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Theodicy: Essays on the Goodness of God, the Freedom of Man, & the Origin of Evil

Theodicy: Essays on the Goodness of God, the Freedom of Man & the Origin of EvilTheodicy: Essays on the Goodness of God, the Freedom of Man & the Origin of Evil by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

First an explanation of what it means to "read" 500 pages of old philosophical prose--you skim through sections looking for the good, engaging material, the new idea, the argument you really want to focus on. You don't always painstakingly read every word.

For a while I was overwhelmed by the thoroughness of this book, so unlike Leibniz's Discourse and Monadology which are short and succinct. But eventually I grew deep admiration for Leibniz.

For one, he may have been one of the most well-read intellectuals ever. The sheer breadth and diversity of figures he sites is incredible, some of them now minor or forgotten folk (like his detailed discussion of the supralapsarian theologians). This contrasts with what I read about Descartes last year in a biography, that he didn't like reading other people's books.

Also, Leibniz will spend pages and pages trying to fully grasp another authors arguments, sometimes presenting it in a better light than the author themselves did, before then refuting it with objections.

So, a monumental intellectual achievement . . . but I still disagree with him about most of his conclusions. I am not persuaded that this is the best of all possible worlds, that pre-established harmony is the solution to the mind-body problem, and more.

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Hope & Epistemology

An interesting post about how hope is an epistemological virtue. An excerpt:

To reason at all, we need assurance that we can know Truth-in-fact, but where does that assurance come from? It isn’t an axiom of logic or an inference from experience. Clark concludes thought can’t get off the ground unless we “believe that if we seek the truth in accordance with certain standing assumptions about probability, about what sort of world this is, we shall be rewarded.” Rational inquiry depends on faith that the world is susceptible to rational inquiry. To be reasonable, reason must be founded on something other than reason.


Leibniz: Philosophical EssaysLeibniz: Philosophical Essays by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I first read most of this volume while in a graduate school class on the Rationalists a quarter century ago. This time I re-read the Discourse on Metaphysics, the Monadology, and a some other essays. I wasn't quite as intrigued by Leibniz this time around as last time. The Monadology is far more interesting than the Discourse.

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The Monarchy of Fear

The Monarchy of Fear: A Philosopher Looks at Our Political CrisisThe Monarchy of Fear: A Philosopher Looks at Our Political Crisis by Martha C. Nussbaum
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book serves as both a fine introduction to Nussbaum's important work on the emotions and particularly how they intersect political thought and a fine contribution to the various works over the last few years to help us better understand our current American situation and how to respond to it.

Nussbaum views fear as a threat to democracy and rightly perceives our current time to be a fearful one. Fear can become worse when it feeds anger, disgust, and envy. What democracy requires is hope, the opposite of fear, and the faith and love that hope feeds.

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Two Treatises of Government

Two Treatises of GovernmentTwo Treatises of Government by John Locke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had somehow made it to 45 and well into my philosophy career without reading all of Locke's second treatise, though I had read substantial bits at various times in my life, beginning in high school debate. Now I've done it.

Americans would be well-served to re-read Locke this season to remind themselves of the limits needed on executive power. As I read, many passages were deeply resonate with the impeachment hearings on-going in Washington.

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Churchland on the brain and morality

I've never agreed with Patricia Churchland's philosophy of mind, but in this interview some of her comments on morality resonated with me. Excerpts:

I think what’s troubling about Kant and utilitarians is that they have this idea, which really is a romantic bit of nonsense, that if you could only articulate the one deepest rule of moral behavior, then you’d know what to do. It turns out that’s not workable at all: There is no one deepest rule. We have all kinds of rules of thumb that help us with a starting point, but they can’t possibly handle all situations for all people for all times.


Of course we always care about the consequences. But the important thing is that’s only one constraint among many. Moral decision-making is a constraint satisfaction process whereby your brain takes many factors and integrates them into a decision.