Dear Princess ‘Ishka,

There is a guy when I go swimming, who is particularly remarkable. Not only for his pretty face, like one of those Hollywood Ryans, either Gosling or Reynolds. Not only for the abs so hard you could safely test North Korea nukes upon. Not only for those particular flexions of biceps, shaking of muscles or the simple walking in slow motion that attractive guys seem to do almost inadvertently.

No. I wouldn’t find those things more remarkable than my suspicious objectifying attitude. What is remarkable is that he is a swimmer. A remarkable swimmer.

I tried once to describe him to S, and the first thing I associated him to was a whale. “A whale?” said S, unsure about whether I was joking or I already went completely nuts. Yes, a whale, because whales are big and elegant. And he is big and, as soon as he enters water, he is one of the most elegant creatures I have seen in a while.

The physical strength I lack makes him so elegant. Like whales, whose infinite muscular strength to lift the tons of their bodies above the surface of the ocean inspire that feeling between admiration and awe.

Whales are the sovereigns of the oceans, and that guy is the king of the swimming pool. Or rather the whale among human swimmers.

I often ask myself what am I doing? What are you doing ‘Miasha? He is the one who has the right to swim, not you, miserable bony thingy. He is producing beauty as he moves in the liquid element. You are just ridiculously delusional if you think you’ll ever be half of that beautiful!

When we are children, we often come across the paradoxes of adulthood. One in particular I’ve always found particularly paradoxical: is comparison with our fellow human beings a good thing? This is a controversial question, especially during childhood, when it seems that comparing yourself to your schoolmates who take better marks makes you develop humility, but comparing yourself to those who take worse marks makes you suddenly arrogant.

In a social context, comparison is unavoidable, independently of whom you are comparing yourself to. Indeed, I think that it is rational! To compare yourself to the people in your surroundings helps you to better judge your own conduct. You become more self-critical, more self-aware and the more you compare, the better you can understand other people.

Comparison has a dark side, however. And maybe that’s why our childhood educators were warning us against it. Excessive comparison can lead to unhealthy competition, abuse of power, bullying, anxiety, overrating, underrating, the feeling that the worth of a person can only depend on how much of her life she is disposed to sacrifice on the altar of the selfish and obtuse aspiration to shine brighter than the others.

What to do, when we lack the excellence of others in an activity we value a lot? When the comparison is going to lead us to a sense of inferiority, if ever we don’t want to be delusional about our limited capacities? Does it still make sense to struggle?

Of course, the answer is yes, for we needn’t be excellent in every activity we value. But comparison can let us down. When someone is simply prettier than us, more intelligent or more creative, how can’t the comparison undermine our self-confidence?

Again, my childhood educators were used to tell me to ignore the others and walk my way. But this is delusional! You can’t ignore Ryan Gosling when you are just an ordinary ‘Miasha!

I think there is a way out of this paradox. It might be not the easiest, but I tested it and it somehow works for me. When the comparison produces negative feelings in us, we can transform them into admiration.

Admiration allows us to “absorb” the strength and beauty of others, as members of the same cultural framework of meaning. If we value swimming, we value who can swim beautifully the most. Hence we shall admire remarkable swimmers the most. The same if we value singing, drawing, astrophysics, dancing, engineering, etc. We can capture the qualities of the excellent human beings around us in our eyes and minds, rejoice at their thought and create our world of role models.

The virtues and the natural gifts of our role models can also enrich the understanding of our systems of values. People almost have a responsibility to cultivate their qualities, not only for themselves, but also for the values they represent. So the singer got to sing, the teacher to teach, the swimmer to swim. The human to value and the whale to whale.

Forever yours,




Dear Princess ‘Ishka,

Do you think it was destiny for us to meet? Was it destiny for us to depart? Will it be destiny for us to find each other again?

In ordinary talk, people are accustomed to use the word “destiny” to refer to their personal luck and misfortune, but what does it mean that an event was “destined to happen”? Does it give any additional meaning to the quite trivial and tautological thought that “events happen”?

I take it that most people think about destiny as ancient Greeks thought about fate. Fate is some sort of universal law that even gods are subject to. It is that ancestral book, which contains all events at each point in time: past, present and future. It is the conception of life as “written in the stars”.

What does it mean that things were “already written”? In what language? Was it English, or Chinese, or Arabic? If destiny is a universal law, it needs a universal language, but is there any such language? That of physics and nature, someone might argue. But do the laws of physics explain why we met, my princess? Is there a physical-chemical-biological theorem to explain why I applied specifically for a university rather than another, that I didn’t fall ill shortly before the departure, that we had the time and opportunity to know each other and bond, all at once?

Things might have gone pretty differently, and no universal law could have deemed those possible worlds as implausible. ‘Miasha could have met Princess ‘Sashka, rather than you, and you could have never gotten the chance to ever see me in your entire life. I could have fallen ill, you could have found another more appealing opportunity to travel, I could have given up my studies, we could have hated each other, rather than become the closest of friends. Perhaps because of the most insignificant wrong word at the wrong time.

Destiny as fate can still provide us with a conservative feeling of security in front of the happenings of life, but it doesn’t explain absolutely anything. It adds nothing to the trivial claim that “events happen”.

So what is destiny then? If you can’t explain why something happened the way it happened with a universal law, you could still think that a pervasive mechanism of causality determines everything.  Destiny would amount to “predetermination”, according to which, every event is embedded in chains of particular causes and effects. However, this position, which seems very serious and compatible with science at first, fails to understand the true reason why we employ the term “destiny”.

The question is not why a person among the others has met another person. The question is why me, ‘Miasha, has met precisely you, the Princess ‘Ishka.

Let me clear myself. I need two fundamental concepts: objectivity and subjectivity. I understand here objectivity as the point of view of treating happenings as objects of knowledge. It is not obscure why two particular people (our objects of knowledge), with certain social backgrounds, given determined conditions, will do precisely the things they do and they will end up meeting.

It was statistically determinable, say, that 1% of the English-speaking students of humanities, of that specific year, would have converged to that specific university, and would have hence met each other. But in this imaginary statistics, nothing is written about why ‘Miasha met the Princess ‘Ishka!

Here, subjectivity comes into play. From a subjective point of view, my life is my whole world to me, and I am not just a person among the others when I think of myself: I am me myself! And you are special to me, you are not just some person I had a certain probability to meet: you are my Princess ‘Ishka!

The objective fact that around 10% of the world population is gay doesn’t raise an eyebrow, but it is a mind-blowing experience to realize that it is precisely you, who happens to be gay! It is the same if you happen to be a woman, a man, an asylum seeker, the president of the US, the queen of England, a swine ready for slaughter or an endangered polar bear.

If we grasp the “dual aspect” of our condition, we discover how destiny, which sounded like a superstition at first, could even turn out to stand at the foundation of morals. Nowhere was it written that I would have been born to a middleclass Italian family, with all the opportunities of the case, and not in Syria, under the bombs of a senseless war. I did nothing to earn my luck, nor my misfortune. I found myself, subjectively, in a certain objective situation, with objective privileges.

Destiny is often thought as a conservative concept, meaning that you can’t do anything against what happens to you. But destiny as the point of contact between subjectivity and objectivity assumes the opposite meaning: that of committing oneself to moral progress.

Destiny is the very reason why we must act to make the objective world a better place for all subjectivities to flourish.

Forever yours,



Dear Princess ‘Ishka,

It has been a wonderful year. One of the most amazing years of my life. I’ve become more self-conscious, I’ve met wonderful people and I laid the foundations for future projects. My letters have been my faithful companions in this journey. Who would have guessed at first that my pseudo-philosophical reports would have stood the test of time?

This correspondence started with hundreds of insecurities and worries. It has seen happy days and grey ones. Many times I’ve failed and many times I’ve raised up again. Not all my opinions have been well-grounded as I would have liked, but many have developed in unpredictable ways, sometimes even better than expected.

I do not agree anymore with many ideas of my former letters and you can’t imagine the paranoia following most of the publications. Will my readers understand what I write? Is my English clear enough? Are my arguments sensible enough? Will they bore them? Will they inspire?

Some of these doubts still haunt me but, if I were to travel back in time, I would re-write every single grammatical mistake, every single logical fallacy, every single unconvincing argument. Why? Because no single letter of mine was meant to put the final word to any debate: each “me-of-the-past” has endeavored to express his point of view at his best, trying to formulate a basis for further discussions. Is there any greater satisfaction than to be considered, criticized and shown one’s shortcomings and merits in a never-ending “game of giving and asking for reasons”?

There is so much space for improvement and I am thrilled at the thought of where these letters will lead me to – us, if you concede. I would like my letters to be more personal, at the same time more thought-provoking. I will try to be sharper in my arguments, without giving up self-mockery and a certain attachment to everyday life.

I suspect that my need to write to you, my princess, stemmed precisely from the lack of everyday life in academic philosophy. I have often asked myself: why rack your brains on ethics, rationality, philosophy of mind and politics, if whatever I think and write will be at most read by a very restricted group of specialists – in my case, so far, my professors only? I mean, these things are important! They matter to everyone, not only to academics! They are about actual life of actual beings, not about something imaginary.

Without doubt, there are good reasons for why many philosophers have retired from the public scene. Universities require “productivity rates”, which are often incompatible with the freedom of thinking. This happens also to maintain prestige in front of the rise of populism and a general mistrust in rationality and a suspicion about articulated positions. The cost is however great: depriving people of their philosophers, whose language has in many cases become inaccessible for non-specialists.

If philosophy is frustrating and abstruse without attention for the things of ordinary life, it is also true that life without philosophy will never flourish. We need to know ourselves to be ourselves, otherwise we will have lived the life of a person among the others, rather than our very own, first-personal, authentic life. We need philosophy to work out our particular essence, mentally and bodily, as social beings and as moral beings.

Hence, philosophy shall start with a promise of survival: it must never turn its back on the struggle of happening to be alive, and never feel superior in its quest for generality with respect to the particular life. For the whole universe sees its reflection in the effort of the minuscule ant, and the existence of the former will never be accounted for by neglecting the latter.

Only afterwards can philosophy be maieutics: the art of the childbirth assistant, that of facilitating the birth of refined opinions. In fact, our opinions are conceived like diamonds in the rough. They are not of much worth at the beginning, but philosophical elaboration can make them shine bright. Unlike diamonds, however, philosophical ideas can’t be “privatized”. They must be available for everyone, and their language shall also attempt to accommodate the understanding of the most distant of our fellow human beings.

It’s time to say goodbye, my princess. I’ll try to make you proud of myself again, if ever I’ve fallen short of your expectations. Let me just conclude my resolution for a new beginning, with a reminder from one of my favorite philosophers:

Philosophy is the childhood of the intellect, and a culture that tries to skip it will never grow up.

Forever yours,



Dear Princess ‘Ishka,

I don’t find abstentionism at polling stations absurd. On the contrary, what I find absurd is the confidence with which controversial arguments are used to convince abstentionists. In this letter I will consider one of such arguments, focusing on the recent Italian case.

Italy has soon to face new political elections. The number of nonvoting Italians is still uncertain but, if it were represented by a party, it is predicted to be a major one.

Abstentionism is a threat to democracy: in a democratic system, refusing to vote counts as flat-out endorsement of who has been otherwise voted. The only democratic tool to make a difference without voting, is to peacefully protest, even if this latter needn’t exclude the former.

When it is rational to worry about abstentionism, like in the Italian case, you can hear countless times the following argument: “people” died for the freedom of the Italian citizens to vote; therefore, Italians have a duty to vote, and ought to vote.

This argument is problematic. Let’s go through it to show why.

Who are the people, who died for the freedom of Italians to go voting? They are Italians and non-Italians, who took part in the resistance against the Italian fascist regime and the Nazi occupation of Italy during WW2. They fought to liberate a country from authoritarianism, and to make the right to vote meaningful again. Does the freedom they fought for justify the “moral obligation” to go voting?

The most direct objection would be that “true” freedom to vote, means also freedom not to vote. However, as I have shown already, refusing to vote in a democratic system is not truly a means to express one’s freedom, but rather the opposite: it legitimates what has been voted by others, giving up the relevance of one’s choice.

A greater problem with the argument is historic manipulation: when people died for a cause, in a specific historical moment, their death can be used for purposes, which differ contextually from their original meaning. I take this to be a strong objection: resistance against fascism wasn’t meant to serve as an argument to convince people in 2018 that they ought to vote, because people sacrificed their lives for this to be so. Resistance was primarily opposition to an actual oppressive regime negating basic freedoms and rights, not a positive stance in support of how to best understand a democratic system.

If the argument were correct, one could legitimately ask: is the current political campaign, filled with populism and collusion, worth the death of such brave women and men back then? And the answer would be no, unless we start bargaining about what precisely they did die for, jeopardizing the much stronger and shareable claim that they died against something rather than for something in particular.

In my opinion, this argument can’t plausibly convince abstentionists. Abstentionists don’t feel represented anymore, they have lost interest in politics and legitimately believe that voting for the “lesser of evils” is an insult to democracy. Shall we thus conclude that it’s rational of them to refuse to vote?

I think it is rational from their premises but, unfortunately, I deem those premises as false. I suspect that they believe that democracy amounts to the collection of merely individual preferences: you vote for the politician or the party, who you expect to reflect at best your ideas for a better society. This is partly true, but if it were the whole story, our democratic responsibility would amount to a “philosophical responsibility”.

Philosophers never bargain nor negotiate: philosophers defend only their ideas, and when they find better ones, they abandon the conflicting old convictions at once. Democracy requires us to do a little  more than defending our ideas: it requires to be sensitive to the worldviews of others, to accept them as legitimate and to accept our opinion as one among the many, not more, nor less important.

This means that voting in a democracy is not a matter of expressing one’s singular worldview in an “either-or fashion”, but rather to be part of a collective practice, that is of a whole community, which determines itself.

If you value democracy, you don’t vote for your worldview to be “individually represented”: you take part in a complicated social phenomenon. You do not vote for the lesser of evils, but for that political subject, which represents the (non-delusional) wishes and interests of as many people as you could imagine, starting from the most needy.

Voting is an act of humility and solidarity, not of individualism. It is the best chance for a whole community to decide what it wants to be like.

Forever yours,



Dear Princess ‘Ishka,

Sex is healthy and good. At least, this is what we hear from sexologists in a world mostly liberated from religious obscurantism. At the same time, sex is somewhat controversial. Feminism has shown us how important the question of consent is, whereas the social stigma on pedophiles proves how hard it is still to distinguish between sexuality and sexual act.

For months I have not been able to illustrate the philosophical condition I think sex has to fulfill in order to be healthy and good. My biggest worry was that of being mistaken for a puritan. Thanks to the help of the French novelist Marguerite Yourcenar, I have overcome this worry and I can now proceed to express my opinion.

Let me spend a couple of words on why it is important to spell out this condition. Nowadays, it is unproblematic for most people to find sex. Moreover, the taboos around it are crumbling and the wars for sexual liberation of the past decades are showing their fruits. A question now arises: is the availability of sex enough for sex to be healthy and good?

I don’t think so, because the simple fact that we can mutually consent to have sex is compatible with terrible sex. That kind of sex can be morally ok, but not good in the very concrete sense of the term. Besides, it is hardly definable as “healthy”: even if it might be “physiologically healthy”, it remains psychologically terrible. Hence, we need an additional condition to the mere availability of sex to make sex healthy and good.

How about love? That seems to be too demanding. As A pointed out to me once, a person can enjoy sex without displaying any profound emotional bonding to the sexual partner. One night stands can be often fun.

The short story “The Man who Loved the Nereids” by Marguerite Yourcenar has helped me shed light on this issue. The story goes like this: Panegyotis was a rich young man who enjoyed the company of many girls. Unfortunately, he was charmed by the Nereids, magical creatures living away from human civilization. After his encounter with these “supernatural man-eaters”, no common human pleasure could arouse him anymore. Indeed, he longed for the rest of his life for his nonhuman lovers.

To describe his condition, Yourcenar writes the following:

As much as no love exists without dazzlement of the heart, there is no true sensuality without wonder of beauty.

The condition of poor Panegyotis applies to many more cases than what you might expect. Without being amazed by another person, sex won’t be good nor healthy. This amazement needn’t be as pretentious as the one you’d experience in front of the Nereids. But it can’t be absent, if you are not willing to get terrible sex.

Too many people have sex without even questioning whether they like it, because sex is supposed to be intrinsically “healthy and good”. It is not. Sex is good only upon at least what we could call “Panegyotis’ condition”: there must be something that amazes you about your sexual partner(s). There must be “beauty” in that person, which could fill you with a sense of genuine wonder. Otherwise, sensuality isn’t “true”. It remains the social construct of void expectations it concretely is. Sex becomes a dull routine, a set of mechanical gestures to achieve an orgasm – sometimes even without the orgasm.

You can’t expect sex to be good independently of what you feel for a person. But this feeling needn’t be as strong as love. It can simply be an emotion related to our “inner sense of beauty”, call it wonder, amazement, inspiration or what you like.

No matter how hard we strive to understand it, sex remains a pretty complicated thing. To make it a little easier, we shall first figure out that we have been hit underneath, rather than under the bed sheets. For that might be too late.

Forever yours,



Dear Princess ‘Ishka,

Potentially, every time we say something, there is a risk to hurt someone else’s feelings or to discriminate certain people. This is the trivial sense of “taking a risk to discriminate” and, of course, if we were to take it seriously, we couldn’t say a word anymore.

There is another sense, however, which is the one of consciously foreseeing the discriminatory effects of what we are saying and say it none the less. This is immoral. And immoral is also avoiding to excuse oneself, once one is shown the discriminatory effects of her utterances.

Political correctness has developed in western, modern, multicultural societies as a method of talking and thinking in such a way as to avoid, insofar as it is possible, immoral discrimination of disadvantaged members of a society. An excess of political correctness could mean being self-righteous and be unsustainable, because it might lead to improper censorship.

Since more than one person has accused me of unsustainable political correctness, I owe them an explanation. I need to address two related features of the problem: the first is political correctness taken as a form of “moral censorship” about certain everyday life, linguistic or artistic freedoms; the second is the risk of adopting the stance of a moral police officer.

Flat-out censorship is never the most efficacious method to contrast discriminatory ideologies. I do believe in the importance of dialogue about what is right and wrong, and in the possibility for fallible creatures like ourselves of making forgivable mistakes.

This said, my political correctness doesn’t yet allow me to appreciate a racist or a homophobic joke. Indeed, certain kinds of satire have an oppressive flavor: they attack the vulnerable and implicitly defend the powerful. And each time you laugh, you strengthen inequality and oppression.

We won’t stop laughing then, because something gets censored. We stop laughing when we start thinking, and our thoughts will help us next time to distinguish funny jokes from discriminatory ones, and to laugh accordingly. Moreover, in an evolving society, what was strange and “abnormal” in the past, can suddenly turn out to be common in the present, and related jokes will thus stop being funny “just for that”.

In a previous letter, I have already addressed the topic of misconduct of artists. In this case, all I shall underline is that nothing in the production of art provides artists with any “moral pass”. Art can’t be judged in moral terms, just as moral subjects can’t be judged in artistic terms. Art is judged with artistic criteria, whereas an artist’s moral conduct with moral criteria. In the case of discriminatory lyrics, for instance, we might adopt artistic criteria but, among them, we shall also consider the originality of the message and its meaning. Given my recent definition of art, we might even question whether those lyrics can’t be better defined as a discriminatory regurgitation, rather than art.

Now I skip to the second accusation, that of endorsing some sort of Orwellian moral police, if not being myself a moral police officer. Here I must distance myself from a common phenomenon of political correctness. What I really don’t like about this phenomenon is its Manicheism, its seeing everything as either black or white, its dividing the world in bad guys and good guys, in police officers and criminals.

We can’t a priori rule out the possibility of victims to be themselves oppressors and we can’t deem oppressors as monsters. That would be too easy: monsters don’t have the chance to be otherwise. Human beings are much more complicated creatures. They often act upon certain motives and they have reasons for acting. They have a history and they are culturally shaped. They deserve blame sometimes. Sometimes they perpetrate unforgivable evils. But always as human beings, never as monsters.

This means that we can never judge an individual life as if we could see through every relevant decision leading to an evil action. All we can do is just to try to analyze the action itself, its motivational background and attempt to construct a model for making the action morally intelligible. I really can’t see how this approach might count as “moral police”.

Talking about monsters in a politically correct fashion is a terrible mistake: we risk to ascribe very human vices to non-human entities. De-humanizing vices leads to extreme dangers: we tend to be too indulgent with ourselves and too fatalist with monsters. We tend to forget the evil in ourselves, because “at least we are not monsters”.

No one is. Not even the filthiest genocidal criminal. We all are fallible human beings, and we fail whenever we are given the chance to reconsider our conduct, and we laugh or appeal to specious artistic license or else instead of thinking.

Forever yours,



Dear Princess ‘Ishka,

The hijab is the veil typically worn by women belonging to the Islamic culture. There are many ways of understanding it: for some people it is just an item of clothing, for others it has a deep religious meaning. For certain women it is an obnoxious imposition, for others it represents the free vindication of Islamic identity in islamophobic contexts.

In this letter I would like to address the feminist interpretation of hijab. The position I am going to defend is that the hijab can’t be considered a feminist symbol with respect to the western conception of feminism. This doesn’t mean that feminism and hijab-culture are incompatible. I think indeed that quite the contrary is the case. Still, I believe that people interpreting the role of hijab as quintessentially feminist are mistaken, and I’ll try to show why.

Attending a course on cultural anthropology some years ago, I learned about the following phenomenon: certain women belonging to the Islamic culture intentionally wear hijab as a symbol of emancipation. The reason why they do so, is that they don’t want to be seen by men as sexual objects, but rather want to be valued for their intelligence, personality and willpower. In this sense, hijab assumes the meaning of “protection” against the lustful gazes of men.

Although I strongly appreciate the efforts of these women to tackle their chauvinist societies, and I believe that individual choices are best seen by individuals in their practical contexts rather than by outside observers, I think that this meaning, theoretically understood, can’t be straightforwardly called feminist.

The reason is that feminism attempts to become a general theory of society and not a code of advices about how women should best behave. Feminism tries to talk to and about everyone: from children to adults, from women to men. This means that, even if hijab can work as a practical help in certain circumstances, and a symbol of female emancipation, it is far from being straightforwardly feminist. Feminism would require men to stop objectifying women in the first place, so that women are free to wear hijab at their will, and not because otherwise they would be objectified. To put it differently, feminist theory can’t come to terms with chauvinist blackmailing.

Another reason not to accept this meaning of hijab as feminist is the central role of the human body in western feminism. Women have fought under the motto “my body, my choice”, which is a vindication of the woman to be the ultimate judge about how she administers her body. In the above mentioned case, women are covering their bodies not because of a positive conception of it, but as a response to the objectification of men. They strive to be considered as thinkers, but in this struggle they set aside that they are also sensitive beings, sexual beings and material beings. Again: their efforts might be even necessary, given their conditions, but their sensible practical decisions can’t be theoretically understood as straightforwardly feminist.

Another example of the attempt to link hijab to feminism is less demanding. Certain women defend the claim that wearing hijab symbolizes the feminist freedom of women to wear what they want – especially in western societies. But from this claim they usually go as far as concluding that hijab (and their conception of Islam) is feminist. In my opinion, this is a confusion about a priority of meanings: the fact that feminism allows you to wear what you want, doesn’t yet entail that what you want to wear has a feminist meaning. A hijab remains often related to the Islamic culture, and all that feminism does is letting women intentionally adhere to it. From a feminist perspective, feminism must be prior to the meanings of hijab, otherwise we risk to say that, for instance, religious codes of behavior are feminist, which would be utterly ridiculous.

Western, modern feminism is compatible with Islamic culture insofar as it stands for the emancipation and empowerment of women of every culture. On the other hand, it clashes with Islamic and other cultures, whenever they oppress women and force on them their symbols of oppression. These symbols can be reinterpreted and can even be helpful in constituting one’s personal identity at different levels and with different meanings. But to forget that feminism is the condition for this to happen rather than religion or something else, is to step away from feminism and to take a step closer to connivance with the status quo of a world still extensively ruled by men.

Forever yours,