Sunday, September 29, 2013

Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations, Entry 13, Pretentious Antifoundationalist/Van Gogh Entry

     Wittgenstein goes on and on about inexact vs. exact. On and on and then writes:
"Logic lay, it seemed, at the bottom of all the sciences. -- For logical investigation explores the nature of all things. It seeks to see to the bottom of things and is not meant to concern itself whether what actually happens is this or that --- It takes its rise ... from an urge to understand the basis, or essence, of everything empirical."(Wittgenstein, Section 89)


Later he writes, remember he is talking about things he really rejects:

"...we eliminate misunderstandings by making our expressions more exact; but now it may look as if we are moving towards a particular state, a state of complete exactness; and as if this were the real goal of our investigation."(Wittgenstein, Section 91)

But I take it from all the subjunctive and conditional statements and so on that he is rejecting the program of seeing past rough, inexact language, like the broad strokes in a Van Gogh (ha!), to a precisely-lined ideal language. The empirical phenomena of language is where we live, it is presumptuous of a logic to claim to be its purification; logic is a system that applies to ideal languages.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations, Entry 12, Logic and Ideal Languages(not everyday language)

"F.P. Ramsey once emphasized in conversation with me that logic was a 'normative science'. I do not know exactly what he had in mind, but it was doubtless closely related to what only dawned on me later: namely, that in philosophy we often compare the use of words with games and calculi which have fixed rules, but cannot say that someone who is using language must be playing such a game. -- But if you say that our languages only approximate to such calculi you are standing on the very brink of a misunderstanding. For then it may look as if what we were talking about were an ideal language."(Wittgenstein, Section 81)

So, in philosophy perhaps philosophers 'correct' common sense usage or notions, referring to such as the language or thought of 'the vulgar'. But it sounds like Wittgenstein is saying that ordinary usage is its own thing.

"logic does not treat of language -- or of thought -- in the sense in which a natural science treats of a natural phenomenon, and the most that can be said is that we construct ideal languages."(Wittgenstein, Section 81)

Does this mean that the logic I took as an undergraduate, that turned ordinary language into symbolic form was forcing something into an ideal form that obeys different rules? Well, I don't see how ordinary logic is somehow not applicable to ordinary language, but only to artificial ones? Perhaps I'm missing a broader point here and you, gentle reader, can help me. One thing that's clear is that language has all these games in it with rules.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations, Entry 11, thoughts on generality and definition

     While Wittgenstein is talking about whether the boundary between game and non-game is blurry, he picks up the topic of "seeing what is common". You know, this problem is famous in Plato/Socrates. This is the oldest arrow in Socrates' quiver: "No, tell me what all these things have in common". So this is real philosophy, though sometimes it doesn't feel like it to me.  He talks about different ways of showing someone the color 'yellow ochre' or 'blue', and 'leaf'. He circles back around to wondering about what's in the mind of the user -- we've been here before in the Investigations, but now we have seemingly digressed from games back to this topic, but he's not really, he is applying these thoughts to the notion of game. He says:

"What does it mean to know what a game is? What does it mean, to know it and not be able to say it? Is this knowledge somehow equivalent to an unformulated definition? So that if it were formulated I should be able to recognize it as the expression of my knowledge? Isn't my knowledge, my concept of a game, completely expressed in the explanations that I should give?"(Wittgenstein, Section 75)

So here's an obvious question -- is the Philosophical Investigations itself a game? Is it a game he's defining during the course of the work itself, trying to avoid defining it so as not to privilege one of the standard games in the text itself? Is that why this is so difficult to get a handle on? Or should philosophy not be a game? If it's not a game then what is it? Should I have asked the last question? Oh dear, I smell self-reference.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations, Entry 10, "Family Resemblances"

"Here we come up against the great question that lies behind all these considerations.--For someone might object against me:'You take the easy way out! You talk about all sorts of language-games, but have nowhere said what the essence of a language-game, and hence of language is: what is common to all these activities, and what makes them into language or parts of language. So you let yourself off the very part of the investigation that once gave you yourself most headache, the part about the general form of propositions and of language.'
And this is true.-- Instead of producing something common to all that we call language, I am saying that these phenomena have no one thing in common which makes us use the same word for all, -- but that they are related to one another in many different ways. And it is because of this relationship, or these relationships, that we call them all 'language'. I will try to explain this."(Wittgenstein, section 65).

     Well, he'd better explain all this. Just looking at the above, language is a loose consortium of games that are non-trivially related to one another. This leaves lots of questions like: if language is composed of disparate games, can there be ONE symbolic logic to capture it? It sounds like the answer has to be 'no'. Or, perhaps, their similarity is enough to make our normal logic, like philosophy majors take as undergrads, apply in all circumstances. But, look, the answer just has to be 'yes'.

     Listen to what he says about numbers:
"Why do we call something a 'number'? Well, perhaps because it has a -- direct -- relationship with several things that have hitherto been called number; and this may be said to give it an indirect relationship to other things that we call the same name."(Wittgenstein, Section 67)

And
"How should we explain  to someone what a game is? I imagine that we should describe games to him, and we might add: 'This and similar things are called 'games'". And do we know any more about it ourselves? Is it only other people whom we cannot tell exactly what a game is? -- But this is not ignorance. We do not know the boundaries[between games and non-games] because none have been drawn."(Wittgenstein, Section 69)

And
"One might say that the concept 'game' is a concept with blurred edges."(Wittgenstein, Section, 71)

So, so far the concept of game is not rigorously defined, and I don't know if it will be. It may be that the philosophy here is showing what games are but not defining what they are. Games are practices of some kind, but not a kind he will define once and for all. Is he on to something? I don't know.

     


Sunday, September 8, 2013

Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations, Entry 9, The Way of Being

     A long time ago I read Parmenides, who talks about how there is the 'way of Being' and the 'way of non-Being', but the way of non-Being is not there to be discussed, so you can't go that way. But what is Being? Well, it's not anything that has a not or non in front of it. Being ends up an infinitely dense sphere, like a black hole, no hair, no nothing. Contemporary thinkers tend not to go this way in their analysis of being, or Being. They look at the place a term has in language, like Quine's "To Be is to be the value of a variable". Wittgenstein references his and Russell's early work. Language, according to this earlier analysis, is decomposable into simples, 'individuals' or 'objects'. Wittgenstein quotes Plato's Theaetetus talking about how simples don't have 'definitions', only names. You name that which is simple, like 'red', but you don't define it, per say. 

    Wittgenstein worries over this a bit, inventing clever arguments to problematize what is simple and what is complex. By the time he's done I have no idea what's simple and what's complex.

"What does it mean to say that we can attribute neither being nor non-being to elements? -- One might say: if everything that we call 'being' and 'non-being' consists in the existence and non-existence of connexions between elements, it make no sense to speak of an element's being(non-being); just as if everything that we call 'destruction' lies in the separation of elements, it makes no sense to speak of the destruction of an element."(Wittgenstein, section 50)

There is a kind of circling around what is 'simple' like the color 'Red' that seems to be a name of something indestructible(how do you destroy 'Red'?) and other things that are complex and destructible. But all kinds of objects, many of which Wittgenstein mentions come up. I can conceive of an idea of a person, say 'Russell', even though Russell has died, is 'destroyed', yet the name 'Russell' still has meaning, and the referent 'Russell' is still meaningful, has some kind of indestructible referent, though it does not name a living person. But I get the point that 'Red' seems more indestructible than Russell.

Wittgenstein entertains the notion that that which is indestructible is that of which it cannot be said 'it exists', presumably because anything that can exist can also not exist(?); but people do say 'Red exists', meaning I think that "there is a color called 'Red' ", so I don't know where this leads. Any ideas?

Next time I will take on what Wittgenstein calls "Family Resemblances".

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations, Entry 8, "The king without a sword, the land without a king"

"The word 'Excalibur', say, is a proper name in the ordinary sense. The sword Excalibur consists of parts combined in a particular way. If they are combined differently Excalibur does not exist. But it is clear that "Excalibur has a sharp blade" makes sense whether Excalibur is still whole or is broken up. But if "Excalibur" is the name of an object, this object no longer exists when Excalibur is broken in pieces; and as no object would then correspond to the name it would have no meaning. But then the sentence "Excalibur has a sharp  blade" would contain a word that had no meaning, and hence the sentence would be nonsense. But it does make sense; so there must always be something corresponding to the words of which it consists. So the word "Excalibur" must disappear when the sense is analyzed and its place be taken by words which name simples. It will be reasonable to call these words the real names." (Wittgenstein, section 39)

I know, that was a few minutes you'll never get back. OK, so proper names are supposed to correspond to things that exist. Wittgenstein clears it up a bit later:

"We said that the sentence "Excalibur has a sharp blade" made sense even when Excalibur is broken in pieces. Now this is so because in this language-game a name is also used in the absence of its bearer. But we can imagine a language-game with names(that is, signs which we should certainly include among names) in which they are used only in the presence of the bearer, and so could always be replaced by a demonstrative pronoun and the act of pointing."(Wittgenstein, section 44)

OK, so the meaning of a word is its use in a specific language-game: in the language-game where proper names have to be pointable-to, Excalibur doesn't have a use as a proper name, and I take it therefore no meaning, but in the usual games we play Excalibur does have use and meaning.

That was exhausting.



Saturday, August 24, 2013

Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations, Enty 7, the problems of ostensive definitions

    After I got my undergrad in philosophy I spent the summer working on a horse farm -- I was part of the 'maintenance' team, they didn't let me near the horses!  -- and I had this boss who would bark commands at me like "Go over there get that thing and take it over there!" while pointing in arbitrary directions. He would get madder and madder as I didn't perform whatever task he had in mind. This, combined with me constantly wrecking his utility truck, backing tractors into it, running it into gates and so on, made for a long summer. One thing's for sure, I never mastered whatever the language game was, but at least I had the good sense not to mention Wittgenstein.
     The point is, when someone points at something by way of definition, the person being shown whatever it is has to know what is being pointed at: a shape, a color, and object, a number or whatever. How is it that the learner knows what specifically is being pointed at? How does the teacher know whether the person has learned it?
     It seems that a typical interpretation of Wittgenstein is that it has to do with how the learner USES the word, not what is in the mind of the learner. But then what is one to make of the passage below?

"What is the relation between name and thing named?...This relation may..consist, among many other things, in the fact that hearing a name called before our mind the picture of what is named; and it also consists, among other things, in the name's being written on the thing named or being pronounced when that thing is pointed at."(Wittgenstein pg,15-16, section 37)

But, I suppose, the teacher concludes the learner has got it when the learner performs the right task, or uses the word correctly later. What's in the mind of the learner is private, the only empirical thing is usage. If language is an empirical, intersubjective thing, then the thing in the mind of the learner might not be part of the definition of a thing, per say. Hmm... what do you think? Wittgenstein can't resist asking questions like:

"But what, for example, is the word 'this' the name of ...or the word 'that' in the ostensive definition 'that is called...?' -- If you do not want to produce confusion you will do best not to call these words names at all. Yet, strange to say, the word 'this' had been called the only genuine [italics in original] name; so that anything else we call a name was only in an inexact, approximate sense"(Wittgenstein, pg. 16, section 38).

I can't help remembering the mystical "That Art Thou".

Anyway, he goes on:

"the word "name" is used to characterize many different kinds of use of a word, related to one another in many different ways: -- but the kind of use that "this" has is not among them.(Wittgenstein pg. 16, section 38)

So, "this" is not used that same way as names are.

More pseudo-mystical language(all italics in original):

"This is connected with the conception of naming as, so to speak, an occult process.  Naming appears as a queer connexion of a word with an object. -- And you really get such a queer connexion when a philosopher tries to bring out the relation between name and the thing by staring at an object in front of him and repeating a name or even the word "this" innumerable times. For philosophical problems arise when language goes on holiday. And here we may indeed fancy naming to be some remarkable act of mind, as it were a baptism of an object. And we can say word "this" to the object, as it were address the object as "this" -- a queer use of this word, which doubtless only occurs in doing philosophy."(Wittgenstein, pg. 16-17, section 38)

This is all very heavy. So here is some free associating -- hey, it's a blog, not a paper... I remember Locke talking about a glass of water on the table in his Essay. Such talking TO an object, reifies it, makes it an instantiation of a Form, creates it, calls it into being. And this is language going on holiday. The relationship occurs in some occult sphere of Mind qua Mind, or whatever. Saying the word over and over, or even 'this' almost seems a kind of meditation, you know, when you turn something over in your mind in meditation.

To make things clear: Wittgenstein is saying that all this occult stuff is the result of trying to develop the single analysis of language one gets in Augustine or early Wittgenstein or traditional philosophy. The way out of this error is to focus on the real use of language and NOT to develop some transcendental view of language. Wittgenstein is precisely NOT being systematic, he is showing how language is used, giving examples of language games rather than developing some ethereal theory.

But I can't help the feeling that Wittgenstein feels a mystical pull, some emotion he can't escape.




Saturday, August 10, 2013

Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations, Entry 6, transformations and solipsism

     "If you do not keep the multiplicity of language-games in view you will perhaps be inclined to ask questions like: "What is a question?" -- Is it the statement that I do not know such-and-such, or the statement that I with the other person would tell me....? Or is it the description of my mental state of uncertainty? -- And is the cry "Help!" such a description?"(Wittgenstein, pg. 10)

I'm going to try to think this out -- feel free to help me here. So, it seems to me that he is saying something like: when we forget there are all these different games with their own purview, we start puzzling over meta-problems, asking self-referential questions or making self-referential statements. This is a take on why self-referential statements should be avoided: it is not to avoid paradoxes, per say, but because they betray a forgetting that language is actually a collection of games. Paradoxes are a hazard of this forgetting.
     "The significance of such possibilities of transformation, for example of turning all statements into sentences beginning "I think" or "I believe"(and thus, as it were, into descriptions of my inner life) will become clearer in another place. (Solipsism)."(Wittgenstein, pg. 11)

This manner of writing is very evocative. The reader has to make all these associations and try to puzzle through what's happening here. Transformations of one kind of statement into another, mixing and matching types, leads to philosophical problems like that of Solipsism('Soul Alone'). Since every proposition can be preceded with an 'I think', there is always the linguistic possibility of solipsism. Does this make solipsism invalid? I think the previous question is probably a forgetting about the language games mentioned above. Solipsism is a description of an ever-present linguistic mutation.
     He goes on, starting in 27, to go back into naming. I'll deal with that more in my next post. For now let me remind you of the weird entry 1, the 'naming infinity' entry. These Russian mystics were engaged in a game where there were rules of definition and the objects in the game were those that could be defined according to the rules of mathematical argument that go back to folks like Cantor. Once one of these well-formed entities could be named, defined, they called them into being by the act of defining them. Did they exist somehow before they were named? Again, a meta-question, but my habits of old keep me asking them. No need to devolve into squishy mysticism, just realize that games have words, phrases, names that can come into being because of the rules of linguistic mutation that define them.


Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations, Entry 5, you are what you play

     If we follow through on what Wittgenstein is saying, we get some more multi-culti inferences. Rather than consciousness having a universal character, if there are all these language games, and these games define how you interact with yourself and the world, then consciousness is relative to the games you are playing. This is culturally relative and changes over time in your own life as you play different games.
     Augustine's theory of language has a naughty youngster using language to get what he wants prior to the game. With Wittgenstein's view, the point may be that the game defines what is wantable; there is no primordial want.
     All of this is, you know, hackneyed or whatever by now, but that's where I think this is going. Now, I also think there's a fundamental way in which this has to be wrong.  I have a strong feeling that there are meta-rules out there, determined by our DNA, that determine the set of possible games. But I know better than to think I know what those rules are: the minute you say what the rules are someone comes along and proves they're violated, so I'm not going down there, Billy.

Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations, Entry 4, Language Games and Forms of Life

     In paragraph 23 Wittgenstein lists a number of language games:
"Giving orders, and obeying them--
Describing the appearance of an object, or giving its measurements--
Constructing an object from a description(a drawing)--
Reporting and event--
Speculating about an event--
Forming and testing a hypothesis--
Presenting the results of an experiment in tables and diagrams--
Making up a story; and reading it--
Play-acting--
Singing catches--
Guessing riddles--
Making a joke; telling it--
Solving a problem in practical arithmetic--
Translating from one language to another--
Requesting, thanking, cursing, greeting, praying."(Wittgenstein pg. 11)

     I take it this list is not supposed to be exhaustive. Wittgenstein associates a 'Form of Life', a Lebensform, with each language-game. So, what's a Lebensform? Well, its a way of interacting with other people and the world, I guess. I suppose this is a good word for it. Rather than a single way of dealing with the world, as represented in earlier works, like the Tractatus etc..., there are all these different ways.
     This is probably popular with postmoderns as it doesn't privilege one game over the other. He puts hypothesis testing etc.. as games like the others, there's nothing special about sciency games. It suggests the possibility, though Wittgenstein has not said anything like this, that science only applies within its own game -- it's fascistic to claim its power over the other games. Again, Wittgenstein hasn't said anything like this, at least, not yet. I don't know if he ever does.
    

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations, Entry 3, Philosophy and Language

     The first 20 paragraphs are broad reflections on the nature of language itself, how it is learned, the uses to which it is put etc... Wittgenstein begins with a quotation from Augustine's Confessions about how he learned language by imitating what adults said. I always feel, even reading this passage, that somehow Augustine is being naughty, seeking advantage, being a little rascal by imitating adults to get what he wants, but maybe that's just me projecting my own guilt. Another thing I can't help mentioning is the influence of Chomsky, that language acquisition involves much more than mere imitation, there's complicated structures under the hood -- this seems much less naughty.
     One might be tempted to ask: "why the obsession with linguistics, isn't that a science now?"
So, I should say some things about the relationship between our theories regarding language and the problems of philosophy. Philosophy has these 'problems': what's the relationship between our experience and the world? Do other minds exist? How do we know what is right and wrong? What is the best society? What is beauty? What is knowledge? What should be the scientific method? What is the meaning of life? etc... One assessment of why these remain PHILOSOPHICAL problems is that language is somehow going out of bounds with these questions. If language were being used normally the problems would resolve themselves logically or become the subject of some kind of science.  These problems point outside of language, and because of this, well, there will always be philosophy professors and mystics somewhere.
     To study language is to study why these problems persist, to dilate upon the border between our everyday world and the other, to diagnose the place where the mind goes off the rails. Sometimes philosophers have a kind of 'negative capability', like Nietzsche, but most are irritatingly explicative. One approach is to realize that these problems fail to use language properly and so abandon philosophy as trickery. But over the course of my life I've realized I can't do that. These problems have a kind of undertow to them: once I was made aware of them I couldn't escape them. Mystically, they pull from a place beyond language; non-mystically, language is pushed to the edge and piles up there. No, really, I'm not high.
    Just a teaser, Wittgenstein describes language as being composed of games, where words and meanings have rules local to the context. Language itself does not have the single picture presented in the Tractatus. Does this mean that meaning itself is relative to the game? Well, it seems to; the meanings are apparent once one is initiated into the game. But is there a meta-game? Well...
     
    

Monday, August 5, 2013

Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations, Entry 2, The Preface

     As some of you know, the title of the Tractatus was suggested by G.E. Moore as a reference to Spinoza's Tractatus, a work that proved the impossibility of miracles. Wittgenstein's Tractatus reads like one of the hyper-geometric set of axioms a-la the Ethics, with lots of numbers and sections, giving it the sense of a long proof, though whether or not it was meant to be one is at least questionable.
    Unlike the Tractatus, the Investigations is a set of sentences, paragraphs, numbered, perhaps reminiscent of Nietzsche's  aphorisms, though much more explicated and logical. As Wittgenstein opens the Preface:
"The thoughts which I publish in what follows are the precipitate of philosophical investigations which have occupied me for the last sixteen years. They concern many subjects: the concepts of meaning, of understanding, of a proposition, of logic, the foundations of mathematics, states of consciousness, and other things."
He laments that he was unable to put his thoughts together into a into a single structure, saying "my thoughts were soon crippled if I tried to force them on in any single direction against their natural inclination." This smacks of the artistic, doesn't it? He even mentions "sketches of landscapes." If your mind is prepped by years of thinking you let it go where it goes, taking down the results.
    A similar thing can be found in doing math. I've come up with math proofs in the same way. I think and think and then, sometimes late at night, a relationship comes to me, alas, nothing Earth shattering, but something new to me.
    He felt he should put the Tractatus together with his new thinking, by way of contrast.
He ends characteristically:
"I should have liked to produce a good book. This has not come about, but the time is past in which I could improve it."
This last brings to mind two things: first, the long bouts of low fever Wittgenstein suffered with in a later age, but also a reminiscence of Russell; Russell says Wittgenstein burst into his room, pacing like a caged tiger, Russell asks, "Wittgenstein, are you thinking about logic or your sins?" Wittgenstein yells "Both!"

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations, entry 1

      I've been thinking for some time about starting a, probably very, very long, series of entries on the Philosophical Investigations. Now, I am NOT an expert on Wittgenstein. I've read the Tractatus and Blue and Brown Books, but it's been a while. Of course, if someone who knows about Wittgenstein wants to opine about how I'm wrong, please do so.
      Wittgenstein is obviously a fascinating figure: I remember being intrigued by him when I was a teenager reading accounts of his personality by Russell. He seemed an wild foil to Russell's self-control -- it was later I read about Russell's letters with D.H. Lawrence.
      Be prepared for idiosyncratic digressions. I'll start now...

     A few years ago I read a book called Naming Infinity, by Graham and Kantor. This book is about the development of modern analysis in France and Russia, with an emphasis on the mystical devotion of Luzin,  Egorov and Florensky. The notion that to name something is to create it, or to discover its existence points to both the denotative quality of math and combines it with a traditional notion of the power of a name, as in the name of God. People meditate on the name of God, saying it over and over, thinking that the name is the actual being of God: God and the name of God are the same. This bled over into thinking about mathematical ideas.
     When it comes to thinking about God, I know from my own experience that thinking along these lines can create big emotional states: one finds a kind of schizoid place of refuge. I am certainly capable of having these states, I've always thought I was a little 'flicted in the head, but it is important for someone like me not to attach metaphysical importance to emotions. It's difficult, and I think most sensitive people are prone to it, but it's necessary to keep from believing crazy things. On the downside, tearing yourself away from this kind of mysticism creates feelings that the world is a nasty quotidian of garbage cans. No, I'm not high.

     Anyway, next time I will start studying the Philosophical Investigations, dual German-English edition, translated by Anscombe. Along the way I'll bring in a number of secondary sources on the text and more strange asides.

     
     

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Zimmerman trial, Gun Control, Rand Paul and my recent irritation

    The few of you who occasionally read this blog may know that I do not write about current events; that's not what this blog is about -- usually. But a recent confluence of events have reached critical mass inside the confines of my cerebral cortex, necessitating a relief of pressure -- I think of the old Simpsons episode where Homer is working at home and is repeatedly asked by his computer whether to vent radioactive gas. I perceive myself as an excessively agreeable person, and I admit that friends/acquaintances of  mine may think I agree with them when I don't, with the exception of anything having to do with Ayn Rand's philosophy, which I openly despise.
      The Zimmerman trial brings out a number of issues I had hoped to leave behind me when I left my old neighborhood in Kentucky, the state represented by Rand Paul. So, what's the problem? Well, we just had this big thing with gun control...
        Being a member, or even the head, of a neighborhood watch does not make you Dirty Harry, for God's sake. The idea that we have neighborhoods, maybe even my own,  where young men, not police, who want to be heroes, are prowling the streets at night with loaded guns looking for trouble scares the shit out of me. It's blindingly obvious to me that Martin was killed for being out at 7:15 pm while being a young black male. If Zimmerman were not allowed to have a gun, he likely would have allowed the police to handle the situation -- with the most likely outcome that Martin would be alive  today and Zimmerman would not be on trial.
       Now, what does this have to do with Rand Paul? Well, my home state has a long tradition of racism and an active gun culture -- and Rand Paul panders to them. The recent revelation that his social media advisor, 'The Southern Avenger', someone who actually wrote that John Wilkes Booth's heart was in the right place when he assassinated Lincoln, brings out the seamy underside of conservative Kentucky politics and the wink-and-nod racism endemic to it. The fact is, while this revelation may be bad for Paul in nationwide elections, it is a boon to him in Kentucky. My claim is that the current incarnation of libertarianism in the US, represented by Paul, connects racism, gun rights, a rollback of the Great Society and the defense of Zimmerman's actions.
      The fact that part of this country is still trying to win the wrong side of the Civil War under the guise of libertarianism gives 'libertarianism' a bad name. The sensation caused by the Zimmerman trial, and the racial divide in opinion as to his guilt, whether the State made its case etc.., highlights, to me at least, the fact that libertarianism, connected with gun rights etc..,is also connected in the US with racism.
       And then there's capitalism...Thomas Jefferson, in some ways a progenitor of modern libertarianism, with all his faults, warned against the domination of our economy by 'moneyed incorporations' in a justly famous pronouncement; he would undoubtedly be disheartened by the turn libertarianism has taken toward those interests. In an earlier interview, Paul, when asked about the Civil Rights Act -- you'd think a libertarian would favor it -- opposed the antidiscrimination law because he is 'in favor of private property', i.e., businesses should have the right to discriminate if they want to! There is thus more than a tenuous connection between racism, gun rights, and supporting the personhood of business.
        This is not to say that all hunters and MBA's are racists, it's that the usual libertarian way of defending gun rights and pure capitalism, 'tyrannical nanny state trying to steal my liberty' etc... is connected with racism. It's time I made clear I see what you're up to and I hate it!
      

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Unwinding, Entry 3

     The book takes a number of interesting turns, talking about everyone from a Biden fundraiser to the great short story writer Raymond Carver. The book is affectingly written, but I'm not sure I know exactly all he's getting at. I get that he's a liberal chronicling the demise of the Great Society, but I feel like I'm missing something. Jonathan Alter, who has been pushing his book on the 2012 election, 'The Center Holds', says that the last election was the most important in a long time because it reaffirmed our commitment to the Great Society. It seems to me that the last several elections have been about this -- even the Clinton years had welfare reform. But the U.S. did not go the way of Europe after WW 2. The predominance of socialist parties from 1945 until Thatcher didn't happen here. I'm not necessarily saying it *could* happen here, either. The U.S. occupies a specific place in the world, like it or no. I sometimes think we were saddled with a Hobbesian war of all against all while Europe was able to move toward postmodernism(a luxury we really didn't get to have, except for awhile in certain universities.). By the way, I should say there is a lot to like about postmodernism, though I think its time has come and gone.
       One thing the U.S. can do is move further along the road of a mixed economy.
    

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Unwinding, Entry 2

    Well, I read up through the section on Oprah. The author sets the reader up to dislike Oprah by telling a very sad story about a Steel town in Ohio where all the jobs left. I had no sooner thought 'this sounds like a Bruce Springsteen song' when he turned around and quoted one! The book is purportedly about the dismantling of the safety net and so on. He hasn't gotten around to doing much of that yet. But he seems to be circling around the stories so there will likely be more of this later.
     I found myself wondering how much of a safety net has there actually been, and for how long, in the U.S.? It's true that especially after LBJ there was more of a safety net -- for a while. But for, say, most of the 19th Century there wasn't much, and many of FDR's and Truman's efforts(right after WW 2, Truman sent a New Dealesque paper to Congress) were blocked by republicans and conservative democrats. And, while there are a lot of things to like about Eisenhower, he did seem to be more of a fiscal conservative than the democrats(while being nowhere near as loopy as the Ayn Rand wackos popping up all over the place these days). Does this mean that the safety net is more of an anomaly in American history? I hope not.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Unwinding

     So I'm going to start reading Packer's The Unwinding. It looks like a series of portraits of people both famous and not famous. It's about the decline of collective behavior in America. Interesting that I read in a biography of Truman that his first letter to congress was a continuation of the New Deal, and added a proposal for universal health care, after WW 2. This was, evidently, a bit of a surprise to many in congress, and was vehemently opposed by republicans and conservative democrats in congress. Sound familiar?

    So, next time I will start with some reactions to 'The Unwinding'.
 Oh, and just to upset a bunch of people, I agree with Bill Maher's recent assessment of Reagan. Everybody, including democrats, seem to be lining up to say how great he was, but he WASN'T. Thanks, Bill -- even though sometimes I  think you've lost your keen edge because you've smoked so much dope[I'm kidding, I'm kidding!], you got that one right.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Inferno by Dan Brown, Entry 4

     I finished reading Inferno this morning. I have to say it was well-written and enjoyable to read. Two big concepts running through the book are 'transhumanism' and the overpopulation, but the main thing I enjoyed about the book was the tour through Florence, Venice and Istanbul. I know, I could get a travel guide, but it was actually more fun to read it with all the storyline and stuff.
     There were things I hadn't known about, like the beaky plague masks doctors wore when they were exposed to the infected. The book also made me aware of an industry that just has to exist in some form: the alibi industry. These are companies that provide you with fake work numbers, fake addresses, passports etc.. for a variety of purposes. Brown claims at the beginning that 'The Consortium', an extreme company of this type, is real -- well, I cannot overmuch believe that, but you never know I guess.
     The bad news is that overpopulation is a problem and humanity will either deal with it in some noncatastrophic way, or nature will take care of it in its usual, catastrophic, way. The book raises the point that no one is actually taking action that will prevent what's to come. We're obviously not going to do anything about climate change, much less take on an issue like overpopulation. So, catastrophe it is, but probably not in my lifetime -- and I don't have kids.
     So, if you're one of those people in the future after I'm dead hip-deep in other people's body parts, I'm really sorry we didn't fix this back in 2013. I don't have to tell YOU that this is going to be a big problem and that we didn't do anything to stop it, but I have the benefit of being dead and stuff. There was a movie made in 1974 called Soylent Green with Charleston Heston -- is it like that? Don't answer. I know, I'm gloating about being dead and all, but I was a real prick when I was alive and maybe my death was long and painful, so you can take solace in that.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Inferno, by Dan Brown, Entry 3


          So far I've enjoyed the novel, though I have a feeling that the plot -- don't worry, I won't guess on this blog, so no need for a spoiler alert, yet -- is going to be a bit disappointing after all. But I want to talk about what seems to be the main connection to Dante...
          The crowded visions of hell, "So many, I had not thought death had undone so many"[both in Dante's Inferno and The Wasteland] is matched by a Malthusian vision of overpopulation and attendant violence etc... The above line is stated by Dante when Virgil shows them the souls of those who have neither done great evil or great good; these are those who have led conformist lives of quiet desperation. There is also a possible reference in this section of the Inferno to Pope Celestine(I think V) who gave up the papacy -- he is referred to as "he who made the great refusal". The notion that hell, and the Earth, is clogged with do-nothings is not a pleasant thought, but then again I'm a do-nothing with occasional gastric trouble, so...
            The question I'm posing to myself now is: "Why was I so enamored of Dante?" I mean, for a good number of years my love of Dante bordered on the obsessional -- it's interesting that in Brown's novel, Botticelli is said to have been so obsessed that he became deranged. One thing that's so fascinating about The Divine Comedy is how complete a view it provides of a world so different from the modern world, and in a single work. And, it being a summation of the medieval world, and written in the vernacular, it prepares the way for the Renaissance.
              Another thing I suspect about it is it provides a vantage point from which modernity, and postmodernity[note, I was impressed that Brown mentions Saul Kripke http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saul_Kripke ], appears very hubristic, capitalism seems evil and technology a distraction from the existential human condition that would cause Pascal to shake his head. There is something alluring about this vantage point, as though one is taking a trip into the darkness on Dante's Geryon, awaiting the punishments of the fraudulent. Mind you, it's a very judgmental position, but that's, you know, what The Inferno is about. It provokes some kind of emotional state I think. It puts my failures in perspective  -- I guess that's pretty good for a 700 year old poem.

Inferno, by Dan Brown, Entry 2

     So, I've read about a third of the book. It is engagingly written and has lots of references to Florentine Palaces, Museums, etc... I think I should look around the internet and see the sights.

Look at the below:

1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boboli_Gardens

2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palazzo_Vecchio

3. https://www.google.com/search?q=battle+of+marciano+painting&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=U1KZUfSHE6T54APlsIDIAw&ved=0CDUQsAQ&biw=1093&bih=498

4. http://en.comune.fi.it/municipality/rooms_pv/hall_500.htm

5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vasari_Corridor

I don't have any comments yet about these...

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Inferno, by Dan Brown

     OK, so the Consolation of Philosophy thing didn't work. I just couldn't get into it, sorry. Consolation as defined in the time of Boethius doesn't seem to do it for me. I know he was all important, but I just couldn't read a book because I'm supposed to. Maybe someone out there can tell me why I should have liked it.
     Not that I dislike Medieval Philosophy. There are some interesting things there in the foundations of modern thought. You know, the Universals stuff is interesting to think about for awhile. Also, I often feel that underlying modern science are mental reflexes that are Medieval in character: there is a kind of Medieval 'first principle' feel to the Higgs Boson(the particle goo that bequeths mass, think about the beginning of The Paradiso:
"The glory of the One who moves all things
permeates the universe and glows
in one part more and in another less."[Mandelbaum Translation]

) and the Quantum Field of which all matter/energy is an expression -- plus there's all this number theory in Fermionic physics. Don't write me saying it shouldn't be called the 'God Particle' -- I got that, but methinks modern science protests too much -- and String Theory, well... But then, some of this is inevitable because you always have to have axioms of some kind -- unless you're POMO, in which case you're just a damn Sophist.
     But now I'm going to sell out big time and read the latest book by Dan Brown. First things first, I'm actually not a big fan of Dan Brown. I got an abridged audio version of whatever the hell the name of his most famous book is and found it pretty stupid. Also, I thought Angels and Demons was dumb and some of his other works were quite silly.
     But I couldn't resist because this book has to do with Dante. For those of you who don't know, Dante is one of my favorite authors -- perhaps someone can tell me why I love Dante so much but can't even crack open The Consolation of Philosophy?  The only other author who rivals Dante for me is Shakespeare. I know, I'm so original. But, there it is.
    
     So, starting next time, I will read some of Inferno and tell you what I think.,

Sunday, March 10, 2013

On Consolation before reading The Consolation

     When I think of Consolation I think of the Stoics, in particular Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius. Stoicism has a very consolatory side. Tom Wolfe, of  'The Right Stuff' fame, wrote 'A Man in Full', a novel in which the main character's life is changed by reading the works of Epictetus. But the consolation of Stoicism does not seem the same as that of Christianity, which has an afterlife. Stoicism is not really like that. For stoicism, one puts things in perspective, stops the mind from catastrophizing when things don't go our way, asserts a kind of immanent God, and an ultimately rational universe.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enchiridion_of_Epictetus

There is a stoic tendency in modern therapy, particularly starting in the work of Albert Ellis:
 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Ellis

To me there are also similar threads in the Tao Te Ching, though without stoicism's heavy emphasis on rationality or a god of some kind(for the stoics it was Zeus).

These thinkers can all be very relaxing; I recommend them if you are stressed out or disappointed with your lot in life.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Consolation of Philosophy, V.E. Watts Introduction, Part 2

     Well, I've been looking more at Watts' introduction. It looks like he's doing a very good job summarizing Boethius' work. The problem is that Boethius combines two traditions I almost entirely reject: Neoplatonism and Christianity. They've made for some nice poetry and art, but they ultimately do not yield credible consolation for me. I'm going to continue and read the book anyway, pointing out what I think is interesting, but I don't anticipate being consoled by it in any way. Watts basically admits that the modern reader would find a lot of Boethius' arguments unsatisfactory. It's too bad, but there it is.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Consolation of Philosophy, Introduction by V.E. Watts part 1

     It appears this introduction was written in the year of my birth, 1967. Watts mentions the obvious importance of the goddess 'Fortuna' in the Consolation and the rest of the middle ages. I know in The Inferno, Virgil talks about 'fortune' as some kind of sub-diety that has control over the fortunes of mortals. We change places with one another in 'rapid permutation'(The Pinsky Translation).  Too often, Virgil says, Fortune is blamed when she should be thanked. Throughout the middle ages and Renaissance Fortune recurs, specifically the since debased 'Wheel of Fortune'. There's a famous line in Hamlet when he's talking to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern where they claim to be in the 'mid' section of fortune, you know, a typical renaissance bawdy reference.
     Boethius had an ambitious plan to translate all of Aristotle and Plato into Latin, but you know, he was executed before he could finish the Plato part -- easy come easy go. Joking aside, it was through Boethius that Aristotle survived in the West. Also, the big debates between the nominalists and realists in the middle ages come from Boethius' commentary on Porphyry
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Problem_of_universals
He also set the agenda for what became the forms of medieval education, giving us the term 'quadrivium'.
 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quadrivium



Monday, February 18, 2013

The Consolation of Philosophy, by Boethius

     Well, here's a huge, glaring gap in my education.  That's right, I've never read this book. So, I will attempt to read the copy that's been sitting on the shelf for a really long time. I'll start out by reading the introduction. I've read a lot of philosophy in my time, much of it worthless. By popular acclaim this is one of the most worthwhile books in all of Western letters and I've never read it. We'll see if I can make it through it. I'll try to get the introduction by V.E. Watts next time.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Rebel, Last Entry, Because I'm a Loser

     I often say to people that I'm fortunate that I've failed in a lot of places because I would be stuck there if I'd succeeded. You know, I failed miserably in middle school and fitting in with the kids in my old neighborhood, so that worked out well for me. If I'd succeeded there I'd be dipping 'baccr and listening to that idiot Ted Nugent(and perhaps pretending my face is a Maserati) as I write. My middle school teachers were just about as stupid as the neighborhood thugs they were prepping for today's "mills and processing facilities"(line taken from Superintendent Chalmers). At the time I saw myself as a rebel, a wimpy rebel, but a rebel nonetheless.
      Other people rebel in the sense of rising up. And it makes sense for many people to do so. As for me, I'm a poser. When I acted like a rebel it was because I knew I was not going to succeed according to the rules, so... If you real rebels are out there trying to bring about the end of history, I'm pretty sure I'm part of the problem. Sorry.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Rebel, Entry 9, Hegel, and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

     This is the kind of combination you'll only find on my blog, congratulations. Camus launches into a summary of Hegel's Phenomenology and the history of consciousness through the development of mutual recognition of humanity. First there is the Master/Slave relation, then there's penitent/God, then there's citizen/citizen, etc... History ends with the full recognition of humanity.  Our recognition of ourselves as human is dependent on the recognition we get from others. History, up through Hegel's time(corresponding to the era of Napoleon), is an evolution of self-consciousness as the transcendental Idea unfolds.
     Left-wing Hegelians, such as Marx, materialize this, leading to the workers' revolution. For the Hegelians, rebellion is part of the divine development; I should think that for orthodox Hegelians no rebel, anarchist or otherwise, does anything other than forward this development. For Marxists, there can be counter-revolutionaries who have to be eliminated. The confidence of the Marxist is that ultimately these counter-revolutionaries will be destroyed by the necessary logic of history.
     Philosophy of History, in these postmodern days, perhaps has no meaning. Perhaps 'History' is over. There is no belief we are progressing to any ultimate goal. I think the Hegelians, left and right, are all wet. I also think the postmoderns are all wet. In the Derridean sense I am preferring the 'dry' over the 'wet' in the wet/dry dualism; so take that you deconstructionists. I'm just a logocentric anti-wettist monster to you all; well, you can cram it, smarty-pants(all right, pants made me think of Claude Levi-Strauss and 'The Raw and the Cooked': http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Raw_and_the_Cooked.
Happy now?!)
     Well, where does that leave me? Us? Well, you know, in Star Trek they don't even use money. We imagine a galaxy where all our social ills are solved. Starfleet Academy -- how does this rate against Plato's Academy?  In the Star Trek universe, it's all dry. Somehow we've even managed to break the speed of light travel in time, etc...
     I've already, many moons ago, posted on cyberpunk and postcyberpunk. The real question is, is the future like Bladerunner or like Star Trek? How are these pictures related to the Philosophy of History? Some Science Fiction worries about us becoming less than human, more than human, other than human, transhuman. What kind of recognition is there when we become cyborgs? What would Hegel think of that? Is Hegel even relevant?
     There is, before Star Trek, assumed a history that leads up to a kind of utopic world centered on San Francisco. Somehow the dialectic succeeds beyond anyone's wildest imagination, at least in Star Trek IV. The movie goes back to 1986, when I was 19, 'a primitive, paranoid culture'. They come back and save the whales. Science Fiction has the luxury of not explaining how we end up in a classless society where they don't use money(though I assume there's prestige in getting into Starfleet Academy; I don't know what kind of proletariate there is in the United Federation, though obviously racism has been replaced by a speciesist hatred of Klingons, until the Next Generation.)
     True, the other Star Trek movies are less utopic than IV; there are plenty of things wrong in the Star Trek universe. But the point of IV is that there is hope that our current problems can be solved and that our descendants can inhabit a realm where it has all been solved, somehow. But it's the somehow that's still the problem in 2013. Roddenberry was evidently quite the atheist, humanist type; it is unclear to me that the humanist utopia is the future. I've ordered some biographies of him so I'll have some more to say about him in later posts.
     
     

       

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Rebel, Entry 8, Plato

     Now I've really gone off. I got a whole bunch of Plato on Audio CD: Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Phaedo, The Republic, and The Symposium. I've listened to all of it except for the end of The Phaedo -- oh, man, I think Socrates is in trouble... Plato makes a big point of disallowing poets, in particular Homer, from The Republic. It has been pointed out with tiresome frequency that the dialogues are themselves art, with the attendant questioning as to whether Plato is a hypocrite and with the answer that since his art is in the service of dialectic, it is not subject to the same objections as Homer. Plato has specific problems with Homer.  First, Homer represents unstable personalities in a heroic way. Homer's poetry does not do what the dialogues do, instruct. So is Plato agrees with Camus that Homer is a poetical rebel.
     The question is, what is the status of Socrates? Camus would likely say that Socrates was not a Rebel. In fact, Socrates' prime foe, embodied by the Sophists, is a kind of nihilism. What problematizes ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Problematization -- I love the fact this has a wikipedia page) Socrates' status is his questioning of authority, is being a gadfly(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gadfly -- that's right, there's one for this, too) the same as being a rebel, or, a Rebel?
     But it seems to me that neither the sophists nor Socrates qualify as Rebels.  While the sophists might qualify as 'metaphysical rebels' in the sense that they relativize 'Truth' in much the same way postmodernism does, Socrates might qualify as a 'rebel' because of his commitment to ultimate Truth. But neither rebel against the established order: the sophists exploit the order of the day to teach other to do the same, Socrates, when given the chance to flee rather than die, reaffirms his allegiance to the social order and chooses to die. In this sense neither is really a rebel.
     Perhaps the Rebel is represented by Thrasymachus in The Republic, after all, he tells the story of the Ring of Gyges, which is a libertine story worthy of Sade. Callicles, from the Gorgias, also comes to mind. But Protagoras is not a Rebel, neither is Euthryphro. So, nihilism can take the form of extreme conformity for the purposes of gaining advantage; commitment to 'Truth' can be used for rebellion, but I think not as 'Rebellion'. In order to qualify as a rebel I would think it means, as Camus says, 'saying no'.  The 'no' can be to the universe or to a society. Rebellion(with a capital 'R') in Camus' sense might be more like the old Greek view of insanity: beating the sea with sticks. The Greeks saw this as insanity, the Romantics heroize it. Well, acting insanely(unless you're a government or multinational corporation) usually ends badly, so I can hardly recommend it.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Rebel, Entry 7, Jim Morrison

     Alright, I know what you're saying, Camus was killed in a car accident in 1960, he couldn't have mentioned Jim Morrison. Well, I read the little section on Rimbaud and the surrealists and decided to write about Jim Morrison instead. Morrison styled himself a poet and seems to have had an affinity for Rimbaud. He was obviously a rebel -- I recently read a good biography of Morrison -- and he took bits and pieces of poetry and Nietzsche to help define the counterculture.
     At first, while reading the biography I felt very sorry for Morrison, but as the book progressed I felt increasingly sorry for the people who came into contact with him. In some ways Morrison was the perfect embodiment of Camus' and Nietzsche's rebel, in other ways he was a silly caricature. Interesting though his life was, he does not really present in any way a heroic life I would want to emulate. I know what I'm saying is heresy to a great number of people. Sorry.
     I've enjoyed The Doors music thoroughly, Morrison was obviously a great vocalist and certainly a much better than average lyricist, but it is also true that without the obvious talent of the other members, The Doors wouldn't have been what they were. And he ended up dead at 27, likely long before his real poetic maturity.
     There is in some of the rebels Camus discusses, a certain tendency toward self-indulgence that deflates their tragic status. In contrast to Oedipus, who rebelled against fate and ending up plucking his eyes out, or Beethoven, who suffered a traumatic early life, an encroaching deafness(with attendant tinnitus), a painful intestinal disease, and the knowledge that he was the greatest musician of the Europe of his day, Sade and Morrison seem like they were spoiled or just ill. Morrison's early death was indeed tragic, but it was the result of youthful excess, substance addiction, and a tendency that would be fixable with a good SSRI.
     This leads to the question, when is rebellion serious, something of cultural moment, and when is it silly self-indulgence or a tragic, but unprofound, mental illness? Those of you offended by any of my Morrison comments please feel free to comment.
     
     

The Rebel, Entry 6, Nietzsche part 2

     Camus moves from Nietzsche's assault on Christianity to his assault on socialism. Unfortunately, his assault on socialism bears some superficial commonality with the attitudes of the Randians. But Nietzsche was anything but some capitalist. He had Homeric heroes in mind, not dull boardrooms.

"Socialism is only a degenerate form of Christianity. In fact, it preserves a belief in the finality of history which betrays life and nature, which substitutes ideal ends for real ends, and contributes to enervating both the will and the imagination. Socialism is nihilistic, in the henceforth precise sense that Nietzsche confers on the word. A nihilist is not one who believes in nothing, but one who does not believe in what exists. In this sense, all forms of socialism are manifestations, degraded once again, of Christian decadence."(pg. 69)

Socialism is committed to values of equality which ultimately derive from a religious root. It is therefore just as nihilistic. But Nietzsche prefers the 'great spirited' overman to the capitalist rule follower. Nietzsche's modern hero is Goethe, an artist who actualized himself. As Camus says:

"Nietzsche clamored for a Roman Caesar with the soul of Christ."(pg. 77)

Camus asserts that Nietzsche fails to realize that "socialist emancipation must, by an inevitable logic of nihilism, lead to what he himself dreamed of: superhumanity.(pg.78) I'm still thinking about this. Socialist emancipation, I take it from capitalist domination, according to Camus, is a road to Nietzsche's ideal? Camus goes on to say that Nietzsche's philosophy leads, in concert with Marx, with politburos or capitalists with a Caesar complex:

"The great rebel thus creates with his own hands, and for his own imprisonment, the implacable reign of necessity. Once he had escaped from God's prison, his first care was to construct the prison of history and of reason, thus putting the finishing touch to the camouflage and consecration of the nihilism whose conquest he claimed."(pg. 81)

Well, I'm still thinking this out and I'm not sure I understand this passage. What I can say is that rebelling against humanitarianism and the freethinkers, which Nietzsche most certainly advocated, leads to domination by a few 'supermen' who are not, I assume, what Nietzsche had in mind at all. Rather, they are the same corrupt politicians and business leaders Nietzsche surely disdained in his own day.

     I suppose I have to say here that I've always thought of Nietzsche's ideal as the ravings of someone who read too much romantic literature or poetry. Such things/people are not part of the reality in which we find ourselves. In the long run, the humanitarians, the Bertrand Russells and E.M. Forsters of the world, are more on the right track. That's right, I've come full circle to advocating Russell, whose work on happiness I said read like a Disney script.  So it goes.

Next, the poets...

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Rebel, Entry 5, Nietzsche part 1

     I figure it will take me more than one entry to handle what Camus says about Nietzsche in this section of the book(still 'Metaphysical Rebellion'). In the popular mind Nietzsche is a god killer who went crazy; others try to turn Nietzsche into a thinker with political views commensurate with contemporary liberalism. The main thing to understand about Nietzsche is that he accuses Western culture of being nihilistic -- he's not a proponent of  nihilistic resignation, he is a diagnostician.  Camus writes:

"Nietzsche never thought except in terms of an apocalypse to come, not in order to extol it, for he guessed the sordid and calculating aspect that this apocalypse would finally assume, but in order to avoid it and to transform it into a renaissance. He recognized nihilism for what it was and examined it as a clinical fact...He said of himself that he was the first complete nihilist of Europe.  Not by choice, but by condition, and because he was too great to refuse the heritage of his time. He diagnosed in himself, and in others, the inability to believe and the disappearance of the primitive foundation of all faith -- namely, the belief in life."(pg. 66)

The problem is how to live without replacing primitive beliefs with other gods. Here Camus says, and I think this is very powerful:

"...Nietzsche did not form a project to kill God. He found Him dead in the soul of his contemporaries. He was the first to understand the immense importance of the event and to decide that this rebellion on the part of men could not lead to a renaissance unless it was controlled and directed."(pg. 68)

Now, some people reading this may be believers: I'm not here to tell you God is dead for you, just that this is how Nietzsche diagnosed the Europe of his day. He believed there was no turning back to God and wants to propose ways forward without regret or regression. Nietzsche proposes the rejection of all traditional values as decadent and replacing it with more 'Homeric' values. Nietzsche rejects Jesus' words as the opposite of rebellion. Jesus, so Nietzsche says, supports nonresistance rather than rebellion. This is more or less what Nietzsche refers to as 'slave morality'.  Nietzsche further accuses Paul and the Church as adding Judgement, reward and punishment etc.. to the mix.

Camus writes:
"Christianity believes that it is fighting against nihilism because it gives the world a sense of direction, while it is really nihilist itself in so far as, by imposing an imaginary meaning on life, it prevents the discovery of real meaning..."(pg. 69)

In the next entry on Nietzsche I'll take on what Camus writes about Nietzsche and socialism.





Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Rebel, Entry 4, From Sade to Dandies

"You're a rebellious soul in a good-looking body." -- my first therapist, c. 1986

     Well, I'm not as good looking as I used to be... which brings me to Camus' presentation of the Marquis De Sade. I am not familiar with the writings of Sade and I think I'm going to keep it that way.  Apparently Sade spent many years in prison and had time to dream up all kinds of wacky fantasies. Mainly, Camus is giving Sade as an example of complete negation. In his imagination Sade wants to dominate and then destroy the universe, or something. Sadism sounds exhausting.
     Camus portrays Sade's work as ending with all the victims dead and the executioners are left to turn on each other:


"The most powerful, the one who will survive, is the solitary, the Unique, whose glorification Sade has undertaken -- in other words, himself...He is in fact alone, imprisoned in a bloodstained Bastille, entirely constructed around a still unsatisfied, and henceforth undirected, desire for pleasure. He has only triumphed in a dream and those ten volumes crammed with philosophy and atrocities recapitulate an unhappy form of asceticism, an illusory advance from the total no to the absolute yes, an acquiescence in death at last, which transfigures the assassination of everything and everyone into a collective suicide."(pg. 45)

Camus says that Sade equated 'freedom' with 'crime'.  He was a proponent of a free republic where freedom seemed mixed-up with degradation.  Camus writes:

"The history and the tragedy of our times really begin with him.  He only believed that a society founded on freedom of crime must coincide with freedom of morals, as though servitude had its limits. Our times have a limited themselves to blending, in a curious manner, his dream of a universal republic and his technique of degradation."(pg. 47)

Devastatingly, Camus concludes:
" Crime, which he wanted to be the exotic and delicious fruit of unbridled vice, is no more today than the dismal habit of a police-controlled morality.  Such are the surprises of literature."(pg. 47)

I watched 'The Daily Show' today and it had some professor talking about drones.  Far from crime being erotic it'll be some workaday operation.

     After, I'm sorry, an unenlightening passage about how the modern rebel begins in the romantic movement by siding with Satan in "Paradise Lost', he takes on the dandies.

"The dandy is, by occupation, always in opposition."(pg. 51)  I guess by wearing a loud sweater I, too, can be a rebel.

"He[the dandy] plays at life because he is unable to live it.  He plays at it until he dies, except for the moments when he is alone and without a mirror.  For the dandy, to be alone is not to exist."(pg. 52)

I'm actually a big fan of Oscar Wilde, but it's hard these days to take too seriously the mannered rebellion of a late 19th Century upper-class Londoner. And I can't help quoting Billy Joel:

"How about a pair of pink sidewinders
And a bright orange pair of pants?
"You could really be a Beau Brummel baby
If you just give it half a chance"
--It's Still Rock and Roll to Me





Monday, January 21, 2013

The Rebel, Entry 3, The Greeks

     Camus begins his 'Metaphysical Rebellion' section, first by saying that the rebellion he is describing does not predate the enlightenment, then by saying intimations of it are to be found in the ancient tragedies.  Obviously, Prometheus is the first case that comes to mind.  He is in rebellion to the Gods and is heavily punished for it.  In a certain sense, bringing fire to humans can be taken as a rebellion against the inequality between humans and gods.  But Camus goes deeper into the Greek notion of Fate.  I can't help at this point quoting  Greenberg in his lectures on Beethoven, when Beethoven began the romantic movement in science Greenberg says he assumes his new 'artistic self image, that of a hero, battling, and finally triumphing, over Fate itself.'  I heartily recommend any of Greenberg's lectures from the Teaching Company, especially those on Beethoven.
    
     Metaphysical rebellion is characterized by a rebellion against the human condition as such, what with the pointless suffering and the death and the yada yada yada. Metaphysical rebellion

"presupposes a simplified view of creation -- which was inconceivable to the Greeks.  In their minds, there were not gods on one side and men on the other, but a series of stages leading from one to the other.  The idea of innocence opposed to guilt, the concept of all of history summed up in the struggle between good and evil, was foreign to them. In their universe there were more mistakes than crimes, and the only definitive crime was excess. In a world entirely dominated by history, which ours threatens to become, there are no longer any mistakes, but only crimes, of which the greatest is moderation."(pg. 28)

One is reminded of the 'Great Chain of Being' I used to hear in lectures on Shakespeare. I do often feel that we live in an all or nothing world.  The recent inability of our government to act is an example, as are political correctness on the one hand and neoconservatism on the other. Even in my own mind I can feel the pull against compromise sometimes.  But I identify this pressure as social, rather than intellectual. It probably doesn't compute for some that I can like both Charles Kors and Noam Chomsky at the same time. Camus is right, especially thinking in terms of 1956, that the world is divided by ideologies.  I've been to lectures, say between Dershowitz and Chomsky on Israel, where the audience was clearly on one side, when, on the basis of what was actually said, no decision could be made(I didn't observe either side not distributing a middle term or anything).
     Of course I can't leave the Greeks without talking about Oedipus. Oedipus, I can only feel with a kind of arrogance, rebels against nature to know the truth, discovers he is the cause of the plague, and it is the search itself that is his undoing. I read Oedipus The King at about the same time I read 'Heart of Darkness'; the parallels are hard to miss. Searching for the truth one finds out something tragic at the end of it.  So, does this mean we should leave these kinds of searches to the gods?  Are we better off not knowing?  Is it our 'place' to know?  Eventually, Oedipus and family discover that Fate cannot be avoided, Beethoven's self-image notwithstanding, and Marlowe discovers the 'horror' and all that(a view much more like that of Camus').




Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Rebel, Entry 2, Solidarity

     The title of the short first part of The Rebel is, called, well, 'The Rebel'.  He deals with rebellion in the forms it took since the 18th Century, where some group demanded its rights.  Camus argues that in a society that holds a sacred view of the world and social order, there is not the same type of rebellion.  He says:

"The spirit of rebellion can only exist in a society where a theoretical equality  conceals great factual inequalities.  The problem of rebellion, therefore, has no meaning except within our own Western society."(pg. 20)

I think that he, well, equates Western society with certain notions of human equality.  In a society whose view of reality denies this, there is not the same potential for rebellion in the sense Camus is describing.  What is interesting to me is that it is against this very society that some are rebelling for the sake of returning to a 'sacred' world(I used to belong to a religious group that possessing this type of solidarity).  I suppose Camus would not call this the same type of 'rebellion'.  The solidarity these groups feel among themselves replaces Camus' notion of solidarity, which is in terms of humanity in a non-sacred world.  Finally, Camus writes:

"...the first progressive step for a mind overwhelmed by the strangeness of things is to realize that this feeling of strangeness is shared with all men and that human reality, in it entirety, suffers from this distance which separates it from the rest of the universe. The malady experienced by a single man becomes a mass plague.  In our daily trials rebellion plays the same role as does the 'cogito' in the realm of thought: it is the first piece of evidence.  But this evidence lures the individual from his solitude. It founds its first value on the whole human race.  I rebel -- therefore we exist."(pg. 22)

Camus constructs a simple picture, we 'Westerners' experience the strangeness of things because we are mature enough to have disposed of the sacred, this common experience of strangeness and our notions of 'common humanity' produce solidarity.  Now the individual experiencing the absurd is not rebelling alone against the depersonalizing forces of modernism(or postmodernism).  The question is, would Camus say that those living in the sacred world are somehow living in a kind of Kierkegaardian/Sartrean 'bad faith'? If so, Camus is no relativist.  If not, then the 'universality' of the experience of the absurd is called into question. My bet is that Camus is no relativist.  His  rebellion is quite metaphysical in this sense.  Oh, wait, that's the name of the next section, 'Metaphysical Rebellion'.








The Rebel, by Camus, Entry 1, The Introduction

     Well, the Sandel book was not all that interesting, and I think I've grown strong enough to take a chance again at reading this book by Camus. Albert Camus is one of my favorite authors. I first read Camus as a teenager and found that among 20th-Century writers he was the one who spoke to me the most.  I put Camus' writings in the category of the works that have set the agenda(or non-agenda) for much of my mental life.  One can ask which direction the causality went: did my tendency to be deeply morose come first and cause my resonance with certain works, such as Ecclesiastes, or did this exposure cause my tendency.  I'm certain now that the causality ran in the first direction. But, once I read Ecclesiastes, it was done. Then came Macbeth, then Camus.  Camus is, for me, far more affecting than, say Sartre, with whom he is, I think unfortunately, connected.
      As a philosopher, Camus is uninterested in the usual problems of epistemology.  This is possibly why he is often referred to as an 'existentialist', though, from what I can gather he had no set position on free-will.  Philosophy of Science as such is no interest to him, nor is metaphysics, really.  Obviously I have an interest in these but Camus can make me feel like I'm wasting my time(note this book was published in 1956; Camus seems to characterize this era as one of 'ideology'):

 "The important thing, therefore, is not, as yet, to go to the root of things, but, the world being what it it is, to know how to live in it.  In the age of negation, it was of some avail to examine one's position concerning suicide.  In the age of ideologies, we must examine our position in relation to murder. If murder has rational foundations, then our period and we ourselves are rationally consequent.  If it has no rational foundations, then we are insane and there is no alternative but to find some justification or to avert our faces."(pg. 4)

It seems to me we still live in a world, somewhat surprisingly if you had an early-in-life belief that progress would cause so many of these problems to simply dissolve, divided by religion and ideology.  Humanistic optimism seems no more justifiable now than in previous decades.  How is this possible? How is it possible that 'market triumphalism', to borrow a phrase of Sandel's, could continue to be so influential? At the same time, how could the academic left still present as alternatives economic models that are so obviously untenable(federated anarcho-syndicalism, simplistic versions of democratic socialism etc..)?  Sometimes we seem to be getting nowhere and the romantic fears about science seem quite justified(I just read a couple of great stories by Hawthorne: 'The Birthmark' and 'Rapaccini's Daughter').

     I bought this copy of The Rebel only a couple of years ago. I found I did not have the strength to make it through this work -- as I proceed through this book now those of you who know me will see why.  Now, the book is a pretty dense read, but that is not the problem, the problem is passages like this:

"In a way, the man who kills himself in solitude still preserves certain values since he, apparently, claims no rights over the lives of others.  The proof of this is that he never makes use, in order to dominate others, of the enormous power and freedom of action, which his decision to die gives him...Absolute negation is therefore not consummated by suicide.  It can only be consummated by absolute destruction, of oneself and of others...Here suicide and murder are two aspects of a single system, the system of a misguided intelligence that prefers, to the suffering imposed by a limited situation, the dark victory in which heaven and earth are annihilated."(pg. 7)

This is the voice of a man who has been there. This whole topic is difficult to bring up with the hysteria over mental illness now sweeping across the media -- saying that the issue is really gun control(by the way, I'm in favor of banning guns altogether, period. And, yes, frankly, I agree with those who say that violent video games, movies etc... do put ideas in the minds of those already predisposed.) does not go to the heart of the matter; this is because the matter he describes goes to the heart of what Camus thinks are the ultimate questions.
     Camus, in The Myth of Sisyphus I believe, puts suicide as THE philosophical question, not just a matter of emotional exasperation[Russell once said somewhere that existentialism was based intellectually on errors of syntax and emotionally on exasperation, but reading his 'Conquest of Happiness' is like reading the text of a Disney movie.]. Nihilism, taken seriously, leads to the total destruction Camus refers to here, but optimism of any kind seems frankly silly.

Enter the REBEL...