Category Archives: Philosophy

The Tree of Life

My two recent courses at the Nesin Mathematics Village had a common theme. I want to describe the theme here, as simply as I can—I mean, by using as little technical knowledge of mathematics as I can. But I shall talk also about related poetry and philosophy, of T. S. Eliot and R. G. Collingwood respectively.


An elaborate binary tree, with spirals

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Şirince January 2018

In the Nesin Mathematics Village recently, I was joined at breakfast one morning by a journalist called Jérémie Berlioux. He knew Clément Girardot, the journalist whom I had met in the Village in the summer of 2016. This was before the coup attempt of July 15, but after the terror attack at Atatürk Airport on June 28. I wrote about this attack the next day in “Life in Wartime” on this blog. Then I headed off to Şirince to join a “research group.” My wife and colleague came along, though not to be part of the group; afterwards we headed up the coast for a beach holiday. We were at the beach when the coup attempt happened, as I wrote in my next blog article, “War Continues.” I contrasted politics with mathematics, which was an inherently nonviolent struggle. This was the kind of struggle engaged in by the research group in the Math Village.

Large clay pot against dark vines

Outside the Nişanyan Library


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What Philosophy Is

The essay below has been edited and expanded from an email of June 2, 2015. With my presumptuous title, I imitate Arthur Danto’s What Art Is (2013), mentioned in my last post, “Some Say Poetry.” The book is fine, and I have learned from it; but Danto could have learned from Collingwood’s Principles of Art.

Picasso, The Tragedy (1903), National Gallery of Art, Washington Continue reading

Some Say Poetry

Potted palms with plaster farm animals on hillside behind

Kuzguncuk, 2017.11.05

I originally set out to preserve here, for future reference, a poetry review that I liked. A remark on being a student had drawn my attention:

In My Poets, a work of autobiographical criticism with occasional ventriloquial interludes, McLane recalls two “early impasses in reading,” freshman-year encounters with Charles Olson and Frank O’Hara. She writes about not “getting it” but wanting to get it, about a desire to get it that was left wanting by code-breaking and analysis and satisfied by hearing and feeling.

I shall try to say more about learning and creating, in poetry and also in mathematics, after quoting the review in its entirety. It constitutes the second half of a “New Books” column by Christine Smallwood, in the Reviews section of Harper’s, July 2017.

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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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NL XXV: The Three Laws of Politics

Index to this series

A pervading theme of the New Leviathan is freedom of will. Whether we actually have it is only a pseudo-problem (13. 17). Some persons have been fooled into thinking it a problem, perhaps by the misleading myth that free will is a divine gift, like life itself, breathed into our nostrils when, in Genesis 2:7, God forms us of the dust of the ground. As Collingwood observes at the end of Chapter XXIII, “The Family As a Society,” we are born neither free nor in chains. We have to grow up. Growing up is becoming free.

The Book of Genesis Illustrated by Robert Crumb (New York: Norton, 2009)

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On Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad, Book IX

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

Book IX 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

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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,
2017.09.14

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.

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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.

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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).

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