Daniel Dennett, known for having previously explained thinking, religion, and consciousness, recently spoke at the Royal Institution where he did a most excellent job of explaining memes [1-hour video].
"I want to say here that it can never be our job to reduce anything to anything, or to explain anything. Philosophy really is 'purely descriptive.'" --Wittgenstein. Apart from a small and ignored clique of hard-core supporters the usual view these days is that his writing is self-indulgently obscure and that behind the catchy slogans there is little of intellectual value. But this dismissal disguises what is pretty clearly the real cause of Wittgenstein’s unpopularity within departments of philosophy: namely, his thoroughgoing rejection of the subject as traditionally and currently practiced; his insistence that it can’t give us the kind of knowledge generally regarded as its raison d’être. [more inside]
"So what is an asshole, exactly? How is he (and assholes are almost always men) distinct from other types of social malefactors? Are assholes born that way, or is their boorishness culturally conditioned? What explains the spike in the asshole population?" -- The Chronicle talks to two professors, linguist Geoffrey Nunberg and philospher Aaron James, about their recent work on, well, assholes. [more inside]
The Declaration of Independence is perhaps the most masterfully written state paper of Western civilization. As Moses Coit Tyler noted almost a century ago, no assessment of it can be complete without taking into account its extraordinary merits as a work of political prose style. Although many scholars have recognized those merits, there are surprisingly few sustained studies of the stylistic artistry of the Declaration. This essay seeks to illuminate that artistry by probing the discourse microscopically -- at the level of the sentence, phrase, word, and syllable. The University of Wisconsin's Dr. Stephen E. Lucas meticulously analyzes the elegant language of the 235-year-old charter in a distillation of this comprehensive study. More on the Declaration: full transcript and ultra-high-resolution scan, a transcript and scan of Jefferson's annotated rough draft, the little-known royal rebuttal, a thorough history of the parchment itself, a peek at the archival process, a reading of the document by the people of NPR and by a group of prominent actors, H. L. Mencken's "American" translation, Slate's Twitter summaries, and a look at the fates of the 56 signers.
The Ashtray: The Ultimatum. Part one of a series by Errol Morris on meaning, truth, intolerance and flying ashtrays. [more inside]
§7. Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.Ludwig Wittgenstein is such a contradictory figure that there are, in professional philosophical usage, two of him. Wittgenstein I had solved every philosophical problem in his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921); having nothing else to do, he went home to Austria and became, unsuccessfully, a schoolteacher. In 1929, Wittgenstein I returned to Cambridge, where he began his transformation into Wittgenstein II. He was no longer confident in the Tractatus, his certainty in any answers less firm. Wittgenstein II's great, posthumous, work was the Philosophical Investigations. But Wittgenstein the living man was one, not two: musician and architect, reader of mysteries and engineer. "If philosophy has anything to do with wisdom," he once wrote, "there's certainly not a grain of that in Mind, and quite often a grain in the detective stories."
The Tao Te Ching in dozens of languages and translations, with a lovely side-by-side comparison tool.
Writing has been around for a long time, but that doesn't mean we've mastered it yet. Want to make fiction? Perhaps it makes itself, perhaps it makes you... Self reference breeding infinite hyperrealities. Which world will you choose?
Early Modern Texts. Versions of some classics of early modern philosophy, prepared with a view to making them easier to read while leaving the main arguments, doctrines, and lines of thought intact. Recently added: John Locke's Second Treatise of Government. Via Crooked Timber.
Clay Shirky smacks syllogism around. Nice criticism of the semantic web and the present (and increasing) hype of the "semantic web revolution". The most damning part of the essay is the part about languages and categories being deeply intertwined with worldview and with culture—if there's no good definition for the word "bachelor" (see), how can there be an encoding of "friend", "lover" (see article for the classic AI example of "John loves Mary") or anything else that isn't zipcode?