Category Archives: Philosophy

Emotional Contagion (Iliad VIII)

On the day recounted in Book VIII of the Iliad,

  • on earth, the Achaeans are twice driven behind their new walls;
    • during the first rout,
      • Odysseus does not hear when Diomedes urges him to come to the aid of Nestor;
      • Hector thinks he will be able to burn the Achaean ships and kill all the men;
      • Agamemnon prays for mere survival;
    • the second time, Hector calls for fires to be lit, lest the Greeks try to escape in the night;
  • in heaven, Zeus
    • weighs out a heavier fate for the Achaeans;
    • declares that it shall be so until Achilles is roused by the death of Patroclus;
    • warns Hera and Athena not to interfere (though they try to anyway).

I wrote a fuller summary in 2017. Because I was reading it, I also talked about Huysmans, Against Nature, and the belief of the main character that the prose poem could

contain within its small compass, like beef essence, the power of a novel, while eliminating its tedious analyses and superfluous descriptions.

Now I shall find reason to bring up Herodotus, Plato, Aristotle, Thoreau, and Freud, and especially William James and Collingwood on the subject of emotion.

Morning sun, obscured by overcast skies, still shines on waters in turmoil in the Bosphorus Strait
Waters of the Bosphorus, Sarıyer, Istanbul
Wednesday morning, January 11, 2023

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Biological History

Sailboats and sun, seen through a mist and reflected in calm water
Tarabya Marina, Sarıyer, Istanbul
January 1, 2023

“As is the generation of leaves, so is that of humanity,” says Glaucus to Diomedes in the Iliad (Book VI, line 146, in Lattimore’s translation). However, leaves are normally considered biologically; humanity, historically. I touched on the distinction in the previous post; now I want to say more. I shall be looking again at R.G. Collingwood’s notion of biological history as a kind of mistake. Continue reading

Parenthood and Sex

Each of us has two biological parents. In my case, those parents are not my real parents, namely the ones who raised me. Nonetheless, according to the theory that everybody seems to accept, including myself, each of us has grown up from a zygote, which was formed by the union of two gametes. Moreover, one of those gametes was an egg cell; the other, a sperm cell. The gametes came from gonads: an ovary and testis, respectively. Ovaries are possessed by females of our species; testes, by males. Being female or male is called sex.

We are also distinguished, when children, as being boys or girls. Boys grow up to be men; girls, women.

It is usually assumed that men are male and women are female. Some of us may insist that this is always so, by definition of the words in question. In that case, I will argue,

  • the definitions can admit of exceptions, at least in principle;
  • an exception cannot be granted, merely at the request of the person who asks for it.

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The Ideal

The noun “idea” came to English in the sixteenth century, via Latin, from Plato’s ἰδέα: so the dictionaries tell me. An older version, “idee,” came from the French idée. The adjective “ideal” came via the French idéal from the Latin ideālis, but this seems to have been a native coinage, derived from no Greek term. Leo Strauss corroborates this in a passage that I quoted in “Nature”: “ ‘ideal’ is not a Platonic term.” Nonetheless, in translations of the Republic that are still in print, Benjamin Jowett and Paul Shorey use the word “ideal.” This may blur the distinction between two activities:

  • Making something, such as a meal or a bookshelf, according to a recipe or plan.
  • Creating something brand-new.

I looked at the first creation myth of Genesis in my previous post, whose title quoted the Bible on God’s judgment of what he had created: “It Was Good.” The goodness of the world, I suggested, did not lie in its fitting a plan, since a plan would have had to be spoken into existence, and this is just how the world itself came to be.

I don’t know about God, but if we have a basis for calling something good, we might call this basis an ideal. However, I also don’t know whether this is what Plato actually has in mind when his translators use the term “ideal.”

Bookshelves on one wall, window on another
Hacıosman, Tarabya, Sarıyer, İstanbul
November 12, 2022

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“It Was Good”

In the first creation myth in the first book of the Hebrew Bible, God is always looking back at what he has been doing, to see whether it is any good. It always is, but he cannot have known in advance that it was going to be, and this is why he has to check his work.

So it seems to me. In any case, when we create things, part of the job is checking our work.


The new Turkish translation of Collingwood’s Religion and Philosophy
with introduction by yours truly

We do create things. This blog post is an example. So is your response, if you come up with one. So is an electric car, or a vaccine.

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Sacrifice and Simulation

Executive summary. An experiment has been performed to detect whether we are living in a simulation. The experiment is to tell Abraham to sacrifice his son. Whatever he does, he breaks a law. Thus there is more to the world than can be understood by natural science.

Beach, sparkling sea, mountains, clouds, sky
Altınova, Ayvalık, Balıkesir, Türkiye
Looking towards Lesbos, Greece
September 20, 2022

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Ways of Thinking

This is a report from five years ago on an art exhibit in Istanbul called “Doublethink.” I had an amusing encounter with one of the artists, and I had a conversation with the curator, who like George Orwell had attended Eton College. I wrote my report in three emails, given here with their timestamps. Because I mention some sculptures at the Nesin Mathematics Village, I have added the best photographs that I could find of them among the pictures that I have taken at the Village. Unfortunately I don’t seem to have documented the sculptures as such.


January 21, 2016
See “Nesin Matematik Köyü, Ocak (January) 2016

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Miracles

This is inspired by Charlotte Brontë’s Villette. After reading this 1853 novel a second time in the summer of 2018, I put some passages I liked into a LaTeX file. I added some commentary and came up with a document more than 90 A5 pages long. I recently reread it and was reminded how much I had enjoyed the novel. I thought some of my commentary could be adapted to stand alone as a blog post—this one.

Man in a field, sack over left shoulder, casts seeds with his right hand
The Sower,” 1850
Jean-François Millet (French, 1814–1875)
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

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Charles Bell’s Axiomatic Drama

Here is an annotated transcription of a 1981 manuscript by Charles Greenleaf Bell (1916–2010) called “The Axiomatic Drama of Classical Physics.” A theme is what Heraclitus observed, as in fragment B49a of Diels, LXXXI of Bywater, and D65a of Laks and Most:

We step and we do not step into the same rivers, we are and we are not.
ποταμοῖς τοῖς αὐτοῖς ἐμβαίνομέν τε καὶ οὐκ ἐμβαίνομεν, εἶμέν τε καὶ οὐκ εἶμεν.

Bell reviews the mathematics, and the thought behind it, of

  1. free fall,
  2. the pendulum,
  3. the Carnot heat engine.

In a postlude called “The Uses of Paradox,” Bell notes:

Forty-five years ago I decided that when reason drives a sheer impasse into an activity which in fact goes on, we have to think of the polar cleavage as both real and unreal.

I like that reference to “an activity which in fact goes on.” In youth it may be hard to recognize that there are activities that do go on. We do things then, but that they will get anywhere may be no more than a dream. In any case, Bell himself goes on:

… that is a job as huge and demanding as Aristotle’s, and for me at 70, just begun.

“Look,” my friends say, “Bell’s been doing the same thing since he was 25. About that time he had a vision of Paradox as paradise, and he’s been stuck there ever since.”

Bell’s picture next to Aristotle’s Physics
The back of Bell’s Five Chambered Heart with
the front of the OCT of Aristotle’s Physics

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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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