Benjamin Studebaker

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

Tag: Plato

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

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.

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Coronavirus, Rioting, and the Privatization of Morality

A short while ago, we were making political demands on our states, of various kinds. Some of us wanted our governments to do more to stop the spread of the virus and save lives. Some of us wanted our governments to provide more aid, more economic stimulus. But over the last few weeks, we stopped making political demands. We started looking at each other. As governments began re-opening their economies, they tried to make it our responsibility to stop the virus. You are supposed to social distance. You are supposed to wear a mask. In most places, none of this is required by law. In those jurisdictions where the advice has been incorporated into the law, it’s only nominally enforced. But you’re supposed to feel a moral obligation to do these things, and if you don’t do them people will shame you. They’ll yell at you, and maybe they’ll try to use social media to get you fired from your job. The guidelines aren’t enforced by the state–they’re enforced by the people around you. The state doesn’t take responsibility for this informal interpersonal coercion, but it tacitly encourages it. When we’re fighting with each other about whether we should wear masks, we aren’t making demands on the state. If we’re all too busy playing police officer with each other, we won’t have the bandwidth to hold the government to account.

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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.

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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.

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