There are three levels of utility. Things whose use is only in service of something else are least valued. Things whose use is direct and not in service of something else are of highest value. Things whose use is of both something else and it’s own direct utility are of medium value.
As an example a code library is less valuable to the end user than the application it supports.
John Stuart Mill’s father founded the philosophy of Utilitarianism based upon Nicomachean Ethics.
2. Directness of Intent
Be clear about what you want and why you want it then pursue that objective without distraction. If your primary intent is pleasure then pursue the pleasure first without shame or manipulation. There are books in the set written to subjectively describe such pursuits in terms of base virtues, such as happiness.
This is perhaps more about honesty to the self than honesty to others. I suppose if you cannot keep from lying to yourself you will be challenged to communicate honestly at all. It also considers motivation as an economic quantity that can be measured, predicted, and compared when considering the balance of multiple agents acting in concert.
Aristotle was the founder of what is now termed "virtue ethics", which expressly has nothing to do with utility. In fact, utilitarianism and Bentham/Mill are seen as expressly opposite Aristotle's virtue ethics, not building on it. (Kant's deontology being the third main philosophical alternative.)
Similarly, pursuing an objective without distraction could not be less Aristotelian. If you could boil down virtue ethics to a single line, it would be that virtue is about finding the happy medium between excesses.
I think you're confusing something else with Nicomachean Ethics. I'm kind of curious what it is now, though.
For a more detailed interpretation see Stanford philosophy text on Aristotelian Ethics: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle-ethics/#HumaGoo...
Everything I just searched for referred directly back to Nicomachean Ethics, but it appears this idea exists directly at the top of Aristotle's Metaphysics Book 1.
> Similarly, pursuing an objective without distraction could not be less Aristotelian.
Perhaps. It has been a long time since I have looked at any of this. If I remember correctly it is more about the clarity of intention/purpose than the substance of the subject for that substance will reveal itself through the pursuit.
Aristotle wrote a lot about happiness and even had a word for it: eudaimonia. It did not seem to be a goal but rather the journey and ethics were the guidance that provided both direction and the narrow path.
 - https://www.lesswrong.com/s/pvim9PZJ6qHRTMqD3/p/3p3CYauiX8oL...
Fuzzies are good. They are useful. They connect me to people around me, and bring gratitude. Fuzzies are the reason I have a moral feeling at all. And utilions are just a virus, that infects my moral system, trying to highjack it, so that it becomes useless to me. So that I do charity without getting gratitude and potencial help in the future.
Purchase "moral usefulness" and "moral useless abstraction" separately, and try to purchase of the latter as little as possible :)
The most efficient use of your own superior intellect is to help those who are the most helpless, because by doing the easiest things for you, you can scale those things to a much greater extent.
You may think that fuzzies are easy. But they make the greatest different to a much higher amount of people around you.
I wanted to say that Bentham was JSM's godfather, though I'm finding no specific mention of this. He was, at the very least, a very close friend of JSM's father James Mill and an extraordinarily strong influence on John Stuart (middle name itself having an interesting story) in education and development.
JSM himself was godfather to the godless Bertrand Russell.
Take a game and an helper for that game. The helper is clearly of use in service to the game. But is the game of use directly, or is it in service to the enjoyment of the player? The enjoyment of the player would be the only thing that is done for itself, and even that gets a little odd when you begin to strip back the neurology of what the enjoyment is.
So I see two ways to take this. First, a slight clarification to say that 'something' that a thing may be in use to is limited in a way to not include desires and pursuits.
Second, that the only thing that has the purest usefulness are desire and pursuits we seek only to fulfill them and not for other reasons (if we ignore why our brain wants us to do such).
Both seem odd but not repulsive takes.
1) On utility, the comparison to Mill could not be more misleading. What the commenter seems to be referring to is actually Aristotle's idea of self-sufficiency, or autarkeia. For A, this is an essential component of happiness: "The complete good is held to be self-sufficient" (1097b7). To be sure, as A explains, "we do not mean by self-sufficient what suffices for someone by himself, living a solitary life ... since by nature a human being is political" (1097b7-12). Rather, "as for the self-sufficient, we posit it as that which by itself makes life choiceworthy and in need of nothing, and such is what we suppose to be" (1097b15-17). A's point here is that happiness is something that is not itself "for" anything else. Happiness is autonomous, dependent on nothing else. Indeed, it is for happiness that all other activities are directed. Organizing these activities is the province of politics, or what Aristotle calls the "architectonic" art, because it arranges and superintends everything toward the "end of our actions that we wish for on account of itself" (1094a17ff.). Thus, the commenter's remark about the "three levels of utility" is largely misguided, but it comes close-ish to capturing A's thought on the matter.
2) On "intent," Aristotle's treatment of this idea is extremely complex. It first appears at the beginning of Book III, before he begins his treatment of the eleven moral virtues, suggesting its primacy to his thinking. A separates the idea of "intent" into three kinds: "choice" (proairesis), "deliberation" (boule), and "wish" (boulesis). All of these are different kinds of voluntary activity, i.e., intentional activity. Distinguishing between them is essential for understanding the sense in which activities (and therefore virtue, and therefore happiness) is indeed an "intentional" possibility. In other words, is happiness achievable simply through our "intent"? Or is it dependent on chance, determinism, etc.? Are we truly free to become happy? A's answer to this question is complex, but his genius lies in the fact that he divides "intent" into these various forms -- in short, his point is that certain things (e.g., means vs. ends) are "decided" by different faculties of intent. This phenomenology of experience is masked today by our weak word "intent," which remains unfortunately conceptually overloaded and imprecise.
Again, I suggest that if anyone wants to know what Aristotle actually thought about these topics, they turn to the text itself.
Worthy of note in particular is eudaimonia as a concept, especially the debate between whether it is happiness or goodness. I read it (somewhat loosely) as being the process by which a person's behaviours engender virtuous cycles in their communities and themselves.
It's been a long time since I read it but I'd recommend it to anyone. Maybe I'll revisit it before lockdown is out.
Here's their episode on the Nichomachean Ethics: 
 - https://partiallyexaminedlife.com/
 - http://traffic.libsyn.com/partiallyexaminedlife/PEL_ep005_6-...
Especially if you're fond of giraffes, almond croissants, nonexistent sisters, and twin brothers.
I also have this sense, hard to put into words, that it is written from a perspective of socioeconomic privilege and implicitly assumes a certain freedom, or has as its focus certain concerns that reflect that. It comes across to me now as narrow-minded and lacking in understanding of the broader human condition and diversity of challenges affecting persons. Put another way, it seems to be written as if advising royalty or the wealthy is the implied goal, ignoring the broader experiences of mankind, which seems to me in turn ironically a moral failure.
Maybe related to this, it seems to presume a certain set of things that I see as actually being fundamental societal and philosophical questions, such as free will and personal agency and all that encompasses. Failure to attain well-being in a broad sense is a failure of the individual to practice free will, under The Ethics, and not of society to foster or intervene in a way so as to facilitate individual improvements in well-being. The sort of paradigm being asserted in The Ethics provides no way out to address the question of "how do I improve the lot of my fellow persons?" or to develop virtues in others. If someone rejects the notion of free will, either in itself or as a meta-phenomenon (that is, as something that can be manipulated itself), The Ethics seems misguided at best and pernicious at worst.
Virtue ethics also seem naive to me often, in that there's often little self-awareness of its limitations. For example, what if two virtues conflict? How do you resolve this? How do you interpret a behavior vis-a-vis its outcome in the presence of fundamental uncertainty?
But just because the Ethics alone doesn't fully address the social issues you rightly raise (about helping others be free) doesn't mean it implies that they are irrelevant to individual ethics. They are just out of scope for the book. The Politics is more about what kind of society creates the conditions for people to achieve the good life described in the Ethics. There are, however, parts of the Ethics that do bear directly on this question — the parts on generosity, friendship, and education.
Your last question — how to decide between different virtues if they conflict — is also a good one. The best answer I can come up with is that virtue ethics is based on the idea that open-ended judgment is going to be exercised in any ethically significant situation, and it does not attempt to give a rigid framework for decision-making. I would suggest that any framework that does try to do that is brittle, and trading flexibility for false clarity.
It's about the question of how a man should live, and how should he choose to act - which presumes the availability of reasonable choices, the practical ability to make these choices, and considers the effect these choices have on the community. Yes, slaves or many other less-than-free laborers of classical Greece are not the target audience of this book - as they don't have the option of freely making many of the choices in their life, it's kind of worthless to discuss what should they choose to do if they can't.
It does not argue about how do develop virtues in others, it does presume taking some responsibility for others and being virtuous "on their behalf" (a very paternalistic approach) - it's reasoning about how to best use power and agency assuming you have it, and if you don't, then presuming that obtaining power and agency is the first prerequisite step, you can't make virtuous choices if you're not in position to choose, you can't make virtuous acts if you don't have the ability to act with meaningful influence. Without free will there's neither virtue or vice, just acts that are outside of ethics.
It's not a conceptual mess, it simply argues for a moral position with which (it seems) you strongly disagree, just as it would disagree with yours. Coming back to the issue of socioeconomic privilege, Nichomachean ethics pretty much argues that you have to have socioeconomic privilege in order to be ethical according to these standards. If you're a slave then you are neither ethical or unethical, the whole concept does not apply to you; It makes an argument that the concept of ethics (in the limited, narrow definition of ethics used there, which substantially differs from what we consider ethics in the modern world) starts to make sense once you're above the "food and necessities" level of life and have the liberty to act freely and deliberately make wide-ranging choices with significant influence; then you should study ethics-as-in-the-science-of-making-these-choices.
But, for example, in Book 3 (via the Rackham translation; http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%...):
"If then whereas we wish for our end, the means to our end are matters of deliberation and choice, it follows that actions dealing with these means are done by choice, and voluntary. But the activities in which the virtues are exercised deal with means.
Therefore virtue also depends on ourselves. And so also does vice. For where we are free to act we are also free to refrain from acting, and where we are able to say No we are also able to say Yes; if therefore we are responsible for doing a thing when to do it is right, we are also responsible for not doing it when not to do it is wrong, and if we are responsible for rightly not doing a thing, we are also responsible for wrongly doing it.
But if it is in our power to do and to refrain from doing right and wrong, and if, as we saw,1 being good or bad is doing right or wrong, it consequently depends on us whether we are virtuous or vicious."
These types of passages assume or assert (1) free will, (2) the notion of responsibility for behavior as a consequence of this, and (3) a schema that is framed in terms of broad evaluative personal characteristics rather than specific decisions. If you believe that the notion of free will is specious, even partially in significant cases of vice, the entire Ethics starts to become questionable. To be even more specific: what if you believe that society (if not now due to scientific-technical limitations, then some day) has a moral obligation to address criminal wrongdoing by means of neurobehavioral intervention, to treat criminal predisposition as a disease? Is relying on an Aristotlian view of ethics as personal responsibility then unethical because it elevates an erroneous assumption of free will above the societal consequences of reducing suffering from criminal behavior?
This is taken out of context to some extent, as Aristotle also discusses free will, voluntary vs. nonvoluntary actions etc. But I'd argue that those discussions are kind of beside the point, and amount to logical loopholes of sorts in that they amount to something like "I'm not talking about cases where there isn't free will." But what if that is the main issue at some level?
The discussion of virtue ethics in general, to be contrasted with deontological or consequentialist ethical reasoning, for example, is a whole other topic, about which books have been written.
Don't mix your modalities.
It's possible to reason in terms of free will and decisions between right and wrong; or in terms of causes and effects, from mental illness and broken childhoods through to poverty and criminality; but separately.
The problem with reasoning in just one modality or the other is that you miss what the other modality captures. Reason entirely in the former, and you can miss out on social and political changes which can result in better outcomes in the aggregate. Reason entirely in the latter, and you miss out on the ability for the individual to improve themselves, and deny them agency in choosing their own destiny.
(Personally, I think "believing that the notion free will is specious" - actually wrong - is incredibly disempowering, and will have the effect of causing people to blame externalities even when they have the power to change their situation. It has an effect all of its own. You don't need to have free will at the Physics level in order for belief in free will to have a positive mental effect in a mechanistic cause and effect way.)
The concept of blame as it is usually expressed depends on the belief in free will. The person whose free choices led to an outcome bears the greatest responsibility. Assigning blame to others is therefore accomplished by proving that the self didn't possess this freedom. When no choice exists, responsibility reverts to environmental circumstances.
The condition you're describing can only be coherent if a person believes they lack personal agency but that the framework of free will and the primary responsibility of those who have a choice remains in place. This is a real condition that many people suffer from, and many will disguise it as giving in to inevitable causes and effects, but the problem is not that they lack faith in free will, but that they have assigned freedom elsewhere.
If a person accepts the idea that free will is unattainable, the conventional concept of blame becomes incomprehensible. Every dependent choice is related to every other choice. There is no hierarchy of blame that defaults to the environment. A person can either accept no responsibility or all responsibility. Accepting all responsibility will appear impossible to a person holding on to the idea of free will, but to someone who fully abandons it and considers that they are part of a larger whole, personal responsibility for every outcome becomes a natural consequence.
I don't see how this works. The biggest reason is that if everyone is personally responsible then noone is responsible; this is pretty well established in psychology, with diffusion of responsibility.
Then you are contradicting yourself, because on the one hand you claim the right to treat certain people (the ones you call "criminals") as not having free will, and "cure" them with "neurobehavioral intervention", but on the other hand you claim this right based on "moral obligation", which assumes that you, the person claiming this right, do have free will, because you are claiming the ability to choose who needs to be "cured".
There have been societies in human history that were organized according to such principles as these. They did not turn out well.
Aristotle says that the peak of virtuousness isn't living a life devoted to the theory, but one that puts it into practical use through politics and legislation.
This seems like a direct call to action to help improve society and bring the theory to more people such that they may improve themselves.
I'm not sure what you are asking in your last question btw.
(Linked at the bottom of every HN page.)
We need a healthy ecosystem of sites like HN.
Nietzsche is commonly misread as a nihilist, but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, Nietzsche recognizes clearly that is precisely the installation of fictional moralities that is the source of nihilism, not the denial of those fictions. (This is also something that Heidegger sees clearly, e.g, in "The Letter on Humanism.")
At the end of the day, then, the question is this: Do you believe in some kind of "objective" morality that governs human life, gives meaning to our existence, and so forth? If so, then Aristotle's Ethics is by far the most cogent articulation of that view. However, if you believe that morality is just conventional, historically contingent, and a product of our "wills," then Nietzsche helps us see that clearest. To admit the latter view is not to succumb to nihilism; it is rather to free us to truly pursue the activities of greatness.
Ultimately, MacIntyre (inter alia) thinks that we have to choose. For an example of someone who, by contrast, tries to reconcile Aristotle and Nieztsche, see Hannah Arendt.
Unfortunately, the universe defies simple, categorical distinctions. Kant's categorical imperative superficially comes closest to capturing the above examples, but not really, because Aristotle, Kant, and Nietzsche, all seem to side-step the question of free will, at least as it relates to the meaning of morality. Free will itself of course also defies simple distinctions. The problem in all these explorations of morality is that the number of implied assumptions is enormous, and it's the character of those assumptions which matters far more than the effectively trite observations about human behavior these philosophers often make.
Are there objective moralities? Yes, if you qualify what objective means--e.g., approximately universally manifest preferences among humans. The particular morals, or at least the simplest aspects, will then tend to fall naturally from that.
But if our benchmark of objectivity is something completely abstract, then objectivity is unlikely to exist. Pure math allows us to create infinite universes with consistent rules, yet only one of those universes can exist in any physical sense. As long as you can pick from those non-existent realities (which is pretty much what philosophers do), then you can always rebut any claim of universality, objectivity, etc; or even, conversely, assert objectivity of a finely detailed morality by simply predicating a claim on your universe of choice (see, e.g., Social Darwinism).
 We don't have a good track record of fully comprehending biological determinants, especially as applied to human behavior. The interplay of culture and biology is extremely complex, and we suck at even identifying which is which, let alone inferring anything complex from the distinction.
The ethics of a group is the rule set agreed to by the group, including how to deal with deviations that naturally arise. This is more of a descriptive, evolutionary phenomenon. Normative ethics is more a proposal of an ideal or future ruleset, which needs to both appeal to those with the power to follow and enforce the rules, and to also ensure the preservation and stability of the rules and the people who follow them.
Then it blows your mind, and you start to understand freedom.
However, I always make the decision: better getting the gist of it and if, possible, reread later on than stopping too much the first time.
Of course, it goes with personalities, I know.
I have read the Ethics. Tried the metaphysics and simply could not, though.
Socrates and Aristotle both sound very anti-democratic.
Thucydides explains why.
As such, democracy would seem a very unpalatable outcome. Better than the alternatives they had, but lacking enough that they would have distaste for it and seek something better.
Similar the Churchill quote (which itself is rephrasing an earlier quote.
>Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.
Not all democracies are created equal, and the Churchill quote is a grand feat of equivocation that paints many different systems as if they were a single immutable institution.
Athenian democracy was a direct democracy where any citizen could get up and talk. Where officers were needed it mostly used a lottery system  instead of elections precisely because they were afraid that elections just become a popularity contest that favors the incumbent oligarchic interests.
Generals were an exception because they had to be skilled at war. Handling money was also a skilled profession, and favored the rich so that the money could be recovered from their estate in the case of embezzlement. Politics, on the other hand, was not seen as a skilled profession, and what was important was loyalty to democratic ideals.
Looking at the quality of politicians we have and the power of entrenched oligarchic interests in our society, it really makes me appreciate the wisdom of the ancients.
It’s better to live in a virtuous aristocracy than a corrupt Democracy, and but a virtuous democracy is better than both.
It’s easy to idolize Athenian democracy, but by the time of Thucydides, it was on its last legs.
The only question is “what comes next.”
The answer history gave was “2500 years of subjugation to foreign rulers.”
Something to consider as modern Greece integrates into the EU: they have no tradition of independent democracy.
For example, Greece is currently raising cash by letting the Chinese take over the Piraeus.
To Americans that sounds horrible!
But the Greeks have been pimping their country for over two millennia, and aren’t about to stop now.
Generally I think he believed that someone with the relevant skills should run things as opposed to anybody and everybody (as in a true democracy) in the same way you wouldn't just want anybody attending to your healthcare, but a physician.
And maybe such complex problems don't come with very clear solutions.
Re-read it :D
Is this really uncontroversial? I can't say I've heard that said before, or found Aristotle more difficult than other texts of that time. Obviously there are stylistic differences between this and Plator's dialogues, but I imagine a large part of your impression could be due to the particular translations you read.
Compare this to Plato, whose writings were actually pretty entertaining even as pure fiction. He’s full of side stories, lurid metaphors, and funny turns of phrase.
Between this and his BS explanations for why Leprosy disappeared from Europe I realized that Foucault was a charlatan.
It's the continental philosophers of the enlightenment era that drive me nuts with their meandering arguments.
Sometimes shit is shit but people will defend it because everyone else does. Emperor's new clothes style. One way of slapping someone down is that they're too young (because kid -> stupid) or they don't have the background, or they're just too dumb.
Also the presumption that complex problems can't have simple solutions annoys me. Ethics can be complex but sometimes that is just sophistry. I get wary of such responses (again )
I'm not disagreeing with you in any way - yet - because I've not read it, but I have grown long antennae for such comebacks.
 which is not what you said
The fact that our surviving records all happen to funnel through those guys is not proof that it all originated with those guys. It is highly likely that they were both building on an extensive unrecorded philosophical tradition, and participating in a broader contemporary cultural conversation whose other participants have merely not been lucky enough to have their names recorded by history.
Cf. Shakespeare. Yes, he was a genius, but not nearly so much of a genius as many people often claim, because a lot of people confuse "Shakespeare is our earliest surviving recorded source for a lot of features of the English language" for "Shakespeare single-handedly invented half of the English language", which is absurd.
And the great minds of the European Enlightenment may also have been genuinely great... but they are also nearly all rich men with patrons and leisure time, and the means to preserve their thoughts in writing. Our view on their history is much clearer than our view of the ancient Greeks, but there's still no telling exactly how much influence there was from their surrounding unrecorded culture, or how many important ideas would've been independently proposed by others if others had the same access to publication and historical preservation.
I highly recommend you read Arthur Schopenhauer's essay On Philosophy at the Universities: https://archive.org/stream/23341891SchopenhauerParergaAndPar...
It is a persuasive essay that, no matter the resources, genuine philosophers or geniuses pursue the truth for its very sake. I concur that historically this has been the art of the aristocracy, but so what? Hypothetical or "unrewarded genius" doesn't amount to much in world history. Results do. And such fruit is actually the result of a cohesive organization of a society, ie genius is the goal of civilization proper. Plato and Descartes both had to have their trash picked up by somebody in order for them to impact us today.
Yes, there is. But that is a very different thing from having very clear evidence that those ideas originated uniquely in a specific small set of brains whose owner's names are recorded. "This person's writings have a clear influence on history" is a very different claim from "This person was the very first person to ever think the thoughts that he wrote down."
In fact, the work of Aristotle is one of the better sources we have for views of philosophers whose writings are largely lost.
It's not astounding at all: the (Catholic) Church very much absorbed quite a lot of Aristotle's meta-physics. He was simply called "The Philosopher" in many writings.
And given that "Western values" are basically Christian values:
it's no surprise then that you can draw a straight line from the Ancient Greeks to the modern day.
I always wondered what the world would have been like if these people got fervent followers and governed nations/cultures instead of the religious "prophets"
Obviously much more can be said -- especially considering that harmony is found in the tension of opposing forces -- but that's a remarkably enduring approach
This was one of the book that I read on my own after reading Bloom's "Closing of the American Mind."
My reading of the book was tinged with melancholy, for if virtue is a skill necessary for happiness, and if only a few can master a skill, then only a few can be happy.
I was 17 at the time and thought, "What an awful world that would give happiness to so few!"
It's interesting to note that Aristotle's "virtue ethics" -- based primarily on this work -- have come "back into fashion" over the past few decades, after being largely ignored by philosophers for centuries as having any contemporary relevance. (I.e. you studied it for the historical value mainly, but it had zero connection otherwise to contemporary analytic philosophy.)
The two main strands of philosophical thought over the past few centuries have been deontology (best exemplified by Kant) which is that you follow specific moral rules ("don't kill", "don't lie", "keep a promise") no matter what, and utilitarianism (Bentham/Mill) which is "the greatest good for the greatest number" (divert the trolley to kill one person instead of five).
They both obviously have truth to them but are also deeply incompatible with each other. Aristotle's "virtue ethics" says instead that what is most important is one's character, and that a virtuous character comes from a balance of temperaments. For example, you shouldn't get angry all the time, but you also shouldn't be cowardly all the time. Good character means knowing the right times to take bold angry action, but also knowing the right times to stay back out of fear -- and that honing good judgment is the key to knowing when. Sometimes it means breaking a promise, sometimes it means sacrificing a greater good for another principle, and there isn't always an obviously right answer.
Thus the idea of "good judgment that can't be reduced to strict rules" is now seen as an equally viable alternative to deontology and utilitarianism. Perhaps because it seems particularly relevant in an age of relativism.
Also perhaps particularly telling, in the TV show The Good Place which recently ended, and where every episode is about a different philosophical dilemma, when the creater Mike Schur was asked about which philosophical system was closest to his own beliefs, he replied that it would have to be Aristotle's virtue ethics.
I personally found reading Nicomachean Ethics a fascinating experience, because it was written pre-Christianity, so the complete and utter lack of notions of "good and evil" is revelatory. We're so used to thinking in such terms in much of the world, it's refreshing to see a totally different worldview.
In case anyone is curious for a modern treatment of Aristotelian thought, Martha Nussbaum's book Upheaveals of Thought played a big part in "rehabilitating" Aristotle in contemporary philosophy. It has parallels to the vein of "emotional intelligence" that became popular a few years earlier.
I for one really appreciate the renewed attention to ethics in recent decades from philosophers. It's a reorientation to one of the oldest purposes of philosophy -- to teach us how to live well.
Look up Christian virtue ethics, virtuous pagans
Later I learned that it came from the Nicomachean Ethics (https://www.loebclassics.com/view/aristotle-nicomachean_ethi...) and is much deeper that I thought.
Bonus quote from Antisthenes: "τῷ σοφῷ ξένον οὐδὲν" (The wise person is foreign to nothing). One interesting thing about this one is that Ancient Greek had two words fro nothing: ouden and meden.
Continually amazed that humans were so insightful so long ago.
A History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell
Like many other Analytics, he seriously misreads Nietzsche, and he doesn't even mention Heidegger, Husserl, Sartre, or Foucault.
I like Russell, though. He's clear and eloquent, writing well on the subjects he does appreciate and understand.
The funniest one I recall is Bergson, near the end of the book, which he prefaces with (loosely paraphrasing) "Look, this whole thing seems like total bullshit to me, and I've never read any description of it that doesn't seem like total bullshit, so when I try to describe it and it seems like bullshit that's just the best I can do. Sorry."
Sure, such condescension may be the best that Russell can muster, but I'm not sure you'd get a charitable reading of Bergson (or any other philosopher Russell didn't like) from someone so hostile and unappreciative of him.
Russell did take Nietzsche more seriously, but to me it seems Nietzsche just went over Russell's head. Russell is best at reading other philosophers who, like himself, are clear, easy to understand, and relatively conventional.
To take existentialism, the basic message is "you have to decide and take control of your life". Sure, that sounds good, but what is the advice about how to do it? Existentialism seems to offer no guide.
It was written during WWII, before Foucault had published anything. I'm pretty sure he wouldn't have been a fan, though.
 Paraphrased (surprisingly to me) from a Hacker News user: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1012082
At that time I think I concluded that the least-pressured conversations, and likely most positive and upbeat, would be those on topics like retro computing. Such a topic is close to the HN tech-user specialty, close to the heart because of its strong integration with personal past experiences, and mostly made up of "known" or "closed-ended" topics. So, far from a performance or bluff, you get some pretty passionate tales from direct experience, and erudition be damned.
Not sure if that's a rule, but so far it matches my personal perceptions of what makes a really good discussion here, vs. one that's...less like that.
Although it has to be said: Takes one to know one, New Yorker. Contemptuousness toward amateurs might be justified though.