Benjamin Studebaker

Yet Another Attempt to Make the World a Better Place by Writing Things

Tag: Philosophy

How to Be Excellent

I have a new piece out for Psyche on excellence in Plato and Aristotle. You can read it here:

I was really happy to be able to give proper emphasis to the background social conditions that play such a large role in Plato and Aristotle’s work. Many popularizations of ancient philosophy take too many of their cues from the Stoics, presenting virtue as attainable in a vacuum.

How to be excellent | Psyche

Are Declassed Professionals in the United States like Surplus Song Dynasty Civil Servants?

I’ve been reading Youngmin Kim’s A History of Chinese Political Thought. In one of his chapters, he argues that during the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279), a peculiar kind of “metaphysical republicanism” took root. As the Chinese population increased, the Song state struggled to create enough jobs in the state bureaucracy to accommodate larger and larger numbers of educated young men. Unable to pursue political power through the conventional pathways, these young men invented a new kind of political theory to make sense of their positions (or lack thereof). Kim’s description of this theory is eerily reminiscent of the kind of thinking that has become increasingly popular among what I like to call the “fallen” professionals–people with university degrees who have been unable to secure stable, prestigious positions within the power structure.

Read the rest of this entry »

Against the Stoics, Skeptics, Epicureans, and Buddhists

This is going to be an odd post about Greek philosophy and the contemporary analogues of Greek traditions. Its purpose is threefold. First, I’ll argue that the Stoics, Skeptics, and Epicureans had similar conceptions of the good life, that this conception closely resembles the conception preferred by Buddhists, and that this conception of the good life is mistaken. Second, I’ll argue that the Stoics and Skeptics both make similar–if opposite–errors with respect to meta-ethics, with the Stoics asserting an unrealistically ambitious epistemology and the Skeptics denying that epistemology without acknowledging less ambitious alternatives. Third, I’ll argue that many contemporary political and moral antagonisms are essentially new versions of the Stoic/Skeptic antagonism, and that there is a popular Epicurean response to this antagonism.

Read the rest of this entry »

What I Think in 2020

Now that the Bernie Sanders movement is comprehensively failing, it is time for those of us who supported it to take a step back and reflect. We can only learn from defeat if we are willing to be honest with ourselves and recognise it as such. This post is more autobiographical than most of what I run here. The aim is to do some hard introspection about how I came to support the Sanders movement and where its downfall leaves me, politically.

Read the rest of this entry »

A Platonist Critique of Rawls

One of the things that has always bothered me about Rawlsian liberalism is its emphasis on consensus. The Rawlsians want a state which ‘all reasonable people can accept’ or which ‘no reasonable person can reject’. To accomplish this consensus, Rawlsians have to hollow out the good until it contains only uncontroversial values. Controversial principles are not, by definition, accepted by all reasonable people. The Rawlsians therefore have a tendency to depoliticise the controversial. This results in a political theory which is committed to conflict avoidance. Families that avoid conflict tend to have conflict blow up in their faces, and the same is true for states.

But beyond this, Rawlsian liberalism produces a state which is based on lowest common denominators. This is where Plato comes in.

Read the rest of this entry »