Why read Aristotle today?

Less familiar is the recipe for happiness (eudaimonia) advocated by Aristotle, yet it has much to be said for it. Outside of philosophy departments, where neo-Aristotelian thinkers such as Philippa Foot and Rosalind Hursthouse have championed his virtue ethics as an alternative to utilitarianism and Kantian approaches, it is not as well known as it should be. At his Lyceum in Athens, Aristotle developed a model for the maximisation of happiness that could be implemented by individuals and whole societies, and is still relevant today. It became known as ‘peripatetic philosophy’ because Aristotle conducted philosophical debates while strolling in company with his interlocutors.


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Pythagoras on the Purpose of Life and the Meaning of Wisdom

The Greek polymath Pythagoras (c. 570–c. 495 BC) ignited the golden age of mathematics with the development of numerical logic and the discovery of his namesake theorem of geometry, which furnished the world’s first foothold toward the notion of scientific proof and has been etched into the mind of every schoolchild in the millennia since. His ideas went on to influence Plato, Copernicus, Descartes, Kepler, Newton, and Einstein, and the school he founded made the then-radical decision to welcome women as members, one of whom was Hypatia of Alexandria — the world’s first known woman astronomer.


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The Philosophy of Music

Philosophy of music is the study of fundamental questions about the nature and value of music and our experience of it. Like any “philosophy of X”, it presupposes knowledge of its target. However, unlike philosophy of science, say, the target of philosophy of music is a practice most people have a significant background in, merely as a result of being members of a musical culture. Music plays a central role in many people’s lives. Thus, as with the central questions of metaphysics and epistemology, not only can most people quickly grasp the philosophical questions music raises, they tend to have thought about some of those questions before encountering the academic discipline itself. (This is as good a place as any to note that I, like most in the English-speaking philosophical world, focus exclusively on Western musical traditions. For criticism of this tendency, see Alperson 2009. For some exceptions to it, see S. Davies 2001: 254–94) and Feagin 2007.)


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Information Technology and Moral Values

Information technology is now ubiquitous in the lives of people across the globe. These technologies take many forms such as personal computers, smartphones, the internet, web and mobile phone applications, digital assistants, and cloud computing. In fact, the list is growing constantly and new forms of these technologies are working their way into every aspect of daily life. In some cases, such as can be seen in massively multiplayer online games (see section 2.1.1 below), these technologies are even opening up new ways of interacting with each other. Information technology at its basic level is technology that records, communicates, synthesizes or organizes information. Information can be understood as any useful data, instructions, or meaningful message content. The word literally means to “give form to” or to shape one’s thoughts. So a basic type of information technology might be the proverbial string tied around one’s finger to remind or inform you that you have some specific task to accomplish today. Here the string stands in for a more complex proposition such as “buy groceries before you come home.” The string itself is not the information, it merely symbolizes the information and therefore this symbol must be correctly interpreted for it to be useful. Which raises the question, what is information itself?


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Philosophy of Technology

If philosophy is the attempt “to understand how things in the broadest possible sense of the term hang together in the broadest possible sense of the term”, as Sellars (1962) put it, philosophy should not ignore technology. It is largely by technology that contemporary society hangs together. It is hugely important not only as an economic force but also as a cultural force. Indeed during the last two centuries, when it gradually emerged as a discipline, philosophy of technology has mostly been concerned with the impact of technology on society and culture, rather than with technology itself. Mitcham (1994) calls this type of philosophy of technology ‘humanities philosophy of technology’ because it is continuous with social science and the humanities. Only recently a branch of the philosophy of technology has developed that is concerned with the technology itself and that aims to understand both the practice of designing and creating artifacts (in a wide sense, including artificial processes and systems) and the nature of the things so created. This latter branch of the philosophy of technology seeks continuity with the philosophy of science and with several other fields in the analytic tradition in modern philosophy, such as the philosophy of action and decision-making, rather than with social science and the humanities.


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Computing and Moral Responsibility

Traditionally philosophical discussions on moral responsibility have focused on the human components in moral action. Accounts of how to ascribe moral responsibility usually describe human agents performing actions that have well-defined, direct consequences. In today’s increasingly technological society, however, human activity cannot be properly understood without making reference to technological artifacts, which complicates the ascription of moral responsibility (Jonas 1984; Waelbers 2009).[1] As we interact with and through these artifacts, they affect the decisions that we make and how we make them (Latour 1992). They persuade, facilitate and enable particular human cognitive processes, actions or attitudes while constraining, discouraging and inhibiting others. For instance, internet search engines prioritize and present information in a particular order, thereby influencing what internet users get to see. As Verbeek points out, such technological artifacts are “active mediators” that “actively co-shape people’s being in the world: their perception and actions, experience and existence” (2006, p. 364). As active mediators, they change the character of human action and as a result, it challenges conventional notions of moral responsibility (Jonas 1984; Johnson 2001).


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Social Networking and Ethics

In the first decade of the 21st century, new media technologies for social networking such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and YouTube began to transform the social, political and informational practices of individuals and institutions across the globe, inviting a philosophical response from the community of applied ethicists and philosophers of technology. While this scholarly response continues to be challenged by the rapidly evolving nature of social networking technologies, the urgent need for attention to this phenomenon is underscored by the fact that it is reshaping how many human beings initiate and/or maintain virtually every type of ethically significant social bond or role: friend-to-friend, parent-to-child, co-worker-to co-worker, employer-to-employee, teacher-to-student, neighbor-to-neighbor, seller-to-buyer, and doctor-to-patient, to offer just a partial list. Nor are the ethical implications of these technologies strictly interpersonal. The complex web of interactions between social networking service users and their online and offline communities, social network developers, corporations, governments and other institutions—along with the diverse and sometimes conflicting motives and interests of these various stakeholders—will continue to require rigorous philosophical analysis for decades to come.


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Of Labor and Human Bondage: Spinoza, Marx, and the “Willing Slaves” of Capitalism

Readers of contemporary Ph7losophy will not be surprised to see the name Spinoza paired with Marx in the title of a recently published book. Ever since Louis Althusser argued in the mid-1960s that he and his co-writers of Reading Capital were Spinozists and not structuralists, there has been an increased inquiry into the points of connection between Marx and Spinoza. One could even say that what the Hegel/Marx connection was to a previous generation — animating the writings of Adorno, Sartre, Lukács, etc. — the Marx/Spinoza connection is to a current collection of philosophers ranging from Althusser, and the members of his circle such as Étienne Balibar and Pierre Macherey, to Antonio Negri, Warren Montag, and Hasana Sharp.


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Antonio Gramsci the Marxist Thinker for our Times

At the trial of Antonio Gramsci in 1928, the prosecutor declared: “We must stop this  rain from working for 20 years.” Gramsci, the former leader of the Italian Communist Party and a gifted Marxist theoretician and journalist, was sentenced to two decades’ imprisonment by Benito Mussolini’s fascist government.

Yet confinement marked the flowering, rather than the decay, of Gramsci’s thought. He embarked on an epic intellectual pursuit with the aim of an enduring legacy. His Prison Notebooks, as they became known, comprised 33 volumes and 3,000 pages of history, philosophy, economics and revolutionary strategy. Though permitted to write, Gramsci was denied access to Marxist works and was forced to use code to evade the prison censors. In 1937, having long been refused adequate health care (his teeth fell out and he was unable to digest solid foods), Gramsci died, aged 46.


Read also: The conquest of the state

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Human Existence is Difficult. Existentialism and Phenomenology

What does it mean to live an authentic, fully human life? What distinguishes us from other animals? Are we truly set apart in some way? How should we think of ourselves? What are we? What should we do?

If these questions have ever concerned you then you could do no worse than read Sarah Bakewell’s fascinating book, At The Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails, in which she takes us on a wonderful journey through the lives, loves, and sometimes tortured existence of the existentialists, who not only struggled to answer these questions and find the meaning of life, but also had to contend with the political chaos that Europe was in during the 20th century.


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