December 4, 2021
Lucius Annaeus Seneca
The two lives of a Stoic sage
Lucius Annaeus Seneca (4 BC-65 AD) was a celebrated Roman writer, public speaker and philosopher and is today seen (alongside Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius) as one of the three greatest ancient Stoics. (more...)
November 16, 2021
Plato and the Ancient Politics of Wine
Part B. The Test of the Wine
Plato’s use of drunkenness, mainly in the Symposium but also in the Phaedrus, is a metaphor designed to defend Socrates’ philosophical inspiration and its civic benefits (more...)
November 12, 2021
How to stay calm in everyday life
At the core of the Stoic theory of happiness is our ability to control our thoughts. The wise man should try to exercise control over what they can control and not try to control what they cannot. (more...)
November 11, 2021
What Does ‘Stoic’ Mean?
A short history of Stoicism
A ‘Stoic’ attitude to life aims to achieve lasting happiness by staying calm, rational and emotionally detached, while cultivating one’s virtues. (more...)
November 8, 2021
Plato and the Ancient Politics of Wine
Part A. The Philosopher’s Drunken Vision
In this piece I discuss Plato’s description of Socrates’ philosophical inspiration as “drunkenness” and/or Dionysian mania; Plato’s metaphor draws on earlier Greek poetry, including Euripides and his popular play “The Bacchants,” where Dionysus is praised as the inventor of “liquid drink of the grape”. (more...)
October 9, 2021
The Wisdom of the Dao
Main themes in the Dao De Jing
The Dao De Jing is often not so different from other philosophies of its time. Acting according to nature, virtue as a skill, and the Daoist praise of humility are reminiscent of similar passages in the works of Stoics, Epicureans and Aristotle. (more...)
September 25, 2021
Dao De Jing: A Hermit’s Manual
Daoism and the hermit life
The Dao De Jing, one of the main books of Daoism, has always appealed to hermits. In this article, we look at it through a hermit’s eyes. (more...)
September 17, 2021
Dao De Jing
The Taoist book of the Way
The Dao De Jing, literally “The Classic of the Way and the Virtue,” is traditionally attributed to an author known only as Lao Zi, which means “Old Master.” (more...)
August 23, 2021
Why We Should Read Descartes
The overall aim of Descartes’ philosophy is to found science on a secure and absolutely certain footing. Without that anything built by science would be open to doubt following from the weakness of its foundation. (more...)
July 2, 2021
Living Epicurus Today
What is a 21st century Epicurean?
So has Epicurean living become so expensive today as to exclude most of us from practising it? Does one need to be rich in order to be able to afford the simple life? (more...)
June 25, 2021
What Are Friends For?
Epicurus on Friendship
Epicurus’ view on the value of friends has often been romanticised and equally often misunderstood. Epicurus himself seems to present contradictory views regarding the value of friendships. So does Epicurus want us to exploit our friends for our own good or not? (more...)
June 4, 2021
Epicurus: The Wise Man and the Fool
What’s wrong about being a happy fool?
The ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus once wrote that “the misfortune of the wise is better than the prosperity of the fool.” But why would that be so? It becomes clearer when we look at Epicurus’ theory of desires. (more...)
May 29, 2021
It’s A New Sun Every Day
Heraclitus and Epicurus on accepting change
The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus famously said that one cannot step into the same river twice. But what does this really mean? And what can we learn from this for our own lives? (more...)
May 17, 2021
Old Age and Death
Epicurus on trouble in the soul
The ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus emphasises that, in a world that works according to physical laws, nobody ought to be afraid of either the gods or one’s own death. (more...)
May 14, 2021
Reading Epicurus: Pleasure and pain
Is happiness only the absence of pain?
For Epicurus, pleasure is nothing but the absence of pain. Pain can further be subdivided into pain of the body and trouble in the soul. This negative description of happiness is surprising at first sight, but is a necessary component of the Epicurean philosophy of happiness. (more...)
May 10, 2021
Are some desires better than others?
Epicurus on what is natural and what is vain
Epicurus believed that the most reliable way to be happy is to reduce one’s desires until it’s easy to satisfy them. He distinguishes three types of desires: natural and necessary, natural and unnecessary and vain. (more...)
May 7, 2021
Epicureanism: The Basic Idea
Is it so hard to satisfy our senses?
Ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus (341-270 BC) believes that the way to ensure happiness throughout life is to reduce one’s desires so that they can be easily fulfilled. (more...)
May 3, 2021
Epicurus (341-270 BC)
The misunderstood ascetic
Epicurus (341-270 BC) is often seen as an advocate of a luxurious life, rich in good food and other pleasures. This is incorrect. Epicurus was, if anything, an ascetic: someone who thought that pleasures and good food have a negative effect on our happiness and that we should train ourselves to enjoy the simpler pleasures of life. (more...)
April 26, 2021
April 26, 121 AD: Marcus Aurelius is born
Reluctant emperor of Rome, fighter and Stoic philosopher
April 26, 121 AD marks the birthday of Roman Emperor and Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius, who still inspires us today with his sense of humility and duty. (more...)
April 20, 2021
Infographic: Love - History of a Concept
A graphic timeline of love from ancient Greece to now
A timeline of the concept of love, from Plato and Aristotle, through early Christianity, courtly love and Christian mysticism, to romantic love and love towards robots. (more...)
April 11, 2021
Timeline: The Life of Aristotle
An infographic of Aristotle’s life
A timeline of Aristotle’s life shown over a map of ancient Greece. (more...)
Introductions to Philosophy
The three best books for the beginner
The three best introductions are: 1. For a very easy-to-read overview, Philip Stokes (2002): Philosophy – 100 Essential Thinkers. 2. For an in-depth discussion of Western thought, Bertrand Russell (1945): A History of Western Philosophy. 3. For a good collection of introductory sources from all over philosophy’s history, Cooper and Fosl (2009): Philosophy. The Classic Readings. (more...)
Bertrand Russell on How to Find Happiness
The Conquest of Happiness
In his book “The Conquest of Happiness”, Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) presents a theory of happiness that is broadly Aristotelian. Russell thinks that what makes us happy is an active life, directed by a deep and sustained interest in the world. (more...)
The Conquest of Unhappiness
In the first part of this post, we talked about what are, for Bertrand Russell (The Conquest of Happiness, 1930) some of the reasons people are unhappy: fashionable pessimism, competition, boredom, and fatigue that comes from anxiety. (more...)
The Conquest of Happiness
Bertrand Russell on how to be happy
Bertrand Russell’s book ‘The Conquest of Happiness’ (1930) attempts to analyse the conditions for happiness in our modern world, focusing on the mindsets of the unhappy and the happy person and how they differ. For Russell, happy people engage with life and with intellectual pursuits that are not related directly to themselves, displaying a quality of character he calls “zest” for life. (more...)
Aristotle (384-322 BC)
Not all who wander are lost
Aristotle (384-322 BC), born in Stageira, Greece, is one of the most influential philosophers who ever lived. He worked not only in philosophy, but also wrote dozens of books on all topics, from astronomy and biology to literary theory. (more...)
Bertrand Russell (1892-1970)
Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) was a British philosopher and writer, one of the most important analytic philosophers of the 20th century. He is primarily known for his exploration of the logical foundation of mathematics, his theory of meaning and his pacifism and social engagement. We will focus on his book “The Conquest of Happiness,” in which he discusses how to find happiness in life. (more...)
Martha Nussbaum and the Capabilities Approach
What makes a human life worth living?
In the capabilities approach, philosopher Martha Nussbaum argues that a human life, in order to reach its highest potential, must include a number of “capabilities” – that is, of actual possibilities that one can realise in one’s life. (more...)
How to Live an Aristotelian Life
Become happy through being good
Aristotle’s theory of happiness rests on three concepts: (1) the virtues, which are good properties of one’s character that benefit oneself and others; (2) phronesis, which is the ability to employ the virtues to the right amount in any particular situation; and (3) eudaimonia, which is a life that is happy, successful and morally good, all at the same time. This month, we discuss how to actually go about living a life like that. (more...)
One Year, Six Ways: A Philosophical Experiment
Daily Philosophy has the idea for this year’s resolution: live your life like a philosopher. Six classic philosophies of life, each lived for two months, with multiple weekly emails to keep you informed, entertained and engaged on your journey. Come along to the One Year, Six Ways project! (more...)
Aristotle on being human
What is the function of human beings?
For Aristotle, happiness is connected to function. Everything in the universe has a function, and a happy human life is one in which we fulfil that function. (more...)
Plato and Christianity
Perfection, theosophy and organic hand-creams
Plato’s ideas about the eternal world of perfect Forms provided a template upon which Christian philosophers could build their vision of the eternal, transcendent realm of God. (more...)
The Paradoxes of Zeno of Elea
Does an arrow really fly?
Zeno of Elea (490-430 BC) is famous for his paradoxes that seem to prove, among other points, that no movement is possible. If an arrow in flight is standing still whenever we take a photograph of it, when is it actually moving? (more...)
Novalis and the Romantic View of the World
From the Romantics to modern science
German Romantics, much like their English counterparts, valued spontaneity and naturalness, in part as a reaction to the beginning loss of the natural world due to industrialisation and urbanisation. (more...)
What is ethics?
Of means and ends
Ethics is the study of how we ought to behave, and why. There are many different theories of ethics, for example, utilitarianism (we ought to behave so that we maximise benefit for all), or Kantian ethics (we ought to treat all human beings as ends). Ethics only becomes relevant when our behaviour affects others and not only ourselves. (more...)
What Is Deontological Ethics?
Immanuel Kant and not looking at outcomes
The name “deontological” ethics comes from Greek “to deon” = “that which must be done”. So it is about actions that must be performed (or must not be performed) because the actions themselves are intrinsically good or bad. This is in opposition to consequentialism, which judges actions according to whether their consequences are good. (more...)
Aristotle's Highest Good
In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle argues that we can recognise the highest good because we do everything else for its sake, while we never say that we pursue the highest good for any other thing’s sake. For Aristotle, the highest good is the happy life. (more...)
Hannah Arendt on work and being human
Labour, work and action
Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) distinguishes three types of work; Labor, which is work for survival. Work, which creates a product, a “work of art.” And, finally, action, which is creative activity, the making of something new out of the freedom to create for creation’s sake. Action is, therefore, the highest kind of human activity, an expression of fundamental freedom of human beings. (more...)
Is Abortion Ethical?
Judith Jarvis Thomson: A Defense of Abortion
Is abortion ethical? Judith Jarvis Thomson, who died five days ago, created one of the most well-known thought experiments in modern ethics. In her 1971 paper “A Defense of Abortion,” she presents the thought experiment of the unconscious violinist. (more...)
Peter Singer's Drowning Child
Are we required to save lives if we can?
Peter Singer’s Drowning Child thought experiment: If, on the way to the office, we saw a child drowning in a pond, would we think that we have to save it? Would it change anything if we were wearing a new suit and if we came late to our business conference because of saving the child? (more...)
What Is a Stoic Person?
Learning to control one’s mind
A Stoic is an adherent of Stoicism, an ancient Greek and Roman philosophy of life. Stoics thought that, in order to be happy, we must learn to distinguish between what we can control and what we cannot. (more...)
Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love
What is love made of?
Robert Sternberg thinks that we can best describe love as composed of three “primary” components that combine to produce all the kinds of love that we observe around us: intimacy, passion and decision or commitment. (more...)
St Augustine on the Function and Pleasure of Sex
The real cost of pure pleasure
For St Augustine, the pleasure inherent in any activity is good as long as the activity is performed because of its intended function. When we try to get the pleasure without the function of the activity, we are violating the order of nature and committing a sin. (more...)
Is happiness all that counts?
Utilitarianism is a moral theory that states that the morally right action maximizes happiness or benefit and minimizes pain or harm for all stakeholders. Proponents of classic utilitarianism are Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and John Stuart Mill (1806-1873). (more...)
Confucius on Loyalty and Betrayal
Would you send your father to prison?
For Confucius, one’s personal loyalties to family, friends, co-workers and superiors are more important than the rules of some abstract ethical theory. This has been called the “particularism” of Confucian ethics. (more...)
Kant on Autonomy and Human Rights
Are humans meant to be free?
The theory of evolution changed our understanding of our own humanity by suggesting that we see ourselves as one with worms, cats and monkeys. But this overlooks the important aspect of human moral autonomy, which allows us to act against our instincts and to be truly free. (more...)
Thales of Miletus
A stroll through the history of philosophy
Thales of Miletus (~624–548 BC) is generally cited as one of the first philosophers, although his contributions extended to many sciences and even to business endeavors. He taught that the first element, out of which everything else is made, is water, and that everything around us is filled with souls. (more...)
Aristotle and the Roots of Deep Ecology
Modern ecological ethics, for example Deep Ecology, often reaches back to Aristotle (385-322 BC) and his idea that the flourishing of any one thing is dependent on the flourishing of everything else. Aristotle did not think that one can selfishly have a good life. Instead, a virtuous person would naturally benefit both themselves and others at the same time. This idea also applies to our relations with the environment. (more...)
Life Is a Skill
Aristotle on living a life well through exercising one’s virtues. (more...)
Kant's Ethics in 5 Minutes
What is a Categorical Imperative?
Kant’s ethical system is based on the value of one’s motivation rather than on the outcomes or consequences of our actions. Besides a praiseworthy motivation, a morally right action must also conform to a number of rules, which Kant calls forms of the “Categorical Imperative”: to only perform actions that can be equally performed by all and to treat all human beings as ends. (more...)
Aristotle on moral development
The three types of human beings
For Aristotle, the moral development of a person progresses in three stages. From the child, which cannot resist temptation, through the intermediate stage of the grown up, who is tempted but resists temptation, to the final stage of the wise person, who is never even tempted and always, spontaneously, does the morally right thing. (more...)
Love is All Around
Eryximachos’ views in Plato’s Symposion
In Plato’s Symposion, the doctor Eryximachos says that love is the harmony of opposites. This resonates with beliefs in the traditional medicine of many cultures, as well as with our concept of a “balanced” person. (more...)
September 26: Happy Birthday, Martin Heidegger!
September 26: Martin Heidegger’s Birthday (1889-1976) (more...)
Can love be forever?
In Plato’s Symposium, Plato defines love as the desire for the eternal possession of the good. (more...)
Freedom is always the freedom to think otherwise
Rosa Luxemburg today
Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919), socialist revolutionary, once said: “Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently.” (more...)
March 28: Thales Predicts a Solar Eclipse
March 28, 585 BC - Really?
On March 28, 585 BC, Thales of Miletus was supposed to have observed an eclipse of the Sun. But what date was it for him? A short history of the difficulty of knowing the date. (more...)
Gilbert Ryle (1900-1976)
Are philosophers like map-makers?
Gilbert Ryle (1900-1976) was a British philosopher, primarily concerned with the nature of the mind and the role of philosophy in the world. (more...)
Kant’s Praiseworthy Motivation
Ethical behaviour can be demanding
A core feature of Kant’s ethics is his insistence on the value of one’s motivation for the morality of an action. As opposed to utilitarianism, Kant does not look at the consequences when judging actions, but only at what he calls the “good will.” (more...)