Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations is a remarkable phenomenon, a philosophical diary written by a Roman emperor, probably in 168-80 AD, and intended simply for his own use. It offers exceptional insights into the private thoughts of someone who had a very weighty public role, and may well have been composed when he was leading a military campaign in Germany.
My uncle used to believe in God. But that was before he served in Iraq. Now he’s an atheist. How could a God of perfect power and perfect love allow the innocent to suffer and the wicked to flourish? Philosophers call this the problem of evil. It’s the problem of trying to reconcile two things that at first glance seem incompatible: God and evil. If the world were really governed by a being like God, shouldn’t we expect the world to be a whole lot better off than it is?
Since its advent in the early 1970s, bioethics has exploded, with practitioners’ thinking expressed not only in still-expanding scholarly venues but also in the gamut of popular media. Not surprisingly, bioethicists’ disputes are often linked with technological advances of relatively recent vintage, including organ transplantation and artificial-reproductive measures like preimplantation genetic diagnosis and prenatal genetic testing.
Britain and the United States have been suffering from intervention fatigue. The reason is obvious: our interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan have proven far more costly and their results far more mixed and uncertain than we had hoped. This fatigue manifested itself in almost exactly a year ago, when Britain’s Parliament refused to let the Government offer military support to the U.S. and France in threatening punitive strikes against Syria’s Assad regime for its use of chemical weapons.
Traveling through Scotland, one is struck by the number of memorials devoted to those who lost their lives in World War I. Nearly every town seems to have at least one memorial listing the names of local boys and men killed in the Great War (St. Andrews, where I am spending the year, has more than one).
If your morning commute involves crowded public transportation, you definitely want to find yourself standing next to someone who is saying something like, “I know he’s stabbed people, but has he ever killed one?” . It’s of course best to enjoy moments like this in the wild, but I am not above patrolling Overheard in London for its little gems (“Shall I give you a ring when my penguins are available?”), or, on an especially desperate day, going all the way back to the London-Lund Corpus of Spoken English, a treasury of oddly informative conversations.
Imagine a possible world where you are having coffee with … Aristotle! You begin exchanging views on how you like the coffee; you examine its qualities – it is bitter, hot, aromatic etc. It tastes to you this way or this other way. But how do you make these perceptual judgments? It might seem obvious to say that it is via the senses we are endowed with. Which senses though? How many senses are involved in coffee tasting? And how many senses do we have in all?
René Descartes wrote his third book, Principles of Philosophy, as something of a rival to scholastic textbooks. He prided himself in “that those who have not yet learned the philosophy of the schools will learn it more easily from this book than from their teachers, because by the same means they will learn to scorn it, and even the most mediocre teachers will be capable of teaching my philosophy by means of this book alone” (Descartes to Marin Mersenne, December 1640).
To understand China, it is essential to understand Confucianism. There are many teachings of Confucianist tradition, but before we can truly understand them, it is important to look at the vision Confucius himself had. In this excerpt below from Confucianism: A Very Short Introduction, Daniel K. Gardner discusses the future the teacher behind the ideas imagined.
We all know that asking questions is important. Asking the right questions is at the heart of most intellectual activity. Questions must be encouraged. We all know this. But are there any questions which may not be asked? Questions which should not be asked?
The first question of moral philosophy, going back to Plato, is “how ought I to live my life?”. Perhaps the second, following close on the heels of the first, can be taken to be “ought I to live morally or not?”, assuming that one can “get away with” being immoral.
From mechanical turks to science fiction novels, our mobile phones to The Terminator, we’ve long been fascinated by machine intelligence and its potential — both good and bad. We spoke to philosopher Nick Bostrom, author of Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies, about a number of pressing questions surrounding artificial intelligence and its potential impact on society.
Why study paradoxes? The easiest way to answer this question is with a story: In 2002 I was attending a conference on self-reference in Copenhagen, Denmark. During one of the breaks I got a chance to chat with Raymond Smullyan, who is amongst other things an accomplished magician, a distinguished mathematical logician, and perhaps the most well-known popularizer of `Knight and Knave’ (K&K) puzzles.
It was the nest-building season, but after days of long hard work, the sparrows sat in the evening glow, relaxing and chirping away.
There’s a scene in the movie High Noon that seems to me to capture an essential feature of our moral lives. Actually, it’s not the entire scene. It’s one moment really, two shots — a facial expression and a movement of the head of Grace Kelly.
Until the current epidemic, Ebola was largely regarded as not a Western problem. Although fearsome, Ebola seemed contained to remote corners of Africa, far from major international airports. We are now learning the hard way that Ebola is not—and indeed was never—just someone else’s problem.