Category Archives: Language


The post below is a way to record a passage in the Euthyphro where Socrates say something true and important about mathematics. The passage is on a list of Platonic passages that I recently found, having written it in a notebook on May 23, 2018. The other passages are in the Republic; Continue reading

NL XLV: The Germans

Index to this series

At the end of Collingwood’s New Leviathan (1942), we reach a chapter whose theme is that of my more recent articles on grammar.

By August Macke – The Yorck Project (2002) 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei (DVD-ROM), distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH. ISBN: 3936122202., Public Domain, Link

As history, Collingwood’s last chapter is difficult, for the reasons that trouble Herbert Read at the beginning of his Concise History of Modern Painting (revised 1968, augmented 1974). Read opens his first chapter with a passage from Collingwood’s Speculum Mentis (1924):

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NL XLIII: The Second Barbarism: The ‘Albigensian Heresy’

Index to this series

Summary. Suppose your society has certain rites and customs, perceived as essential to its functioning. When some persons among you reject those rites and customs, what are you going to do? Persecution would be the normal response of a society that aimed to preserve itself. In the example to be considered here, the society is medieval Christendom, where

  • buildings called churches were customarily the abode of friendly spirits, and
  • the rite of swearing an oath was a sign of special commitment.

Oaths and churches were rejected by persons called Paulicians, or Bogomils, or Albigensians. Their beliefs were Manichaean. These persons were persecuted so successfully that we do not understand them very well. Therefore we must leave open the question of whether they were barbarists.

Here I am going to review, among other things,

  • what it means to fight barbarism;
  • the response to German bombardment described in Goodbye, Mr. Chips;
  • what Jesus Christ says about swearing;
  • how the United States accommodates various beliefs (as by allowing affirming instead of swearing, or allowing Muslims to swear on a Quran);
  • the threat of a lying President;
  • the threat of ignoring climate change;
  • the etymology of heresy;
  • the discussion of mythos and logos in Pirsig.

Fire temple, Yazd, Iran, September 2012. See “Duty to Nature

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NL XXXVIII: Civilization and Wealth

Index to this series

To be richer than another person is to have economic power over that person (38. 61). The rich can force the poor to sell their labor for a lower price (38. 64) than if the poor were free (38. 65) of the emotional strain of poverty (38. 66).

Rembrandt, Esau Selling His Birthright, c. 1640–1, British Museum

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NL XXXIV: What Civilization Means Generically

Index to this series

Having studied, in the New Leviathan,

  • the individual human being in Part I, and
  • communities of human beings in Part II,

we turn now to Part III, on the subject of civilization (34. 1). This is something that happens to a community (34. 4). It is a “process of approximation to an ideal state” (34. 5). That is the gist of Chapter XXXIV, “What ‘Civilization’ Means: Generically.”

We have returned to Istanbul. Below are sunset photos from our last night on the Aegean coast

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Writing Rules

Executive summary: I have had enough of misrepresentation by experts of what other experts have to say about grammar. (Added July 16, 2018)

The current concern of this blog is still the subject taught in school called grammar. Every aspect of school would seem to cause anxiety in somebody. Decades after they have left school, how many persons have nightmares of missing an examination? My mother was such a person, and I think her brother too. I seem not to be such a person, though I once dreamt of missing a plane.

How much support of current US President Donald Trump is due to memories of belittlement by teachers at school? A similar question may be raised about UK government minister Michael Gove’s saying, “people in this country have had enough of experts…”; and about the rise in Turkey of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has perceived a special threat from the Peace Academics.
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Writing and Inversion

Executive summary: The “voice” of a transitive verb may be active or passive. A piece of writing may be vigorous or torpid. There is not an exact correspondence between passive verbs and torpid writing. However, a passive verb is used to effect inversion of subject and object. One may also invert subject and auxiliary verb, subject and predicate, or two clauses, always adding new words. Each inversion may lead to torpid writing. This is what Strunk warned about in The Elements of Style, by issuing the command, “Use the active voice.” The command must be followed with discretion. Williams makes the same case, more elaborately, in Style: Towards Clarity and Grace. There is no foolproof executive summary of how to write well.

When E. B. White revised William Strunk’s original Elements of Style, he did not retain Strunk’s “Introductory,” whose first paragraph said of the book,

The experience of its writer has been that once past the essentials, students profit most by individual instruction based on the problems of their own work, and that each instructor has his own body of theory, which he may prefer to that offered by any textbook.

Perhaps many students today cannot receive individual instruction. They are just given textbooks that try to spell out everything. I have sensed this in mathematics, where new calculus books seem a lot bigger than those of 1950 and earlier. Continue reading

A New Kind of Science

Executive summary. Some sciences are called descriptive, empirical, or natural; others, prescriptive or normative. We should recognize a third kind of science, which studies the criteria as such that a thinking being imposes on itself as it tries to achieve success. I propose linguistics as an example. Collingwood introduced the term criteriological for the third kind of science. This was in The Principles of Art (1938), though I find the germ of the concept in earlier work, even in Collingwood’s first book, Religion and Philosophy (1916), in the passage on psychology that the author would recall in An Autobiography (1939).

Collingwood’s examples of criteriological sciences are logic, ethics, aesthetics, and economics. Pirsig effectively (and independently) works out rhetoric as an example in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974). We may benefit from clarity here, given how people can have a strong reaction to being lectured by experts. For Collingwood, such a reaction is found in Nazi Germany; see the last chapter of The New Leviathan (1942). Reactions to grammar are the subject of my own two ensuing articles, “Writing and Inversion” and “Writing Rules.”

Some sciences are not recognized for what they are. The sciences themselves are not new, but a proper understanding of them may be new to some of us, including myself.

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Boolean Arithmetic

Mathematics can be highly abstract, though remaining applicable to daily life. I want to show this with the mathematics behind logic puzzles, such as how to derive a conclusion using all of the following premisses:

  1. Babies are illogical.
  2. Nobody is despised who can manage a crocodile.
  3. Illogical persons are despised.

The example, from Terence Tao’s blog, is attributed to Lewis Carroll. By the first and third premisses, babies are despised; by the second premiss then, babies cannot manage crocodiles.

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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; but their advice was not in fact grammatical. They wrote 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.”

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