Category Archives: Philosophy

On Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad, Book IX

Index to this series | Text of Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad

Book VIII of the Iliad is easily summarized. Chapman does it in four lines.

TO Agamemnon (vrging hopelesse flight)
Stand Diomed, and Nestor opposite:
By Nestors counsell, Legats are dismist,
To Thetis sonne, who still denies t’assist.

These lines hide a wealth of thought. To suggest some of the gems of the book, I expand the summary.

Dog and seaweed on shore opposite Lesbos, 2017.09.14

Continue reading

NL XXIV: The Body Politic, Social and Non-Social

Index to this series

Dialectic is the way to come to terms with a world of constant change. On the internet in particular, too many persons engage in eristic, staking out a position like the Greeks at Troy, who built a wall around their ships on the shore and tried to defend it against all comers.

Dogs stake out their positions in the shade,

In the argument of the New Leviathan, we pass from the family to the state, which Collingwood calls the body politic. This is what political theory must give a scientific account of (24.1). We consider three phases of political theory:

  1. ancient,
  2. medieval, and
  3. modern.

Continue reading

NL XXIII: The Family As a Society

Index to this series

The last chapter was called “The Family As a Mixed Community,” because the family consists of both a society and a non-social part, called the nursery. Now we are looking at “The Family As a Society.” We are not in contradiction, but are in the flux that Heraclitus observed in all existence (24. 62). The inmates of the nursery normally grow and join the society of their parents: the family as a whole is a society in this sense.

Altınova bazaar, Wednesday, September 13, 2017

If the child is to join the society of its parents, an act of will on both sides is required. This is a key idea of the chapter, one to be carried on to considerations of the state. Collingwood talks a lot about the implications of contraception for the family. He seems to find the practice distasteful; but the possibility of the practice is a boon to freedom, for making us think about things.

Continue reading

NL XXII: The Family As a Mixed Community

Index to this series

This chapter and the next concern the family, which like most communities is a mixed community (22.11): part of it is a non-social community, but some part of it is a society proper (22.1), this being, again, as in Chapter XX especially, a community constituted as an act of will on the part of its members.

Thus some members of the family are wilfully so, and some are not. The latter are children, who constitute the nursery (22.12). This is self-emptying, in the sense that children grow up and leave it; it is not self-filling, since children themselves cannot have children (22.21). The nursery is rather replenished by parents (22.17).

The family being a politically sensitive topic, we want to know where Collingwood is going with his account of it. In the present short chapter, he will mention some qualifications and modifications of the basic set-up just described. The next chapter will mention how contraception changed the understanding of the family in Collingwood’s lifetime (he had been born in 1889).

Continue reading

NL XXI: Society as Joint Will

Index to this series

A society is an act of will. To form a society is to say, or rather to mean, that we, the intended members of the society, will do something, and not just that we shall do something.

We ask how it is possible to say, “We will.” We ask, as readers, either of Collingwood’s New Leviathan, or at least of what I am writing about this book. I ask, while on holiday at the beach with, for the last few days, my nephew and niece, ages eight and three respectively. When I was a little older than they, I was incensed to think, as an American, that Ronald Reagan might destroy us all in a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Later I read the words of Christopher Hitchens, from an older generation, who could remember where he was when John F. Kennedy almost killed him—along with everybody else, during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Such worries now return under an American President who seems to embody the worst ruler that Plato could imagine.

Writing in England the early 1940s, Collingwood contended with Fascism and Nazism. He tried to articulate why they must be fought, and what was worth defending. Though generals are accused of always fighting the last war, I read Collingwood with the notion that his thoughts, like Plato’s, are still of value.

Continue reading

NL XX: Society and Community

Index to this series

A society is an act of will: it emerges and persists because its members will that it do so. We said this in the previous chapter; we say it now in more detail. In particular, we impose on a society no such further requirement of economic interest as Roman lawyers (apparently) did.

Continue reading

NL XIX: Two Senses of the Word “Society”

Index to this series

After a break of half a year, I return to reading Collingwood’s New Leviathan. Being on holiday at an Aegean beach gives me the opportunity. While here, I may also return to Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad. Last winter I finished Part I of the New Leviathan, the part called “Man.” Here I continue with the first chapter of “Society.” I have reason to look at what Mary Midgley and Albert Einstein say about science. Collingwood’s investigation suggests a way of thinking about prejudice and discrimination.

Part II of the New Leviathan is “Society,” and the first two chapters of this, XIX and XX, concern the distinction between society proper and two more general notions. In Chapter XX, the more general notion will be community. In Chapter XIX, the more general notion has not got its own proper name, and so Collingwood denotes it by writing “society,” in quotation marks.

A “society” of chairs at the beach (Altınova 2017.08.31)

Continue reading


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

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

The Hands of an Angry Deity

I first drafted the following essay in late October, 2011, a few days after the first of the earthquakes in Van, and a few weeks after moving to Istanbul from Ankara. I rediscovered the essay recently by chance. It seems worth revisiting, given the political upheaval in the United States last fall, and the potential for more around the world.

Above Mehmetçik Caddesi in Şişli, one of the most densely populated of Istanbul’s 39 boroughs; 2017.04.02

Continue reading