(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘philosophy

“Gussie, a glutton for punishment, stared at himself in the mirror”*…

 

Anonymous, Marcia Painting Self-Portrait Using Mirror (detail), in Giovanni Boccaccio’s De Mulieribus Claris, c. 1403. Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

Polished metal and obsidian mirrors have existed from ancient times, and because of this, historians have usually passed over the introduction of the glass mirror as if it was just another variation on an old theme. But the development of glass mirrors marks a crucial shift, for they allowed people to see themselves properly for the first time, with all their unique expressions and characteristics. Polished metal mirrors of copper or bronze were very inefficient by comparison, reflecting only about 20 percent of the light; and even silver mirrors had to be exceptionally smooth to give any meaningful reflection. These were also prohibitively expensive: most medieval people would only have glimpsed their faces darkly, reflected in a pool of water.

The convex glass mirror was a Venetian invention of about 1300, possibly connected with the development of the glass lenses used in the earliest spectacles (invented in the 1280s). By the late fourteenth century, you could find such mirrors in northern Europe. The future Henry IV of England paid 6d to have the glass of a broken mirror replaced in 1387. Four years later, while traveling in Prussia, he paid £1 3s. 8d in sterling for “two mirrors of Paris” for his own use. His son, Henry V, had three mirrors in his chamber at the time of his death in 1422, two of which were together worth £1 3s. 2d. Although these were still far too expensive for an average farmer or tradesman, in 1500 the prosperous city merchant could afford such an item. In this respect, the individual with disposable income differed greatly from his ancestor in 1400: he could see his own reflection and thus knew how he appeared to the rest of the world…

The very act of a person seeing himself in a mirror or being represented in a portrait as the center of attention encouraged him to think of himself in a different way. He began to see himself as unique. Previously the parameters of individual identity had been limited to an individual’s interaction with the people around him and the religious insights he had over the course of his life. Thus individuality as we understand it today did not exist: people only understood their identity in relation to groups—their household, their manor, their town or parish—and in relation to God…

From Ian Mortimer‘s “The Mirror Effect- How the rise of mirrors in the fifteenth century shaped our idea of the individual.”

* P.G. Wodehouse, Right Ho, Jeeves

###

As we snap that selfie, we might spare a thought for David Émile Durkheim; he died on this date in 1917.  A French sociologist, social psychologist and philosopher, he formally established the academic discipline and—with Karl Marx and Max Weber—is commonly cited as the principal architect of modern social science and father of sociology.

Kant postulates God, since without this hypothesis morality is unintelligible. We postulate a society specifically distinct from individuals, since otherwise morality has no object and duty no roots.

– Durkheim, Sociology and philosophy (1911), D. Pocock, trans. (1974), p. 51.

 source

 

Written by LW

November 15, 2016 at 1:01 am

“I think it would be a good idea”*…

 

Culture – like religion and nation and race – provides a source of identity for contemporary human beings. And, like all three, it can become a form of confinement, conceptual mistakes underwriting moral ones. Yet all of them can also give contours to our freedom. Social identities connect the small scale where we live our lives alongside our kith and kin with larger movements, causes, and concerns. They can make a wider world intelligible, alive, and urgent. They can expand our horizons to communities larger than the ones we personally inhabit. But our lives must make sense, too, at the largest of all scales. We live in an era in which our actions, in the realm of ideology as in the realm of technology, increasingly have global effects. When it comes to the compass of our concern and compassion, humanity as a whole is not too broad a horizon.

We live with seven billion fellow humans on a small, warming planet. The cosmopolitan impulse that draws on our common humanity is no longer a luxury; it has become a necessity…

From “There is no such thing as western civilisation,” an excerpt from the edited version of Kwame Anthony Appiah’s BBC Reith lecture, “Culture,” the fourth part of the series Mistaken Identities.

* Mahatma Gandhi, when asked what he thought of Western civilization (widely quoted, but possibly apocryphal)

###

As we take E.M. Forster’s advice (Howard’s End), “only connect, we might send recently-reformed birthday wishes to Augustine of Hippo, AKA St. Augustine; he was born on this date in 354. Augustine famously came to his faith later in life, after a youth filled with worldly experience… including a long engagement (to an underaged girl– to wit the length), for which he left the concubine who was the love of his life, “The One”– and which he broke off just before the wedding.

After his embrace of the faith, Augustine became a theologian and philosopher whose writings (e.g., The City of God and Confessions) were hugely influential in the development of… western civilization.

Imagined portrait by Philippe de Champaigne (17th cen.)

 source

Written by LW

November 13, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Ours is a culture and a time as immensely rich in trash as it is in treasures”*…

 

… and sometimes the trash is treasure:

There’s a Covanta Holding Corp. incinerator outside Philadelphia that produces electricity from burning garbage. It also produces something else: stacks and stacks of blackened, sooty coins.

Over the course of a year, those nickels, dimes and quarters add up to about $360,000. That’s seven times the average income in the Philadelphia metropolitan region, and the money is piling up as Covanta waits for the U.S. Mint to resume coin purchases under an exchange program it suspended in November.

About $61.8 million of loose change is accidentally thrown away every year in the U.S., Covanta estimates. The coins get swept off restaurant tables, mixed in with scraps when people empty their pockets, and vacuumed up from carpets or sofa cushions. The money used to end up in the dump, but as trash volume increases and open space dwindles, landfill-disposal costs are up 25 percent in the past decade. That’s created an incentive for Covanta and other companies to develop ways to sift through mountains of garbage and extract steel, iron, aluminum and copper for sale to recyclers…

More at “We Toss $62 Million of Loose Change Every Year. This Company Wants Some of It.”

* Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

###

As we check again under our sofa cushions, we might spare a thought for Blessed John (Johannes, Ioannes) Duns Scotus, O.F.M.; he died on this date in 1308.  One of the most important philosophers of the High Middle Ages (with his arch-rival, William of Ockham), Duns Scotus was a champion of a form of Scholasticism that came to be known as Scotism.

But he may be better remembered as a result of the slurs of 16th Century philosophers, who considered him a sophist– and coined the insult “dunce” (someone incapable of scholarship) from the name “Dunse” given to his followers in the 1500s.

 source

Written by LW

November 8, 2016 at 1:01 am

“The truth is out there”*…

 

Photographer Robert Ormerod took a road trip from Roswell, New Mexico to Area 51, exploring our fascination with the unknown by immersing himself in the lore extra-terrestrials… and in the lives of those who seek them.

More of his photographs, with his commentary, at “Inside the everyday world of UFO hunters.”

* tagline of The X-Files

###

As we deliberate the Drake Equation, we might send ideal birthday greetings to Marsilio Ficino; he was born on this date in 1433.  An Italian scholar and Catholic priest, he was one of the most influential humanist philosophers of the early Italian Renaissance.  The first translator of Plato’s complete extant works into Latin, he was important in the revival of Neoplatonism, and was in touch with every major academic thinker and writer of his day. His Florentine Academy was an attempt to revive Plato’s Academy, and influenced both the direction and the tenor of the Italian Renaissance and thus the development of European philosophy.

Ficino was also an astrologer, and is credited with having inspired the Tarot card deck– the Tarot of Marseilles– that was the pattern from which many subsequent tarot decks derive.

Marsilio Ficino, from a fresco painted by Domenico Ghirlandaio in the Tornabuoni Chapel, Santa Maria Novella, Florence

source

 

Written by LW

October 19, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Oh housebuilder! Now you are seen”*…

 

Movie star Leonardo DiCaprio’s Malibu dream house hit the market on Friday, listing for $10.95 million. Leo purchased the midcentury California bungalow (can you still call something a bungalow when it costs more than $10 mil? The jury is out!) back in 1998, and the three bed, two bath home is a beaut. It’s on star-studded Carbon Beach, the views are killer, and the interiors are gorgeous.

But the truth is, life is probably meaningless and there is a strong chance that we all die alone. Could buying this house change any of that? Is it possible that life at 21844 Pacific Coast Highway, with your own private hot tub and large ocean front deck, could actually offer a reprieve from the agony of being a human in the world? Or, is it certain that “we cannot escape anguish, for we are anguish,” as John-Paul Sartre once put it? Great question!…

An existentialist interview with Leonardo DiCaprio’s real estate agent: “Leo DiCaprio’s $11 Million Malibu Beach House And The Soul-Crushing Agony Of Being Human.” [via the always-illuminating Pop Loser]

* Gautama Buddha

###

As we sigh, we might send nihilist birthday greetings to Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche; he was born on this date in 1844.  A philosopher, poet, composer, cultural critic, and classical philologist, Nietzsche is probably best remembered for his concepts of the “death of God”, the Übermensch, the eternal recurrence, the Apollonian and Dionysian dichotomy, and the will to power… which, among them, have had an extraordinary impact on thinkers as diverse as Martin Heidegger and Ayn Rand on the one hand, and Michel Foucault (whose birthday this also is) and Jacques Derrida on the other.

When someone hides something behind a bush and looks for it again in the same place and finds it there as well, there is not much to praise in such seeking and finding. Yet this is how matters stand regarding seeking and finding “truth” within the realm of reason. If I make up the definition of a mammal, and then, after inspecting a camel, declare “look, a mammal’ I have indeed brought a truth to light in this way, but it is a truth of limited value.

– Über Wahrheit und Lüge im außermoralischen Sinn (On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense), 1873

 source

Written by LW

October 15, 2016 at 1:01 am

“The ice caps are melting, Leonard. In the future, swimming won’t be optional”*…

 

 xkcd

* “Sheldon,” The Big Bang Theory

###

As we turn up the air conditioner, we might spare a thought for Sir Karl Raimund Popper; he died on this date in 1994.  One of the greatest philosophers of science of the 20th century, Popper is best known for his rejection of the classical inductivist views on the scientific method, in favor of empirical falsification: A theory in the empirical sciences can never be proven, but it can be falsified, meaning that it can and should be scrutinized by decisive experiments. (Or more simply put, whereas classical inductive approaches considered hypotheses false until proven true, Popper reversed the logic: conclusions drawn from an empirical finding are true until proven false.)

Popper was also a powerful critic of historicism in political thought, and (in books like The Open Society and Its Enemies and The Poverty of Historicism) an enemy of authoritarianism and totalitarianism.

 source

 

 

Written by LW

September 17, 2016 at 1:01 am

“If God dropped acid, would He see people?”*…

 

 source

We had long periods of silence and of listening to music. I was accustomed to playing rock ‘n’ roll while tripping, but the record collection here was all classical and Broadway show albums. After we heard the Bach “Cantata No. 7” Groucho said, “I may be Jewish, but I was seeing the most beautiful visions of Gothic cathedrals. Do you think Bach knew he was doing that?”

Later, we were listening to the score of a musical comedy Fanny. There was one song called “Welcome Home,” where the lyrics go something like, “Welcome home, says the clock,” and the chair says, “Welcome home,” and so do various other pieces of furniture. Groucho started acting out each line as if he were actually being greeted by the duck, the chair and so forth. He was like a child, charmed by his own ability to respond to the music that way…

Paul Krassner, publisher of  The Realist and all-round avatar of counter-culture, guided T. S. Eliot’s buddy Groucho Marx through his first acid trip (using the a dose from the same batch that fueled Richard Alpert’s last trip before he became Ram Dass).  He wrote about it both in High Times and in The Realist.  More of the backstory at Dangerous Minds.

[TotH to buddy Chistopher Enzi]

* Steven Wright

###

As we hum “Eight Miles High,” we might send well-reasoned birthday greetings to Enlightenment giant John Locke; the physician and philosopher died on this date in 1704.  An intellectual descendant of Francis Bacon, Locke was among the first empiricists. He spent over 20 years developing the ideas he published in his most significant work, Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), an analysis of the nature of human reason which promoted experimentation as the basis of knowledge.  Locke established “primary qualities” (e.g., solidity, extension, number) as distinct from “secondary qualities” (sensuous attributes like color or sound). He recognized that science is made possible when the primary qualities, as apprehended, create ideas that faithfully represent reality.

Locke is, of course, also well-remembered as a key developer (with Hobbes, and later Rousseau) of the concept of the Social Contract.  Locke’s theory of “natural rights” influenced Voltaire and Rosseau– and formed the intellectual basis of the U.S. Declaration of Independence.

 source

Written by LW

August 29, 2016 at 1:01 am

%d bloggers like this: