Mind blown! 10 philosophy books guaranteed to make you think differently

Philosophy doesn’t have to be all Hegel and Frege, you know; like all disciplines, it might get finicky and complex for the layperson once you start scratching well below the crust, but above all else philosophy is about thinking deeply.

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Pierre Bourdieu On the State: Lectures at the Collège De France, 1989-1992 (Book Review)

Piere Bordieu
This valuable collection of lectures represents Pierre Bourdieu’s thoughts on the state as expressed in lectures given at the Collège de France from 1989 to 1992. The book is 433 pages in length and contains two helpful appendixes: (1) “Course summaries as published in the Annuaire of the Collège de France 1989-1990, 1990-1991, 1991-1992”; (2) “Position of the lectures on the state in Pierre Bourdieu’s work”. The lectures themselves are a veritable treasure trove of insights, reflections, and emendations of theories that Bourdieu finds useful. It contains trenchant critiques of theories he finds lacking. The reader will also find discussions of the rich body of empirical work that Bourdieu and his research associates conducted, including references to Kabyle peasant life in Algeria, where he conducted his early fieldwork.

In the lectures delivered between 1989 and 1990, Bourdieu emphasized the state’s ability to create and monopolize symbolic capital. In “Politics as a Vocation”, Max Weber famously defined the state as a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.” Establishing and reproducing the state requires constant attention to legitimating the use of force. Bourdieu took this as his point of departure, modifying Weber’s definition of the state as an organization that successfully claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical and symbolic violence over a definite territory and over the totality of the corresponding population.” (This definition is found in a number of Bourdieu’s works).

Bourdieu inquired into the many ways that the state ensures the reproduction of its most fundamental self-representations and political categories by framing the categories of public perception, experience, thought, and speech. For example, he explains how the state creates logical conformism through encouraging adherence to the basic categories of thought. This logical conformism must continually be reproduced because it is the condition for moral conformism and social solidarity.

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Why do some people believe conspiracy theories (Aeon)

conspiracy theoryQuassim Cassam is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Warwick in Coventry. His latest books are Berkeley’s Puzzle: What Does Experience Teach Us?(2014) and Self-Knowledge for Humans(2014)

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Meet Oliver. Like many of his friends, Oliver thinks he is an expert on 9/11. He spends much of his spare time looking at conspiracist websites and his research has convinced him that the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, DC, of 11 September 2001 were an inside job. The aircraft impacts and resulting fires couldn’t have caused the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center to collapse. The only viable explanation, he maintains, is that government agents planted explosives in advance. He realises, of course, that the government blames Al-Qaeda for 9/11 but his predictable response is pure Mandy Rice-Davies: they would say that, wouldn’t they?

Polling evidence suggests that Oliver’s views about 9/11 are by no means unusual. Indeed, peculiar theories about all manner of things are now widespread. There are conspiracy theories about the spread of AIDS, the 1969 Moon landings, UFOs, and the assassination of JFK. Sometimes, conspiracy theories turn out to be right – Watergate really was a conspiracy – but mostly they are bunkum. They are in fact vivid illustrations of a striking truth about human beings: however intelligent and knowledgeable we might be in other ways, many of us still believe the strangest things. You can find people who believe they were abducted by aliens, that the Holocaust never happened, and that cancer can be cured by positive thinking. A 2009 Harris Poll found that between one‑fifth and one‑quarter of Americans believe in reincarnation, astrology and the existence of witches. You name it, and there is probably someone out there who believes it.

You realise, of course, that Oliver’s theory about 9/11 has little going for it, and this might make you wonder why he believes it. The question ‘Why does Oliver believe that 9/11 was an inside job?’ is just a version of a more general question posed by the US skeptic Michael Shermer: why do people believe weird things? The weirder the belief, the stranger it seems that someone can have it. Asking why people believe weird things isn’t like asking why they believe it’s raining as they look out of the window and see the rain pouring down. It’s obvious why people believe it’s raining when they have compelling evidence, but it’s far from obvious why Oliver believes that 9/11 was an inside job when he has access to compelling evidence that it wasn’t an inside job.

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A touch of evil (Kristin Ohlson, Aeon)

Image result for a touch of evil
Lying, cheating and arrogance might be morally repugnant, but a little dose of nastiness can be a creative thing

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levolent personalities come in flavours, says Del Paulhus, the University of British Columbia psychologist who coined the term ‘dark triad’ to describe a trifecta of human evil: the Machiavellian plotter strategising the downfall of others, smiling all the while; the impulsive psychopath, pouncing to steal a friends’ last penny; the self-entitled narcissist, seizing the corner office and the choicest cut of steak. These nasty personalities have remained entrenched in the gene pool because they sometimes confer advantage.

That a hyper-aggressive individual might dominate a passive one is hardly breaking news – nor is it surprising that master manipulators are going to fool the credulous and naïve. Sure, people who constantly, flagrantly lie and cheat, those who trammel relationships to steal from their friends, can seize an advantage. But a spate of research published over the past couple of years reveals something surprising and new: measured amounts of dark-side traits, expressed at lower levels – too little to be considered a diagnosable personality disorder – open the doors of perception, helping us see the world through an edgier, more on-the-bias creative lens.

According to Robert Biswas-Diener, a psychologist at Portland State University, we all need ‘permission to engage in acts of dominance, aggression, strategic manipulation, and selfishness’. Go ahead and put yourself first every so often. Cheat a little. Lie a little. Aggrandise yourself like a narcissist and, from time to time, throw humility out the door. The slightly evil among us could be more creative, more accomplished and contribute a decent dollop of good to the human race.

By far the most repugnant of the dark traits to help us take flight can be found on the spectrum of the psychopath, whose paradoxical behaviours wrap traits we value around ones we loathe. Based on clinical descriptions of the full-blown diagnosis, the criminal psychologist Robert Hare at the University of British Columbia has created an assessment tool that includes a complete palette of traits: glibness and superficiality; egocentrism and grandiosity; lack of remorse and guilt; lack of empathy; deceitfulness and manipulation; emotional shallowness; impulsivity; poor behaviour controls; a need for excitement; and a lack of responsibility.

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Living in a Society of Control (CÆMERON CRAIN)

society of control

The Mantle proudly presents the third in a series of important blog posts by Cæmeron Crain exploring critical concepts in contemporary political philosophy. Last week, Cæmeron addressed Deleuze & Guattari’s difficult concepts of Territorialization & Deterritorialization.

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In his “Postscript on the Societies of Control,” Gilles Deleuze articulates the way in which we are/were moving from what Michel Foucault described as a Disciplinary Society and toward a Society of Control. The piece itself is well worth reading, and I encourage everyone to do so. If nothing else, our friend Gilles seems to be terribly prescient; writing in the early 90s, prior to the hegemony of the internet, he already tells us that “everywhere surfing has already replaced the older sports.” But, what does it mean to live in a society of control? While Deleuze’s reflections on this matter are thought-provoking and important, I want to approach the issue through slightly different terms, pulling on the experience of living in what—I would claim at least—is almost fully such a society. We have left the old disciplinary systems largely behind.1

An important aspect of the society of control is that we are allowed to do “whatever we want.” It presents itself as a kind of freedom. No longer restrained by enclosure structures, like those of the school or the factory, we can pursue an online education in our time, or work from home. This seems like freedom, but we should notice how it diffuses “responsibility” throughout life. Perhaps it is nice to work from home, but now we are expected to be responsive to the demands of work even away from the office; to respond to emails in a timely manner. While “freed” from the enclosed workspace, the demands of work come to pervade all of our time. I, for one, have been chastised for not responding to a phone call, then text message, then email, for more than 12 hours. I would be surprised if others have not felt a similar kind of demand, though maybe they responded quickly and avoided the disapprobation of their superiors.

What seems to be lost here is true “free time”—something I was scolded for holding onto an idea of—that would be time fully outside of the structures of power. While it had its own oppressive power relations, a disciplinary society seems to have had space for this: when I punch out at the factory, my time is my own, until I go back tomorrow, for another shift. In a society of control, this increasingly disappears. While freedom seems to be increased on the one hand, the control of our activities expands on the other. Rather than a Panopticon, with a centralized focal point from which activity is surveilled, we have a diffuse matrix of information gathering algorithms. Everything is tracked and encoded, interpreted into patterns that are either acceptable or unacceptable. Touch off enough markers in your internet activity, by going to certain sites, or using certain words, and you’ll be placed on some sort of “watchlist.”…

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