Category Archives: Ethics

Clever Thinkers : Six books exploring how philosophy helps us solve life problems

Philosophy may be more associated with Dead White Men, but many contemporary philosophers examine how the structure of philosophical inquiry, and the cumulative wisdom of millenia of thinkers, can apply to the modern world. The books we’ve chosen this week look at how philosophy can help us clarify and tease out the complexities of everyday life problems – from how to achieve happiness, to the ethics of assisted dying, and even to the etiquette of dating.

Lives of the Stoics: the Art of Living from Zeno to Marcus Aurelius by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman

Lives of the Stoics is an eye-opening mix of history, philosophy and self-help. Holiday and Hanselman (creators of the popular Daily Stoic website and podcast) show us that there is more to Stoicism than its current association with unemotional endurance. Through the mini-biographies of the most notable Stoics – from Zeno, the founder of this school of philosophy, to the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, the authors show the different ways these practitioners lived by their philosophy; and through these examples, help readers learn how stoicism can teach us about happiness, success, resilience and virtue.

The Socrates Express: in Search of Life Lessons from Dead Philosophers by Eric Weiner

Socrates is not the only philosopher whose teachings help guide Eric Weiner out of his mid-life crisis – through a series of figurative and literal journeys around the world, we meet 14 philosophers, a diverse group including Marcus Aurelius, de Beauvoir, Gandhi and Sei Shonagon, a 10th-century Japanese courtesan commonly regarded as the World’s first novelist. These thinkers help Eric Weiner figure out what he considers a meaningful life. The Socrates Express invites us to join in a process of self-examination, and to consider how philosophy can teach us how to think, how to live, and how to die.

Vexed: Ethics Beyond Political Tribes by James Mumford

In Vexed, James Mumford analyses the ethics of six issues – assisted dying, social welfare, sexual liberation, gun control, transhumanism and the rights of former felons. In doing so, he exposes the surprising contradictions within the “package deal” political beliefs of both sides of politics (particularly in the US) – for example, rationales for being pro-gun and pro-life/anti-abortion are inherently contradictory, even though both are associated with the political Right. Vexed is a provocative book that challenges readers to strive for ethical consistency by forming specific opinions on individual issues, rather than buying into political identities as a whole.

The Kindness Revolution: How we can Restore Hope, Rebuild Trust and Inspire Optimism by Hugh Mackay

Veteran social psychologist Hugh Mackay has observed how the last two years have challenged Australians’ livelihoods and resilience – and encourages the idea of “radical kindness” as a way to process and heal from these difficulties. Mackay reminds us that our capacity for kindness – compassion, tolerance, respect, sensitivity – to strangers is at the very heart of our humanity; and by choosing kindness over cynicism and indifference, we will contribute to a powerful, grassroots effort towards creating the country we want and need.

When you Kant Figure it Out, Ask a Philosopher by Marie Robert

This book takes agony-aunt advice to the next level. While Kant, Nietzsche or Heidegger may never have impulse-bought at IKEA, nor got dumped via text message, their powers of clear thinking can still help us in present-day situations. Marie Robert matches twelve modern dilemmas – digital detox, death of loved ones, hangovers, dating – to the teachings of some of our greatest philosophers. When You Kant Figure It Out, Ask a Philosopher is witty and fun, and makes Western philosophy accessible for modern audiences.

In Search of Wisdom: a Monk, a Philosopher, and a Psychiatrist on What Matters Most by Matthieu Ricard, Christophe Andre and Alexandre Jollien

A monk, a philosopher and a psychiatrist walk into a cabin in the woods and start chatting… what follows is not the punchline of a joke, but rather an intimate, enlightening discussion on the essence of being human. The three authors became close friends after discovering and admiring each other’s writings; here they draw upon their learnings in positive psychology, mindfulness, Buddhism and spirituality to explore topics such as compassion, gratitude, listening without judgment, living according to one’s ideals, and responsibly exercising freedom of thought, speech, and action.

Exploring Ethics – Six Books that Help You Understand Our Thinking

How and why we think like we do has been the subject of studies for years and historically left to the world of scholars. These days we are more interested in how our thoughts are shaped, how we can control our thinking and understand where our ideas come from.

We have scoured the literary world and found six fascinating titles that aim to unpack our thinking and challenge us to let go of old ideas and embrace a more open approach to how we play our part in society. 

Making Sense by Sam Harris

Sam Harris, neuroscientist, philosopher, podcaster and bestselling author, has been exploring some of the greatest questions concerning the human mind, society, and the events that shape our world. His search for deeper understanding of how we think has led him to engage and exchange with some of our most brilliant and controversial contemporary minds in order to unpack and understand ideas of consciousness, free will, extremism, and ethical living. For Harris, honest conversation, no matter how difficult or contentious, represents the only path to moral and intellectual progress. Featuring twelve conversations from the hit podcast, these electric exchanges fuse wisdom with rigorous interrogation to shine a light on what it means to make sense of our world today.

Human Kind by Rutger Bregman

It’s a belief that unites the left and right, psychologists and philosophers, writers and historians. It drives the headlines that surround us and the laws that touch our lives. From Machiavelli to Hobbes, Freud to Dawkins, the roots of this belief have sunk deep into Western thought. Human beings, we’re taught, are by nature selfish and governed by self-interest. Humankind makes a new argument that it is realistic, as well as revolutionary, to assume that people are good. By thinking the worst of others, we bring out the worst in our politics and economics too. In this major book, internationally bestselling author Rutger Bregman takes some of the world’s most famous studies and events and reframes them, providing a new perspective on the last 200,000 years of human history. From the real-life Lord of the Flies to the Blitz, a Siberian fox farm to an infamous New York murder, Stanley Milgram’s Yale shock machine to the Stanford prison experiment, Bregman shows how believing in human kindness and altruism can be a new way to think and act as the foundation for achieving true change in our society. It is time for a new view of human nature.

Phosphorescence by Julia Baird

Over the last decade, we have become better at knowing what brings us contentment, well-being, and joy. We know, for example, that there are a few core truths to science of happiness. We know that being kind and altruistic makes us happy, that turning off devices, talking to people, forging relationships, living with meaning, and delving into the concerns of others offer our best chance at achieving happiness. But how do we retain happiness? It often slips out of our hands as quickly as we find it. So, when we are exposed to, or learn, good things, how do we continue to burn with them? And more than that, when our world goes dark, when we’re overwhelmed by illness or heartbreak, loss or pain, how do we survive, stay alive or even bloom? In the muck and grit of a daily existence full of disappointments and a disturbing lack of control over many of the things that matter most; finite relationships, fragile health, fraying economies, a planet in peril, how do we find, nurture, and carry our own inner, living light a light to ward off the darkness?

How To Argue With A Racist by Adam Rutherford

Race is real because we perceive it. Racism is real because we enact it. But the appeal to science to strengthen racist ideologies is on the rise and increasingly part of the public discourse on politics, migration, education, sport and intelligence. Stereotypes and myths about race are expressed not just by overt racists, but also by well-intentioned people whose experience and cultural baggage steers them towards views that are not supported by the modern study of human genetics. Even some scientists are uncomfortable expressing opinions deriving from their research where it relates to race. Yet, if understood correctly, science and history can be powerful allies against racism, granting the clearest view of how people actually are, rather than how we judge them to be. This book is a vital manifesto for a twenty-first century understanding of human evolution and variation, and a timely weapon against the misuse of science to justify bigotry.

The Great Guide by Julian Baggini

Invaluable wisdom on living a good life from one of the Enlightenment’s greatest philosophers David Hume (1711–1776) is perhaps best known for his ideas about cause and effect and his criticisms of religion, but he is rarely thought of as a philosopher with practical wisdom to offer. Yet Hume’s philosophy is grounded in an honest assessment of nature—human nature in particular. The Great Guide is an engaging and eye-opening account of how Hume’s thought should serve as the basis for a complete approach to life. In this enthralling book, Julian Baggini masterfully interweaves biography with intellectual history and philosophy to give us a complete vision of Hume’s guide to life. He follows Hume on his life’s journey, literally walking in the great philosopher’s footsteps as Baggini takes readers to the places that inspired Hume the most, from his family estate near the Scottish border to Paris, where, as an older man, he was warmly embraced by French society. Baggini shows how Hume put his philosophy into practice in a life that blended reason and passion, study and leisure, and relaxation and enjoyment. The Great Guide includes 145 Humean maxims for living well, on topics ranging from the meaning of success and the value of travel to friendship, facing death, identity, and the importance of leisure. This book shows how life is far richer with Hume as your guide.

Letters From A Stoic by Donald Robertson

Lucius Annaeus Seneca is one of the most famous Roman philosophers. Instrumental in guiding the Roman Empire under emperor Nero, Seneca influenced him from a young age with his Stoic principles. Later in life, he wrote Epistulae Morales ad Lucilium, or Letters from a Stoic, detailing these principles in full. Seneca’s letters read like a diary, or a handbook of philosophical meditations. Often beginning with observations on daily life, the letters focus on many traditional themes of Stoic philosophy, such as the contempt of death, the value of friendship and virtue as the supreme good. Using Gummere’s translation from the early twentieth century, this selection of Seneca’s letters shows his belief in the austere, ethical ideals of Stoicism, teachings we can still learn from today.

Enjoy!