Category Archives: Plato

On Causation

Causation seems commonly to be understood as a physical concept, like being a fossil. The paleontologist seeks the one right answer to the question of when a particular dinosaur bone became part of the fossil record; likewise readers of international news seem to think there is one right answer to the question of whether Donald Trump or Ali Khamenei caused the shooting down of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 on January 8, 2020.

There is not one right answer. If you are Trump, you caused 176 civilian deaths by attacking the Iranians and provoking their response. If you are Mitch McConnell, you caused the deaths by inhibiting the removal of Trump from office. If you are Khamenei, you did it by meeting Trump’s fire with fire.

Being a cause does not mean you deserve condemnation or praise: that is another matter.

Causation is relative. This is an observation by R. G. Collingwood in An Essay on Metaphysics (1940). Continue reading

NL I: “Body and Mind” Again

Index to this series

“We are beginning an inquiry into civilization,” writes Collingwood, “and the revolt against it which is the most conspicuous thing going on at the present time.” The time is the early 1940s.

Human tourists photographing sculptured supine blue ape with chrome testicles outside the Intercontinental Hotel, Prague Continue reading

We the Pears of the Wild Coyote Tree

This is a preliminary report on two recent films:

  • The Wild Pear Tree, by Nuri Bilge Ceylan;
  • We the Coyotes, by Marco La Via and Hanna Ladoul.

The report is preliminary, not because there is going to be another, but because I have seen each film only once, and I may see one of them again. I remember that François Truffaut liked to see films at least twice. I would guess that I read this in The Washington Post, in an appreciation published when Truffaut died; however, he died on October 21, 1984, during the first semester of my sophomore year in Santa Fe, when I would not have been reading the Post. While in college, I did enjoy seeing some films twice, or a second time; Truffaut’s own 400 Coups was an example, a French teacher having shown it to us in high school.

The two films that I am reviewing concern young adults trying to find their own way in the world, in defiance of their elders. We all have to do this. In every generation, some will do it more defiantly than others. Heraclitus can be defiant, he of Ephesus and thus one of the Ionian philosophers, whose spirit I imagine to haunt the Nesin Mathematics Village. A further reason to bring up Heraclitus will be—gold.

Eva Brann, The Logos of Heraclitus, on Marmara Island, July, 2012

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Piety

The post below is a way to record a passage in the Euthyphro where Socrates say something true and important about mathematics. The passage is on a list of Platonic passages that I recently found, having written it in a notebook on May 23, 2018. The other passages are in the Republic; Continue reading

Antitheses

This is an attempt at a dialectical understanding of freedom and responsibility, punishment and forgiveness, things like that. My text is a part of the Gospel, though I attribute no special supernatural power to this. I shall refer also to the Dialogues of Plato.

The Antitheses are the six parallel teachings, delivered by Jesus of Nazareth in the Sermon on the Mount, as recounted in Chapter 5 of the Gospel According to St Matthew, starting at verse 21. I summarize:

  1. Do not kill people; do not even get angry with them.

  2. Do not commit adultery; do not even fantasize about it.

  3. In divorce, follow the established procedure; do not even divorce.

  4. Do not forswear yourself; do not even swear.

  5. Keep retribution commensurate with the crime; do not even seek retribution.

  6. Love your neighbor; love even your enemy.

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NL XLIII: The Second Barbarism: The ‘Albigensian Heresy’

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Summary. Suppose your society has certain rites and customs, perceived as essential to its functioning. When some persons among you reject those rites and customs, what are you going to do? Persecution would be the normal response of a society that aimed to preserve itself. In the example to be considered here, the society is medieval Christendom, where

  • buildings called churches were customarily the abode of friendly spirits, and
  • the rite of swearing an oath was a sign of special commitment.

Oaths and churches were rejected by persons called Paulicians, or Bogomils, or Albigensians. Their beliefs were Manichaean. These persons were persecuted so successfully that we do not understand them very well. Therefore we must leave open the question of whether they were barbarists.

Here I am going to review, among other things,

  • what it means to fight barbarism;
  • the response to German bombardment described in Goodbye, Mr. Chips;
  • what Jesus Christ says about swearing;
  • how the United States accommodates various beliefs (as by allowing affirming instead of swearing, or allowing Muslims to swear on a Quran);
  • the threat of a lying President;
  • the threat of ignoring climate change;
  • the etymology of heresy;
  • the discussion of mythos and logos in Pirsig.

Fire temple, Yazd, Iran, September 2012. See “Duty to Nature

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NL XLII: The First Barbarism: The Saracens

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Executive summary: The barbarians who overran the Western Roman Empire were not barbarists in Collingwood’s technical sense. However, “in the seventh century a movement inspired by hostility towards everything Roman … and everything Christian, flared up on the south-eastern frontier of the Roman world” (42. 22). This movement was therefore barbarist. Failing to conquer Europe, either from the east at Constantinople, or from the west at Tours, the movement settled down and ceased being barbarist—by the account in Chapter XLII, “The First Barbarism: The Saracens,” and later, in Collingwood’s New Leviathan. I check this account against more recent sources; it is barbarist to think that the “movement” in question, or indeed any movement, must always be barbarist; I look at the “civilization” of the British Empire as portrayed in a story of Maugham, and I compare a character of the story to Collingwood.


Collingwood’s historical account of barbarisms is a minefield, if one wishes not to sound like a barbarist oneself. The four examples will be

  1. the Saracens,
  2. the “Albigensian Heresy” (or the Bogomils),
  3. the Turks, and
  4. the Germans.

The very formula “the X”—definite article followed by national or quasi-national adjective—this has a barbaric use in branding a people with indelible features. A retort then is “not all X,” as in “not all men.” Collingwood issues such a proviso himself:

45. 68. Please observe, Reader, that I am not talking about all Germans. I do not say that all Germans are liars. I know of some who are not; those heroes, for example, who continue in spite of everything the Nazis can do to run their secret wireless station and keep on printing Das Wahre Deutschland.

Das wahre Deutschland, from a Swiss antiquarian bookshop, Antiquariat Peter Petrej

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NL XLI: What Barbarism Is

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Civilization being agreement, barbarism has no chance in the long run (41. 67):

41. 76. For barbarism implies not only a quarrel between any barbarist and any civilized man; it also implies a quarrel between anyone barbarist and any other; and that any state of harmony between them is merely this quarrel suspended.

The barbarist is somebody “who imitates the conditions of an uncivilized world” (41. 53); but an actual attempt to bring about those conditions will need cooperation, and this will be a step towards civility. Here perhaps we should distinguish cooperation from the kind of coerced organization seen in a fascist state. Specific examples will be considered in the later chapters of Part IV of the New Leviathan. We are now considering “What Barbarism Is,” in general terms.

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NL XL: Peace and Plenty

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With “Peace and Plenty,” we reach the end of the account of civilization in Collingwood’s New Leviathan. What remains is the account of barbarism. Strictly speaking, we little need it. Civilization quâ ideal of civility is the positive end of civilization quâ process, and as was pointed out on Chapter XXXII, “Society and Nature in the Classical Politics,” the positive end is the primary thing to know in conducting a process (32. 35–6).

“May Day, 1929,” V. V. Kuptsov

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NL XXXIX: Law and Order

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In the New Leviathan, three chapters ago, the essence of civilization was found in not using force against one another. Two chapters ago, civilization was found to be achieved, or at least perpetuated, through education by amateurs, especially within families.

Samuel F. B. Morse (American, 1791-1872), The House of Representatives, 1822, probably reworked 1823, oil on canvas, Corcoran Collection (Museum Purchase, Gallery Fund), National Gallery of Art

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