Freedom fighter

The complete guide to France’s brainy hero“: a review of Thomas Flynn’s Sartre: A Philosophical Biography. “Most technical philosophers tend to look at the world as armchair scientists. They puzzle about time or knowledge, matter, numbers and chance. They ask how such things really are. Sartre, who also wrote bestselling fiction and plays, thought about the world as an off-duty novelist. He asked what the world was like for people. They were not detached physicists or passive observers. They lived, aided or obstructed by a material world, which included their bodies. For good or ill, they were thrown into contact with others. Sartre’s concern, in a phrase, was what it was like to be human. The topic sounded unmanageable. But its core elements were familiar enough: the mind, human values and human freedom. Sartre linked them together in big loose equations.”

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Supreme deception

Does the supreme being deceive? “Until the Scientific Revolution, God’s power included a licence to deceive. How did science make an honest man of Him?” Dallas Dennery explains that “the commitment of the Scientific Revolution to rational causes for all events, even exceptional or seemingly anomalous ones, robbed God of the power to deceive.” Interesting discussion of differences between traditional conceptions of God and the God of the philosophers.

Valid or invalid?

A “valid” argument is one in which the conclusion follows logically from the premises regardless of whether the premises and/or the conclusion happens to be true or false. An “invalid” argument is one in which the conclusion does not follow logically from the premises even if the conclusion happens to be a true statement. A conclusion may be true or false regardless of whether it follows from a valid argument or not.  Got it? See if you can spot the valid and invalid arguments in this “valid or invalid” quiz. Warning: a favorite trick of logicians is to test students with some valid arguments that have false conclusions and some invalid arguments that have true conclusions.

How to be a Stoic … relax your upper lip

Would-be Stoics can begin by relaxing their upper lips. Massimo Pigliucci describes how he recently became a Stoic, how he practices a number of standard Stoic exercises daily, and how Stoicism might or might not fit in with his scientific and philosophical beliefs. “For my part, I’ve recently become a Stoic. I do not mean that I have started keeping a stiff upper lip and suppressing my emotions. As much as I love the ‘Star Trek’ character of Mr. Spock (which Gene Roddenberry actually modeled after his — mistaken — understanding of Stoicism), those are two of a number of misconceptions about what it means to be a Stoic. In reality, practicing Stoicism is not really that different from, say, practicing Buddhism (or even certain forms of modern Christianity): it is a mix of reflecting on theoretical precepts, reading inspirational texts, and engaging in meditation, mindfulness, and the like. … In the end … Stoicism is simply another path some people can try out in order to develop a more or less coherent view of the world, of who they are, and of how they fit in the broader scheme of things. The need for this sort of insight seems to be universal.”