Suggested readings, #51

Here are some interesting articles I’ve come across recently, for your consideration:

Always narrating: the making and unmaking of Umberto Eco. (LA Review of Books)

How Stoicism can help at a time of crisis: Epictetus’s epiphany. (Medium)

The Decameron – the 14th-century Italian book that shows us how to survive coronavirus. Giovanni Boccaccio’s work taught citizens how to maintain mental wellbeing in times of epidemics and isolation. (New Statesman)

Choose your own birth. Every human is both an animal with a deep evolutionary history and an individual who must bring their existence into being. (Aeon)

Spinoza and ‘no platforming’: the Enlightenment thinker would have seen it as motivated by ambition rather than fear. (The Conversation)

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Massimo is the K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York. He blogs at and He is the author of How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life.

4 thoughts on “Suggested readings, #51”

  1. While thinking Spinoza was ambitious, I would disagree with: “Ambition is not simply wanting to feel esteemed – it is wanting others to love and hate exactly what we love and hate. It is the desire to cause others to think and feel exactly as we do” as a definition of ambition. Not even close.

    That said, modern “cancel culture” didn’t exist 400 years ago. And, if Spinoza has much to say about “cancel culture”? Given he was expelled from the Jewish community, ie, canceled himself, which the piece doesn’t mention, he might argue that fear — or other things — motivated the Jews of the Netherlands against him, not ambition.


    The Aeon piece on “choice” is interesting.


    Eco piece has started interesting, but long enough for me to finish it later.


  2. “But perhaps the organisers who cancelled these events were not motivated by the desire to deny freedom of speech at all. Todd and Rudd are prominent people in positions of authority – so cancelling their events, while causing a public splash, is unlikely to dent their freedom to speak on these or other issues at other times and in different forums“

    ‪I’m against deplatforming, but I actually think many of those who hold the pro-deplatforming position are sincere, and more really that naive about‬ just what’s quoted here, unable to see the strategic consequences of their actions.

    As for ambition, I admit feeling some pleasure in bending people to my perspective by convincing them over by the power of my reasoning. I also do find more of a different kind of pleasure by learning from others I disagreed with. It might be feel unpleasant at first, but the appreciation kicks in afterwards. Kind of like working out at the gym. I don’t see why this doesn’t come from a sense of ambition either, a sense of being improved through competition.

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  3. Finished the Eco piece. Very interesting. Per the idea near the end, of Eco seeing conspiracy thinking as displaced faith, that directly squares with me recently calling it the new Gnosticism.

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