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 “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.
Stan Persky’s book review of Barry Dainton’s Self: Philosophy in Transit is an extended, entertaining, and instructive grand tour of many ideas about the self, that remarkable ability humans have “to sleepily glance at the bathroom mirror in the morning, and not only recognize ourselves, but also reflectively note, ‘Hmm, I don’t like myself very much these days. I wonder what I can do to change who and/or what I am.’” Thought experiments like the “ultimate simulation simulation machine” and “teleportation” make an appearance along the way.
In an interview with Gary Gutting, Sam Harris explains that there is no self. “Consciousness exists (whatever its relationship to the physical world happens to be), and it is the experiential basis of both the examined and the unexamined life. If you turn consciousness upon itself in this moment, you will discover that your mind tends to wander into thought. If you look closely at thoughts themselves, you will notice that they continually arise and pass away. If you look for the thinker of these thoughts, you will not find one. And the sense that you have — ‘What the hell is Harris talking about? I’m the thinker!’— is just another thought, arising in consciousness.
Disgust is often used to persuade. But are gut feelings a reliable guide to right and wrong? Carol Hays’ persuasive answer is that they are not. Reasons rather than emotions should guide our moral reasoning.
“The New Atheist Sam Harris recently offered to pay $10,000 to anyone who can disprove his arguments about morality. Jonathan Haidt analyzes the nature of reasoning, and the ease with which reason becomes a servant of the passions. He bets $10,000 that Harris will not change his mind.” Why? Because “people deploy their reasoning powers to find support for what they want to believe.”
Ritual, OCD, and self-identity. “We believe that deep down, there is some kind of solid, stable bedrock to our identity, some unshakable foundation that provides us with the capacity to control significant portions of our experience: to be who we really are, to be true to ourselves. … But that worldview isn’t true. It isn’t possible to keep ourselves together, because we aren’t one coherent thing. Instead, we are a kind of flux, a series of patterns and surprises, inextricably interwoven into the larger field of phenomena that we call reality.” Doesn’t this fit with Hume’s “bundle of perceptions”?