Monday, January 18, 2010

Labyrinth Puzzle from XKCD

Labyrinth Puzzle

Saturday, January 16, 2010

By Means of a Cunning Semantic Subterfuge

Portraits From Memory (Bertrand Russell) a wonderful piece by Beyond The Fringe.

'Bertrand Russell: One of the advantages of living in Great Court, Trinity, I seem to recall, was the fact that one could pop across at any time of the day or night and trap the then young G.E. Moore into a logical falsehood by means of a cunning semantic subterfuge. I recall one occasion with particular vividness. I had popped across and had knocked upon his door. "Come in", he said. I decided to wait awhile in order to test the validity of his proposition. "Come in", he said once again. "Very well", I replied, "if that is in fact truly what you wish".

I opened the door accordingly and went in, and there was Moore seated by the fire with a basket upon his knees. "Moore", I said, "do you have any apples in that basket?" "No", he replied, and smiled seraphically, as was his wont. I decided to try a different logical tack. "Moore", I said, "do you then have some apples in that basket?" "No", he replied, leaving me in a logical cleft stick from which I had but one way out. "Moore", I said, "do you then have apples in that basket?" "Yes", he replied. And from that day forth, we remained the very closest of friends.'

From Jonathan Miller [St John's], 'Portrait from Memory', on the LP Beyond the Fringe (1962)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Philosophy Department, University of Woolloomooloo


Cat and Girl answers a question about personhood that should clear up quite a few philosophical debates. (click on thumbnail to see comic)


William James hated the common use of his term "Pragmatism" so much that he coined the mouthful of a word "Pragmaticism" to describe his view in the hopes that it would not catch on. It hasn't. Shoe, gives us its own definition of "Pragmatic" in this October 7th 2005 strip (click on thumbnail to enlarge) as an "appliance that slices and dices prags".

James objection to the simplification of the term in common usage, and this comics implicature that even that common usage is to complex for the children of today seemed to me mildly funny... however, unfortunately, I have discovered in the writing of this post that "Prag" has a somewhat unsavoury slang meaning; which darkens what I intended to be a light hearted post teasing James about his objection to the common use of "Pragmatism".

Perhaps James' objection to the popular use of his term was much more farsighted than I thought.


In 2000 they published a translation of Heidegger's Contributions to Philosophy (From Enowning) and Simon Blackburn wrote a review in The New Republic entitled "Enquivering" which will go down as a classic summing up of the problems of a certain sort of continental philosophy especially prevalent in Heidegger scholarship. The review begins with an honest assessment of the polarized opinion professional philosophers have about Heidegger:
If you are a believer, then Martin Heidegger was an unparalleled modern thinker, whose profound diagnosis of the condition of mankind in the twentieth century rightly dominated large tracts of culture, and directed the finest subsequent work in the humanities. If you are not, then he is a dismal windbag, whose influence has been completely disastrous, and whose affinity with the Nazis merely indicates the vacuum where, in most other philosophers, there would have been a combination of common sense and common decency.

Blackburn notes that however, "Neither view allows much compromise. But it was not always so." He notes that phenomenology was taken seriously by early Anglo-American philosophers and that for example Ryle wrote a "wrote a long, penetrating, and moderately admiring review" of Being and Time however, "Ryle noted an alarming tendency toward unintelligibility even in Heidegger's early work, and this is the tendency that blossomed." Heidegger, Blackburn notes:
...drifted away from the connection with phenomenology, just as he repudiated Husserl, in order to develop himself neither as a philosopher nor as a poet, but as an oracle.

This is Blackburn's main thesis that Heidegger is selling a "primal story" which tells of "a primordial golden age, when man was united with himself, with his fellow man, and with nature" and as with all golden ages there must be "a fall, when primitive innocence and unity were destroyed and replaced by something worse" Heidegger's twist to this primal story was that "he grafted onto phenomenology a secular version (or at least a non-Christian and philosophical version) of the primal story". Such a story Blackburn argues is attractive because of our human tendency to "mourn what might have been". To do this the story must not be intelligible as Heidegger tells us, "Making itself intelligible is suicide for philosophy."

So Blackburn notes:
Contributions to philosophy (From Enowning) is a translation, into something very remote from English, of philosophical notebooks that Heidegger wrote in the 1920s, in something fairly remote from German.
Thus Blackburn tells us that the incomprehensibility of Heidegger's latter writings means:
He can be an icon for the Nazi, the priest, the environmentalist, or the hippie. He may be a defender of the faith, a poet-philosopher for the Society of Jesus, or the naysayer whose rejection of modern mechanical life is a timely, authentic update of that of Carlyle or Ruskin. He can be a pragmatist, or the enemy of dreary technology. All you have to do is accept the prospectus, and inscribe your own fantasy.You must not mind drowning (think of it as the oceanic feeling), and you may need to leave behind any tinge of common sense, science, logic, history, or reason--but these are easy burdens to shed in difficult times. In any event, like any good salvationist, the master has already instructed you to do it, by precept and by example.
The full review is available here.

Stephen Fry & Hugh Laurie: The Subject of Language

Ayn Rand

Anyone who knows a professional philosopher, knows the contempt with which they hold Ms Rand. On the other hand few people know that traditional conservatives had little time for the sort of pseudo-intellectual neo-liberal evangelism she peddled either.

There is of course the well known 1957 National Review review of Atlas Shrugged by Whittaker Chambers.

But Andrew Simone over at Clusterflock uncovered this wonderful obit of Ayn Rand by William F. Buckley:

Ayn Rand, RIP
New York, March 10, 1982

Rand is dead. So, incidentally, is the philosophy she sought to launch dead; it was in fact stillborn. The great public crisis in Ayn Rand’s career came, in my judgment, when Whittaker Chambers took her on—in December of 1957, when her book Atlas Shrugged best-seller list, lecturers were beginning to teach something called Randism, and students started using such terms as “mysticism of the mind” (religion), and “mysticism of the muscle” (statism). Whittaker Chambers, whose authority with American conservatives was as high as that of any man then living, wrote in NATIONAL REVIEW, after a lengthy analysis of the essential aridity of Miss Rand’s philosophy, “Out of a lifetime of reading, I can recall no other book in which a tone of overriding arrogance was so implacably sustained. Its shrillness is without reprieve. Its dogmatism is without appeal.”

I had met Miss Rand three years before that review was published. Her very first words to me (I do not exaggerate) were: “You ahrr too intelligent to believe in Gott.” The critic Wilfrid Sheed once remarked, when I told him the story, “Well, that certainly is an icebreaker.” It was; and we conversed, and did so for two or three years. I used to send her postcards in liturgical Latin: but levity with Miss Rand was not an effective weapon. And when I published Whittaker Chambers’ review, her resentment was so comprehensive that she regularly inquired of all hosts or toastmasters whether she was being invited to a function at which I was also scheduled to appear, because if that was the case, either she would not come; or, if so, only after I had left; or before I arrived. I fear that I put the lady through a great deal of choreographical pain.

Miss Rand’s most memorable personal claim (if you don’t count the one about her being the next greatest philosopher after Aristotle) was that since formulating her philosophy of “objectivism,” she had never experienced any emotion for which she could not fully account. And then one day, a dozen years ago, she was at a small dinner, the host of which was Henry Hazlitt, the libertarian economist, the other guest being Ludwig von Mises, the grand master of the Austrian school of anti-statist economics. Miss Rand was going on about something or other, at which point Mises told her to be quiet, that she was being very foolish. The lady who could account for all her emotions at that point burst out into tears, and complained: “You are treating me like a poor ignorant little Jewish girl!” Mr. Hazlitt, attempting to bring serenity to his table, leaned over and said, “There there, Ayn, that isn’t at all what Ludwig was suggesting.” But this attempt at conciliation was ruined when Mises jumped up and said: “That iss eggsactly what you ahrr!” Since both participants were Jewish, this was not a racist slur. This story was mortal to her reputation as the lady of total self-control.

THERE WERE other unpleasantnesses of professional interest, such as her alienation from her principal apostle, Nathaniel Branden—who was so ungallant as to suggest, in retaliation against her charge that he was trying to swindle her, that the breakup was the result of his rejection of an, er, amatory advance by Miss Rand. Oh goodness, it got ugly.

There were a few who, like Chambers, caught on early. Atlas Shrugged was published back before the law of the Obligatory Sex Scene was passed by both Houses of Congress and all fifty state legislatures, so that the volume was considered rather risque, in its day. Russell Kirk, challenged to account for Miss Rand’s success if indeed she was merely an exiguous philosophic figure, replied, “Oh, they read her books for the fornicating bits.” Unkind. And only partly true.

The Fountainhead, read in a certain way, is a profound assertion of the integrity of art. What did Miss Rand in was her anxiety to theologize her beliefs. She was an eloquent and persuasive anti-statist, and if only she had left it at that—but no, she had to declare that God did not exist, that altruism was despicable, that only self-interest is good and noble. She risked, in fact, giving to capitalism that bad name that its enemies have done so well in giving it; and that is a pity. Miss Rand was a talented woman, devoted to her ideals. She came as a refugee from Communism to this country as a young woman, and carved out a substantial career. May she rest in peace, and may she experience the demystification of her mind possessed.