Category: books

  • Damn It! Politeness is a Virtue

    Damn It! Politeness is a Virtue

    Nobody seems to give a damn about politeness. Until, that is, they are treated rudely, ignored, made to feel ignorant or displaced, or pushed aside in a queue. Then, suddenly, we see all too clearly how much we appreciate polite society. Those moments do not translate into the world of ideas, where “polite society” is a…

  • Is Love a Virtue?

    Is Love a Virtue?

    Virtue theories are the only strand of modern ethical thinking that makes much sense in light of cognitive science. Utilitarian calculus becomes a funhouse of infinite regress in a world where experience changes both who we are and what we value. It didn’t take cognitive science to cast doubt on Kant’s strange metaphysics of freedom…

  • Thinking About Utopia

    Thinking About Utopia

    We are all trapped in time and place to certain kinds of life. We spend most of our big-picture energy thinking about the kind of life that’s best for us, given the world we live in. And so we should. But every now and then, a group of people decide to wipe the slate clean…

  • How to Live: Montaigne and the Role of Exemplars

    How to Live: Montaigne and the Role of Exemplars

    Sarah Bakewell’s How To Live or A Life of Montaigne may have a Frankenstein title, but the title perfectly represents what the book is trying to do. It is very much a biography of Montaigne. But it’s a biography organized around a series of life lessons drawn from his Essays and his life. Combining biography and practical philosophy makes…

  • Comfort Books

    Comfort Books

    When you’re depressed or feeling stressed, there’s no better cure than friends. But when you’re sick, there isn’t much friends can do for you. You’re at home, feeling bad. If you’re too sick to work but not quite at the vegetative stage (like I was for a good chunk of February), you tend to go looking…

  • Parfit and the Philosophical Life

    Parfit and the Philosophical Life

    Reasons and Persons may be the most extraordinary book I have ever read. Yet the why behind that statement isn’t easy to articulate. It isn’t the best book of philosophy I’ve read. It’s an important and influential book, but not on the level of something like A Theory of Justice. It’s a grind to read.…

  • A Year in Books – Readings From the Last Year

    A Year in Books – Readings From the Last Year

    A year covers a lot of books when you’re an avid reader. Old favorites, too much sci-fi, a few Great Courses on audio, and some truly great books. Here’s everything I read with quick notes, highlights and links to the ones that got written about in detail.

  • Exhalation: Transformative Experience and AI

    Ted Chiang’s Exhalation is one of the best collections of short science fiction that you can find. It also happens to have several stories directly concerned with transformative experience and decision-making. That’s unusual. Most short science fiction stories are idea driven. They take a concept and run with it. In Exhalation,  for example, Chiang writes…

  • A Daughter of the Samurai: A Memoir

    Etsu Inagaki Sugimoto’s memoir from the early twentieth century lives inside one of the great cultural collisions of the modern era. It spans her girlhood in Japan living through the final collapse of the samurai tradition and the Western-mania that swept Japan to her arranged marriage and life in America. Much was lost and much…