Category Archives: Persons

To Be Civilized

A fellow mathematician called Robert Craigen told me in a tweet last October (2020),

I’m quite comfortable with the definition and usage of the term [“civilization”] in the work of Niall Ferguson.

Ferguson’s work then is going to be my concern here. I had asked Craigen in July,

Have you got a theory of civilization, to explain what is being destroyed? I admire (and have blogged about) Collingwood’s theory, worked out in The New Leviathan (1942) in response to the Nazis.

This was in response to his saying,

If you listen closely to those pushing all these things, destruction of civilized society is an explicitly articulated goal.

He was talking about a thread of tweets by Peter Boghossian. I am not going to talk about those tweets as such, but here they are for the record:

How to destroy civilization in 10 easy steps:

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Abraham and Gideon

The general question of this post is how Pascal’s thinking in the Pensées relates to the thinking of himself and his contemporaries about the physical and mathematical worlds.

The specific question is why Pascal juxtaposes Abraham and Gideon in two fragments of the Pensées.

A possible answer to the specific question is that God demands sacrifices of both men.

Caravaggio, Sacrifice of Isaac, 1603, Uffizi

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Pascal, Pensées, S 183–254

By the account of Martha Nussbaum, philosophy is one of two things:

  1. A form of inquiry pursued through conversation among equals.

  2. An activity of “a lonely thinker of profound thoughts.”

Nussbaum prefers the first, though having appeared in a film that promotes the second.

I watched and enjoyed the film, which is by Astra Taylor and is called Examined Life (2008). I first found it through a touching fragment, featuring a stroll in San Francisco by Judith Butler and Taylor’s sister Sunaura. Because they have a conversation at all, and on the theme that we all need one another’s help, the film becomes less subject to Nussbaum’s charge:

Portraying philosophers as authority figures is a baneful inversion of the entire Socratic process, which aimed to replace authority with reason.

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Reason in Pascal

In some of the Pensées, Pascal contrasts reason with instinct, passions, folly, the senses, and imagination.

Here I investigate Pascal’s raison, after one session of an ongoing discussion of the Pensées that is being carried out on Zoom.

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Feminist Epistemology

I

By character count, the bulk of this post, in the third and final part, is my notes on

  1. Elizabeth Anderson, “Feminist Epistemology and Philosophy of Science,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, February 13, 2020. 61 pages.

There are things I already thought, owing to philosophers such as Robin George Collingwood, Mary Midgley, and Robert Pirsig, if not Henry David Thoreau.

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Words

This post is based on recent readings, often on or through Twitter, especially of

  • Lilith Saintcrow on “Domestic abusers, white supremacists, and religious bigots”;

  • C. S. Lewis on gulling the educated, and objectivity as a dubious value;

  • Marilynne Robinson on consensus as concealing the objectively true;

  • Neil deGrasse Tyson on objectivity as a good value;

  • Plato on seeming wise, without being so;

  • Mark Vernon on imagination in William Blake;

  • whoever wrote an “Open Letter Concerning Transphobia in Philosophy,” signed by many professional philosophers;

  • Kathleen Stock, the subject of the “Open Letter”;

  • Agnes Callard on how philosophers shouldn’t be signing petitions;

  • Rebecca Reilly-Cooper, on the incoherence of the notion of gender identity;

  • Aaden Friday, on what’s wrong with Reilly-Cooper and other such women;

  • Brian Earp, on declaring pronouns;

  • John Steinbeck, on being a man;

  • Christa Peterson, on what gender identity might be.

I have edited and augmented this essay since originally posting it on January 9, 2021; the current version is from January 19.

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Law and History

I learned about Peter Turchin recently through his profile in the Atlantic by Graeme Wood. I had learned about the Atlantic article from historians on Twitter such as James Ryan, who does “Turkish history and other stuff,” according to his own Twitter profile, and who tweeted in response to Wood’s article,

This is really interesting research, but, uh, it is only history in the way that a particle physicist does history.

In response to that, a thread began:

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Automatia

One day during the Trojan War, Apollo and Athena decide to give the combatants a break. The general conflict is to be replaced with a one-on-one. The Olympians induce Helenus to tell his brother Hector to take on whichever of the Greeks is up for it.

Only Menelaus will accept the challenge at first. His brother Agamemnon makes him withdraw. When none of the other Greeks comes forward, Nestor chides them. After a story of his former prowess, he utters the words that Chapman renders as two couplets:

O that my youth were now as fresh, and all my powers as sound;
Soone should bold Hector be impugn’d: yet you that most are crownd
With fortitude, of all our hoast; euen you, me thinkes are slow,
Not free, and set on fire with lust, t’encounter such a foe.

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Pacifism

Pacifism is properly pacificism, the making of peace: not a belief or an attitude, but a practice. Mathematics then is pacifist, because learning it means learning that you cannot fight your way to the truth. Might does not make right. If others are going to agree with you, they will have to do it freely. Moreover, you cannot rest until they do agree with you, if you’ve got a piece of mathematics that you think is right; for you could be wrong, if others don’t agree.

The book *Dorothy Healey Remembers,* with photo of subject

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Articles on Collingwood

This article gathers, and in some cases quotes and examines, popular articles about R. G. Collingwood (1889–1943).

  • By articles, I mean not blog posts like mine and others’, but essays by professionals in publications that have editors.

  • By popular, I mean written not for other professionals, but for the laity.

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