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Writer & philosopher. PhD philosophy. Stories & ideas to make the world a better place. Next book Hello, Stranger (Granta 2021). Twitter @willbuckingham

PAST IS PROLOGUE

If we want to work better, first we need to think better

“The Seasons” by Pieter Brueghel the Elder from the Metropolitan Museum of Art online collection. Image: Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

We spend much of our lives working. And much of the time we are not working, we spend talking about work, recovering from work, fretting about work, or wondering if we should work more or work less.

But less often do we stop to think more deeply about work. What…


Writing fiction is like making bread. You need to know when to knead it, and when to just let it rise.

Photo by Victor Rodríguez Iglesias on Unsplash

The other day, I took a break from my writing desk and went into the kitchen to make bread. There’s something therapeutic about the process of mixing flour and yeast and water, combining it, then turning it out onto the table to knead it into shape.

When I write, sometimes…


In a world obsessed with conversation, physical books bring us solitude and freedom.

“Dig” by Sadie Wendell Mitchell (1909). Public domain via Library of Congress.

Several years ago, I attended a talk by the Canadian poet Erín Moure. She talked about poetry and translation and writing. It was a talk so full of brilliant insights that, as I jotted things down in my notebook, I struggled to keep up. …


Myanmar helped me come to terms with grief. Now I am grieving for Myanmar.

Image of pagodas in Kayah State, Myanmar. Photograph by the author © Will Buckingham

I arrived in Yangon for the first time in January 2017, my life broken into pieces. The previous year had been punishing. In August, Elee, my partner of thirteen years, died of breast cancer. Before her death, we talked about what I would do after. I said I didn’t know…


Ritual pervades every corner of our lives. So why don’t we think about it more?

Confucius teaching. From The Classic of Filial Piety (12th Century). Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Looking at the overlooked

Sometimes, the most philosophically interesting things in human life are those things that are so close to us, we overlook their importance. …


For the philosopher Pyrrho of Elis, our search for ethical certainty leads only to turbulence. Perhaps we’d be better off just giving up.

Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

Ethics stirs us up. It gets us hot under the collar. It leads to conflict, turbulence and dispute. So wouldn’t we be better giving up on our search for ethical truth?

The philosopher Pyrrho (c. 360 — c. 270 BCE) certainly thought so.

Cultural connections

Pyrrho was born in Elis in Western…


The Cynic philosopher Hipparchia defied social convention in pursuit of a life free of hypocrisy and privilege

Hipparchia and Crates, from “Touchstone of the Wedding Ring” by Jacob Cats. 1637. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Living the Cynic Life

Somewhere between a philosopher, a comedian, and an activist, Hipparchia of Maroneia was one of the most significant early philosophers in the Cynic school founded by Diogenes. She was born some time around 350 BCE in the Thracian village of Maroneia, but when she was still young, she moved with…


Zeno of Citium, the first Stoic philosopher, advocated living naturally. But this is more complicated than it seems.

Portrait of Zeno by Robert Dumesnil, 16th Century. Public Domain via Rijksmuseum.

Zeno (334–262 BCE), the founder of the Stoic school, came from the city of Citium in Cyprus. Like many philosophers of his day, he eventually ended up in Athens, the intellectual hub of the ancient Greek world. …


We assume Indian philosophy is inherently spiritual. But India’s long tradition of materialist philosophy suggests otherwise.

Watercolour painting on paper of Bṛhaspati, the teacher of the gods who is also associated with materialist doctrines. c. 1880. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

A This-Worldly Philosophy

In popular culture, there can be a tendency to see Indian philosophical traditions as somehow inherently spiritual and to contrast this supposedly mystical East with a rational West. But this division of the world into a rational West and a mystical East maps poorly onto the facts. Much philosophy in…


Aristotle argued the end or purpose of human life was flourishing. But what is flourishing? And how do we best flourish?

Photo by Bogomil Mihaylov on Unsplash

What’s the Point?

What’s the point of life? Some time or other, we’ve all probably asked ourselves this question. What’s the point of doing what we are doing? What’s the point of our lives? What’s the point of human life in general?

When we ask ourselves these questions, we are not just idly…

Will Buckingham

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