Category Archives: History

Çarşamba Tour, April 2018

Ayşe and I toured the northern part of the old walled city of Istanbul—including the religiously conservative district of Çarşamba—with our student Abdullah and his brother Yusuf on Sunday, April 8, 2018. At another site I documented a similar tour in March, 2015. Now I do not try to be so thorough. I did not try to document the whole trip photographically, but here is a selection of pictures that I did take. We saw Byzantine and Ottoman structures. For the former, I have since found a comprehensive reference: The Byzantine Legacy.

Kalendarhane

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Re-enactment

Executive summary (added October 6, 2018). Historian Niall Ferguson praises Collingwood as a philosopher of history, while showing no sign of understanding Collingwood’s actual philosophy. This provokes me. My comments are in the following sections.

Presupposition

By Collingwood’s account, there is a science of our absolute presuppositions, be these in natural science or in politics. The science of absolute presuppositions is metaphysics, and it is an historical science, because absolute presuppositions do change with time.

Thinking

The historian’s job is to know the thoughts of the past. Leo Strauss disagrees with Collingwood over how one goes about this; but he would seem to agree with Collingwood that what is to be known is thought, as distinct from feeling.

Failures

I gather here some examples (in addition to Niall Ferguson’s) of what I think are failures to understand Collingwood (this gathering is on-going).

History

Ferguson reviews a book in which twenty historians try to recover the feeling of certain historical events. By saying that for Collingwood, “the historian was limited to reconstructing recorded thoughts,” Ferguson errs in two ways.

  1. Those thoughts need not be “recorded,” but anything can be used as evidence for a thought, if one knows how to use it.

  2. Feelings from the past can come down to us, only if they have been converted to thoughts.

See also “The Ambiguity of Feeling.”

Experiment

To know whether “an individual act altered the course of history,” Ferguson does recognize that we need to know more than past feelings. For him, “We need to imagine what would’ve happened if the act in question had not happened.” However, we cannot say where any particular thought is going to go, until we see where it does go, by thinking it. In this sense, every thought alters the course of history. Neither then can we say where a thought would have gone. In this way, history is different from natural science.


Presupposition

A theme of my last two articles here (namely “What It Takes” and, before that, “Effectiveness”) is the value of metaphysics, as being concerned with such problems as the following:

  • Physics has not been able to reconcile its theories of the infinitesimally small and the infinitely large.

  • America has not been able, in the words of Martin Luther King, to live out the true meaning of its creed, that all of us are created equal.

In a technical sense, these problems may not belong to natural science or political science as such. Considered as diseases, whether of the body politic or of the “body scientific,” the problems may not be curable, either by the body’s own immune system, or by remedies from outside. What is needed may be something resembling psychoanalysis, so to speak, or what Collingwood actually calls metaphysical analysis. This is an examination of absolute presuppositions, or the fundamental assumptions that have heretofore been left unquestioned. The analyst—the metaphysician—may suspect what those assumptions are; but the patient must confirm the suspicion, or else discover the assumptions independently. In any case, the patient will not be cured without agreeing that there is a disease.

Cures do happen, because absolute presuppositions change. Continue reading

On Knowing Ourselves

In a 2012 post in this blog, I criticized a 2009 essay called “50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice.” The putative advice was that of Strunk and White. It was not in fact grammatical. They had written not the elements of grammar, but The Elements of Style. They gave style advice by precept and example. The advice is good, if well understood. The critic should recognize that, as I wrote, “Rules of style are supposed to induce thinking, not obedience.”

Fascism As Abetted by Realism

Fascism is class warfare waged on behalf of the capitalists. This should be realized by anybody who is attracted to accidental features of Fascism such as nationalism, racism, or militarism. The Fascists are not on your side, even if they share your nationality or “race” or fascination with weaponry and military discipline.

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Romance

At the end of Shakespeare’s romance called The Tempest, Prospero plans to retire to Milan, where “Every third thought shall be my grave.” I remember these words from reading the play in school and college. I also have thoughts of my grave, and their frequency may increase as the years pass. However, for each of those thoughts, I seem to have more thoughts that are based on memories of youth and childhood.


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Ahtamar Island

During a mathematics conference, I visit the ruins of a monastery on a remote island in an inland sea. This moves me to consider the relation between introversion and, if not mathematics, then monasticism. On the origins of Christian monasticism, I look at several sources, notably Gibbon (see the References); also Maugham, who writes of a hermit on an island of the Torres Strait. Since the monastery on the island was Armenian, in what is now Turkey, one should consider also the treatment of minority populations here. I only acknowledge the issue, suggesting Wikipedia pages (linked to presently) as a starting point for research. Old books on my shelves are not much help; my own experience, not much more, at least not in a way that lends itself to being written of here. I do know that Turkish politicians will treat imputations of their own Armenian ancestry as an insult.

We visited Ahtamar Island for a second time on Wednesday, August 23, 2017. Thus we saw again the remains of the Church of the Holy Cross. This Armenian church was consecrated in 921 and presumably desecrated in 1915, if not earlier; now, since our last visit, though officially a museum, the church would seem to have been reconsecrated, to judge by the new altarpiece, featuring an icon of the Madonna and Child.


Altarpiece, Church of the Holy Cross, Ahtamar Island

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Hypomnesis

When is a help a hindrance? The Muses have provoked this question. They did this through their agents, the cicadas, who sang around the European Cultural Center of Delphi, during the 11th Panhellenic Logic Symposium, July 12–5, 2017.

     Cicada, European Cultural Center of Delphi, 2017.07.15     

Cicada, European Cultural Center of Delphi, 2017.07.15

My question has two particular instances.

  1. At a mathematical conference, can theorems “speak for themselves,” or should their presenters be at pains to help the listener appreciate the results?

  2. When the conference is in Greece, even at one of the country’s greatest archeological sites, does this enhance the reading of ancient Greek texts, or is it only a distraction?

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War and Talk

This is a foray into the mystery of how things happen, based the 164th of the 361 chapters of War and Peace. This chapter contains, in a one-sentence paragraph, a summary of Tolstoy’s theory of history:

Each man lives for himself, using his freedom to attain his personal aims, and feels with his whole being that he can now do or abstain from doing this or that action; but as soon as he has done it, that action performed at a certain moment in time becomes irrevocable and belongs to history, in which it has not a free but a predestined significance.

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Edirne

This is about a May Day trip to the second Ottoman capital from the third. In the latter, the government has been suppressing May Day demonstrations in Taksim Square since 2013. That year, the suppression may have helped provoke the Gezi Park protests, as I suggested in “May Day One Month Late.” I reported on the following year’s suppression in “Madness, Stupidity, or Evil?” This year (2017), labor unions held a legal May Day demonstration in Bakırköy, further west in European Istanbul, as reported by the Anadolu Agency (which as far as I know is owned by the Turkish state). My wife and I just got out of town.

Selimiye Mosque, 2017.04.30

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Homer for the Civilian

The source of this essay is an earlier one, written as an email, and an ensuing conversation, in 2009, on the theme of what Homer may mean in one’s life, and whether an application to one’s life involves an abuse of the original text. I wrote in this blog, in July 2016, on analogies in Homer and elsewhere, in “Thinking & Feeling.” My last post considered an apparent instance of abuse of the Hebrew Bible.

At the end of the Iliad, to retrieve the body of his son Hector from its killer, King Priam of Troy visits Achilles in his tent in the evening, in the camp of the hostile Greeks. The scene may recall two political enemies from the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan and Congressman Thomas O’Neill, Speaker of the House: these two were able to be on friendly terms “after 6 PM.”

Homer, Iliad, Wordworth edition
Aleksandr Andreevich Ivanov
“King Priam begging Achilles for the Return of Hector’s Body,” 1824
Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

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