Philosopher files

66 Posts
Kautilya on the Crooked Business of Politics

Kautilya on the Crooked Business of Politics

The ancient Indian treatise on rulership, and the pragmatics of maintaining power

The Swoop and Surge of Life: Lucretius on Ethics in Motion

The Swoop and Surge of Life: Lucretius on Ethics in Motion

Ethics, power and a life in motion.

Lucretius on Chance, Necessity and Free Will

Lucretius on Chance, Necessity and Free Will

Lucretius, the Roman poet and philosopher, on free will, creativity and the mysterious swerve of an atom.

Advice for Rulers, Charioteers and Cyclists: the Huainanzi

Advice for Rulers, Charioteers and Cyclists: the Huainanzi

The Huainanzi, a fascinating Han dynasty guidebook for rulers, on resonance, non-action, charioteering, and how not to fall off a bicycle.

Knowing, Doing, and Doubting: Nyāya Philosophy

Knowing, Doing, and Doubting: Nyāya Philosophy

For the philosophers of the Nyāya school, the role of knowledge was to make effective action possible.

Constellations of Thought: God, Death, and Other Non-Problems

Constellations of Thought: God, Death, and Other Non-Problems

What are the fundamental questions in human life? And how can reading across different traditions enrich our sense of what questions might be fruitful to ask?

Dong Zhongshu's Tales of the Unexpected

Dong Zhongshu's Tales of the Unexpected

Dong Zhongshu was a thinker fascinated by the role of chance events in human history.

Kaṇāda's Search for a Soul Without Qualities

Kaṇāda's Search for a Soul Without Qualities

What are we, most fundamentally? Kaṇāda, founder of the Vaiśeṣika philosophical school, has some surprising answers.

Learning to Play the Piano With Ptolemaïs of Cyrene

Learning to Play the Piano With Ptolemaïs of Cyrene

Ptolemaïs of Cyrene, the ancient philosopher, and what she can teach us about the art of music.

The Charisma of No-Charisma: Han Fei, Law, and the Art of Politics

The Charisma of No-Charisma: Han Fei, Law, and the Art of Politics

For the philosopher Han Fei, the ultimate form of charisma was to have no charisma. His ideas were instrumental in cementing the power of Qin Shihuang, the First Emperor.

Renegade Philosophers, and the Art of Changing Your Mind

Renegade Philosophers, and the Art of Changing Your Mind

Two philosophers from the ancient world who changed their minds: Timocrates the (former) Epicurean, and Dionysius the (former) Stoic.

Zou Yan, Yin and Yang, and the Nature of Change

Zou Yan, Yin and Yang, and the Nature of Change

The Chinese philosopher Zou Yan is credited with developing theories of Yin and Yang.

Sounds Plausible? The Philosophy of Carneades

Sounds Plausible? The Philosophy of Carneades

The philosopher Carneades advocated giving up on ideas of truth and the good life, arguing that we should focus instead on what is plausible.

Justifying Ritual with Jaimini

Justifying Ritual with Jaimini

The Indian philosopher Jaimini, founder of the Mīmāṃsā tradition, on why religious ritual is its own justification.

Desmond Tutu, Ubuntu and the Possibility of Hope

Desmond Tutu, Ubuntu and the Possibility of Hope

Desmond Tutu, and the idea of ubuntu: we are, because we belong.

Getting Smart About Pleasure: The Philosophy of Epicurus

Getting Smart About Pleasure: The Philosophy of Epicurus

The trouble with pleasure, according to the philosopher Epicurus, is that we're not very good at it.

The Tastiness of the Gift

The Tastiness of the Gift

An alternative theory of gift-giving, drawing on philosophy from the Tanimbar islands of Indonesia, and from the philosophical traditions of India.

The Philosophy of Giving

The Philosophy of Giving

Christmas is on the way, and you are facing your biggest philosophical challenge of the year: what gift do you get for a man like Uncle Pedro?

Chrysippus on How to Manage Our Emotions

Chrysippus on How to Manage Our Emotions

The philosopher Chrysippus believed that emotions are not things that happen to us, but things that we do. This means that we can bring emotion under the control of reason.

Ritual Shapes the World

Ritual Shapes the World

According to both philosophers of Ancient China and those of the Ancient Maya world, ritual has a powerful role to play in shaping ourselves - and the world.

It's a Kind of Magic: The Philosophy of Ritual

It's a Kind of Magic: The Philosophy of Ritual

Getting philosophical about ritual, from Confucius and spirit sacrifice in Ancient China to the everyday miracle of shaking hands.

Pyrrho and the Trouble with Ethics

Pyrrho and the Trouble with Ethics

Pyrrho was the precursor of the ancient sceptical school. He was a philosopher who travelled widely and, according to some commentators, reinvented Indian modes of thought in the context of ancient Greece.

Hipparchia: Philosophy as Comedy

Hipparchia: Philosophy as Comedy

The Cynic philosopher Hipparchia defied social convention, in pursuit of a life free of hypocrisy and privilege.

Zeno of Citium and the Challenge of Living Naturally

Zeno of Citium and the Challenge of Living Naturally

Stoicism was one of the most influential philosophical schools in the ancient Greek and Roman worlds. And the first Stoic philosopher was Zeno of Citium.

Not the Mystical East: India's Long Tradition of Materialism

Not the Mystical East: India's Long Tradition of Materialism

We often assume that Indian philosophy is somehow inherently “spiritual”. But India's long tradition of Cārvāka materialist philosophy suggests otherwise.

Aristotle on Flourishing

Aristotle on Flourishing

Aristotle argued that the end or purpose of human life was flourishing. But what is flourishing? And how do we flourish?

Aristotle on Ways of Knowing

Aristotle on Ways of Knowing

Aristotle was a hugely eclectic thinker. But he was also a systematic one. And at the heart of his philosophy is the idea of the diversity of human ways of knowing.

Hui Shi and the Power of Analogy

Hui Shi and the Power of Analogy

The Chinese philosopher Hui Shi (370-310 BCE) was famed for his logical puzzles, and his skill in debate.

Plato's Theory of Forms

Plato's Theory of Forms

Plato is famous for what is sometimes called his "theory of forms". But what are forms? What is this theory? And what makes Aslan an almost-perfect cat?

Xunzi on Crafting Ourselves

Xunzi on Crafting Ourselves

Xunzi was a Confucian philosopher who argued human beings were bad by nature. He advocated self-cultivation to correct our natural shortcomings.

Aztec Philosophy and the Slipperiness of the World

Aztec Philosophy and the Slipperiness of the World

Aztec philosophy tells us that the world is slippery, and that if we don't want to lose our footing, we need all the wisdom we can get.

Free and Easy Rambling With Zhuangzi

Free and Easy Rambling With Zhuangzi

The ancient Chinese philosopher who advocated uselessness and free-and-easy wandering.

Arete of Cyrene and the Smooth Motion of the Flesh

Arete of Cyrene and the Smooth Motion of the Flesh

Arete of Cyrene was an early woman philosopher who was important in the establishment of the Cyrenaic school, which emphasised the centrality of bodily pleasure to the good life.

Mencius and the Sprouts of Virtue

Mencius and the Sprouts of Virtue

Mencius was a Confucian philosopher who argued for the inherent goodness of human nature, and who insisted that good government is about nourishing this inherent goodness.

Plato's Cave, and Escaping the Prison of Ignorance

Plato's Cave, and Escaping the Prison of Ignorance

Plato is undoubtedly one of the most influential thinkers in all of history. He opened up a series of questions — about philosophy, about knowledge, about truth, about politics and about ethics — that have continued to preoccupy people down to the present-day.

Zeno of Elea on Why Change is an Illusion

Zeno of Elea on Why Change is an Illusion

Zeno of Elea was famous for his paradoxes, which have fascinated and preoccupied people for millennia.

Maya Philosophy, and How to Give Shape to Time

Maya Philosophy, and How to Give Shape to Time

The Maya philosophers were preoccupied with time, and with how the ritual ordering of time is a way that human beings participate in the ongoing creation of the world.

Mozi and the Challenge of Universal Love

Mozi and the Challenge of Universal Love

Mozi was one of the most influential of all early Chinese philosophers. He proposed a society based on universal love, protected by a system of rewards and punishments.

Working it Out: The Philosophy of Work (Work #1)

Working it Out: The Philosophy of Work (Work #1)

Season three of our Looking for Wisdom course, where we're looking at the philosophy of work. This week: hunters and gatherers, Mencius, Aristotle and slavery.

Democritus and Reasons to be Cheerful

Democritus and Reasons to be Cheerful

Democritus and his teacher Leucippus were the first philosophers to propose that all things were made up of the joining-together of imperceptible atoms.

Yang Zhu on How to Keep Our Nature Intact

Yang Zhu on How to Keep Our Nature Intact

Yang Zhu was an ancient Chinese philosopher who is associated with hedonism, and with the cultivation of bodily pleasure.

Gautama Buddha and the Turn Toward Experience

Gautama Buddha and the Turn Toward Experience

The Buddha was a wandering renunciant in Ancient India who kick-started a two and a half thousand-year-old religious and philosophical tradition. But who was he?

Living the Life of a Dog with Diogenes the Cynic

Living the Life of a Dog with Diogenes the Cynic

Diogenes was the original drop-out philosopher. A fierce critic of the hypocrisy of society, he chose instead to live in accord with nature.

7 Ways of Reading Philosophy: #2 Reading haphazardly

7 Ways of Reading Philosophy: #2 Reading haphazardly

When reading philosophy, it's easy to feel under the obligation to read systematically. But why not give up on feelings of obligation, and read haphazardly?

Finding Our Way With Laozi

Finding Our Way With Laozi

The legendary Chinese philosopher Laozi is associated with the long tradition of Daoism (or Taoism). But his work is famously elliptical and difficult.

Alcmaeon of Croton, the First Philosopher of Medicine

Alcmaeon of Croton, the First Philosopher of Medicine

What does it mean to be sick or well? What is health? The Greek doctor and philosopher Alcmaeon, who came from the city of Croton, was one of the earliest thinkers to systematically address questions of health and illness.

Sunzi's Way of Deceit

Sunzi's Way of Deceit

Sunzi's "The Art of War" is an ancient Chinese text that has become famous worldwide for its insights into strategy. Even today, it is still a go-to reference for military and business leaders.

Empedocles on Love and Strife

Empedocles on Love and Strife

Empedocles was a philosopher, wandering poet and shamanic healer who claimed the entire universe was underpinned by the forces of Love and Strife.

Deng Xi, the Philosopher Who Argued From Both Sides

Deng Xi, the Philosopher Who Argued From Both Sides

Deng Xi was a lawyer and philosopher associated with the so-called "School of Names". He was skilled in debate and frequently caused confusion by simultaneously arguing opposite viewpoints.

Anaxagoras on the Gunkiness of Reality

Anaxagoras on the Gunkiness of Reality

The Presocratic philosophers are famously strange and difficult; but of all of them, Anaxagoras, who saw the universe as essentially gunky, is one of the strangest.

Xenophanes on Gods and Horses

Xenophanes on Gods and Horses

Xenophanes was a wandering philosopher and poet, who was fiercely critical of his contemporaries' views on the nature of the gods.

Jing Jiang on Politics, Gender and Weaving

Jing Jiang on Politics, Gender and Weaving

Jing Jiang is one of the earliest women in Chinese recorded history to engage in philosophical debate. She was a thinker with a keen grasp of politics, and a considerable skill in argument.

Parmenides on Truth and Opinion

Parmenides on Truth and Opinion

Parmenides is one of the most elusive and enigmatic of all early Greek philosophers. Could he really have been arguing that nothing ever changed? And if so, why?

Yājñavalkya and the Immortal Self

Yājñavalkya and the Immortal Self

Yājñavalkya is one of the earliest named Indian philosophers. According to traditional accounts, he was a fierce debater, and was preoccupied with the nature of the ātman, or the soul.

Anaximander and the Boundlessly Creative Universe

Anaximander and the Boundlessly Creative Universe

The philosopher Anaximander was born in the trading port of Miletus in 610 BCE, and is said to have become a student of the philosopher Thales. His philosophy explored questions of creation and destruction in nature.

Plato: Organist to the Beasts

Plato: Organist to the Beasts

A story from a 13th century Persian text about music, harmony, philosophy, catatonic animals, and the beef between Plato and Aristotle.

Gārgī Vācaknavī, the Eloquent Philosopher

Gārgī Vācaknavī, the Eloquent Philosopher

Gārgī Vācaknavī was a philosopher who is said to have lived in India around 700 BCE, and whose skill in debate was legendary.

Guan Zhong the Reformer

Guan Zhong the Reformer

Guan Zhong was one of China's earliest named philosophers. A sharp political operator, he rose from poverty to become Chancellor of the state of Qi. He is associated in particular with the philosophy of legalism.

The Secret Teachings of Pythagoras

The Secret Teachings of Pythagoras

Pythagoras was the first philosopher to talk about 'philosophia', or 'the love of wisdom.' He set up a philosophical community where he taught the transmigration of souls, and the centrality of mathematics for an understanding of the universe.

Fire and Flow: the Philosophy of Heraclitus

Fire and Flow: the Philosophy of Heraclitus

Heraclitus's philosophy was based on the idea that the world is in continual flux. He is famous above all for his mysterious comment that 'everything flows.'

Ptahhotep and the Emeralds of Wisdom

Ptahhotep and the Emeralds of Wisdom

One of history's earliest named philosophers was from Africa. He lived 4500 years ago in Egypt, and his name was Ptahhotep.

Aspasia, the Philosopher Who Taught Socrates Rhetoric

Aspasia, the Philosopher Who Taught Socrates Rhetoric

Along with Diotima, Aspasia was one of the two women philosophers whom Plato recognised as a teacher of Socrates. Her biography is subject to debate, but she is still famous for her knowledge of rhetoric and her skill in debate.

Diotima Climbs the Ladder of Love

Diotima Climbs the Ladder of Love

Diotima was a teacher of Socrates, a priestess, and a philosopher of love. She appears only once in contemporary accounts, in the work of Plato; and for centuries, scholars have debated her historicity. But whether or not she truly existed, the ideas attributed to her are both subtle and powerful.

Cultivating Ritual with Confucius

Cultivating Ritual with Confucius

Confucius is one of history's most influential philosophers. His insights have shaped the cultures of East Asia and beyond for centuries. Confucius was a reformer who aimed to refashion society on the basis of justice and virtue. And yet, during his lifetime, his teachings were largely ignored.

Thales of Miletus on Appearance and Reality

Thales of Miletus on Appearance and Reality

Thales of Miletus has some claim to being the very earliest philosopher in the Greek world. He is famous for his claim that everything is made of water. As well as being a philosopher, he was an engineer, an astronomer, and an astute observer of the natural world.

Socrates, Philosophical Trouble-Maker

Socrates, Philosophical Trouble-Maker

Socrates lived in Athens in the 5th Century BCE. He was the archetypal philosopher: a restless seeker after wisdom, a thorn in the side of the intelligentsia of Athens, a copious drinker, and a thinker who claimed that when it came down to it, he knew nothing at all.