Today I'm sharing with you the books relevant to the themes of this blog that I've enjoyed most in 2018.
Please use the comments section to add your recommendations or comment on these
As you can see, my first recommendation was first published a very long time ago though its included in this list because I read it properly for the first time in 2018.
1. Seneca On Anger
Seneca argues that anger is very dangerous and we should make great efforts to curb it.
This is not a particularly trendy view .
There are a lot of people out there who think that we need anger to set injustices right, to defend ourselves or to avoid bottling it up. However Seneca provides very good arguments against all these views. To learn about why Seneca thinks anger is such a bad thing, read On Anger or have a look at my summary here
"The sword of justice is ill-placed in the hands of an angry man" encapsulates one key point - you can't trust anger. Do the right thing, but do it without anger contaminating your view. Seneca also helpfully distinguishes the 3 stages of anger and provides a whole host of practical ideas that in effect constitutes a therapy of anger management.
Here a link to a powerpoint from a workshop I ran on Senca on Anger at London Stoicon 2018
And here is a tongue-in-cheek quiz to find out how Stoic you are in managing anger.
2. Thinking Fast and Slow Daniel Kahneman
This is a book I had on my bookshelf since its publication in 2011, but I only got round to reading it properly in 2018. I say reading, but like many books I have "read" this year, in fact I listened to it on audible whilst jogging or driving. This fact is entirely appropriate, since a major thesis of Thinking Fast and Slow is that "System 1", the fast, emotional and instinctive part of us makes a lot of our decisions - and system 1 definitely prefers listening to a book to reading it. The moral of this intelligent, well-written book is to use both systems. We need system 1 to help us navigate through life on auto-pilot - but we really shouldn't rely on it for important decisions, and we should be wary of the many traps described in this book that we are liable to fall into.
3. Moral Tribes Joshua GreeneJoshua Greene applies some of the ideas of Thinking Fast and Slow to ethics in his 2014 book, Moral Tribes. Greene argues that moral disputes happen because different "tribes" have intuitions, arising from their System 1 (which Greene calls "automatic") For example, for one group it is obvious that abortion is wrong, for others it is equally obvious that a woman has a right to choose. This is what Greene labels the tragedy of common sense morality. You aren't going to get these people in different "tribes" to agree, because their automatic intuitions are telling them that the other tribe have it all wrong. In an argument reminiscent of the Oxford philosopher R.M. Hare's book Moral Thinking, Greene argues that the answer is to derive a logical system of morality using System 2. Furthermore, Greene argues that such a system will be utilitarianism. Greene won't convince everyone, but in these troubled times dont we need to consider ways of understanding conflict that takes us beyond "us and them"?
4. The Happiness Hypothesis Jonathan Haidt
Jonathan Haidt's 2006 book, The Happiness Hypothesis is well known for introducing the metaphor of the elephant and the rider.
We (the thinking, rational part of each of us) think we are in control. We know there is a part of us that wants to eat too much, sleep with inappropriate people and not do any exercise, but, so we try to convince ourselves, with just a bit more willpower we can avoid all these things Plato thought as much when he gave us his metaphor of the charioteer (reason) controlling the dark horse (appetite) and the white horse (spirit). Haidt thinks Plato is kidding himself. If the elephant wants something, it will get its way. The rider just isnt strong enough to resist.
To be happy we need to tame and train the elephant. He argues that three tools -meditation, CBT and pharmacology - can all help . His book is rich and entertaining journey through ancient philosophy and modern science.
5. Character Strengths Interventions Ryan Niemiec
The VIA Character Strengths Inventory has long been known to be one of the most helpful tools of Positive Psychology. Now Niemiec, head of the VIA Institute, has written a detailed guide to tell us how to make the most of our own strengths. This is some undertaking, as there are 24 character strengths to consider and many traps to avoid, such as overuse or misuse of strengths. Niemiec takes us well beyond the simple "just find your top strength and apply it more" prescription. His book is an important book for life coaches and and indeed interested in the empirical study of virtue.
And my favourite TV show of the year (again) is ....
The Good Place
The Good Place is funny, inventive and even manages to work in some moral philosophy. If you watch Season 3 you will even find out why it's creators wouldnt agree with Joshua Greene about utilitarianism being the answer to morality ...