Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Popper and Language

From David Edmonds's and John Eidinow's Wittgenstein's Poker:
Popper compared the interest in language to the practice of cleaning spectacles. Language philosophers might think this is worthwhile in itself. Serious philosophers realise that the only point of the cleaning is to enable the wearer to see the world more clearly.

Saturday, 22 December 2007

Frege's Venus, Sense and Reference

I've never studied logic formally at university, but I have read up on the subject here and there. What I always found most confusing, however, was the presentation of the classic example illustrating the difference between sense and reference, that of the morning star and the evening star. The problem was that in quite a few noteworthy books, the point of the example was completely lost on me because it was not explicitly explained that the morning star and the evening star are actually the same object!

Thankfully though, I did discover what the morning star and evening star were referring to and, consequently, why distinguishing between sense and reference is so important.

And that is also why I'm so happy to have read perhaps the most lucid explanation of this distinction in AC Grayling's An Introduction to Philosophical Logic, and is why I'm hoping all books on logic will just reprint the following passage from here on in:
The classic example used is the planet Venus, which the Greeks thought was not one planet but two stars, namely the evening star Hesperus and the morning star Phosphorus. Because the evening and morning stars are the same entity, it is evident that both expressions denote the same entity, viz., Venus. But clearly the expressions 'morning star' and 'evening star' differ in sense despite having the same reference, which follows from the fact that if one says 'the morning star is identical with the morning star', the truth of what one says is a simple matter of logic and can be determined by inspecting the sentence itself; but if one says 'the morning star is identical with the evening star', the truth of what one says is a matter of astronomy, not logic. No one could discover that the morning and evening stars are in fact one and the same entity merely by inspecting the expressions 'the morning star' and 'the evening star' alone. It follows that although these two expressions are coreferential, which is to say, refer to the same thing, they differ in sense

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Morality, Wittgenstein and Schopenhauer

The hallmarks of Wittgenstein's deprecating grand notions of the Good found in section sixty-six of Schopenhauer's World as Will and Representation:
The deeds and ways of acting of the individual and of a nation can be very much modified by dogmas, example and custom. In themselves, however, all deeds (opera operata) are merely empty figures, and only the disposition that leads to them gives them moral significance. But this disposition can be actually quite the same, in spite of a very different external phenomenon. With an equal degree of wickedness one person can die on the wheel, and another peacefully in the bosom of his family. It can vbe the same degree of wickedness that expresses itself in one nation in the crude characteristics of murder and cannibalism, and in another finely and delicately in miniature, in court intrigues, oppressions, and subtle machinations of every kind; the inner nature remains the same. It is conceivable that a perfect State, or even perhaps a complete dogma of rewards and punishments after death firmly believed in, might prevent every crime. Politically much would be gained in this way; morally, absolutely nothing; on the contrary, only the mirroring of the will through life would be checked.

Genuine goodness of disposition, disinterested virtue, and pure nobleness of mind, therefore, do not come from abstract knowledge; yet they do come from knowledge. But it is a direct and intuitive knowledge that cannot be reasoned away or arrived at by reasoning; a knowledge that, just because it is not abstract, cannot be communicated, but must dawn on each of us. It therefore finds its real and adequate expression not in words, but simply and solely in deeds, in conduct, in the course of a man's life. We who are here looking for the theory of virtue, and who thus have to express in abstract terms the inner nature of the knowledge lying at its foundation, shall nevertheless be unable to furnish that knowledge itself in this expression, but only the concept of that knowledge. We thus always start from conduct, in which alone it becomes visible, and refer to such conduct as its only adequate expression. We only interpret and explain this expression, in other words, express in the abstract what really takes place in it.

Morality, Religion and Rituals

From Isaac Bashevis Singer's The Slave:
But now he at least understood his religion: its essence was the relation between man and his fellows. Man's obligations toward God were easy to perform. Didn't Gershon have two kitchens, one for milk and one for meat? Men like Gershon cheated, but they ate matzoth prepared according to the strictest requirements. They slandered their fellow men, but demanded meat doubly kosher. They envied, fought, hated their fellow Jews, yet still put on a second pair of phylacteries. Rather than troubling himself to induce a Jew to eat pork or kindle a fire on the Sabbath, Satan did easier and more important work, advocating those sins deeply rooted in human nature.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Nietzsche's Eternal Recurrence in Schopenhauer

From section 54 of Schopenhauer's The World as Will and Representation:
What we fear in death is by no means the pain, for that obviously lies on this side of death; moreover, we often take refuge in death from pain, just as, conversely, we sometimes endure the most fearful pain merely in order to escape death for a while, although it would be quick and easy. Therefore we distinguish pain and death as two entirely different evils. What we fear in death is in fact the extinction and end of the individual, which it openly proclaims itself to be, and as the individual is the will-to-live itself in a particular objectification, its whole nature struggles against death. Now when feeling leaves us helpless to such an extent, our faculty of reason can nevertheless appear and for the most part overcome influences adverse to it, since it places us at a higher standpoint from which we now view the whole instead of the particular. Therefore, a philosophical knowledge of the nature of the world which had reached the point we are now considering, but went no farther, could, even at this point of view, overcome the terrors of death according as reflection had power over direct feeling in the given individual. A man who had assimilated firmly into his way of thinking the truths so far advanced, but at the same time had not come to know, through his own experience or through a deeper insight, that constant suffering is essential to all life; who found satisfaction in life and took perfect delight in it; who desired, in spite of calm deliberation, that the course of his life as he had hitherto experienced it should be of endless duration or of constant recurrence; and whose courage to face life was so great that, in return for life's pleasures, he would willingly and gladly put up with all the hardships and miseries to which it is subject; such a man would stand "with firm, strong bones on the well-grounded, enduring earth,"10 and would have nothing to fear. Armed with the knowledge we confer on him, he would look with indifference at death hastening towards him on the wings of time. He would consider it as a false illusion, an impotent spectre, frightening to the weak but having no power over him who knows that he himself is that will of which the whole world is the objectification or copy, to which therefore life and also the present always remain certain and sure. The present is the only real form of the phenomenon of the will. Therefore no endless past or future in which he will not exist can frighten him, for he regards these as an empty mirage and the web of Maya. Thus he would no more have to fear death than the sun would the night. In the Bhagavad-Gita Krishna puts his young pupil Arjuna in this position, when, seized with grief at the sight of the armies ready for battle (somewhat after the manner of Xerxes), Arjuna loses heart and wishes to give up the fight, to avert the destruction of so many thousands. Krishna brings him to this point of view, and the death of those thousands can no longer hold him back; he gives the sign for battle.

10 From Goethe's Granzen der Menschheit.

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Schopenhauer on Ordinary Poets

From section 51 and appearing in footnote 41 of Schopenhauer's The World as Will and Representation:
It goes without saying that everywhere I speak exclusively of the great and genuine poet, who is rare. I mean no one else; least of all that dull and shallow race of mediocre poets, rhymesters and devisers of fables which flourishes so luxuriantly, especially in Germany at the present time; but we ought to shout incessantly in their ears from all side:
Mediocribus esse poetis
Non homines, non Di, non concessere columnae

("Neither gods, nor men, nor even advertising pillars permit the poet to be a mediocrity" - Horace, Ars Poetica)
It is worth serious consideration how great an amount of time -- their own and other people's -- and of paper is wasted by this swarm of mediocre poets, and how injurious their influence is. For the public always seizes on what is new, and shows even more inclination to what is perverse and dull, as being akin to its own nature. These works of the mediocre, therefore, draw the public away and hold it back from genuine masterpieces, and from the education they afford. Thus they work directly against the benign influence of genius, ruin taste more and more, and so arrest the progress of the age. Therefore criticism and satire should scourge mediocre poets without pity or sympathy, until they are induced for their own good to apply their muse rather to read what is good than to write what is bad. For if the bungling of the meddlers put even the god of the Muses in such a rage that he could flay Marsyas, I do not see on what mediocre poetry would base its claims to tolerance.

Friday, 14 December 2007

The Happy Progression of the Liberals

A happy little graphic depicting the withering of the Libs:

From a Crikey post on Howard's fine electoral legacy.

Saturday, 1 December 2007

Schopenhauer on the Connection between Genius and Madness

From part thirty-six of Schopenhauer's The World as Will and Representation:
The fact that violent mental suffering or unexpected and terrible events are frequently the cause of madness, I explain as follows. Every such suffering is as an actual event always confined to the present; hence it is only transitory, and to that extent is never excessively heavy. It becomes insufferably great only in so far as it is a lasting pain, but as such it is again only a thought, and therefore resides in the memory. Now if such a sorrow, such painful knowledge or reflection, is so harrowing that it becomes positively unbearable, and the individual would succumb to it, then nature, alarmed in this way, seizes on madness as the last means of saving life. The mind, tormented so greatly, destroys, as it were, the thread of its memory, fills up the gaps with fictions, and thus seeks refuge in madness from the mental suffering that exceeds its strength, just as a limb affected by mortification is cut off and replaced with a wooden one. As examples, we may consider the raving Ajax, King Lear and Ophelia; for the creations of the genuine genius, to which alone we can here refer, as being generally known, are equal in truth to real persons; moreover, frequent actual experience in this respect shows the same thing. A faint analogy of this kind of transition from pain to madness is to be found in the way in which we all frequently try, as it were mechanically, to banish a tormenting memory that suddenly occurs to us be some loud exclamation or movement, to turn ourselves from it, to distract ourselves by force.

Now, from what we have stated, we see that the madman correctly knows the individual present as well as many particulars of the past, but that he fails to recognise the connexion, the relations and therefore goes astray and talks nonsense. Just this is his point of contact with the genius; for he too leaves out of sight knowledge of the connexion of things, as he neglects that knowledge of relations which is knowledge according to the principle of sufficient reason, in order to see in things only their Ideas, and to try to grasp their real inner nature which expresses itself to perception, in regard to one thing represents its whole species, and hence, as Goethe says, one case is valid for a thousand. The individual object of his contemplation, or the present which he apprehends with excessive vividness, appears in so strong a light that the remaining links of the chain, so to speak, to which they belong, withdraw into obscurity, and this gives us the phenomena that have long been recognised as akin to those of madness. That which exists in the actual individual thing, only imperfectly and weakened by modification, is enhanced to perfection, to the Idea of it, by the method of contemplation used by the genius. Therefore he everywhere sees extremes, and on this account his own actions tend to extremes. He does not know how to strike the mean; he lacks cool-headedness, and the result is as we have said. He knows the Ideas perfectly, but not the individuals. Therefore it has been observed that a poet may know man profoundly and thoroughly, but men very badly; he is easily duped, and is a plaything in the hands of the cunning and crafty.