See Albert Camus’ Historic Lecture, “The Human Crisis,” Performed by Actor Viggo Mortensen

Back in 2016, New York City staged a month-long festival celebrating Albert Camus' historic visit to NYC in 1946. One event in the festival featured actor Viggo Mortensen giving a reading of Camus' lecture,“La Crise de l’homme” ("The Human Crisis") at Columbia University--the very same place where Camus delivered the lecture 70 years earlier--down to the very day (March 28, 1946). The reading was initially captured on a cell phone, and broadcast live using Facebook live video. But then came a more polished recording, courtesy of Columbia's Maison Française. Note that Mortensen takes the stage around the 11:45 mark.

"The Human Crisis" will be added to our collection, 900 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free. You can download major works by Camus as free audiobooks if you sign up for a 30-Day Free Trial with Audible.com. Find more information on that program here.

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in April, 2016.

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What Is Stoicism? A Short Introduction to the Ancient Philosophy That Can Help You Cope with Our Modern Times

The word “stoic” (from the Greek stoa) has come to mean a few things in popular parlance, most of them related directly to the ancient Greek, then Roman, philosophy from which the term derives. Stoic people seem unmovable. They stay cool in a crisis and “keep calm and carry on” when others lose their heads. For several, perhaps obvious, reasons, these qualities of “calm, resilience, and emotional stability” are particularly needed in a time like ours, says Alain de Botton in his School of Life video above.

But how do we acquire these qualities, according to the Stoics? And what philosophers should we consult to learn about them? One of the most prolific of Stoic philosophers, the Roman writer and statesman Seneca, advised a typical course of action. In a letter to his friend Lucilius, who feared a potentially career-ending lawsuit, Seneca counseled that rather than resting in hopes of a happy outcome, his friend should assume that the worst will come to pass, and that, no matter what, he can survive it.




The goal is not to make Debbie Downers of us all, but to convince us that we are stronger than we think—that even our worst fears needn't mean the end of the world. Seneca’s stoicism is a thoroughgoing realism that asks us to account for the entire range of possible outcomes—even the absolute worst we can imagine—rather than only those things we want or have previously experienced. In this way, we will not be caught off-guard when bad things come to pass, because we have already made a certain peace with them.

Rather than a pessimistic philosophy, Seneca’s thought seems entirely practical, a means of piercing our pleasant illusions and comfortable bubbles of self-regard, and considering ourselves just as subject to misfortune as anyone else in the world, and just as capable of enduring it as well.

To partake of Seneca’s wisdom yourself, consider reading this online three-volume collection of his letters, The Tao of Seneca. And for a longer list of Stoic thinkers, ancient and modern, see this post from Ryan Holiday of the Daily Stoic, a blog that offers useful Stoic advice for contemporary people.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Learn the History of Indian Philosophy in a 62 Episode Series from The History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps: The Buddha, Bhagavad-Gita, Non Violence & More

The belief in a singular, coherent “Western tradition” in philosophy has led to a very insular, Eurocentric view in philosophy departments, as Jay L. Garfield and Bryan W. Van Norden write in a New York Times op-ed. "No other humanities discipline demonstrates this systemic neglect of most of the civilizations in its domain," they argue, "The present situation is hard to justify morally, politically, epistemically or as good educational and research training practice.” In his follow-up book Taking Back Philosophy Van Norden argues that educational institutions should “live up to their cosmopolitan ideals” by expanding the canon and teaching non-Western philosophical traditions.

One philosophy educator, Peter Adamson, professor of philosophy at the LMU in Munich and King’s College London, has taken up the challenge of teaching global philosophical traditions through his popular podcast The History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps, with series on the Islamic World, Africana, and India. With expert co-authors and guests, Adamson’s podcasts help us navigate cultural and historical differences without watering down the substance of diverse bodies of thought.




These surveys of non-Western traditions aim to be as exhaustive as the podcast's coverage of Classical, Later Antiquity, and Medieval periods in Europe. We’ve featured Adamson's podcasts on Islamic and Indian philosophy in an earlier post. Now we revisit his series on Indian philosophy, which has grown substantially in the interval, from thirty-two to sixty-two episodes, divided into three categories—“Origins,” “Age of the Sutra,” and “Buddhists and Jains."

Indian Philosophy—Origins

Indian Philosophy—Age of the Sutra

Indian Philosophy—Buddhists and Jains

Very broadly, much Indian philosophy can be understood as a centuries-long conflict between the six orthodox Vedic schools (astika) and the heterodox (nastika) schools, including Buddhism, Jainism, and Carvaka, a materialist philosophy that denied all metaphysical doctrines. While some strains among these schools of thought can be associated with individual names, like Kanada, Patañjali, or Nagarjuna, much ancient Indian philosophy “is represented by a mass of texts,” as Luke Muehlhauser writes in his short guide, “for which the authors and dates of composition are mostly unknown.”

Adamson’s free podcast survey of Indian philosophy makes for entertaining, informative listening. You can download every episode in .zip form at the links above. Or find links to the individual episodes right below. To keep up with trends in the study of Indian philosophy in English, be sure to follow the Indian Philosophy Blog. And for an excellent list of “Readings on the Less Commonly Taught Philosophies (LCTP),” see this post by Bryan Van Norden here.

 

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

When Jean-Paul Sartre Had a Bad Mescaline Trip and Then Hallucinated That He Was Being Followed by Crabs

Image by Thierry Ehrmann via Flickr Commons

Sometimes when confronted with strange new ideas, people will exclaim, “you must be on drugs!”—a charge often levied at philosophers by those who would rather dismiss their ideas as hallucinations than take them seriously. But, then, to be fair, sometimes philosophers are on drugs. Take Jean-Paul Sartre. “Before Hunter S. Thompson was driving around in convertibles stocked full of acid, cocaine, mescaline and tequila,” notes Critical Theory, Sartre almost approached the gonzo journalist’s habitual intake.

According to Annie Cohen-Solal, who wrote a biography of Sartre, his daily drug consumption was thus: two packs of cigarettes, several tobacco pipes, over a quart of alcohol (wine, beer, vodka, whisky etc.), two hundred milligrams of amphetamines, fifteen grams of aspirin, a boat load of barbiturates, some coffee, tea, and a few “heavy” meals (whatever those might have been). 

These details should not unduly influence our reading of Sartre's work. Like Thompson, no matter how physically debilitating the booze and drugs might have been for him, they didn’t seem to cramp his productivity or intellectual vigor. But his one and only experience with mescaline almost sent him careening over the edge, and certainly contributed to an important motif in his work afterward.

While working on a book about the imagination, Sartre sought to have an hallucinatory experience. He got the chance in 1935 when an old friend, Dr. Daniel Lagache, invited him into an experiment at Sainte-Anne’s hospital in Paris, where he was injected with mescaline and observed under controlled conditions. “Sartre does not appear to have had a bad trip in the classic sense of suffering a major and prolonged panic attack,” Gary Cox writes in his Sartre biography. “But it was not a good trip and he did not enjoy it.”

The most ill effects came afterward: “His visual faculties remained distorted for weeks.” Sartre saw houses with “leering faces, all eyes and jaws.” Clock faces took on the features of owls. He confided in his partner Simone de Beauvoir that “he feared that one day he would no longer know” whether or not these were hallucinations. They were, however, not the worst aftereffects. As Sartre told political science professor John Gerassi in a 1971 interview, crabs began to follow him around. He described the experience as “a nervous breakdown.” The crabs followed him “all the time,” he said, “I mean they followed me in the streets, into class.”

I got used to them. I would wake up in the morning and say, “Good morning, my little ones, how did you sleep?” I would talk to them all the time, or I would say, “OK guys, we’re going into class now, so we have to be still and quiet,” and they would be there, around my desk, absolutely still, until the bell rang.

This went on for a year before Sartre went to see his friend Jacques Lacan for psychoanalysis. “We concluded, “ he says, “that it was a fear of becoming alone.” While he had previously confessed a fear of sea creatures, especially crabs, that went back to his childhood, after the mescaline trip, crabs featured prominently in his work, as Peter Royle shows at Philosophy Now.

We find several references to crabs in his short story collection The Wall and in his famous essay “Existentialism is a Humanism.” Samir Chopra quotes crab passages in Sartre’s first novel Nausea. (“At first I avoided them by writing about them,” he told Gerassi, “in effect, by defining life as nausea.”) “In one of his short stories, ‘Erostratus,’” notes Royle, “Sartre creates a character, Paul Hilbert, who looks down on human beings from a height and sees them as crabs.” The most striking use of the “crab motif” comes from his 1959 play The Condemned of Altona, in which the protagonist Frantz imagines that by the Thirtieth Century, humans have become crabs sitting in judgment of the people of the Twentieth.

Crab images, Royle argues, “point to important philosophical ideas,” including “the possibility of ignominy inherent in the concept of freedom itself” and the “reprehensible ‘crabs’ who decline to assume their freedom” and thus scuttle around mindlessly in groups. Crustaceans continued to haunt the philosopher. While the effects of the mescaline eventually dissipated, “when he was feeling down,” writes Cox, Sartre would get the “recurrent feeling, the delusion, that he was being pursued by a giant lobster, always just out of sight... perpetually about to arrive.”

One of the “great, darkly comic features of Sartre folklore,” the huge, invisible lobster invites much speculation about Sartre’s mental health. But perhaps it was only the monstrous embodiment of his own feelings of mauvaise foi, given vivid form by a lingering psychotropic hangover and a daily diet of uppers and downers—a reminder of the “anxiety, anguish, dread, apprehension, fear of pain, fear of death… [and] fundamental absurdity of existence.” As Royle writes, Sartre, always fond of puns, “could only have been intrigued” by the French word for lobster, homard, which sounds like “homme-ard,” a coinage that might suggest something like “a bad man.”

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Simpsons Take on Ayn Rand: See the Show’s Satire of The Fountainhead and Objectivist Philosophy

Say what you will about the tenets of Objectivism—to take a fan favorite line from a little film about bowling and white Russians. At least it’s an ethos. As for Ayn Rand’s attempts to realize her "absurd philosophy" in fiction, we can say that she was rather less successful, in aesthetic terms, than literary philosophers like Albert Camus or Simone de Beauvoir. But that’s a high bar. When it comes to sales figures, her novels are, we might say, competitive.

Atlas Shrugged is sometimes said to be the second best-selling book next to the Bible (with a significant degree of overlap between their readerships). The claim is grossly hyperbolic. With somewhere around 7 million copies sold, Rand's most popular novel falls behind other capitalist classics like Think and Grow Rich. Still, along with The Fountainhead and her other ostensibly non-fictional works, Rand sold enough books to make her comfortable in life, even if she spent her last years on the dole.




Since her death, Rand's books have grown in popularity each decade, with a big spike immediately after the 2008 financial crisis. That popularity isn’t particularly hard to explain as an appeal to adolescent selfishness and grandiosity, and it has made her works ripe targets for satire—especially since they almost read like self-parody already. And who better to take on Rand than The Simpsons, reliable pop satirists of great American delusions since 1989?

The show’s take on The Fountainhead, above, has baby Maggie in the role of architect Howard Roark, the book’s genius individualist whose extraordinary talent is stifled by a critic named Ellsworth Toohey (a cardboard caricature of British theorist and politician Harold Laski). In this version, Toohey is a vicious preschool teacher in tweed, who insists on educating his charges in banality (“mediocrity rules!”) and knocks down Maggie’s block cathedral with a snide “welcome to the real world.”

In response to Toohey’s abuse, Maggie delivers a pompous soliloquy about her own greatness, as Rand’s heroes are wont to do. She is again subjected to preschool repression in the clip just above—this time not at the hands of a socialist critic but from the headmistress of the Ayn Rand School for Tots. The domineering disciplinarian tells Marge her aim is to “develop the bottle within” and dissuade her students from becoming “leeches,” a dig at Rand’s tendency—one sadly parroted by her acolytes—to dehumanize recipients of social benefits as parasites.

Readers of Roald Dahl will be reminded of Matilda’s Miss Trunchbull, and the barracks-like daycare, its walls lined with Objectivist slogans, becomes a site for some Great Escape capers. These sly references hint at a deeper critique—suggesting that the libertarian philosophy of hyper-individualism contains the potential for tyranny and terror as brutal as that of the most dogmatically collectivist of utopian schemes.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Encyclopedia of Women Philosophers: A New Web Site Presents the Contributions of Women Philosophers, from Ancient to Modern

In a recent conversation with Julian Baggini on why there are so few women in academic philosophy, Mary Warnock notes that “of all the humanities departments in British universities, only philosophy departments have a mere 25% women members.” That number is even lower in the US. "Why should this be?" Warnock asks. She asserts that the problem may lie with the discipline itself. “I think that academic philosophy has become an extraordinarily inward-looking subject,” she says, “If you pick up a professional journal now, you find little nitpicking responses to previous articles. Women tend to get more easily bored with this than men. Philosophy seems to stop being interesting just when it starts to be professional.”

It’s a provocative claim, one I’m sure many women in philosophy would contest, though the more general idea that academic philosophy has become an arid practice divorced from real life concerns might have wider support. The data on women in academic philosophy presents a very complex picture. “No single intervention is likely to change the climate,” as Tania Lombrozo writes at NPR. Explicit and implicit biases do play a role, as do instances of sexual harassment and coercion by those in positions of power. But another significant issue Warnock seems to ignore is the way that philosophy is generally taught at the undergraduate level.




In the research on which Lombrozo reports, studies found that “the biggest drop in the proportion of women in the philosophy pipeline seems to be from enrollment in an introductory philosophy class to becoming a philosophy major. At Georgia State, for example, women make up about 55 percent of Introduction to Philosophy students but only around 33 percent of philosophy majors.” This may have to do with the fact that “readings on the syllabus were overwhelmingly by men (over 89 percent).” As Georgia State graduate student Morgan Thompson explained at a conference in 2013:

This problem is compounded by the fact that introductory philosophy textbooks have an even worse gender balance; women account for only 6 percent of authors in a number of introductory philosophy textbooks.

Does this disparity reflect an unalterable truth about the history of philosophy? No, and it can very well be remedied. The Center for the History of Women Philosophers and Scientists is working to do that with a new site, the Encyclopedia of Concise Concepts by Women Philosophers. The joint project of Paderborn University’s Ruth Hagengruber and Cleveland State’s Mary Ellen Waithe, this resource aims to introduce “women philosophers who mostly have been omitted from the philosophical canon despite their historical and philosophical influence.” So far, reports Daily Nous, “there are around 100 entries… with more to be added every few months.”

Each entry is written by a recognized scholar. The easy-to-navigate site has four main sections: Concepts, Keywords, Philosophers, and Contributors. There are a few names most people will recognize, like Mary Wollstonecraft, Ayn Rand, and Simone de Beauvoir. But most of these thinkers will seem obscure, despite their meaningful contributions to various fields of thought. Integrating these philosophers into syllabi and textbooks could go a long way toward retaining women in philosophy departments. As importantly, it will broaden the tradition, giving all students a wider range of perspectives.

For example, much of the academic work on social ethics in democracy might reference Adam Smith’s “Theory of Moral Sentiments” or the prolific 20th century work of John Dewey. But it might overlook the work of Dewey’s contemporary Jane Addams (top), who also wrote critical studies on democracy and education and who “sees a connection,” writes Maurice Hamington in a short entry about her, “between sympathetic understanding and a robust democracy.... For Addams, it is crucial that citizens in a democracy engage with one another to reach across difference to care and find common cause."

Addams brought her philosophical concerns into real world practice. She made important interventions in the treatment of immigrants and African-Americans in Chicago, supported working mothers, and helped pass child protection laws and end child labor. But while she has long been renowned as a social reformer and Nobel Peace Prize winner, "the dynamics of canon formation," notes the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "resulted in her philosophical work being largely ignored until the 1990s." Now, many philosophers recognize that works like Democracy and Social Ethics anticipated key contemporary issues in political philosophy a century ago.

Other thinkers in the Encyclopedia of Concise Concepts by Women Philosophers like Diotima of Mantinea (whom Socrates revered) and early American thinker Mercy Otis Warren made important contributions to the theories of beauty and government, respectively. Yet they may receive no more than a footnote in most undergraduate philosophy courses. This may have less to do with explicit bias than with the way professors themselves have been educated. But the history, and current practice, of philosophy needs the inclusion of these views. Learn more about many historically overlooked women in philosophy at the Encyclopedia here.

via Daily Nous

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

An Introduction to Ivan Ilyin, the Philosopher Behind the Authoritarianism of Putin’s Russia & Western Far Right Movements

Fascism had been creeping back into European and North American politics for many years before the word regained its currency in mainstream discourse as an alarming description of present trends. In 2004, historian Enzo Traverso wrote of the “unsettling phenomenon” of “the rise of fascist-inspired political movements in the European arena (from France to Italy, from Belgium to Austria).” Many of those far-right movements have come very close to winning power, as in Austria and France’s recent elections, or have done so, as in Italy’s.

And while the sudden rise of the far right came as a shock to many in the US, political commentators frequently point out that the erosion of democratic civil rights and liberties has been a decades-long project, coinciding with the financialization of the economy, the privatization of public goods and services, the rise of the mass surveillance state, and the extraordinary war powers assumed, and never relinquished, by the executive after 9/11, creating a permanent state of exception and weakening checks on presidential power.




This is not even to mention the autocratic regimes of Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, which are tied to other anti-democratic movements across the West not only geopolitically but also philosophically, a subject that gets far less press than it deserves. When analysis of the philosophical underpinnings of neo-fascism comes up, it often focuses on Russian academic Alexander Dugin, “who has been called,” notes Salon’s Conor Lynch, “everything from ‘Putin’s brain’ to ‘Putin’s Rasputin.’” (Bloomberg calls Dugin “the one Russian linking Putin, Erdogon and Trump.”)

Dugin’s fusion of Heideggerian postmodernism and apocalyptic mysticism plays a significant role in the ideology of the globalized far right. But Yale historian Timothy Snyder—who has written extensively on both Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany—points to an earlier Russian thinker whom he says exercises considerable influence on the ideology of Vladimir Putin, the fascist philosopher Ivan Ilyin.

Anton Barbashin and Hannah Thoburn called Ilyin “Putin’s philosopher” in a Foreign Affairs profile. Ilyin was “a publicist, a conspiracy theorist, and a Russian nationalist with a core of fascistic leanings.” David Brooks identified Ilyin as one of a trio of nationalist philosophers Putin quotes and recommends. Snyder defines Ilyin’s philosophy as explicitly “Russian Christian fascism,” describing at the New York Review of Books the Russian thinker's prolific writing before and after the Russian Revolution, a hodgepodge of German idealism, psychoanalysis, Italian fascism, and Christianity.

In brief, Ilyin’s theoretical works argued that “the world was corrupt; it needed redemption from a nation capable of total politics; that nation was unsoiled Russia.” Ilyin’s, and Putin’s, Russian nationalism has had a paradoxically global appeal among a wide swath of far right political parties and movements across the West, as Snyder writes in his latest book The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America. “What these ways of thinking have in common,” write The Economist in their review of Snyder's book, “is a quasi-mystical belief in the destiny of nations and rulers, which sets aside the need to observe laws or procedures, or grapple with physical realities.”

Snyder summarizes Ilyin’s ideas in the Big Think video above in ways that make clear how his thought appeals to far right movements across national borders. Ilyin, he says, is “probably the most important example of how old ideas”—the fascism of the 20s, 30s, and 40s—“can be brought back in the 21st century for a postmodern context.” Those ideas can be summarized in three theses, says Snyder, the first having to do with the conservative reification of social hierarchies. “Social advancement was impossible because the political system, the social system, is like a body… you have a place in this body. Freedom means knowing your place.”

“A second idea,” says Snyder, relates to voting as a ratification, rather than election, of the leader. “Democracy is a ritual…. We only vote in order to affirm our collective support for our leader. The leader’s not legitimated by our votes or chosen by our votes.” The leader, instead, emerges “from some other place.... In fascism the leader is some kind of hero, who emerges from myth.” The third idea might immediately remind US readers of Karl Rove’s dismissal of the “reality-based community,” a chilling augur of the fact-free reality of today’s politics.

Ilyin thought that “the factual world doesn’t count. It’s not real.” In a restatement of gnostic theology, he believed that “God created the world but that was a mistake. The world was a kind of aborted process,” because it lacks coherence and unity. The world of observable facts was, to him, “horrifying…. Those facts are disgusting and of no value whatsoever.” These three ideas, Snyder argues, underpin Putin’s rule. They also define American political life under Trump, he concludes in his New York Review of Books essay.

Ilyin “made of lawlessness a virtue so pure as to be invisible,” Snyder writes, “and so absolute as to demand the destruction of the West. He shows us how fragile masculinity generates enemies, how perverted Christianity rejects Jesus, how economic inequality imitates innocence, and how fascist ideas flow into the postmodern. This is no longer just Russian philosophy. It is now American life.” There are more than enough homegrown sources for American authoritarianism and inequality, one can argue. But Snyder makes a compelling case for the obscure Russian thinker as an indirect, and insidious, influence.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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