Nov 30, 2015

Monday Morning Quote - Montaigne and Shakespeare's Philosophy

Monday Morning Quote - Montaigne and Shakespeare's Philosophy
 
Truth for us nowadays is not what is, but what others can be brought to accept.

This aphorism comes from the famous Montaigne, a significant figure in the philosophy of the French Renaissance in the 1500s. This statement is a criticism of the economical view of truth that we still see in advertising, politics, and really anywhere there is an incentive to spin the truth in one's favour.

This man invented the concept of the essay, so I guess I have him to thank for my lack of a nightlife. He's also an important figure to understand if you want to investigate the philosophical backbone of the works of Shakespeare. Many of the concepts Shakespeare worked on have their origins in Montaigne, a figure scholars typically agree Shakespeare read.

For a more enlightened reading on that connection I would recommend Colin McGinn's 2006 book Shakespeare's Philosophy. An important element is Montaigne's unwillingness to accept a teleological view of causation - which then allows bad things to happen to good people and visa-versa.

Nov 23, 2015

Monday Morning Quote - Gerald Burill's Aphorism

Monday Morning Quote - Gerald Burill's Aphorism 

"The difference between a rut and a grave is the depth"

This famous aphorism comes from Gerald Burill, a once Episcopal Bishop of Chicago. I think it warns that laziness and negativity is habit-forming.

This also serves as an excellent example of the aphorism form - a brief, witty statement that shows a truth (or opinion) of the world. A snap-shot of one's philosophical world view.

I could say more, but I'll let an aphorism be an aphorism.

Nov 16, 2015

Monday Morning Quote - Da Buddha

As the Buddha once said,

"The wind cannot shake a mountain. Neither praise nor blame moves the wise man. Happiness or sorrow - whatever befalls you, walk on untouched, unattached."

I guess the Buddha placed emphasis on the element of suffering that comes from our own thoughts - usually negative thinking, but also being misled by unfounded positivity.

The Buddha practiced non-attachment - not going so far as to renounce all material items (as Seneca, the Stoic, did when he renounced attachment to his own child) - but rather a distancing between you and your thoughts. Non-attachment means having the ability to maintain faith in the self when faced with a loss of a certain status (to be blamed), such as losing out on a job promotion, or having an especially terrible job interview.

Self-esteem is a positive reflection of the self. This is something that needs to be cultivated to the point of solidity. My self-esteem needs to be based on something external to worldly praise and blame. I shouldn't hate on myself for having a shitty car -  I also shouldn't love myself for having a nice car.

Musing in Lake Country,
Andrew Edwards, Jan 2016

Nov 10, 2015

Monday Morning Quotes (Xenophanes)

But if one wins a victory by swiftness of foot, or in the pentathlon, where the grove of Zeus lies by Pisas' stream at Olympia, or as a wrestler, or in painful boxing or in that severe contest called the pancration, he would be more glorious in the eyes of the citizens, he would win a front seat at assemblies, and would be entertained by the city at the public table, and he would receive a gift which would be a keepsake for him. If he won by means of horses he would get all these things although he did not deserve them, as I deserve them, for our wisdom is better than the strength of men or of horses. This is indeed a very wrong custom, nor is it right to prefer strength to excellent wisdom. For if there should be in the city a man good at boxing, or in the pentathlon, or in wrestling, or in swiftness of foot, which is honoured more than strength (among the contests men enter into at the games), the city would not on that account be any better governed. Small joy would it be to any city in this case if a citizen conquers at the games on the banks of the Pisas, for this does not fill with wealth its secret chambers. 

Xenophanes

Somethings never change.

Oct 26, 2015

Euphemisms

"Although the term War on Terror is no longer officially used by the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama (which prefers the term Overseas Contingency Operation)" - Wikipedia

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vuEQixrBKCc

As George Carlin points out the use of euphemisms is "getting so bad that any day now I expect to hear a rape victim referred to as an unwilling sperm recipient".

We live in a world where Tim Hortons is legally permitted to describe their processed  and frozen food products as 'fresh'.

Oct 19, 2015

Monday Morning Quote (Dewey2)

"To a grown-up person who is too absorbed in his own affairs to take an interest in children's affairs, children doubtless seem unreasonably engrossed in their own affairs."
Curiosity seems to have a negative, childish connotation in English. But, I think its something will all need to practice more often. Even recognizing this, in public situations I feign un-interest in situations that I would otherwise react to with emotionally charged attention. Social norms dictate when it is appropriate to be emotionally moved. A person in more likely to be ridiculed for not knowing than praised for wanting to know.

"We first look with impatience upon immaturity, regarding it as something to be got over as rapidly as possible. Then the adult formed by such educative methods looks back with impatient regret upon childhood and youth as a scene of lost opportunities and wasted powers. This ironical situation will endure till it is recognized that living has its own intrinsic quality and that the business of education is with that quality. Realization that life is growth protects us from that so-called idealizing of childhood which in effect is nothing but lazy indulgence."

"With respect to the development of powers devoted to coping with specific scientific and economic problems we may say the child should be growing in manhood. With respect to sympathetic curiosity, unbiased responsiveness, and openness of mind, we may say that the adult should be growing in childlikeness. One statement is as true as the other. "
 All three by Dewey.

Oct 12, 2015

Monday Morning Quote (Dewey)

"Responsibility is one aspect of the identity of character and conduct. We are responsible for our conduct because that conduct is ourselves objectified in actions."

John Dewey

We all know that guy that claims to be a 'good person' but always proves otherwise. We are no more than our actions.

Oct 5, 2015

Monday Morning Quotes (Paul Vincent Spade)

You wheel your grocery cart up the cash register, and as the cashier is ringing up your purchases, all of a sudden she stops, looks up, and asks you about your political preferences, or your views on abortion. What is your reaction? Well, unless you’re one of these know-it-alls who like to preach your views to everyone around, you’ll probably tense up.

Whatever you say out loud in that case, you’ll probably be thinking, "That’s none of your business. Just shut and ring up the groceries.” In other words, just do your job, just be nothing but a cashier. Why? Because then I know how to deal with you, I know what to expect and what I am supposed to do in response. That’s secure and reassuring. But once the cashier begins to act in unpredictable and erratic ways, that cozy and familiar situation is shattered. And that’s hard to deal with.

Paul Vincent Spade discussing Sartre's Bad Faith
I think Sartre's notion of bad faith finds a good demonstration in this quote. When in bad faith we allow our ego with its infinite freedom to be reduced to a practice or activity wherein we follow set rules. We lose ourselves within the role.

Sep 28, 2015

Monday Morning Quote (Nagel)

"Solipsism, incidentally, results if one misinterprets sympathetic imagination as if it worked like perceptual imagination: it then seems impossible to imagine any experience that is not one's own"

Thomas Nagel

He's talking about how we are unable to experience another person's experience, but we still have the ability to sort-of relate to another person's experience through comparison, putting ourselves in their point of view.

So we become solipsists if we are unable to be sympathetic to another person's point-of-view. The philosophical solipsism purports that we are the only consciousness - so is Nagel just dismissing that as completely mistaken? Or is he just avoiding that idea?

Sep 21, 2015

Monday Morning Quote (Bode)

"War is being ordered to do something real stupid and not being able to complain afterwards 'cause you get killed"
 Vaughan Bode, cartoonist

Sep 14, 2015

Monday Morning Quote (Schopenhauer)

"Human life must be some kind of mistake. The truth of this will be sufficiently obvious if we only remember that man is a compound of needs and necessities hard to satisfy; and that even when they are satisfied, all he obtains is a state of painlessness, where nothing remains to him but abandonment to boredom. This is direct proof that existence has no real value in itself; for what is boredom but the feeling of the emptiness of life?
If life--the craving for which is the very essence of our being--were possessed of any positive intrinsic value, there would be no such thing as boredom at all: mere existence would satisfy us in itself, and we should want for nothing. But as it is, we take no delight in existence except when we are struggling for something; and then distance and difficulties to be overcome make our goal look as though it would satisfy us--an illusion which vanishes when we reach it; or else when we are occupied with some purely intellectual interest--when in reality we have stepped forth from life to look upon it from the outside, much after the manner of spectators at a play." 
 Arthur Schopenhauer
 This was a long quote but I hope you made it through the whole thing. Schopenhauer wants to know why some people can claim life is meaningful if we are only ever happy when we are going after a goal and never happy after we have achieved it. Emotion is always distanced from its object. Existence in itself is boring.

Monday Morning Quote (Theognis

Best of all things - to never be born
never to know the light of sharp sun.
But being born, then best
to pass quickly as one can through the gates of Hell,
and there lie under the massive shield of earth.

Theognis (trans. Willis Barnstone)

Sep 7, 2015

Monday Morning Quote (Chuang Tzu)

Words are not just wind. Words have something to say. But if what they have to say is not fixed, then do they really say something? Or do they say nothing? People suppose that words are different from the peeps of baby birds, but is there any difference, or isn't there?
-Chuang Tzu

Aug 31, 2015

Monday Morning Quote (Gonick)

It's interesting how convenience dictates what we believe.

Aug 24, 2015

Monday Morning Quote

Doubt is "an uneasy and dissatisfied state" - pushing us to inquire, but preventing us from acting. Inquiry must start with a real and living doubt; from propositions that are not under doubt; and ends after doubt ends.

Charles Peirce


Aug 10, 2015

Monday Morning Quotes (Wittgenstein)

"But it is clear that “A believes that p”, “A thinks p”, “A says p”,
are of the form “ ‘p’ says p”: and here we have no co-ordination
of a fact and an object, but a co-ordination of facts by means of
a co-ordination of their objects."

Wittgenstein

Thus Wittgenstein concludes that the soul doesn't exist.

Also check out this awesome website: 

http://www.tractatuslogico-philosophicus.com/

Aug 3, 2015

Monday Morning Quote (Forster)

"Beware of first- hand ideas!" exclaimed one of the most advanced of them. "First-hand ideas do not really exist. They are but the physical impressions produced by live and fear, and on this gross foundation who could erect a philosophy? Let your ideas be second-hand, and if possible tenth-hand, for then they will be far removed from that disturbing element - direct observation. Do not learn anything about this subject of mine - the French Revolution. Learn instead what I think that Enicharmon thought Urizen thought Gutch thought Ho-Yung thought Chi-Bo-Sing thought LafcadioHearn thought Carlyle thought Mirabeau said about the French Revolution. Through the medium of these ten great minds, the blood that was shed at Paris and the windows that were broken at Versailles will be clarified to an idea which you may employ most profitably in your daily lives.
Forster

A first-hand system of knowledge would be completely incompatible with the one I (or you) hold. The system that is most acceptable is the system that is held by the most people (the one that has gone through this "tenth-hand" experiential. )

Jul 27, 2015

*Material Constraints: How possessions take hold of your freedom


In December 2013 The Guardian published a paper by Oliver Burkeman entitled "Shoppers beware: a materialist ethos is more misery-inducing than we thought". A research study of residents in a town in Israel that was the victim of rocket attacks found that, as Burkeman puts it, "highly materialistic individuals exhibited far higher levels of post-traumatic stress, and were much more likely to try to soothe themselves via compulsive shopping".

We need to have more attachment to the things that can not be taken away from us.

Jul 20, 2015

Monday Morning Quotes (Aristotle)

"The true forms of government are those in which the one, or the few, or the many, govern with a view to the common interest but the governments which rule with a view to the private interest, whether of the one, or the few, or to the many, are perversions."

Aristotle

Jul 13, 2015

Monday Morning Quote

"Race is a myth that was created to make the holders of knowledge and power arbitrarily put down other people that they could identify by culture, language, vocal accent, and visual appearance. It was used to justify discrimination"

Monday Morning Quote (Hegel)

"As for popular suffrage, it may be further remarked that especially in large states it leads inevitably to electoral indifference, since the casting of a single vote is of no significance where there is a multitude of electors. Even if a voting qualification is highly valued and esteemed by those who are entitled to it, they still do not enter the polling booth. Thus the result of an institution of this kind is more likely to be the opposite of what was intended; election actually falls into the power of a few, of a caucus, and so of the particular and contingent interest which is precisely what was to have been neutralized." - Hegel

I'm really hoping that the Conservative government (in Canada) loses the next election. Based on poll results the more people that turn up to vote the less likely the Conservative party will win the election. 

Jul 6, 2015

Monday Morning Quotes (Moore)

My point is that "good" is a simple notion, just as "yellow" is a simple notion; that, just as you cannot, by any manner of means, explain to anyone who does not already know it, what yellow is, so you cannot explain what good is.

Moore

Jul 1, 2015

Wed review (Andrei Sakharov - Progress, Coexistence, and Intellectual Freedom)

A global utopia: a review of Andrei Sakharov's 'Progress, Coexistence, and Intellectual Freedom (1968)'

The book starts out with a lengthy introduction by Harrison Salisbury that introduces the Russian Sakharov to his English reading audience. Sakharov was instrumental in the success of the soviet nuclear program in the later part of World War 2 and beyond.

In this book Sakharov explores what the nuclear age means to man and how we can prevent our own destruction. He goes beyond exploring measures for the prevention of nuclear war and explores all areas of global life. Human civilization is threatened by, on top of nuclear war, famine, "stupefaction from the narcotic of mass culture", bureaucratized dogmatism, the spread of mass myths that support cruel demagogues, and the consequences of (what is now referred to as) climate change.

He posits that two things are essential for a peaceful and successful world. The first, that we have to have a unified mankind and, secondly, intellectual freedom. The first allows us to work together to end issues that we have already agreed need solving, like starvation.

Sakharov then splits the book into two major sections entitled "Dangers" and "The Basis for Hope".

The first of the Dangers include the threat of nuclear war which is supported by its destructive power, relative cheapness of the weapons, and the impossibility of effective defense against an attack.

The second danger is called "Vietnam and the Middle East". In this chapter Sakharov accuses the USA of "carrying out flagrant crimes against humanity". Recall that this book was published in 1968, so at the time of writing this was a call to action. He wants international policy to adopt some of the values we find in the scientific method and with a "democratic spirit".

Another of the dangers is hunger and overpopulation. Sakharov wants the more affluent countries of the world sacrifice some of its luxuries (and military budgets) to help out poorer countries. He also wants to dispel the notion that these countries are responsible for their plight. Some critics of the countries want them to have birth rate laws (or even sterilization). Many of these critics suffer from narrow-mindedness or even outright racism. Race is one of the "mass myths" that Sakharov attacks all through out the book.

I was always confused growing up in the '90s about climate change and pollution problems. It seemed to me to be an issue that was, incredulously, only just entering the public consciousness. Here in 1968 Sakharov identifies environmental pollution as one of his major dangers to the survival of civilization.

Police dictatorships such as Hitler and Stalin is the next danger. Here Sakharov details the similarities between Hitler, Stalin, and Mao Tse-Tung. A big component of their rising to power is their ability to suppress intellectual freedom and spread narrow-minded mass myths such as the myth of race, land, and blood; the Jewish threat; praise of anti-intellectualism; sharpening class struggle; and the lebensraum concept (repopulating occupied territories with a superior race - lebensraum means living space).

The threat to intellectual freedom is a threat to independence, human personality, and the meaning of human life. These threats come obviously from war, poverty, and terror but also from more subtle sources. Sakharov fears a lowering of intelligence by mass media which may just be motivated by profit but is supported by its stress on entertainment, mass appeal, and censorship. Education is another means to limit our intellectual freedom. Used rightly its one of the greatest achievements of society to have free, universal, church-separated, education. Sakharov accuses schools of adhering too closely to a standard curriculum. Sakharov doesn't elaborate on this issue but the later sections illustrate that he fears the concoction of mass behavioral norms and beliefs. We need to be able to think for ourselves and not belief notions such as "bosses know everything best". Sakharov quotes Lenin as saying that "every cook should learn how to govern". Decision making should be transparent to the public and the public needs to be critical.

Censorship is another threat to our intellectual freedom. This was a huge issue in the Soviet Union as writers needed to get a stamp of approval from the government before their books could be published which lead many publishers to just reject risky books out of hand effectively dulling the creative abilities of many writers and artists. The other day I wrote this on my blog: "Censorship forces the creator to work within the confines of what he believes will be accepted. The publishing company internalizes the censorship decrees and rejects ideas and creations out of hand. It's like a painter who is told what palette he is to work with. His painting will be uninspired, dull, and shallow." I feel like Sakharov and I are on the same page here. He takes it further and adds that powerful and helpful ideas can only arise in public thought - in discussions and objections. This can only happen if we are allowed to say things that may not be politically correct or even truthful. In Russia people were being sent to prison without trial for their ideas and Sakharov discusses this in detail with many examples. This issue seems to still be alive in Russia today where homosexual literature can be labelled "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among minors." Sakharov himself became no stranger to censorship years later when in 1980 Sakharov internally exiled for protesting the war in Afghanistan and was placed under police surveillance for 6 years.

The next section is titled "The Basis for Hope".

We can help expand world knowledge by having 'peaceful competition'. He illustrates this with what he calls the 'ski track effect'. Two skiers are racing down a mountain, one is far ahead of the other but the second racer is able to quickly catch up because the first one broke the snow. We see this kind of thing happen within businesses - one company creates an effective business model and the other companies imitate it in their own ways. This requires us to look past our prejudices of other nations and to accept the shortcoming of our own and not idolize our tactics and ways of living. I enjoyed the quote Sakharov gave of Bertrand Russell: "The world will be saved from nuclear annihilation if the leaders of each of the two systems (capitalism and communism) prefer complete victory of the other system to a nuclear war." I recall a quote from an American saying that he would rather crawl and his hands and knees to Russia and adopt communism than be the victim of nuclear fallout.

Sakharov concludes his book with a "four-stage plan for cooperation" and a "summary of proposals" which are both bare bones outlines for what he would like the world leaders to do in order to avoid the destruction of civilization and cultivate a world of progress. One of the proposals is an international law on geohygiene (pollution). It only makes sense for Sakharov to use proposals instead of speaking in absolutes - this book was intended to spark discourse not be a bible. Sakharov wanted constructive criticism.

This was a book that was written in fear of nuclear war between the USA and the USSR. Now that that fear has mostly passed, it still stands as a useful overview of global cooperation that asks us to put aside our dogmatic beliefs, narrow-minded indifference, and illogical fears of other cultures and embrace the differences we see in the world. Its most relevant points for the majority of modern readers will be its focus on cultivation of intellectual freedom and avoidance of anti-intellectualism, belief in harmful mass myths, and critical thinking in life and politics. Unfortunately the book reads at times like a utopian novel ala More's Utopia published in 1516. Fortunately the USA and the USSR were able to settle their differences without war, but certainly not the way Sakharov would have liked (The USA didn't let the USSR follow in their ski tracks).

Jun 24, 2015

Wed Review (Dash Shaw - Doctors)


This is a premise that has always fascinated me. I'm surprised we don't see it done more often. The premise is that we don't know much about the external world; we don't know if we can trust our senses. In this case a woman, unbeknownst to her, dies but continues her life in her own consciousness. This all happens while she's still on the operating table with doctors trying to revive her.

After she's unsure what reality really is. The fake existence she created unconsciously was better than her actual reality. The fact that it was fake is important only to the extent that her actual reality being real is of no significance. She would rather return to the fantasy that she thought was real. But the idea that a fantasy is better the reality makes all of existence seem unimportant and meaningless.

The book was like a fictional narrative of David Hume's philosophy - see especially his chapter on the self in the Human Understanding book. In that chapter Hume gets lost when trying to figure out what it means to say 'I'. How can 'I' say 'I' when I can't even trust my own senses? Hume finds solace in the idea that we all sort of revert to an uncritical acceptance of our senses; after we finish reading his book we will revert to our unbreakable faith that 'I' am 'I' and that I exist and that there is also an external world divorced from my consciousness (if I were to cease my existence, it would still be there).

In this book we are faced with the situation of not being able to simply go back to our faith in the common sense notion of reality.

This book is a more speculative and interesting take on this type of thing that say The Matrix and other movies that I've seen. For example, why doesn't Neo begin to doubt the reality of the 'real world' when he wakes up from the matrix? This story explores those doubts as well as the psychological horrors that would occur in absolute skepticism.

This is a comic that I think people like Camus and Sartre would enjoy.

Jun 17, 2015

Wed Review (Liam Murphy and Thomas Nagel - The Myth of Ownership: Taxes and Justice)


A common criticism of philosophy is that it concludes with statements that are obviously deluded and false or it ends with statements that are trivially true.

This book is victim of the latter, but it benefits in that most people don't recognize the truth. Take this statement from the concluding paragraph:

"The state does not own its citizens, nor do they own each
other collectively. But individual citizens don’t own anything
except through laws that are enacted and enforced by the
state."

That's trivially true, but not top-of-mind stuff. We live with the psychological belief that the stuff that I own I just simply own. The truth, however, is that the only reason you're confident enough to leave your property every morning is because the rest of society respects the private ownership system enough to leave "your" property alone (we've also invested enough resources, as a society, to prevent illegal takeover of property).

What follows are some quotes that I think adequately express the thesis and conclusion put forth in this volume.

"Taxes are naturally perceived by most people as expropriations of their property— taking from them some of what is originally theirs and using it for various purposes determined by the government.

...

It isn’t that people are unwilling to pay taxes, but they tend to think of taxes as an incursion by the government on a prior distribution of property and income by reference to which expropriation and redistribution has to be justified.

...

the right question (that we should be asking concerning fair taxation) is: “How should the tax system divide the social product between the private control of individuals and government control, and what factors should it cause or permit to determine who ends up with what?”


(back to me now:) The fundamental change is that 'private property' is just property that belongs to everyone that you've sort-of been given.

I was thinking about this the other day: the only reason we allow people to have private property is because we think society as a whole benefits from maintaining the system that allows it - the system that allows people to own stuff without fear of others taking it.
Nagel's psychological switch makes the awareness that you don't "own" it, at least not in the way you think you do.

Like all good philosophy books, I didn't really care about what the author's own conclusion was; I'm more interested in the affect it had on my own thinking, and how it's altered my (still in progress) conclusion.

That concludes the theory and practice of taxation. The next major conclusion concerns the political arena of taxation and everyone's self-interest (the rhetoric, versus the prior's reason and in-depth debate).

Nagel claims that too much emphasis on taxation fairness is put on what can be attributed to self-interest. Politics favours the rich, morality favours the poor.

I think in the end these two self-proclaimed amateurs of tax and law over-simplify the issues. They present a good view for the people to adopt as regards their property, but this is stuff that policy makers already know. These ideas may have an effect on how policy makers view the 'moral' side of taxation laws, but I wonder if that has had an effect on the laws and methods themselves.

Jun 10, 2015

Wed Review (P.F. Strawson - Freedom and Resentment

The essay pretty much tries to see what would happen if we operationalize the term determinism. What would determinism, or the lack of it, even look like? In the end whether the doctrine is real or not, it makes no real impact on our psychological feelings (moral sentiments). Strawson argues that in real life we do change our opinion of resentment based on the agent's responsibility. The example he gives, among many, is this: a guy steps on your hand. The first thing you think is, "what an asshole!!!". This initial response will change if you find out A) the guy purposely stomped on your foot or B) it was a complete accident (i.e. the guy was pushed).

Ultimately resentment and gratitude is a form of life and is ingrained in our social practices. It doesn't matter if actions are in fact pre-determined, our actions create our selves (we are our actions) or, as Strawson puts it: "Our practices do not merely exploit our natures, they express them". I think John Dewey puts it more clearly in his essay on ethics, "We are responsible for out conduct because that conduct is ourselves objectified in actions." The statement that claims that we are not responsible for our actions is an absurd one.

On the flip side, to suggest that if determinism were true it would undermine moral responsibility is absurd because you couldn't alter our psychological makeup, our propensity to feel resentment, with a change in philosophical perspective.

Jun 3, 2015

Wed Review (Thomas Nagel - What is it like to be a bat?)

Originally published in The Philosophical Review journal in 1974, "What is it like to be a bat?" is one of Nagel's most popular and best read works.

I'm upset that Nagel didn't reference Daredevil even once throughout the whole essay. I wonder if I could write a parody of this essay called "What is it like to be the superhero Daredevil?".

So Nagel argues that it's impossible to know what it's like to be anything other than what you are. We cannot understand another being's conscious experience through simple resemblance to our own being, extrapolate from our experience to figure out his; yet, we cannot deny that this other being does not also have an experience (a 'what it is' to be him). This makes the issue of consciousness extremely important and difficult. More so than the h20/water and life/dna problems. This inability to know an other's experience leads us to conclude that there are facts in the universe that will never be accessible to humans.

An important footnote states: "The problem is not just that when I look at the Mona Lisa, my visual experience has a certain quality, no trace of which is to be found by someone looking into my brain. For even if he did observe there a tiny image of the Mona Lisa, he would have no reason to identify it with the experience".

A physical demonstration of consciousness is, as Nagel says, a form of saying 'x' is 'y'; except in this case we don't have an idea of how these two different referential paths converge on the same thing (for example, it's pretty clear how 'water' and 'H20' can be described as 'x' is 'y', but to say that 'mental state x' is 'conscious perception y' is much more risky). We can't claim that a physical thing and a mental thing both refer to the same thing.

May 27, 2015

Wed Review (Paul E. Walker - Early Philosophical Shiism: The Isma'ili Neoplatonism of Abu YA'Qub Al-Sijistani)

 
This is written in such an obtuse fashion. It's definitely for people already in the know - too many strange terms and name drops (most transliterated from Persian or Arabic, like I said this book doesn't explain much for the uninitiated).

I'm also listening to the History of Philosophy without any gaps podcast. The podcaster covers the Islamic world quite thoroughly. I'd recommend that to people, like me, trying to dip their toes into this strange new ocean of ideas.

http://www.historyofphilosophy.net/bu...

Saying all of this, I do realize this is a very esoteric topic on a very obscure philosopher (what the hell was this book doing in my small downtown bookstore?). The wikipedia article has this much to say about Abu: "Abu Yaqub al-Sijistani was an Persian Ismaili missionary and Neo-Platonic philosopher, who died sometime around 971 CE". That's it. The only thing else they have on the man is a warning to not confuse him with some other guy with a similar name.

An online philosophy encyclopedia had a lot of info on the guy. http://www.iep.utm.edu/sijistan/ I'm not sure how trustworthy this site is, but it looks pretty good.

So,
al-Sijistānī is a Persian philosopher. Ancient Persia is probably best known for being the guys that attacked Greece a bunch of times (5th bc century) (as depicted in that movie that featured oily men with six-packs). The empire stayed around long enough to also rival Rome and the Byzantines in later centuries (7th). So lots of Greek works were lost to the later Europeans (who didn't read Greek), but the Persians - being clever - had already translated much of the Greek works into Arabic and Persian.

Coming up to the 10th century the Persian empire is doing well, and our al-Sijistānī comes onto the scene. He put forth a few interesting metaphysical claims that harkens back to Plato more so than the more popular Aristotle.

This book is quite scholarly in that it discusses the ideas al-Sijistānī put forth and why they are significant to the Ismaili historic tradition. Saying that his works are mostly about God and mystical cosmology - aspects of philosophy that I find mundane due to the fact that its all baseless conjecture. al-Sijistānī main contribution is to reconcile the philosophy of his time with the neoplatonic doctrines of Plotinus. The author is definitely thorough, and the book is a good treatise, I just ended up having no interest in al-Sijistānī. Perhaps I'll revisit this philosopher in the years to come.

May 20, 2015

Wed Review (Dash Shaw - New School)

This is a really odd comicbook. I'm not really sure what to make of it. The plot is straight-forward enough to begin with. The protagonist is a young, religious boy - and I think his characterization is accurate enough, he's quite strange. The boy's older brother goes to a strange country to teach English to the natives that will begin working at a theme-park tourist destination. The book was interesting to me specifically because I was looking into teaching English in China this summer (a friend of mine is going, but I backed out at the last second because I'm fearful).

The art seems really awful at first, and then the coloring is just broad single-colored paint strokes over the entire panel, or page. I'm not sure if there's some significance to the colors, or why some panels are colored and others are not. It seems random.

It somehow kept me interested enough to come back to it, and over a week's time, about 20 minutes per day, I read the thing. So it wasn't interesting enough for my usual one-sitting reading style, but interesting enough that I actually came back to it (usually if a book doesn't hook me enough to read it in a long sitting I'll just forget about it). I think it had to do with the strange-ness of the whole thing, but the ability of the author to keep it grounded enough that I was legitimately interested for the plot - I wanted to see if something strange would actually happen.

This book is a story about brotherhood and self-identity hidden within a strange form of communication. I'm reminded of the story-telling abilities of my friend who had Asperger's.

May 13, 2015

Wed Review (Quine - On What There Is)

"What is there?" is a simple way to put the ontological (study of being) question. But when two people disagree on the existence of something, we run into an ontological problem, stated by Quine as: "in any ontological dispute the proponent of the negative side suffers the disadvantage of not being able to admit that his opponent disagrees with him". If I say that there is a Pegasus, I can defend that notion by saying, "if there were no Pegasus, why are we able to talk about it?". I may eventaully submit and say that Pegasus is not a flesh and blood creature somewhere in the world, but rather an idea in men's minds." My opponent, however, is not claiming that Pegasus doesn't exist as an idea, but that it doesn't exist in the world as a flesh and blood creature.

The philosopher Wyman (I'm unsure which school he's criticizing here) comes in and fucks up our common notion of what existence means. However, if we lose the regular meaning of the term existence, we can still use the word 'is' to help explain the idea meant by "Pegasus does not exist". The philosopher allows much more things to exist, creating an odd ontology.

Quine makes absurd the notion that Pegasus exists (even though not in flesh and blood) with the mind experiment given here: "Take, for instance, the possible fat man in that doorway; and, again, the possible bald man in that doorway. Are they the same possible man, or two possible men? How do we decide? How many possible men are there in that doorway?" To admit that each 'idea' of the man is a separate existing entity is silly.

For what can method can we use for our ontology? Bertrand Russell had a theory of singular descriptions - it "showed clearly how we might meaningfully use seeming names without supposing that there be the entities allegedly named". The name can be used as a description of the thing named. Names don't need objective reference to be meaningful as we can use a variable to fulfill the role of the objective reference. When say Pegasus has wings, I am in fact saying there is a variable (say x) and that variable has the quality of being called 'Pegasus' and x also has the quality of having wings. The x doesn't need to exist in order for that formulation to be meaningful.

This problem could have been circumvented if we noticed the difference between 'meaning' and 'naming'. This brings us to another famous quote in this essay, so I'll just put it here.

"The phrase ‘Evening Star’ names a certain large physical object of spherical form, which is hurtling through space some scores of millions of miles from here. The phrase ‘Morning Star’ names the same thing, as was probably first established by some observant Babylonian. But the two phrases cannot be regarded as having the same meaning; otherwise that Babylonian could have dispensed with his observations and contented himself with reflecting on the meanings of his words. The meanings, then, being different from one another, must be other than the named object, which is one and the same in both cases."

The meaning of the singular term is different than what its reference (the object that the term denotes. If I work at the Daily Bugle, and I call out the name 'Peter Parker', I mean a much different thing than if I were to say 'Spider-man' because I don't know that they are the same person. Therefor meaning is not found in the named object.

Quine proceeds to criticise the notion of the existence of Plato's Universals. "we can view utterances as significant, and as synonymous or heteronymous with one another, without countenancing a realm of entities called meanings." Therefor we can have the notion of 'red' and say of multiple objects that there a red without admitting the existence of a universal 'red'.

There are a bunch of different schools of thought concerning this stuff. Quine goes through a few of them. The three 20th century schools of though correspond to the three mediaeval points of view.

1) Realism, now logicism, "Realism, as the word is used in connection with the mediaeval controversy over universals, is the Platonic doctrine that universals or abstract entities have being independently of the mind; the mind may discover them but cannot create them."

2) conceptualism, now intuitionism "Conceptualism holds that there are universals but they are mind-made."

3) nominalism, now formalism "echoes intuitionism in deploring the logicist’s unbridled recourse to universals" but wants to not use abstract entities at all.

May 6, 2015

Wed Review (Charles Sanders Peirce - The Fixation of Belief)

This essay tackles the idea that many people are already made up in their beliefs and will struggle to change them for a number of reasons. Logic is something few people care to study because it's something will all already engage in. I thought it was interesting that Peirce notes the history of logic and drawing inferences; it's an art that has improved over the centuries. Every major new work of science, after a few generations, exemplifies the "defective state of the art of reasoning of the time it was written". Reasoning allows us to discover new conclusions from old data. We can be mislead from habit if it doesn't produce true conclusions from true premisses. Our daily way of dealing with things is steeped in bad logic, and this could be for practical reasons - not wanting to disturb our inner peace, not wanting to be ostracized etc. Doubt is "an uneasy and dissatisfied state" - pushing us to inquire, but preventing us from acting. Inquiry must start with a real and living doubt; from propositions that are not under doubt; and ends after doubt ends.

My favourite part in the essay is when Peirce discusses the avoidance of reasoning. "When an ostrich buries its head in the sand as danger approaches, it very likely takes the happiest course. It hides the danger, and then calmly says there is no danger; and, if it feels perfectly sure there is none, why should it raise its head to see? A man may go through life, systematically keeping out of view all that might cause a change in his opinions, and if he only succeeds -- basing his method, as he does, on two fundamental psychological laws -- I do not see what can be said against his doing so. It would be an egotistical impertinence to object that his procedure is irrational, for that only amounts to saying that his method of settling belief is not ours. He does not propose to himself to be rational, and, indeed, will often talk with scorn of man's weak and illusive reason. So let him think as he pleases." However this method may be pleasing to the ostrich-man, it may not be obtainable as "the social impulse is against it".

Apr 29, 2015

Wed Review (William James - Pragamatism)

This became a pretty tedious read after the first couple chapters. He seems to keep repeating the same basic ideas and applying them to a variety of subjects.

He states at one point how a theory goes through a few different stages in it's introduction and adoption. Eventually a theory becomes so commonplace that it's taken as obvious and trivial. I think that's what's happened to Pragmatism over the last 100+ years, since it was first formally stated.

It's still a powerful idea and one that's useful. I'm not entirely sure I understand the full force of it's implications, and I want to now read James's essay on truth for a more thorough discussion on that.

I would have preferred a more concise presentation of his ideas than this book. I prefer the secondary literature I've read on the topic.

The book is actually a text taken from a series of lectures James did. I read it on Gutenberg - so I'm not sure this applies to the print versions - but a lot of the important points are presented in all capitals, and I imagine James screaming at the audience to emphasis these. I started to hate James by the end of the book, his constant repetitions and dull prose, so this helped me picture him as an asshole.

Apr 22, 2015

Wed Review (Larry Gonick - Cartoon History of the Universe book one From the Big Bang to Alexander the Great

 
A fascinating journey from the big bang, to the dinosaurs and evolution, to the beginnings of man and civilization; culminating in discussions of Greece.

This makes for a nice introduction to some of the subjects, and a nice reminder of others (depending on how much you already know, of course). I was thinking, "this would have been nice to read when I was 12" many times throughout the book because it covers a lot of the material I drudged through in public school middle school (age 12-15).

Much of history is conjecture, so its good to have multiple opinions on the subject matter. I think one criticism of this book is that Gonick seems confident in his opinion and either writes off other opinions who doesn't discuss them at all.

He's highly critical of religion (which I think is a good thing because it allows him to provide conjecture of the real-world basis of religion and religious/mythical [is there a difference?] stories). The old testament volume was interesting, as I contrasted it to my reading of Genesis, many of the historical conjecture as filtered through Gonick seems much more reasonable than the Bible's account.

I was bored by the Greek stories, which makes up that latter part of the book, if only because I am familiar with Greek history through my studies of its philosophy. I would have preferred more in depth discussion on early civilizations like Sumer.

Overall, a fun and enlightening read. I'm definitely going to continue the series as well as seek out the books Gonick recommends in his bibliography.

Apr 15, 2015

Wed Review (Alfie Kohn - Beyond Discipline)

 
An interesting subject and premise, but I don't think the content justified the length. It's not a long book; it just doesn't have much content. It's a very negative book in that it criticizes at length forms of discipline in the classroom but it doesn't offer much to replace those forms.

Punishment (and reward, which has the same outcome as punishment) allows teachers to gain temporary compliance. It has bad psychological effects on the children. Children grown up can feel these effects, like me who, for the most part, went through the whole punishment/reward system, when they are adults. The book doesn't dwell on the future effects, however. The punishment system also doesn't teach the students anything about why they should behave. It simply gives them an incentive to.

The punishment system also presupposes that what the teachers are having the students do is correct. For example, punishing a kid for not being able to sit still suggests that the kid should sit still. It is likely that this is a ridiculous request - kids are meant to move around. To extent this principle; perhaps it is the curriculum itself that is causing the 'ill' behaviour - kids tend to lose interest if a subject is too easy, too hard, or too repetitive.

Kohn wants teachers to consider what the goal of education is. It is not to 'get students to memorize the names of the founding fathers'. But it is more likely to get students to be independent thinkers, lovers of knowledge and thought, etc.

I already agreed with Kohn going into this book, so perhaps that is why I found it a bit boring - it was trying to convince me of things I am already into. It's almost foreign to me that people would endorse the disciplinary systems Kohn criticizes (can't educators recall their own childhoods?).

The book reads like a dumbed-down version of some of John Dewey's educational works. It's shocking to me that this book is considered a "modern classic" (that label may just be the book publisher being a bit too emphatic) as it really has no new information, it rehashes, simplifies, and puts into digestible form, information that has been in print for at least a hundred years (probably more, as I may discover if I read more on education and children; I mention Dewey because he's what I've read, and he's quite popular).

Apr 8, 2015

Wed Review (Daniel Clowes - Ghost World)

I started reading this book a couple years ago. That same night I was chatting with a cute girl online, and she told me she hated the book and recommended another one. I dropped this book and read the other.

I've read a bunch of Clowes's books in the meantime but I've always shied away from this one due to that false-start. I finally read it the other day, and I realize the woman who didn't like it didn't like it because the characters in this novel are so similar to her - and that's not a compliment. The characters are so full of themselves. They have a strong outward hatred of everything, but the hatred is caused by a lack of self-love. They hate themselves, and they hate their situation (post-high school, shitty jobs, no college plans - no plans at all).

Clowes does an excellent job of letting us into their petty, emotional worlds. There's a few sub-plots that seem really strange, like the protagonists meets a child-molester who really has nothing to do with anything - I suppose Clowes wanted to show that these girls may be awful people but at least they don't hurt anyone(?).

I guess, in the end, I have to agree with all the praise for this book (which is another reason I never read this, I figured it was for sure overrated). It's odd to recommend a book that I didn't enjoy reading, but I think the end of the journey and my reflections on the characters made this book worthwhile.

Apr 5, 2015

Best Comicbook Artists - Richard Corben

In this column I will be going through some of my favourite comic book artists. I'm unsure how many I will end up doing but I will going through all of my favourites. Each article will give a brief overview of the artist and his career as well as displaying lots of the artwork that I think demonstrates his or her greatness. The only criteria I've used is my own love of the artist. All of these artists have inspired me in one way or another and have motivated me to seek out most of their work. I love great artwork but I read comics to read comics. Each of these artists have been involved in great projects and have demonstrated a knack for the sequential medium and infuse movement and character into all of their drawings.

Richard Corben

Richard Corben was one of the figureheads of the 70s underground comicbook movement. He focused primarily in the scifi and horror genres going so far as creating adaptions of Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe. His Poe work actually spans four decades. He was inducted into the Eisner hall of fame in 2012 and at 74 years of age is still actively creating comics. At the time of writing the third issue of his creator-owned series Rat God just hit the stands earlier in the day.

His first published comicbook was 1969's Tales From the Plague. Corben provides art to Dennis Cunningham's wordy script. There are some pretty nice glimpses into Corben;s brilliance, but it leaves much to be desired. It has the feeling of old woodcut prints with its scratchy inks or an illumined book ala William Blake.



After this start Corben dove into the world of underground self-publishing with titles such as Grim Wit, Slow Death, Skull, Rowlf, and Fever Dreams. During this time he also published with Warren in its anthology title Creepy and a little in Eerie and Vampirella.
1970 - Horrible Harvey's House (Last Gasp)

1970 - Fantagor #1 back cover
1972

1971


1970 - Razar, The Unhero (Fantagor 1)

1972



His art continued to improve throughout this period. I think his first true graphic masterpiece was 1974's adaption of Poe's The Raven.



The following year saw the release of the graphic novel Bloodstar, an adaption of a Robert E. Howard story.
This piece highlighted his airbrush technique and his ability to sustain a lengthy narrative - a rare feat in America in the mid 70s.





In 1975 he began submitting stories to Metal Hurlant (published as Heavy Metal in the US). He serialized his first lengthy solo narrative Den in these pages. Corben managed to have a unique and powerful visual style among heavyweights such as the magazine co-founders Moebius and Druillet.



He also published the serialized The Last Voyage of Sinbad in Heavy Metal.




During the Heavy Metal period Corben produced a series of graphic novels with various collaborators. Mutant World (1982), Werewolf (1984), The Bodyssey (1986), Vic and Blood (1987), as well as  continuing Den. Corben never stopped innovating his style and used state of the art color reproduction in his comics. 1992's Den Saga (the fourth book of Den) has some incredible coloring techniques. 


The next volume of Den was published by Penthouse and saw Corben satirizing his own work.





1997 found Corben finally breaking into (what could be called) mainstream comics and beginning his lengthy association with Darkhorse Comics with Aliens Alchemy.

In 2000 Corben drew a story arc for Hellblazer written by Azzarello. Two years later he drew another Azzarello story Cage this time for Marvel's Max imprint.


2000 also saw Corben drawing an adaption of The House on the Borderland. This is perhaps Corben's most popular work to have found a more general audience outside of the comicbook reading viewership.




In 2002 Corben was invited to do an issue of Marvel's Solo - an innovative series where each issue focused on one artist.



Not slowing down at all Corben worked on Swamp Thing, Punisher, Ghost Rider, a few solo works, a series of Poe adaptions, Hellboy and Conan from 2004 to 2007. 2008 saw Corben produce a series of Lovecraft adaptions and a brilliant Hellboy run "The Crooked Man".



Corben published Ragemoor in 2012 and completed a lengthy series of Poe adaptions published as a book collection in 2014. 





Corben is currently publishing Rat God.

 


In addition to his impressive body of comic work Corben has illustrated many magazine, comicbook covers, and interior artwork. 










Recommended Reading:

Ideally we would all be able to pick up copies of Corben's originally comics. These selections should still be readily available.

Creepy Presents Richard Corben (2012) - collects Corben's 70s work on Creepy.

Ragemoor (2012)

Haunt of Horror: Lovecraft (2008)

The House on The Borderland (2000)

Haunt of Horror: Edgar Allan Poe (2006)

Edgar Allan Poe's Spirits of the Dead (2014)

Den: Neverwhere, Den 2: Muvovum, Den 3: Children of Fire, Den 4, Den 5: Elements

Hellboy in Mexico, Hellboy: The Bride of Hell, Hellboy: Being Human, Hellboy: Double Feature of Evil, Hellboy: Houe of the Living Dead, Hellboy: The Crooked Man, Hellboy: Makoma.