Arthur Brooks explains in “Choose To Be Grateful. It Will Make You Happier.” that it’s up to you whether to be thankful and that you’ll be better off if you choose to do so. “… we are more than slaves to our feelings, circumstances and genes. Evidence suggests that we can actively choose to practice gratitude — and that doing so raises our happiness.”
In “How To Live a Lie,” William Irwin considers whether you can live as if there are moral truths, as if God exists, and as if you have free will even if you believe none of these things is true. His conclusion? Morality and God, no … but free will, yes. “Well, I cannot believe in free will, but I can accept it. In fact, if free will fictionalism is involuntary, I have no choice but to accept free will. That makes accepting free will easy and undeniably sincere. Accepting the reality of God or morality, on the other hand, are tougher tasks, and potentially disingenuous.”
In “Whom Does Philosophy Speak For,” Seyla Benhabib and George Yancy consider that sometimes philosophy speaks for and about everyone and yet at other times seems not to. Unfortunately, “a dynamic of freedom for some and domination for others is present in much of Western philosophy.” This has a significant bearing on our understanding of democracy. Benhabib says, “Western philosophy, as distinguished from myth, literature, drama and many other forms of human expression, speaks in the name of the universal. Philosophy emerges when Socrates and Plato show how we have to free ourselves from the ‘idols of the city,’ and when the pre-Socratics ask about what constitutes matter and the universe, rejecting the answers provided by the Greek polytheistic myths.” And yet she also agrees when Yancy points out “that within the Western philosophical tradition, the mind, coded as white and male, is privileged over the body, coded as female or a signification of blackness, creating a false, disembodied practice.”
In “Evolution Explains It All for You,” Galen Strawson considers Daniel Dennett’s arguments for compatibilism, the idea that “freedom is wholly compatible with determinism, although determinism is the view that everything that happens in the universe is necessitated by what has already happened, so that nothing can ever occur otherwise than it actually does.” Yet, Strawson says, “This compatibilist freedom … seems intensely unsatisfactory. “
In “The Free-Will Scale,” Stephen Cave says that we have an IQ that measures intelligence and also an FQ … freedom quotient … to show how much free will we have. “[T]he comparison with intelligence is revealing. For much of the past 2,000 years in the West, intelligence was conceived in terms of a God-given faculty of reason that set humans wholly apart from other creatures. ‘Intellect’ and ‘will’ were seen by the medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas, for example, as the two pre‑eminent faculties of the soul, which did not depend at all on the body. Now we know differently: we know that we have evolved through a long process of natural selection and that we share our faculties to varying degrees with other animals. Upon realising this, we did not conclude that there wasn’t really any such thing as intelligence – rather, psychologists set about putting it on a scientific footing. Similarly, we should not say that there is no such thing as free will, just because it is not how the theologians imagined; rather, it is time we put it, too, on a scientific footing.”
Neuroscientist Joe Herbert asks why we can’t unite neuroscience and psychiatry. “Most of our organs can be treated as repairable machines. Why can’t we treat mental illness by simply fixing the brain?”
In “How an 18th-Century Philosopher Helped Solve My Midlife Crisis,” Alison Gopnik explores fascinating links among Hume’s “bundle of perceptions” theory of self-identity, the European Enlightenment, Buddha, Tibetan monks, Siamese kings, Jesuit missionaries … and her own midlife crisis.
The world is full of suffering. How far should you go to prevent the suffering of others, especially the suffering of strangers? Ought you spend way too much to enjoy a fancy coffee drink while children are dying of starvation? Larissa MacFarquhar discusses extreme altruism, illustrating her points with a fascinating example. “In wartime – or in a crisis so devastating that it resembles war, such as an earthquake or a hurricane – duty expands far beyond its peacetime boundaries. In wartime, it is thought dutiful rather than unnatural to leave your family for the sake of a cause. In ordinary times, to ask a person to sacrifice his life for a stranger seems outrageous, but in war it is commonplace. Acts that seem appallingly bad or appallingly good in normal circumstances become part of daily life. This is the difference between do-gooders and ordinary people: for do-gooders, it is always wartime. They always feel themselves responsible for strangers; they know that there are always those as urgently in need as the victims of battle, and they consider themselves conscripted by duty.”
Some philosophers and others claim that the best way to understand self-identity is to think of it as a story you work on and tell yourself as you live. It’s that story that gives your life focus, meaning, and purpose. But in “I Am Not a Story,” Galen Strawson disagrees: he thinks the idea that life is a story is false and even dangerous.
When does the deterioration of your brain rob you of your identity, and when doesn’t it? Is it when you lose your memories, or is it the loss of something else that robs you of your self? In “Your Brain, Your Disease, Your Self,” philosopher Shaun Nichols and psychologist Nina Strohminger say it is your morality more than your memory that makes you you. “It is only when our grip on the moral universe loosens that our identity slips away with it.”