Tag: Philosophy

What kinds of tools do we need to make big decisions, and why aren’t our universities training us to make them? Are universities doing students a disservice by occupying them with myriads of boxes to tick? Are students right to prefer money to meaning?

Madison Program alumni Ben and Jenna Storey discuss the philosophy of making choices and of restlessness, and critique the way universities treat those topics.

Oliver Traldi joins Theodore Kupfer to discuss the role of expertise in American life, the origins and future of wokeness, and the sources of political belief.

Find the transcript of this conversation and more at City Journal.

A Genteel Barbarian?


“If I had it to do over again, I’d study philosophy and play drums in a rock band.” 

That phrase, rolled so trippingly off my tongue over several decades, has been doing so with greater frequency in recent years while serving as a sort of mental ejection button. Feeling stressed at the entirely preventable catastrophes unfolding across the country? Me too. Working a soul-sucking job that you positively dread? What a coincidence!  Feeling bogged down in, …well, you get the idea. 

That’s when the mind takes a vacation to distant places and circumstances, some of which are attainable and some of which are the stuff of pipe dreams. Like settling down to play drums in a thunderous rock band and studying philosophy, for example. After all, ear-splitting iconoclasm mixed with cerebral contemplation might be an entertaining and fun mix, but there is some real cognitive dissonance there, no?  

Quote of the Day: Are Good People Only Happier in Fiction? (Great Plays and Philosophy, Part 1)


Miss Prism in The Importance of Being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde:

The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means.

I have often failed to find this line funny because I find it so easy to think of it as just a straightforward statement of how fiction should be written. Plato’s Republic suggests exactly this, and Oscar Wilde was too smart to not know it.

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Click here to listen to the podcast! On this episode of The Resistance Library Podcast, Sam Jacobs interviews Jash Dholani. Jash Dholani is an independent scholar and philosopher interested in human excellence and freedom. He has gained a following on Twitter, where he is the Old Books Guy, due to his extensive reading and trenchant […]

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Book Review: Roger Scruton’s ‘Conservatism: An Invitation to the Great Tradition’


Published in 2017, a little over two years before his death, this I think was Roger Scruton’s last published work devoted to conservatism proper.  He has written other books on music and art, albeit as seen through a conservative lens, but their primary focus was aesthetic and not civic. Conservatism: An Invitation to the Great Tradition summarizes a great career of a man who has lived his life in the public square with a particular philosophy that runs against the current of contemporary ethos.  Roger Scruton (1944-2020) was a conservative in the paleo-conservative sense, not some neoconservative rebranding of once Liberal thought. He is British, though has had a voice in European and American conservative circles, a professor of philosophy, has published over 50 books on a wide range of subjects, and for almost twenty years was chief editor at the conservative quarterly, The Salisbury Review.  Prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, Scruton helped establish underground academic networks in communist-controlled countries.

This is an excellent and concise book on the history of modern conservatism by an author who lived through most of the debates of the last fifty years.  When Scruton identifies modern conservatism, he says it is “a product of the Enlightenment,” although acknowledging that conservatism dates back in every era of history.  Conservatism for Scruton is a set of customs, values, and institutions built by a community over time that have proven to sustain, preserve and “ensure [the] community’s long-term survival” and that give it a sense of identity and unity.  Conservatism in the modern sense is a counter to the Liberal emphasis of reshaping society as radical individualism that rose out of the Enlightenment.  “Tradition,” as Scruton observes from Edmund Burke, “is a form of knowledge.”

Scruton walks us through the philosophical ideas that have shaped conservatism going back to Edmund Burke, who argued against a notion of society as a “social contract” (from Jean-Jacques Rousseau) but as a “shared inheritance for the sake of which we learn to circumscribe our demands, to see our own place in things as part of a continuous chain of giving and receiving, and to recognize that the good things we inherit are not ours to spoil but ours to safeguard for our dependents” (p. 45).  Indeed I never signed a social contract but I was certainly born into a shared inheritance.

Selecting Customers


One reason American culture is in such a sorry state today is because the customer is always right.

I have explained on Ricochet before why this aphorism is actually a bad business model. It encourages misbehavior among customers and thereby increases expenses (in turn, increasing prices) while making both customers and employees miserable.

The Best of the Great Courses


I listened to my first Teaching Company courses, now known as The Great Courses, over 20 years ago. A dear friend suggested that I listen to The Great Ideas of Philosophy by Prof. Daniel N. Robinson. It was magnificent, and I soon had finished ALL of Prof. Robinson’s courses: The Great Ideas of Psychology, Consciousness and Its Implications, Greek Legacy: Classical Origins of the Modern World, and American Ideals: Founding a “Republic of Virtues.” Every course was incredibly illuminating.

In college, I could count the number of Great professors on one hand: my Trig/Statistics/Calculus professor, an American History professor, and the great David Bell, an English professor. Daniel N. Robinson had all the qualities of a great teacher, primarily the ability to present a survey class, like The Great Ideas of Philosophy, which included the Western philosophers from the pre-Socratics into the 20th century, as if he were a full believer of the philosopher on whom he was lecturing.

I have since listened to (and occasionally viewed, but I much prefer listening while driving or walking) dozens more. Here is a list of some of the other professors I find to be great, “great” meaning I will listen to their courses again and again with unfailing pleasure.

QOTD: Equal Participation in Society and Ordered Change


A society which makes provision for participation in its good of all its members on equal terms and which secures flexible readjustment of its institutions through interaction of the different forms of associated life is in so far democratic. Such a society must have a type of education which gives individuals a personal interest in social relationships and control, and the habits of mind which secure social changes without introducing disorder.

John Dewey

On Reading ‘Atlas Shrugged’


This post is a refutation of objectivism as presented in Atlas Shrugged. Paradoxically, the problem with doing so is not that the question is too hard but too easy. It’s simple to say that Rand writes bad characters and ponderous speeches and dismiss the lot of it out of hand. There are two problems with that approach. The first is that it convinces nobody. If you do find her ideas compelling then easy mockery does nothing to expose their flaws. The second is that Rand actually had a number of excellent observations, ideas that shouldn’t be discarded even if she’s a lousy writer (and the writing isn’t all lousy either). What follows is an honest attempt to understand and refute the philosophy of objectivism. We’ll start by looking at Rand’s best ideas.

What Rand Does Well

Rand herself lived through the Bolshevik revolution, and escaped to America only by “going Galt” in that she wrote off everything she had in the Soviet Union and made it here with only what she could carry. That’s entirely to her credit, as is her subsequent prosperity in The Land of the Free. Having lived through that part of history she has an amazing grasp on the arguments of the communists, their appeals to a sort of morality, and the fatal flaws that doom the prospect of a socialist utopia. Indeed, she often seems to have a prescient vision of how society has progressed. This is not because she’s accurately predicted the advancement of mankind’s morality, but because mankind’s morality doesn’t advance. All these things she describes were problems in her day, are problems in our day, and will be with us until the Lord returns in glory.

Weaponized Compassion

The woke reformer is attempting to immanentize the eschaton much like the communist idealist of Rand’s day. The communist urges us to have compassion for the working man; the woke evangelist urges us to remember the suffering of those who are discriminated against. In both cases, they demand that we break our eggs to make their omelet, and as with the communists I’m not holding my breath waiting for that woke omelet to appear.

Holy Thou Art


What does it mean for something to be holy? I think it means that a thing or person directs us to God or expresses His presence. Holiness is connected with pious awe. 

What artistic works seem holy to you? Which are the most peculiarly holy — holy in some unusual and perhaps less obvious sense? Is there some work of sculpture or architecture, painting or music, oration or literature that draws you closer to God in a way your associates don’t fully share? 

On the Why of Poetry


A Sierpinski sieve. Thanks to the magic of Ricochet this one is even more fractal than it looks; there’s a sixth level of the pattern hidden in the image resizing.

Last time I wrote about poetry I took a scientist’s view of the matter. This time I’m starting in math. Clearly, I understand what all this poetry stuff is about. Do y’all remember what a fractal is? It’s a pattern that repeats itself all the way down.

Imagine, if you will, that those white triangles are islands in a sea of black. You have a continent in the middle, a couple isles nearby, and more and more islands and islets the further away you get from that central continent. It’s bad water for navigating in because there’s an infinite number of rocks, pebbles, and even smaller navigation hazards poking up out of the surface of the water. Maybe it’s more of a swamp than an ocean. Okay, now zoom in. Let’s say you’re small enough that you live on one of the islands. You can deduce the pattern; you know that just over thataways there’s a bigger island. Is there another, larger one beyond it, or are we looking at the top of the pattern?

On the Nature of Poetry


Its stuff that rhymes. Only it doesn’t always rhyme. Usually the stuff that doesn’t rhyme is bad, but then if you look at poetry in other languages and traditions sometimes it doesn’t even rhyme at all. Hmm… maybe I should back up a bit. What I’d like to do is try and characterize poetry from a scientific perspective. That means I’ll be observing three samples of poetry captured in the wild to see what we can learn about them. Let’s move right to the first:

I come home during the 2016 campaign and @MattBalzer says to me “Hillary Clinton just called Trump supporters a ‘basket of deplorables.'” You know how I responded? “I don’t often have a good word to say about Hillary Clinton, but that’s a good phrase right there.”

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Talking to an agnostic/atheist friend the other day who studies physics a little bit or at least used to. He explained to me that he’s becoming increasingly convinced that we are living in a simulated universe. To which I responded, “Great!” He seemed perplexed by my reaction. When I asked him why, he responded that […]

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The Emperor’s New Mind


Mathematical truth is not a horrendously complicated dogma whose validity is beyond our comprehension. -Sir Rodger Penrose

The Emperor’s New Mind is Sir Roger Penrose’s argument that you can’t get a true AI by merely piling silicon atop silicon. To explain why he needs a whole book in which he summarizes most math and all physics. Even for a geek like me, someone who’s got the time on his hands and a fascination with these things it gets a bit thick. While delving into the vagaries of light cones or the formalism of Hilbert space in quantum mechanics it’s easy to wonder “wait, what does this have to do with your main argument?” Penrose has to posit new physics in order to support his ideas, and he can’t explain those ideas unless you the reader have a sufficient grasp of how the old physics works. Makes for a frustrating read though.

Limited, Local, Lawful Government


I have been an active poster and commenter on Ricochet since the beginning; way back when Peter came down the mountain with the Code of Conduct and Rob was still scribbling graffiti on the side of NRO cruise ships.

The concept and the membership really haven’t changed much. Contributors come and go. Ever more podcasts elbow each other for a place in the spotlight. We have more options on the site now, like groups and private messages. We have more meetups. Ne’er-do-wells are still sacrificed to the PIT.

On Empathy


If I were a drinking man, I’d play a drinking game: Open a dating app, the comments section of a Washington Post article, a feminist blog, or any other place where people of a left-wing persuasion congregate, and take a shot every time someone writes a paean to empathy.

Whatever your neighbor’s teenage daughter may say, empathy is not a virtue. Empathy is a useful and morally neutral psychological phenomenon, one which might underlie certain virtues, but one which is not itself sufficient as the basis for any coherent ethical system.* The world would not ipso facto become a better place if “everyone had more empathy.” On the contrary, it might degenerate into some version of what we see now: quivering masses of emotional gelatin demanding therapeutic self-affirmation in the form of safe spaces and coloring books; a people paralyzed in unending anguish merely because somewhere, someone is suffering. As a moral principle, empathy is self-defeating. Too often, appealing to the “capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference” is akin to saying, “Every action or belief is legitimate from the point of view of the person who experiences it, and therefore every action or belief is legitimate.” Empathy easily descends into excuse-making. (Take the canonical example of an abused girlfriend: Is she really better off for “showing empathy” to her abuser?) Once empathy is removed from the psychological realm and introduced to the ethical one, it negates the very purpose of ethics, which is to establish a series of principles by which actions can be judged.