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

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.*


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

Yves Klein and Interpretation Pt 1: Why Art Museums Need Philosophers

Blue Monochrome (IKB 45)

Last year, the Hirshhorn put on about the best exhibition I’ve ever seen at any museum—which as a chronic museum rat, is saying a lot.  Their Yves Klein retrospective, “With the Void, Full Powers,” was nothing if not spectacular, thought-provoking, and, for reasons I’ll get into later, terrifying.  It was about as close to a perfectly curated exhibit as you could ask, with the exception of one thing.

The title was completely wrong. Continue reading