Desiring the Good: Ancient Proposals and Contemporary Theory

How does desiring what is good for us direct our decisions and actions? Katja Vogt’s most recent book tackles this question. While it provides interpretations of various texts by Plato and Aristotle, it is written primarily as a contribution to the contemporary debate, advocating a (broadly speaking) neo-Aristotelian approach. Her guiding idea is that to “desire the good” is to desire that one’s life go well. Against a tradition in contemporary action theory that she traces back to Anscombe, Vogt wants to establish that our motivation for small-scale actions is ultimately rooted in this desire to live well and, furthermore, that “pursuits,” as a form of mid-level activity, play a crucial role in mediating between the vague desire for a good life and our day-to-day activities. In response to the question of how we can know the good (for us), she advocates a view dubbed “measure realism.”


Read also: Desiring the Good: Ancient Proposals and Contemporary Theory

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What Is Wisdom? – The psychology and philosophy of wisdom

Wisdom, more so even than expertise, does not sit comfortably in a democratic, anti-elitist society. In an age dominated by science and technology, by specialization and compartmentalization, it is too loose, too grand, and too mysterious a concept. With our heads in our smartphones and tablets, in our pay slips and bank statements, we simply do not have the time or mental space for it.

The word ‘philosophy’ literally means ‘the love of wisdom’, and wisdom is the overarching aim of philosophy, or, at least, ancient philosophy. In Plato’s Lysis, Socrates tells the young Lysis that, without wisdom, he would be of no interest to anyone: “…if you are wise, all men will be your friends and kindred, for you will be useful and good; but if you are not wise, neither father, nor mother, nor kindred, nor anyone else, will be your friends.” The patron of Athens, the city in which the Lysis is set, is no less than Athena, goddess of wisdom, who sprung out in full armor from the skull of Zeus. Her symbol and the symbol of wisdom is the owl, which can see through the darkness.


Read also: What is Wisdom and how is it Learned?

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Introduction to Philosophy of Complex Systems

This present essay and its matching closing essay ([Hooker-b, this volume]2) are intended to be complementary and between them provide at least a first presentation of an intellectual framework for understanding the foundational and philosophical issues raised by the complex systems revolution. The present essay is designed to introduce and broadly review the domain of complex systems, with an eye to identifying the historical setting (section 2), the key systems properties at issue (section 3) and a collection of sub-domains that do not receive treatment in a dedicated essay (section 4). The closing essay is an attempt to systematically survey the specific components and issues that make up a scientific paradigm (section 5) and philosophy of science (section 6) that together comprise a foundational/philosophical analysis of the role of complex systems in science, as they currently appear.

Readers at least somewhat familiar with complex systems should find the essays to follow reasonably accessible, with references that invite further exploration. Those entering the field for the first time might like to first consult one or more of the books referenced at note 6 below and/or the websites referenced at [Hookerb, this volume, note 15] (or any of the hundreds of other instructive books and websites available).


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Comparative Studies in Asian and Latin American Philosophies

This excellent new collection represents a bold step forward in comparative philosophy. I hope that it will find a wide readership and have an influence on the development of the field. As the editors point out in their introduction, comparative philosophy (especially done within the discipline of philosophy) has long been almost exclusively concerned with the study of some Non-Western tradition alongside a Western tradition. Comparative philosophy as such has constantly had the West as a frame. Berruz and Kalmanson’s praiseworthy aim in this volume is to “disrupt this trajectory . . . to ‘provincialize’ the West within comparative philosophy and to focus explicit attention on conversations across Latin America and Asia” (1). The essays in this volume present interesting ways of doing this, even while the West remains a more-or-less shadowy presence in many of the essays and an explicit player in some.


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Early Greek Philosophy

I have tried to stress the ways in which EGP is not merely a repository that gathers together early philosophical texts but is a fresh perspective and even an orientation to the study of early Greek philosophy. The kind of approach it suggests is not only a critical one but also a humanistic one, where one is guided to seek as much contextualization through time and in place as possible. I would predict that those who come to rely upon EGP to teach and study early Greek philosophy and philosophers — and I hope it will be many of us — will produce work.

In short, I think that EGP, used correctly, will provide a model and a vital tool for historians of Greek philosophy to be better historians and critics. This need not make the historian of philosophy any less a philosopher. Certainly, no one is a better philosopher for being less well-informed and less critical a judge of the past; the historian of philosophy’s work need not perforce be any less philosophical if it is more historical. But it does suggest that she and her work will be philosophical in ways both markedly and subtly different than before.


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Mathematical reasoning and the human mind

Mathematics is more than the memorization and application of various rules. Although the language of mathematics can be intimidating, the concepts themselves are built into everyday life. In the following excerpt from A Brief History of Mathematical Thought, Luke Heaton examines the concepts behind mathematics and the language we use to describe them.

Mathematical reasoning involves rules and definitions, and the fact that computers can add correctly demonstrates that you don’t even need to have a brain to correctly employ a specific, notational system. In other words, in a very limited way, we can ‘do mathematics’ without needing to reflect on the significance or meaning of our symbols. However, mathematics isn’t only about the proper, rule-governed use of symbols: it is about ideas that can be expressed by the rule-governed use of symbols, and it seems that many mathematical ideas are deeply rooted in the structure of the world that we perceive.


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Hannah Arendt and the source of human values

Arendt’s thinking on human values, if one follows her along, takes us on a path to self-understanding and humility, but also one of purpose. Arendt’s shows that our hierarchy of values is transitory and unstable, in part because our mental picture of the world is incomplete and the facts of our future existence on the earth is uncertain. While Arendt’s thinking challenges us not to think of our values, our works, or our actions as more transcendent than they really are, she does so to sound a note of hopeful defiance. In Arendt’s view, the slow, patient efforts of humankind – making art, teaching history, building houses, raising crops, protecting the rights of individuals in courts of law, moving people with the right words in the right moment – these activities mean all the more in allowing us self-made dignity and comfort in a world that grants us no such thing by entitlement.


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Women in philosophy: A reading list

This March, in recognition of Women’s History Month, the OUP Philosophy team will be celebrating Women in Philosophy. The philosophy discipline has long been perceived as male-dominated, so we want to recognize some of the incredible female philosophers from the past including Simone de Beauvoir, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Hannah Arendt, plus female philosophers doing great things in 2018 like Martha Nussbaum, Clare Chambers, and Kate Manne.

Find these and more in our reading list below, highlighting recent works in the field of feminist philosophy and classic female philosophers. Visit our Women in Philosophy page for more book recommendations, along with free access to online products and journal articles focusing on female philosophers and feminist philosophy.


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To imagine is to form a mental representation that does not aim at things as they actually, presently, and subjectively are. One can use imagination to represent possibilities other than the actual, to represent times other than the present, and to represent perspectives other than one’s own. Unlike perceiving and believing, imagining something does not require one to consider that something to be the case. Unlike desiring or anticipating, imagining something does not require one to wish or expect that something to be the case.


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Personal Identity

Personal identity deals with philosophical questions that arise about ourselves by virtue of our being people (or, as lawyers and philosophers like to say, persons). This contrasts with questions about ourselves that arise by virtue of our being living things, conscious beings, material objects, or the like. Many of these questions occur to nearly all of us now and again: What am I? When did I begin? What will happen to me when I die? Others are more abstruse. Personal identity has been discussed since the origins of Western philosophy, and most major figures have had something to say about it. (There is also a rich literature on the topic in Eastern philosophy, which I am not competent to discuss; Collins 1982 and Jinpa 2002 are useful sources.)


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