Suggested readings, #132

Here it is, a rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

So you think there are laws in Nature? Two friends are debating whether there are laws in nature. Bob is a ‘Believer’; he sees regularities everywhere, and supposes that some of them are good enough to be laws. Sue is a ‘Sceptic’; she feels that randomness prevails and the so-called ‘laws of nature’ are merely projections of our minds onto the world. Two worldviews oppose each other. Who will win?

Sue: Here we are, another Thursday, meeting up before a new movie starts. Who would have expected our friendship to last long enough to establish a movie habit together?

Bob: I know! Some things in life happen rather accidentally – like the meeting of two strangers who become involved enough to have their own little patterns in a relationship. Actually, I’ve been thinking about patterns and regularities a lot lately.

Sue: I’ll consider that another side-effect of studying philosophy. Do you want to share your thoughts while we’re waiting? … (Philosophy Now)

In defence of memoirs – a way to grip our story-shaped lives. I wrote a memoir recently, and sometimes I ask myself why on earth I did. It was difficult and time-consuming, it involved some rather unpleasant self-examination, and it raised suspicions of self-involvement, exhibitionism and insufferable earnestness that I’d so far mainly avoided in life. If I publish it, I risk being accused by friends of betrayal, by readers of lying, and by critics of any number of literary flaws. Since selling a memoir is hard, all of that would represent things going well. When I complain to my sister about this, she suggests that ‘maybe’ I should have – ‘I don’t know’ – considered these points two years ago, before embarking on this thing that she would ‘never, like, ever do’. … (Psyche)

The Nonidentity Problem: can an act be wrong if it doesn’t harm anyone? If we take action now to mitigate global climate change, it might make life a little worse for people now and in the near future, but it will make life much better for people further in the future. Suppose, for whatever reason, we do nothing. Since future people will have much worse lives, it seems that we owe it to future generations to do something now. But if we do things differently now, it will have the side-effect of bringing into existence different people than those that would have been brought into existence if we did nothing. (3 Quarks Daily)

Buddhist metaphysics. Buddhism is often described as the philosophy of the ‘middle way’, in that the Buddha is alleged to have always urged his devotees to avoid ‘extremes’ in the quest for enlightenment – initially, the extremes of asceticism or self-indulgence. Many scholars, like Sangharakshita, have emphasized that Buddhism is a form of ‘atheistic spirituality’ – a religion without a god – in that it attempts to steer a middle way between the theistic spirituality of the Hindu Vedanta tradition and the atheistic materialism of the Samkhya and Lokayata philosophies. But given the focal emphasis that Buddhism places upon the mind, its complete denial of a self, and the extreme idealist tendencies that developed within the Buddhist tradition, it is doubtful if Buddhism as a spiritual tradition ever took the middle way doctrinally. Indeed, many later Mahayana Buddhists, including such well-known figures as Daisetz Suzuki and Chogyam Trungpa, may best be described as advocating not a middle way between spirituality and materialism, but a form of mystical idealism. In this article I will offer some brief reflections on the Buddhist philosophical worldview, focussing on its diverse metaphysics, the implications for knowledge of its advocacy of transcendental wisdom (prajna), and the different strategies involved in its conception of enlightenment. … (Philosophy Now)

Rome is Burning: Nero and the Fire That Ended a Dynasty. Barrett’s new book, aimed at both an academic and general readership, is an object lesson in how ancient historians work. Every major disaster raises basic questions about its date, extent, causes, and consequences. Modern historians offer answers from archival material—state and private (media) eyewitness statements, statistics, reports, etc. Ancient historians, lacking such resources, have to look elsewhere. Hence, they must be fully interdisciplinary. Formal histories are usually insufficient to consult exclusively because of the lateness of their composition, authorial bias, incomplete survival, etc. Hence, ancient historians must also turn to a wider literature, such as poetry and plays, and to inscriptions, coins, archaeological finds, and comparisons with experiences of the same sort of disaster at other times. … (The Journal of Interdisciplinary History)

How insecurity and disinformation create conspiracy theorists. On August 29, 2020, about 18,000 people gathered in Berlin, Germany, either denying the existence of COVID-19 or contesting decisions taken to contain it. Among the gatherers were conspiracy theorists of all sorts, chemtrail believers, followers of QAnon, anti-vaccination advocates, homeopaths, people like Robert Kennedy Jr., and right-wing extremists who, waving Third Reich flags, attempted to storm the Reichstag, the seat of the German parliament. A week later, on September 5, it was Rome’s turn. Fifteen hundred people found themselves in Piazza Bocca della Verità denying the existence of COVID-19, flaunting the absence of masks, and shouting against the “health dictatorship” that had been imposed by the government. Again, anti-vaccination advocates, 5G alarmists, and representatives of Forza Nuova (an extreme right-wing group that organized the event) spoke from the stage, declaring Trump and Putin friends of humanity while railing against the usual targets of the conspiracy theorists: the New World Order, Bill Gates, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, George Soros, and others. … (Skeptical Inquirer)

The Pythia of Delphi: Ancient Greek religion’s most powerful woman. What exactly is an oracle? Or, more specifically, what was an oracle in an ancient Greek context? The communication of divine knowledge from god to mortal, also known as divination, played a major role in ancient Greek religion. Divination took many forms, from the study of sacrificial entrails to the interpretation of the flight of birds. But perhaps the most important form of divination was the practice of consultation of a god through an intermediary. This intermediary was known as an oracle. Oracular consultation took place at permanent sites and sanctuaries scattered across ancient Greece. The king of the gods, Zeus, had prestigious oracles at both Olympia and Dodona. There were also oracles of Apollo as far afield as Didyma in Asia Minor and on the island of Delos. However, it was the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi that was the most renowned and enduring of them all. (The Collector)

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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.

3 thoughts on “Suggested readings, #132”

  1. Drinkwater found Barrett wanting on his interpretation of things that led up to the fire, such as Barrett’s claim that Nero was clipping the coinage. I have not previously seen the site you linked, but beyond his own book, have seen other comments by him, reviews of both books, etc. Oh, my review of Drinkwater is up, and note comment — the blog post I reference about Tacitus and the fire will be done in a week or so.

    Per that Buddhism piece, other than Buddhism yes being a religion it leads to why I find karma in its version, even more than in Hinduism, as offensive as original sin: The phenomenalism section of your piece accepts this disjunct without commenting on it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Seems like every week we get a restatement of the conspiracy theory topic, and every one of them misses the mark IMHO. They rarely if ever acknowledge the plethora of former conspiracy theories that are now accepted as true, and they rarely if ever acknowledge the plethora of left-wing conspiracy theories. It is always some left-wing academic or pundit lamenting how the rubes in flyover country are just too dumb or too scared to accept the truth.

    To take just the biggest example from the past 5 years, it is becoming increasingly clear that the left wing unquestionable narrative (cherished belief) that Trump colluded with Putin to steal the 2016 election was nothing but a conspiracy theory (I mean, really, after three years having dozens of motivated lawyers and hundreds of motivated “journalists” check under every rock any Republican even looked at, this conspiracy theory remains unsupported by the evidence but is still desperately venerated by left-wing partisans) while the MAGA former conspiracy theory that the deep state/security state/security state/media/Democrats were setting Trump up is increasingly bolstered with every new charge in the Durham investigation.

    If there is a second biggest example in the past five years, it is the MAGA former conspiracy theory that government bureaucrats, Big Pharma, Ecohealth, the corporate media (oops, I already listed Big Pharma), and far too many academics rushed to stifle debate (i.e., censor) on the lab leak hypothesis to protect their own butts. How kind of Facebook and Google to allow this to be discussed now.

    The fact that those on the left (Rachel “Russia Russia Russia” Maddow) were willing to get us into another cold war, or a hot one, with Russia based on partisan lies tells me just about everything I need to know about this. A bunch of evangelicals running around doubting evolution could never do anywhere near the damage done by these left-wing conspiracy theories. That’s the difference between a conspiracy theory put forth by those in power and one put forth by a bunch of confused plebes.

    Don’t get me started on Russian bounties, pee tapes, Alpha bank, Hunter’s laptop, and on and on.

    The characterization of conspiracy theories as the domain of rural, white, non-college educated Republicans is equal parts projection and meta-narrative put forth by the one percenters to convince themselves that they are justified in ruling from on high.

    Read Greenwald. Read Taibbi. Progressives with the strength to look inward rather than merely engage in partisan sniping. Stop listening to corporate media.

    And, as always, buon weekend a tutti!


    1. Greenwald and Taibbi have both jumped more and more “off the rails” (and been hypocritical as part of doing so). Here’s my latest on Taibbi:

      Oh, he, Aaron Maté and others may (but don’t know) be Seth Rich conspiracy theorists. Since Russia DID hack DNC computers (and RNC ones as well, which is a circumstantial evidence boost on the DNC hack, as if needed), not to admit this hack, and not to proffer other explanation? I consider them to be fellow travelers on the Seth Rich conspiracy theory if nothing else.

      There’s also the issue that all these people and more touted for WAY too long, in the face of evidence otherwise, the presidential campaign and general alleged genyus of Tulsi Gabbard, Islamophobe, Hindutva-fascist and pal of neocons like John Hagee. All true, Montana. All true.

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