From deities to data - "For thousands of years humans believed that authority came from the gods. Then, during the modern era, humanism gradually shifted authority from deities to people... Now, a fresh shift is taking place. Just as divine authority was legitimised by religious mythologies, and human authority was legitimised by humanist ideologies, so high-tech gurus and Silicon Valley prophets are creating a new universal narrative that legitimises the authority of algorithms and Big Data." [more inside]
In his follow-up to Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari envisions what a 'useless class' of humans might look like as AI advances and spreads - "I'm aware that these kinds of forecasts have been around for at least 200 years, from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, and they never came true so far. It's basically the boy who cried wolf, but in the original story of the boy who cried wolf, in the end, the wolf actually comes, and I think that is true this time." [more inside]
‘For over two millennia,’ Ian Johnson writes, ‘all our knowledge of China’s great philosophical schools was limited to texts revised after the Qin unification.’ Now a trove of recently discovered ancient documents, written on strips of bamboo, ‘is helping to reshape our understanding of China’s contentious past.’ [more inside]
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari - "The book delivers on its madly ambitious subtitle by in fact managing to cover key moments in the developmental history of humankind from the emergence of Homo Sapiens to today's developments in genetic engineering." Also btw, check out Harari on the myths we need to survive, re: fact/value distinctions and their interrelationships.
On the Nature of Things Humanity Was Not Meant to Know: Cosma Shalizi considers Lucretius' De Rerum Natura ('On the Nature of Things') as a "real-life Necronomicon, a book full of things humanity was not meant to know."
The History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps is filling in gaps by starting a new podcast feed [iTunes link] dedicated to the history of philosophic traditions other than the one that started with the Ancient Greeks. The first tradition covered will be Indian philosophy, but the series will move on to Africa and China, and perhaps elsewhere as well. The primary author of the India episodes is Prof. Jonardon Ganeri but Prof. Peter Adamson will co-write, present each episode, and probably come up with illustrative examples involving giraffes, Buster Keaton, and his non-existent trapeze-artist sister. [Adamson's main History of Philosophy podcast previously and subsequently]
Why Stoicism is one of the best mind-hacks ever. "As legions of warriors and prisoners can attest, Stoicism is not grim resolve but a way to wrest happiness from adversity." [more inside]
In a wide-ranging discussion about democracy, capitalism, and the American body politic; Chris Hedges interviews political theorist Sheldon Wolin in eight parts. (via) (previously) [more inside]
Heidegger in Black. The King is Dead: Heidegger's Black Notebooks. Heidegger's Black Notebooks: Extreme Silencing. Release of Heidegger’s ‘Black Notebooks’ Reignites Debate Over Nazi Ideology. Is Heidegger Contaminated by Nazism?
A Philosophy of Tickling. As Nietzsche put it, in an ironic jab at eudaimonism: “What is the best life? To be tickled to death.”
seaQuest: what if we could learn to live on/underneath the oceans (or in orbit)? [previously(er)] [more inside]
Using computer systems for doing mathematical proofs - "With the proliferation of computer-assisted proofs that are all but impossible to check by hand, Hales thinks computers must become the judge." [more inside]
The History of Philosophy podcast has the ambitious goal of covering the entire history of (Western) philosophy from the Pre-Socratics to the modern day, without skipping any major philosophers or schools. At 110 episodes, it's just reached the end of the Roman Empire and Boethius and has very far still to go.
With cities, it is as with dreams: everything imaginable can be dreamed, but even the most unexpected dream is a rebus that conceals a desire or, its reverse, a fear. Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else. December 2012 marks the 40th anniversary of Invisible Cities -- the sublime metaphysical travelogue by author-journalist Italo Calvino. In a series of pensive dialogues with jaded emperor Kublai Khan, the explorer Marco Polo describes a meandering litany of visionary and impossible places, dozens of surreal, fantastical cities, each poetically reifying ideas vital to language, philosophy, and the human spirit. This gracefully written love letter to urban life has inspired countless tributes, but it's just the most accessible of Calvino's fascinating literary catalogue. Look inside for a closer look at his most remarkable works, links to English translations of his magical prose, and collections of artistic interpretations from around the web -- including this treasure trove of essays, excerpts, articles, and recommended reading. [more inside]
What was Of Grammatology about? When Madeleine, the heroine of Jeffrey Eugenides's campus novel The Marriage Plot, asks a young theory-head this question, she is immediately set straight: 'If it was "about" anything, then it was about the need to stop thinking of books as being about things.' That's not so far off. In all three books, Derrida's argument was that Western thought from Plato to Rousseau to Lévi-Strauss had been hopelessly entangled in the illusion that language might provide us with access to a reality beyond language, beyond metaphor: an unmediated experience of truth and being which he called 'presence'.—Not in the Mood by Adam Shatz is an essay in The London Review of Books about a new biography of the French philosopher Jacques Derrida. The review does a good job of explaining Derrida's theories in simple language and putting it in the context of his life, from his childhood as French Jew in Vichy-controlled Algeria to his later years as a globetrotting academic star. For a complimentary perspective on Derrida, you can do worse than starting with these thoughts on his relevance for historians and progressives.
The idea that the form of a product should correspond to its essence does not simply mean that products should be designed with their intended use in mind. That a knife needs to be sharp so as to cut things is a non-controversial point accepted by most designers. The notion of essence as invoked by Jobs and Ive is more interesting and significant—more intellectually ambitious—because it is linked to the ideal of purity. No matter how trivial the object, there is nothing trivial about the pursuit of perfection. On closer analysis, the testimonies of both Jobs and Ive suggest that they did see essences existing independently of the designer—a position that is hard for a modern secular mind to accept, because it is, if not religious, then, as I say, startlingly Platonic.— Form and Fortune is an essay about Steve Jobs and Apple's design philosophy by Evgeny Morozov.
Rethinking the Idea of 'Christian Europe'. Kenan Malik's essay is awarded 3 Quarks Daily's Top Quark for politics & social science by judge Stephen M. Walt: "Soldiers in today’s culture wars believe 'European civilization' rests on a set of unchanging principles that are perennially under siege—from godless communism, secular humanism, and most recently, radical Islam. For many of these zealots, what makes the 'West' unique are its Judeo-Christian roots. In this calm and elegantly-written reflection on the past two millenia, Malik shows that Christianity is only one of the many sources of 'Western' culture, and that many of the ideas we now think of as 'bedrock' values were in fact borrowed from other cultures. This essay is a potent antidote to those who believe a 'clash of civilizations' is inevitable—if not already underway—and the moral in Malik’s account could not be clearer. Openness to outside influences has been the true source of European prominence; erecting ramparts against others will impoverish and endanger us all."
But like many an inarticulate young lover, I thought for a time that seduction was a matter of giving the right book to the right woman. In my case it was Barthes’s A Lover’s Discourse: a meditation on Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther that catalogues the melancholic lover’s prized ‘image repertoire’ – the scene of waiting, the feeling of being dissolved in the presence of the loved being, the attraction of suicide – and thinly veils the author’s own life as a middle-aged gay man in Paris in the 1970s. This gift was always a prelude to disaster.– RB and Me: An Education is an essay by Brian G. Dillon about his relationship with the books of French philosopher Roland Barthes. It's also a lovely autobiography of an awkward boy finding his place in life. Dillon's website collects his essays, and is trove of interesting insight. Besides writing essays and fiction, Dillon is also the UK editor of Cabinet Magazine, and you can read a fair number of his articles online, including ones on Beau Brummel and the cravat, hypochondria and hydrotherapy.
Creed Crusher, or Spiritual Mill for Pulverizing Creeds &C. is an 1867 poster by Dr. T. L. Lewis. In it, a pair of cherubs grind the religious and educational institutions of 19th-century against a an allegorical globe of philosophy dominated by the Great Ocean of Spiritualism. Below, Lewis quotes himself no less than four times. Similarly weird is the anthropomorphic map of Europe by Schmidt. (Both via the Big Map Blog previously)
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]
An Introduction to the History and Philosophy of Science 8 videos in which SisyphusRedeemed, academic philosopher, attempts to explain what science is, how it got to be that way, and why it works. [more inside]
History of Western Philosophy, illustrated in huge scroll-down timelines. Kevin Scharp at OSU made these, based on work by Randall Collins, and they are great. Includes the influence of the Muslim world. He also has separate diagrams on a few specific issues, eg paradoxes, theories of truth, etc. This link goes to his fast-loading index page, where you can click to load the (big) charts. [more inside]
The Rehabilitation of Ernest Gellner - It is easy to imagine why Ernest Gellner would be one of the universally known figures in Anglophone intellectual life. A polymath whose work ranged across anthropology, history, philosophy, and sociology, his mind wrestled with an encyclopedia's worth of nagging questions about nationalism, modernity, civil society, imperialism, Islam, psychoanalysis, ethics and epistemology ... All of this, to repeat, should explain Gellner's monumental prominence – except for the fact that he has no such prominence. (via mr) [more inside]
You've stepped out of a time machine, it's 1894 and you're standing in front of a young Adolf Hitler, with instructions to assassinate the child. What you do next may depend a lot on your belief and definition of free will (never mind the unintended consequences) [more inside]
"Ontologiam seu scientiam de Aliquo et Nihilo, Ente et Non ente, Re et modo rei, Substantia et Accidente." - Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716). [more inside]
Atheistic Materialism in Ancient India. Interesting piece on the ancient Indian philosophical school of Carvaka.
Meet the Islamic Philosophers. Arabic philosophy sought to reconcile the science and empiricism of Aristotle, the metaphysics of Neoplatonism, and the revelations of the Holy Qur'an. From the first thoughts of Abū Yūsuf Yaʻqūb ibn Isḥāq al-Kindī, to the 20,000 pages of Abū 'l-Walīd Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad ibn Rushd, the influence of these Muslim polymaths profoundly shaped Western thought. [more inside]
Explore the History of the Ancient Greek World from the Neolithic to the Classical Period. Covering important topics, such as Art and Architecture, Mythology, Wars, Culture and Society, Poetry, Olympics, History Periods, Philosophy, Playwrights, Kings and Rulers of Ancient Greece.
Sparks of Life. "That the electric 'spark of life' figured prominently in debates over the nature of life in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries is well known. Less well known is the fact that prior to this period, gunpowder was often identified with the substances that were necessary to life, if not as a vitalistic spirit, then as an essential element in the animation of the body. The idea of a spark of life went back to ancient times, likening living beings to the glowing embers of a fire. In the Old Testament, for example, the wise woman of Tekoah begs for the life of her son, pleading 'they will stamp out my last live ember.' But from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century, this vital flame was often equated with gunpowder. There was fire in the blood: not electric, but pyrotechnic fire."
Parmenides. "The pre-Socratic philosopher sparked an intellectual revolution that still echoes today. Yet for philosophy and science to continue to progress in the 21st century, we may need to embark on an entirely new cognitive journey ."
Philosophy of History is what the page is called; it's by a philosophy professor, Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D., who's a libertarian and obsessed with Leonard Nelson and the Friesian School, whatever the hell that is. Never mind all that. If you scroll down past the essays and the Military History section and the calendars and the book reviews, you get to the Reference Resources. As he says, "Not all of history may be covered here, but a very extensive fragment of it certainly is." Take, as one tiny example, Margraves & Counts of Flanders. There's a longish introduction and a colored map, then there are lists of rulers and detailed genealogies accompanied by more text, then similarly for the Counts of Artois, the Kings & Dukes of Brittany, the Counts of Anjou, the Dukes of Normandy, the Counts of Blois & Champagne, the Counts of Toulouse, the Dukes of Aquitaine and Dukes of Gascony, the Lords & Counts of Foix, the Kings and Lords of Man, the Dukes of Marlborough and Earls of Spencer (including a detailed list of the Vanderbilts), the Dukes of Buccleuch, Grafton, & St. Albans, and the Dukes of Berwick & Fitzjames. That's one page. There are dozens and dozens of them. The Prime Ministers of the Dominions, the Kings of Bohemia, Hungary, and Poland, the Islâmic Rulers of North Africa, the Emperors of India, China, & Japan, all the way down to the Mangïts of Bukhara, 1747-1920. If you have any interest in history, This Site's For You.
Thomas Paine is sometimes forgotten, but dealt with some modern predicaments. Quotes, letters & essays, and an assortment of his writings.
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?
The Man With The Magnétoscope. "How marvelous to be able to look at what you cannot see... cinema, like Christianity, is not founded on historical truth. It supplies us with a story and says: Believe — believe come what may." Jean Luc Godard's 'Histoire(s) du Cinéma' at UCLA.
It's Carnival Time! In 2002, Silflay Hraka launched the internet's first carnival: The Carnival of the Vanities. Carnivals are showcases of the best that blogs have to offer; bloggers send in posts they have made that they are especially pleased with, and a rotating editor collates them into a weekly edition with editorial comments. Think of carnivals as best-of-the-blogosphere magazines. The Carnival of the Vanities (current edition here) doesn't have any particular focus, but a number of offshoots dedicated to specific fields have popped up. Stay up to date on blog postings about philosophy, science, history, the early modern period, sex, Canada, and (if desperately bored) cats. A new carnival about atheism, The Carnival of the Godless, will be coming out at the end of the month.
Boethius is one of history's most overlooked philosophers. While imprisoned and awaiting execution at the hands of Theodoric, Boethius illustrated the medieval Christian worldview through his most famous work, The Consolation of Philosophy. Though he also wrote essays on music, science, and logic, engaging with Porphyry [pdf] Plato and Aristotle, the Consolation reached widest. In style and content, Boethius' work had a profound influence on Geoffrey Chaucer (as the Chaucer Review makes very clear). Dante, reading Boethius for solace after Beatrice's death, called Boethius "[t]he blessed soul who exposes the deceptive world to anyone who gives ear to him." [MI]
"Jesus?" he murmured, "Jesus -- of Nazareth?..." Pontius Pilate, prefect of Judea, is the only historical figure named in the Nicene Creed -- Coptic saint or eternally damned, his role in the greatest story ever told has been debated by many of history's greatest minds: St Augustine, Dante Alighieri, Tintoretto, John Ruskin, Mikhail Bulgakov, Monty Python. Unfortunately, there is very little historical evidence about him. His role in the death of a certain charismatic Galilean healer and apocalyptic preacher is still being debated today by theologians and historians alike. He is also, of course, the main character of The Procurator of Judea, the classic short story (complete text in main link) by Anatole France. (France's magnificent story has lately been tragically neglected by publishers, even if the author was one of his era's most acclaimed writers in the world -- he won the Nobel Prize in 1921 over Shaw, Yeats, Joyce, Thomas Hardy, D.H. Lawrence, and Proust, and when he died in 1924, hundreds of thousands of people followed his funeral procession through Paris). These last 2,000 years of fascination with Pilatus can be explained, some argue... (more inside, for those unwilling to wash their hands of this post)
"...all great [historical figures] appear, so to speak, twice...the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce."
-- Karl Marx from The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon
The Marx & Engels Internet Archive for all your smart-arsed pseudo-intellectual quoting requirements.
-- Karl Marx from The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon
The Marx & Engels Internet Archive for all your smart-arsed pseudo-intellectual quoting requirements.