Boris Smus

interaction engineering

Great Ideas of Philosophy (audio)

Really great series of 60 lectures – that's 24 hours worth as an overview of philosophers and their main points. I took very few sporadic notes, as the majority of my listening was done while riding a bicycle. Here are some of my favorite philosophers and their quotes:

Thomas Reid's principle of credulity:

If no proposition that is uttered in discourse would be believed, until it was examined and tried by reason … most men would be unable to find reasons for believing the thousandth part of what is told them. Such distrust and incredulity would deprive us of the greatest benefits of society.

Wittgenstein's beetle:

Imagine, he says, that everyone has a small box in which they keep a beetle. However, no one is allowed to look in anyone else’s box, only in their own. Over time, people talk about what is in their boxes and the word “beetle” comes to stand for what is in everyone’s box.

Everything about Socrates. This is a treasure trove to be revisited.

The unexamined life is not worth living.

The stoic mindset, especially this quote attributed to Epictetus:

Never say of anything, "I have lost it"; but, "I have returned it."

Kant's Categorical Imperative, in a few formulations:

Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law without contradiction.


Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.


Therefore, every rational being must so act as if he were through his maxim always a legislating member in the universal kingdom of ends.

And closely related, Rawls' Original Position, although the lecturer Daniel N. Robinson is surprisingly dismissive of his ideas.

Karl Popper's ideas around falsification:

Falsifiability or refutability of a statement, hypothesis, or theory is the inherent possibility that it can be proven false. A statement is called falsifiable if it is possible to conceive of an observation or an argument which negates the statement in question. In this sense, falsify is synonymous with nullify, meaning to invalidate or "show to be false".

The debate between realism and anti-realism: whether or not scientific theory describes what the world is actually like, or if it just serves as a nice model. A succinct summary of the two positions:

Realists see scientific inquiry as discovery while anti-realists sees it as invention.

Clarence Irving Lewis and the idea of qualia, especially well illustrated in "Mary's room", which produces an interesting anti-materialist argument:

The sensation of color cannot be accounted for by the physicist's objective picture of light-waves. Could the physiologist account for it, if he had fuller knowledge than he has of the processes in the retina and the nervous processes set up by them in the optical nerve bundles and in the brain? I do not think so.

After nearly 24 hours of lecturing, Daniel synthesizes a lot of philosophical thought into what constitutes a good life:

  • Fatalism: being OK with your fate.
  • Hedonism: the good kind, aiming to increase long term pleasure.
  • Selflessness: benevolent, philanthropic behavior
  • Activity: don't become a brain in a vat :)