Category Archives: Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau

Creativity

Index to this series

In the Platonic dialogues, Socrates frequently mentions τέχνη (technê), which is art in the archaic sense: skill or craft. The concern of this post is how one develops a skill, and what it means to have one in the first place.

Books quoted or mentioned in the text, by Midgley, Weil, Thoreau, Tolstoy, Byrne, Wittgenstein, Arendt, and Alexander

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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.

Three dogs sit in the shade of a beach umbrella
Intellect, spirit, and appetite
Profesörler Sitesi, Altınova, Balıkesir, Turkey
September 13, 2021

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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.

Lone man walks by sea with mountains beyond and under a cloudy sky
All photos are from Profesörler Sitesi, Altınova, Balıkesir, Turkey
September 21–3, 2021

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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; A Guide to Plato’s Rupublic, by Daryl H. Rice; Agnes Callard; Martha Nussbaum; and Henry David Thoreau.


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

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On Plato’s Republic, 3

Index to this series

We are reading now Book II of Plato’s Republic, Stephanus pages 357–83, covering:

  1. The conventional arguments in favor of injustice and justice, reviewed by Plato’s brothers Glaucon and Adeimantus respectively.
  2. 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.

A book next to a dog lying on the beach

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

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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.

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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 continue to enjoy in my sixth decade, having started in my first.

  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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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