Category Archives: Midgley

Nature

Index to this series

Can Socrates really “find a natural support for justice,” as Allan Bloom says he must? It is strictly impossible, I say in “Bloom, Badiou, Ryle, Shorey.” Inevitably there is more that can be said, and I shall try to get some of it said here.

Sand, sea, mountains, sky
Anatolian sand, Aegean sea, Lesbian mountains
Uranus over all
Profesörler Sitesi, Altınova, Balıkesir, Turkey
September 24, 2021

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On Being Human in the Age of Humanity

This is about an essay called “Agency in the Anthropocene: How much choice do you actually have?” (Daily Philosophy, August 4, 2021). I fall in the gap in age between the author and Jeff Bezos, who (the author says) is three years her senior.

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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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Re-enactment

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.

Presupposition

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.

Thinking

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.

Failures

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).

History

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.”

Experiment

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.


Presupposition

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

Some Say Poetry

In a poetry review, a remark on being a student has 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.

This is from the second half of a “New Books” column by Christine Smallwood, in the Reviews section of Harper’s, July 2017. After quoting Smallwood’s review, I want to say something about learning and creating, in poetry and also in mathematics.

Potted palms with plaster farm animals on hillside behind

Kuzguncuk, 2017.11.05

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NL XIX: Two Senses of the Word “Society”

Executive summary (below) | 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)

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Victor Vasarely

Tophane-i Amire
Tophane-i Amire, 2017.03.25

Last week I wrote about the Turkish Impressionist Feyhaman Duran, born in 1886. Now my subject is the Hungarian-French Op Artist born twenty years later as Győző Vásárhelyi. His “Rétrospective en Turquie” is at the Tophane-i Amire Culture and Art Center in an Ottoman cannon foundry.

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Thinking & Feeling

This essay is written as a distraction from current events, though I make some reference to them. I am prompted by questions of analogy provoked by

  1. the similes of Homer, and

  2. a recent theater review in Harper’s that mentions the parables of Jesus.

DSC06654 (2)
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Thoreau by the Aegean

In a session of the 1986–7 senior laboratory at St John’s College in Santa Fe, for reasons that I do not recall, our tutor asked us students whether we had any heroes: for it was said that young people of the day no longer had heroes. None of the students at the table named a hero. I myself refrained from telling how I had once named a hero, when asked to do so in a high-school French class. This hero was the Buddha.

In recent times, I have listed my favorite writers as Somerset Maugham, Robert Pirsig, and R.G. Collingwood. I might add Charlotte Brontë and Mary Midgley to the list. I cannot add the Buddha, because he is not a writer. If my list were of writers and thinkers, I still could not add the Buddha: I cannot know him or any other thinker well enough, except through his own writing. But now I would add Henry David Thoreau. Continue reading

The Academic Battery Cage

The purpose of this article is to record a couple of paragraphs by Mary Midgley about academia today and its judging of people according to numbers of papers published. I have become something of a fan of Midgley. Her field is philosophy, though I think her complaint applies to mathematics or anything else:

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