Friday, November 27, 2015

I'm Thankful for My Regrets

Examining Regrets

When I teach the part of Plato’s Apology where Socrates says that “the unexamined life is not worth living” (38a), I ask students to engage in their own Socratic examination to explain whether they think this statement is true.  I ask them to try to think of counter-examples of unexamined lives that are worth living or examined lives that aren’t.

Often students will say that you should examine your life because it would allow you to live without regrets.  They sometimes say this as if living without regrets is the real goal, and living an examined life is merely a means of doing so. 

My students are representative of the larger culture, one that embraces the philosophy of YOLO and no regrets.  Everyone wants to avoid regrets.  Regrets gnaw at the soul.  You play a game of  “I should have…” and “Why didn’t I?”  The past becomes a battleground of desires.  Regret can incapacitate people as they face the future. 

At least this seems to be the popular conception.  
The assumption is always that regrets are all bad and should be avoided.

But are regrets always bad?  I don’t think so.

Being Thankful for Regrets

Yesterday we celebrated our Thanksgiving holiday here in the United States.  One popular tradition is to enumerate what you’re thankful for.  I’m thankful for lots of things.  Of course, I’m thankful for my family and friends and my cats.  I’m thankful that I have a fulfilling career and no major health issues.  I’m thankful that I have neither the greed nor the need to go “Black Friday” shopping today.  I’m thankful that the new Star Wars movie is coming out soon!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Believe - Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

It's Thanksgiving here in the United States, so I'm watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.  I keep seeing the giant sign that says, "Believe," which reminds me of this post from a few months back:

Examined Worlds: Is the Believing Feeling Good for Us?: Part One

This sign makes me wonder... Believe what, exactly?  Why does Macy's want us to believe?  Is it always good to believe, just because it feels good?  Do beliefs make us happy?

Whatever the answers to these quandaries may be, Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Overcoming My Aversion to Sequels, Part Two: The Sequeling (Reviews of Mockingjay, Part Two, The Outskirter's Secret, Darwin's Children, The Naked God)

In Part One, I discussed my trouble with sequels.  Even if I love the first one, I often have trouble getting to the sequels.

Here in Part Two, I'm going to offer some reviews of some sequels that represent my exploration of what sequels might do for me.  Have I been missing out?

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part Two

Everybody's favorite (or second favorite after Battle Royale) child murder games are back! This is technically a sequel of a sequel, so it seems like a good place to start.

First off, I have to admit that I haven't read the books.  I would never criticize other adults who enjoy YA fiction, but YA books always bring me back to the uncomfortable space of teenagerness - a space I'd personally rather not inhabit.  Nonetheless, I have enjoyed The Hunger Games movies, and it's always nice to see science fiction go mainstream, especially with an interesting female protagonist.

Even if you haven't seen the movies or read the books, you probably have the basic idea: dystopian totalitarian regime makes kids murder each other in a kind of Running Man: Kids' Edition, intrepid heroine survives to challenge the system.  My favorite example of the extent to which The Hunger Games has permeated pop culture is Stephen Colbert's Hungry for Power Games, a series about US Presidential candidates dropping out of the race.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Overcoming My Aversion to Sequels

Hugo winner with sequels I never read
I have trouble with sequels. Even if I love the original, I never get to sequels right away. Often I never do.  In this age of binge watching and sprawling series, I wonder if I've missed something.

Leaving a series dangling...

I read Red Mars, the first book in Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy, in 2003. I got to the second book, Green Mars, last summer, twelve years later (somehow I'm reading the third book, Blue Mars, just five months later). I've read the following books, but none of their sequels: China Miéville's Perdido Street Station, Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice, Amy Thomson's The Color of Distance, N. K. Jemisin's The Hundred Thousand KingdomsLarry Niven's Ringworld, and David Brin's Sundiver. Even if I do get to one or two more books, I may never finish the series (see Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga, Dan Simmons's Hyperion Cantos, Alastair Reynolds's Revelation Space, etc.).

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Harmful Fallacies: Rubio and Refugees

False Dichotomy: Rubio on Welders or Philosophers

Last week US Presidential candidate Marco Rubio claimed that "we need more welders and less philosophers."

It turns out that Rubio's assertion that welders make more money than philosophers is factually incorrect according to labor statistics.  A nice round up of philosophers' responses can be found on this post on Daily Nous, and Larry Wilmore on The Nightly Show even had a crack at it.

My concern isn't with the inaccuracy of Rubio's claim, but with his reasoning.  Rubio is effectively making the following argument:

1. We have to choose between having more philosophers or having more welders.
2. We should have more welders.
3. Therefore, we should have fewer philosophers.

This is a textbook case of a logical fallacy called False Dichotomy (or False Dilemma).  Rubio has given no reason to think we can't have both more welders and more philosophers.  There's also no reason that some individuals can't be both welders and philosophers at the same time.

Sunday, November 15, 2015


This blog reached another milestone in the last few days: it hit 20,000 views since I began in December 2014.  That's as many views as leagues under the sea for all the Jules Verne fans out there.

It took about nine months to reach 10,000 views (as reported in a previous meta-blogging post), and then it took another three months or so to get to 20,000.

My most visited post so far is "Three Uses of Philosophy," which was linked to on Daily Nous.  I may discuss this subject again in a future post now that US Presidential candidate Marco Rubio claimed that we need "more welders and less philosophers."  (Spoiler alert: I think both welders and philosophers are cool, but I'm less sure about Rubio.)

This blog has been a fun hobby for me. I predict it will continue to amuse me as long as my love of philosophy and science fiction endures, and I can't imagine that ending anytime soon.

Whoever you are and wherever you may be, thank you for reading!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Sci-Fi Stoic Week 2015: Saturday-Sunday

This is the last in my series, Sci-Fi Stoic Week 2015.  You can find out more about Stoic Week and my sci-fi take on it in my first post in the series.  Also, feel free to check out parts two and three.

Saturday: Resilience and Preparation for Adversity
Be like the headland on which the waves break constantly, which still stands firm while the foaming waters are put to rest around it. ‘It is my bad luck that this has happened to me!’ On the contrary, say, ‘It is my good luck that, although this has happened to me, I can bear it without getting upset, neither crushed by the present nor afraid of the future.’ 
— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 4.49

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Sci-Fi Stoic Week 2015: Thursday-Friday

This is the third post in my series, Sci-Fi Stoic Week 2015!  Stoic Week is an international event in which you can use a handbook to try to live like a Stoic for a week.  Sci-Fi Stoic Week is my take on it.  Find out more in my first post in the series.

Thursday: Virtue

The ancient Stoics thought that virtue is the highest good.  In fact, virtue is the only real good.  Other things, like wealth, health, fame, and so on, aren't really valuable in themselves.  The only thing that really matters to Stoics is being a good person.
Bill and Ted: Proponents of virtue as excellence

Like most ancient Greek and Roman philosophers, the Stoics are virtue theorists: what matters in ethics is character, which is different than many modern ethical theories, like utilitarianism and deontology, which tend to focus on the rightness or wrongness of actions.  Virtue ethics has made a come back in the discipline of philosophy in recent decades (see this article on Julia Annas, one contemporary philosopher who has been part of this come back).

The Thursday Lunchtime exercise in the 2015 Stoic Week Handbook introduces the idea of values clarification.  If virtue is so important, you should try to be clear about what counts as virtuous.  You should also try, as far as possible, to make sure that your values match up with the way you live your life.  The Handbook suggests that asking questions like the following is one way to do this.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Sci-Fi Stoic Week 2015: Tuesday-Wednesday

This is the second post in my series, Sci-Fi Stoic Week.  Stoic Week is an international event that invites you to live like a Stoic for a week by working through mental exercises.  To learn more about Stoic Week as well as my take on it, see my previous post.

Tuesday: What is in Our Control and the Reserve Clause

Tuesday's morning text is one of my favorite parts of the Meditations from Marcus Aurelius, one that has helped me get out of bed on more than one occasion!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Sci-Fi Stoic Week 2015: Monday

For the last few years I've participated in an international event known as Stoic Week. This year's Stoic Week begins today, Monday, November 2, and runs through the end of the week. The idea is to give people a sense of what it's like to live as a Stoic, which falls in line with the ancient Greek and Roman ideal of philosophy as a way of life, an ideal eloquently explained by French philosopher, Pierre Hadot (1922-2010).

To take part in Stoic Week, you need to start with the following:

1. Fill out an online questionnaire,
2. Register at the Modern Stoicism website, and
3. Download the Stoic Week 2015 Handbook.

You can do all three through this blog post on the Modern Stoicism Blog.

One of the ideas mentioned in the Handbook is to blog about your experiences during Stoic Week.  Each day involves a Morning Meditation, Lunch Time Exercise, and Evening Meditation, so there's plenty to write about.  Since this is the first time I've had a blog during Stoic Week, I thought this sounded like a fine idea.  But I was also struck by a seemingly crazy idea: what if I stayed true to the inclusive sense of this blog's subject of "philosophy and science fiction" and tried to form connections between Stoicism and science fiction?  Maybe this idea isn't so crazy, since I've argued in the past that the study of ancient philosophy is a lot like science fiction.  In any case, that's what I'm going to try to do this week.