Ultimate Questions1  by Bryan Magee


 “WE HAD NO SAY IN EXISTING – WE WERE NOT GIVEN any choice. We just woke up into the world and found ourselves in it…most of us are in thrall to an instinct for survival that is programmed into us biologically. We are here now, and we want to go on living; so we try to make the best of it.” – Bryan Magee.2




On a recent trip to Boston, I found myself in the Harvard Book Store where I found this jewel of a book by Bryan Magee. I was familiar with Professor Magee (1930-2019) from YouTube searches I did on philosophy in the last four years. He hosted programs on the BBC in the 1970s and 1980s where he discussed and interviewed famous living philosophers on their philosophies or on their understanding of the thoughts of earlier philosophers.  His guests included W. V. Quine, Noam Chomsky,  A.J. Ayer, Hilary Putnam,  and many others and his subjects included Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Marx,  Heidegger, Wittgenstein, Logical Positivism, and so forth. I found his clarifications of even complex philosophical subjects incredibly helpful. I strongly advise my readers to check out his programs – Men of Ideas, Thinking Aloud, and The Great Philosophers – on YouTube.

His obituary available at says he was a visiting professor at Harvard, Yale, Oxford, King’s College among others, published over 20 books, was an authority on Richard Wagner, an erstwhile television and media critic, and twice a member of the British Parliament in addition to his broadcast career. According to Wikipedia, Ultimate Questions was his last book (2016), but in the author’s opinion his only original contribution to philosophy. He was quoted in 2018, then living in a nursing home, that with this book he hoped to approach the originality of Karl Popper, Bertrand Russell, or Einstein “not because I want to be a clever chap but because I want to do things that are at a much better level than I have done them”3 – hard to believe!

The 127 pages that make up the text are divided into seven chapters of 10 to 26 pages each. The first chapter called Space and Time begins  with the simple observation that if we use 100 years as the extreme of age occurring in every era, human civilization is only 60 lives and Jesus is only 20 persons ago. Nonetheless, “each of us has no choice but to live the whole of his life in his own little bit of time.”4 Also “while we are enjoying our moment, our spatial movements are confined to a small space, so our limitations in that dimension too are draconian.”5  He then takes on reality in its totality reminding us that Einstein proved there is no objective now or flow of time, only time sequences, and that even at the speed of light, humans having short lifespans will always be limited to a small area of the cosmos. He reminds us that our apprehension of things is affected by relative sizes, that all beings are temporary rearrangements of subatomic matter that is continuously reshuffled, and that there is far too much in the universe for any of us to know or understand. He states his thesis succinctly: “it is surely clear that reality will never be intellectually mastered by humans.”6

(continued next post)


1Magee, Bryan, Ultimate Questions. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 2016. ISBN 978-0-691-17812-7.

2Ibid., page 33.

3Wikipedia, Bryan Magee.

4Magee, Bryan, Ultimate Questions. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 2016. ISBN 978-0-691-17812-7, page 7.

5Ibid., page 8.

6Ibid., page 15.

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CURRENT READING – 1984 (continued)

Last time I introduced the novel 1984 by George Orwell (pen name of Eric Blair) and mused about his innovative words and concepts and made a few allusions to some contemporary analogies. Today I would like to dive deeper into some personal philosophical themes that arose.

The first is privacy and its linkage to freedom. Perhaps being a child of the twentieth century, I see privacy as a personal good (under Security).1 The ancient Greek philosophers saw the quest for fame as futile and ultimately meaningless; the corollary then is that a degree of anonymity is valuable, particularly in larger societies where public recognition may impede freedom in action. The Orwellian vision of zero privacy and the control it entails is a patent evil. It seems to me that similarly social media such as Facebook impose some loss of freedom in exchange for dubious meaning of fabricated celebrity.

The second is truth – seemingly as subjective as beauty when controlled by the Party in 1984, but Orwell in fact poses the question for all of us. Is truth found in documents, newsprint, and on-line media, or in personal experience and memory? We have discussed how cultural reality is the most elusive of all levels of reality2, and I believe Orwell is warning us to verify societal truths with multiple sources of information, one’s memory, and careful reflection. In Winston’s words, “Perhaps a lunatic was simply a minority of one,”3 “Sanity is not statistical,”4 and “The heresy of heresies was common sense.”5 The lesson is clear: independent thinking may be frowned upon, but we have a duty to ourselves to persist in it.

The third theme is suffering. Power for Orwell is the ability to make another person suffer. In the police state, even the higher-ups suffer for the collective power of the Party. Symbolically we must accept that suffering is the price of human existence, one of the fundamental principles of the universe. How we handle our particular suffering is the crux of the issue as so many great thinkers (e.g. Buddha, Jesus, Nietzsche, and Viktor Frankl) have taught us. Transcendence of suffering deprives circumstances of their power over us.

The last theme concerns the correct conduct of life. Within the framework of the police state, Winton’s girlfriend, Julia, creates a space for the life she wants. “Life as she saw it was quite simple. You wanted a good time; ‘they,’ meaning the Party, wanted to stop you having it; you broke the rules as best your could.”6 There can be not doubt – we must each choose our own life, whatever the obstacles; and happiness is ever a goal worth seeking. I would add meaning is also worth seeking whatever the hurdles.

In short, the four most important personal philosophical themes that arose in my mind on contemplating 1984 were privacy’s vital role in personal freedom, the nature of truth (especially societal reality), the meaning of suffering, and the conduct proper to an authentic life. I welcome readers to offer others or a critique of mine.


2See on this site Cultural Reality on November 21 and 23, 2018 and Current Reading: Fake News on December 14, 2018.

3Orwell, George, 1984. New American Library, New York, 1977. Page 80.

4Ibid., page 217.

5Ibid., page 80.

6Ibid., page 131.

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“Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.” – George Orwell, 1984, Book One, Chapter III.






Before returning to virtue and the meaningful life, I thought I would write about my latest book finished, George Orwell’s 1984. I missed this book in high school when I was assigned Neville Shute’s excellent On The Beach while other students read 1984, Alas Babylon, or Brave New World. I finally picked up the Signet Classics version with an afterword by Erich Fromm at a local book fair last September. The final impetus to read the book was seeing the last program of Simon Schama’s A History of Britain called The Two Winstons. In that program he weaves the fabric of postmodern Britain by comparing and contrasting Winston Churchill with Eric Blair (pen name George Orwell) whose main character in 1984 is named Winston Smith.

Blair was born in British India in 1903, but schooled at Eton in England. He had mostly unpleasant experience as a policeman in British Burma and as a Loyalist in the Spanish Civil War. He was a socialist, but detested communism and especially Totalitarianism. He also detested dishonesty and cruelty, particularly by government, even when done for presumably good ends. He wrote eight novels although only one other, Animal Farm, is well known, He also wrote his autobiography and several political essays before dying of tuberculosis at the age of forty-six.

The novel can be summarized as one man’s journey and failure to remain free and sane in a future dystopian police state. The book is full of wonderful  made-up terms with poignant meanings, such as Newspeak, doublethink, thoughtcrime, unperson, and blackwhite. Blair invents the speakwrite (voice-recognition dictation), the memory hole (where accurate historical documents are incinerated) and the ubiquitous, dreaded, two way telescreens. Winston lives in a world of Victory Mansions (dilapidated old buildings) and Victory Gin (a horrible-tasting alcoholic beverage). Society is partitioned into 2% Inner Party, about 13% Outer Party (those most to be thought controlled), and 85% Proles (poor, uneducated, and insignificant workers). Party members participate in daily Two Minutes Hate and annual Hate Week. 

Everywhere are oversized pictures of the Stalin-like Big Brother who “is watching you.”  The government consists of four paradoxically-named branches: the Ministry of Truth (which disperses misinformation), the Ministry of Love (which brutally maintains order), the Ministry of Peace (which maintains perpetual war to keep the citizenry poor and distracted), and the Ministry of Plenty (which assures unending poverty and scarcity). Three oxymoronic slogans describe the Party’s philosophy; (1) War is Peace, (2) Freedom is Slavery, and (3) Ignorance is Strength.

Frequent readers of this site will know that in general I avoid social commentary and political philosophy, but one would be hard pressed to read 1984 and not notice some haunting analogies between Orwell’s dystopian world and our own. Instead of the Party we have the tyrannical majority (or is it the loud minority?). Instead of the ‘rectification’ of history, we have the press’s control of its chosen and changing narrative, public ostracism for contrary viewpoints, and disinformation in the form of internet ‘fake news’ and major party propaganda. Instead of telescreens we have pervasive social media, cell phone tracking, and cameras on every corner. I leave the reader to further critique our reality as seen through the lens of 1984.

(continued next post)

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“How the devil do I know? Has the question itself any meaning?” – George Bernard Shaw (response to Will Durant on the meaning of life).1



In the last two blogs I introduced a book based on a letter Will Durant sent to prominent individuals seeking solace from the melancholy of the 1930’s and their thoughts on what makes life meaningful. We saw how answers fell into categories of activity in life, domestic affectations, human accomplishments, spirituality, ethics, and Nature. Today we look at the thoughts of Durant himself and a surprising letter he received from a life-term convict.


Using this title,  Durant begins, “I suspect there is some ultimate significance to everything, though I know our little minds will never fathom it.”2 The meaning of anything lies in its relation as a part to a whole making it impossible for us, as parts, to understand ultimate meaning. However humanity’s limits in knowing apply equally to optimistic and pessimistic views of meaning. In the face of uncertainty, equanimity comes from healthy skepticism and even a humorous view of scientific, historical, and philosophical pronouncements. We must recognize that men are mortal but are not machines, vices are vestiges of historic virtues, and progress involves setbacks.

He tells us while “life has no meaning outside of its own terrestrial self…within these limits is still much room to find significance for one’s life and a moderate content.”3 The meaning of life must be “sought in life’s own instinctive cravings and natural fulfillments.”4 The simplest of these are joy in the very experience of living itself, the appreciation of beauty, the love of friends and family, and parenthood. In order to give life greater meaning, one must be part of a something larger than oneself, some cause which becomes “a task which consumes all one’s energies and makes human life a little richer than before.”5 He advises us, “a man should have many irons in the fire”6 – don’t tie happiness entirely to a single outlet. And as a last resort there is always the contemplation of Nature herself.


The book ends on a response received from Owen C. Middleton, a prisoner serving a life sentence. Despite this grim future, Middleton believes his life can be meaningful – as he says “life is worth just what I am willing to strive to make it worth.”7 Truth is neither ugly nor beautiful, but simply truth; and most ‘truths’ are simply beliefs. “Truth tells us that happiness is a state of mental contentment”8 which can be found anywhere, thus “its logical abode must be within the mind.”9  Beyond this he thinks progress like evolution comes from inventiveness, the world is orderly, and life and the universe are like a river moving invariably forward despite the eddies and currents. No man who chooses to continue living can deny life has meaning even if it is only in the hope of the future.

Middleton closes: “How I play my part is all that concerns me. In the knowledge that I am an inalienable part of this great, wonderful, upward movement called life, and that nothing, neither pestilence, nor physical afflictions, nor depression, nor prison, can take away from me my part, lies my consolation, my inspiration, and my treasure.”10


1Durant, Will and Middleton, Owen C., On the Meaning of Life. Ray Long & Richard R. Smith, Inc., New York, 1932. Page 107.

2Ibid., page 112.

3Ibid., page 123.

4Ibid., page 124.

5Ibid., page 129.

6Ibid., page 130.

7Ibid., page 138.

8Ibid., page 140.

9Ibid., page 141.

10Ibid., page 144.

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Last time I introduced Will Durant’s 1931 book, On The Meaning of Life, by outlining the letter he sent to over 100 prominent individuals seeking a their thoughts on the melancholic view of the meaning of life in the midst of a world-wide depression.


He does not specify how many responses he received to his letter, but he publishes at least parts of twenty-seven. The categories of perceived meaning in life in order of declining frequency of mention are:

  1. Active function in life – particularly being occupied in something you love, commitment to action or to a cause. As H. L. Mencken tells us, “Life demands to be lived.”2
  2. Domestic affections – family and friends. Gina Lombroso writes, “I think the primordial reason of living is love. Love for the family is the best known and the easiest.”3
  3. Man’s accomplishments – especially knowledge, science, music, and art.
  4. Spirituality with or without religion – or as Gandhi replied, “Religion not in the conventional but in the broadest sense helps me to have a glimpse of the Divine essence.”4
  5. Ethics and morality- or as John Erskine says it, “I believe the divine element in man is whatever it is which makes us wish to lead a life worth remembering, harmless to others, helpful to them, and increasing our own store of wisdom an peace.”5
  6. Nature – expressed beautifully by John Cowper Powys, “The most magical powers, values, sensations of these secrets of life are still to be found in Nature…”6

It is worth noting that several respondents specifically state they see life as meaningful even in the absence of belief in God and immortality. Some also scoff at the question particularly the writers Theodore Dreiser and  George Bernard Shaw and the philosopher Bertrand Russell.

So we see that modern people come to similar answers as the ancient sages: Aristotle (the active life), Christ (the love of others), Epicurus (man’s accomplishments), Hindu wise men ( human spirituality), the Stoics (ethics), the Cynics (Nature), the Skeptics (the absence of an answer). We continue next time with Durant’s thoughts and the thoughts of a life-term convict.


2Durant, Will and Middleton, Owen C., On the Meaning of Life. Ray Long & Richard R. Smith, Inc., New York, 1932. Page30.

3Ibid., page 96.

4Ibid., page 84.

5Ibid., page 41.

6Ibid., page 44.

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“The horrible thing about looking for truth is that one finds it.” – Remy De Gourmont.


“I am sorry to say that at the moment I am so busy as to be convinced that life has no meaning whatever…I do not see that we can judge what would be the result of the discovery of truth, since none has hitherto been discovered.” – Bertrand Russell (response to Will Durant on the meaning of life).

For Christmas this year I asked for and received one of the books that I did not have by Will Durant with the intriguing title On the Meaning of Life.  The pretext is simple – Durant prepares a letter in 1931 sent to over 100 famous contemporaries summarizing the melancholy outlook of his generation on the meaning of life and asking for a response. This seemingly naïve endeavor nets a number of interesting replies which make up the body of the book. Durant himself responds to his original pessimistic letter and some of the replies he received in the third section of the book which finally closes with an essay on life’s meaning by a life-term convict.


Durant starts by admitting he is not himself despondent about the value of life, but wishes to confront the “the bitterest possibilities…in such a ways as to guard against the superficial optimism with which men are wont to turn aside the profounder issues of life.”1  He breaks the argument for doubt into 5 categories:

  1. Religion – the failure of hope and faith and the risk of despair in the turbulent world.
  2. Science – diminishing man and his place in the universe and his noble emotions such as love.
  3. History – change without progress and civilizations as futile and often forgotten.
  4. Utopia – a vain hope as man does not change and war destroys all progress towards it.
  5. Suicide of the Intellect – without God, thought including philosophy appears ultimately destructive.

In his letter he freely admits to the recipients that his has been a life of thought and now he seeks answers from persons who have lived as well as thought.

(continued next post)


1Durant, Will and Middleton, Owen C., On the Meaning of Life. Ray Long & Richard R. Smith, Inc., New York, 1932. Page 6.

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Last time we saw how Susan Wolf considers a meaningful life as one that includes enthusiastic involvement in objectively worthwhile projects though she drops the word ‘project’ in her slogan: “Meaning arises when subjective attraction meets objective attractiveness.” Her examples include creating, promoting or protecting things of value, helping others, achieving a skill, even “communing with or actively appreciating what is there to be appreciated.”2

She proposes and responds to likely objections to her thesis. First is the question of philosophical justification of the designation ‘worthwhile.’ Her response is that no proof is possible, but clearly most of us believe in varying worth of projects or activities – for example counting blades of grass versus seeking a cure for cancer. Second she responds to the existential objections of human mortality, lack of divine origin of morality, and cosmic indifference. She thinks these positions represents an irrational obsession with permanence and grand significance. She admits assumption as her basis for worthwhile, but notes most skeptics concede there are better and worse ways to live, and the difference between their positions and hers may be primarily semantic. Third she responds to Richard Taylor’s description of subjectivity of self-interest raised in Good and Evil, where he suggests the subjective account of meaning is just that a meaningful life is one perceived by the individual as meaningful. Wolf does not like the circularity this entails so proposes an alternate account of subjectivity; the sense of ‘fulfillment’ as a particular kind of pleasure that confirms meaning via objectively worthwhile “cognitive content,’ even when not “best for me.”3

Wolf also concedes she is unable to prove that self-interest includes belief in the meaningfulness of one’s life through worthwhile activities, but contend most people intuitively agree once it is explained to them. In fact, Wolf claims the desire for meaningfulness is a defining feature of humanity vis-a-vis the brutes. It may even be considered self-evident.

Still meaningfulness, in her opinion, is not an instrumental good or merely the path to fulfillment, rather fulfillment is the confirmation of the meaningfulness of an activity. In her deconstruction of self-interest she crystalizes her position: much of what we do is neither out of duty nor fun, but instead meaningfulness. Nonetheless from a practical standpoint, meaning is inexact; we cannot and need not aspire to finding activities of the “greatest” meaning. At the end of the day meaningfulness often trumps self-interest.

I find Wolf’s thesis intriguing, first because I see few philosophers who challenge Aristotle’s belief that all human motivation distills down to the quest for happiness, and second because her method involves less logical proof and more intuition, consensus, reasonable argument, and human experience – the very building blocks of practical philosophy. But most importantly I detect in her theory of self-interest an affirmation that summum bonum for us is happiness and meaning.


1Bonjour, Laurence and Baker, Ann (Editors), Philosophical Problems. Pearson Education, Inc., New York, 2005. ISBN 0-321-23659-9, pages 834-848.

2It seems this is operative in the case of relationship to ultimate reality, whether cosmic or divine.

3I discussed a comparable thesis in the post The Meaning of Life- Non-Physical Pleasure, on 9/14/20.

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“Self-interest is but the survival of the animal in us. Humanity only begins for man with self-surrender.” – Henri Frederick Amiel, 19th century Swiss philosopher.

In the continuing search for the definitive philosophical library, I have come across some remarkable books, but one of the most unusual was an unopened cellophane–wrapped textbook, with the intriguing title, Philosophical Problems. It is rare for me to purchase a book without at least looking through the table of contents, but I could not pass this one up because of its pristine condition and because on the front it says “instructor’s use only” and on the back it says “NOT FOR SALE.” That made me wonder what secrets it might contain, and I won’t deny I hesitated to open its packaging for several years. When I finally opened it, I found it really was simply an anthology, albeit of some truly great philosophical essays, with frequent teacher annotations. I suppose “NOT FOR SALE” meant not for sale to students, though this seems silly – what harm is done by giving students help in understanding complicated philosophical theses; and why should college professors require such help – seems oxymoronic to me.

Be that as it may, the 86 essays are superbly chosen. Examples include some of our old friends – Aquinas’ The Five Ways from Summa Theologica, William James’ The Will to Believe, selections from Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics, and portions of John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice. But there are also many less familiar works such as Thomas Reid’s Direct Realism, Thomas Nagel’s What It Is Like to Be a Bat, and Robert Nozich’s The Experience Machine.

However, the most compelling one for me was Happiness and Meaning: Two Aspects of the Good Life1 by Susan Wolf examining the relationship of happiness and meaning, what I identify as the summum bonum, to the good life.2 Wolf’s essay is complex, so I can only incompletely address her main insights. Her launching point for the discussion is the concept of self-interest, i.e. motivation by what is good for or minimizes bad for oneself. Her general thesis is that meaningfulness is an important element of a good life, hence ‘enlightened self-interest’ entails securing meaning in one’s life.

She starts with Derek Parfit’s theories of motivations of self-interest; (1) Hedonistic – felt quality of one’s experience, (2) Preference – good as our wants (e.g. posthumous fame), and (3) Objective List – items valued for neither positive experience nor mere preference, but as good in themselves. Her argument is that meaningfulness is of the last type. She then defines  a meaningful life as one with active engagement in worthwhile projects, where active means excited or gripped involvement (as opposed to boredom or alienation) and worthwhile implies at least partial independence of subjective preferences.

(continued next post)

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CURRENT READING -The Philosopher’s Magazine – Who is a meaning of life for?

“There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy”- Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus.

The second quarter 2020 issue of The Philosopher’s Magazine1 includes an essay with the intriguing title Who Is a Meaning of Life For? by Elijah Millgram of the University of Utah. This is quite timely as I begin to delve into the question of what a meaningful life is by permitting a preface to that section.

Millgram begins by recalling a comment by Gisela Striker, a historian of ancient philosophy, that she hoped life didn’t have a meaning, because it would be too oppressive. Millgram transposes this into a more than rhetorical proposition; perhaps “we shouldn’t simply take it for granted that we want meaningful lives.”2 He begins with the example of John Stuart Mill (on whom he wrote a book) who made his life’s meaning ‘the Utilitarian Enterprise’ but eventually felt himself trapped by it.

By comparison, Millgram posits Friedrich Nietzsche who in The Gay Science suggests one’s ‘purpose for existence’ can be achieved by finding an interpretation that covers what one has already done. Here the goal is to lock everything down through ingenuity and inventiveness so that one’s entire life in all its meaningless detail is reconfigured into a unifying purpose which one can then embrace in conformity with Nietzsche’s metaphysical theory of ‘eternal return.’  But Milligram thinks such an artistic reconstruction of one’s life ultimately reflects Nietzsche’s rock bottom cynicism as to whether reality matters at all.

In brief then, J.S. Mill sees meaning as guiding action and Nietzsche sees it as reconciliation. Alternatively the desire for a meaningful life can viewed as a prison or a fanatical delusion.  Millgram offers a third option, the denial of the need for a meaning of life, concluding with the perplexing question, “What do I want it [a meaning of life] for?”3

I would reply that perhaps Millgram is conflating the meaningful life with  the purposeful life. I believe the reason we want to find purpose is because it is one of the four components of the meaningful life. The other three are contentment, virtue, and resolution of one’s relationship to ultimate reality. Each of the four is difficult to achieve, but all are worthy of attainment. And why do we want these? Well, because they compose the summum bonum of happiness and meaning. The next section on this site will investigate all of them  and answer Millgram’s question.


1Garvey, James (editor), The Philosopher’s Magazine. Issue 89, 2nd  Quarter 2020.

2Ibid., page 50.

3Ibid., page 54.



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Last time I reviewed Dr. Robert Pasnau’s essay Snatching Hope from the Jaws of Epistemic Defeat where he discusses radical skepticism and offers his response -the hopeful affirmation of evidence-based credence – arguing the goal of finding truth and avoiding error is trumped by the importance of being able to live a full life within the bounds of uncertainty. I enjoyed reading his article and appreciate his solution to the problem of skepticism, but today I wish to offer an alternative to mere hope.

It seems to me the practical philosopher should not choose wholeheartedly to embrace propositions based on credibility alone. Rather I think we must choose courses of action within our uncertainty that offer the best outcome should we be wrong, that is, pragmatic conduct. I offer three examples of increasing uncertainty.

First, absolute evil – take for instance whether the blinding of innocent animals is good or evil. While this seems self-evident, the radical skeptic may derive an argument I cannot that this action is justifiable or desirable. Pragmatically however, I choose not to blind innocent animals as there is no apparent value to me as a person; the choice not to commit this apparent evil has no untoward consequences.

Second is the near certain proposition that i should try to make a good life for myself within the limit of not interfering with this goal for others. I may be wrong; in fact, making a good life for myself may be impossible, but by attempting I have only the possibility of making a good life for myself in which case my life is good, or failing in which case I am no worse off than if I thought I should not make a good life for myself. Pragmatism succeeds again (although hope might here as well).

My last example comes from the plot line of The Bhagavad Gita where Arjuna, the protagonist, must decide between his duty to his side in a battle where the opposing side includes his friends, teachers, and even family (alternatively you may consider choosing the union side in the American Civil War). It appears impossible to determine whether duty to some of our friends and family is ethically correct compared to avoiding harm to others of them– here we have almost no level of certainty. The pragmatic solution is to do both. While we have a duty to provide service to our side, we can choose service that does not entail harming others – we can choose to be medics, or unarmed messengers, staff personnel, or other non-combatants – many of which involve opportunities for the epitome of heroism and sacrifice.

The reason I took on the project to develop practical philosophy from the teaching of the great thinkers was to offer ethical balance in conduct within the framework of a life full of uncertainty. Hope is a valuable human emotion, but a meaningful life requires virtue, and that demands we factor in the uncertainties in reality. In that sense I would consider myself, following Pasnau’s lead, a pragmatic epistemic defeatist, although I dislike the term.

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