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...)
Richard Taylor on the Creative Life
Real creativity is not only in art
Richard Taylor (1919–2003) thought that it’s creativity that makes us feel happy and fulfilled. According to Taylor, a life lived without exercising one’s creativity is a wasted life. (more...)
Erich Fromm on the Psychology of Capitalism
Our world is turning us into mass products. We should resist
Erich Fromm, philosopher and social psychologist, points out that capitalism, in order to work, requires a large population of identical consumers with identical taste. This is opposed to the vision of a human life as individual, unique, and valuable in its uniqueness. (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...)
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...)
Human Dignity and Freedom
Why restaurant menus may be destroying humanity
Erich Fromm and Richard Taylor on the perils of capitalism. (more...)
Can Machines Think?
Why it’s so hard to tell
The question whether machines can think is more complex than it appears at first sight. The Turing Test attempted to provide a way to judge whether computers are intelligent, but pretending to be human in a chat is not the same as being intelligent. AlphaGo is undoubtedly intelligent in its domain, but couldn not pass a Turing Test. (more...)
Epicurus and Luddism
Would we be happier without technology?
Technology, at least in the way that it is deployed in capitalism (based on planned obsolescence) contradicts the essential simplicity of the ideal Epicurean life. Epicurus would likely have sympathised with Luddism. (more...)
Is Stealing Always Immoral?
Utilitarianism, Kant and Aristotle
Whether stealing is immoral or not depends both on the context of the action and the moral theory used. In utilitarianism, stealing would only be immoral if it leads to bad consequences for the stakeholders. For Kant, it would always be immoral, because it does not respect the autonomy of the victim. (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...)
How Can We Define Love?
How is love different from liking or friendship?
Love is characterised by: 1. Exclusivity; 2. Constancy; 3. Reciprocity; 4. Uniqueness; and 5. Irrepleaceability of the beloved. (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...)
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...)
Is Whistleblowing Ethical?
...and why Confucius might disagree
The ethics of whistleblowing exposes a deep difference between Western and Confucian ethics. While both utilitarianism and Kant would probably say that whistleblowing is morally right, in Eastern (Confucian) ethics (and perhaps in virtue ethics), whistleblowing might be wrong because it violates one’s obligations to one’s friends, relatives, co-workers or superiors. (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...)
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...)
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...)
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...)
October 2: Happy Birthday, Mahatma Gandhi!
Last Friday was the birthday of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, whom they called the Mahatma, the Great Soul. (more...)
Do Unicorns Exist?
And what, please, is an ontological commitment?
A rant about the ontological commitment of the existential quantifier. (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...)
September 23: Happy Birthday, Kublai Khan!
Xanadu, poets, pop singers, and a day devoid of significance
Did you know that singer Olivia Newton-John is the granddaughter of the famous physicist Max Born, one of the two people who claimed to have discovered the uncertainty principle in quantum mechanics? (more...)
September 22: John Conway (1937-2020)
The inventor of the Game of Life
John Horton Conway (1937-2020), mathematician, inventor of the “Game of Life” simulation of cellular automata. (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...)
The Gift of Sinning. Autonomy, Surveillance and Freedom.
How surveillance undermines morality
Surveillance, instead of forcing citizens to behave more ethically, in reality undermines the essence of morality. According to Immanuel Kant as well as the Bible, the free human choice is the basis for all moral behaviour. (more...)