Category Archives: Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau

On Plato’s Republic, 5

Index to this series

Our fifth scheduled reading in the Republic is Book IV (Stephanus pages 419–45). Socrates speaks

  • with Adeimantus, through the completion of the construction of the city in speech;
  • with Glaucon, after he insists (427d) that Socrates join in the search for justice in the city; they find it and map it back to the individual.


Intellect, spirit, and appetite
Profesörler Sitesi, Altınova, Balıkesir, Turkey
September 13, 2021

Before proposing a general summary, I shall note the following highlights of the reading. At the end I make some further remarks on one of these, the Law of Contradiction.

Highlights

  1. Common [they are,] the things of friends, κοινὰ τὰ [τῶν] φίλων (424a). Aristotle refers to this in Book II, Chapter 1 of the Politics, 1260b1a:

    Continue reading

Politics

Index to this series

This is mostly about avoiding things. An early theme of Plato’s Republic is avoiding the deprivations of solitary life through politics. Some of us would rather just avoid politics. Such persons include Henry David Thoreau, Gilbert Ryle, and the inventor of the h-index (he is a physicist called Jorge E. Hirsch, but I know nothing else about him). I mentioned these persons in my last Plato post, “Badiou, Bloom, Ryle, Shorey.” I have some more to say about them here. In “Civil Disobedience” (1848) for example, Thoreau writes, “it is, after all, with men and not with parchment that I quarrel”; but measures like the h-index are used to hide the human factor in the equations used to judge us.

Regarding Thoreau, I shall be looking in addition at Thoreau’s essays “Walking” and “Slavery in Massachusetts.” Other sources for this post will include

  • R. G. Collingwood, Speculum Mentis and An Autobiography;
  • 101 Zen Stories;
  • Somerset Maugham, The Gentleman in the Parlour;
  • Robert Wright, “Ending war via algorithm”;
  • Danielle Carr, “The Politics of Viruses”;
  • Patricia Fara, “It leads to everything.”


All photos are from Profesörler Sitesi, Altınova, Balıkesir, Turkey
September 21–3, 2021

Continue reading

Badiou, Bloom, Ryle, Shorey

Index to this series

The discussion having been postponed for our fifth reading in the Republic, I give here some remarks that started out as part of my commentary on Book IV. The remarks concern

  • the translations of the Republic that I have been reading, mainly those of
    • Alain Badiou (b. 1937), translated in turn from the French by Susan Spitzer;
    • Allan Bloom (1930–92);
    • Paul Shorey (1857–1934);
  • the “Interpretive Essay” that accompanies Bloom’s translation;
  • a 1969 review of Bloom’s translation and essay by Gilbert Ryle (1900–76), who embarrasses the profession of philosophy (if it be a profession).

I quote also Christopher Hitchens, Daryl H. Rice, Agnes Callard, Martha Nussbaum, and Henry David Thoreau.


Palm trimmed
Profesörler Sitesi, Altınova, Balıkesir, Turkey
September 13, 2021

Here’s a table of contents:

Shorey

In the preface of his own translation, Bloom says Shorey’s is one of the two best English translations. The other is A. D. Lindsay’s, but I know nothing about him or it.

Being part of the Loeb Classical Library, Shorey’s translation is

  • convenient for

    • including the Greek, so that one can see that Shorey makes “the principle of doing one’s own business” (433b) from τὸ τὰ αὑτοῦ πράττειν (Bloom has “the practice of minding one’s own business”);
    • using footnotes rather than endnotes;
  • inconvenient for having

    • two volumes;
    • small thin pages, so that leafing through to find the passage you want is hard.


Palm bearded
Profesörler Sitesi, Altınova, Balıkesir, Turkey
September 12, 2021

Continue reading

On Plato’s Republic, 3

Index to this series

We are reading now Book II of the Republic.

Dog with copy of Alain Badiou, Plato’s Republic:
A Dialogue in Sixteen Chapters, with a Prologue and an Epilogue, 2012
Profesörler Sitesi, Altınova, Balıkesir, Turkey, September 2, 2021

Our reading is Stephanus pages 357–83, covering

  • the conventional arguments in favor of injustice and justice, reviewed by Plato’s brothers Glaucon and Adeimantus respectively;
  • the beginning of the construction of the city in speech, wherein the advent of justice is to be discerned; the guardians of the city are to be like dogs and to be given a traditional education, although with none of the traditional stories, since they talk about things like parricide and bad luck.

I am exercised by how Adeimantus in the first part, and Socrates in the second, criticize certain teachings in the Iliad, without considering how those teachings are given by one character to another, in contexts that we ought to use in judging them.

Continue reading

Articles on Collingwood

This article gathers, and in some cases quotes and examines, popular articles about R. G. Collingwood (1889–1943).

  • By articles, I mean not blog posts like mine and others’, but essays by professionals in publications that have editors.

  • By popular, I mean written not for other professionals, but for the laity.

Continue reading

Return to Narnia

1

My subject is the Chronicles of Narnia of C. S. Lewis (1898–1963). I consider this heptad of books (published 1950–6) as constituting (1) literature (2) for children (3) that I enjoyed in my first decade and continue to enjoy in my sixth.

  1. By literature, I mean a work of art whose medium is prose. Prose may also be a work of craft, intended to fulfil some purpose. This purpose could be to serve a market for fantasy or children’s books. Art as such has no purpose that can be specified in advance.

  2. Writing for children may take certain liberties that annoy adults.

  3. As with any post in this blog, I write out of my own personal interest. As a child, I read other fantasies, such as those of Lloyd Alexander, John Christopher, Ursula LeGuin, and J.R.R. Tolkien. Only the works of C. S. Lewis have stayed with me. This essay may be considered as an exploration of why, or least an example of how.

The seven books of the Chronicles of Narnia, Collier edition

Continue reading

Thoreau and Anacreon

Gray clouds over blue sky over white clouds over buildings

At the beginning of Walden, the author says he wrote its pages, “or rather the bulk of them,” in the isolated house he had built by the pond of that name. He lived there, 1845–7. He wrote there also A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. He had spent the week of the title with his brother, who died of tetanus in January, 1842. Writes Laura Dassow Walls,

Into the narrative of his 1839 river trip with John, Henry had woven everything he ever felt, thought, and experienced …

This in Henry David Thoreau: A Life (University of Chicago Press, 2017). Weaving is Thoreau’s metaphor, used in Walden in a consideration of what is worth doing in life.

Continue reading

Anthropology of Mathematics

This essay was long when originally published; now, on November 30, 2019, I have made it longer, in an attempt to clarify some points.

The essay begins with two brief quotations, from Collingwood and Pirsig respectively, about what it takes to know people.

  • The Pirsig quote is from Lila, which is somewhat interesting as a novel, but naive about metaphysics; it might have benefited from an understanding of Collingwood’s Essay on Metaphysics.

  • A recent article by Ray Monk in Prospect seems to justify my interest in Collingwood; eventually I have a look at the article.

Ideas that come up along the way include the following.

Continue reading

On Causation

Causation seems commonly to be understood as a physical concept, like being a fossil. The paleontologist seeks the one right answer to the question of when a particular dinosaur bone became part of the fossil record; likewise readers of international news seem to think there is one right answer to the question of whether Donald Trump or Ali Khamenei caused the shooting down of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 on January 8, 2020.

There is not one right answer. If you are Trump, you caused 176 civilian deaths by attacking the Iranians and provoking their response. If you are Mitch McConnell, you caused the deaths by inhibiting the removal of Trump from office. If you are Khamenei, you did it by meeting Trump’s fire with fire.

Being a cause does not mean you deserve condemnation or praise: that is another matter.

Causation is relative. This is an observation by R. G. Collingwood in An Essay on Metaphysics (1940). Continue reading

NL XXV: The Three Laws of Politics

Index to this series

Executive summary (added September 11, 2018): The the three laws of politics are that (1) within the body politic, there is a ruling class, which is a society proper; (2) the ruling class can take in members from the ruled class; (3) the ruled and ruling classes will resemble one another, so that e.g. rulers of slaves will become slavish themselves. I compare such laws with physical laws, as discussed by Einstein; but on this subject, a look ahead to Chapter XXXI, “Classical Physics and Classical Politics,” would be in order. Meanwhile, by the Second Law, the body politic, or its ruling class, can be a permanent society; Nazi claims about the youth or senility of different states are bogus. There are further gradations within the ruling and ruled classes, according to strength of will; a weak will can be strengthened by another person’s stronger will through induction.


A pervading theme of the New Leviathan is freedom of will. Whether we actually have it is only a pseudo-problem (13. 17). Some persons have been fooled into thinking it a problem, perhaps by the misleading myth that free will is a divine gift, like life itself, breathed into our nostrils when, in Genesis 2:7, God forms us of the dust of the ground. As Collingwood observes at the end of Chapter XXIII, “The Family As a Society,” we are born neither free nor in chains. We have to grow up. Growing up is becoming free.

The Book of Genesis Illustrated by Robert Crumb (New York: Norton, 2009)

Continue reading