Philosophy & Critical Thinking

Philosophy & Critical Thinking


Wisdom: Complex, But Invaluable

wisdom August 4th, 2019

This is an awesomely complex world. It seemed challenging and at times, overwhelming, to our distant ancestors who were trying to live life as bipedal social animals on the terra firma of the African savannah two million years ago. I don’t think life has gotten any easier or simpler since those stressful days. There have been many philosophies, belief systems, religious frameworks since, as humans have tried to understand what life is about, how to relate to each other, and what it all means. What is the one arrow humans have in their collective quiver that can possibly cut through all the noise and the clutter? Wisdom.

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Knowledge, Education & Wisdom in Colonial America

knowledge July 12th, 2019

Philosopher/psychologist and distinguished man of letters, Daniel N. Robinson, says much about knowledge, wisdom, and education in the citizenry and the founders at the time of the Declaration of Indpendence and the crafting of the U.S. Constitution. It is very enlightening, and he takes pains to connect the state of affairs then with our horrible political, social, and educational predicament that is so clearly exemplified by corporations, Donald Trump as President, and social media bickering today. It’s not a pretty picture, but one worth taking a long, hard look at. I then follow up his incisive commentary on the Founders with quotes about knowledge, wisdom, and education in modern America. Recall that education is not just about keeping the economy rolling: “The advancement and diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty,” wrote the main architect of the Constitution, James Madison. And this is very important; as modern progressive author, Thom Hartmann puts it, “We need to begin paying attention to the wisdom of the Founders and Framers [of the United States] if our country is to survive.”

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Robert Nozick Quotes: On the Examined Life

an examined life July 8th, 2019

Philosopher Robert Nozick made quite a splash with his book Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974). He assertively planted a flag on the libertarian hill with quotes such as, “There is no social entity with a good that undergoes some sacrifice for its own good. There are only individual people  with their own individual lives. Using one of these people for the benefit of others, uses him and benefits the others.” Fascinatingly, though, he never published an encore, choosing instead to concentrate his scholarship on distinctly different areas of philosophy. One of those later works is the aptly titled The Examined Life. This blog presents eighty or ninety of the most interesting and insightful Robert Nozick quotes from his book on the examined life – a reference to Socratic wisdom if there ever was one.

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What Happened to Truth?

truth June 20th, 2019

Humans greatly desire to feel that they are in possession of the truth (I should probably call it “capital-t-Truth”). We often think of “truth” as indicating something such as “Did they lie when you asked them where they were? Oh, they told you the truth?!” But it also has been one of the main philosophical phenomena (I think “value” or “virtue” kind of misses the mark a tad) since antiquity. The Bible talks about it. Scientists discuss it. Philosophers argue about what it is and whether we can actually apprehend it. Psychotherapists work with their clients to grasp it in the context of their childhood and their present, challenging relationships. Truth is a big, big deal. It has always been a challenge – think of the titanic struggle between capitalism and Communism, or Muslim Saracens vs. Christian crusaders.

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When Heuristics Help, and When They Fail

heuristics June 13th, 2019

I was speaking with a big-time investor today. I have had about three hours of conversation so far. He certainly operates at a higher level and is in a very different class than I am (I don’t mean when it comes to generally what depth of a person he is – authenticity or generosity or decency). I am talking about the folks he knows, the deals he has done, the net worth he has accumulated, the risks he has taken, and the knowledge he has under his belt is just clearly a few levels above me. He is older than I, and has been at it longer and excelled in it. How does a person of my intelligence and experience level suss out whether this man is all he is cracked up to be? Can he be enormously helpful to me as a mentor, or am I just a fish he has on the hook? In the human mind, prejudices and cognitive biases abound, so wisdom is really what is called for. In the field of applied philosophy, a thing called heuristics can help, but they can also fail.

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The Common Values of Liberals and Libertarians

May 27th, 2019

Though the face of the Republican Party is standard-issue “conservatism”, libertarians sometimes part company with Republicans philosophically. Though libertarians (free market and social freedom lovers) tend to agree with conservatives on many fiscal and economic issues, they often disagree on social matters. As well, in the economic sphere, libertarians often feel that conservatives are more “crony capitalists” than true, free-market capitalists. Here are some quotes about the natural affinity between liberals and libertarians. These are helpful and inspirational in an era when many libertarians are rightfully sick of the chicanery, cronyism, and corporatism of Donald Trump’s GOP.

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Moderation is Sometimes a Virtue

moderation April 13th, 2019

I saw a picture of a childhood friend today, shaking hands with president Trump. He said he was proud to be shaking the hands of a president – this or any other. I spend so much time in a given week learning about or thinking about the travesties that pass as governance, and feel sometimes like I am stuck in an Orwellian nightmare. I can’t help but feel that if one agrees with Trump as a person, that they are a part of a social group that is diametrically opposed to my sensibilities and philosophies and instincts. And that if they support him as the leader of the free world, they are lost as to what values and virtues such as freedom, responsibility, and the rule of law really mean. I felt much the same way when Bush was in office. It raises some interesting questions not only about friendship, but also partisanship, principles, and temperament. As I reflect on this friendship vis-à-vis the problems in America today, I am asking myself questions about the virtue of moderation – not one of my most familiar values. 

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Can Wisdom Be Found in Books?

wisdom in books April 7th, 2019

All due respect to Tom Morris, who is an intellectual titan. He wrote this piece in a LinkedIn post. At first I was very excited to repost it as a blog. It had a decent length, and the title – wow! – I figured it had to be good. Well, it wasn’t, exactly. The issue with the post was not that it wasn’t fair for Morris to use that title to draw readers to his works of fiction. I am fully willing to grant that his books are about wisdom in the indirect sense, and like many fantastic and hallmark examples of literature throughout the ages – Tolstoy, Austen, Hemingway, Jong – we can find much in them to enlighten and move us. Topics and ideas and nuances that shed light on major questions in the philosophical and personal growth realm. Morals, existence, values, wisdom, etc. My issue was simply that he was pointing to his books as examples of art that extol and explore issues such as wisdom. In my blog of the exact same name (hat tip to Dr. Morris), I would like to explore the question in a much broader and deeper way.

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Patriotism: Liberal & Conservative Viewpoints

patriotism April 1st, 2019

Colin Kaepernick has done what many an African American has done in America’s long and tumultuous and somewhat ignominious history: made us all look at the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and Bill of Rights, and centuries of legal precedence in a new light. He has an outstanding foil in the vacuous President of the United States, I am ashamed to say. Both representatives of polar-opposite points of view tout patriotism – though of a very different stripe. It’s an interesting, critical, and telling public debate that I suggest we all weigh in on. At best, we can progress toward higher levels of legal, societal, and emotional development if we accept America’s liabilities and mistakes and move forward with dignity and grace.

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Humanity’s Dark Side: Obedience to Authority

obedience to authority March 9th, 2019

There is a strain of experiments buoyed by theory that is in the category of social psychology – the branch of the study of human behavior that locates a human being in their social context. That is, people may have some individuality, some trait-like tendencies to think, feel, perceive, and act in a more or less typical way (i.e., based on their personality type). Social psychologists study how human beings function in relation to their environment. This essentially radical environmental approach doesn’t mimic the approach of Pavlov, Watson, and Skinner – dyed-in-the-wool environmentalists – because the attempt is not to change behavior, but to analyze and predict it. Read on for a brief summary, some elucidating quotations, and one of the most shocking experiments ever to come out of a major university.

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