The history of our intellectual climate and conventional wisdom is marred by those who have “read the manifesto but not the book,” by sheepish critics whose greatest achievement in attacking theories they so dislike is the mere erecting and burning of strawmen. Their attacks are impassioned but tend to stem from a misunderstanding of the theory itself. Such is the subject of this section. Having covered the four major theories of human nature in Part One, (Locke’s Blank Slate, Rousseau’s Noble Savage, Descartes’ Ghost in the Machine, and briefly the Judeo-Christian theory informed by the Holy Bible) along with their implications and implementations, Pinker now looks to analyze advocate and critic alike for each of these theories. Continuing our series on Pinker’s Blank Slate, let’s take a look at Part Two, “Fear and Loathing.”
There is something beautiful about Immanuel Kant’s book The Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals. Stylistically, it is dry and, by all accounts, it is over-complicated. But it has moments of clarity in which Kant’s moral edifice, his deontological ethics, loses its murk and becomes crystal clear, moments where his heavy and knotted penmanship adopts a light and untangled character that just gets to the point. We all know those “aha!” moments, those times when everything clicks into place and we feel as if we truly understand something. In Groundworks, I had four of those moments, each concerning a different foundational feature of Kant’s ethical theory. Through these four features, we can understand the essence of his argument.
“It is better to be a human being dissatisfed than a pig satisfied.” – John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism
Mill has one hell of an opening for his now immortalized book Utilitarianism: not only does he claim that there exists a single infrastructure, as it were, upon which the entire superstructure of morality sits, but that this single “first principle” has been self-evident throughout our entire history. For these thousands of years in which we’ve argued over moral philosophy, hungering insatiably for a guiding principle which will let us be certain, moral beings, it has been right there, so he claims, dangling before our faces. Within the first few pages, the pressure is on—and Mill delivers.
A peculiar man, one of stocky build and bulging eyes, once walked the streets Athens. A group of eager young men trailed behind him like ducklings, waiting for him to choose his next prey. This man was Socrates, who wandered the streets of Athens in search of its “experts,” be them of religious, legal, or intellectual matters. Upon finding them, he would inflate them with fawning and praise before very gently and very politely bringing them to the conclusion that they know nothing of their trade. Among these eager ducklings was a young man named Plato. He was not yet known, but these debates would lead him down an intellectual rabbit hole from which he would forever change the world. Continue reading Euthyphro – A Book Review
What if I were to tell you that the most successful men and women were not so because they were the best and the brightest–that all of our favorite rags-to-riches stories were incomplete and misleading? Well, our author, Malcolm Gladwell, is convinced that this is true, and he makes a moderately convincing case.
Reading any Irvin D. Yalom book is therapeutic in itself. He writes boldly yet gently and fills every page with the insights of past philosophers and those of his own. Yalom founded existential psychotherapy, a stance holding that unconscious anxieties–most notably the “Four Ultimate Concerns” of death, isolation, meaninglessness, and freedom–impair our conscious thoughts and actions. This is not a standalone therapy, he claims, but a supplemental stance intending to make therapists and patients privy to existential issues. However, The Gift of Therapy‘s pages are not colored only with existential ideologies. No, this Continue reading The Gift of Therapy – A Book Review
“Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana” – Anthony Oettinger
The above quote is often attributed to the absurdly witty Groucho Marx, and who would second guess it? The man gave us English-exploiting jokes like, “Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read,” and, “I once shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in them, I’ll never know.” The true author of this quote, however, is Anthony Oettinger, a linguist and computer scientist who, in the 1960s, tried to make an artificial intelligence that could comprehend English sentences.
“We foist evil onto other things, too frightened to admit it is within us.” – C.G. Jung
In this riveting summary of his scientific findings, evolutionary psychologist David M. Buss asserts, quite convincingly, that previous theories on murder “simply don’t hold up.” I’m sure you’ve heard interviews on the news discussing the motive for a murderer’s crime: some claim it’s violent video games, a disconnect with religion, insanity, poor parenting, and so on and so forth. Those who claim murder has its origins in violent television shows, movies, and video games cannot explain why Continue reading The Murderer Next Door: Why Our Minds are Designed to Kill – A Book Review
A couple weeks ago, I finished C.G. Jung’s essay The Undiscovered Self. I found it an impressive but not wholly convincing work–great food for thought but painfully hypothetical (Jung, of course, argues that is precisely how it should be). Still, I find myself revisiting a few ideas that really peaked my interest. One of such is his explanation of what I will call the “therapist’s dilemma.”
The Therapist’s Dilemma
“On one hand, he is equipped with the statistical truths of his scientific training, and on the other hand, he is faced with the task of treating a sick person who…requires individual understanding. The more schematic the treatment is, the more resistance it–quite rightly–calls up in the patient, and the more the cure is jeporadized.” – C.G. Jung, The Undiscovered Self (p. 7)
The ideas within Jung’s The Undiscovered Self are discomforting, dealing with the illusory nature of knowing ourselves, others, and our society. This is the case with much of philosophy–and that is precisely what this is: philosophy. Regardless of Jung’s credentials as a merited psychologist, by no means does this essay explore theories empirically or statistically. It’s really up to the reader to decide its worth. Jung argues it ought to be that way, claiming statistics and averages only mislead (see below). Continue reading The Undiscovered Self – A Book Summary