All posts tagged philosophy

Words Crush Wednesday – Kant

Published March 23, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros

This Words Crush Wednesday is the last from Kant (for now), I promise.  Then I’ll move on to later readings.

A man may postpone his own enlightenment, but only for a limited period of time.  And to give up enlightenment altogether, either for oneself or one’s descendants, is to violate and to trample upon the sacred rights of man.  What a people may not decide for itself may even less be decided for it by a monarch, for his reputation as a ruler consists precisely in the way in which he unites the will of the whole people within his own.

Enlightenment is one of the sacred rights of humanity.  I love that.


Words Crush Wednesday – Kant

Published March 16, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros

So, having finished with Descartes, now Words Crush Wednesday has caught up with the other reading from that week (yes, this semester’s quotes are likely to keep going until next semester), What is Enlightenment? by Immanuel Kant.  Translated by Peter Gay.

Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed nonage.  Nonage is the inability to use one’s own understanding without another’s guidance.  This nonage is self-imposed if its cause lies not in lack of understanding but in indecision and lack of courage to use one’s own mind without another’s guidance.  Dare to know! (Sapere aude.)  “Have the courage to use your own understanding,” is therefore the motto of the enlightened.

Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why such a large part of mankind gladly remain minors all their lives, long after nature has freed them from external guidance.  They are the reasons why it is so easy for others to set themselves up as guardians.  It is so comfortable to be a minor.  If I have a book that thinks for me, a pastor who acts as my conscience, a physician who prescribes my diet, and so on — then I have no need to exert myself.  I have no need to think, if only I can pay; others will take care of that disagreeable business for me.  Those guardians who have kindly taken supervision upon themselves see to it that the overwhelming majority of mankind — among them the entire fair sex — should consider the step to maturity not only as hard, but as extremely dangerous.  First, these guardians make their domestic cattle stupid and carefully prevent the docile creatures from taking a single step without the leading-strings to which they have fastened them.  Then they show them the danger that would threaten them if they should try to walk by themselves.  Now, this danger is not really very great; after stumbling a few times they would, at last, learn to walk.  However, examples of such failures intimidate and generally discourage all further attempts.

That was actually the opening of the piece, btw.


Words Crush Wednesday – Descartes

Published March 9, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros

This is the final Words Crush Wednesday quote from Descartes’ Discourse on Method, I promise!

if there were such machines with the organs and shape of a monkey or of some other non-rational animal, we would have no way of discovering that they are not the same as these animals.  But if there were machines that resembled our bodies and if they imitated our actions as much as is morally possible, we would always have two very certain means for recognizing that, none the less, they are not genuinely human.  The first is that they would never be able to use speech, or other signs composed by themselves, as we do to express our thoughts to others.  For one could easily conceive of a machine that is made in such a way that it utters words, and even that it would utter some words in response to physical actions that cause a change in its organs — for example, if someone touched it in a particular place, it would ask what one wishes to say to it, or if it were touched somewhere else, it would cry out that it was being hurt, and so on.  But it could not arrange words in different ways to reply to the meaning of everything that is said in its presence, as even the most unintelligent human beings can do.  The second means is that, even if they did many things as well as or, possibly, even better than any one of us, they would infallibly fail in others.  Thus one would discover that they did not act on the basis of knowledge, but merely as a result of the disposition of their organs.  For whereas reason is a universal instrument that can be used in all kinds of situations, these organs need a specific disposition for every particular action.  it follows that it is morally impossible for a machine to have enough different dispositions to make it act in every human situation in the same way as our reason makes us act.

Yup.  He just invented and then debunked the robot.

…though no matter how many times I read his description of how we’d know the difference between the artificial person and a real person, I keep flashing back to the scene in Blade Runner where he’s questioning the suspected replicants to expose them…

(Of course, the anthropologist in me insists on pointing out that some primates — particularly the large-bodied apes — are extremely intelligent, and couldn’t be simulated so easily as Descartes thinks.)


Words Crush Wednesday – Descartes

Published March 2, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros

Yup, Words Crush Wednesday is again from Descartes’ Discourse on Method this week.  Last week he was talking about growing tired of the studies he had been given at school.  This week, he’s talking about why his method isn’t for everyone.

Even the resolution to give up all the views that one has previously believed is not an example that everyone should follow.  There are hardly more than two kinds of minds in the world for whom it is completely inappropriate.  There are those who cannot avoid rushing into judgements, and do not have enough patience to guide all their thoughts in an orderly fashion; the result is that, if they ever took the liberty to doubt the principles that they accepted and to stray from the usual path, they would never be able to stick to the path that must be followed in order to move forward more directly, and they would remain lost all their lives.  Secondly, there are those who are sufficiently reasonable and modest to realize that they are less competent to distinguish between what is true and what is false than others who could instruct them; they should be much more content to follow the views of these others than to look for better ones themselves.

I think we’ve all known (or at least known of) people like that first type…but that second type!  There’s something about that description that reminds me of why Descartes came off as really arrogant in the Discourse on Method, even though, as I put it in my paper, “I don’t think he was really as ‘the world revolves around my mighty brain’ as the Discourse on Method makes him seem.”

(Yes, I really said that in a paper, and yes, I really turned it in.  Though I kind of wished I hadn’t written that as soon as class started and the professor asked if anyone else had fallen in love with Descartes the way he had.  Um, ouch.  Like, self-destruct level ouch.  I tried to talk about it in class so he would understand that I wasn’t attacking Descartes, but…yeah, that was a bad move on my part.)


Words Crush Wednesday – Descartes

Published February 24, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros

Yup, you’re getting another Words Crush Wednesday from my assigned class reading.  ‘Cause it turns out philosophers are eminently quotable.  (Hardly surprising, all things considered.)

This is the first of the quotes from Rene Descartes’ Discourse on the Method for Guiding One’s Reason and Searching for Truth in the Sciences, which is way too long a title, so from now on I’m just calling it the Discourse on Method, like it says on the cover of the book.  Translation by Desmond M. Clarke.

I knew that the languages learned there [in the schools he had attended] are necessary in order to understand classical texts; that the politeness of fables animates the mind; that the memorable deeds of history uplift it and, when read critically, that they help to train our judgement; that the reading of all good books is like a conversation with the most eminent people of past centuries, who were their authors, and that it is even a studied conversation in which they reveal to us only the best of their thoughts; that oratory has incomparable powers and attractions; that poetry has very ravishing delights and sensibilities; that mathematics contains very subtle discoveries that can help very much to satisfy those who are curious, to facilitate all crafts, and to reduce human labour; that moral writings contain many encouragements to virtue which are very useful; that theology teaches us how to get to heaven; that philosophy provides ways of speaking plausibly about everything, and of making oneself admired  by those whoa re less educated; that law, medicine and other sciences bring honour and riches to those who practise them; and finally, that it is good to have studied them all, even the most superstitious and false among them, in order to know their real value and to protect oneself against being deceived by them.

But I thought I had already devoted enough time to languages and even to reading the classics, to their stories and fables, because conversation with people from other periods is like travelling.  It is helpful to know something about the customs of different people in order to make a more sensible judgement about our own, and not to think that everything is different from our ways is ridiculous and irrational, as is usually thought by those who have seen nothing else.  But if one spends too much time travelling, one eventually becomes a stranger in one’s own country; and if one is too curious about things that happened in past ages, one usually remains very ignorant about what is currently taking place.

That second paragraph was the one that really spoke to me.


Words Crush Wednesday – One of These Things is Not Like the Others

Published February 3, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros

But no, I’m not quoting Sesame Street for this week’s Words Crush Wednesday.  It’s actually (another) quote from Plato’s Republic.  But reading it made me start humming that old Sesame Street song…once I stopped laughing, anyway.

To explain the context a bit:  Socrates and some others are discussing the concept of justice, and trying to define it, and so on.  It was decided to start at the beginning, and look at how cities are formed, and how justice and injustice are created within them.  (It’s more complicated than that, but…)  Socrates starts out by describing a very small town, with only the barest of essentials — food and shelter, and little else.  One of his companions objects, and so Socrates replies…

All right, I understand. It isn’t merely the origin of a city that we’re considering, it seems, but the origin of a luxurious city.  And that may not be a bad idea, for by examining it, we might very well see how justice and injustice grow up in cities.  Yet the true city, in my opinion, is the one we’ve described, the healthy one, as it were.  But let’s study a city with a fever, if that’s what you want.  There’s nothing to stop us.  The things I mentioned earlier and the way of life I described won’t satisfy some people, it seems, but couches, tables, and other furniture will have to be added, and, of course, all sorts of delicacies, perfumed oils, incense, prostitutes, and pastries.  We mustn’t provide them only with the necessities we mentioned at first, such as houses, clothes and shoes, but painting and embroidery must be begun, and gold, ivory and the like acquired.  Isn’t that so?

(As with last week’s quote, this is the G.M.A. Grube translation.  Which I would find a lot easier to read if it included either quotation marks to show if the end of a paragraph is also the end of a speaker’s line, or little indicators in the margin to show when the speaker changes.  Because sometimes it’s at the end of a paragraph, and sometimes it’s not for several paragraphs, and it’s not always clear right away in the text itself.)

I know it’s called “the oldest profession” for a reason, but really!  I think Socrates is over-commodotizing sex here.  (Is that a word?)  Of course — naturally — long before the discussion is over, Socrates and his followers (Plato’s brothers, mostly) have agreed that actually their city doesn’t want all those luxuries after all.

Although, actually, there’s a certain harmony to the phrase “prostitutes and pastries.”  I think I’ll name a brothel that in some book or other…


Words Crush Wednesday – Plato

Published January 27, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros

This week’s Words Crush Wednesday is from Plato’s Republic, G.M.A. Grube translation.

In a city of good men, if it came into being, the citizens would fight in order not to rule, just as they do now in order to rule.  There it would be quite clear that anyone who is really a true ruler doesn’t by nature seek his own advantage but that of his subjects.


Words Crush Wednesday – Thales

Published January 20, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros

Before class, I thought I wasn’t going to do a Words Crush Wednesday post today.  But now I have one.  Witness the quote that is all that survives of the wisdom of the very first Greek philosopher, Thales:

Everything is water.

Yup.  That’s what we’ve got.

Of course, my professor explained that this was an amazing thing back when Thales said it, because everyone thought that all matter was composed of the four elements (which are earth, water, fire, and air, for those of you who neither play RPGs nor watched the Avatar: The Last Airbender TV show), and he broke past all that, seeing that only an element as malleable and changeable as water could produce the diverse number of things in the world.

It was cooler the way the professor said it, of course.  Actually, if he hadn’t given us that Thales quote, I was thinking of quoting him for today’s post.  In explaining why the course is mainly lecture (+ a massive reading list) at a level of academia where the seminar format is more standard, he said

There’s no substitute for me cramming knowledge down your throats.

He also compared Socrates to “the Dude.”  (Okay, someone needs to make a T-shirt that reads “Socrates abides.”)

This professor is so awesome.  I mean, I already knew he was awesome — I loved the earlier class I took with him — but I’d forgotten just how awesome.  His lectures are completely fun, and he has an entertaining way of looking at virtually everything.  He’s the kind of guy who would be a big hit as a guest on The Daily Show if he was brought on to promote a new book or something.  (I don’t think he’s had more than one book, but…)

In fact, towards the end of class, I was wishing I could record his class and post it online so everyone else could share in the entertainment that doubles as a learning experience.

And then at the end of the class, he said that lately he’s been seeing a lot of absenteeism among his students.  I couldn’t believe it.  Who would skip his classes?  I can’t understand it.


My Spring Semester Reading List

Published January 17, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros

I thought, since classes start in the coming week, I’d post my reading list for the Intellectual History class.  So that if my posts become sporadic and/or practically stop coming, you’ll know the reason why.  (Okay, actually, it’s unlikely to be anywhere near that bad.  But…)

So, in alphabetical order, by author’s name:

  1. Philosophy of Aristotle, by Aristotle (duh)
  2. Discourse on Method & Related Works by Rene Descartes
  3. History of Sexuality, Vol. 1 by Michel Foucault
  4. Civilization & Its Discontents by Sigmund Freud
  5. Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes
  6. Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysics by Immanuel Kant
  7. Existentialism: From Dostoevsky to Sartre edited by Walter Kaufmann
  8. Second Treatise of Government by John Locke
  9. The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx
  10. Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche (but I prefer the German version of the title)
  11. The Symposium by Plato
  12. The Republic by Plato
  13. Reveries of the Solitary Walker by Jean-Jacques Rousseau
  14. Rousseau’s Political Writings by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (duh)
  15. Darwinian Revolution by Michael Ruse
  16. Scientific Revolution by Steven Shapin

If the professor follows his usual pattern, we’ll be reading one a week, and also writing a short reaction paper to the book in that same week.  The papers, I suspect, are more so he can be sure we actually read the books than anything else.  (He didn’t return them to us last time I had him, so it’s hard to say for sure.)

Fortunately, none of them are very long.  I had thought The Republic was a long one, but I must have been confusing it with something else.  (Laws, maybe.  That’s the one Plato wrote by the time he’d become a bitter old man who detested the very idea of love, and insisted that sex ought to be exclusively for the purpose of procreation.  Um, that was probably actually a very small part of it, of course, but that part was brought up in The Greeks and Greek Love, so that’s all I really know about it, as philosophy is not really my bag.)  The longest book in the list is Darwinian Revolution, which is actually a history book!  Yes, this history class has only two history books on the reading list.  Both, curiously enough, having the word “Revolution” in the title.  (I remember seeing Scientific Revolution at the book store and thinking it looked interesting, so I’m looking forward to that one.  Likewise, I’ve been meaning to check out Foucault’s History of Sexuality for some time…though I decided not to buy the second volume until I’ve read the first one, just in case it turns out I don’t like (or understand) his writing.)  I’m pleased to say that the Freud book has huge print as well as being fairly short.

The book on Existentialism is, as you can tell from its title, an anthology of selections from various authors.  The authors are Soren Kierkegaard, Jose Ortega y Gasset, Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, Fyoder Mikhailovich Dostoevsky (I really hope the bit in here isn’t as agonizing to read as The Brothers Karamozov!), Friedrich Nietzsche, Rainer Maria Rilke, Franz Kafka, Karl Jaspers, and Albert Camus.

I have a sinking feeling that a lot of the reading for this course will be like bashing my head against a brick wall.  But this is a really important class for me to take, because it will indirectly impact heavily on my thesis, so I’m gonna do it, and I’m gonna do it to the best of my ability.

I’ll try to keep my complaints to a minimum while I’m at it, but I won’t lie and say “no complaining,” because that’s just not going to happen.  I’m too whiny by nature to totally suppress my need to complain.  (Wow, that was a crazy thing to admit.)  I’ll try to keep most of my complaints oral, rather than letting them spill out textually on the blog, but I can’t guarantee that’ll happen.  (Missing Letter Mondays may become contaminated by my reading list as well…not much I can do about that, unless I pre-write the whole semester’s worth of posts in the next three days, which is just not gonna happen.  I haven’t even written tomorrow‘s post yet.)

I’m curious to get to the Camus excerpt in the anthology book:  it’s about the myth of Sisyphus.  (Probably just using it as a springboard to get elsewhere, but still.)

Oh, btw, if anyone’s interested in learning about the contents of any of these books, let me know, and I’ll post a book report on them after I read them.  (Ugh, that reminds me, I’m pretty sure I still have some book reports I meant to write and didn’t yet.  Did I ever write one for The Death and Afterlife of Achilles?  I think I did, but I’m not sure.  I should check that…)

I’m currently reading the Argonautica of Apollonius of Rhodes, and I can see already why I had always felt it wasn’t really worth reading.  It’s kind of…um…well, the Odyssey it ain’t.  (And it’s even less the Iliad, but given the very different structure of the story, that wouldn’t be a fair comparison.)  I’ll post about it when I finish it.  My for-fun reading list for the coming semester will include The Transvestite Achilles, which I bought last semester, which is largely focused on Statius’ Achilleis, as well as other accounts of Achilles’ time on Scyros, and will be very important for my thesis, as well as hopefully being a fun read.  (Yes, I just said that an analysis of a somewhat sub-par, unfinished Latin epic(?) should be a fun read.  Maybe there’s something wrong with me.)  Also, my Christmas books:  The Riddle of the Labyrinth, about the deciphering of Linear B, and Catiline: The Monster of Rome, which is actually about how Cicero framed Catiline.  And, of course, my recent purchase of The Priapus Poems.  (That’ll probably get read first, because it’s a paperback, so I can read it in the bath.  Also it’s shortest and simplest.)

I should probably put some fiction on my TBR list at some point…

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