenager who, while playing with friends, fell through the ice and nearly drowned, resulting in a coma and subsequent “miraculous” recovery through divine intervention (for starters, if god did intervene, one might wonder why an all-powerful being didn’t do so before the boy fell in the ice, but we’ll get to that later).

These stories are not new; they crop up from time to time with the same inane storylines (remember Heaven is For Real, the one where the author admitted the whole story was fabricated?). It’s easy to just dismiss these stories outright, but I think it’s worthwhile to revisit the specifics of the faulty logic underlying these narratives.

Continue reading “What David Hume Can Still Teach Us About Skepticism”

Plato Complete WorksTo 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”