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  • feedwordpress 08:01:14 on 2018/10/14 Permalink
    Tags: , , , history of philosophy, , philosophy,   

    “It is hard enough to remember my opinions, without also remembering my reasons for them!”*… 

     

    philosophy

     

    This is my summary of the history of (Western) philosophy showing the positive/negative connections between some of the key ideas/arguments of the philosophers. It’s a never-ending work-in-progress and the current version is mainly based on Bryan Magee’s The Story of Philosophy and Thomas Baldwin’s Contemporary Philosophy, with many other references for specific philosophers/arguments. (The source is noted with the book icon that appears when you click on an argument.)…

    From Deniz Cem Önduygu, a fascinating interactive tool for exploring the development of Western philosophy: “The history of philosophy, summarized and visualized.”  [TotH to friend MK]

    For a different (but also engaging) visualization of some of this same history, see “The Structure of Recent Philosophy.”

    * Friedrich Nietzsche

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    As we investigate influence, we might send deeply-thoughtful birthday greetings to Hannah Arendt; she was born on this date in 1906.  Though often categorized as a philosopher, she self-identified as a political theorist, arguing that philosophy deals with “man in the singular,” while her work centers on the fact that “men, not Man, live on the earth and inhabit the world.”  One of the seminal political thinkers of the twentieth century, the power and originality of her thinking was evident in works such as The Origins of Totalitarianism, The Human Condition, On Revolution and The Life of the Mind.  Her famous New Yorker essay and later book, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil— in which she raised the question of whether evil is radical or simply a function of thoughtlessness, a tendency of ordinary people to obey orders and conform to mass opinion without a critical evaluation of the consequences of their actions and inaction– was controversial as it was widely misunderstood as defending Eichmann and blaming Jewish leaders for the Holocaust.  That book ended:

    Just as you [Eichmann] supported and carried out a policy of not wanting to share the earth with the Jewish people and the people of a number of other nations—as though you and your superiors had any right to determine who should and who should not inhabit the world—we find that no one, that is, no member of the human race, can be expected to want to share the earth with you. This is the reason, and the only reason, you must hang.

     source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:11 on 2018/10/09 Permalink
    Tags: , Boer War, , Consolation Philosophy, , , , , monetary history, philosophy,   

    “The darkest thing about Africa has always been our ignorance of it”*… 

    african philosophy

     

    Aristotle held that philosophising begins with wonder. The African philosopher Jonathan Chimakonam suggested that, while wonder might have instigated Western philosophy, it was frustration that spurred African philosophy, with the emergence of radically Afrocentric nationalist philosophers such as Léopold Sédar Senghor, Aimé Césaire and Kwame Nkrumah who saw in philosophy an ideological weapon for attacking those who sought to denigrate and subjugate Africans culturally and politically. What is needed now is a 21st-century African synthesis that can help to resolve this struggle. ‘Consolation philosophy’ – spurred by both wonder and frustration – attempts to do just that.

    The idea of ‘consolation’ philosophy does not imply an attempt to comfort philosophers. Rather, it suggests a philosophy of life, a project similar to the human-centred philosophical projects of Western existentialists such as Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, Friedrich Nietzsche, Gabriel Marcel, Søren Kierkegaard, Miguel de Unamuno, Emmanuel Levinas and German idealists such as Arthur Schopenhauer. Here I offer a brief presentation of this African philosophical synthesis, which I hope will help to resolve the dilemma eloquently put forward in 1997 by professor of philosophy at Penn State University Robert Bernasconi: ‘Either African philosophy is so similar to Western philosophy that it makes no distinctive contribution and effectively disappears; or it is so different that its credentials to be genuine philosophy will always be in doubt.’…

    “Consolation philosophy” understands the human being as a unity of feeling and reason, in a cosmos rich with primal emotion.  The provocative– and timely–  essay in full at “A truly African philosophy.”

    See also “Philosophy is the new battleground in South Africa’s fight against colonialism.”

    [Image above: source]

    * Geographer George Kimble

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    As we take our wisdom where we find it, we might recall that it was on this date in 1899 that the Boer regime in (what we now call) South Africa issued an ultimatum to the British government, declaring that a state of war would exist between Britain and the two Boer republics if the British did not remove their troops from along the border.

    The British had challenged the Dutch settlers for a variety of reasons, probably main among them for control of the gold deposits in the region. It was the largest gold-mining complex in the world at a time when the world’s monetary systems, preeminently the British, were increasingly dependent upon gold.

    The British ignored the ultimatum, and what we now call the Boer War (actually the second Boer War, as there has been an earlier skirmish) broke out.  The two colonialists slugged it out until 1902, when the British took control.

    boer war

    Boer and British troops at the battle of Belmont, Nov. 23, 1899

    source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:18 on 2018/09/26 Permalink
    Tags: , , , Gertie the Dinosaur, , Little Nemo, philosophy, , , , Winsor McCay   

    “There will be time, there will be time”*… 

     

    Infinity-Time1

    Poets often think of time as a river, a free-flowing stream that carries us from the radiant morning of birth to the golden twilight of old age. It is the span that separates the delicate bud of spring from the lush flower of summer.

    Physicists think of time in somewhat more practical terms. For them, time is a means of measuring change—an endless series of instants that, strung together like beads, turn an uncertain future into the present and the present into a definite past. The very concept of time allows researchers to calculate when a comet will round the sun or how a signal traverses a silicon chip. Each step in time provides a peek at the evolution of nature’s myriad phenomena.

    In other words, time is a tool. In fact, it was the first scientific tool. Time can now be sliced into slivers as thin as one ten-trillionth of a second. But what is being sliced? Unlike mass and distance, time cannot be perceived by our physical senses. We don’t see, hear, smell, touch, or taste time. And yet we somehow measure it. As a cadre of theorists attempt to extend and refine the general theory of relativity, Einstein’s momentous law of gravitation, they have a problem with time. A big problem…

    The crisis inside the physics of time: “Is It Time to Get Rid of Time?

    See also: “Forget everything you know about time.”

    [image above: source]

    * T. S. Eliot

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    As we check our watches, we might say a grateful Happy Birthday to Winsor McCay, the cartoonist and animator, who was born on this date in 1867.  His two best-known creations are the pioneering comic strip Little Nemo in Slumberland, which ran from 1905 to 1914, and the animated cartoon Gertie the Dinosaur (1914),which set the standard for animators for decades to come.

    Little Nemo… for a more legible image, click here

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:56 on 2018/09/03 Permalink
    Tags: , clockwork, , , Loren Eiseley, Naturalism, philosophy, ,   

    “It would be a very naive sort of dogmatism to assume that there exists an absolute reality of things which is the same for all living beings”*… 

     

    Clockwork sized-archive-trunk

    Detail of the nerves of the trunk from Cerebri Anatome 1664 by Thomas Willis

     

    The model of nature as a complex, clockwork mechanism has been central to modern science ever since the 17th century. It continues to appear regularly throughout the sciences, from quantum mechanics to evolutionary biology. But for Descartes and his contemporaries, ‘mechanism’ did not signify the sort of inert, regular, predictable functioning that the word connotes today. Instead, it often suggested the very opposite: responsiveness, engagement, caprice. Yet over the course of the 17th century, the idea of machinery narrowed into something passive, without agency or force of its own life. The earlier notion of active, responsive mechanism largely gave way to a new, brute mechanism…

    The idea that nature is a humming, complex, clockwork machine has been around for centuries. Is it due for a revival? “Alive and Ticking.”

    * Ernst Cassirer, An Essay on Man: An Introduction to a Philosophy of Human Culture

    ###

    As we muse on the mechanical, we might send insightful birthday greetings to Loren Eiseley; he was born on this date in 1907.  An anthropologist, educator, philosopher, and natural science writer, he was one of the preeminent literary naturalists of our time.   Publishers Weekly called him “the modern Thoreau.” Fellow science writer Orville Prescott praised him as a scientist who “can write with poetic sensibility and with a fine sense of wonder and of reverence before the mysteries of life and nature.” And Ray Bradbury, praising Eiseley’s “The Unexpected Universe,” remarked, “[Eiseley] is every writer’s writer, and every human’s human… One of us, yet most uncommon…”

    You can find his annotated bibliography here.

    220px-Eiseley_UPenn source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:55 on 2018/08/14 Permalink
    Tags: atomism, , emergence, Ernest Everett Just, , philosophy, , , ,   

    “All you can do is hope for a pattern to emerge”*… 

     

    smiling_baby_10-1024x576

    If you construct a Lego model of the University of London’s Senate House – the building that inspired the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four – the Lego blocks themselves remain unchanged. Take apart the structure, reassemble the blocks in the shape of the Great Pyramid of Giza or the Eiffel Tower, and the shape, weight and colour of the blocks stay the same.

    This approach, applied to the world at large, is known as atomism. It holds that everything in nature is made up of tiny, immutable parts. What we perceive as change and flux are just cogs turning in the machine of the Universe – a huge but ultimately comprehensible mechanism that is governed by universal laws and composed of smaller units. Trying to identify these units has been the focus of science and technology for centuries. Lab experiments pick out the constituents of systems and processes; factories assemble goods from parts composed of even smaller parts; and the Standard Model tells us about the fundamental entities of modern physics.

    But when phenomena don’t conform to this compositional model, we find them hard to understand. Take something as simple as a smiling baby: it is difficult, perhaps impossible, to explain a baby’s beaming smile by looking at the behaviour of the constituent atoms of the child in question, let alone in terms of its subatomic particles such as gluons, neutrinos and electrons. It would be better to resort to developmental psychology, or even a narrative account (‘The father smiled at the baby, and the baby smiled back’). Perhaps a kind of fundamental transformation has occurred, producing some new feature or object that can’t be reduced to its parts.

    The notion of emergence can help us to see what’s going on here. While atomism is all about burrowing down to basic building blocks, emergence looks upward and outward, to ask whether strange new phenomena might pop out when things get sufficiently large or complex…

    Does everything in the world boil down to basic units – or can emergence explain how distinctive new things arise?  Paul Humphreys helps us understand at “Out of nowhere.”

    [Image above: source]

    * Chuck Palahniuk, Lullaby

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    As we forage for the fundamental, we might send insightful birthday greetings to Ernest Everett Just; he was born on this date in 1883.  A pioneering biologist, academic, and science writer, he contributed mightily to the understanding of cell division, the fertilization of egg cells, experimental parthenogenesis, hydration, cell division, dehydration in living cells, and the effect of ultra violet rays on egg cells.

    An African-American, he had limited academic prospects on his graduation from Dartmouth, but was able to land a teaching spot at Howard University.  Just met  Frank R. Lillie, the head of the Department of Zoology at the University of Chicago and director of the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) at Woods Hole, Mass.  In 1909 Lillie invited Just to spend first one, then several summers at Woods Hole, where Just pioneered the study of whole cells under normal conditions (rather than simply breaking them apart in a laboratory setting).  In 1915, Just was awarded the first Spingarn Medal, the highest honor given by the NAACP.

    But outside MBL, Just experienced discrimination.  Seeking more opportunity, he spent most of the 1930s in various European universities– until the outbreak of WW II hostilities caused him to return to the U.S. in late 1940.  He died of pancreatic cancer the next year.

    Ernest_Everett_Just source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:45 on 2018/08/04 Permalink
    Tags: ancient philosophy, , Diogenes Laertius, , , , , Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, philosophy,   

    “The only thing I know is that I know nothing”*… 

     

    Heraclitus of Ephesus; detail from Raphael’s <i>The School of Athens</i>, circa 1509

    Heraclitus of Ephesus; detail from Raphael’s The School of Athens, circa 1509

     

    Poor Diogenes Laertius. He gets no respect. A “perfect ass”—“asinus germanus”—one nineteenth-century scholar called him. “Dim-witted,” said Nietzsche. An “ignoramus,” declared the twentieth-century classicist Werner Jaeger. In his lyric moods he wrote “perhaps the worst verses ever published,” an anthologist pronounced. And he had “no talent for philosophical exposition,” declares The Oxford Companion to Philosophy.

    Then why waste time on him? For this excellent reason: Diogenes Laertius compiled the sole extant work from antiquity that gives anything like a comprehensive picture of Greek and Hellenistic philosophy. He may have been a flaming mediocrity. He may have been credulous and intellectually shallow. He may have produced a scissors-and-paste job cribbed from other ancient sources. But those other sources are lost, which makes what Diogenes Laertius left behind, to quote the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “truly priceless.” Eighty percent of success is showing up, Woody Allen supposedly said. Well, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers showed up. And by dint of that, its author has become what Nietzsche called “the night watchman of the history of Greek philosophy: no one can enter into it unless he has given him the key.”…

    Jim Holt on on one of the more curious accidents of intellectual history: “Lovers of Wisdom.”

    * Socrates

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    As we ponder provenance, we might spare a thought for Hans Christian Andersen; he died on this date in 1875.  A prolific writer of plays, travelogues, novels, and poems, he is best remembered for his (often curiously-titled) fairy tales.  Those tales– which include “The Princess and the Pea,” “The Ugly Duckling,” “Thumbelina,” “The Little Mermaid,” and “The Emperor’s New Clothes”– have inspired plays, ballets, and of course both live-action and animated films.

    In Andersen’s honor his birthday– August 2 (1805)– is celebrated as International Children’s Book Day.

     source

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:46 on 2018/07/30 Permalink
    Tags: , Marc Sanders, , Pennsylvania, philosophy, , William Penn   

    “There is only one thing a philosopher can be relied upon to do, and that is to contradict other philosophers”*… 

     

    philosophy

    In the July/August 2001 issue of the late, great magazine Lingua Franca, James Ryerson [now a New York Times writer/editor] published an enthralling article about an anonymous benefactor who was paying professors huge sums of money to review a strange 60-page philosophical manuscript…

    Read Ryerson’s fascinating intellectual detective story at “The Mystery of the Millionaire Metaphysician.” And after you’ve done that (lest you spoil the ending), read what became of that anonymous benefactor.

    [Image above: source]

    * William James

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    As we search for the moral in moral philosophy, we might spare a thought for William Penn; he died on this date in 1718.  An English real estate entrepreneur, philosopher, early Quaker, and founder of the English North American colony the Province of Pennsylvania, he was an early advocate of democracy and religious freedom, notable for his good relations and successful treaties with the Lenape Native Americans.  he directed the planning and development of the city of Philadelphia.

    220px-William_Penn source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:17 on 2018/07/28 Permalink
    Tags: Cryptozoology, historicism, , , , philosophy, philosophy of science, ,   

    “Have pity on them all, for it is we who are the real monsters”*… 

     

    ardam-cryptozoology

    The International Cryptozoology Museum is smaller than my apartment. It’s a big apartment, but it’s an even smaller museum.

    The museum is located in a red-brick former industrial building in Portland, Maine. It shares a wall with Big J’s Chicken Shack, and so the International Cryptozoology Museum — the only museum in the world dedicated to the study and promotion of cryptozoology — smells wonderfully, overwhelmingly, of fried chicken…

    Officially, cryptozoology is “the study of unknown, legendary, or extinct animals whose existence or survival to the present day is disputed or unsubstantiated.”

    The International Cryptozoology Museum offers a slightly different definition. For the ICM, the discipline is “an exciting field that studies hidden and unconfirmed legendary animals, as a means to discover new species.”

    The definition from the Oxford English Dictionary looks backwards. The animals are disputed and unsubstantiated. Their existence has not been proven. The ICM’s definition looks forward. The animals are hiding. Their discovery is imminent. There is something new to be found. The animals, or, more exactly, the cryptids — we’re talking Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, the Dover Demon, the Jersey Devil — they’re out there.

    The International Cryptozoology Museum is a place of hope…

    The search for surreptitious species at “Real Toads at the International Cryptozoology Museum.”  Visit the museum here.

    * Bernard Heuvelmans (the father of cryptozoology and founder of the International Society of Cryptozoology), On the Track of Unknown Animals

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    As we adumbrate the unfamiliar, we might send carefully-constructed birthday greetings to Sir Karl Raimund Popper; he was born on this date in 1902.  One of the greatest philosophers of science of the 20th century, Popper is best known for his rejection of the classical inductivist views on the scientific method, in favor of empirical falsification: A theory in the empirical sciences can never be proven, but it can be falsified, meaning that it can and should be scrutinized by decisive experiments. (Or more simply put, whereas classical inductive approaches considered hypotheses false until proven true, Popper reversed the logic: conclusions drawn from an empirical finding are true until proven false.)

    Popper was also a powerful critic of historicism in political thought, and (in books like The Open Society and Its Enemies and The Poverty of Historicism) an enemy of authoritarianism and totalitarianism (in which role he was a mentor to George Soros).

     source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:14 on 2018/07/18 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , philosophy, , Thackeray,   

    “All mystical experience is coincidence; and vice versa, of course.”*… 

     

    coincidence-clipart-Pi-Coincidence

     

    Today, nearly all scientists say that coincidences are just that: coincidences – void of greater meaning. Yet, they’re something we all experience, and with a frequency that is uniform across age, sex, country, job, even education level. Those who believe that they’ve had a ‘meaningful coincidence’ in their lives experience a collision of events so remarkable and unlikely that they chose to ascribe a form of grander meaning to the occurrence, via fate or divinity or existential importance. One of the most commonly experienced ‘meaningful coincidences’ is to think of your friend for the first time in a long while only to have her telephone you that instant. Any self-respecting statistician would say that if you tracked the number of times you thought of any friend, and the number of times you had that friend immediately ring you, you’d find the link to be statistically insignificant. But it is not necessarily irrational to attribute grander significance to this occurrence…

    Lightning can strike twice and people do call just when you’re thinking of them – but are such coincidences meaningful?  Find out at “On coincidence.”

    [image above: source]

    * Tom Stoppard

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    As we muse on meaning, we might ponder the significance of the fact that on this date in 1817, the exquisite novelist of English manners Jane Austen passed away– six years to the day after the birth of William Makepeace Thackeray, who was in such works as Vanity Fair her successor as chronicler of English society (born on this date in 1811).  Coincidence?

    Austen Thackeray

    Jane Austen, as drawn by her sister Cassandra [source] and William Makepeace Thackeray [source]

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:55 on 2018/07/14 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , philosophy, The Twist,   

    “One cannot conceive anything so strange and so implausible that it has not already been said by one philosopher or another”*… 

     

    philosophy

    There comes a moment in every philosophy student’s life, perhaps when struggling through a logic set or trying to parse some impenetrable Derrida essay, that the inevitable question comes up: What’s the point? A new philosophy paper, published in the June 2018 edition of the Journal of Practical Ethics, argues that there isn’t one.

    At least, there’s not a singular coherent point that the field is working towards. Whereas history is clearly focused on understanding our past and biology is devoted to explaining living organisms, there’s some confusion as to philosophy’s purpose. There are clear themes of course, such as the meaning of life, and what constitutes reality. But the subject is huge and sprawling, encompassing questions about metaphysics, epistemology, language, and ethics, among others. Is the point of philosophy to unravel the nature of the universe, or how we know what we know, or the role of language, or answer some other great question?…

    Find out why (and whether it matters) at “What’s the point of philosophy? A new philosophy paper says there isn’t one.

    * René Descartes

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    As we wax philosophical, we might recall that it was on this date in 1961 that Billboard Magazine reported that the teenage dance craze, The Twist, was being picked up by the adult crowd in Philadelphia.

    twist source

     

     
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