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Did Bilbo Sail to the West?

How to improve the overall quality of a book

Was it
Bilbo who sailed to the West? Reading Philosophy for Heroes: Knowledge, the first in a four-part series on what it means to be a hero, this seems to be the case. On page 5:

Now, while the case could be made that Bilbo underwent a heroic transformation, that he fought evil, that he traveled to the West and might have used a boat at some point, the story sounds much more like Frodo’s story in Lord of the Rings. The author himself is well versed in fantasy literature, and the amount of media related to the subject is anything but sparse. How could such an error happen?


Well, first, let me admit that I am that author. I am not sure if this is the right or smart way to discuss my own book, but some self-reflection is a great way to grow. So, let us analyze where I, the author, went astray.


My usual judgement on products (in this case, a book) is that they are a mirror of the company behind them. If you have a little bit of background information, reviewing a product can be like an archaeological dig. Philosophy for Heroes: Knowledge is a multi-layered book. First, it is part of a series. When writing the first book, the other three books had to be kept in mind. In addition, especially being the first book, it had to stand on its own despite its dealing with the basics (philosophy and language). You cannot sell a book called “Philosophy for Heroes” and then tell the reader to wait for part 4 to finally read about what heroism means. Second, it contains a variety of components: study questions, ideas summarizing a section, biographies adding a human element to sometimes abstract explanations, and real life examples. Skimming through the book, especially those components seem to be “added features” that—while adding value to the book—could just as well be removed. This points to an evolution of the book. Looking back, this is actually true, it underwent a number of transformations:


  1. A single, very large book
  2. A five-part series
  3. Then, a four-part series
  4. Then, a four-part series with the first book required to stand on its own
  5. Finally, a four-part series, the first book standing on its own, and additional components (study questions, ideas, biographies, examples, etc.)

As this evolution played out, the later changes underwent the least amount of review, while certain parts, that were already finished when devising the initial large book, had so many reviews, the time spent on dragging them along was a waste of time. How does one write a book without having such a large variance of quality between its parts?


For this, we look at software development. A piece of software faces the same problem, it evolves, some parts are “fresh,” others have been looked at and tested for years. The solution people came up with is called “Agile” (with one variant being “Scrum”). My current project deals with this subject, feel free to check it out here.


The best approach to write something—anything—is to make sure that its pieces stand for themselves. The advantage of this approach is to have those pieces complete and ready, and you can publish each to get feedback and build an audience. Looking back, I should have published each section separately. Sure, someone could piece all the sections together and then have a copy of the book for free. But that takes a lot of effort. Even if it is just half an hour of work, you could have easily bought the book for yourself. Also, the final edit of a book surely connects the independent parts to a greater whole.


In any case, if I did follow that “Agile” approach, it would have been Frodo, not Bilbo, throwing the ring into the fire and traveling to the West.


Lesson learned.


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What was my motivation to write Philosophy for Heroes?

How did you get the idea for your most recent book?

A personal history of Philosophy for Heroes

I never start with a blank paper and just write. Instead, I write little ideas on paper or in my phone, and I use online discussions as a way to motivate myself to write short paragraphs and get immediate feedback.

When actually writing, all I am really doing is compiling and editing my notes.
But how did I decide to write the book and even start an entire book series about the subject? Read on to find out!

In this adapted excerpt from the book Philosophy for Heroes: Knowledge, author Clemens Lode discusses what led him to write the series on what it really means to be a hero.





The Creation of the Book Series “Philosophy for Heroes”

An adapted excerpt from Philosophy for Heroes: Knowledge.


How the book series started, that’s a long story! Here’s how I explained it in Philosophy for Heroes: Knowledge:
“The people who came to see Socrates usually thought that they knew what they were talking about, but after half an hour of his relentless questioning, they discovered that they knew nothing at all about such basic issues as justice or courage. They felt deeply perplexed, like bewildered children; the intellectual and moral foundations of their lives had been radically undermined, and they experienced a frightening, vertiginous doubt (aporia). For Socrates, that was the moment when a person became a philosopher, a ‘lover of wisdom,’ because he had become aware that he longed for greater insight, knew he did not have it, but would henceforth seek it as ardently as a lover pursues his beloved. Thus dialogue led participants not to certainty but to a shocking realization of the profundity of human ignorance. However carefully, logically, and rationally Socrates and his friends analyzed it, something always eluded them. Yet many found that the initial shock of aporia led toekstatsis because they had ‘stepped outside’ their former selves.”

—Karen Armstrong,
Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life 

The fear I felt when the Gulf War began is still in my memory. But I was only a child, and did not consciously perceive world events as such and I did not feel connected to the world as a whole before the (second) Iraq War. Not because I was directly affected or had a political opinion about it, but because I was unable to comprehend its context and the reasons for it. This was not the first event in my life that caused me to think beyond my horizons, but it certainly marked the point at which I began to question my viewpoints and to see myself as part of a larger community. Maybe this “shock” (aporia) was what people felt when encountering and discussing with Socrates in ancient Greece the concept that life no longer revolved around the here and now, but instead, revolved around history, the future, and one’s own role in it.
In the following months and years, I began studying history, law, economics, and politics with renewed interest. I reflected on my historical self, i.e., the “mask” we are each made to wear by school, culture, history, and the media. I learned about crime and corruption; but despite all my research, unanswered questions remained.
Is it only the greed and the lust for power that run the world? Are there a few secret powers turning the wheel of history? Which side can be trusted? I grappled with these questions during many sleepless nights. Certainly, there are company mergers, various interest groups, and organizations. There are the mafia and the international drug trade. There are corruption and political intrigue. But do these systems operate independently from human action, and are we powerless against them? Is it sufficient to identify them in order to defeat them? Is it enough to know the names of people in key positions? How could such an extensive or powerful network operate on the basis of violence?


Eventually, it was Ayn Rand who, for me, provided an answer in The Virtue of Selfishness and Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal. Politics is the product of the philosophy of a society. No matter what sort of evil intentions an individual might have, he cannot easily make others do his bidding. We each have free will. We have values and imagination. Only if these are corrupted, a human becomes a slave to a manipulator.

From this starting point, I was able to distance myself from superficial political debates and actually name real causes. It became clear to me that many misunderstandings and conflicts of opinion have their origins at a far deeper level than it would appear. Apart from being influenced by peer pressure, no one is automatically part of a particular political party; only a complete series of opinions, including those involving very abstract themes, leads to such convictions. With my new insights into philosophy, I was able to see connections between different disciplines of thought. From hard logic and fundamental philosophy, to questions about cognition, to questions about one’s way of life, politics, and esthetics, I could finally consider the world in a unified vision.

And I thought back to a book I read in my childhood—Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn, which was very much like what Joseph Campbell described in The Hero with a Thousand Faces: a hero’s journey, the development of a human being toward the realization of what is truly important to him. We are not always what we appear to be; we wear “masks” while we are on a search for our values, our true nature.

Having acquired this knowledge, not only did I begin to understand the world, but also to understand myself. I was finally able to access my true self. Now, the next step is to teach others. Because, like joy, knowledge only becomes truly valuable when shared with others. My driving force is seeing the unrealized potential in myself as well as in the people of the world. I feel that each of us can become a better person and that we are only missing the impulse and the knowledge to do so. With books like this one, I want to convey a small portion of this impulse and knowledge.

Thank you for reading my story!


To act in this world, you first have to discover it.Challenge the traditional idea of “the hero” and discover your own story.

Print and preview available on (or, Kindle ebook available at, too.

The German edition is coming soon.


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Language News Philosophy Reviews

Recommended additional reading (PfH1: Knowledge)

For “Philosophy for Heroes: Knowledge,” I relied on a number of authors for inspiration, ideas, and source material. Here is a selection of recommended additional reading, if you want to go beyond the introduction I gave in the book itself, here is my list for the first book. Enjoy!


   Karen Armstrong. Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life. Anchor, 2011. ISBN 978-0307742889. URL

   Peter S. Beagle. The Last Unicorn. Roc Trade, 1991. ISBN 978-0451450524. URL

   Theodore Dalrymple. Life at the Bottom: The worldview that makes the underclass. Ivan R. Dee, 1332 North Halsted Street Chicago 60622 U.S.A., 2001. ISBN 15-6663-505-5. URL

   Epicurus. The Art of Happiness. Penguin Classics, 2012. ISBN 978-01-4310-721-7. URL

    Daniel L. Everett. Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle. Vintage, 2009. ISBN 978-0307386120. URL

   Richard P. Feynman. Character of Physical Law. Penguin, 2012. ISBN 978-01-4017-505-9. URL

   Richard P. Feynman and Ralph Leighton. What Do You Care What Other People Think? Further Adventures of a Curious Character. W W Norton, 2008. ISBN 978-03-9332-092-3. URL

   Richard P. Feynman and Jeffrey Robbins. The Pleasure of Finding Things Out. Basic Books, 2005. ISBN 978-04-6502-395-0. URL

   Sanford Holst. Phoenician Secrets—Exploring the Ancient Mediterranean. Santorini Books, 2011. ISBN 978-09-8332-790-5. URL

   Steven Mithen. The Singing Neanderthals—the Origins of Music, Language, Mind, and Body. Harvard University Press, 2007. ISBN 06-7402-559-8. URL

   R. Munroe. Xkcd. Number v. 0. Breadpig, 2010. ISBN 9780615314464. URL

   Leonard Peikoff. Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand. Dutton, New York U.S.A., 1991. ISBN 05-2593-380-8. URL

   Leonard Peikoff. Understanding Objectivism. NAL Trade, 2012. ISBN 978-04-5123-629-6. URL

   Ayn Rand. For the New Intellectual. Signet, 1963. ISBN 978-04-5116-308-0. URL

   Ayn Rand. Philosophy: Who Needs It. Signet, 1984. ISBN 978-04-5113-893-4. URL

   Ayn Rand. Atlas Shrugged. Dutton, 35th anniversary ed. edition, 1992. ISBN 05-2594-892-9. URL

   Ayn Rand. The Return of the Primitive: The Anti-Industrial Revolution. Plume, expanded edition edition, 1999. ISBN 978-04-5201-184-7. URL

   Ayn Rand, Harry Binswanger, and Leonard Peikoff. Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. New American Library, New York, N.Y., expanded 2nd ed. edition, 1990. ISBN 04-5201-030-6. URL

   Carl Sagan. The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. Ballantine Books, 1997. ISBN 978-03-4540-946-1. URL

   Fernando Savater. The Questions of Life. Polity Press, 2002. ISBN 07-4562-628-9. URL

   Brenda Ueland. If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit. Important Books, 2012. ISBN 978-80-8783-058-1. URL

   Thomas I. White. In Defense of Dolphins: The New Moral Frontier. Blackwell Publishing, 2007. ISBN 978-14-0515-779-7. URL

   Elie Wiesel. The concept of heroes, 2014. URL [online; last accessed March 16, 2015].

   Dieter E. Zimmer. So kommt der Mensch zur Sprache. Heyne TB, 2008. ISBN 34-5360-065-7. URL (German)

News Uncategorized

How can a visit to an Italian restaurant help us to better understand the world?

How can a visit to an Italian restaurant help us to better understand the world?

We live in a complex world, but language helps us to grasp even complex situations.

What is the connection between pizza and heroism? At first, the two hardly seem related–one is a favorite dish and the other is a way of life. But understanding how pizza delivery works can give us insight into how we can comprehend other, more complex scenarios.

To become a mentor, which is a foundation of being a true hero, you have to know what is real. You have to have a strong grip on reality.

How can we train our minds to better know what is and what is not?

In this adapted excerpt from the book Philosophy for Heroes: Knowledge, author Clemens Lode sheds light on how our use of language creates a concept hierarchy, a mind-map of definitions that empowers us to be able to think more effectively.




   A Slice of Life: Concept Hierarchies and Pizza Delivery

An adapted excerpt from Philosophy for Heroes: Knowledge.



In our lifetime, we learn many concepts. A “concept” is determined by the nature of an entity. A simple example: we learn the concept of “furniture” early on, and as we are introduced to types of furniture (e.g., high-chair, table, bed), we can apply what we know about the original concept to new entities. Hence, we need not consider each situation (i.e., something to sit on, or sleep on) over and over again. If we apply these dependencies of specialization to more general concepts, a structure arises—a concept hierarchy.

A concept hierarchy is a tree-like structure consisting of concepts, defined by the definitions of given connections (e.g., “chair” and “table” are furniture, the concept “furniture” would thus constitute the root of a tree and “chair” and “table” are two successive branches).

Let us consider the example of a pizza delivery company. There, orders, inquiries, customers, and employees must be managed. The first step of management is an accurate grasp of the current situation. Instead of verbally surveying each employee and customer and placing a summary in a file, we abstract the properties of the relationship to each respective person. The employees may have much to tell about their lives, but only a few items of data are important for the payment of their wages, such as a name and bank account number. The same holds for the client, for whom we actually require only a delivery address. In addition, we must manage our products (the pizzas) and the individual inquiries and orders. In the construction of our concept hierarchy, we try to determine only the relevant properties of an entity and disregard all other information.

As all the parts of our pizza company should at the same time refer to identifiable entities with a creation date, they should inherit from a more general concept named “entity.” And obviously, “clients” and “employees” are persons; we can thus let properties such as the address inherit from a more general concept, “person.” With the definition of “order” and “request,” we must in both cases reference the person placing the order (customer) and the employee processing the order (employee), and thus generalize the properties in a concept called “process.” Let us supplement these definitions with properties of the customer (his account), the employee (his position in the company), the order (the ordered product), and the request (the customer’s message); we now obtain a schematic construction of this small slice of the world:








As this example shows, a concept hierarchy allows us to base our understanding of reality on things we know to be true. We can add details as necessary, but we don’t need to reinvent the wheel (or the pizza) from scratch every time.

And that, my friend, explains what pizza and philosophy have in common: begin with what is true, rely on that, and allow that to direct your decisions.


Math News

What does math have to do with becoming a hero?

We live in a complex world, but it is possible to understand even “irrational” aspects of it.

What is the connection between mathematics and heroism? At first, the two hardly seem related–math is about measuring things, and heroes do immeasurable good. Isn’t one limited and the other limitless?

But the two are, in fact, connected. To become a leader, which is the foundation of being a true hero, you have to know who you are. You have to have a strong grip on reality. But this very reality is often questioned, with a common argument being that we live in an irrational world, and that the existence of the so-called “irrational numbers” in nature make any attempt to understand reality impossible.
How can we respond to such a claim?

In this adapted excerpt from the book Philosophy for Heroes: Knowledge, author Clemens Lode sheds light on how the source of these numbers is indeed quite rational

Read the full article at here.

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Website update!

With the completion of “Philosophy for Heroes” ( ), my attention now turns to the website. Last week, I have upgraded the website (Server, PHP, etc.) and you should see noticable faster loading times. More to come!