Hume: An Intellectual Biography by James Harris

Hume: An Intellectual Biography

Philosophy can appear impenetrable. The questions discussed are fascinating, but the method of enquiry, analysis and argumentation is often dense and confusing. The history and development of philosophical thought has always filled a gap for me, as the narrative through-line that comes with a historically based analysis is easier to follow and process, whilst also delivering the key facets of the philosophers ideas. Hume: An Intellectual Biography by James Harris fits right in to this category.

Using the term intellectual biography signals that this is not a traditional book on the life and times of David Hume the man. That has been done before by Ernest Campbell Mossner in The Life of David Hume, a biographical foundation stone often referenced in the reviews. Instead what Harris has taken on is a detailed review of the development of Hume as a thinker and writer, and is the surprisingly the first book to do so:

Remarkably, James Harris’s intellectual biography of Hume is the first to have been attempted. As such, it covers the full trajectory of Hume’s intellectual career—from his earliest experiments in epistemology and ethics, through his views on religion, economics, and politics, to his mature efforts to complete his classic History of England. The result is an engrossing reconstruction of his ideas along with his position in 18th-century intellectual life. A significant place is given to Hume’s “anatomy” of human nature, and thus to the criticism of Stoicism which he developed in that context
The Nation

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Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies by Nick Bostrom

Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies

The advance of artificial intelligence has gifted us some great headlines recently, from self-driving Tesla’s to deep learning machines winning at Go. In Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies by Nick Bostrom, this fertile zone of technological development forms the basis for a philosophical exploration of where this may all lead. What if artificial intelligence advances to a point that we, humanity, are no longer in control?

Superintelligence is a serious, intellectually disorientating treatment of ideas, imagining the inevitable future when we are able to create an AGI (an artificial general intelligence). An AGI would be capable of successfully performing any task that a human can. Such a machine would thus be capable of recursive self-improvement (on a digital time scale) perhaps rapidly leading to an explosion in its own intelligence. An exponentially self-improving superintelligence, according to Bostrom, would pose a significant threat to human survival.
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