Sunday, 18 November 2007

Maugham on his Character

From chapter twenty of his The Summing Up, here's why Somerset Maugham has always seemed to me a dear old friend:
I have no natural trust in others. I am more inclined to expect them to do ill than to do good. That is the price one has to pay for having a sense of humour. A sense of humour leads you to take pleasure in the discrepancies of human nature; it leads you to mistrust great professions and look for the unworthy motive that they conceal; the disparity between appearance and reality diverts you and you are apt when you cannot find it to create it. You tend to close you eyes to truth, beauty and goodness because they give no scope to your sense of the ridiculous. The humorist has a quick eye for the humbug; he does not always recognise the saint. But if to see men one-sidedly is a heavy price to pay for a sense of humour there is a compensation that has a value too. You are not angry with people when you laugh at them. Humour teaches tolerance, and the humorist, with a smile and perhaps a sigh, is more likely to shrug his shoulders than to condemn. He does not moralise, he is content to understand; and it is true that to understand is to pity and forgive.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Berkeley Forshadowing both Quine and Wittgenstein

From part VII of GJ Warnock's introduction to Berkeley's The Principles of Human Understanding:
...the explanation of general terms by reference to "abstract ideas" is unnecessary: for a term to be general, and to have a meaning, it is not necessary that it be "annexed," like a name" to any special variety of specially "framed" idea: what is needed is just that it be used to "denote indifferently" any of a class of particular things -- those , namely, which are like on another in the relevant respect. Similarly, my recognition of an object as pink does not require reference to an "abstract idea" laid up in my mind as a pattern or standard of Pinkness; if I have already learned that a number of objects are called "pink," all that is needed is that I should observe the new object to be like them; there is no need to go through, nor do we in fact do so, the elaborate process of "framing" a pattern and comparing objects with that.
And later:
It thus becomes clear that, in general, there could not be patterns of the kind which Locke wrongly supposes to be needed, if we are to use and understand general terms in our language. In fact, so Berkeley concludes, nothing else is required but the words that we use, and the particular experienced items that we use them to speak about; the generality of a general term lies in its use, and not in the peculiar nature of any special item of which it may, misguidedly, be though of as the name.

Berkeley Foreshadowing Quine

From part VI of GJ Warnock's introduction to Berkeley's The Principles of Human Knowledge:
...he could not but be aware that the "corpuscular" theories of matter, and of light, were both too fertile to be easily rejected, and too centrally characteristic of the whole ideal of scientific understanding. But it was still not open to him to admit that such theories were, as they stood, straightforwardly true; and so, with very striking insight and ingenuity, he fell back on the distinction between the observed facts of science, and the theories devised by scientists to account for them. The aim of science, he still holds, is to reduce to "general rules" the observed phenomena; but the achievement of this aim, he now argues, is greatly facilitated by the making of appropriate suppositions. If we think of light, for example, as if it were propagated in the form of a stream of "insensible particles," then the diverse phenomena of light can be comprehended within a theory capable of expression in simple mechanical terms, and highly apt for the precise use of measurement and mathematical calculation. This is certainly useful; but, Berkeley insists, it is useful, not true. As he wrote in his tract De Motu in 1721, "to be of service to reckoning and mathematical demonstrations is one thing, to set forth the nature of things is another." Thus, Berkeley does not now object, as formerly he did, to reference to "insensible particles" and other items of supposed, unperceivable "corpuscular" machinery. He sees that such references serve a theoretical purpose, particularly in facilitating the application to physical phenomena of precise mathematical concepts and methods. But the resulting theories have the status of serviceable fictions; they are useful inventions; it cannot be objected that he leaves such theories with nothing to be true of, for in fact there is no need to suppose that they are true at all. They are theories, not facts; and the virtue of a theory consists not in truth, but in utility.

Locke on Substance

From part III of GJ Warnock's introduction to Berkeley's The Principles of Human Knowledge:
Finally, we must at least glance at Locke's rather desperate grapplings with the concept of substance; for this brings in two points on which Berkeley fastened with alacrity. What is substance, Locke asks? It is that to which qualities belong. And there must be substance, since we cannot intelligibly suppose mere qualities to exist in their own right, on their own, sine re substante. But what is substance itself? It seems to Locke that we just cannot say; for to say anything about substance is unavoidably to ascribe some quality to it, and this gets us no nearer to saying what it is. Locke finds himself left, then, with the bare idea of substance as being "something, I know not what" -- that unperceivable, indescribable something of which all we can say is that it is that to which qualities belong, or in which they inhere.

Now this conclusion leads Locke into a further difficulty. He wishes to hold, on general grounds, that there are two kinds or varieties of substance -- "material" substance, that something to which all the qualities of material things ultimately belong, and "immaterial" substance, in which inhere such non-material properties as consciousness, sensation, and the ability to think. But Locke sees, rightly, that he can really have no ground for this opinion. If all we can say of substance is that it is "something, we know not what," we can have no ground for saying that there are two varieties of substance; to say this we would have to know that the two varieties differed in some way; and we cannot know this since about substance we cannot know anything at all. Locke thus finds that , though he does not accept, he cannot disprove the supposition that the same substance which "supports" that qualities of matter might also have consciousness, sensation, the power of thinking: there might, that is, be only one thing "we know not what," and not, as Locke supposes, two.