Otto Petras on the conditions for religious awe

A religion that one understands is, for he who understands, no longer a religion. For by comprehending it, he stands above it; he surveys its conditions and possibilities, and to the extent that he does so he no longer feels like the unconditional object of religious demands. One can be possessed and awe-struck only as long as one does not understand how and why that occurs.

quote otto petras

Chris Cullen: what do you want to naturalise?

We become our habits. So it’s crucial to ask: what do you want to naturalise? What do you want to come easily?

Whatever the heart frequently dwells upon becomes the shape of the heart.

quote chris cullen mindfulness

Richard Meadows & Nassim Taleb on FU money

Humphrey Bogart used to keep a $100 bill in his dresser drawer at all times—a decent chunk of change in the 1920s. He referred to it as his fuck-you money’, because it meant he’d never be forced to take a crappy part. According to Bogie, the only good reason for making money was so you can tell any son-of-a-bitch in the world to go to hell”.

Richard Meadows

A sum large enough to get most, if not all, of the advantages of wealth (the most important one being independence and the ability to only occupy your mind with matters that interest you) but not its side effects, such as having to attend a black-tie charity event and being forced to listen to a polite exposition of the details of a marble-rich house renovation.

Money buys freedom: intellectual freedom, freedom to choose who you vote for, to choose what you want to do professionally. But having what I call fuck you” money requires a huge amount of discipline. The minute you go a penny over, then you lose your freedom again.

— Nassim Taleb

quote nassim taleb richard meadows

The last homily of Pope Pius XII

Our mouths are filled with the word love”.

But I, before anyone else, didn’t know how to define it.

Our mouths are filled with the word beauty”.

But I, before anyone else, didn’t know how to receive it.

For this, I ask you forgiveness.

Please, forgive me.

At times we confound love with madness.

Beauty with ecstasy.

History has repeated itself.

Madness and ecstasy have once again proven to be irresistible temptations, but they always end the way they did on Ventotene.

With unjust death.

In this case, of a good and innocent priest.

There is a life of happiness to be found in the sphere of gentleness, kindness, mildness, lovingness.

We must learn to be in the world.

And the Church must contemplate the idea of opening up to the love that is possible, in order to fight against the love that is aberrant.

All this, John Paul III, with great humility, calls the middle way.”

In the past few days I have understood.

It’s not the middle way.

It is the way.

Ever since I came back, you’ve been asking yourselves all sorts of questions.

Is he the father or the son?

Is he God or the Holy Spirit?

Is he man or is he Jesus?

Did he wake up or did he rise from the dead?

Is he a saint or is he an imposter?

Is he Christ or is he the Antichrist?

Is he alive or is he dead?

It doesn’t matter.

You know what is so beautiful about questions?

It’s that we don’t have the answers.

In the end, only God has the answers.

They are his secret.

God’s secret, which only He knows.

That is the mystery in which we believe.

And that is the mystery which guides our conscience.

And now I would like to come down among you, and do what I have wanted to do since the first moment: embrace you, one by one.

quote paolo sorrentino the new pope

Marc Andreessen on the heros we’re allowed to have

The anti-hero is the portrait of the Nietzschean superhero that we are allowed to have. Tony Soprano, Walter White, Don Draper. We can have someone who does Great Things, so long as that person is fundamentally bad by the standards of modern morality.

We are not allowed to have the full version of the Nietzschean superman doing something outstanding. We’re not allowed Napoleon figures, the building of the pyramids, Beethoven, or even the person who built the transcontinental railroad, the car industry, that sort of thing.

The full Nietzschean superman is the person who says I really am going to rule the world, and rule it much better’. Those narratives are gone. They’re too scary. They’re absolutely frightening, because if we rediscover that kind of morality it would upend our entire order.

quote marc andreessen

Email to Tyler Cowen on Bernard Williams & effective altruism

In your MacAskill interview, and again in the St Andrews talk, I heard you channeling Bernard Williams on Philosophy as a Humanistic Discipline and especially The Human Prejudice.

I agree that Williams on philosophy and impartiality is an important message for EA. I pushed this line in conversations with Will MacAskill and others in 2015, and with several other Oxford figures since then. I’m surely not the ideal advocate, but in the replies I mostly heard a lot of ugh, Bernard” followed by weak arguments against superficial misreadings of his work. People seemed very much in the mode of devalue and dismiss”.

My best EA Forum post is also my least popular:

Williams’ low status within EA is surprising given how seriously Derek Parfit took him as a peer. I understand that Williams was often seen as using non-kosher methods and unkind remarks in his philosophical writing and conversation, and was intensely disliked by some of his peers. So I suspect that much of his neglect is driven by residual animosity in the Oxford crowd. But they ignore this kind of thing and just take the ideas seriously”… right…?

There are some notable exceptions. For example, Thomas Moynihan is somewhat associated with the Oxford EA scene, and appropriately rates Bernard Williams. Unsurprisingly, Tom has a background in continental” philosophy.

You’ve not blogged much about Williams. How about it? E.g.

  1. Was Williams a pragmatist in denial, per Rorty’s review of Truth and Truthfulness? Why did he resist Rorty?

  2. What prioritisation errors are made by those who go too far with impartiality? 

On (2): if EAs stopped going too far” with impartiality, I think we’d see the EA portfolio shift a bit towards catastrophic risk and away from existential risk. The current strong focus on x-risk can be seen as another form of the 51:49 bet.

A couple years ago one of the more influential EAs told me that rejecting the 51:49 bet is a form of egoism. We should not care about our personal chances of survival: we should just follow the rule that maximises EV across all possible worlds. I replied that ecological rationality beats axiomatic rationality in the world I care about. But if you think impartial reasons are the only reasons that count, you can’t justify your arbitrary” care for this particular world over others.

And with that—and your remarks on the useful generativity of a mistake taken seriously—we’re back to Nietzsche’s remarks on Plato:

It seems that in order to inscribe themselves upon the heart of humanity with everlasting claims, all great things have first to wander about the earth as enormous and awe- inspiring caricatures: dogmatic philosophy has been a caricature of this kind–for instance, the Vedanta doctrine in Asia, and Platonism in Europe. Let us not be ungrateful to it, although it must certainly be confessed that the worst, the most tiresome, and the most dangerous of errors hitherto has been a dogmatist error–namely, Plato’s invention of Pure Spirit and the Good in Itself. But now when it has been surmounted, when Europe, rid of this nightmare, can again draw breath freely and at least enjoy a healthier–sleep, we, WHOSE DUTY IS WAKEFULNESS ITSELF, are the heirs of all the strength which the struggle against this error has fostered. It amounted to the very inversion of truth, and the denial of the PERSPECTIVE–the fundamental condition–of life, to speak of Spirit and the Good as Plato spoke of them; indeed one might ask, as a physician: How did such a malady attack that finest product of antiquity, Plato? Had the wicked Socrates really corrupted him? Was Socrates after all a corrupter of youths, and deserved his hemlock?” But the struggle against Plato, or–to speak plainer, and for the people”–the struggle against the ecclesiastical oppression of millenniums of Christianity (FOR CHRISITIANITY IS PLATONISM FOR THE PEOPLE), produced in Europe a magnificent tension of soul, such as had not existed anywhere previously; with such a tensely strained bow one can now aim at the furthest goals. 


P.S. Nietzsche’s thoughts on effective altruism, according to ChatGPT.

writing effective altruism nietzsche bernard williams