Philosophy & Critical Thinking

Philosophy & Critical Thinking


Existentialism: Authenticity vs. ‘Bad Faith’

authenticity March 1st, 2021

In a prior post entitled “Existentialism, Humanism, Responsibility, and Freedom,” I examined meaning in life, Jean-Paul Sartre, existence, etc. In this blog, I would like to go a little further toward examining authenticity vs. the idea of “bad faith.” It will hopefully generate more light than it does heat as far as living one’s life with success, passion, deliberateness, and insight. As always, wisdom is about the highest goal, and happiness is not far behind. 

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What Do We Deserve? Moral Desert & Entitlement

moral desert February 27th, 2021

What does a person – let’s confine it to Americans in this blog – deserve? In philosophy, it is termed moral dessert. That is, as a member of society, what rights does one have to goods and benefits and opportunities? Contrast dessert (sometimes spelled desert) with entitlement – the rights one has based on law, contracts, and agreements. In this piece, I want to dilate on this topic, and to that end, will share a brief discussion a friend and I had. You may not be surprised to learn that I take a generally liberal position, and my friend, a fairly libertarian one. I am more likely to see, optimistically, that people deserve opportunity, chances, and help from society at large (i.e., the institutions of government and associated social welfare provisions). You can expect, of course, to see apt quotations brought to bear on the dialogue.

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Review of Ch. One: “In Defense of a Liberal Education”

liberal education February 11th, 2021

Liberal education is not typically prized by parents. “What you are not supposed to do is study the liberal arts. Around the world, the idea of a broad-based ‘liberal’ education is closely tied with the United States and its great universities and colleges. But in America itself, a liberal education is out of favor.” This is a sad and even ironic state of affairs. In the wonderful, well-researched, short but stout book In Defense of a Liberal Education, noted columnist and historian Fareed Zakaria, called “the most influential foreign policy advisor of his generation” by Esquire, laments that the humanities are no longer as popular as they were in America’s more prosperous decades. As manufacturing is under severe threat and jobs are increasingly lost to foreign countries or automation, Zakaria maintains that “to succeed today, you need creativity, lateral thinking, communication skills, and, more than anything, the ability to keep learning – precisely the gifts of a liberal education.” What follows is a summary and review of chapter one of this engaging book.

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Fake News in Trump’s America

fake news January 3rd, 2021

Throughout the country’s short existence, the most authoritarian Presidents have been, in order: John Adams, George Dubya Bush, Woodrow Wilson, Andrew Jackson, and Donald Trump. There are grumblings on the Right that Obama was somewhat abusive of his power, and I think that case can be made (certainly, journalists and Freedom of Information Act seekers were very disappointed in him). I intend this essay to be about the psychology underlying political beliefs, and the hot-button topic in this realm is, perhaps with a plethora of absurdity, uttered by Trump almost daily: the term fake news. Trump most likely coined the term fake news, and though he is but a con-man, truth, lies, and deception predate him – laying bare the idiocy of our whole politico-cultural system.

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Existentialism, Humanism, Responsibility and Freedom

existentialism August 24th, 2020

A while back, I took a wonderful class entitled “Meaning in Life.” It dealt with meaning, obviously, and personal significance, purpose, fulfillment, death, and philosophy. My professor was named Mattias Risse and he’s really quite erudite. The topic I wanted to write about follows a lecture of his about renowned existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre. Ancillary topics are scientism, truth, and ethics. The background is in the era of 1900-1960, thinkers such as inimitable philosopher Bertrand Russell and the French intellectual Sartre were trying to find meaning and purpose in a secular-humanistic way. Much later, philosopher Robert Nozick made some improvements to their work. None wanted to slide into radical scientism as much as they didn’t want to resort to theological/religious assumptions. Indeed, Sartre penned a significant essay entitled “Existentialism is a Humanism”, and this is a medium-length encapsulation of how Sarte believes ethics is part and parcel of a developed form of existentialism.

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Will Durant Quotes About the Meaning of Life

quotes about the meaning of life August 18th, 2020

Will Durant was one of America’s greatest intellectuals. He lived from 1885 to 1981. In his long, varied, and distinguished career, he taught, wrote, earned a doctorate in philosophy, and came to know many of the most important and elusive truths. His interest in history was as salient than his love of philosophy, for he is best known for his book the massive, 11-volume set The Story of Civilization, his take on significant historical happenings and patterns (which he published with his lifelong interlocutor, his wife Ariel). They won both the Pulitzer Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom for the work. Only slightly less remarkable was The Story of Philosophy, which detailed the lives and works of a dozen of the most impactful philosophers throughout history, such as Plato and Nietzsche. Durant was truly a remarkable man; we are so lucky he lived to the ripe old age he did, and that he was a philosopher, historian, teacher and writer – and not a banker or a tennis player or a gambler. This blog is about Will Durant’s quotes about the meaning of life from his superb book on the subject.

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Political Correctness: Not Seriously Significant

political correctness July 17th, 2020

“Political correctness is the idea that assumes that the worst thing we can do is offend somebody,” said actor Alfred Molina. This is a pretty sensitive topic, but I am going to do what I can as a generalist to delve into the shallow end of the issue and shed a little light on it for both our sakes. I don’t think about this phenomenon all that much, but I’m going to take a page out of the George Carlin/conservative commentator/liberal defender book and analyze briefly the idea of political correctness.

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Pandemic Pandemonium: Americans and Moral Irresponsibility

July 3rd, 2020

As I write, America is smack-dab in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. Fifty states, for the first time ever, have declared emergencies. The economy has ground to a screeching halt. Social isolation, disease, and domestic violence are wracking our decaying country. These are hard times.
You know which groups of people are making it harder— and obviously endangering others’ lives, with their moral irresponsibility? Soulless politicians, stupid adolescents, ignorant worshippers, criminals, and misguided anti-science types. This utter lack of wisdom, principles, and insight speaks to the low level of moral and often psychological development on these individuals’ parts, and as I said, their choices can cost people’s lives. Since they are all essentially libertarians, the irony should be noted.

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The Wise Favor Truth Over Conspiracy Theories

conspiracy theories May 21st, 2020

…unless of course there is a conspiracy afoot! That does happen from time to time, when all the stars are aligned. Usually, though, conspiracies fail or never even get off the ground. Isn’t it odd that the same government that the hardcore libertarians we have had in our midst since the inception of the Tea Party which is constantly facing budget cuts and which sees its best and brightest dismissed due to cronyism and corruption is also fully capable of hatching and executing a “deep-state-type” massive, successful conspiracy? We are to believe that the Federal government is at once a bunch of masterminds intent on crippling the decent government officials we duly elected with our awful, dark-money-driven campaign finance system—the “deep state”—capable of engaging in a very sophisticated feat of skullduggery, intrigue, and nefariousness, and yet we can’t even get masks to doctors? Kids go hungry. We can’t control the debt. Mexican immigrants are supposed to be our worst problem if you watch Fox News. I would say the U.S. government could more easily be accused of garden-variety, low-level corruption like Russia, or totally incompetent, like Venezuela, than this!  Nay, this just doesn’t add up. What is much likelier, logically and rationally, is that the people who see conspiracy and libertarian affronts and liberals run amok are suffering from bias, lack of objectivity, fantastic thinking, and group phenomena. They should turn off Fox or Facebook and read a book by Mark Twain or George Eliot, I say. Here are some thoughts.

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The Ethical Life: Coping with the Pandemic

ethical April 27th, 2020

The following is a republication of a piece written by Mark Manson, who made a splash with his book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life . Mark calls himself an “author/thinker/life enthusiast”, which I think is nicely done. I’m just getting to know his style and his merit, but I was willing to sign up for the $6 a month subscription (aren’t you glad you get to read my stuff for free!?). I found the following essay about ethical dilemmas and how to deal with life in the time of lockdown interesting enough to request to republish. Here you have it:

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