Dan Dennett’s 1992 article entitled “The Self as a Center of Narrative Gravity” (available online here) is one of his earlier attempts to argue that the self isn’t real; specifically, that it is a fiction created by human beings who don’t know any better. The route he takes to get there is a somewhat jumbled, confused batch of mixed metaphors, semi-relevant thought experiments, and false implications. In this article, I will try to unravel the tangle Dennett gets himself into and in doing so, resist his conclusion.
Imagine you were to die tomorrow. Would you have lost anything? Galen Strawson doesn’t think so. In one of Strawson’s short essays, “I Have no Future”, which appears in his book, Things that Bother me Death, Freedom, The Self, etc., he makes a claim he calls No Ownership (of the future), that our future experiences don’t belong to us in such a way that they’re something that can be taken from us. In other words, we lose nothing if we die because we never had anything in the first place. In what follows, I will briefly outline Strawson’s argument before critically discussing it.
Morality is concerned with right and wrong, good and bad. While there are a number of different moral systems and they all justify their values in different ways, few of them disagree on exactly what those core values are. Whether kindness is good because it maximises happiness or because it’s what a virtuous person would do or because we can will that it should become a universal law, no moral system worthy of the name ‘morality’ goes so far as to question the value of kindness itself. This is where Nietzsche comes in. In his On the Genealogy of Morals he does just this, calling our values into question by attempting to uncover exactly where they come from and, in the process, showing us that, far from tenets carved in stone we are beholden to, they are contingent rules we have ourselves devised. In this essay, I will outline and critically discuss a few of the key concepts from the book.
Arthur Schopenhauer thought of music as the greatest of the art forms because it and it alone; rather than being merely a copy of the Platonic Ideas, was a copy of the will itself, the metaphysical foundation of the world. Kierkegaard also saw music as the highest art form, but this was because he thought it was the only medium capable of representing the most abstract idea (the sensual) which in turn meant that the musical composition was unlikely to be repeated since it had already acquired its perfect expression.
Uncertainty, in common parlance, is a state in which an individual is unsure whether some proposition is true or not. It ultimately, therefore, arises from a lack of information. If we knew everything, like God, if he existed, or had access to a super-AI, like that some technophiles dream about, we would never find ourselves in a position of uncertainty. Moreover, if we could make decisions from a position of absolute certainty, we would be able to eliminate the suffering and/or anxiety that sometimes accompanies our decision-making.
In this article I want to look at what exactly the 19th century philosopher and political theorist Karl Marx had in mind when he talked about alienation, and then examine how this concept might make sense within an existentialist framework (drawing specifically on Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Sartre).
As we use it in everyday speech, ‘alienation’ means to be isolated or separated from a group or activity. While this isn’t completely removed from the way Marx uses it, we do need to get a little more specific than this. For Marx, alienation describes the situation in which workers become separated from their humanity through forced participation in a capitalistic mode of production and that humanity then appears before the individual as something alien in nature, something barely even recognisable anymore.
This article was inspired by Sam Harris’ Waking Up podcast #120 in which he talks with philosopher Rebecca Goldstein (whom I’d never heard speak before but who was very impressive) and physicist Max Tegmark about the different ways science and philosophy approach reality. While I obviously recommend the podcast itself and although I constantly refer to Goldstein and Tegmark throughout, if you don’t have the time or inclination, it isn’t necessary to have listened to the podcast in order to follow what I discuss in the article.