(Roughly) Daily

“You shouldn’t rely on what you believe to be true. You might be mistaken. Everything can be questioned, everything doubted. The best option, then, is to keep an open mind.”*…

The ancient Sceptics– often called Pyrrhonists after Pyrrho, the ancient Greek master Sceptic who lived in the 4th and 3rd centuries BCE– used doubt as a way of investigating the world. As Mahdi Ranaee explains, later thinkers undermined even that possibility…

Ask any philosopher what scepticism is, and you will receive as many different answers as people you’ve asked. Some of them take it to be showing that we cannot have any knowledge – of, say, the external world – and some of them take it to be even more radical in showing that we cannot have any reasonable beliefs. In the interests of getting a handle on the varieties of scepticism, one can locate four different milestones of sceptical thought in the history of Western philosophy. These four milestones start with the least threatening of them, Pyrrhonian skepticism, and continue by Cartesian and Kantian scepticisms to the Wittgensteinian moment in which even our intention to act is put in question…

Fascinating: “Known unknowables,” in @aeonmag.

* Pyrrho (as paraphrased by Nigel Warburton)


As we question questioning, we might spare a thought for a not-so-sceptical thinker, Thomas Carlyle; he died on this date in 1881.  A Victorian polymath, he was an accomplished philosopher, satirical writer, essayist, translator, historian, mathematician, and teacher.  While he was an enormously popular lecturer in his time, and his contributions to mathematics earned him eponymous fame (the Carlyle circle), he may be best remembered as a historian (and champion of the “Great Man” theory of history)… and as the coiner of phrases like “the dismal science” (to describe economics).

While not adhering to any formal religion, Carlyle asserted the importance of belief and developed his own philosophy of religion. He preached “Natural Supernaturalism,” the idea that all things are “Clothes” which at once reveal and conceal the divine, that “a mystic bond of brotherhood makes all men one,” and that duty, work and silence are essential. He attacked utilitarianism as mere atheism and egoism; instead taking a medievalist tack, postulating the Great Man theory, a philosophy of history which argues that history is shaped by exceptional individuals. (Indeed his thinking, which extended to a critique of democracy and an argument for “Heroarchy (Government of Heroes),” was appropriated and perverted by Nazi thinkers in Germany.

Carlyle’s History of the French Revolution, a three volume work that assured his fame as a historian, was finished in 1836 but not published until 1837 because John Stuart Mill’s maid mistook the manuscript of Volume One for kindling.  The setback prompted Carlyle to compare himself to a man who has nearly killed himself accomplishing zero.”  But he re-wrote the first volume from scratch.

“A well-written Life is almost as rare as a well-spent one.”   – Thomas Carlyle


Written by (Roughly) Daily

February 5, 2023 at 1:00 am

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