Tag Archives: Phaedrus

Pascal, Pensées, S 115–182

This document contains fragments

  • 80–149 of the Lafuma,

  • 115–182 of the Sellier

edition of Pascal’s Pensées, in modernized French and the following sections:

  • Raisons des Effets

  • Grandeur

  • Contrariétés

  • Divertissements

  • Philosophes

  • Le Souverain Bien

  • A [Port-Royal]

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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’

Index to this series

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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On Knowing Ourselves

In a 2012 post in this blog, I criticized a 2009 essay called “50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice.” The putative advice was that of Strunk and White. It was not in fact grammatical. They had written not the elements of grammar, but The Elements of Style. They gave style advice by precept and example. The advice is good, if well understood. The critic should recognize that, as I wrote, “Rules of style are supposed to induce thinking, not obedience.”

NL XXIV: The Body Politic, Social and Non-Social

Index to this series

Executive summary (added September 11, 2018): The subject of political theory is the kind of community called a body politic. For the Ancients, this is a society, composed of, for example, the citizens of Athens, excluding women, children, slaves, and foreigners. In medieval times, all human beings in the community compose a body politic, which is thus non-social, though having within it the societies called estates; sovereigns rule by force (e.g. by the bribery called the granting of liberties), but may in turn be ruled, as is the husband, sovereign of the wife. For Hobbes, a sovereign can also rule by authority. An eristic argument would insist that only one of these accounts of the body politic is correct; but the world is in the flux described by Heraclitus, and the way to come to terms with it is not eristic, but dialectic, as described in the Meno of Plato.


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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Hypomnesis

When is a help a hindrance? The Muses have provoked this question. They did this through their agents, the cicadas, who sang around the European Cultural Center of Delphi, during the 11th Panhellenic Logic Symposium, July 12–5, 2017.

     Cicada, European Cultural Center of Delphi, 2017.07.15     

Cicada, European Cultural Center of Delphi, 2017.07.15

My question has two particular instances.

  1. At a mathematical conference, can theorems “speak for themselves,” or should their presenters be at pains to help the listener appreciate the results?

  2. When the conference is in Greece, even at one of the country’s greatest archeological sites, does this enhance the reading of ancient Greek texts, or is it only a distraction?

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On Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad, Book III

Index | Text

The Iliad is about the feud between Achilles and Agamemnon, a feud that occurs during the Trojan War. Book III of the Iliad has nothing to do with Achilles, a little to do with Agamemnon, and everything to do with why the whole war is happening at all.

Photo of the tower of books used for this article

Book III has led me to a number of physical books that are in my possession, here in Istanbul, and that I am somehow delighted to be able to make use of. Some of the books, I brought from the US; others, I bought here.

Thus this post is not a continuous narrative of the story of Book III, but I make a number of digressions. I have gone back to analyze the post into sections as follows (I added this index on December 16, 2018, and edited the whole post on December 6, 2020).

  1. A duel could end the war, but does not.

  2. Paris must lack shame, to be such a devotee of Aphrodite—who is called Cyprides because of her origins (as I shall happen to recall in “Antitheses”).

  3. The book opens with two similes.

    1. The Trojans are like cranes, bringing death to Pygmy men. It is not clear whether a later legend of battle between cranes and African Pygmies derives from Homer’s simile; if it does, it could be a misinterpretation, as snake-handling is probably a misinterpretation of the Gospel. Note added April 11, 2019: Thoreau refers to the legend in Walden,Where I Lived, and What I Lived For,” just before “Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!”

      Still we live meanly, like ants; though the fable tells us that we were long ago changed into men; like pygmies we fight with cranes; it is error upon error, and clout upon clout, and our best virtue has for its occasion a superfluous and evitable wretchedness. Our life is frittered away by detail.

    2. The Greeks raise a cloud of dust, such as would be grateful to thieves seeking concealment.

  4. Holding up a lance is a sign of wanting to treat; sacrificing lambs is then a sign of good faith.

  5. Chapman elaborates on the virtue of Helen. He uses “offense,” apparently in the sense of a moral stumbling-block; but the passage is obscure.

  6. The old men whom Helen joins on the ramparts are like cicadas with lily-like voice; this leads me to references in the Theogony of Hesiod, the Phaedrus of Plato, and the Argonautica of Apollonius Rhodius. In this context, Hesiod refers to “an oak or a rock,” as Socrates does too in chastising Phaedrus.

  7. Homer digresses by allowing Helen and Priam to tell some of the backstory.

  8. The rite of pouring out wine as a symbol of blood predates Christianity.

  9. Homer takes us between war and peace, the battlefield and the bedroom.

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NL VI: “Language,” again

Index to this series

This is about language: language the concept, and “Language,” the sixth chapter of Collingwood’s New Leviathan. We shall consider language in a very basic way, not as a means of communicating what we know, but as the way we come to know things in the first place.
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