Political Virtue of a Virus

A cell infected with a virus in the show “Cells at Work!” Metaphors for a disease can teach us more about them.

Coronavirus has become something else. Analogies of COVID-19 being like an evil force of nature, on the edge of life and death just as a virus would be. As alluring as it is to use grandiose metaphors and contemplate their meaning, it’s hard to separate truth from fiction. Any metaphor that lets us understand a deeper or hidden similarity we couldn’t otherwise explain runs the risk of straying from what something actually is. Still, a global pandemic that overturns notions of morality, reality, politics, and everything else can’t be explained without resorting to analogies. With that, the coronavirus is an experimental hypothesis of ethics. It’s a test to our character and morality in how we fight a virus as though it were something evil.

The politics of globalization and communication, like the anonymous force that spreads a viral video spreading, are at their end for this era. The promise of rising living standards and faith in government authority will fall along with them. With them, the experiment of liberalism, in forming unity and common bonds between people, has ended. The virus becomes a test of what can best answer the issues raised by these losses with the mistrust and tension between individualism and collectivism it brings.

When 19th-century Austrian physician Ignaz Semmelweis realized washing hands would prevent the high death rate among pregnant women due to post-partum infections, he was ostracized and sent to a mental asylum where he he would die. Just as Aristotle in Politics described the “exceptional man” who could sing better than the others in the chorus and, as a result, become ostracized by them, we can determine which exceptions we can’t afford to ignore through methods like washing hands and vaccinations.

When philosopher Michel Foucault wrote that modern sovereign power was biopolitical, expressed through the production, management, and administration of “life,” philosopher Giorgio Agamben responded that there was a “state of exception” in which an authority could exercise power in areas law had not otherwise granted to it. During the emergency of the pandemic, we find ourselves in this state. Knowledge itself has become a privilege. Only some voices are valued. Those who choose to spread knowledge and let ideas flourish would be virtuous during this time.

The virus invites us to reflect and meditate upon the world. We are mortal, finite, contingent, lacking, wanting, and many other things. These ideals have been true and will always be, but the virus only further reveals them. Philosopher Baruch Spinoza ridiculed how other thinkers put humans above nature, the idea that man, in nature, is a dominion within a dominion. The coronavirus breaks down solidarity between humans and creates walls between them. It sows divisions and prevents information and righteousness from reaching one another, much the way we self-isolate and quarantine. We must, then, find common solutions that can overcome these obstacles.

We may see the fall of postmodernism. Though nature may seem sinister with how threatening the virus is, we can’t address these issues and help one another without turning to nature. With the rise of “red zone” hotspots, domestic seclusion, and militarized territories, “neighbors” can be “anyone.” Turning to nature for answers and seeking unifying, grand narratives to unite people among one another would bring about a return to modernist ideals. Even fighting against fascism, an ideology that would otherwise welcome barricaded borders and segregation from superior groups, means coming to terms with the idea that the enemy is not some foreigner or outsider. As Agamben wrote, on coronavirus, “The enemy is not outside, it is within us.” Blocking communication with other nations, as sovereignists like Trump may want, won’t solve the problem. Conspiracy theories that Asian individuals or 5G are to blame may also show this xenophobia that attempts to remedy our anxieties.

With certainty, I believe the virus has made politics more of a morality test. There’s a political “virtue” in how we react to it with wisdom and resilience. If the political virtue abandons the “human, all too human,” illusion that we can appropriate nature like a dominion in a dominion, then the morality test of politics means we must learn how to govern nature, not control it. The Greeks would have called political “cybernetic” or nautical, and, like a sailor fighting against a stormy sea, politics means caring about the crew to survive.

Much like the coronavirus was named “corona” for its crown-shape, the authority, legitimacy, and power of individuals who rule nations come into question. Like a virus, neither dead nor alive, we find ourselves in a state of motionless solitude during isolation and quarantine. Teetering on the brink of despair, we have to regain our balance. When governments and economies begin starting up again, we can only fight against the virus so it doesn’t retain its power.

Can we upload our minds onto computers?

Is the singularity approaching? Science and philosophy have raised possible answers. We can now scan human brains on the level of a molecule. Recording this data is only a step toward artificial immortality, some argue, where we’d exist forever in data. This data would provide the basis for emulating everything the brain normally would whether through a robotic body or a virtual being. Though it wouldn’t be the exact molecules that make up who you are, this digital copy of yourself could, in some ways, be you.

Such ideas open up questions of metaphysics and being about how possible it is to even upload minds to computers. If you’re having doubts about whether a mind can actually become completely digital, you probably won’t be surprised to hear there’s been debate. Even if you could upload your mind to a computer, it would be a matter of arranging all the molecules the way to match your mind. It raises the question of whether this can account for everything a mind is capable. But, if your identity remained, would it still be you?

In “The Singularity: A Philosophical Analysis,” David Chalmers wrote about how a computer may take someone’s uploaded mind or even follow someone’s social media feed in reconstructing everything about who they are. Philosopher Mark Walker talked about a “type identity” that mind uploading preserves. Mental events can have these types corresponding to physical events of the brain. Philosopher John Searle has argued that mind uploading, part of starting a computer program, couldn’t lead to a computer consciously thinking. He goes into more detail with his Chinese room argument. Others like philosopher Massimo Pigliucci have been more pessimistic. Pigliucci has argued consciousness as a biological phenomena don’t let it lend itself to mind uploading as others may argue. Even more pressing, the philosophers Joseph Corabi and Susan Schneider believe you possibly wouldn’t even survive being uploaded.

Despite these issues, scientists and philosophers have put forward effort to make this future a possibility. Director of Engineering at Google Ray Kurzweil has worked toward this immortality. In the hopes of surviving until the singularity, he has written on the possibility of machines reaching human-like intelligence by 2045. These “transhumanists” like philosopher Nick Bostrom argue we’ll see mind uploading technology during the 21st century. The nonprofit Carbon Copies, headed by neuroscientist Randal Koene, has directed efforts towards mind uploading.

Mind uploading also centers on the question of what you are, philosophy Kenneth Hayworth suggests. With personal identity some consider the most important target to preserve through mind uploading and using the mind to define personal identity, many have chosen to use the phrase “personal transfer to a synthetic human” (PTSH) in lieu of “mind uploading.” This has lead philosophers to argue what would constitute a “personal identity.”

Work in mind uploading should remain conscious of the ethics of various outcomes for the offspring of one another. Seeking the best outcomes for mankind as a whole could mean that the more optimistic about mind uploading may believe the process would produce more intellectual and social good for the species. Humanity progressing towards a future dominated by uploading like a transhumanist or posthumanist would. They may even overpower others and thrive in a futuristic “digital Darwinistic” scenario. Those more wary and cautious of the technology would be cast aside even if humans might go extinct. Or they may be deleted without any sort of backup. In any case, the rest would be history, and, perhaps, a bit of metaphysics.

Life and Logic: “Hegel’s Concept of Life” by Karen Ng

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel is one of philosophy’s giants, and his influence on the science of logic and self-consciousness can’t be ignored. Philosopher Karen Ng puts Hegel’s thought and arguments into words in Hegel’s Concept of Life. Reason comes from life in itself, Ng explains.

Following and responding to Immanuel Kant’s writing, Hegel describes a type of internal purposiveness around which self-consciousness, freedom, and logic develop. Hegel derives a purposiveness from Kant’s third Critique of Judgment. Nature itself has a purposiveness, and, from this, judgement attains its power.

For a thing generated either by art, or by nature, …Art is the principle in a thing other than that which is generated, nature is a principle in the thing itself.

Aristotle, Metaphysics

Hegel cites Kant’s use of Aristotle’s understanding of nature in distinguishing between external and internal purposiveness. While the external purposiveness uses artifact creation and instrumental action, the internal type uses organic production and life the same way Aristotle differentiated between art and nature. This is pertinent for understanding Hegel’s philosophical method in the Differenzschrift (1801) and Phenomenology of Spirit (1807). In those texts, Hegel cites Fichte and Schelling in arguing against Kant that internal purposiveness is part of the activity of cognition. Ng offers her own interpretation, too. Hegel’s critique of Fichte’s idealism as “subjective” rests on Fichte’s inability to conceive of nature as internally purposive and living. From there, the cognition relates to the self and the world.

Ng interprets Hegel’s Science of Logic in a nuanced fashion that Hegel’s Subjective Logic are part of Hegel’s version of a critique of judgement. One can understand life as making intelligibility possible. Hegel’s theory of judgement is made up of reflective and teleological judgements such that a species or kind creates the objective context for predication. “Objective universality” is the context needed for predication, particularly the normative predicates ascription to the subject. Life is, then, something original of judgement, and presupposes the actualization of self-conscious cognition.

Books about Nothing: On the death of the novel

What use do books have nowadays? In The Decline of the Novel, author Joseph Bottum paints a grim portrait. The novel is dead, and, if not, dying. Fiction is no longer about grappling with reality.

For almost three hundred years, the novel was a major art form, perhaps the major art form, of the modern world—the device by which . . . we tried to explain ourselves to ourselves.

Joseph Bottum

Novels used to emerge from storytelling. They were a more mature form of them that would let the reader take a look inside someone else. Yet, they have met their fate. Long gone are the days of Austen, the Brontës, Dickens, Kafka, or anyone else we can remember. Now, novels are about letting readers find something else to divert their attention or entertain themselves. Bottum delivers this story of stories through examples and illustrations of these changes in reading. He supports his arguments through an exploration of how the role art plays has changed over time.

The Catholic author Bottum began his research on the historic trends of Protestantism losing cultural significance in American and European life. He believes the first novel, Cervantes’ 1605 Catholic Don Quixote, and how the form of the novel began were meant to reveal the “thick self in a thin universe.” For the first 300 years of its life, the novel kept this purpose. In the midst of the Reformation, the “Protestantism of the air” set the scene for the writing of the time, even for non-Protestants. And it caught on by readers and scholars of religious groups, especially Protestants.

The modern novel…came into being to present the Protestant story of the individual soul as it strove to understand its salvation and achieve its sanctification, illustrated by the parallel journey of the new-style characters, with their well-finished interiors, as they wandered through their adventure in the exterior world.

Joseph Bottum

Society began embracing the idea that they were pushing forward humanity somewhere. With progress of all forms, the novel promised something more than detailed stories of modern selves. They would create stories of the crises of modern selves with the urgency and relevance for the readers of the time period. In some cases, they offered solutions to the problems of the self. Like a remedy for the soul, they could enchant the reader who hungered for stories to understand the world around them. In the reduction of existence to science and technology, government and bureaucracy, and commerce and economics, novels provided meaning in reality. They gave purpose to the natural and physical world in which there was none, making them supernatural and metaphysical.

With this power, the novel was religious, Bottum argues. At the time, the secular realm consisted of the social norms that built civilization enforced by power. Uncovering this social value was, then, a religious act.

But those were the days of the past. The novel’s slow and steady decline reflects society’s inability to address the issues in the supernatural and metaphysical realm. “The decline of the novel’s prestige reflects and confirms…a new crisis born of the culture’s increasing failure of intellectual nerve and terminal doubt about its own progress,” Bottum argues. With modernity of all aspects of society, “the thick inner world of the self increasingly came to seem ill-matched with the impoverished outer world, stripped of all the old enchantment that had made exterior objects seem meaningful and important. . . . This is what we mean by the crisis of the self: Why does anything matter, what could be important, if meaning is invented, coming from the self rather than to the self?”

The dying began with the final decade of the twentieth century. Protestantism lost traction in Western civilization. “Of the authors who have published novels since the early 1990s, none are mandatory reading,” Bottum writes. How true this is depends on who you ask. It’s definitely possible that the novels over the past century don’t conform to Bottum’s view. Writers who are amazing with portraying characterization, dialogue, plot, and other features can still fall far from this purpose of a novel. The novel’s purpose in creating a meaning that transcends words themselves doesn’t follow from those aspects of writing. It’s something else. Many books over the past century start off well with a lot of potential, but don’t seem to reach this stage of a novel’s purpose. They, instead, leave the reader wanting more, circling around to how things started in the beginning, or use some other method of avoiding this transcendence. A lot of writers tend to shy away from metaphysical purpose and stick with themes that there’s no meaning in their work, that it was never meant to provide that to begin with, or some similar postmodern theme. We’ve come to associate these secular searches for truth by avoiding what Bottum has described as the purpose of the novel.

In thrusting the novel to the limits of postmodernism, one can ask “Where do we go from here?” Hungarian novelist László Krasznahorkai has tried pushing through this nihilism in his writing like The Melancholy of Resistance. His apocalyptic godless story has a description of a human body decomposing. In graphic detail of the chemical, it creates a redundancy of the form. Bottum argues that the American writer Tom Wolfe has a metaphysical component from the absence of a moral framework. Instead of having the ideal conception of ethics from which to measure distance of events and actions, Wolfe’s writing “needs a greater thickness than the world seems to possess,” Bottum says. “What he discovers instead is the culture’s failure of nerve, and it ruins the attempt to go where he wants to go,” Bottum writes. “The ending of a Tom Wolfe novel is usually a disaster, or at least a minor fall, because the resources necessary to conclude a story of justification and sanctification simply do not exist for him.” The American George Saunders and French Michel Houellebecq have established themselves as post-postmodernists to this end. Beyond the boundaries of postmodernism, they’ve written stories that capture what Bottum has intended. They give life to the novel in a sort of resurrection. They provide a philosophy with aesthetics, metaphysics, and other characteristics that Bottum argues novels have lost.

Krasznahorkai and Houellebecq perceive Bottum’s problem with the death of the novel. They both attempt to provide solutions with a metaphysics of the imagination for the empty space in their work. Houellebecq creates worlds that use transcendence in fitting ways even when in the lost abyss. Krasznahorkai avoids the problem by making a testament to modernity in ways other writers don’t.

Works across popular biography, New Journalism, graphic novels, and genre fiction have explored new forms of novelism. Though these aren’t novels, we can turn to them in determining things that novels have missed. They don’t quite capture the movements that Dickens or Austen once created. Bottum believes this “signals…an end of confidence, about the past values and future goals of what conceived itself as Western culture.”

Bottum is cautious in arguing that, though the novel has died, the writers before our time did not have more genius than current ones do. He mentions Naipaul, Vargas Llosa, Byatt, Pynchon, Roth, DeLillo, Coetzee, Robinson, Amis, Rushdie, McCarthy, Murakami, Eugenides as examples who are talented writers, yet show something different than what Defoe, Dickens, Austen, Faulkner, Hemingway, Steinbeck, or Mann did in their work.

All this is testimony, I think, to the current problem of culture’s lack of belief in itself, derived from the fading of a temporal horizon….Without a sense of the old goals and reasons…all that remains are the crimes the culture committed in the past to get where it is now. Uncompensated by achievement, unexplained by purpose, these unameliorated sins must seem overwhelming: the very definition of the culture.

Where do we go? “Why, indeed, should we write or even read book-length fiction for insight into the directions of the culture and the self?” Bottum asks.

There aren’t many people nowadays who believe reading novels is essential to being part of the public sphere like reading the news or searching for a peek into the human condition. While Bottum’s book still suffers from issues in the way its constructed such as how it centers on essays that don’t resonate as well as they could, it still reveals this truth about our novel-reading habits. One may argue about why or how these changes have occurred. In the age of information technology, our communication has become more superficial and simplistic. Fiction no longer carries the mysterious aura of power it once did. Freudian psychoanalysis has made the human person itself instrument such that everything we do becomes mere mechanical processes. The novelist, in these dimensions, doesn’t have much to work with. There’s no transcendence.

It’s also worth emphasizing the times of religious authority in many areas of society no longer holds the same water given the advances in communication and culture over the centuries since Don Quixote. As the novel gained its own aesthetic and culture significance, it had already begun losing the curiosity of the elusive human condition.

Writing itself has changed, too. It’s become a form of seeking status. Nowadays writing is more about changing the world rather than investigating it, and many people are more concerned with the prestige and power that comes along with it rather than the long, arduous craft of becoming a better writer.

The media’s portrayal of reality, through all these trends, becomes more supra-fictional. The phrase “truth is stranger than fiction” may resonate with many readers nowadays. Some areas of fiction like crime and horror still try their best to catch our attention, though.

Overall, the story of the novel meeting its demise presents these postmodern and post-postmodern issues that many of us experience whenever we open up a book. When its story ends, we’ll see if a new one begins.

Where do numbers come from? Philosophers have sought answers.

Zellini’s book is a nice story about numbers that introduces you to new ways of looking at the world.

The answer may lie in Irish mathematician Paolo Zellini’s recent book The Mathematics of the Gods and the Algorithms of Men: A Cultural History. The philosophical debate determines to answer the question if numbers are discovered like a diamond in a cave or invented like a new phone. Whether numbers are real or fake, it doesn’t make a difference to most people, even those who use mathematics in their everyday lives. An engineer needs to know if the physics of a bridge are sturdy enough, but probably doesn’t need to know whether those physics were invented or discovered. Still, understanding that it’s not relevant to most issues means that you can appreciate a greater philosophical inquiry by approaching the problem. Figuring it out for what it is presents those new methods of reasoning. When there’s nothing practical to gain, then the real learning begins.

So where did mathematics come from? How did we start using numbers to count things? Zellini says that, historically, “2 apples” came before the number 2 did. We saw many things in front of us and used numbers to count them. Enumeration itself was meant to give reality to these things. Mathematics and numbers were powerful, and this attribution gave them their power. Philosophers who wrote about divinity believed numbers created this reality through divine powers, as Zellini explains in The Mathematics of the Gods and the Algorithms of Men.

So if math was from the Gods, were algorithms from the men? In some way. The debates throughout the 1800s and 1900s lead to the theories of computer science in solving algorithms and difficult math problems. The ways numbers behaved in different calculations were the basis for questions of how things can change or not. Einstein’s theories of relativity and developments in the creation of computers took advantage of these methods of thinking. There, the foundation of mathematics in science and technology is apparent. But Zellini takes things a step further. Math not only showed how important calculations are to society, but dictated fundemental searches for what is real.

Numbers have a reality. This isn’t the same reality as the difference between real and imaginary numbers (such as the imaginary i unit). It’s a reality of how these numbers came about. They tell us what is and isn’t. Zellini writes their “calculability,” or this mathematical practicality, determines this. These theoretical questions of what kinds of math problems can be solved or how algorithms behave speak to how a system of rules for numbers may work. Zellini is very careful not to draw too many conclusions that math is the sole method of understanding reality or that these revelations will change every field of research that uses numbers. Instead, he presents more of a guide for how the amount of money you have in your pocket or temperature forecast tomorrow are real enough for the purposes they serve, even if other numbers aren’t as real.

Zellini’s writing is still insightful and relevant, though. Numbers are different from what they enumerate. The power of hundreds of thousands of voters supporting one candidate over the other relies on calculations in an increasingly data-driven world. The models built upon machine learning and statistics depend upon all sources of information. This data comes from a small part of our experience, though. The algorithms and computers that control the analysis, prediction, and other methods create the reality that can dominate the experience they claim to represent. As we rely increasingly on forecasts and cost-benefit models of risks, we, in many ways, find ourselves turning back to the philosophical power of numbers. Back to the big questions of what a 50% win chance in an election means adds up, Zellini reveals.

It’s disappointing, then, that Zellini’s appeal to philosophy depends so much on ancient mathematics that don’t flow so well with the philosophy itself. Making strong references to Heidegger and Nietzsche and a rambling explanation from classical philosophy are fine, but the work still falls short. It stays too well within the intellectual landscape of dead white men in a way that it doesn’t represent numbers, calculation, and algorithms as well as it could. The connections between mathematics and philosophy are still weak. Zellini even makes incorrect historical claims about the cultural history of math and philosophy.

I’m sure there are better stories of the history of mathematics and philosophy such historian David Wootton’s The Invention of Science: A New History of the Scientific Revolution. Still, Zellini’s explanation of the power of numbers is difficult to ignore in today’s issues of population and economics.

Why life might be worth living, according to philosopher William James

If you ever find yourself in doubt of yourself and other things in your life, remember to remain cognizant in evaluating things. Questioning whether life is worth living is only a part of many larger questions that many people face at some point or another. Whether you find satisfying answers can be difficult, though. Turning to philosophy can provide answers, with some effort at least.

“Is Life Worth Living?” A bold title for the 1896 lecture of philosopher and psychologist William James. And what better way to begin such a than with an 1881 self-help book of a similar title. James himself had been through the existential dilemma. He would ask, was life worth living?

The short answer is that it depends on the liver. Satisfied? If not, there is a more elaborate response. Philosopher John Kaag’s new book Sick Souls, Healthy Minds: How William James Can Save Your Life explores the Father of American Psychology’s personal journey in figuring out if life is worth living.

James would wake up each day “with a horrible dread at the pit of [his] stomach,” contemplating suicide in his early 20s and wondering “how other people could live, how I myself had ever lived, so unconscious of that pit of insecurity beneath the surface of life.” Through an arduous journey of figuring out what made life meaningful and worth living, the philosopher ends up conceding to “our usual refined optimisms and intellectual and moral consolations” and live as though life were worth living.

After Kaag witnessed a suicide by jumping off of the William James Hall at Harvard University in 2014, the philosopher began questioning why it had happened. Sick Souls, Healthy Minds aims to remedy those actions by offering James as a friend in those trying times of misery. Kaag shares own difficult time at age 30 as he was researching William James at Harvard University while going through a divorce and dealing with the death of his alcoholic father. Like his previous book on Nietzsche, Kaag searches for practical wisdom by combining his autobiographical experience alongside the famous philosopher. I still found myself believing that, though Kaag himself went through a tremendous amount of stress, his own story still pales in comparison to James’ style and work.

James’ research in studying philosophy and psychology alongside one another, radical empiricism, pragmatism, “anti-intellectualism” (to be clarified later) and overall revolutionary role in the theory of emotion that still resounds to this day make his life and rumination on its meaning much more impactful. His own life, from going on a scientific journey through the Amazon, studying medicine, and pondering life’s purpose, especially in light of On the Origin of Species, published in 1859, lead him to think humans were merely animals in a deterministic world of cause-and-effect. Choice, like free will, was only an illusion. This lead to his diary entries in 1870, in which he assumed free will was no illusion, and, out of his own free will, he would believe in free will. He wrote he would, “accumulate grain on grain of willful [sic] choice like a very miser” through making habits. After reading French philosopher Charles Renouvier’s, he came to believe these thoughts and kept them close in everything he did.

James’ pragmatism, that truth is not statically there to be perceived or discovered but is, in many cases, what we create in the stride of living, we can jump across the abyss that Nietzsche warned about staring into by jumping across it. James would write about a type of “anti-intellectualism” against the idea that the minds have “a world complete in itself” and need simply to find this world while having no power to re-determine its already-given character. These gave the psychologist-philosopher a type of deterministic that James would use to describe a type of “rich and active commerce” between minds and reality.

When new ideas join older ones, they “marry” one another, James described. You can form beliefs as hypotheses, and their values depend on how they relate to you. This hypothesis of life makes life valuable.

But Kaag also warns the prideful dangers of pragmatism, even if his explanations are a bit indulgent. Kaag’s doubts crept up on him during his first wedding, but his mother suggested to continue with the wedding as planned. He realized he could determine the truth that his marriage would be a happy one, but he also couldn’t the same way he could. It seemed as though James’ free will wouldn’t have helped.

James’ other work reflects the groundbreaking discoveries in psychology and cognitive science while creating the Department of Experimental Psychology at Harvard. James believed emotions are “constituted by, and made up of, those bodily changes which we ordinarily call their expression or consequence.” Being sad is not the cause of crying, but is what it feels like to cry in this sort of “biofeedback” in which we figure out our own emotions. This means, according to James, that whistling a happy tune could prevent yourself from feeling sad. The psychologist-philosopher mocked the cognitivist idea that emotions could simply be states of mind which cause us to have visceral reactions. Without the fiery passion of anger within your heart or heavy weight of mourning at a funeral, an emotion would only be “feelingless cognition.”

If, as Nietzsche said, every great philosophy is “a confession on the part of its author and a kind of involuntary and unconscious memoir,” then the emphasis should be on “involuntary and unconscious.” Maybe, in philosophizing, the personal should let themselves feel what they feel.

An introduction to philosophy

Table of contents


Classical ethics

  • Aristotle “Nichomachean Ethics” “On Virtues and Vices”

Christian and Medieval ethics

  • Thomas Aquinas “Summa Theologica”

  • Saint Bonaventure “Commentary on the Sentences”

  • Duns Scotus “Philosophical Writings”

  • William of Ockham “Sum of Logic”

Modern ethics

  • G. E. M. Anscombe “Modern Moral Philosophy”

  • David Gauthier “Morals by Agreement”

  • Alan Gewirth “Reason and Morality”

  • Allan Gibbard “Thinking How to Live”

  • Susan Hurley “Natural Reasons”

  • Christine Korsgaard “The Sources of Normativity”

  • John McDowell “Values and Secondary Qualities”

  • Alasdair MacIntyre “After Virtue”

  • J. L. Mackie “Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong”

  • G. E. Moore “Principia Ethica”

  • Martha Nussbaum “The Fragility of Goodness”

  • Derek Parfit “Reasons and Persons”

  • Derek Parfit “On What Matters”

  • Peter Railton “Facts, Values, and Norms”

  • W. D. Ross “The Right and the Good”

  • Thomas M. Scanlon “What We Owe to Each Other”

  • Samuel Scheffler “The Rejection of Consequentialism”

  • Peter Singer “Practical Ethics”

  • Michael A. Smith “The Moral Problem”

  • Bernard Williams “Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy”

Postmodern ethics

  • Zygmunt Bauman “Postmodern Ethics”

  • Terry Eagleton “The Illusions of Postmodernism”


  • Don Marquis “Why Abortion is Immoral”

  • Paul Ramsey “The Patient as a Person” “Fabricated Man”

  • Judith Jarvis Thomson “A Defense of Abortion”

Meta-ethics (Metaethics)

  • P. F. Strawson “Freedom and Resentment”


  • Laurence Bonjour “The Structure of Empirical Knowledge”

  • Luc Bovens “Bayesian Epistemology”

  • Stanley Cavell “The Claim of Reason: Wittgenstein, Skepticism, Morality, and Tragedy”

  • Roderick Chisholm “Theory of Knowledge”

  • Keith DeRose “The Case for Contextualism”

  • René Descartes “Discourse on the Method”, “Meditations on First Philosophy”

  • Edmund Gettier “Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?”

  • Alvin Goldman “Epistemology and Cognition” “What is Justified Belief?”

  • Susan Haack “Evidence and Enquiry”

  • Hilary Kornblith “Knowledge and its Place in Nature”

  • Jonathan Kvanvig “The Value of Knowledge and the Pursuit of Understanding”

  • David K. Lewis “Elusive Knowledge”

  • G. E. Moore “A Defence of Common Sense”

  • Willard van Orman Quine “Epistemology Naturalized”

  • Richard Rorty “Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature”

  • Bertrand Russell “The Problems of Philosophy”

  • Jason Stanley “Knowledge and Practical Interest”

  • Stephen Stich “The Fragmentation of Reason”

  • Peter Unger “Ignorance: A Case for Scepticism”

  • Timothy Williamson “Knowledge and its Limits”


  • Donald Davidson “Truth and Meaning”

  • Gottlob Frege “Begriffsschrift”

  • Kurt Gödel, “On Formally Undecidable Propositions of Principia Mathematica and Related Systems”

  • Saul Kripke, “Semantical Considerations on Modal Logic”

  • Charles Sanders Peirce “How to Make Our Ideas Clear”

  • Alfred Tarski “The Concept of Truth”


  • Theodor Adorno “Aesthetic Theory”

  • R.G. Collingwood “The Principles of Art”

  • Arthur C. Danto “After the End of Art”

  • Nelson Goodman “Languages of Art: An Approach to a Theory of Symbols”

  • George Santayana “The Sense of Beauty”


  • Aristotle “Metaphysics”

  • D.M. Armstrong “Universals and Scientific Realism”

  • A. J. Ayer “Language, Truth, and Logic”

  • Rudolf Carnap “Empiricism, Semantics, and Ontology”

  • David Chalmers “Constructing the World”

  • John Dewey “Experience and Nature”

  • William James “Pragmatism”

  • Immanuel Kant “Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals”

  • James Ladyman, Don Ross, David Spurrett, John Collier “Every Thing Must Go: Metaphysics Naturalized”

  • John McDowell “Mind and World”

  • David Kellogg Lewis “On the Plurality of Worlds”

  • Stephen Mumford “Dispositions”

  • Derek Parfit “Reasons and Persons”

  • Willard Van Orman Quine “Two Dogmas of Empiricism” “On What There Is”

  • Theodore Sider “Writing the Book of the World”

  • Alfred North Whitehead “Process and Reality”

  • Timothy Williamson “Modal Logic as Metaphysics”

  • Ludwig Wittgenstein “Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus” (a.k.a. The Tractatus)

Philosophy of the mind

  • D. M. Armstrong “A Materialist Theory of the Mind”

  • Peter Carruthers “The Architecture of the Mind”

  • David Chalmers “Philosophy of Mind: Classical and Contemporary Readings” “The Character of Consciousness” “The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory”

  • Paul Churchland “Matter and Consciousness: A Contemporary Introduction to the Philosophy of Mind”

  • Andy Clark “Supersizing the Mind: Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extension”

  • Daniel Dennett “Consciousness Explained”

  • Jaegwon Kim “Philosophy of Mind”

  • Ruth Millikan “Varieties of Meaning”

  • Gilbert Ryle “The Concept of Mind”

History of philosophy

Western civilization

  • Bertrand Russell “A History of Western Philosophy”

Classical philosophy

  • Marcus Aurelius “Meditations””

  • Plato “Symposium” “Parmenides” “Phaedrus”

Christian and Medieval

  • Augustine of Hippo “Confessions” “The City of God”

  • Anselm of Canterbury “Proslogion”

Early modern

  • Sir Francis Bacon “Novum Organum”

  • Jeremy Bentham “An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation”

  • Henri Bergson “Time and Free Will” “Matter and Memory”

  • George Berkeley “Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge”

  • Auguste Comte “Course of Positive Philosophy”

  • René Descartes “Principles of Philosophy” “Passions of the Soul”

  • Desiderius Erasmus “The Praise of Folly”

  • Johann Gottlieb Fichte “Foundations of the Science of Knowledge”

  • Hugo Grotius “De iure belli ac pacis”

  • Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel “Phenomenology of Spirit” “Science of Logic” “The Philosophy of Right” “The Philosophy of History”

  • Thomas Hobbes “Leviathan”

  • David Hume “A Treatise of Human Nature” “Four Dissertationss” “Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary” “An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding” “An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals”

  • Immanuel Kant “A Critique of Pure Reason” “Critique of Practical Reason” “A Critique of Judgement”

  • Søren Kierkegaard “Either/Or” “Fear and Trembling” “The Concept of Anxiety”

  • Gottfried Leibniz “Discourse on Metaphysics” “New Essays Concerning Human Understanding” “Théodicée” “Monadology”

  • John Locke “Two Treatises of Government” “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding”

  • Niccolò Machiavelli “The Prince”

  • Karl Marx “The Communist Manifesto” “Das Kapital”

  • John Stuart Mill “On Liberty “Utilitarianism”

  • John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor Mill “The Subjection of Women”

  • Michel de Montaigne “Essays”

  • Friedrich Nietzsche “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” “Beyond Good and Evil” “On the Genealogy of Morals”

  • Blaise Pascal “Pensées”

  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau “Discourse on the Arts and Sciences” “Emile: or, On Education” “The Social Contract”

  • Arthur Schopenhauer “The World as Will and Representation”

  • Henry Sidgwick “The Methods of Ethics”

  • Adam Smith “The Theory of Moral Sentiments” “The Wealth of Nations”

  • Herbert Spencer “System of Synthetic Philosophy”

  • Baruch Spinoza “Ethics” “Tractatus Theologico-Politicus”

  • Max Stirner “The Ego and Its Own”

  • Mary Wollstonecraft “A Vindication of the Rights of Women”


Phenomenology and existentialism
  • Simone de Beauvoir “The Second Sex”

  • Albert Camus “Myth of Sisyphus”

  • Martin Heidegger “Being and Time”

  • Edmund Husserl “Logical Investigations” “Cartesian Meditations” “Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy”

  • Maurice Merleau-Ponty “Phenomenology of Perception”

  • Jean-Paul Sartre, “Being and Nothingness” “Critique of Dialectical Reason”

Hermeneutics and deconstruction
  • Jacques Derrida “Of Grammatology”

  • Hans-Georg Gadamer “Truth and Method”

  • Paul Ricœur “Freud and Philosophy: An Essay on Interpretation”

Structuralism and post-structuralism
  • Michel Foucault “The Order of Things”

  • Gilles Deleuze “Difference and Repetition”

  • Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari “Capitalism and Schizophrenia”

  • Luce Irigaray “Speculum of the Other Woman”

  • Michel Foucault “Discipline and Punish”

Critical theory and Marxism
  • Theodor Adorno “Negative Dialectics”

  • Louis Althusser “Reading Capital”

  • Alain Badiou “Being and Event”

  • Jürgen Habermas “Theory of Communicative Action”

  • Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno “Dialectic of Enlightenment”

  • Georg Lukacs “History and Class Consciousness”

  • Herbert Marcuse “Reason and Revolution” “Eros and Civilization”

Eastern civilization

Chinese philosophy

  • “The Record of Linji”

  • Han Fei “Han Feizi”

  • Kongzi “Analects” “Five Classics”

  • Laozi “Dao De Jing”

  • Mengzi “Mengzi”

  • Sunzi “Art of War”

  • Zhou Dunyi “The Taiji Tushuo”

  • Zhu Xi “Four Books” “Reflections on Things at Hand”

Indian philosophy

  • “The Upanishads”

  • “The Bhagavad Gita” (“The Song of God”)

  • Aksapada Gautama “Nyaya Sutras”

  • Isvarakrsna “Sankhya Karika”

  • Kanada “Vaisheshika Sutra”

  • Patañjali “Yoga Sutras”

  • Swami Swatamarama “Hatha Yoga Pradipika”

  • Vyasa “Brahma Sutras”

  • Tami “Thiruvalluvar”

Islamic philosophy

  • Al-Ghazali “The Incoherence of the Philosophers”

Japanese philosophy

  • Hakuin Ekaku “Wild Ivy”

  • Honen “One-Sheet Document”

  • Kukai “Attaining Enlightenment in this Very Existence”

  • Zeami Motokiyo “Style and Flower”

  • Miyamoto Musashi “The Book of Five Rings”

  • Shinran “Kyogyoshinsho”

  • Dogen Zenji “Shōbōgenzō”

Philosophy of other disciplines


  • John Dewey “Democracy and Education”

  • Terry Eagleton “The Slow Death of the University”

  • Paulo Freire “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”

  • Martha Nussbaum “Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities”

  • B.F. Skinner “Walden Two”

  • Charles Weingartner and Neil Postman “Teaching as a Subversive Activity”


  • William Lane Craig “The Kalam Cosmological Argument”

  • J. L. Mackie “The Miracle of Theism”

  • Dewi Zephaniah Phillips “Religion Without Explanation”

  • Alvin Plantinga “God and Other Minds” “Is Belief in God Properly Basic”

  • William Rowe “The Evidential Argument from Evil: A Second Look”

  • J. L. Schellenberg “Divine Hiddenness and Human Reason”

  • Richard Swinburne “The Existence of God”


  • Paul Feyerabend “Against Method: Outline of an Anarchistic Theory of Knowledge”

  • Bas C. van Fraassen “The Scientific Image”

  • Nelson Goodman “Fact, Fiction, and Forecast”

  • Thomas Samuel Kuhn “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”

  • Larry Laudan “The Demise of the Demarcation Problem”

  • David K. Lewis “How to Define Theoretical Terms”

  • Karl Pearson “The Grammar of Science”

  • Karl Popper “The Logic of Scientific Discovery”

  • Hans Reichenbach “The Rise of Scientific Philosophy”


  • Alfred North Whitehead and Bertrand Russell “Principia Mathematica”

  • Paul Benacerraf “What Numbers Could not Be” “Mathematical Truth”

  • Paul Benacerraf and Hilary Putnam “Philosophy of Mathematics: Selected Readings”

  • George Boolos “Logic, Logic and Logic”

  • Hartry Field “Science without Numbers: The Defence of Nominalism”

  • Imre Lakatos “Proofs and Refutations”

  • Penelope Maddy “Second Philosophy”


  • Aristotle “Physics”

  • Michel Bitbol “Mécanique quantique : Une introduction philosophique” “Schrödinger’s Philosophy of Quantum Mechanics”

  • Chris Isham and Jeremy Butterfield “On the Emergence of Time in Quantum Gravity”

  • Tim Lewens “The Meaning of Science: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Science”

Computer science

  • Scott Aaronson “Why Philosophers Should Care About Computational Complexity”

  • Judea Pearl “Causality”

  • Ray Turner “The Philosophy of Computer Science” “Computational Artefacts-Towards a Philosophy of Computer Science”


  • John Bickle “Revisionary Physicalism” “Psychoneural Reduction of the Genuinely Cognitive: Some Accomplished Facts” “Psychoneural Reduction: The New Wave” ” Philosophy and Neuroscience: A Ruthlessly Reductive Account”

  • Patricia Churchland “Brain-Wise : Studies in Neurophilosophy” “Neurophilosophy : Toward a Unified Science of the Mind-Brain”

  • Carl Craver “Explaining the brain : mechanisms and the mosaic unity of neuroscience”

  • Georg Northoff “Philosophy of the Brain: The brain problem”

  • Henrik Walter “Neurophilosophy of Free Will: From Libertarian Illusions to a Concept of Natural Autonomy”


  • Jaap van Brakel “Philosophy of Chemistry”


  • Daniel C. Dennett “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea”

  • Ruth Garrett Millikan “Language, Thought, and Other Biological Categories”

  • Erwin Schrödinger, What is Life? The Physical Aspect of the Living Cell”

  • Elliott Sober “The Nature of Selection”


  • B. F. Skinner “Science and Human Behavior”


  • Donald Davidson “The Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme”

  • William James “The Principles of Psychology”


  • Kenneth Arrow “Social Choice and Individual Values”

  • Ludwig von Mises “The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science”

  • Elizabeth S. Anderson “Value in Ethics and Economics”

Arts and Humanities

  • Bernard Williams “Philosophy as a Humanistic Discipline”


  • Clive Bell “Art”

  • George Dickie “Art and the Aesthetic”


  • Roger Scruton “Music as an Art”


  • Aristotle “Poetics”


  • J. L. Austin, “A Plea for Excuses” “How To Do Things With Words”

  • Robert Brandom “Making it Explicit”

  • Stanley Cavell “Must We Mean What We Say?”

  • David Chalmers “Two Dimensional Semantics”

  • Cora Diamond “What Nonsense Might Be”

  • Michael Dummett “Frege: Philosophy of Language”

  • Gottlob Frege “On Sense and Reference”

  • H. P. Grice “Logic and Conversation”

  • Saul Kripke “Naming and Necessity”

  • David K. Lewis “General Semantics”

  • Willard Van Orman Quine “Word and Object”

  • Bertrand Russell “On Denoting”

  • John Searle “Speech Acts”

  • Ludwig Wittgenstein “Philosophical Investigations”


  • R.G. Collingwood “The Idea of History”

  • Karl Löwith “Meaning in History: The Theological Implications of the Philosophy of History”


  • Mario Bunge “Medical Philosophy: Conceptual Issues in Medicine”

  • R. Paul Thompson and Ross E. G. Upshur “Philosophy of Medicines”


  • Ronald Dworkin “Law’s Empire”

  • John Finnis “Natural Law and Natural Rights”

  • Lon L. Fuller “The Morality of Law”

  • H.L.A. Hart “The Concept of Law”


  • Aristotle “Politics”

  • Isaiah Berlin “Two Concepts of Liberty”

  • Robert Nozick “Anarchy, State, and Utopia”

  • Plato “Republic”

  • Karl Popper “The Open Society and Its Enemies”

  • John Rawls “A Theory of Justice”

  • Michael Sandel “Liberalism and the Limits of Justice”