Suggested readings, #81

man making a decision honesty vs dishonesty

Here it is, a rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

Adam Smith warned us about sympathising with the elites. In his Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), Adam Smith developed a theory of psychology based on ‘sympathy’ and outlined a way of living based on ‘reason and philosophy’. These ideas not only banish the (already disappearing) stereotype of Smith as a pioneer of free-market policies, but challenge some of our most cherished ideas about the sources of happiness. Published 17 years before The Wealth of Nations (1776), Moral Sentiments begins by rejecting the idea that people are basically self-interested. ‘How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature which interest him in the fortune of others,’ Smith declares. We are often motivated, and indeed dominated, by our emotional involvement with our ideas about other people, which Smith calls ‘sympathy’. … (Aeon-Psyche) [This is a must read for anyone with only a superficial acquaintance with Smith. Which is most people. You’ll be surprised.]

What’s good about lying? Do you teach children to lie? I do. All the time. And you do, too! If you’re like most American parents, you point to presents under the Christmas tree and claim that a man named Santa Claus put them there. But your deliberate deceptions probably go beyond Santa, the Tooth Fairy, or the Easter Bunny. How many of us tell our kids (or students) that everything is fine when, in fact, everything is totally wrong, in order to preserve their sense of security? Have you been honest about everything having to do with, say, your love life, or what happens at work? Do you praise drawings they bring home from school that you actually think are terrible? … (Greater Good) [On the difference between prosocial and antisocial lying, only one of which is really bad.]

The COVID-19 free market experiment. My last column for Skeptical Inquirer landed me on a conservative Chicago-area talk radio program. I think something about the title, “COVID-19 and the Tyranny of Now,” caught the eye of one of the show’s hosts, so they invited me on to discuss the article in the morning drive slot. The conversation was polite, and although I tried to find as many points of agreement as possible, it soon became clear we actually had less in common than the host must have imagined. In preparation for my appearance, I listened to the show for a few hours, and the hosts and callers spent much of their time complaining about the coronavirus health policies, such as the closing of restaurants, bars, and schools, imposed by the Illinois governor and Chicago mayor (both Democrats). On the morning of my interview, they were pointing to the increased number of “deaths of despair” during the stay-at-home period, in particular the rise in drug overdoses in the Chicago area. … (Skeptical Inquirer) [Another must read, this time if you think that government imposed restrictions on businesses are what is driving the economy down. Think again.]

Why you should love a Japanese breakfast. I was born in the U.S. and spent my formative years there, so, naturally, I developed the sense that a normal breakfast should look something like pancakes, cereal, buttered toast, bacon, or sausages. It’s what was served to me when I went to friends’ houses for sleepovers and it’s what was advertised to me when I watched television. These are breakfast foods: The things that we should be eating in the morning to start our day. But when my family would return to Japan for the summer, my idea of breakfast was challenged. Instead of the usual toast or cereal that I was used to, my grandmother would prepare rice, fish, pickles, miso soup, and some vegetables for us every morning. As a child, I would stare down at these foods in the morning and silently protest: These are not breakfast foods. … (Medium) [The Japanese got a lot of things right, we should consider imitating them.]

The great philosopher-emperor you’ve never heard of. In June 363 a demoralised and tired Roman army was marching deep in the territory of the enemy Sassanid Empire in what is now modern Iraq. The retreating army was dangerously low on supplies in the sweltering heat of a Mesopotamian summer. Soldiers burdened by a slow-moving baggage train were under constant harassment from mounted Sassanian raiders, picking them off with missiles. The column was heading north along the bank of the Tigris to the safety of Roman territory, having given up besieging the Sassanian capital Ctesiphon and losing their campaign objective. The Emperor Flavius Claudius Julianus, better known to us as Julian, leading the column, was told of another attack on the rear guard. … (Medium) [Julian so-called the Apostate, the last great pagan Roman emperor.]

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Massimo

Massimo is the K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York. He blogs at platofootnote.org and howtobeastoic.org. He is the author of How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life.

One thought on “Suggested readings, #81”

  1. Smith? Defended mercantilism if it was for national security or similar. In his era, that meant “naval stores” from the US. Also, per that (new/2015) Hume bio, David Hume almost beat him to the punch as the father of modern economics. (Might not have had as much “invisible hand” in there had Hume written first.)

    Julian? No. Contra that piece, neither a great philosopher nor great emperor. His new religion was a mishmash of whatever collected henotheism he could cobble together against philosophy. As emperor? He wasn’t a “superb commander” if he got killed in battle 2 years in now, was he? The piece itself notes it was “unclear” why he went to war. In reality, it was stupid to do so before his domestic reform attempts had more time to potentially take hold. (Just because I reject Xn anti-legend about him doesn’t mean I have to accept modern whitewashing, either.)

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