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Posts Tagged ‘philosophy

“We must believe in free will; we have no choice”*…

 

As the debate between determinists and defenders of free will rages on (as e.g., here), Jessica Hagy weighs in with an entry in her “Indexed” series:

Busy = Beholden

* Isaac Bashevis Singer

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As we concede that context is critical, we might send shocking birthday greetings to a man who exercised free will whether he had it or not: the enfant terrible of French letters, Arthur Rimbaud; he was born on this date in 1854.  With his buddy, Symbolist poet Paul Verlaine, Rimbaud was a leader of the Decadent Movement; fueled by absinthe and hashish, he succeeded in shocking a literary establishment that was nonetheless awed by his visionary verse, which influenced modern literature and arts, inspired various musicians, and prefigured Surrealism.

All known literature is written in the language of common sense—except Rimbaud’s

- Paul Valéry

 source

Written by LW

October 20, 2014 at 1:01 am

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed”*…

 

Readers may recall our old friend Michael “The Man of 1,000 Voices” Winslow.  On the heels of yesterday’s visit to the Crypt of Civilization, here is Michael’s tribute to one of the items therein: “The History of the Typewriter.”

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* Ernest Hemingway

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As we capitulate to QWERTY, we might send deeply-thoughtful birthday greetings to a eloquent employer of the typewriter, Hannah Arendt; she was born on this date in 1906.  Though often categorized as a philosopher, she self-identified as a political theorist, arguing that philosophy deals with “man in the singular,” while her work centers on the fact that “men, not Man, live on the earth and inhabit the world.”  One of the seminal political thinkers of the twentieth century, the power and originality of her thinking was evident in works such as The Origins of Totalitarianism, The Human Condition, On Revolution and The Life of the Mind.  Her famous New Yorker essay and later book, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil– in which she raised the question of whether evil is radical or simply a function of thoughtlessness, a tendency of ordinary people to obey orders and conform to mass opinion without a critical evaluation of the consequences of their actions and inaction– was controversial as it was widely misunderstood as defending Eichmann and blaming Jewish leaders for the Holocaust.  That book ended:

Just as you [Eichmann] supported and carried out a policy of not wanting to share the earth with the Jewish people and the people of a number of other nations—as though you and your superiors had any right to determine who should and who should not inhabit the world—we find that no one, that is, no member of the human race, can be expected to want to share the earth with you. This is the reason, and the only reason, you must hang.

 source

 

Written by LW

October 14, 2014 at 1:01 am

“It is easier to go down a hill than up, but the view is from the top”*…

 

Miami Beach, from above

Last weekend, tens of thousands made their annual end-of-summer pilgrimage to the beach…

On ground level, these crowds look like tidal waves of coconut-oiled flesh, but as seen in the work of Belgian photographer Antoine Rose, the effect is much different: from above, the crowds that gather on the beaches of New York and Miami take on splendid geometries that make each beachgoer’s place in the sand seem almost methodical.

The project that eventually became Rose’s Up In The Air series started back in 2000, when he was head photographer of the Kiteboarding World Cup. Using a helicopter to film kiteboarders as they raced, Rose became fascinated with aerial photography. But it was only after flying over the beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana during a kiteboarding final in Rio that Rose turned his lens from athletes to beachcombers, snapping the herd-like patterns of their oiled hides and colorful beach towels and umbrellas from the air…

The photographer insists he doesn’t coordinate his shots, nor does he alter them after the fact with Photoshop, aside from some standard color correction and post-processing. The beaches appear to us just as Rose saw them leaning out of the side of a helicopter with his camera pointed down.

Read more at “Beach Crowds Are Beautiful From 5,000 Feet In The Air,” and see more of Rose’s remarkable photos at his site.

* Arnold Bennett

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As we head for the high ground, we might recall that it was on this date in 1516 that Thomas More sent Libellus vere aureus, nec minus salutaris quam festivus, de optimo rei publicae statu deque nova insula Utopia (or, as we know it today, Utopia), his fictionalized work of political philosophy, to the printer.  It was edited by Erasmus, and printed later that year.  More, a lawyer, social philosopher, author, statesman, Renaissance humanist, and councillor to Henry VIII of England, was beheaded by Henry in 1535 for refusing to accept the king as Supreme Head of the newly-established Church of England.  More was acting in accordance with his opposition to Martin Luther,  William Tyndale, and the Protestant Reformation…  for which he was canonized in 1935 by Pope Pius XI.  (He is remembered by the Church of England as a “Reformation martyr.”) Utopia wasn’t translated into English until 16 years after his execution.

An illustration from the 1516/first edition of Utopia

source

Thomas More

source

 

Written by LW

September 3, 2014 at 1:01 am

“All philosophy lies in two words, sustain and abstain”*…

 

 source

To Epictetus’ dictum in the title of this post, one might add “disdain”…

“That most deformed concept-cripple of all time.”

Friedrich Nietzsche on Immanuel Kant

“Hegel, installed from above, by the powers that be, as the certified Great Philosopher, was a flat-headed, insipid, nauseating, illiterate charlatan who reached the pinnacle of audacity in scribbling together and dishing up the craziest mystifying nonsense.”

Arthur Schopenhauer on Georg Hegel

“There’s no ‘theory’ in any of this stuff, not in the sense of theory that anyone is familiar with in the sciences or any other serious field. Try to find… some principles from which you can deduce conclusions, empirically testable propositions where it all goes beyond the level of something you can explain in five minutes to a 12-year-old. See if you can find that when the fancy words are decoded. I can’t. So I’m not interested in that kind of posturing. Žižek is an extreme example of it. I don’t see anything to what he’s saying.”

Noam Chomsky on Slavoj Žižek

“Well, with all deep respect that I do have for Chomsky, my… point is that Chomsky, who always emphasizes how one has to be empirical, accurate… well, I don’t think I know a guy who was so often empirically wrong.”

Slavoj Žižek on Noam Chomsky

“Russell’s books should be bound in two colors, those dealing with mathematical logic in red – and all students of philosophy should read them; those dealing with ethics and politics in blue – and no one should be allowed to read them.”

Ludwig Wittgenstein on Bertrand Russell

The hits just keep on coming at “The 30 Harshest Philosopher-on-Philosopher Insults in History” and “Philosophers’ Insults.”

Special bonuses:  Monty Python’s “Philosophers’ Football” and “Dead Philosophers in Heaven.”

* Epictetus

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As we live the examined life, we might send porcelain brithday greetings to Marcel Duchamp; he was born on this date in 1887.  A painter, sculptor, and conceptual artist, Duchamp was, with Picasso and Matisse, one the defining figures in the revolution that redefined the plastic arts in the early Twentieth Century– in Duchamp’s case, as an early Cubist (the star of the famous 1913 New York Armory Show), as the originator of ready-mades, and as a father of Dada.

In the 1930s, Duchamp turned from the production of art to his other great passion, chess.  He became a competitive player; then, as he reached the limits of his ability, a chess writer.  Duchamp’s   Samuel Beckett, an friend of Duchamp, used Duchamp’s thinking about chess strategy as the narrative device for the 1957 play of the same name, Endgame.  In 1968, Duchamp played an on-stage chess match with avant-garde composer, friend, and regular chess opponent John Cage, at a concert entitled Reunion, in which the music was produced by a series of photoelectric cells underneath the chessboard, triggered when pieces were moved in game play.

Duchamp (center; his wife Teeny, right) “performing” Reunion with John Cage (left) in 1968

source

 

Written by LW

July 28, 2014 at 1:01 am

“There are people who embrace the Oxford comma and those who don’t, and I’ll just say this: never get between these people when drink has been taken”*…

 

The Oxford comma, so-called because the Oxford University Press style guidelines require it, is the comma before the conjunction at the end of a list. If your preferred style is to omit the second comma in “red, white, and blue,” you are aligned with the anti-Oxford comma faction.The pro-Oxford comma faction is more vocal and numerous in the US, while in the UK, anti-Oxford comma reigns. (Oxford University is an outsider, style-wise, in its own land.) In the US, book and magazine publishers are generally pro, while newspapers are anti, but both styles can be found in both media.

The two main rationales for choosing one style over the other are clarity and economy. Each side has invoked both rationales in its favor. Here are some quotes that have served as shots exchanged in the Oxford comma wars…

Pro: “…use the comma between all members of a series, including the last two, on the commonsense ground that to do so will preclude ambiguities and annoyances at negligible cost.”

Wilson Follett, in his 1966 Modern American Usage, advocates for the comma on the grounds that it can’t really hurt.

Con: “All those commas make the flag seem rained on. They give it a furled look. Leave them out, and Old Glory is flung to the breeze, as it should be.”

This complaint was addressed to Harold Ross, the founding editor of the New Yorker, by James Thurber, who preferred “the red white and blue” to “the red, white, and blue.” Ross, a notorious defender of the serial comma, was impressed by Thurber’s argument and responded, “write a piece about it, and I’ll punctuate the flag any way you want it—in that one piece.”

Pro: “This book is dedicated to my parents, Ayn Rand and God”

A probably apocryphal book dedication, this example has been a favorite of pro-Oxford comma language blogs for a while. Without the comma before “and,” you get a rather intriguing set of parents.

Con: “The English are rather more careful than we are, and commonly put a comma after the next-to-last member of a series, but otherwise are not too precise to offend a red-blooded American.”

H.L. Mencken, who did not use the serial comma himself, implies, in this quote tucked into a supplement to The American Language, that there is something prissy, pedantic, and altogether un-American about the extra comma…

More fuel for the fire in Arika Okrent’s “The Best Shots Fired in the Oxford Comma Wars.”

*  Lynne Truss, Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation

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As we choose sides, we might spare a thought for a regular user of the clarifying comma, Edmund Burke; he died on this date in 1797.  Born in Dublin, he was an author, orator, political theorist, and philosopher, who, after moving to England, served for many years in the House of Commons of Great Britain as a member of the Whig party.  He’s probably best remembered for his advocacy of the American and his opposition to the French revolutions.  While Burke was held up as a beacon by both conservatives and liberals in the 19th century, the 20th century generally viewed him as the philosophical founder of modern conservatism.

In “Consistency in Politics” Winston Churchill wrote:

On the one hand [Burke] is revealed as a foremost apostle of Liberty, on the other as the redoubtable champion of Authority. But a charge of political inconsistency applied to this life appears a mean and petty thing. History easily discerns the reasons and forces which actuated him, and the immense changes in the problems he was facing which evoked from the same profound mind and sincere spirit these entirely contrary manifestations. His soul revolted against tyranny, whether it appeared in the aspect of a domineering Monarch and a corrupt Court and Parliamentary system, or whether, mouthing the watch-words of a non-existent liberty, it towered up against him in the dictation of a brutal mob and wicked sect. No one can read the Burke of Liberty and the Burke of Authority without feeling that here was the same man pursuing the same ends, seeking the same ideals of society and Government, and defending them from assaults, now from one extreme, now from the other.

And indeed, historian Piers Brendon credits Burke’ paternalistic insistence the colonial domination was a trust, with laying the moral foundations for the British Empire:  Burke wrote that “The British Empire must be governed on a plan of freedom, for it will be governed by no other”– it was to be so exercised for the benefit of subject people that they would eventually attain their birthright—freedom” …a noble aim that was in the event an ideological bacillus, as Brendon observed, that would prove fatal.

“You can never plan the future by the past.”

-Letter to a Member of the National Assembly (1791)

“Justice is itself the great standing policy of civil society; and any eminent departure from it, under any circumstances, lies under the suspicion of being no policy at all”.

Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790)

Burke c. 1767/69, from the studio of Joshua Reynolds

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Written by LW

July 9, 2014 at 1:01 am

“Time will bring to light whatever is hidden”*…

 

book

fore-edge painting is an image on the edges of the pages of a book. The work can only be seen when the pages are fanned (as illustrated in the GIF above and the videos below). When the book is closed, the image is obscured by the gilding– the gold leaf applied to the edges of the page.

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Fore-edge paintings first arose during the European Middle Ages but came to prominence during the mid-17th century to the late 19th century. Anne C. Bromer for the Boston Public Library [which holds one of the finest collections of fore-edge paintings in the U.S.] writes, “Most fore-edge painters working for binding firms did not sign their work, which explains why it is difficult to pinpoint and date the hidden paintings.”

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See and read more at “40 Hidden Artworks Painted on the Edges of Books.”  See also here, here, and here.

* Horace

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As we hunt for Easter eggs, we might spare an ecumenical thought for Ramon Llull; he died on this date in 1315 [source].  A philosopher, logician, poet, and theologian who was heavily influenced by Islam, he is credited with the first major work of Catalan literature (the romantic novel Blanquerna), with having anticipated by several centuries prominent work on elections theory, and with pioneering work on computation theory (largely given his influence on Leibniz).

One of the earliest Encyclopedists, he gave up the life of a courtier (to King James of Aragon) first to become a hermit, then a Franciscan.  After a 1297 meeting with Duns Scotus, he was given the nickname Doctor Illuminatus.

 source

 

Written by LW

June 29, 2014 at 1:01 am

“Use what language you will, you can never say anything but what you are”*…

Lars Yenken‘s “The Great Language Game” is an interactive game, being played worldwide, that challenges users to distinguish among (currently) 87 languages based on their sound alone.  As Lars explains,

There are perhaps six or seven thousand languages in the world. Even so-called hyperpolyglots, people who learn to speak six or more fluently, barely scratch the surface. You and I will never be able to communicate in all these languages without machine aids, but learning to identify what’s being spoken near us, that’s within our reach…

Besides, it’s fun!

[TotH to reddit]

* Ralph Waldo Emerson

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As we prick up our ears, we might send thoughtful birthday greetings to Alfred North Whitehead; he was born on this date in 1861.  Whitehead began his career as a mathematician and logician, perhaps most famously co-authoring (with his former student, Bertrand Russell), the three-volume Principia Mathematica (1910–13), one of the twentieth century’s most important works in mathematical logic.

But in the late teens and early 20s, Whitehead shifted his focus to philosophy, the central result of which was a new field called process philosophy, which has found application in a wide variety of disciplines (e.g., ecology, theology, education, physics, biology, economics, and psychology).

“There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have consequences for the world around us.”

 source

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