Scientific Assumptions

For a long time, science has operated on the assumption that nature is ruled by causality. What this means, however, is by no means clear to philosophers, and has become a major philosophical debate during the 20th century. Wittgenstein is one of the more prominent skeptics. He argues in the Tractatus that when we scientifically explain something, we try to […]

Holidays in the Bay Area

The holiday season starts with Thanksgiving (end of November) and lasts throughout December. It includes Hannukah,  the Winter solstice, Kwanzaa, Christmas, as well as a few other memorable events, like our tribute to consumerism, Black Friday. This year was extreme: The worst wildfire season in California’s history killed many people and filled the Bay Area with fire smoke for days. It […]

Challenges of the Anthropocene

This paper draws on early twentieth-century philosophical anthropology as well as cognitive science and evolutionary anthropology to examine how humans compensated for their biological under-determination by becoming second-natured, empathetic, cooperative, symbol-using creatures. Examining the capacities for cooperation that emerged in our evolutionary history may help clarify our thinking about contemporary problems that require collective decisions.

The History of South East Asia

Southeast Asia is an extremely diverse region on Earth. It consists of many large and small ecological areas. It has a staggering variety of economic, social, and cultural niches. Hundreds of ethnic groups and languages coexist in the space between the two large cultural neighbors, India and China. Over the centuries, the region has been colonized by the Europeans, and in the aftermath, it has developed its independence with a strong underlying sense of unity. unity,

South East Asia

I became interested in South East Asia in recent years, and I traveled through the region during the summer of 2017. I live in the Bay Area of California,  which is increasingly influenced not only by China, but also by Vietnam, the Philippines, and Thailand. America’s identity is deeply intertwined with Asia: The American defeat in the Vietnam war changed […]

Humanistic Psychology

Humanistic psychology is a psychological perspective that emphasizes the study of the whole person. Humanistic psychologists look at human behavior not only through the eyes of the observer, but through the eyes of the person who acts, thinks, or experiences the world. They believe that an individual’s behavior cannot be separated from her feelings, her intentions, her self-image, or her […]

World Urbanization Trends

“The city allows you to become yourself by making a stranger of you.” We are experiencing a historical transition – human civilization will more and more coalesce into very large urban centers. Cities are the manifestation of the cultural, economic and social acceleration that we have experienced in the last century. In 1950 about 2/3 of the population worldwide lived in rural areas, and 1/3 in urban settlements. By 2050, we will roughly see the reverse distribution, with more than 6 billion people living in the crowded environment of urbanized areas.

Can Ethics be the First Philosophy?

Emmanuel Levinas is a unique philosopher in the 20th century. He redefines traditional philosophy by radically re-thinking it from the point of view of justice, which in his understanding originates in the encounter with the other. For Aristotle, the “first philosophy” is metaphysics: what is the meaning of the verb “to be.” This leads to a whole system of ontology that serves as the background to 2500 years of metaphysical thought.
Levinas suggests a radical turn. “This is the question of the meaning of being: not the ontology of the understanding of that extraordinary verb, but the ethics of its justice. The question ‘par excellence’ or the question of philosophy. Not ‘Why being rather than nothing?’, but how being justifies itself.”

The Execution of Damiens

The use of torture as a form of punishment was commonplace in European societies into the early 19th century. Today, we are outraged by mass killings, genocide, and ISIS beheadings, but extreme violence has always been there; it runs deep in human history. We are all traumatized, and it is difficult to work through the shadows of our violent past. […]

Shrump II: Madness, Fascism, and Resistance.

Silence from the country’s mental health organizations has been due to a self-imposed rule about evaluating public figures. But this silence has resulted in a failure to lend our expertise to worried journalists and members of Congress at this critical time. We fear that too much is at stake to be silent any longer… We believe that the grave emotional instability indicated by Mr. Trump’s speech and actions makes him incapable of serving safely as president.

Shrump I: Post-Democracy in America?

Before I get started, let’s introduce a new term that helps us to appreciate the differences between words, their meaning, and reality itself. You may wonder what a “shrump” is. If you google it you will find that the definition is still in flux, and ranges from a “pickled shrimp” to a twitter hashtag, and to what I am suggesting here, namely […]

God bless America!

You wake up and realize that a dystopian vision has become reality: America just became Trump University. There is no termination clause in the contract, and the sale is final. What went wrong? Hillary won in terms of absolute numbers, but lost the election. She received 48% against his 46.5%, or around 3 million votes more than Trump, out of 120 million […]

Cicero

I recently added some texts from the ancient Roman politician and philosopher Cicero (106 – 43 BC) to this blog. Cicero rose to the highest political offices in Rome, and he defended the Roman Republic, a limited version of democracy within an oligarchy, against various attempts by individuals and small groups to usurp power. He saw the rise of Caesar, […]

Sunset over the Bay Area

“To leave out beautiful sunsets is the secret of good taste.” (Dejan Stojanovic.) Well, occasionally we fail. A spontaneous walk in the evening, without much expectation, and suddenly, there it was, this sunset over the Bay Area, viewed from Tilden Park. In California we are fortunate enough to have the Ocean in the West, which means that the sun sinks into the ocean, if […]

Pacific Gardens

This is part two of my travel report through the Pacific Northwest. One of my goals for this trip was to visit several gardens. The climate along the coast of California, Oregon, and Washington is mediterranean: warm, sunny, with mild winters, and plenty of moist air from the ocean – in other words, the region is ideal for gardening! In this […]

Landscapes in the Pacific Northwest

It’s about a thousand miles to drive on Highway 1 from San Francisco to Port Angeles, the northern-most town that connects the US and Canada. The drive along the ocean is beautiful, through vast coastal landscapes and ancient forests. One can find some of the tallest and oldest trees in the world along this remote coastline, small fishing towns, Indian reservations, and several world-famous National Parks. I travelled […]

Eastern Europe

I spent some time during the summer of 2015 traveling through Eastern Europe. It has changed dramatically since 1991, the year in which the Sowjet Union dissolved and the Warsaw Pact ended. Former Czechoslovakia became two countries, and former Yugoslavia fragmented in 1991/1992 into six states (Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Croatia, and Slovenia). This led to several wars in the territory of former Yugoslavia, […]

Development in Africa

The development of Africa is an under-rated success story at the beginning of the 21st century. It has economic growth rates above 5% for the last 15 years, and it is modernizing at a fast pace. In 2015, the continent has 1.2 billion people, living in 54 different countries. The borders for most of these countries were drawn during the era […]

Europe: What now?

When I grew up in West Germany in the 70’s and 80’s, I learned French in High School, and I participated in a student exchange program that sent us young Germans to live during the Summer months with French families, while their teenagers came to our homes. I learned that the Germans and the French belong together, in the words […]

Heidegger made simple.

The photo above was taken during Heidegger’s Paris visit in 1955. The photo shows him with Lacan and their wives in Lacan’s house in Guitrancourt, near Paris. During the visit in Paris, Heidegger delivered the lecture ‘What is Philosophy?’ at Cerisy-la-sale. Left to right: Heidegger, Axelos, Lacan, Jean Beaufret (recipient of the Letter on Humanism), Elfriede Heidegger, Sylvia Bataille (by this time married […]

Demographic Trends and Economic Prosperity

I am teaching  a class on the philosophy of environmental science and policy, and the question that comes up again and again is how the earth will cope with the tremendous population increase that we are experiencing since 1900. This is an ethical, political, humanitarian, and environmental problem of historic proportions. Less population growth is good, but on the other […]

Sperm Whales

The New York Times just ran an article about Sperm Whales, and their modes of communication. They seem to have an elaborate language that we don’t understand yet. The sperm whale is the largest of the toothed whales and the largest predator on  earth. Mature males average 16 metres (52 ft) in length, with some reaching more than 20 metres. The […]

Napa Valley

How does a landscape cultivate mildness? You can find out if you go to the Napa Valley in California during spring. It is a composition of vineyards, small towns, wineries, forests and low mountain ranges that slowly narrow until you reach Calistoga. You will find some of the best restaurants in the world, expensive hotels, and rich tourists. This culture of living well is embedded into a traditional California […]

Nietzsche: A look back.

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) is one of the most important philosophers of the last 200 years. He foresaw the downfall of Europe, even though he died in 1900, and he influenced many thinkers in the 20th century. Heidegger, for instance, published four volumes on Nietzsche. He is commonly seen as an existentialist philosopher, but he can be viewed easily as a […]

Freud’s View of Religion

This paper was written in 1998/1999, as part of my research into the relationship between psychoanalysis and religion. 1. An Outline of Freud’s Critique of Religion Freud’s notion of the Oedipal conflict attempts to conceptualize the triangulation between the child’s desire for the mother (the real origin for the child) and the intervening father who also has a libidinal investment in […]

The Roots of Religion

Thanks to modern science, we now know more about religious history than ever: Scientific archaeology began in the 18th century, and since then excavators have been discovering and interpreting evidence, ranging from tiny goddess figurines carved from mammoth ivory to entire sacred landscapes, such as at the Giza plateau in Egypt. The archeological evidence enhances and corrects our knowledge derived from books […]