The best thing about being a university professor is that I get the chance to read broadly, think about the ideas I stumble across, bring them up in classes, and think about ways to share them with others. If I really want to think through a set of ideas, I write an essay: that way, I’m forced to put my enthusiasm and puzzlement into words, which usually leads to more ideas and questions I hadn’t considered. I’m hoping some readers might be interested in these essays – hence, the Stacks of Books series. I hope you like them. If you do, let me know; or, if you’d like to read an essay on some other topic, please feel free to suggest it!
Each essay costs a buck at Amazon, and is delivered to you in a Kindle format. (You can download the Kindle reader app on nearly any device here.) Part of me feels guilty in charging for essays. Another part of me likes some pocket change for the occasional cup of coffee. Since I have a need for coffee – for I am little more than an engine that turns coffee into words and pee – this second side wins.
I should add, by the way, that the essays in the series are numbered, but you don’t have to read them in order.
(click on the book covers below to be taken to the Amazon page.)
You might be interested in getting all six essays at a single shot. In that case, here’s the collection, available for 20% less than you’d pay if you bought them all one-by-one. Or you might be resistant to the whole Kindle e-book thing, and would prefer a paperback edition. That is here as well, for a few bucks more.
In computer games like Skyrim, we meet many non-playable characters (NPCs). They’re not real people, of course. But how close to real could we make them? In principle, could an NPC be conscious? And: might we be NPCs? This short, light-hearted essay raises these questions, and other existential ones, in the realm of virtual minds. (Stacks #6)
Peter Sloterdijk, a contemporary German philosopher of culture, has written a trilogy entitled Spheres that gives the long story of the human love affair with a particular geometrical form: the enclosed space whose surface is equidistant from a center. Along the way, he recounts our evolution from tribal villages to empires to a post-modern condition. In this essay I offer an overview of Sloterdijk’s magnum opus, with a few remarks of my own along the way. (Stacks #5)
Do we ever experience anything other than our own minds? The philosophical idealists, from Kant to Kuhn, argued that we never see the world itself – we only encounter our ideas of it. This seems plausible; but, then again, how can we say this while knowing that sometimes our ideas are wrong, and that reality often complains loudly against our beliefs? What happens, in other words, when the idealist trips on the carpet? (Stacks #4)
Do we really want to know ourselves? When we try, do we find reason at our core? Or is the truth a bit less flattering? In Doubts, we see what happens when we develop our reason to the point where, if reason wants to be – well, rational – then it shouldn’t take itself so seriously. Along the way we run into Aristophanes, Stanley Kubrick, Hume, Dostoyevsky, and contemporary philosopher Peter Sloterdijk. (Stacks #3)
Eternity has a way of sucking us in. We might try being thoroughly rational about it, but we still end up trying to see how all things fit together from an eternal perspective. Or, if we’re religious, we struggle to express the depths of divine eternity – while wondering whether we might be deceiving ourselves. To View From Eternity examines the profound contest between Athens and Jerusalem – between the mind of western rationality, and the heart of revealed religion. (Stacks #2)
What makes us think we wouldn’t be better off as barbarians? Maybe it’s reason that tells us to settle down, make compromises, and enjoy a safer life? Or is it in our nature to be in a community, making plans with others? Or might justice be valuable in and of itself? Inventing Justice explores these possibilities through the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle, with lucid explanations and vivid examples. (Stacks #1)