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

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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

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

Philosopher Shaming!

Time for some philosopher shaming.  Things I actually and truly believe, but know I probably shouldn’t:

  • There is no way we can have anything worth calling knowledge of objective scientific truths.  This shouldn’t bother us, though.
  • We can have knowledge of moral truths.  It may be that it’s not that hard to know what they are, even; it’s just that, since they make inconvenient demands of us, we choose to act like we don’t know them.
  • I studied Thomas Aquinas mostly because I thought he was respectable and Blaise Pascal wasn’t.
  • I really, really dislike reading Aquinas, and I don’t think burnout explains all of why.
  • Thomas Hobbes is nowhere near as shocking, modern, or cool as Marsilius of Padua once you understand the latter’s philosophical context.  Seriously, writing a work in the middle ages without a lengthy discussion of human nature or happiness?  If that doesn’t start ringing all sorts of alarm bells, you evidently didn’t spend way too much time studying Scholastic political philosophy.
  • Basically, Kant was right.
  • John Duns Scotus may just be the most brilliant person who wrote during the 12oo’s.  That’s saying a lot.
  • Realizing I’ve always had sympathies with French continental philosophy was . . . well, I still feel kinda dirty about it.  Also that I should have saved it for 11 October.
  • I sometimes read feminist philosophy just for the great titles.
  • The more Aristotle I read, the more I’m convinced he’s the third most overrated philosopher ever.  One and two are Berkley and Lacan, by the way.
  • On Tuesdays, I think David K. Lewis was right.

The Complete History of Philosophy, Abridged

This, perhaps more than anything else, may be my biggest scholarly disagreement with how philosophy is practiced today.  Sure, I have much bigger gripes on a personal and professional level—the casual sexism for starters—but this is less depressing.

Philosophy has a history, and its history shapes how we do things.  The problem is that each side of the philosophical turf war has its own narrative, and these narratives . . . well, they’ve got issues. Continue reading

Modal Realism: Well, Other Than *That,* David Lewis Was Right!

And now, the very technical and insane follow up to the last post.

WARNING: What follows will blow your mind.  Yes, there are philosophers who believe these things.  On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I’m one of them.  To put it simply, if you’re standing in a circle with other metaphysicians confessing to your strangest philosophical commitment, this is stranger than thinking tables and/or people don’t exist.*

Really.

Brace yourselves.

Continue reading

Storytelling and Reality: Telling Lies Truly

I think I’ve mentioned two works of fiction on this blog so far more prominently than any others: David Foster Wallace’s The Broom of the System, and Tim O’Brian’s The Things They Carried.  Both deal with an odd notion that philosophers have been playing with for the last few decades—how is it that things that don’t exist in the ordinary sense can nevertheless be true?

“Everyone knows” what a unicorn is.  It’s a horse-like being with a horn.  Easy enough, right?  Okay, so pick the unicorns:

One of these things is not like the others . . .

Continue reading

Print Ain’t Dead Yet

Fine, yes, I know, everyone in publishing is obsessed with this whole e-book thing.  Lots are even saying it’s going to doom the industry (yeah right).  Heck, I had a few profs (who, granted, still use WordPerfect because their typewriters got taken away) who thought e-books were another sign of the decline of Western civilization.

Okay, it’s none of the above.  If publishers just did the work of putting ink on paper, perhaps—but most things publishing houses do happens long before a drop of ink finds the paper.  However, there are a few reasons why the printed book is here to stay.
Continue reading