(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘philosophy

“Question: ‘How does one philosopher address another?’ Answer: ‘Take your time.’”*…


Vincenzo Di Nicola argues that

We need a philosophy of Slow Thought to ease thinking into a more playful and porous dialogue about what it means to live…

Read his “Slow Thought: a manifesto.”

[Image above from “Why Slow Thinking Wins,” a less philosophical, more functional argument…]

* Ludwig Wittgenstein


As we listen to Ludwig, we might spare a thought for Saint Thomas Aquinas; he died on this date in 1274. A Dominican friar, Catholic priest, and Doctor of the Church, he was an immensely influential philosopher, theologian, and jurist in the tradition of Scholasticism.  Following Aristotle’s definition of science as sure and evident knowledge obtained from demonstrations, Thomas defined science as the knowledge of things from their causes. In his major work, Summa, he distinguished between demonstrated truth (science) and revealed truth (faith).  His influence on Western thought is considerable; much of modern philosophy (especially ethics, natural law, metaphysics, and political theory) developed with reference– in support or opposition– to his ideas.

Thomas, from an altarpiece in Ascoli Piceno, Italy, by Carlo Crivelli (15th century)


Written by LW

March 7, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Invisible threads are the strongest ties”*…


Enter any two nouns or nominative/descriptive phrases; if (as is likely) there’s a Wikipedia article on each, Six Degrees of Wikipedia will track and map the links that connect the two, first as a network diagram:

… then as paths like these:

… all with active links to the underlying articles.

Try it.

* Friedrich Nietzsche


As we agree with E.M. Forster that we should “only connect,” we might spare a thought for Jean Baudrillard; he died on this date in 2007.  A sociologist, philosopher, cultural theorist, political commentator, and photographer, he is best known for his analyses of media, contemporary culture, and technological communication, as well as his formulation of concepts such as simulation and hyperreality.  He wrote widely– touching subjects including consumerism, gender relations, economics, social history, art, Western foreign policy, and popular culture– and is perhaps best known for Simulacra and Simulation (1981).  Part of a generation of French thinkers that included Gilles Deleuze, Jean-François Lyotard, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, and Jacques Lacan, with all of whom Baudrillard shared an interest in semiotics, he is often seen as a central to the post-structuralist philosophical school.



Written by LW

March 6, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Whatever we may think or affect to think of the present age, we cannot get out of it”*…


John Stuart Mill, the most influential English-speaking philosopher of the nineteenth century, is today best remembered as the author of On Liberty…  in which he argues, relentlessly and over the course of around 50,000 words, that there should be no interference with the thought, speech, or action of any individual except on the grounds of the prevention of harm to others.  That prohibition applies to legislative or state action, but also to those informal modes of coercion that can be practised by society itself. And the ban is total. “Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.” Though occasionally challenged by the collectivist left, the position Mill argues for has become orthodoxy in modern Anglo-American political thought.

But while liberalism itself remains pre-eminent, Mill’s arguments for that position have fallen out of sight in recent discussions. In contrast to many contemporary thinkers, Mill’s defence of liberal principles is historical and local – not abstract and universal…

Part of a wonderful series in the Times Literary Supplement, Footnotes to Plato— an appreciation of the relevance of Mill’s thought in our time: “John Stuart Mill: higher happiness.”

* John Stuart Mill, “The Spirit of the Age, I


As we get in touch with our inner Utilitarian, we might recall that it was on this date in 1859 that the “temporary insanity” defense was first successfully deployed in the U.S., when it was used as a plea by U.S. Congressman Daniel Sickles of New York in his trial for the shooting of his wife’s lover, Philip Barton Key— for which Sickles was acquitted, though he’d been witnessed executing his rival and had confessed.  Sickles went on to serve as Sheriff in New York in 1890.

 source (and larger image)


“Nature, Mr Allnut, is what we were put in the world to rise above”*…


Questions about what matters, and why, and what exists in the world, are quintessentially philosophical. The answers to many of these questions are informed by how we conceive of ourselves. How has what is often described as the ‘Copernican revolution’ effected by Charles Darwin changed our self-conception? One particularly surprising feature of evolutionary biology is that it lends significant support to existentialism…

Philosopher Ronnie de Souza suggests that ethics cannot be based on human nature because, as evolutionary biology tells us, there is no such thing: “Natural-born existentialists.”

[Photo above: “Children play on Omaha beach in Normandy, France, 1947,” by David Seymour/Magnum Photos. International Center of Photography]

* Katherine Hepburn to Humphrey Bogart in African Queen


As we sidle up to Sartre, we might spare a thought for Baruch (or Benedict) de Spinoza, the Dutch philosopher whose rationalism and determinism put him in opposition to Descartes and helped lay the foundation for The Enlightenment, and whose pantheistic views led to his excommunication from the Jewish community in Amsterdam; he died on this date in 1677.

As men’s habits of mind differ, so that some more readily embrace one form of faith, some another, for what moves one to pray may move another to scoff, I conclude … that everyone should be free to choose for himself the foundations of his creed, and that faith should be judged only by its fruits; each would then obey God freely with his whole heart, while nothing would be publicly honored save justice and charity.

Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, 1670



Written by LW

February 21, 2018 at 1:01 am

“The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ but ‘That’s funny’”*…


Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin is commonly used as an example of serendipity in science

Scientific folklore is full of tales of accidental discovery, from the stray Petri dish that led Alexander Fleming to discover penicillin to Wilhelm Röntgen’s chance detection of X-rays while tinkering with a cathode-ray tube.

That knowledge often advances through serendipity is how scientists, sometimes loudly, justify the billions of dollars that taxpayers plough into curiosity-driven research each year. And it is the reason some argue that increasing government efforts to control research — with an eye to driving greater economic or social impact — are at best futile and at worst counterproductive.

But just how important is serendipity to science? Scientists debating with policymakers have long relied on anecdotal evidence. Studies rarely try to quantify how much scientific progress was truly serendipitous, how much that cost or the circumstances in which it emerged.

Serendipity can take on many forms, and its unwieldy web of cause and effect is difficult to constrain. Data are not available to track it in any meaningful way. Instead, academic research has focused on serendipity in science as a philosophical concept.

The European Research Council aims to change that…

On the heels of yesterday’s post on the history of dice, and the way they evolved over the centuries to be “fairer”– to favor chance– another post on luck…  more specifically in this case, on whether it’s all that it’s cracked up to be.  Scientists often herald the role of chance in research; a project in Britain aims to test that popular idea with evidence: “The serendipity test.”

* Isaac Asimov


As we contemplate contingency, we might send elaborately-engineered birthday greetings to George Washington Gale Ferris Jr.; he was born on this date in 1859.  An engineer and inventor, he had built a successful career testing and inspecting metals for railroads and bridge builders when…

… in 1891, the directors of the World’s Columbian Exposition [to be held in 1893] issued a challenge to American engineers to conceive of a monument for the fair that would surpass the Eiffel Tower, the great structure of the Paris International Exposition of 1889. The planners wanted something “original, daring and unique.” Ferris responded with a proposed wheel from which visitors would be able to view the entire exhibition, a wheel that would “Out-Eiffel Eiffel.” The planners feared his design for a rotating wheel towering over the grounds could not possibly be safe.

Ferris persisted. He returned in a few weeks with several respectable endorsements from established engineers, and the committee agreed to allow construction to begin. Most convincingly, he had recruited several local investors to cover the $400,000 cost of construction. The planning commission of the Exposition hoped that admissions from the Ferris Wheel would pull the fair out of debt and eventually make it profitable. [source]

It carried 2.5 million passengers before it was finally demolished in 1906.  But while the Fair’s promoters hopes were fulfilled– the Ferris Wheel was a windfall– Ferris claimed that the exhibition management had robbed him and his investors of their rightful portion of the nearly $750,000 profit that his wheel brought in.  Ferris spent two years in litigation, trying (unsuccessfully) to recover his investment.  He died despondent and nearly bankrupt (reportedly of typhoid, though some suggest that it was suicide) in 1896.

The original 1893 Chicago Ferris Wheel




Written by LW

February 14, 2018 at 1:01 am

“We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness”*…


Ockham’s razor is the principle that, all things being equal, more parsimonious theories – that is to say, theories with relatively few postulations – are to be preferred. Is it not a great cost in terms of parsimony to ascribe fundamental consciousness to the Universe? Not at all. The physical world must have some nature, and physics leaves us completely in the dark as to what it is. It is no less parsimonious to suppose that the Universe has a consciousness-involving nature than that it has some non-consciousness-involving nature. If anything, the former proposal is more parsimonious insofar as it is continuous with the only thing we really know about the nature of matter: that brains have consciousness…

One of the thinkers quoted in (Roughly) Daily’s recent piece on panpsychismPhilip Goff, has elaborated on his argument that the Universe and everything in it is conscious.  Cosmopsychism, as he now calls the notion, might seem crazy; but as he explains, it provides a robust explanatory model for how the Universe became fine-tuned for life: “Is the Universe a conscious mind?

* Max Planck


As we ascribe some level of sentience to absolutely everything, we might send brave birthday greetings to Fang Lizhi; he was born on this date in 1936.

An astrophysicist, vice-president of the University of Science and Technology of China, who published published a paper (in 1972) on a topic central to the argument for cosmopsychism– the Big Bang theory, previously a forbidden topic in China (Marxists claimed that the universe was infinite)– which met condemnation from the Communist Party.  He became an advocate of intellectual freedom and civic reform, whose liberal ideas helped inspire the pro-democracy student movement of 1986–87 and, finally, the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989– and for which he was expelled from the Communist Party and forced into exile.



Written by LW

February 12, 2018 at 1:01 am

“A metaphor is like a simile”*…


“Fiction is like a spider’s web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners.”

-Virginia Woolf

Just one of the “exhibits” in “an ongoing collection of the world’s most likable literary device”:  The Simile Museum.

[source of the image above]

* Steven Wright


As we remember that “liking” has a very long history, we might spare a thought for 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)

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



Written by LW

February 5, 2018 at 1:01 am

%d bloggers like this: