Why a chair of poetry has little to do with poetry

The recent events and ripples had passed me, excepting a couple of ‘polemical’ responses by AC Grayling and feminist blogs. The issue is this: in the election of the Oxford university chair of poetry;  a significant position in the institution of poetry (if such a thing actually means anything), an allegation of unfair play has been made in that the elected holder of the chair Ruth Padel (also known as a descendent of Charles Darwin) was involved with informing the university authorities that one of the other candidates for election has had a shady past with sexually harassing his former students.

The allegation seems to have made any holder of the chair to be untenable unless they are completely unrelated to the incident; either dissolve the chair or arrange an election at a different time. It is, it seems, a very thorny issue. Two issues really come to mind here:

1. It is a disturbingly widespread phenomenon that academics abuse their position with regard to sexual harassment and coercion. This is true for all academic subjects, including philosophy.

2. What role does poetry have in our lives today? Exactly how is poetry a relevant medium? I find this somewhat difficult to answer, as the great exemplars are hard to find. I’ve not really found many hard hitting hip-hop artists and I’ve generally understood poetry as an activity historical more than literary (though one is not to deny the latter). Although more of that is my own lack of familiarity with the medium and my own ignorance!


Staleness in contemporary philosophy

I’ve noticed a lot of the ‘popularisers’ of philosophy. I have been a bit warmer to Julian Baggini and his work with the BBC and journalism; I find myself more insightfully interested by Mark Vernon and his very ecclectic reading; for instance, he, in some articles refers to Buddhism, and in others, the vehicle-externalist literature in the literature of the most recent decade in philosophy of psychology.

An opposing trend include the ‘formalisers’ of philosophy. The real icon of formal philosophy is Vincent Hendricks; I was once at a seminar of his, he’s a very funny man, not to mention very smart. In a recent volume, it has been commented that the problem with traditional analytic philosophy is its lack of formality. In some respects this might seem a very alien and bizarre claim, for what else is overly formal but analytic philosophy?

The allegation is not without merit. Philosophers (especially myself), rely on very basic logic and are not really mathematically educated. It is not so much in ‘assumptions’ that make traditional analytic philosophy flawed, but in its limited range of tools:

1. Classical logic
2. A few forms of Modal Logic
3. ‘Basic theories of probability’
4. An elementary apprehension of set theory
5. Little or no knowledge of computer science, particularly, the practical insights that are utilised by computer scientists by theories of language and modal logic

If philosophy is to be more fruitful, it seems that it needs to grow up a bit more and remember the ‘polymath’ origins of the subject. There is also a trend to argue that philosophy of science is becoming ahistorical and too much attention is paid towards ‘general’ philosophy of science to the deteriment of areas like: philosophy of technology; philosophical issues of engineering; philosophical ruminations on current scientific theories; philosophical research that advances research in actual science.

It is a very popular view that philosophy of science is related to science in the way that football commentators are related to football; they watch and try to understand, but not play. The onus is on good philosophy to advance the interests of both.


Two qualifying thoughts about political office

There has been a lot of talk about how the reputation of British politicians has been ill-reputed due to revelations about their expenses claimed. I heard a day ago an interesting piece on Thought for the Day on Radio 4 yesterday; the speaker said that the only politicians that we seem to admire are those who are not alive (such as Churchill, or Abe Lincoln); or those who are not yet in office; like Obama was last year.

There is a lot of truth to that insight, where otherwise we have a default hatred of those in office. While it is to not to be said that some of the expenses that are said to be claimed have been quite ludicrous; I recall that the original Athenian Democracy paid very little to members of the Boule. The importance of a politician having a wage really shows in those instances where persons of groups who are not normally represented or socially or economically powerful enough to support their position. Persons could be put into disadvantage if the role of a Member of Parliament were an unwaged job. If there were no money for positions of power; the only persons who would take it were those who were economically powerful already.

It would be against the interest of egalitarian representation to completely cancel the renumeration of public servants; on the other hand, a line must be drawn. Consider for instance, the specific needs of the servant: those with children may need to pay for childcare; those with disabilities may need to pay for expensive equipment or modifications to their offices to suit their accessibility needs. It is obvious demagoguery to point out the extreme and bizarre cases, but one should be sympathetic to noticing the needs of those in office.


Science fiction thought for the day

If a time traveller, or someone who has travelled time had no clue as to their temporal whereabouts, they might at least be curious as to:

a. Knowing what ‘time’ they are in
b. Knowing how/having a method of discerning the period

The latter point is sometimes stated in very uncritical terms sometimes; often there are plot devices such as ‘chronometer’ (being some fancy science-watch that is more sophisticated than a ticking clock), or satellite/radio tranismissions, or simply by asking anyone or finding clues (ie. big hair = 60s-90s). The latterly solution is a fairly simple one, insofar as there are actually people there. The satellite/radio idea is tenuous as it presumes the same degree of technological advancement in the periods of time wherewhich the agent had jumped into.

The last and often unquestioned notion, involves some kind of ‘science-clock’ which is able to discern the period of time immediately. I wonder how they would actually make that work. my first thought would be to estimate the age of the nearest naturally significant object. Such as either the planet that they are on (usually earth), or the nearest star. Of course, this wouldn’t work if one were travelling into another galaxy. I wonder though, how one would account for this hitherto unquestioned gizmo that could tell the time.

Oh yes, and mentioning ‘quantum mechanics’ (ie, just those two words, rather than quantum mechanics proper) in a sentence is pretty crude as well as some kind of deus-ex-explanandum.


Why I like Christian Theology

i. An increasing number of analytic philosophers are also Christians; their literature makes for a fusion between the traditional theological literature framed by the often critical conceptual tools of recent philosophy.
ii. It is a subject which is both exegetical and pedagogical
iii. It is a subject that is rarely bastardised in certain areas
iv. It is a subject that addresses issues systematically
v. It has a shared heritage with philosophy; Schliermacher, Aquinas, Augustine…


30,000 viewers!

I have been informed that we have reached the 30k mark of viewers. I’ve been checking the viewing data and I have found some people have been making links to the blog which is most flattering.

Thank all of you readers, whether regular, first time, or those who love to hate our views.


The virtue of temperance

Aristotle’s ethical system is one from which we have some practical import into our lives. Concerning the golden mean, our behaviour is to be kept in a balance between excess and deficiency. To be virtuous is to avoid excess and deficiency in our moral character. To be fearful is the mean between cowardice and arrogance. This makes our agency somewhat difficult, insofar as we must assess what is the mean in all situations.

Sometimes anger or retreat may be the apt choice, compared to other ones; and those decisions may lead to difficult options with consequences. Also, what is fearful in one situation may not be fearful in another, and it is upt to the virtuous agent to know what is the virtuous behaviour. In a sense it may seem we have a revival of the Socrates’ paradox: ‘only the wise know what consists in wisdom’.

The recent reporting in the media of ‘fresh’ news stories beyond the already-worn stories of abused or missing children, economic downturn and its consequences, or celebritieshardenfreuder. One is of the opinion that the recent reporting on MP expenses seems to be more to the effect of a media-driven campaign masked as a public opinion scandal. However, what does not seem to be clear is that who benefits from this? Normally these newspaper and media outrages benefit a major political party, however, it seems that fringe parties may benefit more.

There seems to be an unfortunate excess of reporting in that other issues have been forgotten: housing, education, employment, for instance. Has it passed the eyes of my readers that the British campaign Iraq has ended and the troops have come home?

Recently I have considered that the appeal to excess and superlatives in our emotional repetoire seem much more appealing than begruding subtlety and nuance. It seems forgotten to me that the appeal to excess and defiency is a moral flaw, and also an aesthetic flaw. Where subtlety and conservatism is not the only respite of excess; we are left with difficult options; of being led to look and reflect as to what our course of action is when predefined paths are not reliable: that is the mark of proper agency and character, namely, the uncomfortable position of making difficult and balanced decisions.