“We do not live in an enlightened age, but we live in an age of enlightenment…”

1804 was the year that the Enlightenment ended. This week came many efforts to reform the UK legal notion of libel, which, in its current situation is far from the Enlightenment values that we so value. The enlightenment values are the values of Areopagus; the organisation which comprises members of the Noumenal realm.

I have become sceptical of such reasoning about a ‘golden age’. Often we are to mention the phrase about “protecting Rome from the barbarians”, but really were the Romans so civilised? Their civility came from their unique ability to organise and establish bureaucratic and administrative systems; and yet this is the very ill that I hate about today’s organisation of hierarchical structures. When was there a more noble time away from the practice of using procedure to mask human stupidity and lack of skill? The tyrants of the polis era were noble in their intentions and political and lawmaking will; but they still used crude means of rule, albeit by comparison to Romans, they were far less brute.

We can find all too much wrong with any of our percieved ‘Golden ages’. It all depends on our values. I’d propose as a crude measure, that these following factors would be crucial; necessary and sufficient conditions for any notion of a ‘Golden age’:

1. Social and national security
2. Good political and economic relations with other states
3. Egalitarian
4. Meritocracy (which has often been associated with Aristocracy for largely historical and contingent reasons)
5. Intellectual freedoms/the autonomy and separation of an intellectual caste

At the moment, the crisis of UK universities and higher education management is undermining the independence and overal research agenda and goals of academics from a level that is ubiquitous. There are also issues concerning the ‘diversity’ discourse undermining the right to criticise. It was those values of free enquiry that brought us to this level of social security and economic and intellectual richness; and yet those very values are being undermined.

Destre

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Russellian insights on history

This month I’ve started to read Russell’s ‘A History of Western Philosophy’; when I’ve attempted to read it in the past I only went in a non chronological order or didn’t get past the pre-socratics. Hopefully this time I’ll get it all done. I’m currently on the Romans.

The range of opinion varies on the topic of the value of this work. I was some time ago, at a publishing event concerning Russell’s corpus (Routledge); and the speakers on the topic had quite accessible and very overview kinds of perspectives on his historical exploration of philosophy. While many people say that the historical and exegetical content of the work is distinctly lacking; this book is worth reading for two very valid reasons: Russell is one of the philosophical greats and his ‘Russell’s guide to history’ communicates some interesting perspectives on the history of philosophy.

1. Philosophy and the historical condition

For Russell, a distinct message can be made insofar that philosophy has a dependence on the underlying historical conditions. In the case of the Greeks; the nature of their philosophical enquiry had a distinct style on the basis of the underlying socio-poligical sytem.

Russell divides the ‘Ancient Greeks’ by the ‘Polis model’ (not his word), the ‘Hellenic order’ and ‘Romanisation’ period. The polis model allowed for open and relatively ffee speculation on all matters. In this era before specialisation, philosophers spake of natural science, mathematical speculation, astrology, metaphysics and ethics; they also didn’t write a great deal. In the Hellenic era, specialisation occured. Mathematics, medicine, astrology and ethics became the subject of people seperate from overall ‘renaissance men’ (excuse the anachronism). There is a distinct relationship between the agenda of philosophers and their historical situation. Later philosophers were not as interested in metaphysics after Aristotle, it took until the Neoplatonists before philosophy seriously considered metaphysics again (so says Russell)

2. The humour of Russell’s history

Russell’s distinctly clear, accessible and humourous tone speaks through in this book. For example, in the chapter on Alexander the Great’s conquest from Africa to China; he speaks of how overstated the impact can be. Tibetans who called themselves distinct descendants of Alexander (and thus claim some divine status) also always happen to be ex Etonians.

3. Is Russell being charitable?

Russell’s chapters on Aristotle border between derision and charity. To call Aristotle’s work as essentially a lot of old tosh is an interesting view from a 20thC perspective. While it is certainly true that the modern period was largely an overthrow of Aristotelian ideas; what Aristotle became in the medieval realm does leave a large stain on the originality of his thought. To take Thales’ notion of everything being made of water as charitable is a large leap even for me, and yet Russell takes to an analysis of the notion using atomic theory, which is not merited.

The Atomists, by contrast; are treated very well by Russell, and rightly so. The Atomists were perhaps the most forward thinking of all the philosophers in the early period; for their opposition to Teleology and their appeal to mechanical explanation away from the recourse to the divine found a renewed inspiration in the modern period. They were, like their successors; treated like heretics. How interesting that they eventually, after 1500 years had taken to be an orthodox.

4. Philosophy beyond Europe

One thing that particularly interested me was European influence in Africa and Asia It is often forgotten that ancient cultures had their own channels of cultural and economic exchange. The eurocentric view ignores important things like the trade significance of Afghanistan and its source of Lapiz Lazuli. Around the same time of Alexander’s conquest, Hindu and Buddhist cultures were also extant. While the book does concern western philosophy proper; the influence of intellectual culture has a much wider case which would make the subject of a far more interesting monograph.

Michael

The ‘fabulous’ James Randi

James Randi has come out as a gay man. Coming out as a homosexual in this contemporary social context is always an issue and while sexuality preconceptions have changed there are is still a battle in the social and legal domain for gay rights.

Randi is a tireless promoter of reason and secular values, and his sexuality has little to impact upon those values that he promotes. In a sense I can anticipate the opponents of the enlightenment liberal agenda to capitalise on such homosexuality as an appeal to backward preconceptions. I think that for a person in their early 80s living as a homosexual over the previous and less tolerant decades is a brave feat.

I must admit that it does come as a surprise, but that’s mainly from older homosexuals not being as represented in the public and media perception.

Good on you, JR
Sinistre*

Writing styles (and a musical comparison)

I quite like to compare music to all aspects of life. I suppose because of the formal generality of music and its non-representational nature allows one to see many things within a single piece or compositional theme. I thought that any good essay should make a statement concerning the unity of a subject matter. Any essay or monograph should address a single topic or set of related topics. How exactly this may be realised, I shall consider by a comparison to musical styles.

The Beethovian method:

Write essays with a defined introduction, that engenders the main thesis and the conclusion. Construct a strong sense of unity such that every clause and sentence melts into the next one. I consider this to be the most difficult, and the highest ideal of essay writing. The germ of a whole written piece should be summarised by the spirit of the first paragraph or sentence. Think (da da da daaaa) of the introduction of the Fifth Symphony.

Improvisational; avant-garde

Write as you think of something, and the style makes itself up by reflecting your own personality. This can be rude, boring, uninteresting, or a hodgepodge of your great influences subconsiously communicated as your writing emerges from thoughts to words.

Baroque:

This is a bad attempt at the Beethovian ideal. There is an attempt at structural unity in the essay but it is either crudely stated, or includes unnecessary words, sentences or digressions (baroque ornamentations: trills, mordents, turns etc..). It is also an attempt at being too clever when you don’t merit such intelligent writing (think about the role of numerology in JS Bach).

Romantic:

Similar to the Baroque in its excess. This kind of writing style uses big words for people who don’t know how to use them. They may be pretty sounding and assonant (remember, people who use ryhme in everyday speech are probably mentally ill, or some kind of retarded). This kind of writing is self indulgent without accessible context. It is like Blake’s poetry, it may sound pretty but you don’t know what the hell is going on.

Expressionist:

Bethovenian to the extreme. The unity of theme is so strong that perhaps others cannot even understand your work. If you are writing for a highly technical audience who understands your background propositions or formalised axioms, this would be a possible avenue. Otherwise, comprehension is compromised over condensed information.

Sinistre

People should need a license to use the word ‘logical’

‘Logical’ is a word that I would almost never use. Why? There are two reasons.

1. I do not really know how to use the term. Michael often seems to think that he does know the meaning of the word logical; which is essentially a synonym for the term ‘categorial’ iff such categorial properties can be formalised viz. logic.

So, what is a categorial property? The categorial property links to Michael’s interest in Systematicity. Systematicity is a thesis concerning the ordered organisation of phenomenological and intellectual matter. In short, our organisational scheme of the world. This notion goes back to Aristotle’s metaphysics, who imposed a notion of fundamental categories that construe everything and anything in the world.

Such a systematic ordering of reality, following Kant’s categories and going up to Frege; suggest the formalised scheme in which particularised (and perceived) reality may be known and knowable. Categorials include things like

universal/singular/plural
Negation/affirmation
conjunction/disjunction

We may call such categorial features ‘logical’ features. To think logically is to think categorially (although they are not exact synonyms. A further caveat is to say that categorial properties do not exhaust the concept of the logical, by no means at all do they do as such! I think, however, that a good conception of the logical would be to account for those things that are part of our conceptual understanding of the world.

2. People in common usage use the term ‘logical’ in a similar way that they may speak of ‘objectification’; namely, without defining it. To define a word means to suggest of the conditions of its legitimate usage. Logical is often a synonym of modus ponens. But it is also such a muddled and confused common term, that people seem to associate causal reasoning with propositional logic; or cannot comprehend worldhood. Such fuzzy use of terminology is unhelpful to people’s conceptual schemes. Their stupidity limits their own conditions of apprehension.

Antisophie

(Link) Hitchen’s reported lapses into homosexuality

I thought I would share a piece that I found on the Telegraph. An interesting take on how to ‘fast track’ to the inner circle (no pun intented) of the conservative party, that, or being a female Muslim.

The journalist Christopher Hitchens is on a roll right now, chiefly for his devastating put-down of Anna Ford, after she dissed his friend Martin Amis, but also by virtue of his new memoirs Of his occasional lapses into homosexuality at Oxford, he recalls that these included “mild and mildly enjoyable” flings with two youths who later became members of Margaret Thatcher’s government. Cue for a pause, for the bad-minded among us to work out which Tory ministers were at Oxford with Chris H. But it wouldn’t matter much if we guessed right. Once, being outed as gay would be political death among Tories. Now it’s pretty well a short cut for inclusion in David Cameron’s A-list. [Melanie McDonagh]

Antisophie

Some of Kant’s unique behaviourisms

I thought I’d note some apparent historical descriptions of the more eccentric side of Kant:

1. Kant was a raconteur; that is, he had a reputation for personally telling stories and anecdotes, often holding the attention of all his company at dinner parties. Often, Kant’s knowledge of anecdotes sprang from his wider knowledge of the world.

From knowing Kant’s theoretical philosophy, there is certainly an enviable quality of having an ecclectic diversity of interests. Kant was familiar with English literature (Shakespeare), Enlightenment non-philosophical writings such as the poetic and eloquently written Voltaire. Kant was unique in combining to seemingly seperate traditions and forging them into what we now understand as ‘aesthetics’; Kant was familiar with the art-focused tradition of scottish philosophers as well as the official use of the word ‘aesthetics’ (pertaining to experience) as key to human psychological nature as harking to his intellectual descendent Baumgarten.

2. Kant had eccentric beliefs about health and wellness. Kant wrapped himself up very tightly in his bed, and his manservant Lampe had an almost maternal relationship with him. Kant had pseudoscientific beliefs about pollutants in the air during cold weather (it would be anachronistic to refer to ‘germs’ for his understanding), and the importance of sleeping properly. Kant believed in the importance of regular and consistent sleeping patterns for reasons us moderns would perhaps disagree with. Kant believed that sleep brought us closer to death, insofar as having more time in bed led to having less time alive. This might seem to sound correct by normal sensibility, but Kant had very little scientific backing for this belief; Kant thought that having less sleep would mean one would have a longer life, while having too much sleep would give us a shorter life. The grounds of his promotion of ‘equilibrium’ are alien to today’s notion of good sleep health. Kant also believed strongly in breathing through one’s nose instead of one’s mouth, and constantly covered his mouth when out in bitter cold.

3. Kant’s interest in order, which can be attributed to his English merchant friend Joseph Green, is a significant psychological component that one may speculate as having influence in his everyday life. Kant believed in the importance of regularity in a daily routine, regularity for Kant was important as a symbol of moral character and the cultivation of a virtuous person. If we enforce a nature of regularity, we may find it difficult initially if it is alien to us, but eventually the psychological conditioning of routine eventually makes our cultivation project for moral betterness a less difficult task.

This latterly point has particular resonance to Kant’s notion of cultus and the ritual nature of religion. Perhaps the ritual nature of everyday life and routine has something important to be said for it as well. The importance of order in relation to his friendship with Green is stressed often for Kant’s insight to his moral philosophy. I think the notion of order spreads further to the notion of the categories and (I contend), systematicity itself.

It is interesting to consider the kinds of eccentric quirks that are part of philosopher’s lives. My tutor told me once that Sidgwick (the all too often forgotten utilitarian) was interested in seances and ghost-hunting in his personal life. For many, even the most theoretical of thoughts have resonances to our personal traits and character; a boring philosophy speaks of a boring mind. That said, I’ve known many philosophers who are respectable intellectuals who seem very distant and boring. Or, likewise, the interesting and even likeable ones can also have the most unsightly views. Some philosophers outside of their ‘main’ or most popularised work have often attracted great interest in other ways. Spinoza attracted early members of the Royal Society to visit him and engage in scientific discussions during their visit to the Netherlands; Russell, perhaps most shockingly was a non-monogamous person and allowed his various partners to take on other lovers. There is also a tragic story of a homosexual logician who was murdered in suspicious and unsavoury circumstances where the utter scandal and full detail was only encapsulated by saying conservatively that ‘he had a personal life’.

Sinistre