Concluding on Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics, books 8–10. Should you share your sorrow with your friends? Can you be friends with someone in a different social station? Do you really need to love yourself before you can be a friend? Why are real friendships in modern society so hard? Do we all at some level know what’s really good, even if we proclaim different ideas?
On the final books 8–10 of Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics. What does friendship have to do with ethics? With guest Ana Sandoiu.
Continuing on the Nichomachean Ethics, bks 6–7. More on intellectual virtues (like nous or rational intuition), plus we finally get to weakness of the will (akrasia), which is much better than simply being a jerk with wrong moral beliefs.
On the Nichomachean Ethics (ca. 350 BCE), books 6–7. Is intelligence just one thing? Aristotle picks out a number of distinct faculties, some of which are relevant to ethics, and he uses these to explain Plato’s puzzle of how someone can clearly see what the good for him is, and yet fail to pursue it due to weakness of the will.
This episode continues our discussion from way back in ep. 5.
Concluding Levinas’s Time and the Other (1948), in which we talk about the present being freedom, before there’s even a will! Also: being encumbered by your own body, relating to the world as nourishment, and getting over yourself through good lovin.’
More Levinas, working this time through Time and the Other (1948).
What is it for a person to exist? What individuates one person from another, making us into selves instead of just part of the causal net of events? Why would someone possibly think that these are real, non-obvious questions that need to be addressed? Levinas gives us a phenomenological progression from the “there is,” terrifyingly undifferentiated Being, to becoming an individual through “hypostasis,” which is becoming an existent through a voyage out to the world and back to oneself. But this existing makes us solitary, not only in this weird ontological sense of being a distinct thing, but in a concrete, emotional sense. Overcoming this requires grasping the Other as a real Other, not as an object to fulfill our desires or get in our way. Really understanding this at our core takes some doing, and in the process, we gain a mature sense of time and of death, so, good for us!
Continuing on “Ethics as First Philosophy” (1984) and other essays. We try to complete Levinas’s story on how revealing the flawed, aggressive character of our culture and personal attitudes can lead us to recognition of the ethical demand of the Other.
On “Ethics as First Philosophy” (1984). More existentialist ethics, with a Jewish twist this time! Seth returns to join Mark and Wes in figuring out how to best leave off all this aggressive “knowing” and other forms of individual self-assertion to grasp the more primordial appearance of the Other in all his or her vulnerability, which Levinas thinks makes us wholly responsible for others right off the bat.
Post-interview discussion of more aspects of Martha Nussbaum’s Anger and Forgiveness. Is Nussbaum right in saying that payback should not play any part in our justice apparatus?
More interview on Anger and Forgiveness, now covering social justice, the role of anger and forgiveness in enacting justice and bringing about social change, and more on when Stoicism is legitimate or against human nature.
On Anger and Forgiveness: Resentment, Generosity, Justice (2016). What role should we allow anger to play in our public life? Should systems of punishment be utilitarian, or should they be retributive? Nussbaum thinks that anger necessarily involves the desire for payback, which is unhelpful. We should instead use anger to prevent future harm.
Continuing to discuss the views of Plato’s Eleatic Stranger on sophistry, with a right turn into hardcore metaphysics with an exploration of falsity and its metaphysical correlate, non-being.
On the later Platonic dialogue. What is a sophist? These were guys in Ancient Greece who taught young people the tools of philosophy and rhetoric. They claimed to teach virtue. In Sophist, “the Eleatic Stranger” (i.e., not Socrates) tries to figure out what a sophist really is, using a new “method of division.” This Plato era provides a nice transition to the category man Aristotle, and the whole concern with sophistry is certainly still relevant today!
Socrates hangs out in the country flirting with his buddy Phaedrus. And what is this “Platonic” love? Using the enticement of desire not to rush toward fulfillment, but to get you all excited about talking philosophy. Socrates critiques a speech by renowned orator Lysias, who claimed that love is bad because it’s a form of madness, where people do things they then regret after love fades. Socrates instead delivers a myth that shows the spiritual benefits of loving and being loved. With guest Adam Rose.
Concluding on Simone de Beauvoir’s The Ethics of Ambiguity (1947). The full discussion starts with ep. 140. We turn to political dilemmas: Embracing our freedom means willing the freedom of others, but what if the other person is (according to Beauvoir’s formula) failing at freedom by oppressing you or someone else?
More on The Ethics of Ambiguity (1947), this time on part III. ep. 140 laid out man’s “ambiguity,” but what does that mean in terms of practical decision making? De B. talks about the practical paradoxes of dealing with oppression and what it might mean to respect the individual, given that there’s no ultimate, preexistent moral rulebook to guide us, nothing we can point to to excuse the sacrifice of someone to a “greater good.”
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Continuing on Simone de Beauvoir’s The Ethics of Ambiguity (1947), parts I and II. We discuss all the various ways to fail to wholly will your own freedom, i.e., will it all the way to where you will the freedom of others. Will you be “sub-man” or “serious man” or “nihilist” or “adventurer?” There are many ways to fail the existential test!
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On The Ethics of Ambiguity (1947), parts I and II. We return to existentialism! Instead of describing our predicament as “absurd,” de Beauvoir prefers “ambiguous”: We are a biological organism in the world, yet we’re also free consciousness transcending the given situation. Truly coming to terms with this freedom means not only understanding that you transcend any label, but also recognizing that your freedom requires the freedom of others. The full foursome discuss whether this attempt to ground an existentialist ethics works.
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Continuing on Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism (1981) and Black Looks: Race and Representation (1992), with guest Myisha Cherry.
We talk about black feminist “essentialism” (a single narrative of oppression) and how that relates to her media critiques. She thinks there are right ways and wrong ways to self-actualize: You may think you’re independent and free, but really you’re just parroting the narratives of the oppressor. How can we tell if this is true in particular cases?