Link: the best/most important philosophy books and articles since 2000

Check out the discussion on Leiter, I admit that I think philosophical literature is cutting edge when it comes to the stuff in the past decade (I’m still in awe of 1986’s ‘On the Plurality of Worlds’, the philosophical community has moved on since then). One suggestion that I definately would agree is a significant book (that does not give way to my personal bias and associations) is Timothy Williamson’s “Knowledge and Its Limits”. I’ve only read a couple of chapters on this but Williamson’s work has been the topic and springboard of many philosophers since then. I would say he is one of the icons of contemporary philosophy today, enjoying the status of being among the greatest of living philosophers.

I am very very entertained at the suggestion made by one Michael Rosen, that one of the best books of the decade is Paul Franks, “All or Nothing: Systematicity, Transcendental Arguments, and Skepticism in German Idealism”. Why do I like this suggestion? I’ve been suggested to read this book in a correspondence I’ve had with an 18thC expert, but also, from what I’ve understood about the book, it addresses a Kantian thesis that I’ve vehemently explored in my own amateur philosophical exploits. Despite this personally curious suggestion, I do think that Williamson’s work quite suitably characterises the good philosophical work during this decade. Of course there are very interesting developments in other areas, in particular, global justice in political philosophy has gotten a very publically significant role, such as the discussion between Langton and Nussbaum on poverty, and the work of Sen. Also of very important note is the emergence of ‘formal philosophy’ and the xphi movement. I expect the former of the two will have much more influence in the coming decades of the 21st century. I would very much like that.


On having too much technology

Lately I have taken to the more serious suggestion that I need to immerse myself less with technology. The issue is not whether technology is a bad thing, or the appliances are no longer helpful; but how to effectively create an equilibrium between using appliances for convienience and utility against having to do so much work just to keep them that one is better off without them. Appliances, whether from a Firefox app to an operating system or even a hand blender in the kitchen are servants to ease human effort. Once we commit too much labour to an appliance we become slaves to them and no longer masters. At that point one should consider not using the appliance or removing it.

I shall consider some possible reactions to the overload of so many new applications about:

1. Convergence: When appliances converge, we have two or three devices less combined into one. I use my mp3 player, for instance, as a dictaphone, radio, portable hard disk drive, picture bank, and wireless podcatcher. Oh, not to mention an mp3 player. The iPhone is a good example of a convergent device. I would like to think that eventually we will not depend on so many gadgets but be so integrated into a unified appliance that we can have our pockets free for other things. I suppose another example of convergence is the swiss army knife.

2. Removal: I’ve been so inundated with twitter and google reader feeds at times; telling me useless news about celebrities, moral panics, or what stephen fry is doing for christmas; that I feel the inclination to just purge it from my life. Some RSS feeds are given a probation period where which I give them a chance to get me a nice and important feed, failing that, I drop them. A sometimes therapeutic approach is to imagine how life was before google reader, microsoft outlook, mozilla thunderbird etc; and take life in a different gear. Sometimes this gives us a good sense of perspective and questions whether we really need so many appliances. Being removed from technology helps us appreciate other things.

3. Limitation: because there are so many blogs about, and so many feeds with similar aspirations, one becomes slightly more critical. Choose feeds that say all the news that you want; avoid overlapping interest blogs that repeat stories. Perhaps getting rid of certain interest blogs altogether. There are many reasons why we may be convinced to remove a feed; time is one of them, having too many feeds to really appreciate in little time is a big reason for me. Another reason to remove a feed is that we may tire of the interest or agenda of the blog, or the agenda of the blog may change so radically that it loses interest. Of course, one may want as many feeds as possible, but this is at the cost of spending/wasting too much time looking at feeds or even not looking at them at all.

Concluding, there seems to be a certain kind of equilibrium between wanting to do so much that we have no time for any of it; and getting an efficient amount done. Our goals and desiderata may vary, of course, but the applications we choose are very much an issue of choosing one’s battles. It is unbecoming to see an uncritical use of technology with a lack of selective criteria. A related thought that I had was this: the only technology that the star trek officers normally have on their person at all times is a communicator/universal translator. Given all the applications of the 24th Century, they should choose to have no pockets and a minimal amount of tat. Perhaps that’s a utopia conception we should learn from.


Which individual do they remember?

Hitchens, in an address of the notion of death, appeals to Shakespeare’s ‘seven ages of man’ notion. Throughout our life, we have transitions to different kinds of people. The person we were as a child may be unrecognisable to our selves of today. We are always going through different phases of life, and as one new phase begins, another dies. In that sense, many people have died many times over before our ultimate demise. Why is the physical death so ultimate and conclusive when we have died many times before? So the thought goes…

We have a habit of immortalising a single kind of person when an individual dies. Although we acknowledge their growth and change, we alays remember them in some singular, unitary kind of way. Michael Jackson escaped his negative press by his death, and became remembered for his career highs. Some, by contrast, will always be remembered for their death. This year, the actor David Carradine had died, few people remember him for his circumstances of his death (autoerotic asphyxiation), but more toward whatever production they remember him most fondly. Kill Bill, for example, or Kung Fu.

Sometimes people can be remembered as their youthful selves, perhaps those to whom it would benefit seeing them as the eternal young. Others, by contrast, may be seen in a moer sagely light as the elder. I recall a discussion about which picture of Brahms one should remember. While Brahms is most often remembered as the mature, bearded man; his career the highlights of his career span throughout his younger years as well. When we consider David Hume, we imagine his empiricist philosophy, and the man sporting a turban. It was a twenty-three year old Hume, however, who had written his Magnum Opus, the Treatise on Human Nature. Why should we not remember Hume in his glorious youth and at his most intellectually fierce.

The person we remember may tell us something of when we may talk of the ‘peak’ of their career. For many composers, we remember them for great works of music but ignore the horrid circumstances of their twilight years. Stephen Foster, composer of great American Folk tunes like Beautiful Dreamer died penilless. It may be seen as an appeal to remember those who had died young, considering how much more they could have done in their lives. The likes of Kurt Cobain, Buddy Holly, Janis Joplin may have been saved of a life of mediocrity. There are many who age well, some who died agelessly young, and those who, by manner of their own poor dispositions, age terribly. Ironically, it is those who try to hark back to a past self.