Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Joseph Addison on the Cavilling Critic

...[T]he Rabble of Mankind [is] very apt to think that every Thing which is laughed at with any Mixture of Wit, is very ridiculous in it self...

Besides, a Man who has the Gift of Ridicule is apt to find Fault with any Thing that gives him an Opportunity of exerting his beloved Talent, and very often censures a Passage, not because there is any Fault in it, but because he can be merry upon it...

Samuel Palmer, "The Harvest Moon." Circa 1833.

A famous Critick...having gathered up all the faults of an eminent Poet, made a Present of them to Apollo, who received them very graciously, and resolved to make the Author a suitable return for the Trouble he had been at in collecting them. In order to this, he set before him a Sack of Wheat, as it had been just threshed out of the Sheaf. He then bid him pick out the Chaff from among the Corn, and lay it aside by it self. The Critick applied himself to the Task with great Industry and Pleasure, and after having made the due Separation, was presented by Apollo with the Chaff for his pains.

[Joseph Addison, Spectator 291, emphasis in the original]

Monday, March 28, 2016

Lycan on Objectivity in Ethics and Epistemology

"It's interesting that this parallel [between ethics and epistemology] goes generally unremarked. Moral subjectivism, relativism, emotivism, etc. are rife among both philosophers and ordinary people and yet very few of these same people would think even for a moment of denying the objectivity of epistemic value; that is, of attacking the reality of the distinction between reasonable and unreasonable belief. I wonder why that is?"

[William Lycan, "Epistemic Value," Synthese 1985, pg. 137, h/t to Daniel Boyd]

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Archilochus on his shield

Bronze Corinthian Helmet, ca. 500 BC

Some Saian mountaineer
Struts today with my shield.
I threw it down by a bush and ran
When the fighting got hot.
Life seemed somehow more precious.
It was a beautiful shield
I know where I can buy another
Exactly like it, just as round.

[Translated by Guy Davenport.]

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Notes on Hegel's Vision of Freedom

Like everything on this blog, these are the notes of an amateur, and they ought to taken with a grain of salt, if taken at all. 03/18/2016

-At first, you might think that the most fundamental conception of freedom is Selbstbestimmung, self-determination. Let's start with this hypothesis, and see what we can make of it.  Hegel calls this first pass at a definition of freedom "being-with-oneself."

What would absolute and complete full self-determination, complete being-with-oneself look like?

Well, the opposite of self-determination is dependence. Now there is metaphysical dependence: something might depend on something else to exist. Peter van Inwagen's example is a wrinkle in the carpet. The wrinkle needs the carpet to be there for it to exist as well.

And there is epistemic dependence: the way one concept could only be understood with the help of another concept. If this seems obscure, consider the idea that something might only be explained [or at least most helpfully explained] by contrasting it with another idea. If X is totally epistemically independent of Y, then X can be understood fully without recourse to comparison with Y. If X is totally epistemically independent, not just of Y, but of everything, then it could be understood without the use of any other concept. It would be self-presenting or immediate.

Something that were completely self-determining would be both metaphysically independent and epistemically independent. Hegel thinks this is impossible. Nothing has these qualities, in his view.

So any freedom or self-determination that exists has to exist with some level of dependence, either metaphysical, epistemic, or some other kind. Hegel calls this "being-with-oneself-in-another." This is our second pass at an understanding of freedom. But how does this reconciliation of self-determination with dependence-on-the-other happen? It happens because the self stops experiencing the other as an alien and alienating presence.

Now there are at least two kinds of freedom or being-with-oneself-in-another.

(A) The first is speculative or theoretical freedom. This is the free contemplation of the world, a.k.a. philosophy. It's a kind of being-with-oneself-in-another because when we do philosophy we (eventually) come to understand that the world is our home, even though it often seems hostile and foreign in the beginning.

(B) Another kind of being-with-onself-in-another is practical freedom, which is the sort of freedom we exercise by using our will in the world outside our heads. Now practical freedom must be understood in three separate phases.
(1) Personal freedom -- This is when an arbitrary will is able to choose its own ends. Note that it is the will that is doing this, not some other faculty. You have this sort of freedom when you have a bunch of will-less objects or things that you have complete control over. Many teenagers have this sort of freedom; they have their own room, they have their own things that they have complete discretion over. 
(2) Moral freedom -- This is when a will is able to choose its own ends not spontaneously but in accordance with the self's vision of the good, a vision of the good that is reflectively endorsed by the self.   
(3) Social freedom -- This is when a society has created rational social institutions that are able to both (a) help form individuals capable of exercising both personal and moral freedom and (b) give definition and particularity to the citizen's vision of the good.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Journal, May 10th

-In most societies, the most educated class will also be the most effectively propagandized.

-A problem for the Burkean: a person can feel more at home in a foreign culture than the one they grew up in. How is that possible?