The Conquest of Happiness

Bertrand Russell in The Conquest of Happiness attempted to diagnose the myriad causes of unhappiness in modern life and chart a path out of the seemingly inescapable malaise so prevalent even in safe and prosperous Western societies. More than eighty years later, Russell’s wisdom remains as true as it was on its initial release. Eschewing guilt-based morality, Russell lays out a rationalist prescription for living a happy life, including the importance of cultivating interests outside oneself and the dangers of passive pleasure. In this new edition, best-selling philosopher Daniel C. Dennett reintroduces Russell to a new generation, stating that Conquest is both “a fascinating time capsule” and “a prototype of the flood of self-help books that have more recently been published, few of them as well worth reading today as Russell’s little book.”


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Becoming Other: Foucault, Deleuze, and the Political Nature of Thought  

In this paper I employ the notion of the ‘thought of the outside’ as developed by Michel Foucault, in order to defend the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze against the criticisms of ‘elitism,’ ‘aristocratism,’ and ‘political indifference’—famously leveled by Alain Badiou and Peter Hallward.  First, I argue that their charges of a theophanic conception of Being, which ground the broader political claims, derive from a misunderstanding of Deleuze’s notion of univocity, as well as a failure to recognize the significance of the concept of multiplicity in Deleuze’s thinking.  From here, I go on to discuss Deleuze’s articulation of the ‘dogmatic image of thought,’ which, insofar as it takes ‘recognition’ as its model, can only ever think what is already solidified and sedimented as true, in light of existing structures and institutions of power.  Then, I examine Deleuze’s reading of Foucault and the notion of the ‘thought of the outside,’ showing the ‘outside’ as the unthought that lies at the heart of thinking itself, as both its condition and its impossibility.  Insofar as it is essential to thinking itself, finally, I argue that the passage of thought to the outside is not an absolute flight out of this world, as Hallward claims, but rather, a return of the different that constitutes the Self for Deleuze. Thinking is an ongoing movement of deterritorialization and reterritorialization, or as Foucault says, death and life.  Thinking, as Deleuze understands it, is essentially creative; it reconfigures the virtual, thereby literally changing the world.    Thinking is therefore, according to Deleuze, thoroughly political.


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Philosophy Is Not a Science

In sum, philosophy is not science. For it employs the rational tools of logical analysis and conceptual clarification in lieu of empirical measurement. And this approach, when carefully carried out, can yield knowledge at times more reliable and enduring than science, strictly speaking. For scientific measurement is in principle always subject to at least some degree of readjustment based on future observation. Yet sound philosophical argument achieves a measure of immortality.

So if we philosophers want to restore philosophy’s authority in the wider culture, we should not change its name but engage more often with issues of contemporary concern — not so much as scientists but as guardians of reason. This might encourage the wider population to think more critically, that is, to become more philosophical.


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Karl Polanyi and twenty-first century socialism

In recent decades, grassroots movements around the world have mobilized millions of people against the commodification of land, labor, and money that has been central to the project of “free market” globalization. Efforts to build the solidarity and social economy, to expand and defend the commons, to implement a Basic Income for all citizens, and to resist land grabs by speculators and giant corporations  all rest on the recognition that it is inhuman to leave people and their natural surroundings vulnerable to the dictates of impersonal markets. These initiatives have sometimes been inspired by the powerful argument that Karl Polanyi developed in The Great Transformation, where he explained the disastrous consequences of imagining that land, labor and money could and should be treated like any other good or service, to be sold on the market.


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Aristotle on the Nature of Friendship

One part of the investigations into human nature in the Nicomachean Ethics is the subject of friendship. Two whole books, Book Eight and Book Nine, are dedicated to analyses on this subject. Aristotle uses the Greek word philia for what we would call friendship. In Book Eight Aristotle proposes that there are three different types of friendship, each with corresponding circumstances that in a way determine each type. There are friendships based on utility, pleasure, and the good. If Aristotle’s goal in his investigations in the Nicomachean Ethics is to determine the best way to lead a good life, and to achieve eudaimonia, or human flourishing, then understanding what friendship is and in fact having good friends is a prerequisite for the acquisition of a life which may be called truly good.

This paper will analyze Aristotle’s arguments on the nature of friendship and will examine in what ways that friendship indeed is a component required for living a good life. Although it may appear from a reading of the Nicomachean Ethics that it may seem that only perfect or virtue friendship is the type of friendship that is worth pursuing, this paper will argue that all three types of friendships are worthy of pursuit. This argument is supported by Aristotle’s definition of friendship in the Rhetoric that states that friendship is a type of reciprocal well-wishing. This study will analyze Aristotle’s arguments for the three types of friendships and show how his distinctions are relevant to the modern world. This study will also propose that by understanding Aristotle’s distinctions one may achieve a clarity concerning human relations and that by practicing caution and moderation in the early stages of friendship will protect a virtuous person from the non-virtuous.


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Ethical Know-how-Action, Wisdom and Cognition

How can science be brought to connect with experience? This book by Francisco J. Varela addresses two of the most challenging problems facing contemporary neurobiology and cognitive science: first, understanding how we unconsciously execute habitual actions as a result of neurological and cognitive processes that are not formal actions of conscious judgment but part of a habitual nexus of systematic self-organization; second, creating an ethics adequate to our present awareness that there is no such thing as a transcendental self, a stable subject, or a soul.

In earlier modes of cognitive science, cognition was conceptualized according to a model of representation and abstract reasoning. In the realm of ethics, this corresponded to the philosophical tenet that to do what is ethical is to do what corresponds to an abstract set of rules. By contrast to this computationalism, the author places central emphasis on what he terms “enaction” cognition as the ability to negotiate embodied, everyday living in a world that is inseparable from our sensory-motor capacities.

Apart from his researches in cognitive science, the bodies of thought that enable Varela to make this link are phenomenology and two representatives of what he calls the “wisdom traditions”: Confucian ethics and Buddhist epistemology. From the Confucian tradition, he draws upon the Mencius to propose an ethics of praxis, one in which ethical action is conceived as a project of being rather than as a system of judgment, less a matter of rules that are universally applicable than a goal of expertise, sagehood.

The Buddhist contribution to his project encompasses “the embodiment of the void” and the “pragmatics of a virtual self.” How does a belief system that does not posit a unitary self or subject conceive the living of an “I”? In summation, the author proposes an ethics founded on “savoir faire” that is a practice of transformation based on a constant recognition of the “virtual” nature of ourselves in the actual operations of our mental lives.


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Representation and Reality in Wittgenstein’s Tractatus

José L. Zalabardo’s book provides a rich and stimulating interpretation of Wittgenstein’s central doctrines in the Tractatus about the nature of representation and the structure of reality. As is well known, the Tractatus raises peculiar difficulties for an attempt to spell out its “doctrines”, for Wittgenstein notoriously declares toward the end of the book that anyone who understands him will eventually recognize its statements as nonsensical. Zalabardo is well aware of the problems raised by and of the debates between traditional readers, who have tended to downplay the supposed nonsensicality of the Tractarian statements, and more recent “resolute” readers who have taken it seriously and attempted to develop an anti-theoretical, therapeutic reading of the Tractatus. Still, Zalabardo provides a more or less straightforward interpretation of “the Tractarian Account of Representation and Reality (TARR)”. He is able to do so because he divides what he calls “Wittgenstein’s programme” in the Tractatus into two stages and focuses on a reconstruction and evaluation of only the first stage.


Read also: Representation and Reality in Wittgenstein’s Tractatus

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Marx’s Ecological Notebooks

Karl Marx has long been criticized for his so-called ecological “Prometheanism”—an extreme commitment to industrialism, irrespective of natural limits. This view, supported even by a number of Marxists, such as Ted Benton and Michael Löwy, has become increasingly hard to accept after a series of careful and stimulating analyses of the ecological dimensions of Marx’s thought, elaborated in Monthly Review and elsewhere. The Prometheanism debate is not a mere philological issue, but a highly practical one, as capitalism faces environmental crises on a global scale, without any concrete solutions. Any such solutions will likely come from the various ecological movements emerging worldwide, some of which explicitly question the capitalist mode of production. Now more than ever, therefore, the rediscovery of a Marxian ecology is of great importance to the development of new forms of left strategy and struggle against global capitalism.


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Reading Marx in the Information Age

Renowned Marxist scholar and critical media theorist Christian Fuchs provides a thorough, chapter-by-chapter introduction to Capital Volume 1 that assists readers in making sense of Karl Marx’s most important and groundbreaking work in the information age, exploring Marx’s key concepts through the lens of media and communication studies via contemporary phenomena like the Internet, digital labour, social media, the media industries, and digital class struggles. Through a range of international, current-day examples, Fuchs emphasises the continued importance of Marx and his work in a time when transnational media companies like Amazon, Google, and Facebook play an increasingly important role in global capitalism. Discussion questions and exercises at the end of each chapter help readers to further apply Marx’s work to a modern-day context.


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Marx in the Age of Digital Capitalism

This book is a key resource on the foundations of Marxist Internet and Digital Media Studies. It presents 16 contributions that show how Marx’s analyses of capitalism, the commodity, class, labour, work, exploitation, surplus-value, dialectics, crises, ideology, class struggles, and communism help us to understand the Internet and social media in 21st century digital capitalism.


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