How do we Pry Apart the True and Compelling from the False and Toxic?

cpu-stack

Stack of CPU’s. Shawn Stutzman, Pexels

David V Johnson | Aeon Ideas

When false and malicious speech roils the body politic, when racism and violence surge, the right and role of freedom of speech in society comes into crisis. People rightly begin to wonder what are the limits, what should be the rules. It is a complicated issue, and resolving it requires care about the exact problems targeted and solutions proposed. Otherwise the risk to free speech is real.

Propaganda from Russian-funded troll farms (boosted by Facebook data breaches) might have contributed to the United Kingdom’s vote to exit the European Union and aided the United States’ election of Donald Trump as president. Conspiracy theories spread by alternative news outlets or over social media sometimes lead to outbreaks of violence. Politicians exploit the mainstream news media’s commitment to balance, to covering newsworthy public statements and their need for viewers or readers by making baseless, sensational claims.

In On Liberty (1859), John Stuart Mill offers the most compelling defence of freedom of speech, conscience and autonomy ever written. Mill argues that the only reason to restrict speech is to prevent harm to others, such as with hate speech and incitement to violence. Otherwise, all speech must be protected. Even if we know a view is false, Mill says, it is wrong to suppress it. We avoid prejudice and dogmatism, and achieve understanding, through freely discussing and defending what we believe against contrary claims.

Today, a growing number of people see these views as naive. Mill’s arguments are better suited to those who still believe in the open marketplace of ideas, where free and rational debate is the best way to settle all disputes about truth and falsity. Who could possibly believe we live in such a world anymore? Instead, what we have is a Wild West of partisanship and manipulation, where social media gurus exploit research in behavioural psychology to compel users to affirm and echo absurd claims. We have a world where people live in cognitive bubbles of the like-minded and share one another’s biases and prejudices. According to this savvy view, our brave new world is too prone to propaganda and conspiracy-mongering to rely on Mill’s optimism about free speech. To do so is to risk abetting the rise of fascist and absolutist tendencies.

In his book How Fascism Works (2018), the American philosopher Jason Stanley cites the Russian television network RT, which presents all sorts of misleading and slanted views. If Mill is right, claims Stanley, then RT and such propaganda outfits ‘should be the paradigm of knowledge production’ because they force us to scrutinise their claims. But this is a reductio ad absurdum of Mill’s argument. Similarly, Alexis Papazoglou in The New Republic questions whether Nick Clegg, the former British deputy prime minister turned Facebook’s new vice president of global affairs and communication, will be led astray by his appreciation of Mill’s On Liberty. ‘Mill seemed to believe that an open, free debate meant the truth would usually prevail, whereas under censorship, truth could end up being accidentally suppressed, along with falsehood,’ writes Papazoglou. ‘It’s a view that seems a bit archaic in the age of an online marketplace of memes and clickbait, where false stories tend to spread faster and wider than their true counterpoints.’

When important and false beliefs and theories gain traction in public conversation, Mill’s protection of speech can be frustrating. But there is nothing new about ‘fake news’, whether in Mill’s age of sensationalist newspapers or in our age of digital media. Nonetheless to seek a solution in restricting speech is foolish and counterproductive – it lends credibility to the illiberal forces you, paradoxically, seek to silence. It also betrays an elitism about engaging with those of different opinions and a cynicism about affording your fellow citizens the freedom to muddle through the morass on their own. If we want to live in a liberal democratic society, rational engagement is the only solution on offer. Rather than restricting speech, we should look to supplement Mill’s view with effective tools for dealing with bad actors and with beliefs that, although false, seem compelling to some.

Fake news and propaganda are certainly problems, as they were in Mill’s day, but the problems they raise are more serious than the falsity of their claims. After all, they are not unique in saying false things, as the latest newspaper corrections will tell you. More importantly, they involve bad actors: people and organisations who intentionally pass off false views as the truth, and hide their nature and motives. (Think Russian troll farms.) Anyone who knows that they are dealing with bad actors – people trying to mislead – ignores them, and justifiably so. It’s not worth your time to consider the claim of someone you know is trying to deceive you.

There is nothing in Mill that demands that we engage any and all false views. After all, there are too many out there and so people have to be selective. Transparency is key, helping people know with whom, or what, they are dealing. Transparency helps filter out noise and fosters accountability, so that bad actors – those who hide their identity for the purpose of misleading others – are eliminated.

Mill’s critics fail to see the truth that is mixed in with the false views that they wish to restrict, and that makes those views compelling. RT, for instance, has covered many issues, such as the US financial crisis, economic inequality and imperialism more accurately than mainstream news channels. RT also includes informed sources who are ignored by other outlets. The channel might be biased toward demeaning the US and fomenting division, but it often pursues this agenda by speaking truths that are not covered in mainstream US media. Informed news-watchers know to view RT and all news sources with skepticism, and there is no reason not to extend the same respect to the entire viewing public, unless you presume you are a better judge of what to believe than your fellow citizens.

Mill rightly thought that the typical case wasn’t one of views that are false, but views that have a mixture of true and false. It would be far more effective to try to engage with the truth in views we despise than to try to ban them for their alleged falsity. The Canadian psychologist and YouTube sensation Jordan Peterson, for example, says things that are false, misogynistic and illiberal, but one possible reason for his following is that he recognises and speaks to a deficit of meaning and values in many young men’s lives. Here, the right approach is to pry apart the true and compelling from the false and toxic, through reasoned consideration. This way, following Mill’s path, presents a better chance of winning over those who are lost to views we despise. It also helps us improve our own understanding, as Mill wisely suggests.Aeon counter – do not remove

David V Johnson

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons. Read the original article here.

Modern Technology is akin to the Metaphysics of Vedanta

whitehead-vedanta.jpg

Akhandadhi Das | Aeon Ideas

You might think that digital technologies, often considered a product of ‘the West’, would hasten the divergence of Eastern and Western philosophies. But within the study of Vedanta, an ancient Indian school of thought, I see the opposite effect at work. Thanks to our growing familiarity with computing, virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI), ‘modern’ societies are now better placed than ever to grasp the insights of this tradition.

Vedanta summarises the metaphysics of the Upanishads, a clutch of Sanskrit religious texts, likely written between 800 and 500 BCE. They form the basis for the many philosophical, spiritual and mystical traditions of the Indian sub-continent. The Upanishads were also a source of inspiration for some modern scientists, including Albert Einstein, Erwin Schrödinger and Werner Heisenberg, as they struggled to comprehend quantum physics of the 20th century.

The Vedantic quest for understanding begins from what it considers the logical starting point: our own consciousness. How can we trust conclusions about what we observe and analyse unless we understand what is doing the observation and analysis? The progress of AI, neural nets and deep learning have inclined some modern observers to claim that the human mind is merely an intricate organic processing machine – and consciousness, if it exists at all, might simply be a property that emerges from information complexity. However, this view fails to explain intractable issues such as the subjective self and our experience of qualia, those aspects of mental content such as ‘redness’ or ‘sweetness’ that we experience during conscious awareness. Figuring out how matter can produce phenomenal consciousness remains the so-called ‘hard problem’.

Vedanta offers a model to integrate subjective consciousness and the information-processing systems of our body and brains. Its theory separates the brain and the senses from the mind. But it also distinguishes the mind from the function of consciousness, which it defines as the ability to experience mental output. We’re familiar with this notion from our digital devices. A camera, microphone or other sensors linked to a computer gather information about the world, and convert the various forms of physical energy – light waves, air pressure-waves and so forth – into digital data, just as our bodily senses do. The central processing unit processes this data and produces relevant outputs. The same is true of our brain. In both contexts, there seems to be little scope for subjective experience to play a role within these mechanisms.

While computers can handle all sorts of processing without our help, we furnish them with a screen as an interface between the machine and ourselves. Similarly, Vedanta postulates that the conscious entity – something it terms the atma – is the observer of the output of the mind. The atma possesses, and is said to be composed of, the fundamental property of consciousness. The concept is explored in many of the meditative practices of Eastern traditions.

You might think of the atma like this. Imagine you’re watching a film in the cinema. It’s a thriller, and you’re anxious about the lead character, trapped in a room. Suddenly, the door in the movie crashes open and there stands… You jump, as if startled. But what is the real threat to you, other than maybe spilling your popcorn? By suspending an awareness of your body in the cinema, and identifying with the character on the screen, we are allowing our emotional state to be manipulated. Vedanta suggests that the atma, the conscious self, identifies with the physical world in a similar fashion.

This idea can also be explored in the all-consuming realm of VR. On entering a game, we might be asked to choose our character or avatar – originally a Sanskrit word, aptly enough, meaning ‘one who descends from a higher dimension’. In older texts, the term often refers to divine incarnations. However, the etymology suits the gamer, as he or she chooses to descend from ‘normal’ reality and enter the VR world. Having specified our avatar’s gender, bodily features, attributes and skills, next we learn how to control its limbs and tools. Soon, our awareness diverts from our physical self to the VR capabilities of the avatar.

In Vedanta psychology, this is akin to the atma adopting the psychological persona-self it calls the ahankara, or the ‘pseudo-ego’. Instead of a detached conscious observer, we choose to define ourselves in terms of our social connections and the physical characteristics of the body. Thus, I come to believe in myself with reference to my gender, race, size, age and so forth, along with the roles and responsibilities of family, work and community. Conditioned by such identification, I indulge in the relevant emotions – some happy, some challenging or distressing – produced by the circumstances I witness myself undergoing.

Within a VR game, our avatar represents a pale imitation of our actual self and its entanglements. In our interactions with the avatar-selves of others, we might reveal little about our true personality or feelings, and know correspondingly little about others’. Indeed, encounters among avatars – particularly when competitive or combative – are often vitriolic, seemingly unrestrained by concern for the feelings of the people behind the avatars. Connections made through online gaming aren’t a substitute for other relationships. Rather, as researchers at Johns Hopkins University have noted, gamers with strong real-world social lives are less likely to fall prey to gaming addiction and depression.

These observations mirror the Vedantic claim that our ability to form meaningful relationships is diminished by absorption in the ahankara, the pseudo-ego. The more I regard myself as a physical entity requiring various forms of sensual gratification, the more likely I am to objectify those who can satisfy my desires, and to forge relationships based on mutual selfishness. But Vedanta suggests that love should emanate from the deepest part of the self, not its assumed persona. Love, it claims, is soul-to-soul experience. Interactions with others on the basis of the ahankara offer only a parody of affection.

As the atma, we remain the same subjective self throughout the whole of our life. Our body, mentality and personality change dramatically – but throughout it all, we know ourselves to be the constant observer. However, seeing everything shift and give way around us, we suspect that we’re also subject to change, ageing and heading for annihilation. Yoga, as systematised by Patanjali – an author or authors, like ‘Homer’, who lived in the 2nd century BCE – is intended to be a practical method for freeing the atma from relentless mental tribulation, and to be properly situated in the reality of pure consciousness.

In VR, we’re often called upon to do battle with evil forces, confronting jeopardy and virtual mortality along the way. Despite our efforts, the inevitable almost always happens: our avatar is killed. Game over. Gamers, especially pathological gamers, are known to become deeply attached to their avatars, and can suffer distress when their avatars are harmed. Fortunately, we’re usually offered another chance: Do you want to play again? Sure enough, we do. Perhaps we create a new avatar, someone more adept, based on the lessons learned last time around. This mirrors the Vedantic concept of reincarnation, specifically in its form of metempsychosis: the transmigration of the conscious self into a new physical vehicle.

Some commentators interpret Vedanta as suggesting that there is no real world, and that all that exists is conscious awareness. However, a broader take on Vedantic texts is more akin to VR. The VR world is wholly data, but it becomes ‘real’ when that information manifests itself to our senses as imagery and sounds on the screen or through a headset. Similarly, for Vedanta, it is the external world’s transitory manifestation as observable objects that makes it less ‘real’ than the perpetual, unchanging nature of the consciousness that observes it.

To the sages of old, immersing ourselves in the ephemeral world means allowing the atma to succumb to an illusion: the illusion that our consciousness is somehow part of an external scene, and must suffer or enjoy along with it. It’s amusing to think what Patanjali and the Vedantic fathers would make of VR: an illusion within an illusion, perhaps, but one that might help us to grasp the potency of their message.Aeon counter – do not remove

Akhandadhi Das

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.

 

Food for Thought with Elon Musk

[00:00:00] 20k Not a Flamethrower sold in 4 days

[00:04:00] Boring company – why it started

[00:07:00] Boring company – how it started

[00:10:00] How Elon manages his time

[00:12:30] AI

[00:21:00] AI + Regulations

[00:24:30] AI – Neuralink: Major announcement in the following months

[00:29:30] Whisky time

[00:34:00] Chimps and bonobos

[00:38:00] Social media and effects on people

[00:42:00] VR and simulation

[00:48:00] Simulations

[00:54:00] Checking out weapons

[00:55:00] Tesla time

[01:05:00] Tunnels and Flat Earth movement

[01:08:30] Tesla Roadster performance package (cold gas thrusters, 10k psi)

[01:10:00] Flying cars / magnet roads

[01:13:00] Planes

[01:21:00] Energy consumption

[01:26:00] Back on Tesla and cars – Roadster, Autopilot

[01:33:00] On people suing Tesla when they break a foot instead of dying

[01:45:30] Bottlenecks and what is holding Elon’s companies

[01:53:00] What keeps you up at night? (Tesla bottlenecks + history of Tesla’s bottlenecks)

[02:00:00] Tesla Solar roof

[02:04:00] Tesla may make products for the house (A/C?)

[02:05:00] Watches

[02:10:00] Puffing on a joint

[02:15:30] What is the hardest part being you?

[02:28:00] Space colonization

[02:33:00] Twitter

[02:36:00] Ending


Thanks to Rooney for the timestamps and topic organization.

Philosophy Primary Sources II

library

This post will serve as Part II of Philosophy Primary Sources and a supplement to Primary Sources & Encyclopedias (check out the Links section for even more research sources). There are certain books that are essential to an education about the human condition of which I believe should be available for free and with easy access to everybody. This list is more comprehensive and nuanced than the previous list, as it includes books that hold cultural significance in various fields of study. Each book on this list is in PDF format. I have organized them by topic (many topics intersect) and the last name of the author.


Philosophy

The Life of the Mind by Hannah Arendt

The Human Condition by Hannah Arendt

Language, Truth, and Logic by A.J. Ayer

The Problem of Knowledge by A.J. Ayer

Selected Writings of Jean Baudrillard

The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir

The Ethics of Ambiguity by Simone de Beauvoir

Matter and Memory by Henri Bergson

An Introduction to Metaphysics by Henri Bergson

I and Thou by Martin Buber

The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays by Albert Camus

The Rebel by Albert Camus

Language and Mind by Noam Chomsky

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

Nietzsche and Philosophy by Gilles Deleuze

What is Philosophy? by Gilles Deleuze & Félix Guattari

Darwin’s Dangerous Idea by Daniel Dennett

Speech and Phenomena & Other Essays by Jacques Derrida

Dissemination by Jacques Derrida

In Praise of Folly by Desiderius Erasmus

The Vocation of Man by Johann Gottlieb Fichte

The Science of Knowledge by Johann Gottlieb Fichte

The Archaeology of Knowledge & The Discourse on Language by Michel Foucault

Selected Writings of Mahatma Gandhi

The End of Faith by Sam Harris

Being and Time by Martin Heidegger

The Question Concerning Technology & Other Essays by Martin Heidegger

What is Metaphysics? by Martin Heidegger

God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens

Logical Investigations by Edmund Husserl

Reason and Existenz by Karl Jaspers

Fear and Trembling by Søren Kierkegaard

The Sickness Unto Death by Søren Kierkegaard

Philosophical Fragments by Søren Kierkegaard

Last Writings: Nothingness and the Religious Worldview by Nishida Kitarō

The Levinas Reader edited by Sáun Hand

The Postmodern Condition by Jean-François Lyotard

Essays of Michel de Montaigne

On the Genealogy of Morals by Friedrich Nietzsche

The Portable Nietzsche edited by Walter Kaufmann

The Self-Overcoming of Nihilism by Keiji Nishitani

Philosophical Explanations by Robert Nozick

Man Has No Nature by José Ortega y Gasset

The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine

Pensées by Blaise Pascal

The Morals of Plutarch

The Virtue of Selfishness by Ayn Rand

Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity by Richard Rorty

Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature by Richard Rorty

The Confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Free Thought & Official Propaganda by Bertrand Russell

In Praise of Idleness by Bertrand Russell

Mysticism and Logic: And Other Essays by Bertrand Russell

Being and Nothingness by Jean-Paul Sartre

Existentialism is a Humanism by Jean-Paul Sartre

The World as Will and Representation – Vol. 1 by Arthur Schopenhauer

The World as Will and Representation – Vol. 2 by Arthur Schopenhauer

The Basis of Morality by Arthur Schopenhauer

My View of the World (Excerpt) by Erwin Schrödinger

Athens and Jerusalem by Lev Shestov

The Ego and His Own by Max Stirner

The Courage to Be by Paul Tillich

The Eternal Now by Paul Tillich

Weak Thought edited by Gianni Vattimo and Pier Aldo Rovatti

The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts

Philosophical Investigations by Ludwig Wittgenstein


Science

The Essays of Francis Bacon

The New Organon by Francis Bacon

The Grounds for and Excellence of the Corpuscular or Mechanical Philosophy by Robert Boyle

On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres (Dedication) by Nicolaus Copernicus

On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection by Charles Darwin

The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins

The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins

The Principles of Quantum Mechanics by Paul Dirac

Relativity: The Special and General Theory by Albert Einstein

The Assayer by Galileo Galilei

Dialogues Concerning the Two Chief World Systems by Galileo Galilei

A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

Physics and Philosophy: The Revolution in Modern Science by Werner Heisenberg

The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking & Leonard Mlodinow

Treatise on Light by Christiaan Huygens

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn

The Copernican Revolution by Thomas Kuhn

The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy by Sir Isaac Newton

Science and Hypothesis by Henri Poincaré

What is Life? by Erwin Schrödinger

Mind and Matter by Erwin Schrödinger

The Physics of the Healing by Ibn Sīnā (Avicenna)


Psychology

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

The Complete Works of Sigmund Freud

The Principles of Psychology: Volume I by William James

The Principles of Psychology: Volume II by William James

Man and his Symbols by Carl Jung

Memories, Dreams, Reflection by Carl Jung

Écrits by Jacques Lacan

Religions, Values, and Peak Experiences by Abraham Maslow

Cognitive Psychology by Ulric Neisser

Verbal Behavior by B.F. Skinner

Existential Psychotherapy by Irvin D. Yalom


Literature

The Tragedies of Aeschylus

The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Notes from the Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Euripides: Ion, Hippolytus, Medea, & Alcestis

Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The Iliad of Homer

The Odyssey of Homer

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

The Complete Stories of Franz Kafka

Paradise Lost by John Milton

1984 by George Orwell

Animal Farm by George Orwell

In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke

The Notes of Malte Laurids Brigge by Rainer Maria Rilke

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare

The Tragedies of Sophocles

Walden by Henry David Thoreau

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Candide by Voltaire

Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut

Note: Planet Publish hosts a vast selection of literature in PDF format available for free.


Religious

A Study of Dōgen by Masao Abe

Deliverance from Error by Al-Ghazali

The Incoherence of the Philosophers by Al-Ghazali

The Summa Theologica by Thomas Aquinas

The Teaching of Buddha

Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin

The Analects of Confucius

The Vedas compiled by the Dharmic Scriptures Team

On Divine Names & Mystical Theology by Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite

The Shōbōgenzō: Volume I by Eihei Dōgen

The Shōbōgenzō: Volume II by Eihei Dōgen

The Shōbōgenzō: Volume III by Eihei Dōgen

The Shōbōgenzō: Volume IV by Eihei Dōgen

Dōgen’s Extensive Record: A Translation of the Eihei Kōroku

The Tibetan Book of the Dead edited by W. Y. Evans-Wentz

The Essence of Christianity by Ludwig Feuerbach

Christian Apologetics by Norman Geisler

Philosophy of Religion by Norman Geisler

The Principia Discordia by Greg Hill and Kerry Wendell Thornley

The Perennial Philosophy by Aldous Huxley

The Guide for the Perplexed by Moses Maimonides

The Mūlamadhyamakakārikā of Nāgārjuna

On Buddhism by Keiji Nishitani

The Upanishads translated by Swami Paramananda

On the Harmony of Religion and Philosophy by Ibn Rushd (Averroes)

The Incoherence of the Incoherence by Ibn Rushd (Averroes)

Forgotten Truth by Huston Smith

An Introduction to Zen Buddhism by D.T. Suzuki

The Bhagavad Gita translated by Shri Purohit Swami

The New Being by Paul Tillich

The Way of Zen by Alan Watts

Note: Internet Sacred Text Archive hosts an archive of online books about religion, mythology, folklore and the esoteric (including the writings of the early church fathers).


Historical

World History: Patterns of Interaction by Beck, et al.

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: Volume I by Edward Gibbon

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: Volume II by Edward Gibbon

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: Volume III by Edward Gibbon

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: Volume IV by Edward Gibbon

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: Volume V by Edward Gibbon

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: Volume VI by Edward Gibbon

The Histories of Herodotus

I Have a Dream by Martin Luther King Jr.

The History of Rome by Titus Livius

The History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell

Anti-Semite and Jew: An Exploration of the Etiology of Hate by Jean-Paul Sartre

The Decline of the West by Oswald Spengler

The Annals of Tacitus

The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides

Note: Project Gutenberg and the Internet Archive are excellent sources of historical writings and much more. Ancient Greek and Roman histories can be found at Loebolus.


Important Historical Documents

Magna Carta Libertatum (Great Charter of Liberties)

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The Code of Hammurabi

Note: OurDocuments.gov hosts a list of 100 milestone documents, compiled by the National Archives and Records Administration, and drawn primarily from its nationwide holdings. The documents chronicle United States history from 1776 to 1965.


Political & Social Theory

On the Reproduction of Capitalism by Louis Althusser

An Introduction to The Principles of Morals and Legislation by Jeremy Bentham

Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky

Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism & Schizophrenia by Gilles Deleuze & Félix Guattari

Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison by Michel Foucault

The History of Sexuality by Michel Foucault

Madness and Civilization by Michel Foucault

The Theory of Communicative Action by Jürgen Habermas

Between Facts and Norms by Jürgen Habermas

Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes

Dialectic of Enlightenment by Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno

The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money by John Maynard Keynes

Structural Anthropology by Claude Lévi-Strauss

The Savage Mind by Claude Lévi-Strauss

The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli

Capital: Critique of Political Economy, Volume I by Karl Marx

Capital: Critique of Political Economy, Volume II by Karl Marx

Capital: Critique of Political Economy, Volume III by Karl Marx

Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 by Karl Marx

The German Ideology by Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels

Areopagitica by John Milton

The Spirit of Laws by Montesquieu

A Theory of Justice by John Rawls

Émile, or Concerning Education by Jean-Jacques Rousseau

The Origin of Inequality by Jean-Jacques Rousseau

The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau

The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith

Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau

Writings of Leon Trotsky

The Theory of the Leisure Class by Thorstein Veblen

The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism by Max Weber


Check out the Links Section for more sources of primary texts and general research.

Books I Must Read!

Conscious of being unable to be anything, man then decides to be nothing. … Nihilism is disappointed seriousness which has turned back upon itself.

– Simone de Beauvoir

The Human Condition by Hannah Arendt

The Human Condition, first published in 1958, is Hannah Arendt’s account of how “human activities” should be and have been understood throughout Western history. Arendt is interested in the vita activa (active life) as contrasted with the vita contemplativa (contemplative life) and concerned that the debate over the relative status of the two has blinded us to important insights about the vita activa and the way in which it has changed since ancient times. She distinguishes three sorts of activity (labor, work, and action) and discusses how they have been affected by changes in Western history.

The Ethics of Ambiguity by Simone de Beauvoir

In this classic introduction to existentialist thought, French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir’s The Ethics of Ambiguity simultaneously pays homage to and grapples with her French contemporaries, philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, by arguing that the freedoms in existentialism carry with them certain ethical responsibilities. De Beauvoir outlines a series of “ways of being” (the adventurer, the passionate person, the lover, the artist, and the intellectual), each of which overcomes the former’s deficiencies, and therefore can live up to the responsibilities of freedom. Ultimately, de Beauvoir argues that in order to achieve true freedom, one must battle against the choices and activities of those who suppress it.

The Ethics of Ambiguity is the book that launched Simone de Beauvoir’s feminist and existential philosophy. It remains a concise yet thorough examination of existence and what it means to be human.

The Question Concerning Technology by Martin Heidegger

The Question Concerning Technology is a work by Martin Heidegger, in which Heidegger articulates the essence of technology and humanity’s role in revealing technology. The advent of machine technology has given rise to some of the deepest problems of modern thought.


Honorable mention: Meaningness by David Chapman

I read the Emotional Dynamics of Nihilism page of this hypertext book and felt it was very much aligned to my own experience. This book seems to be an interesting take on nihilism caused by a loss of faith in eternalism. I’m not sure he offers anything that the existentialists and other authors (Nishitani comes to mind) have not covered already, but the book may be worth taking a look at.

I have coined the word “meaningness” to express the ambiguous quality of meaningfulness and meaninglessness that we encounter in practice. According to the stance that recognizes meaningness, meaning is real but not definite. It is neither objective nor subjective. It is neither given by an external force nor a human invention.

– David Chapman