Tyrants and Art

Culture thrives on conflict and antagonism, not social harmony – a point made rather memorably by a certain Harry Lime, says philosopher John Gray. "In Italy, for 30 years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, … Continue reading

The Fundamental Nature of Consciousness

Neuroscientist Giulio Tononi’s PHI: A Voyage from the Brain to the Soul takes the reader on an imaginative tour in which Galileo tries to discover an explanation for our conscious selves. … Read More>>

What’s the big idea?

Dostoevsky tackled free will, Tolstoy the meaning of life – but is it still possible to write philosophical novels? Jennie Erdal At St Andrews University in the early 1970s, philosophy was still a required subject for entry into an honours course. To leave the way clear for reading modern languages, I decided that the requirement … Continue reading


The Islamic Scholar Who Gave Us Modern Philosophy Robert Pasnau According to Immanuel Kant, the urge to philosophize is universal: “In all men, as soon as their reason has become ripe for speculation, there has always existed and will always continue to exist some kind of metaphysics.” The truth of this is apparent in children … Continue reading

What Happens when a Leftist Philosopher Discovers God?

Peter Berger Society is the social science journal superbly edited by Jonathan Imber. In its fall issue it carries an article by Philippe Portier (Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes in Paris), entitled “Religion and Democracy in the Thought of Juergen Habermas”. Coincidentally, in a recent issue of the German news magazine Der Spiegel, Habermas is … Continue reading

A physicist flirts with philosophy

James Lloyd  Søren Kierkegaard Five years ago, I wouldn’t touch philosophy with a barge pole. I was nearing the end of my physics degree, and this had provided me with an adequate enough explanation of the workings of the cosmos. Philosophy, in my view, was obsolete – important to the Ancient Greeks, but of about … Continue reading

Neuroscience vs philosophy

Scientists think they can prove that free will is an illusion. Philosophers are urging them to think again. Kerri Smith The experiment helped to change John-Dylan Haynes’s outlook on life. In 2007, Haynes, a neuroscientist at the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience in Berlin, put people into a brain scanner in which a display screen … Continue reading

Is Addiction A Disease Of The Brain?

Alva Noë Addiction has been moralized, medicalized, politicized, and criminalized. And, of course, many of us are addicts, have been addicts or have been close to addicts. Addiction runs very hot as a theme. Part of what makes addiction so compelling is that it forms a kind of conceptual/political crossroads for thinking about human nature. … Continue reading

The revolution of capitalism

Karl Marx may have been wrong about communism but he was right about much of capitalism, John Gray writes. As a side-effect of the financial crisis, more and more people are starting to think Karl Marx was right. The great 19th Century German philosopher, economist and revolutionary believed that capitalism was radically unstable. It had … Continue reading

Philosophical counselors rely on eternal wisdom of great thinkers

Emily Wax Patricia Anne Murphy is a philosopher with a real-world mission. Murphy may have a PhD and an intimate knowledge of Aristotle and Descartes, but in her snug Takoma Park bungalow, she’s helping a broken-hearted patient struggle through a divorce. Instead of offering the wounded wife a prescription for Effexor — which she’s not … Continue reading

Hannah Arendt’s challenge to Adolf Eichmann

In her treatise on the banality of evil, Arendt demanded a rethink of established ideas about moral responsibility Judith Butler Fifty years ago the writer and philosopher Hannah Arendt witnessed the end of the trial of Adolf Eichmann, one of the major figures in the organisation of the Holocaust. Covering the trial Arendt coined the … Continue reading

RCMP spied on noted literary scholar Northrop Frye

Northrop Frye is shown in an undated photo. (Bill Becker / THE CANADIAN PRESS) The Canadian Press OTTAWA — Canada’s intelligence service spied on renowned literary scholar Northrop Frye, closely eyeing his involvement in the anti-Vietnam War movement, an academic forum on China and efforts to end apartheid in South Africa. Newly released archival records … Continue reading

The Mystique Of The Manual

Peter Foges One of her “big ideas” was that the sickness of the modern world is caused by “uprootedness.” We are, Simone Weil believed, lost. The only antidote is a social order grounded in physical labor. Only manual work can save us. Weil herself was preternaturally a worker by brain, not by hand. Small, myopic, … Continue reading

Rule Breaker

When it comes to morality, the philosopher Patricia Churchland refuses to stand on principle Sandy Huffaker for The Chronicle Review Patricia S. Churchland studies the biological roots of morality. By Christopher Shea New York Patricia S. Churchland, the philosopher and neuroscientist, is sitting at a cafe on the Upper West Side, explaining the vacuousness, as … Continue reading

Sell Descartes, buy Spinoza

Investors, take note: this Dutch rationalist is a hot stock Rebecca Goldstein … Today, we value any early modern who sides against Descartes’ dualism between mind and body. Spinoza not only rejected such dualism, but also denied the dualism between cognition and emotion. In Looking for Spinoza, neuroscientist Antonio Damasio expresses his amazement that Spinoza … Continue reading

In Search of the True Self

JOSHUA KNOBE Mark Pierpont used to be an important figure in the evangelical Christian effort to help “cure” gay people of their homosexual desires. He started out just printing up tracts and handing them out in gay bars, but his ministry grew over time, and eventually he was traveling the world and speaking to crowds … Continue reading

The politics of authenticity

by W.W. | IOWA CITY JOSHUA KNOBE, a pioneer in the field of "experimental philosophy" at Yale, has contributed a fascinating piece to the New York Times‘ online philosophy forum on the intuitions of ordinary folk about what constitutes the "true self". Mr Knobe takes up the illustrative example of Mark Pierpont, a once-prominent figure … Continue reading

Hegel hits the frontier

Philosophy student uses thesis & antithesis to paint St. Louis as Eden By Kerry Howley In 1856, a Prussian immigrant named Henry Conrad Brokmeyer retreated deep into the Missouri woods with a gun, a dog and a copy of “Science of Logic,” a philosophical text by Georg Hegel. Alone with Hegel’s thoughts over the next … Continue reading

Why don’t we love our intellectuals?

While France celebrates its intelligentsia, you have to go back to Orwell and Huxley to find British intellectuals at the heart of national public debate. Why did we stop caring about ideas? When did ‘braininess’ become a laughing matter? John Naughton Cafe society: Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir in Paris, 1940. Photograph: Sipa Press … Continue reading

Objectivists in Love

Ayn Rand Fans Get Dating Site By Claire Suddath New York Times Co. / Getty Images Let me get one thing out of the way: I have never read Ayn Rand. In fact, until recently I was one of those uneducated boors who thought the author’s first name was pronounced Ann. A few of her … Continue reading

The Philosophy of Insomnia

Original photo of bust of Plato from The Granger Collection, illustration by Scott Seymour By Willis G. Regier Hegel wrote in his Elements of the Philosophy of Right that the owl of Minerva flies only at night. It hoots at insomniacs. I know. I’m one. Bruises, red eyes, and research remind me that insomnia breaks … Continue reading

In Praise of Marx

Illustration by Steve Brodner for The Chronicle Review By Terry Eagleton Praising Karl Marx might seem as perverse as putting in a good word for the Boston Strangler. Were not Marx’s ideas responsible for despotism, mass murder, labor camps, economic catastrophe, and the loss of liberty for millions of men and women? Was not one … Continue reading

Natural history of the soul

Caspar Melville meets the man who thinks that spirituality is essential to consciousness, and science can tell us why Caspar Melville In his new book Soul Dust: The Magic of Consciousness, Nicholas Humphrey, a distinguished evolutionary psychologist and philosopher, claims to have solved two fairly large intellectual conundrums. One is something of a technical matter, … Continue reading

Condemned to Joy

The Western cult of happiness is a mirthless enterprise. Pascal Bruckner Pascal Bruckner is a French writer and philosopher. His article was translated by Alexis Cornel. Alex Majoli/Magnum Photos On August 21, 1670, Jacques Bossuet, the bishop of Meaux and official preacher to the court of Louis XIV, pronounced the eulogy for Princess Henrietta of … Continue reading

Das Capitalist

Adam Smith: An Enlightened Life, Nicholas Phillipson, Yale, 346 pages By George Scialabba In the “Overture” to his grandly symphonic The Enlightenment: An Interpretation, Peter Gay describes the “international type” of the philosophe as a “facile, articulate, doctrinaire, sociable, secular man of letters.” On this definition, was Adam Smith a philosophe? Yes and no. Unlike … Continue reading

Hawking contra Philosophy

Christopher Norris presents a case for the defence. Stephen Hawking recently fluttered the academic dovecotes by writing in his new book The Grand Design – and repeating to an eager company of interviewers and journalists – that philosophy as practised nowadays is a waste of time and philosophers a waste of space. More precisely, he … Continue reading

Beyond Intellectualism

On becoming an anti-intellectual intellectual Robert Wright I spent much of high school trying not to be interested in ideas. I studied hard and made good grades, but I didn’t hang out with the nerds. This was partly because hanging out with nerds wasn’t cool and partly because the kind of intellectualism they exuded didn’t … Continue reading

Philosophy as inspiration

The consolations of understanding Examined Lives: From Socrates to Nietzsche. By James Miller. Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 432 pages; $28. Buy from Amazon.com Aristotle and the quest for understanding THE unexamined life is not worth living, or so Socrates famously told the jury at his trial. He neglected to mention that the examined life is … Continue reading

What Is a Good Life?

Ronald Dworkin  Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York/Art Resource Georges Seurat: Study for ‘A Sunday on La Grande Jatte,’ 1884 Morality and Happiness Plato and Aristotle treated morality as a genre of interpretation. They tried to show the true character of each of the main moral and political virtues (such as honor, civic responsibility, and … Continue reading

Michael Sandel on justice

Nigel Warburton  Should we torture one person to save many? What is fairness? On the eve of BBC4’s justice season, philosopher Michael Sandel explains why justice is at the heart of contemporary political debate Nigel Warburton: For me the word justice seems to imply that there is some injustice in the world—it seems to be … Continue reading

The Medium Is McLuhan

Nicholas Carr  Marshall McLuhan Marshall McLuhan: You Know Nothing of My Work! by Douglas Coupland Atlas, 216 pp., $24 One of my favorite YouTube videos is a clip from a Canadian television show in 1968 featuring a debate between Norman Mailer and Marshall McLuhan. The two men, both heroes of the ’60s, could hardly be … Continue reading

Angry Nerds

How Nietzsche gets misunderstood by Jared Loughner types. By Matt Feeney The attraction of Nietzsche to socially maladjusted young men is obvious, but it isn’t exactly simple. It is built from several interlocking pieces. Nietzsche mocks convention and propriety (and mocks difficult writers you’d prefer not to bother with anyway). He’s funny and (deceptively) easy … Continue reading

Reading Strauss in Beijing

China’s strange taste in Western philosophers. Mark Lilla A few years ago, when I was still teaching at the University of Chicago, I had my first Chinese graduate students, a couple of earnest Beijingers who had come to the Committee on Social Thought hoping to bump into the ghost of Leo Strauss, the German-Jewish political … Continue reading

On the Absolute, the Sublime, and Ecstatic Truth

Werner Herzog (Translated by Moira Weigel) [This text was originally delivered by Werner Herzog as a speech in Milano, Italy, following a screening of his film “Lessons of Dark­ness” on the fires in Kuwait. He was asked to speak about the Absolute, but he spontaneously changed the subject to the Sublime. Because of that, a … Continue reading

Do we all want freedom?

By Theodore Dalrymple Somerset Maugham once remarked that he found it strange that Henry James was prepared to exchange one of the most important subjects of his day, the rise to world power of his own country, the United States, for the tittle-tattle of the drawing-rooms Europe. But perhaps this is not altogether strange: we … Continue reading

Stanley Cavell’s Philosophical Improvisations

Fritz Hoffmann for The Chronicle Review Stanley Cavell, at home in Brookline, Mass. By Thomas S. Hibbs In God, Philosophy, Universities: A Selective History of the Catholic Philosophical Tradition, the latest in a number of recent books critical of the modern research university, the influential Irish-born philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre argues that "neither the university nor … Continue reading

Benjamin Franklin on American Happiness

A wise advisor for troubled times By Jerry Weinberger Are Americans happy? In his unequaled Democracy in America, written after his visit to Andrew Jackson’s America, Alexis de Tocqueville noted that Americans, despite living in the most prosperous and egalitarian society in history, were restive and melancholy: “grave and almost sad even in their pleasures.” … Continue reading

Nothing To Be Friends About

Before the 20th century, friendship was single-sex. By Juliet Lapidos Aristotle, who wrote on friendship at length in the Nicomachean Ethics, mostly excludes women from the discussion. And while he grants that friendship is possible between husband and wife, he specifies that marriage is an unequal and therefore imperfect relationship—it’s comparable to the bond between … Continue reading

What’s Plato Got To Do With It?

The origins of the term platonic friendship. By Juliet Lapidos There’s a "strictly platonic" section on Craigslist filled with personal ads that belong under a racier heading ("I’m very willing and needy in my sexuality"). Fewer postings request the nonsexual companionship that most people associate with the term platonic friendship (These are less fun to … Continue reading

How to ask awkward questions and annoy people

In his endless, often exasperating pursuit of Truth, Socrates made many enemies. Yet his ideas and his questioning outlook remain invaluable to understanding the present. By Angus Kennedy. Diogenes Laertius, in his Lives of the Philosophers, tells us that Socrates, unsatisfied with the natural philosophy of his day, ‘began to enter upon moral speculations, both … Continue reading

Why Conservatives Should Read Marx

Symposium: What is Conservatism for? By Jonny Thakkar Ronald Reagan in cigarette advertisement, 1951, Without presuming to require from political parties such an amount of virtue and discernment as that they should comprehend, and know when to apply, the principles of their opponents, we may yet say that it would be a great improvement if … Continue reading