Sunday, September 17, 2017


Tolstoy (War and Peace First Epilogue, Chapter IV):
A bee settling on a flower has stung a child. And the child is afraid of bees and declares that bees exist to sting people. A poet admires the bee sucking from the chalice of a flower and says it exists to suck the fragrance of flowers. A beekeeper, seeing the bee collect pollen from flowers and carry it to the hive, says that it exists to gather honey. Another beekeeper who has studied the life of the hive more closely says that the bee gathers pollen dust to feed the young bees and rear a queen, and that it exists to perpetuate its race. A botanist notices that the bee flying with the pollen of a male flower to a pistil fertilizes the latter, and sees in this the purpose of the bee’s existence. Another, observing the migration of plants, notices that the bee helps in this work, and may say that in this lies the purpose of the bee. But the ultimate purpose of the bee is not exhausted by the first, the second, or any of the processes the human mind can discern. The higher the human intellect rises in the discovery of these purposes, the more obvious it becomes, that the ultimate purpose is beyond our comprehension.
All that is accessible to man is the relation of the life of the bee to other manifestations of life.
Wittgenstein (Culture and Value, p. 29e):
I can say: "Thank these bees for their honey as though they were kind people who have prepared it for you"; that is intelligible and describes how I should like you to conduct yourself. But I cannot say: "Thank them because, look, how kind they are!"--since the next moment they may sting you.
Wittgenstein (Philosophical Investigations 119):
We must do away with all explanation, and description alone must take its place.

Friday, September 15, 2017

The Economy

Since this has already been covered by The New Yorker it is probably pretty well known, but I'd like to do what I can to spread the word about this online, interactive introduction to economics.  It looks fantastic.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Throwing away the telescope

One last (probably) bit of Tolstoy:
The very question that had formerly tormented him, the thing he had continually sought to find—the aim of life—no longer existed for him now. That search for the aim of life had not merely disappeared temporarily—he felt that it no longer existed for him and could not present itself again. And this very absence of an aim gave him the complete, joyous sense of freedom which constituted his happiness at this time.
He could not see an aim, for he now had faith—not faith in any kind of rule, or words, or ideas, but faith in an ever-living, ever-manifest God. Formerly he had sought Him in aims he set himself. That search for an aim had been simply a search for God, and suddenly in his captivity he had learned not by words or reasoning but by direct feeling what his nurse had told him long ago: that God is here and everywhere. In his captivity he had learned that in Karatáev God was greater, more infinite and unfathomable than in the Architect of the Universe recognized by the Freemasons. He felt like a man who after straining his eyes to see into the far distance finds what he sought at his very feet. All his life he had looked over the heads of the men around him, when he should have merely looked in front of him without straining his eyes.
In the past he had never been able to find that great inscrutable infinite something. He had only felt that it must exist somewhere and had looked for it. In everything near and comprehensible he had seen only what was limited, petty, commonplace, and senseless. He had equipped himself with a mental telescope and looked into remote space, where petty worldliness hiding itself in misty distance had seemed to him great and infinite merely because it was not clearly seen. And such had European life, politics, Freemasonry, philosophy, and philanthropy seemed to him. But even then, at moments of weakness as he had accounted them, his mind had penetrated to those distances and he had there seen the same pettiness, worldliness, and senselessness. Now, however, he had learned to see the great, eternal, and infinite in everything, and therefore—to see it and enjoy its contemplation—he naturally threw away the telescope through which he had till now gazed over men’s heads, and gladly regarded the ever-changing, eternally great, unfathomable, and infinite life around him. And the closer he looked the more tranquil and happy he became. That dreadful question, “What for?” which had formerly destroyed all his mental edifices, no longer existed for him. To that question, “What for?” a simple answer was now always ready in his soul: “Because there is a God, that God without whose will not one hair falls from a man’s head.”

Playing along with the art school boys (and girls)

His mother bought him a synthesizer
Got The Human League in to advise her
Now he's making lots of noise
Playing along with the art school boys

The Undertones, "My Perfect Cousin" 

It's striking how many musicians and former musicians are successful visual artists. I have no theory about this, but I feel like pointing out some examples, as well as drawing attention to some work that I like a lot. The example that inspired this post is Billy Childish, who I had read about before because of his involvement in The Delmonas (he seems to have been in dozens of other bands too). Via the magic of Twitter, I found that he is also a painter. I like this one:

Image result for billy childish jackdaw  

But there's also Elizabeth Price of Talulah Gosh, who won the Turner Prize. Anja Huwe of Xmal Deutschland is now an artist. Aggi Pastel (formerly of The Pastels) is artist Annabel Wright. Edwyn Collins draws birds too. 

Some people have too much talent.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Analytic Philosophy: An Interpretive History reviewed by NDPR

The review is here. Thankfully, even though it does mention me, it doesn't say anything bad about my contribution. (Perhaps tactfully, it says almost nothing at all about it.) Here's a taste of the review:
This volume is a valuable addition to this growing literature, with a lucid introduction by the editor and seventeen contributions by distinguished scholars, all of which demonstrate a high quality in content and are written in excellent prose.Although each chapter has its own agenda, a common theme runs through the book. The authors combat a narrow-minded, but still popular, conception of analytic philosophy based on a simplistic interpretation of the revolt against idealism, the linguistic turn, and the neo-positivist rejection of metaphysics.

Friday, September 1, 2017

War and Peace and Wittgenstein

These are all just coincidences, I suppose, but there are some striking similarities between some of Wittgenstein's acts and ideas and elements of War and Peace. Here are three.

The Tractatus contains seven main propositions, which are to be overcome in order to see the world right. On his journey towards enlightenment, Pierre passes through Freemasonry, which makes  much of the number seven:
our talk turned to the interpretation of the seven pillars and steps of the Temple, the seven sciences, the seven virtues, the seven vices, and the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Wanting to test his fear of death, Wittgenstein volunteered to serve at the front-line during World War I, where he made observations to help the artillery hit the enemy forces. In War and Peace, as Wikipedia puts it, Pierre "decides to leave Moscow and go to watch the Battle of Borodino from a vantage point next to a Russian artillery crew. After watching for a time, he begins to join in carrying ammunition. In the midst of the turmoil he experiences first-hand the death and destruction of war."

Here is Tolstoy on a proclamation made by Napoleon regarding the occupation of Moscow:
But strange to say, all these measures, efforts, and plans—which were not at all worse than others issued in similar circumstances—did not affect the essence of the matter but, like the hands of a clock detached from the mechanism, swung about in an arbitrary and aimless way without engaging the cogwheels. (Book Thirteen, Chapter X)
And here is Wittgenstein on private sensation and nonsense: "Here I should like to say: a wheel that can be turned though nothing else moves with it, is not part of the mechanism." (PI 271)

None of this is hugely significant, but I wonder whether Wittgenstein thought of Pierre when he was an artillery spotter. Even if not, both were involved in a Schopenhauerian project. 

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Malcolm Pryce on dreams, reality, and fiction

One of my favorite authors on why fiction is not a distraction from reality. Here's a taste:
The night time dream is chaotic and can be genuinely frightening. The dream we call life is filled with joy and suffering, but for many people a lot more suffering than joy, and we have no control over it. It just happens. The dream we enter when reading fiction has a number of advantages over the one called life. It is scripted rather than chaotic. If the dream called life is scripted it is done so by a bungler, whereas writers of fiction are often highly skilled.