Is Stoic virtue “foolish”? Not so fast

Stoicism deserves criticism on a number of fronts, but the Stoic conception of virtue ain’t one of them

by Massimo Pigliucci

I’ve recently quit social media. I’ve consciously, willfully left close to 50,000 followers on Twitter and a few thousands on Facebook. Why? Because, I reckoned, it was the virtuous thing to do. The case against social media and their increasingly pernicious effects on society is increasingly well established on empirical grounds. And as a welcome side effect, I regained some peace of mind and control over my own time.

Am I under the illusion that my quitting those platforms will make any dent in the global situation? Of course not. But since when one has to be assured of having a planetary impact before doing anything? Virtue, as they say, is its own reward.

Which brings me to an article by Douglas Bates provocatively entitled “Stoic ‘virtue’ is delusional,” to which I wish to respond because it raises interesting questions about Stoicism in particular and the broader notion of virtue — common to most of the Hellenistic philosophies — more generally. Besides, I’d rather not be thought of as delusional. … (continue at Medium)

Cynic satire

So-called Menippean satire was invented by an ancient Cynic philosopher. And it has influenced us for millennia

by Massimo Pigliucci

Menippus of Gadara (modern day Jordan) was a slave. He was also a Cynic philosopher and a satirist. We don’t know much about him, except the fact that he was a Greek, likely of Phoenician descent. When he obtained his freedom he moved to Thebes. Even more unfortunately, all his works have been lost. Which makes Menippus one of the most influential figures of antiquity you probably never heard of. According to the commentator Diogenes Laertius, Menippus wrote books with titles like Necromancy, Letters Artificially Composed as If by the Gods, and The Birth of Epicurus, among others. They were works of satire of a new kind, which is nowadays referred to as Menippean. … (continue at Medium)

SETI: a skeptical take

We’ve been looking for extra-terrestrial intelligence for several decades. What is that all about anyway?

by Massimo Pigliucci

I’ve always been fascinated by the possibility of extraterrestrial life. Who isn’t? When I was a kid, I got into UFOs and such. Then the age of reason dawned and I realized that actual science is more interesting than fantasy. So I got into SETI, the (scientific) Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence. I read about the pioneering work of Frank Drake (more on him in a moment), devoured everything Carl Sagan wrote about it, and even — for a long time — downloaded and used the SETI program screen saver, which doubles as data processor on behalf of the SETI Institute. … (continue at Medium)

Rationality is instrumental, and that’s a problem

The subtle and complex relationship between logic, philosophy, and science

by Massimo Pigliucci

Today I read a decidedly unfavorable review of the latest book by Steven Pinker, Rationality: What It Is, Why It Seems Scarce, Why It Matters. I’m no fan of Pinker, but this article isn’t (mostly) about him or the book. Rather, it’s about one of the main criticisms brought up in the review, written by Ted McCormick for Slate magazine. Pinker wants to argue that if only people acted rationally then this would be a much better world. But he — correctly — defines rationality as an instrumental quality: “[rationality] is a kit of cognitive tools that can attain particular goals in particular worlds.” … (continue at Medium)

Making sense of the Hellenistic philosophies

A brief conceptual guide to what differentiated the Greco-Roman schools of philosophy as a way of life

by Massimo Pigliucci

The Hellenistic period span from the death of Alexander the Great and the consequent collapse of the Macedonian Empire in 323 BCE to the battle of Actium in 31 BCE, where the future first Roman emperor, Octavian, beat the crap out of the joint forces of Mark Anthony and Cleopatra. It was an incredible period in human history, which saw the flourishing of a number of philosophical schools that went on to impact the development of western civilization, and that are still very much relevant today. … (continue at Medium)