Rather than writing…it’s Hegeltime

Yes, I know I’ve been bad about writing lately. No, it’s not just because I’ve been busy (though that’s part of it), much as I’d like to blame it on that; mostly, it’s because I keep starting posts and then deleting them (there’s a really good one on philosophy, bicycling, and unfriendly motorists who pass inches away from you to make a point that just needs me to find the right words that aren’t too inflammatory that I must have redrafted four times by now, and have been thinking about since a ride in November), and, well, I’ve been reading Hegel.

Yes, Hegel. Why? Because I can. Continue reading

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More Book Advice from a Nonexistent Bookstore

So, if last round was the Greatest Hits, this time’s for the album tracks and rarities—not everything here will be to everybody’s taste, some of these will be to almost nobody’s taste (well, except maybe yours, Asher), and at least a few of them should be loved by none. Continue reading

Book Advice from a Nonexistent Bookstore

Now that Newman Books is closed, DC doesn’t have a really good philosophy/theology bookshop. Okay, granted, Newman’s selection could be pretty spotty at times,* and Kramerbooks can be surprisingly good,** but that’s beside the point for those of us who want our critical Latin editions of Ockham and Scotus, 5 different translations of Augustine, more stuff on the Reformation than most stores devote to religion, or a whole section on Aquinas. We want our bookstore, complete with people who know a critical edition from a public domain Latin version. It’s something you just can’t get from Amazon—well, along with the feeling you get from not sending money to Satan’s minions—and will be sorely missed.

But. But! I’m gonna give you the next best thing: a series of lists (what is this, Buzzfeed?) of books worth reading on any number of philosophical*** topics, complete with caveats, explanations, and my own opinions, which are completely right and you should never question ever because they’re right. Some of these are syllabi for imagined courses I’ll never get to teach, but have always wanted to—a few of them I’ve been developing since reading Plato’s Republic, scarily enough—while others are just “look, don’t read bad translations like I did, try these instead.” It’s advice I’d give to hypothetical customers or students, written up in a big ol’ binder at the front of the store that you could whack me over the head with when you disagreed with something I said.

You don’t get the binder, but you do get my opinions. Sorry ’bout that. Continue reading

On Reading All of Augustine

“The man who claims to have read all of Augustine is a liar”

And, of course, Isidore of Seville is pretty close to right. I haven’t touched the Ennarations on the Psalms, nor about half the other sermons, nor a couple other minor works, but 30-odd other volumes? Not right short, I undertake! Now that I’m all but done with this super-secret press project I’ve been working on for a year and a half now (because of course there won’t be any revisions at all…), it’s time for a few observations:

Continue reading

Science Shouldn’t Be Objective

So why does flying my SSK Freak Flag™ and denying the objectivity of science get me hate mail? What is it that we really prize when we say something is objective, and why is attacking that Bad?

For starters, I’m not even going to really go into intelligent design, climate change denying, anti-vax, or paleo diet hooha. If you’re looking for support in your quest to unmask the Vast Scientific Conspiracy, look elsewhere, and if you’re supporting any of these things (or any other pseudoscience), I’d suggest revising the background assumptions that govern the foundational rules behind the discursive field of your form of life.*

So, my objection to objectivity is this: not only is it not true that science is objective, but the term “objective” is really masking a whole bushel of values that we ought to embrace, but, because we value our form of empirical inquiry acting as if it’s value-neutral or even value-free, we claim that it’s objective, and seek to behave in a way that we believe people engaged in an objective form of empirical, inductive reasoning based on observation ought to behave. Continue reading

Science Isn’t Objective

The title’s clickbait, but I mean it: science, even physics, isn’t objective, and, more to the point, it can’t be.

There are a lot of assumptions to unpack there (for instance, why do people think physics is the most objective science?), but let’s start with the obvious one: the assumption science, whatever it is, is, in fact, objective, whatever that is. Continue reading

Underrated Philosophers VI: Jorge Luis Borges

And this is where I jump the shark. Dante’s understandable—he at least wrote a couple of philosophical treatises, he gets an entry in the Cambridge Companion to Medieval Philosophy—but Borges? The whacked-out Argentinian surrealist writer of trippy short stories with a weird obsession with tigers and labyrinths? The man who never wrote anything over fifteen pages? The man who said that metaphysics is really just a branch of the literature of fantasy? Seriously? Seriously?

Nicolás Menza, El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan (The Garden of Forking Paths), 2000.

First, his poetry’s awesome, so shuddup. Second, you have to read his essays to really make sense of his short stories and poetry (assuming you’d actually want to, rather than just enjoying the Weird). Third, his essay on Ramon Llull is both the inspiration for this underrated philosophers series and why I’m not doing one on Llull, much as I’d like to; it wouldn’t be as good as the one that already exists. Fourth, there are lots of philosophers who love Borges, some of whom even organize traveling art exhibits based on his work.*

But, as a philosopher…well, he may be the only absolute idealist worth reading. Granted, there aren’t a lot of absolute idealists (Borges, Berkley, and…um…uhh…), and Berkley’s bad crazy, but that’s beside the point (kinda). What isn’t beside the point is what happens when an absolute idealist goes blind and starts writing fiction. Continue reading

What Should Aesthetics Do?

“Explain beauty,” obviously. Why thank you, that wasn’t entirely obvious.

The problem here is that “beauty” is a pretty complicated notion, with a lot of intertwined ideas wrapped up into it. Do you have to have a certain approach to metaphysics, anthropology, or ethics to explain beauty, or can it be explained without reference to a particular concept of being, human nature, or morality? Can it be applied to all things that are called “beautiful,” which would be ideal, or only certain classes of these things? Finally, what exactly is the beautiful (assuming it even exists!), and how can it be distinguished from similar, related, or easily confused things?

This would cover the concept’s intension (what is its definition, how is it distinguished from other concepts); its extension (to what things does this concept apply); and its connected presuppositions and implications (what concepts do you need to understand before you get to “beauty,” and what do you need it to understand). Once you have these three, I’d say you have a pretty good working theory.

So simple, it seems, and then you try to actually figure it out. Continue reading

High Art, Good Art, & Bad Ideas

Context, if you want it: a recent article in The Stone, the NYT’s philosophy blog that Brian Leiter likes to mock. The position, if you want it: some forms of art/music/etc. are superior to others, with classical music, for instance, being superior to pop music.

My views, if you want them: sure, there’s good art and bad art. There’s also a whole lot of complications that philosophers of art, especially those who think you can make simple divisions between high culture (the kind academics like and participate in) and low culture (the kind they look down on, or study in “studies” departments) with impunity. Continue reading

Exile, Occupation, Persecution: The Birth of Philosophers

Bertrand Russell, Typical Philosopher

Time to pick up where I left off last time—why so many of The Greats come from less-than-ideal circumstances. While today’s philosopher is stereotyped as a rather comfortable man in his armchair complete with tweed, pipe, and beard, it seems that most philosophers, especially before Kant, spent some time on the run, hungry, alone, forsaken, and with the law at their heels. For a few of them, there was a jail cell and executioner rather than departmental office and publisher.

I’m all about historical narratives around here, so let’s whip up another one—how philosophers found themselves on the wrong end of The Man: Continue reading

Underrated Philosophers V: Dante

Yes, as I’ve said before, that Dante. Great philosopher, decent poet.

Why is he great? Don’t let anyone lead you into thinking that separation of church and state is a modern idea and that the Middle Ages were a time filled with torture chambers, witch trials, the Spanish Inquisition, and kings in bed with the Pope. That was the supposedly enlightened Renaissance, when kings and popes actually had enough power to get away with those sorts of nasty things. No, the middle ages were filled with conflicts between church and state, with nobody more eager to see the two separated than our friend Dante. Continue reading