Category Archives: Principles of Art

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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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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The Society of Mathematics

Mannequin in front of summation formula

This post concerns the Association for Mathematical Research, or AMR. A number of people are upset by its existence. I am not exactly one of them, but am suspicious, mainly because I do not know why a new organization would be needed, when we already have

The Twitter account of the AMR is dated to April, 2021. The website of the AMR supplies a list of founding members, but no account of when, how, or why they became founders. The site has a brief mission statement:


Are those other organizations not doing a good job? Continue reading

Feminist Epistemology

To this post, I am adding this introduction in July 2021. I have returned to some of the ideas of the post, and I see that I left them in a jumble. They may still be that, but I am trying to straighten up a bit.

Beyond this introduction, the post has three parts. Part III takes up more than half of the whole post and consists of my notes on

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

In Anderson’s article I see – as I note below – ideas that are familiar, thanks to my previous reading of philosophers such as Robin George Collingwood, Mary Midgley, and Robert Pirsig. Henry David Thoreau may not exactly be one of those philosophers, but he is somehow why I came to write this post in the first place.

Here is a table of contents for the whole post:

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On Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad, Book XVIII

I analyze Book XVIII of the Iliad into seven scenes.

Branches against sky

  1. Achilles receives from Antilochus the news of Patroclus’s death, and Thetis receives the news from Achilles. She tells him not to fight till she has brought new arms from Mulciber (Chapman’s lines 1–136).

  2. Continue reading

NL XXXIV: What Civilization Means Generically

Index to this series

Turning now to Part III of Collingwood’s New Leviathan (1942), we take up civilization, a topic of utmost importance, featuring as it does, for example, in the controversial hypothesis of the “Clash of Civilizations,” and generally being something that reactionaries say they want to defend.

Civilization is something that happens to a community (34. 4). We studied communities as such in Part II, and their members individually in Part I.

Civilization is a “process of approximation to an ideal state” (34. 5). That is the gist of Chapter XXXIV, “What ‘Civilization’ Means: Generically.” There will be a lot to spell out.

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

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NL XXXI: Classical Physics and Classical Politics

Index to this series

As my beach holiday winds down, so perhaps does the current spate of blog posts. Here is one more. Setting aside Homer, I continue immediately with Collingwood, in part because, in the 2000 paperback impression of the 1992 Revised Edition of the New Leviathan that I take to the shore, I have now also read the Editor’s Introduction by David Boucher. (Back at the cottage, I have to type out the quotes from this that I make below; for quotes of Collingwood himself, I cut and paste from a scan of the 1947 corrected reprint of the 1942 First Edition.)

As I could infer from my pencil-marks, I had read Boucher’s introduction some time before; but I could remember little of it. I think it is aimed at professional philosophers, rather than at anybody who would admire Collingwood for saying, as he does in An Autobiography (page 6), when he describes getting prepared to go to Rugby School,

The ghost of a silly seventeenth-century squabble still haunts our classrooms, infecting teachers and pupils with the lunatic idea that studies must be either ‘classical’ or ‘modern’. I was equally well fitted to specialize in Greek and Latin, or in modern history and languages (I spoke and read French and German almost as easily as English), or in the natural sciences; and nothing would have afforded my mind its proper nourishment except to study equally all three.

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NL XXX: War As the Breakdown of Policy

Index to this series

Humans have not always made war (30. 1); why do we make it now? War is said to be a continuation of policy (30. 14); but as Collingwood cleverly points out (30. 15), the saying due to Clausewitz (30. 69) is ambiguous: a continuation could be an extension or a breakdown (30. 16–17).

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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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Executive summary (added October 6, 2018). Historian Niall Ferguson praises Collingwood as a philosopher of history, while showing no sign of understanding Collingwood’s actual philosophy. This provokes me. My comments are in the following sections.


By Collingwood’s account, there is a science of our absolute presuppositions, be these in natural science or in politics. The science of absolute presuppositions is metaphysics, and it is an historical science, because absolute presuppositions do change with time.


The historian’s job is to know the thoughts of the past. Leo Strauss disagrees with Collingwood over how one goes about this; but he would seem to agree with Collingwood that what is to be known is thought, as distinct from feeling.


I gather here some examples (in addition to Niall Ferguson’s) of what I think are failures to understand Collingwood (this gathering is on-going).


Ferguson reviews a book in which twenty historians try to recover the feeling of certain historical events. By saying that for Collingwood, “the historian was limited to reconstructing recorded thoughts,” Ferguson errs in two ways.

  1. Those thoughts need not be “recorded,” but anything can be used as evidence for a thought, if one knows how to use it.

  2. Feelings from the past can come down to us, only if they have been converted to thoughts.

See also “The Ambiguity of Feeling.”


To know whether “an individual act altered the course of history,” Ferguson does recognize that we need to know more than past feelings. For him, “We need to imagine what would’ve happened if the act in question had not happened.” However, we cannot say where any particular thought is going to go, until we see where it does go, by thinking it. In this sense, every thought alters the course of history. Neither then can we say where a thought would have gone. In this way, history is different from natural science.


A theme of my last two articles here (namely “What It Takes” and, before that, “Effectiveness”) is the value of metaphysics, as being concerned with such problems as the following:

  • Physics has not been able to reconcile its theories of the infinitesimally small and the infinitely large.

  • America has not been able, in the words of Martin Luther King, to live out the true meaning of its creed, that all of us are created equal.

In a technical sense, these problems may not belong to natural science or political science as such. Considered as diseases, whether of the body politic or of the “body scientific,” the problems may not be curable, either by the body’s own immune system, or by remedies from outside. What is needed may be something resembling psychoanalysis, so to speak, or what Collingwood actually calls metaphysical analysis. This is an examination of absolute presuppositions, or the fundamental assumptions that have heretofore been left unquestioned. The analyst—the metaphysician—may suspect what those assumptions are; but the patient must confirm the suspicion, or else discover the assumptions independently. In any case, the patient will not be cured without agreeing that there is a disease.

Cures do happen, because absolute presuppositions change. Continue reading