Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 69

Here it is, our regular Friday diet of suggested readings for the weekend:

The Aztecs on happiness, pleasure and the good life.

The replicability crisis in certain sciences continues unabated, the result of a culture of perverse incentives.

Rethinking the concept of willpower in a more useful and nuanced way.

How brain scientists forgot that brains have owners (behavior before and above brains, people!).

Can we have more than one friend? According to Montaigne, no (but perhaps he was a bit too strict).

A well thought out assessment of the contributions and limits of Paul Feyerabend’s philosophy.

86 thoughts on “Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 69

  1. brodix

    Trying to conceive of an absolute good, would be like an absolute yes, or absolute up, or absolute on.

    They are relational, to no, down, off.

    What is good for the fox, is bad for the chicken and there isn’t much middle ground, but there is a continuum, as there is no clear line where the chicken ends and the fox begins.


  2. wtc48

    brodix: “To edify, I would use Wahhabism as a current example of religious absolutism and North Korea as a political example of political absolutism. In the sense of where it leads, when there is a total insistence on only one way to do things.”

    Your examples are both relatively weak political entities, which may say something about absolutism. The USSR fell apart, and the Chinese have had to modify their system in practice. Having a figure from the corporate culture in charge in the US would seem to be an experiment to determine how long it takes for an absolutist to get chewed up by a constitutional system.

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  3. brodix


    In last week’s reading suggestions, there was one on immunology I found interesting, but no one else seemed to like;

    It makes a similar argument about the ways the “self” and the “other,” as good and bad, permeate our emotions, intellect and social interactions. Both by rejecting what is deemed invasive/threatening and cooperating with what is considered beneficial. You may disagree with it, as Massimo seemed to as well, but it does lay out a more extensive argument than I could.

    For anyone who thinks a truly global society/Gaia hypothesis is possible and not just top down control by an increasingly deranged predatory class, these are the sorts of issues which need to be considered in depth.


    Then again, piling excessive debt on those wishing to join the larger society and economy, might, at some level, become a form of abuse. So we might just be more sophisticated in our methods of indoctrinating the next generation to the abuses they will have to endure.


  4. brodix


    True. Ideals extracted from their context are meaningless.

    Our linear projections are extracted from larger feedback loops, much as we see the surface of the planet as flat.
    An example I’ve used before is that since efficiency is do more with less, the ideal of efficient would be to do everything with nothing.


  5. brodix

    Unfortunately our constitutional form of government is being hollowed out by a metastatic financial circulation system. Given Trump’s more notable business experience is to grab the cash and exit the back door, as the bankruptcy lawyers come in the front, It will provide interesting theater, if nothing else. Modern Shakespeare.


  6. Philosopher Eric

    Okay Brodix, I was probably painting your moral relativism with too broad a brush. It instead works contextually, and therefore cannibalism isn’t immoral in a cannibalistic society, but is in mine. Still that’s exactly why I have very little use for the morality concept itself — it’s a social construct. And even though most around here seem moral anti realists, there also seems to be a great deal of reverence for the concept of morality itself. Thus perhaps I need a stronger term to describe my own perspective, such as “moral nihilism.” Regardless I have tremendous use for the “is,” and very little use for the “ought.”


  7. brodix


    I don’t see it as nihilistic, just a basic, objective observation that we are attracted to the beneficial and repelled by the detrimental, while trying to avoid, or peel away a lot of the cultural baggage.


    Yes, it is fairly basic psychology, but behaviorism tends to get into issues of free will, versus determinism, which my contention about time puts in a different context. That we are not so much a product of our behaviors, but the decision making process of the present moment, sorting through them.
    To use Watts’ example of the boat and its wake, the wake isn’t steering the boat, rather the boat creates the wake.


  8. Philosopher Eric

    I have quite a problem with this platonic way of considering “friendship.” (And of course I don’t mean this in the popular “Person I don’t have sex with” sense, but rather as an ideal concept.) Friendship should instead occur in varying degrees. I consider it as a wealth which can be both emotionally satisfying, as well as provide security (given that these people will help you given your mutual bond if need be). Of course the more friends you have, the more such obligations you should carry as well. Fortunately I don’t recall feeling lonely since I was back in school from time to time. It was a very bitter feeling, and I hope to not ever experience it again.


    I’m saying that I’m the moral nihilist, not that you are. But then if you consider us attracted to the beneficial (happiness), and repelled by the detrimental (unhappiness), as well as that you personally try to peel away cultural baggage in the quest to understand reality itself, that does sound pretty close to my own perspective. It would probably be quite simple to understand the human, that is if we weren’t human. Until the alien psychologists arrive, we’ll just have to try to be more objective than we now manage.


  9. brodix


    Maybe I’m not understanding how you mean nihilistic. To me, it would mean a life without meaning, focus, purpose, etc. A sense of hollowness, etc. Which is quite depressing, in my book.
    As I see it balance is a bit like the Serenity Prayer; Changing the things I can, patience for the things I can’t and wisdom to know the difference.
    I grew up in a chaotic situation, that was both close knit, but lots of personal politics, as well as fairly physical, so I see myself as both giving and receiving in myriad different ways, which gives me both support and meaning.
    How do you mean nihilistic?

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Philosopher Eric

    Well Brodix, the Wikipedia topic on moral nihilism works pretty well for me in general. I certainly don’t mean it as “life without meaning, focus, purpose, etc.” I believe that my existence has those very things, so how could I? I like to reduce all that stuff down to the term “happiness,” and consider it to represent the personal value of existing, both on the good side and bad. Here I’m discussing what “is” for any given subject, and so this should thus be appropriate for scientific study some day. Conversely morality is a normative idea, and so concerns how a person “ought” to act. I have very little use for such a concept — I don’t see how this could be an aspect of reality that exists beyond what “is.”

    I suspect that we’re using “nihilism” essentially the same, but not the “moral” part. Do you believe that “is” is all there is, or rather do you believe that there are normative “oughts” that exist beyond what is?

    I don’t mind if philosophers take up a descriptive form of ethics some day, and so theorize the realities of good/bad existence. That would be great! But if they decide that descriptions of reality remain outside their realm of expertise, then I would hope for them to not object if psychologists and various other scientists finally begin exploring the realities of good to bad existence for various defined subjects.


  11. brodix


    I’m in the “reap what you sow” camp, so I tend to act towards others, as I hope they will act toward me. I would call that in the “ought” category.


  12. Philosopher Eric

    The thing that strikes me most regarding the Feyerabend article, is how if he were able to read it, he would have surely thought that he had failed. Here we have a partisan philosopher who presents the man’s legacy in order to say, “He didn’t help our side beat those disrespectful scientismists enough.” Is this not a sad state of affairs? I can understand why there’s no objectivity when you fight dogs against dogs, or rival towns in soccer matches. But apparently we even get this sort of thing when we match scientists up against philosophers. Therefore it must be true that Paul Feyerabend did fail.


  13. Robin Herbert

    Hi Eric,

    There have been descriptions of morality and moral behaviour frim various branches of science as well as from philosophy for a long time now. What are you proposing that is different from what is already being done?

    Also, do you see this as being useful to anyone, beyond satisfying scientific curiosity?

    Liked by 1 person

  14. brodix


    He succeeded because people remember him as saying that even science has its limits. That doesn’t hurt science, it helps it. Criticism is part of the balance.


  15. Philosopher Eric

    Thanks for the interest Robin,

    So both science and philosophy have been providing us with descriptions of various prescriptions? Actually now that you mention it, this does sound about right. How else could you give someone your normative principle if you didn’t “describe” it?

    Anyway that’s not actually what I’m talking about. I’m talking about good and bad that exist beyond what’s normative, or moral, or what’s socially constructed. For example if you were to exist alone without any other sentient beings, I suspect that existence could still be good for you as well as bad (beyond any social conceptions that have never existed for you anyway). The question is, what would define good and bad existence for you in such a place?

    My theory is a product of the conscious mind that’s formally known as “utility,” though less formally known as “happiness.” I consider this to be all that matters to anything throughout all of existence. Furthermore if scientifically accepted there should be tremendous practical implicatiohs. If a person or society wanted to know what was best for it in respect to countless situations, the maximization of its happiness would be it.


  16. Robin Herbert

    Hi Eric,

    “My theory is a product of the conscious mind that’s formally known as “utility,” though less formally known as “happiness.” I consider this to be all that matters to anything throughout all of existence. ”

    As far as I know ‘utility’ is just a word for what matters to any particular individual. So it is simply tautologically true that all that matters is utility. You would just be saying “all that matters to anyone is what matters to them”.

    “If a person or society wanted to know what was best for it in respect to countless situations, the maximization of its happiness would be it.”

    It doesn’t seem to me that you need science of philosophy for that.

    For example if I wanted to be filthy rich and spend the rest of my life exploring Europe in a fancy car and staying a expensive hotels and I didn’t care much who got hurt and I have the opportunity to get a lot of money by causing a large amount of suffering without any blowback on me, then clearly the best thing for me to do is to cause that suffering, get that money and have fun.

    If, on the other hand the knowledge of hurting those people would spoil my fun then I wouldn’t do it.

    I can’t see why I would need the services of a scientist or philosopher to help with that decision.


  17. Robin Herbert

    On the other hand, if you were to suggest that ‘maximising happiness’, including the suffering of those people I have to hurt to get rich, is the best thing in this situation, then you would be wrong. If I did not care about the suffering then clearly it would not be the best thing for me to spare them the suffering and forgo the wealth.


  18. brodix


    We perceive money as quantified hope and have built an entire economy around the manufacture of as much notational wealth as possible, to the exclusion of virtually everything else. That those managing this system and their dependents are the ones primarily benefiting from this is incidental to the overall assumption, as most everyone is trying to “get rich.” So there is in fact a very large experiment being run at this very moment to prove your hypothesis.


  19. Philosopher Eric


    If you want to define “utility” as that which constitutes value to anything, then your definition does happen to be tautological in that regard. Personally I happen to theorize that this measurable product of the conscious mind, happens to represent what’s ultimately valueable. As you know, this is nevertheless an extremely unpopular theory, and even though it does found the minor science of economics. (The major science of psychology, however, remains agnostic in this regard. I mean for such agnosticism to end.)

    Regarding your hedonistic scenario of fun, yes I theorize that if you hurt others to make yourself happy, and if your understanding of the unhappiness that you cause doesn’t reduce your happiness much, then that should be what’s best for you to do. But can you get away with such behavior without negative repercussions? Furthermore this is a purely subjective theory of what’s good for any given subject. If we want to know the happiness of your family, or city, or country, and you hurt them for momentary gain, then this will be reflected in the aggregate utility experienced by all members. It’s a theory of what’s real rather than right, and yes it might need to be explained, given how unpopular reality can sometimes be.


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