Posts Tagged ‘philosophy’

The Obstacle Is the Way

Sunday, November 19th, 2023 | Books

The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph is a nonfiction book by Ryan Holiday. I really enjoyed his book Ego si the Enemy so I had been meaning to reard this one for quite a while.

In the book, he puts forward the case for stoicism. In particular, living our lives in the philosophy of perseverance and acceptance. Expect the worst while trying to achieve the best and almost never give up. When things do go wrong, accept that it happened and be determined to rebuild.

In some ways, this is one of those books when, once you have the title, you really have the book. The text itself is just an elaboration, and part sales pitch, on why you should do what the cover says: see obstacles as your path to success rather than something to be avoided.

The book is broken down into many mini lessons. Many of them useful, although some difficult to see how I would integrate them into my personal development work. For example, Holiday urges us to buil resilience by training our physical bodies. I’m currently trying to figure out whether running is a useful tool for maintaining my mental health, or I’m literally running away from my problems. Most likely it is both.

He also puts forward the idea of the pre-mortem. Before you even launch your project, imagine how it has gone wrong and why, so you can troubleshoot problems before they even begin. This sounds like a really useful tool in business. But also dangerous when used in our personal lives for those of us who are high in trait neuroticism.

Some bits are both depressing and inspiring. The more successful you are, the more obstacles you encounter. Behind mountains are more mountains. This reminded me of that meme that suggests being an adult is just a series of “I’ll get just through this and then I’ll have a break and recover” endlessly for the rest of our lives.

I did really enjoy the idea that beyond acceptance, there is feeling great about something because it was meant to happen. The idea that when a relationship breaks down, we don’t get the job we want, or something else unfortunate happens, we reframe it as something that will ultimately turn out to be a positive force in our lives.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Friday, September 2nd, 2016 | Books

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a book by Robert M. Pirsig. It tells the story of a motorbike trip across America that he and his son Chris undertook. It reads like a novel, and in fact I thought I was reading a fictional story for most of it. However, it is actually an autobiographical retelling.

Pirsig uses the rides to go into deep philosophical discussions he labells as “chautauqua”. These explore the meaning of the term quality and slowly retell his life story: he explored the concept as an academic, to such a degree that eventually led him to a breakdown.

I found the novel dragged quite a bit. I am simply not that interested in epistemology in its relation to quality. It is interesting to hear his life story, but I think you have to have a strong interest in philosophy to enjoy the novel to its full extent.


Agnosticism and the dangers of stepping-stones

Thursday, February 25th, 2016 | Humanism


The February lecture for West Yorkshire Humanists was presented by Robin Le Poidevin. He spoke on “Agnosticism and the dangers of stepping-stones”, discussing whether agnosticism could be a stable position on its own, or merely a stepping-stone between theism and atheism (or the other way).

The talk was really interesting. One of the big questions is how you live as an agnostic. Where do you take your morality from? Either religion or Humanism, suggesting that you are actually learning one way or the other.

The Q&A got a little off topic. Attendance at the pub social after was good.

SAL March: Persuasion

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015 | Humanism, Thoughts

This month’s Sunday Assembly Leeds was hosted by Raj who arranged some excellent sections including Matt’s talk on how he uses persuasion at work (in legal battle between companies) and Jane’s Doing Her Best on working for a major high street book chain. She didn’t tell us which one it was, so it could have been any of them…

He finished up with a philosophical question on utilitarianism. If you can save five people’s lives by taking them from the body of one healthy person, should you do it? It’s well a known problem, though one that I take issue with. While it could be argued it sums up utilitarianism, I think it mis-characterises it.

I would consider myself a utilitarianism, and yet I would choose not to take the organs from the healthy man. Why? Because it then forces everyone to live in a world where they could be jumped and killed for their organs. That does not sound like the greatest good for the greatest many to me.

As usual we finished up with the most important part of any Sunday Assembly – the eating of the cake. The brownie was very good, as was the chilli chocolate cake. Disappointingly, I forgot to bring the devil’s food cake I have baked just a few days before. That’s the kind of issues you get when you schedule an event right on top of the Grand Prix though. Too many things to thing about.

Introduction to Positive Philosophy

Sunday, February 22nd, 2015 | Books

This short book contains the first few chapters of Auguste Comte’s work, translated by Frederick Ferre. It gives a very brief and compact introduction to the ideas but nevertheless remains rather hard going.

Comte believes that all sciences can be broken down into individual classifications. Each can then be split into the theoretical and the practical, the latter of which can be disgraced. You can then use them as building blocks. What I mean by this is that you start with physics. If you want to study astronomy, you can, but only after you have learned physics. Similarly, if you want to study chemistry, you must first study physics and astronomy.

He also talks about “social physics”, now known as sociology. He puts this at the top of the pile, thus making it the most difficult science to study because you need to have a grounding in almost everything else in order to effectively study it.

Introduction to Positive Philosophy

Auguste Comte and Positivism

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015 | Books

Auguste Comte and Positivism is a book by John Stuart Mill and best of all, was available free from the Kindle store. You can also get it from Project Gutenburg. The Kindle edition was not great because I suspect it was in an odd format – I could not select and lookup words for example.

The book itself is a sort of review of Comte’s work. I am sure there is a scholarly term for it.

I found it hard going. Mill writes without breaks for sub-headings. The book is divided into two parts and those are the only distractions from a constant stream of text. The first part looks at Positivism and the second part looks at Comte’s Religion of Humanity.

I found the second part easier to follow, perhaps because I had no background in what positivism was, or that I was just more interested in this part and so found it easier to concentrate.

Comte clearly has some views that are very silly today. Suppression of science and women for example are pretty much the worst things you can belief in. Underlying that seems to be Comte’s severe OCD. He needs to category and systematise everything. I am looking forward to reading more about his work though.

On Liberty

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015 | Books

The 1859 essay (very long essay) by John Stuart Mill sets forth his views on liberty. It contains a lot of things we take for granted in discourse today, but back then was probably original and challenging thought.

Below, I have picked out some of the thoughts I found most interesting.

On the persecution of truth. Mill suggests that maybe we should persecute it, because it cannot do truth any harm, but will weed out nonsense. However, he then counters by pointing out that there are lots of historical example of when truth was successfully dismissed. “Men are not more zealous for truth, than they are for error”. However, like a good trick in evolution (as Daniel Dennett would say), a correct idea will eventually be discovered time and time again.

On the origin of morals in Christianity, Mill points out that Christians have both Christian morals and societal morals, and only follow the Christian morals that match those of society. They don’t for example avoid shellfish or sell all their possessions to give the money to the poor.

He also argues Christianity is also inherently negative. Thou shall not, rather than thou shall. Then backing it up with the Heaven-Hell carrot-stick.

How do we balance individual liberty with the interests of society? Mill argues that we should basically be allowed to do whatever we want as long as it does not harm others. The “harm others” could be a broad church though. If the actions of a man harm his duty to his family for example, we could arguably interfere.

He also notes that you do not need to enforce everything through law. Social rules and conventions can also be used to police behaviour.

Mill argues for universal education, but only that the state should require parents to provide education for their child. He is against the state providing such an education because the state could use it to educate everyone to their own will.


Nietzsche: Philosophy in an Hour

Monday, January 12th, 2015 | Books

If a Very Short Introduction lacked any context to Nietzsche’s work, Philosophy in an Hour provides the opposite. It is a 50-minute biography of Nietzsche’s life, with almost no discussion of what his work was about. It was entertaining and easy to follow though.

After that it moves on to a 20 minute afterword in which there is some discussion of Nietzsche’s ideas and even, crazy as it sounds, some quotes from Nietzsche’s work. Much better, but still not brilliant.


Nietzsche: A Very Short Introduction

Friday, January 9th, 2015 | Books

This book is rubbish.

I had the audiobook edition and it is narrated by Christine Williams. I did not get along with her voice. Its level, unemotional, snyhtetic none meant it took me quite a while to work out whether it was actually a human reading it or some kind of experiment to see whether a computer could voice an audiobook.

The content was no better. No real introduction was provided and nothing was ever put in context. There was a discussion of Nietzsche’s books, but with no provision for those who are not already familiar with the man or philosophy in general. I could not follow what was going on. Not what I was looking for in a book entitled introduction.


Breaking the Spell

Thursday, November 13th, 2014 | Books

Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon is a 2006 book by Daniel Dennett.

In the book he argues that we need to break the spell of using scientific enquiry to consider religion. He has no problem with religion in itself, but wants it to be given the same treatment as any other discourse – that of evidence rational scientific enquiry.

He writes in his somewhat slow and lumbering style that can take a while to get going but certainly puts forward some thought-provoking ideas. It has not been my favourite recent read but did nor did I get overly bored either.

I was really enjoyed some of the little, almost throw-away sentences, that made some quite profound points. The rotting caracas of an elephant for example. It smells horrible. But it does not objectively smell horrible. It smells horrible to us as humans, but to a vulture the smell is a pleasant one.