New TPM column: Footnotes to Plato

TPMAs I announced recently, The Philosophers’ Magazine Online has just launched a new column, authored by yours truly, called “Footnotes to Plato” (yes, an obvious echo of this blog…). As I admit in the opening essay, the title is a bit ambitious, but the editors liked it, so who am I to disagree.

As I further explain: “This new column, which the Editors at TPM have kindly agreed to begin publishing, isn’t going to be about Plato, or ancient philosophy (well, occasionally, maybe). But it is intended in the same spirit of philosophical inquiry that Whitehead tried to capture with his famous quip” (the one about Western philosophy being a series of footnotes to Plato).

I continue the piece by giving readers a brief outline of how I got to become a professional philosopher to begin with (a bit of an unusual route, if you will), setting the tone for what I hope is going to be an engaging and stimulating collaboration with TPM!

(Sneak preview. Coming up at Footnotes to Plato: what right now looks like a three-part series on the difference between having a philosophy of life and subscribing to a religion.)

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One thought on “New TPM column: Footnotes to Plato

  1. Coming up at Footnotes to Plato: what right now looks like a three-part series on the difference between having a philosophy of life and subscribing to a religion

    Hah, that is sure to be very interesting. I can’t wait to see the differences.

    You may remember my categorisation of degrees of belief – indifferent, nominal, motivated, committed and activist. On this scale you qualify as activist since you write about and advocate a central part of your philosophy of life – Stoicism.

    People have multiple belief systems and their belief systems can be described along several axes according to the strength of their beliefs on the above scale. But in every person’s life one belief system dominates and this is where its strength reaches motivated, committed or activist levels. This, their strongest belief system, can be described as being central to their philosophy of life.

    In the same way I am sure your philosophy of life has many dimensions but central to that, it seems, is your practise of Stoicism. When I started out to write this comment I was first going to say that meaning in life is found where there is clear purpose motivated by moral understanding. Now I am going to reword that by saying a worthwhile philosophy of life provides clear purpose illuminated by moral understanding.

    Which brings me back to Malik’s very good essay about free speech. He makes the point that

    In plural societies, it is both inevitable and important that people offend the sensibilities of others.

    This is rather like Mao Zedong’s famous “let a hundred flowers bloom, let a hundred schools of thought contend

    It is in the contention of ideas that we uncover truths, resolve conflicts and find accommodation, that much is true. But it is the manner of the contention that makes all the difference. Mao Zedong resolved this contention by exiling or violently suppressing all undesired schools of thought in the Cultural Revolution.

    Today we use the milder tactics of scorn, derision and silencing. These tactics are satisfying but also destructive. They are destructive because they promote the affective partisan polarisation that plagues American politics.

    In both cases what is lacking is moral understanding. Moral understanding allows the conflict of ideas to be resolved in the most effective way. This is why, for example, comments are moderated. Free speech then, depends for its operation, on the unwritten rules of a common moral understanding. The absence of a common moral understanding causes free speech to descend into acrimonious conflict.

    The really interesting thing is that Malik, the author of the Moral Compass, made no mention of the necessary moral foundation of free speech.I am using the word ‘moral’ here in the virtue ethics sense of moderation, temperance, justice, tolerance, courtesy. consideration, etc.

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