zaterdag 27 januari 2018

The family man

The Problem with Scientism

By Massimo Pigliucci
Science is unquestionably the most powerful approach humanity has developed so far to the understanding of the natural world. There is little point in arguing about the spectacular successes of fundamental physics, evolutionary and molecular biology, and countless other fields of scientific inquiry. Indeed, if you do, you risk to quickly slide into self-contradictory epistemic relativism or even downright pseudoscience.
That said, there is a pernicious and increasingly influential strand of thought these days — normally referred to as “scientism” — which is not only a threat to every other discipline, including philosophy, but risks undermining the credibility of science itself. In these days of crisis in the humanities, as well as in the social sciences, it is crucial to distinguish valid from ill-founded criticism of any academic effort, revisiting once more what C.P. Snow famously referred to as the divide between “the two cultures.”
First off, what is scientism, exactly? Sometimes it pays to go back to the basics, in this case to the Merriam-Webster concise definition: “An exaggerated trust in the efficacy of the methods of natural science applied to all areas of investigation (as in philosophy, the social sciences, and the humanities).” But surely this is a straw man. Who really fits that description? Plenty of prominent and influential people, as it turns out. Let me give you a few examples:
Author Sam Harris, when he argues that science can by itself provide answers to moral questions and that philosophy is not needed. (e.g., “Many of my critics fault me for not engaging more directly with the academic literature on moral philosophy … I am convinced that every appearance of terms like ‘metaethics,’ ‘deontology,’ [etc.] … directly increases the amount of boredom in the universe.”)
Science popularizer Neil deGrasse Tyson (and physicists Lawrence Krauss and Stephen Hawking, science educator Bill Nye, among others), when he declares philosophy useless to science (or “dead,” in the case of Hawking). (e.g., “My concern here is that the philosophers believe they are actually asking deep questions about nature. And to the scientist it’s, what are you doing? Why are you concerning yourself with the meaning of meaning?” —N. deGrasse Tyson; also: “I think therefore I am. What if you don’t think about it? You don’t exist anymore? You probably still exist.” —B. Nye).
Any number of neuroscientists when they seem to believe that “your brain on X” provides the ultimate explanation for whatever X happens to be.
Science popularizer Richard Dawkins, when he says “science” disproves the existence of God (while deploying what he apparently does not realize are philosophical arguments informed by science).
A number of evolutionary psychologists (though not all of them!) when they make claims that go well beyond the epistemic warrant of the evidence they provide. Literature scholars (and biologists like E.O. Wilson) when they think that an evolutionary, data-driven approach tells us much that is insightful about, say, Jane Austin.
The list could go on, for quite a bit. Of course, we could have reasonable discussions about any individual entry above, but I think the general pattern is clear enough. Scientism is explicitly advocated by a good number of scientists (predictably), and even some philosophers. A common line of defense is that the term should not even be used because it is just a quick way for purveyors of fuzzy religious and pseudoscientific ideas to dismiss anyone who looks critically at their claims.
This is certainly the case. But it is no different from the misuse of other words, such as “pseudoscience” itself, or “skepticism” (in the modern sense of a critical analysis of potentially unfounded claims). Still, few people would reasonably argue that we should stop using a perfectly valid word just because it is abused by ideologically driven groups. If that were being the case, the next version of the Merriam-Webster would be pretty thin…
Philosopher of science Susan Haack has proposed an influential list of six signs of scientistic thinking, which — with some caveats and modifications — can be usefully deployed in the context of this discussion.
The first sign is when words like “science” and “scientific” are used uncritically as honorific terms of epistemic praise. For instance, in advertisement: “9 out of 10 dentists recommend brand X.” More ominously, when ethically and scientifically ill-founded notions, such as eugenics, gain a foothold in society because they are presented as “science.” Let us not forget that between 1907 and 1963, 64,000 American citizens were forcibly sterilized because of eugenic laws.
The second of Haack’s signs is the adoption of the manners and terminology of science regardless of whether they are useful or not. My favorite example is a famous paper published in 2005 in American Psychologist by Barbara Fredrickson and Marcial Losada. They claimed — “scientific” data in hand — that the ratio of positive to negative emotions necessary for human flourishing is exactly 2.9013 to 1. Such precision ought to be suspicious at face value, even setting aside that the whole notion of the existence of an ideal, universal ratio of positive to negative emotions is questionable in the first place. Sure enough, a few years later, Nicholas Brown, Alan Sokal, and Harris Friedman published a skating rebuttal of the Fredrickson-Losada paper, tellingly entitled “The complex dynamics of wishful thinking: The critical positivity ratio.” Unfortunately, the original paper is still far more cited than the rebuttal.
Third, scientistically-oriented people tend to display an obsession with demarcating science from pseudoscience. Here I think Haack is only partially correct, as my observation is rather that scientistic thinking results in an expansion of the very concept of “science”, almost making it equivalent with rationality itself. It is only as a byproduct that pseudoscience is demarcated from science, and moreover, a lot of philosophy and other humanistic disciplines tend to be cast as “pseudoscience” if they somehow dare assert even a partial independence from the natural sciences. This, of course, is nothing new, and amounts to a 21st century (rather naive) version of logical positivism:
The criterion which we use to test the genuineness of apparent statements of fact is the criterion of verifiability. We say that a sentence is factually significant to any given person, if, and only if, he knows how to verify the proposition which it purports to express — that is, if he knows what observations would lead him, under certain conditions, to accept the proposition as true, or reject it as being false. — A.J. Ayer (Language, Truth, and Logic)
The fourth sign of scientism has to do with a preoccupation with identifying a scientific method to demarcate science from other activities. A good number of scientists, especially those writing for the general public, seem blissfully unaware of decades of philosophical scholarship questioning the very idea of the scientific method. When we use that term, do we refer to inductivism, deductivism, adbuctivism, Bayesianism, or what?
The philosophical consensus seems to be that there is no such thing as a single, well-identified scientific method, and that the sciences rely instead on an ever-evolving toolbox, which moreover is significantly different between, say, ahistorical (physics) and historical (evolutionary biology) sciences, or between the natural and social sciences.
Here too, however, the same problem that I mentioned above recurs: contra Haack, proponents of scientism do not seem to claim that there is a special scientific method, but on the contrary, that science is essentially co-extensive with reason itself. Once again, this isn’t a philosophically new position:
If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion — David Hume (An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding).
Both Ayer’s verifiability criterion and Hume’s fork suffer from serious philosophical problems, of course, but to uncritically deployed them as a blunt instrument against in defense of scientism is simply a result of willful and abysmal illiteracy.
Next to last, comes an attitude that seeks to deploy science to answer questions beyond its scope. It seems to me that it is exceedingly easy to come up with questions that either science is wholly unequipped to answer, or for which it can at best provide a (welcome!) degree of relevant background knowledge. I will leave it to colleagues in other disciplines to arrive at their own list, but as far as philosophy is concerned, the following list is just a start:
  • In metaphysics: what is a cause?
  • In logic: is modus ponens a type of valid inference?
  • In epistemology: is knowledge “justified true belief”?
  • In ethics: is abortion permissible once the fetus begins to feel pain?
  • In aesthetics: is there a meaningful difference between Mill’s “low” and “high”
  • In philosophy of science: what role does genetic drift play in the logical structure of
    evolutionary theory?
  • In philosophy of mathematics: what is the ontological status of mathematical objects, such as numbers?
The scientific literature on all the above is basically non-existent, while the philosophical one is huge. None of the above questions admits of answers arising from systematic observations or experiments. While empirical notions may be relevant to some of them (e.g., the one on abortion), it is philosophical arguments that provide the suitable approach.
Lastly, a sixth sign of scientism is the denial or denigration of the usefulness of nonscientific activities, particularly within the humanities. Saying that philosophy is “useless” because it doesn’t contribute to solving scientific problems (deGrasse Tyson, Hawking, Krauss, Nye), betrays a fundamental misunderstanding (and let’s be frank, simple ignorance) of what philosophy is. Ironically, the scientistic take could be turned on its head: on what empirical grounds, for instance, can we arrive at the value judgment that cosmology is “more important” than literature? Is the only thing that matters the discovery of facts about the natural world? Why? And while we are at it, why exactly do we take for granted that money spent on a new particle accelerator shouldn’t be spent on, say, cancer research? I’m not advocating such a position, I am simply pointing out that there is no scientific evidence that could settle the matter, and that scientistically-inclined writers tend, as Daniel Dennett famously said in Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, to take on board a lot of completely unexamined philosophical baggage.
In the end, it all comes down to what we mean by “science.” Perhaps we can reasonably agree that this is a classic example of a Wittgensteinian “family resemblance” concept, i.e., something that does not have precise boundaries, nor is it amenable to a precise definition in terms of necessary and jointly sufficient conditions. But as a scientist and a philosopher of science, I tend to see “science” as an evolving beast, historically and culturally situated, similar to the in-depth analysis provided by Helen Longino in her book, Science as Social Knowledge.
Science is a particular ensemble of epistemic and social practices — including a more or less faulty system of peer review, granting agencies, academic publications, hiring practices, and so on. This is different from “science” as it was done by Aristotle, or even by Galileo. There is a continuity, of course, between its modern incarnation and its historical predecessors, as well as between it and other fields (mathematics, logic, philosophy, history, and so forth).
But when scientistic thinkers pretend that any human activity that has to do with reasoning about facts is “science” they are attempting a bold move of naked cultural colonization, defining everything else either out of existence or into irrelevance. When I get up in the morning and go to work at City College in New York I take a bus and a subway. I do so on the basis of my empirical knowledge of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority system, which results — you could say — from years of “observations” and “experiments,” aimed at testing “hypotheses” about the system and its functionality. If you want to call that science, fine, but you end up sounding pretty ridiculous. And you are doing no favor to real science either.

Massimo Pigliucci is the K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York. His interests are in the philosophy of biology, the structure of evolutionary theory, and the nature of pseudoscience. His latest book, co-edited with Maarten Boudry, is Science Unlimited? The Challenges of Scientism (Chicago Press). He blogs at

I reasonably agree that science is a "family resemblance" concept.
Perhaps we can also reasonable agree that science is the collection of scientific claims.
And that a scientist is someone who makes a scientific claim.
Put like that, there is a "family resemblance" with scientism.
Scientism is the collection of scientistic claims.
And a scientistic is someone who makes a scientistic claim.
The problem with these propositions is the lack of evolvement.
A thief is someone who commits theft. But I can't imagine a person who is constantly stealing. So, it's more appropriate to state that a person is a thief "when" he is stealing, and only when he is stealing.
In analogy one might say that the proposition "Author Sam Harris is a scientistic, "when" he argues that science can by itself provide answers to moral questions and that philosophy is not needed", is a scientific claim. However, the question arises if this proposition offers enough evolvement. Or, as a matter of fact, the question arises if there isn't too much evolvement involved. Too much evolvement might change the scientific claim into a relativistic claim. When is there enough evolvement in a proposition to call it a scientific claim and not a scientistic claim? And when is there too much evolvement in a proposition to call it a scientific claim and not a relativistic claim? 
I don't agree with Sam Harris, but I have a great admiration for his guts. His guts to give his central argument.
"Here it is: Morality and values depend on the existence of conscious minds—and specifically on the fact that such minds can experience various forms of well-being and suffering in this universe. Conscious minds and their states are natural phenomena, fully constrained by the laws of the universe (whatever these turn out to be in the end). Therefore, questions of morality and values must have right and wrong answers that fall within the purview of science (in principle, if not in practice). Consequently, some people and cultures will be right (to a greater or lesser degree), and some will be wrong, with respect to what they deem important in life."
I do wonder whether you call this central argument "scientism".
And I eat his hat if your co-editor calls this central argument "scientism".

Twice in a few days time an article about a text of Massimo Pigliucci.
On the one hand, this is a pure coïncidence.
On the other hand, it is not.
You can quote a thousand of philosophers which i don't give a damn about.
I only treasure a handful of them....

65. Here we come up against the great question that lies behind
all these considerations.—For someone might object against me:
"You take the easy way out! You talk about all sorts of language-
games, but have nowhere said what the essence of a language-game,
and hence of language, is: what is common to all these activities,
and what makes them into language or parts of language. So you
let yourself off the very part of the investigation that once gave you
yourself most headache, the part about the general form of propositions and of language."
And this is true.—Instead of producing something common to
all that we call language, I am saying that these phenomena have no
one thing in common which makes us use the same word for all,—
but that they are related to one another in many different ways. And it
is because of this relationship, or these relationships, that we call them
all "language". I will try to explain this.
66. Consider for example the proceedings that we call "games".
I mean board-games, card-games, ball-games, Olympic games, and
so on. What is common to them all?—Don't say: "There
must be something common, or they would not be called 'games' "—but
look and see whether there is anything common to all.—For if you look
at them you will not see something that is common to allbut
similarities, relationships, and a whole series of them at that. To
repeat: don't think, but look!—Look for example at board-games,
with their multifarious relationships. Now pass to card-games; here
you find many correspondences with the first group, but many common
features drop out, and others appear. When we pass next to ball-
games, much that is common is retained, but much is lost.—Are they
all 'amusing'? Compare chess with noughts and crosses. Or is there
always winning and losing, or competition between players? Think
of patience. In ball games there is winning and losing; but when a
child throws his ball at the wall and catches it again, this feature has
disappeared. Look at the parts played by skill and luck; and at the
difference between skill in chess and skill in tennis. Think now of
games like ring-a-ring-a-roses; here is the element of amusement,
but how many other characteristic features have disappeared! And
we can go through the many, many other groups of games in the same
way; can see how similarities crop up and disappear.
And the result of this examination is: we see a complicated network
of similarities overlapping and criss-crossing: sometimes overall
similarities, sometimes similarities of detail.
67. I can think of no better expression to characterize these
similarities than "family resemblances"; for the various resemblances
between members of a family: build, features, colour of eyes, gait,
temperament, etc. etc. overlap and criss-cross in the same way.—
And I shall say: 'games' form a family.
And for instance the kinds of number form a family in the same way.
Why do we call something a "number"? Well, perhaps because it
has a—direct—relationship with several things that have hitherto
been called number; and this can be said to give it an indirect relation-
ship to other things we call the same name. And we extend our con-
cept of number as in spinning a thread we twist fibre on fibre. And
the strength of the thread does not reside in the fact that some one
fibre runs through its whole length, but in the overlapping of many
But if someone wished to say: "There is something common to all
these constructions—namely the disjunction of all their common
properties"—I should reply: Now you are only playing with words.
One might as well say: "Something runs through the whole thread—
namely the continuous overlapping of those fibres".

und so weiter und so fort....
Perhaps we should bear the following question in mind when reading Wittgenstein:
Is he playing a language game or is he explaining a language game?

zaterdag 13 januari 2018

Jef Delvaux

Wie zijn de invloedrijkste intellectuelen van Vlaanderen?
Het eerste wat bij mij opkomt is de vraag of je een intellectueel genoemd kan worden als je die vraag stelt. Als ik al voor mezelf zou kunnen bepalen wie het meeste invloed uitoefende op mijn denken, dan lijkt het mij nattevingerwerk om dat te bepalen voor iemand anders. Ik heb bij God geen idee wie het meeste invloed uitoefende op jullie denken.

"Uiteraard is elke lijst een momentopname", schrijft Joël De Ceulaer.
Dat is dan weer wel helemaal mijn ding.
De vraag is dan over welk moment het precies zou gaan. Het moment dat de lijst van deelnemers aan de enquête werd samengesteld lijkt me een cruciaal moment. Op dat ogenblik waren de tien mensen die met die lijst bezig waren ongetwijfeld de invloedrijkste intellectuelen van Vlaanderen.
Maar soit, als het over het moment gaat wil ik graag meedoen.
Ook al omdat ik chagrijnig ben dat ik schromelijk over het hoofd werd gezien.
Bij deze alsnog mijn top drie.
Op twee en drie ex aequo de twee dames die daarnet aan de carrefour in Herent pennen en sleutelhangers van Vredeseilanden stonden te verkopen. Ongetwijfeld de invloedrijkste intellectuelen van Vlaanderen want ik koos voor de pennen. En dat zal u dus geweten hebben.
De enige reden dat ze niet op nummer één beland zijn is hun anonimiteit. Een anonieme intellectueel, het is jammer genoeg nog niet van deze tijd.
Op nummer één: Jef Delvaux.
Een anonieme (in de betekenis van "tot gisteren was zijn bestaan mij volledig ontgaan") twitteraar op wiens account ik louter per toeval belandde. Hij heeft er de mij onbekende Elena Epaneshnik geretweet.
"In the beginning there was Beauty. Then we tried to define it."
Intellectueel uitdagend vind ik dat.

zaterdag 6 januari 2018

Massimo Pigliucci

Massimo Pigliucci wrote a book.
"How to be a stoic."
For obvious reasons, I didn't read the book. I don't want to be a stoic.
Massimo Pigliucci wrote a blog.
"What do I disagree about with the ancient stoics."
Since I don't want to be a stoic, that article arouses my interest.

Indeed, the Stoics themselves were very clear about the necessity to update their view of the world, as well as on the fact that they were not enslaved to whatever their predecessors happened to believe. In letter XXXIII to Lucilius Seneca writes:
“The truth will never be discovered if we rest contented with discoveries already made. Besides, he who follows another not only discovers nothing but is not even investigating. What then? Shall I not follow in the footsteps of my predecessors? I shall indeed use the old road, but if I find one that makes a shorter cut and is smoother to travel, I shall open the new road. Men who have made these discoveries before us are not our masters, but our guides. Truth lies open for all; it has not yet been monopolized. And there is plenty of it left even for posterity to discover.” (10-11)
I belong to that posterity Seneca is talking about, so I feel free to accept or reject whatever I find sensible in his teachings, those of Epictetus, and so forth. The problem, though, is that the development of Stoicism has been “interrupted,” so to speak. While Buddhism, say, or Confucianism, or Christianity, have developed as continuous (and more or less highly branching) traditions since their inceptions, Stoicism as an active school of thought died around the II century CE.
True, it has in the meantime influenced major thinkers, from many of the Church Fathers to Descartes and Spinoza, and it even underwent a brief revival during the Renaissance. But it is only with the modern efforts of people like Larry Becker, Don Robertson, Bill Irvine and others that it has been reborn like the Phoenix and has become a viable philosophy for modern living. That leaves a gap of 18 centuries, during which both philosophy and especially science have progressed quite a bit. I see that gap as an opportunity to reshape things while keeping the spirit of ancient Stoicism as alive as possible.

[A fairly useless debate often arises at this point: “but is it still Stoicism?” Who knows? And who is to tell? Is modern Christianity really Christianity? What about modern Buddhism? I think that so long as people are inspired by these traditions and they keep an honest attitude toward maintaining what they see as the core of those traditions, then all is fine and good. But if you are interested in pointless debates about the true nature of philosophies and religions, the Sophistry Club is meeting around the corner. Have fun!]

I want to write a book.
"How to be a sophist."
I am inspired by this tradition and I 'll keep an honest attitude toward maintaining what I see as the core of this tradition. The core of the sophist tradition is "the essence doesn't change."
Let me give you an example.

Should I kill myself or have a cup of coffee? The Stoics and Existentialists agree on the answer

Saturday 06th November
Drinking coffee is not a blasé choice, but an affirmation that life is worth living
| Visiting Professor at Columbia University, City College of New York, and Barnard College
Massimo Pigliucci | K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York.
64 30.6K 3477 Google +
When every day many of us wake up to read about fresh horrors on our fresh horrors device, we might find ourselves contemplating the question as to whether, as Albert Camus supposedly put it, one should kill oneself or have a cup of coffee. If there is any philosopher who is famous for contemplating suicide, it’s Camus who, in a more serious tone, proposed that, “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide.”[1]
The existentialists and Stoics are notorious for being at loggerheads on many issues. Yet Simone de Beauvoir, who was much less famous for her views on suicide than Camus, gives an example that shows the existential answer isn’t so far removed from the Stoic one – a fascinating case of philosophical convergence, two millennia apart.
In 1954, Beauvoir was awarded France’s most prestigious literary prize for her book The Mandarins, in which the main character Anne contemplates suicide. When once she saw the world as vast and inexhaustible, she now looks at it with indifference: “The earth is frozen over; nothingness has reclaimed it.” Her great love affair has collapsed, her daughter has grown up and no longer needs her, and she finds her profession unfulfilling. It’s not only that she feels her life no longer counts, but also existing is torturous and her memories are agony. Suicide seems like an escape from the pain. Clutching the brown vial of poison, Anne hears her daughter’s voice outside and it jars her into considering the effect of her death on other people. “My death does not belong to me,” she concludes, because “it’s the others who would live my death.”
 "If having a cup of coffee is a blasé return to the quotidian, then that’s just not good enough. However, if one embraces the coffee as a meaningful part of one’s existence, for example, as an affirmation that life is worth living, then choose your espresso and leap into the day."

In her later autobiography, Beauvoir said that she wanted Anne’s survival in her mundane existence to seem like a defeat.[2]  This outcome implies not only that suicide is difficult, but that its difficulty lies in the fact that apathy is not a viable option – which one of the characters suggests earlier in the book. Living isn’t just about breathing; living implies that you actively recognize value in life, which Anne found in her relationships. Other people don’t always infuse our life with joy, but they can certainly give it meaning. 
Nevertheless, embracing life and living passionately when one is despondent about existence is easier said than done. There is no explicit answer in The Mandarins. In typical existential style, it’s up to us to work it out for ourselves, to figure out what gives our life meaning. However, elsewhere, Beauvoir gives a more active interpretation: “Change your life today. Don't gamble on the future, act now, without delay,”[3] implying that we might only get one life, so let’s treat it as a gift and make the most of it. If having a cup of coffee is a blasé return to the quotidian, then that’s just not good enough. However, if one embraces the coffee as a meaningful part of one’s existence, for example, as an affirmation that life is worth living, then choose your espresso and leap into the day. 
The Stoic philosopher Epictetus provides a more direct answer. Suicide is ethically acceptable, but only under extreme circumstances. He uses a famous analogy, with a house on fire, full of smoke: “Don’t believe your situation is genuinely bad – no one can make you do that. Is there smoke in the house? If it’s not suffocating, I will stay indoors; if it proves too much, I’ll leave. Always remember – the door is open.”[4] The choice is up to you: if you truly think the situation is unbearable, the door is open. But if you stay, you accept the responsibility of doing whatever it takes to live a life worth living.
In book II.15 of the Discourses Epictetus is told that a friend is starving himself to death, a common form of suicide in ancient times. He rushes to him and offers support, but discovers that the friend is letting himself die for no good reason at all. Tellingly, Epictetus then says: “If your decision is justified, look, here we are at your side and ready to help you on your way; but if your decision is unreasonable, you ought to change it.”
And what counts as a reasonable decision? The Stoics, practical philosophers that they are, tell us by example. Zeno, the founder of the school, let himself die of starvation because he was too old, fragile and dependent on others to be able to contribute any more to society; Cato the Younger, the archenemy of Julius Caesar, committed suicide in order not to be used as a political pawn by the tyrant; and Seneca tells us of an unnamed slave, captured after a battle, who decided that death was preferable to slavery.
 "No one knows when our time is up. But precisely because we don’t know when life is going to end, the Stoics say that we should live every moment to the fullest, engaging our life in the here and now."

But there is a positive flip side to this coin: what makes a life worth living is being useful to others, trying to make the world a better place, our relationships with people we love, and our freedom as moral agents. So long as we have those things, even in limited measure, we stay. And the very fact that there is an open door is a guarantee of freedom for the Stoics. It’s the reassuring knowledge that, if things are really unbearable, you can walk out. As Seneca put it, liberty is as close as your wrists.
No one knows when our time is up. But precisely because we don’t know when life is going to end, the Stoics say that we should live every moment to the fullest, engaging our life in the here and now. If we do things that we don’t enjoy, or are not important, we are wasting the only resource for which people cannot possibly pay us back: time. As Seneca puts it: “Hold every hour in your grasp. Lay hold of today’s task, and you will not need to depend so much upon tomorrow’s. While we are postponing, life speeds by.”[5] Marcus Aurelius, the philosopher-emperor, agrees: “A limit of time is fixed for you, which if you do not use for clearing away the clouds from your mind, it will go and you will go, and it will never return.”[6]
So the answer to Camus’ question is the one given by Epictetus: no, you shouldn’t commit suicide so long as you are up to do what Marcus called the job of a human being. Grab a cup of joe, and focus on appreciating and creating meaningful relationships, projects to pursue, useful things to contribute to others, and things to learn for yourself. So long as that’s true, do as Anne does, and stay. If, however, the room gets too smoky for you (and we are not talking about cigarette smoke, which would be a problem for a lot of existentialists), then you do have the option to walk through the door. Stoics and existentialists agree that meaning in life does not come from the outside; it is constructed by you as a moral agent. Therefore, the decision as to whether to commit suicide or have a cup of coffee is also entirely yours. So far as the two of us are concerned, we are about to head out to the nearest java joint. Care to join us?

[1] Camus, Albert. 2000. The Myth of Sisyphus. Translated by Justin O'Brien. London: Penguin. Original edition, 1942, 3.
[2] de Beauvoir, Simone. 1968. Force of Circumstance. Translated by Richard Howard. Middlesex, England: Penguin Books, 283.
[3] Schwarzer, Alice. 1984. After The Second Sex: Conversations with Simone de Beauvoir. Translated by Marianne Horwarth. New York: Pantheon Books, 29.
[4] Discourses I, 25.17-18
[5] I. On Saving Time, 2
[6] Meditations II.4

What is the essence?

« Non, je ne suis pas existentialiste. Sartre et moi nous étonnons toujours de voir nos deux noms associés (…) Sartre est existentialiste, et le seul livre d’idées que j’ai publié, le mythe de Sisyphe, était dirigé contre les philosophies dites existentialistes (15 novembre 1945)
Deux semaines avant sa mort Camus écrivait à un professeur américain : L’existentialisme chez nous aboutit à une théologie sans dieu et à une scholastique dont il était inévitable qu’elles finissent par justifier des régimes d’inquisition.(Essais, 1965). On ne peut qu’admirer la persévérance de ces critiques littéraires et de ces historiens de la pensée qui passent outre à de telles prises de position et qui, aujourd’hui encore, taxent d’existentialiste celui qui écrivit dans le Mythe de Sisyphe (1942) : L’existentialisme est un suicide philosophique.

Maybe we can talk about it over a cup of coffee.