It clearly feels very important for academic philosophers to guard their borders aggressively. Doing so has brought them extraordinary neglect and mockery. I’d recommend that they learn to make philosophy into a big tent and stop being so threatened by practioners who don’t share their assumptions, lest they find out that there are no more true believers.
Friday, December 21, 2007
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Sunday, December 16, 2007
Then three interviews at Clare, with the Director of Studies and one of the college lecturers, with the person who would eventually be my tutor, and with a Professorial fellow in Classics. These I remember less well, but I was certainly asked if I agreed with Quintilian's assessment of Livy's prose style (ummmm, well.... mumble....) and whether I'd prefer to know a little about a lot or a lot about a little. I have no idea what I said to that. Quite a full day, though.
Still, I think I enjoyed it. At least, I enjoyed the obvious time and attention being paid to my application. And that is still the case. The decisions are taken very carefully and with a great deal of consideration of each candidate's various strengths and weaknesses. It's a shame we cannot take more people, of course, and then there are people to whom the course or the method of teaching we offer are not well suited. In fact, if there is one piece of advice that I would insist upon for potential applicants it is that they all need to look carefully at the course they apply for. Make sure you know what it involves, what it does not cover, and the sort of work you will be doing. All that information is easily available, but it is surprising how many applicants appear not to have spent much time looking and thinking about what they are signing up for...
Friday, December 14, 2007
Monday, December 10, 2007
Friday, December 07, 2007
That's not all. For our Faculty, this is the time of year when we begin to set exam papers for the summer. It's a long and baroque process, with all sorts of complicated discussions about formats and fonts and markbooks and workbooks and candidates from other courses and the like. One of the hardest parts of the job, in fact, is moving between the various different teaching, Faculty, college, research, and publication tasks that we each take on. I can't juggle and I'm only just able to manage this working equivalent.
But there are some things to smile about too. Like: www.elfyourself.com (8 new elves per second, apparently...). Or the interesting and often very bright students we get to interview. Or finding out that YouTube has footage of perhaps the best thing that Socrates ever did.
Sunday, December 02, 2007
Monday, November 26, 2007
What's the worst argument to be found in an ancient philosophical text? I mean the argument that is the most obviously fallacious or otherwise glaringly misguided? Now, the Principle of Charity often leads us in the business to try to do the best for whatever apparently ghastly bit of reasoning we might find. (Think, for example, of the 'Argument from opposites' in Plato's Phaedo: 'being dead' and 'being alive' are opposites in the required sense, are they Socrates?)
But I can't do very much for the following:
'If you are light, pain, I can bear you; if I cannot bear you, you are short.'
levis es si ferre possum; brevis es si ferre non possum.Sen. Ep. Mor. 24.14
If pain is intolerable then it will kill you; it will not last. If pain lasts then it must therefore be tolerable.This is of course true only in a very special and literal sense of 'intolerable'. I doubt anyone will be much relieved when they turn to a doctor and complain of excruciating agony if the doctor turns round and says: 'Well, it hasn't killed you. So it must be tolerable. Luck you.' Anyone persuaded by this not to worry about pain is an idiot or (and?) already, like Seneca, a Stoic...
Any arguments worse than this?
Daughter #2: 'Will you come to explore a volcano with me?' (Daughter #2 is wearing a bike-helmet to eat her breakfast. In fact, she has been wearing it all weekend since seeing Dr Iain Stewart's new BBC2 series and people abseiling into a crater to look at moltem lava.)
Daughter #1: 'Sorry, no. It's a school day today.'
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Good for them. But I couldn't help feeling a little deflated by the following:
Fiona Czerniawska, director of the Management Consultancies Association's think tank, says: "A philosophy degree has trained the individual's brain and given them the ability to provide management-consulting firms with the sort of skills that they require and clients demand. These skills can include the ability to be very analytical, provide clear and innovative thinking, and question assumptions."I would have hoped that all university degrees offer that kind of education. For my part, I don't think that what I am doing when I teach is fit someone out with the kind of skills that management consulting firms demand. And it somehow bores me to hear once again the reduction of philosophy to some kind of 'brain-training' and the provision of a set of transferable analytic skills. But perhaps the increased employability of a philosophy degree will attract some good students who might otherwise have been put off and, if things go well, perhaps they will in the course of their studies read and think about something which lets them imagine doing something interesting afterwards.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
I now have a nice pdf of Mutschmann's edition of Sextus Empiricus PH and also Oliveri's editions of Philodemus On the good king... and On frank speech.
Friday, November 16, 2007
This is what the DG of UNESCO thinks it is all about:
To give greater depth to political, philosophical and intercultural dialogue and to mutual understanding of shared memories and values, ambitions and joint projects admittedly requires an updated chart of lines of convergence and divergence, of the differences, silences, misunderstandings and deadlocks that are always possible. The purpose of this Day is therefore to set out the conditions for such a universal dialogue by opening up to the diversity of interlocutors, and of philosophical currents and traditions, in an endeavour to take stock, to provide a perspective on the world and to engage in a critical rereading of our concepts and way of thinking.Admirable aims, I suppose, albeit with a whiff of hand-waving generality...
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
- Lucretius, De rerum natura, book 3, lines 830-end
- Cicero, Tusculan disputations, book 1 (Cicero also wrote a Consolatio just before Tusc. His daughter, Tullia, died early in 45 BC.)
- Philodemus, On death
- L. Varius Rufus, On death (a poem; fragments survive)
- And, perhaps: Pseudo-Platonic Axiochus
Perhaps the most plausible explanation is that it is the result of a growing Roman interest in Epicureanism, the philosophy which emphasised most strongly the importance of getting right about the fear of death. Also, items 1, 3, and 4 were perhaps composed by people who were acquaintances or perhaps more loosely associated. This is therefore perhaps the result of a particular group's interest in this question. And, I imagine we should not discount the possibility that the turbulent times leading up to and after Caesar's assassination, the ongoing upheavals and -- no doubt -- deaths, might have encouraged this kind of reflection. We ought not to over-emphasise this last point, I suppose, since people die all the time and the Romans can't be said to have lived an entirely trouble-free kind of existence before the mid-first century BC. All the same, a number of these works either explicitly mention or can be plausibly linked to political concerns.
Am I missing any items from the list? And is there any other comparable period of activity? Is it that this looks to be unusual simply because we happen to know a bit about the works from this very well-documented period?
Monday, November 12, 2007
Sunday, November 11, 2007
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
Friday, November 02, 2007
Some more on Epicurean pleasure. How can the Epicureans persuade us to think that painlessness is itself a pleasure, let alone the greatest pleasure? Torquatus’ attempt to answer the question in
It is worth pausing for a moment to consider what, precisely, this ‘variation’ might be. The precise nature of this variety or complexity of pleasures once painlessness is reached is not always considered in any detail. But there are two distinct possibilities. First, the variety might be a phenomenological variety – a heterogeneity sometimes stressed as an interesting characteristic of pleasures generally. Alternatively, this variety may lie in the different causes of painlessness. 
Yet another twist, suggested to me this week by Philip Hardie is that the Epicurean stance on variatio is perhaps inspired in contrast with a common literary conceit that variety and complexity in a text or in the language used in a text are prime methods of increasing the audience’s pleasure. I found, for example, Dion. Hal. Comp. 11 and 19 from the first century BC but it might well be a much earlier idea also.
 For this view, see Bailey ad KD 18.
 See Usener’s Glossarium Epicureum s.vv. Note also Plut. Non posse 1088C.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Monday, October 22, 2007
"I am puzzled about joy and katastematic pleasure, too, and so I'm glad you're putting this out there.
I'm not sure I understand your argument against Purinton's interpretation. Do you mean to attribute the following to Epicurus?
(1) Nonhuman animals experience katastematic pleasure.
(2) Nonhuman animals do not experience epilogismos.
Therefore, (3) epilogismos cannot be necessary for the experience of katastematic pleasure.
But (4) one can take joy in katastematic pleasure only by experiencing epilogismos about the settled state of the flesh.
Therefore, (5) joy cannot be necessary for the experience of katastematic pleasure.
Therefore, (6) katastematic pleasure cannot be defined as the intentional object of joy.
What's the evidence for (1)? I've no doubt that nonhuman animals experience the calm state of the flesh that we experience as katastematic pleasure, at least according to the Epicureans, but I cannot recall off the top of my head any evidence that Epicureans take nonhuman animals to experience this state as pleasure. (Indeed, isn't this part of Cicero's complaint--that the appeal to infant and animal pursuit of pleasure appeals to their pursuit of kinetic and not katastematic pleasure?) What am I forgetting?"
I had to think this over for quite a while, but this is as far as I have got:
I don’t think Eric is forgetting anything, and he makes a very good argument. So what can we say about (1)? I wonder if it will help to distinguish between the two types of katastematic pleasure: bodily (aponia) and psychic (ataraxia).
The Epicureans’ account of the hedonic lives of non-rational animals is not very clear. I can see no way, however, in which they could deny that non-rational animals can attain aponia. That is, it seems perfectly possible for a cat, say, to attain a state of physical painlessness. If that is true, I don’t see how the cat is not experiencing at least this form of katastematic pleasure. What a cat cannot do, however, is reflect upon and notice this state and cannot consider and reflect upon its likely continuance. (There are other drawbacks to being a cat. A cat can’t look at another cat with a bad paw and think, ‘How nice I don’t feel that pain’ in the way Lucretius imagines a human onlooker thinking at the beginning of DRN 2; that, by the way, looks to me like a good example of an instance of ‘joy’.) So a cat cannot experience ‘joy’. If that’s on the right lines then if we substitute aponia for ‘katastematic pleasure’ in Eric’s construal of the argument, it seems to me to be OK.
Now what about ataraxia? I suppose the Epicureans won’t want to let cats have that. But, on the other hand, the Epicureans are certainly concerned not to make it seem that a cat is better off than a human precisely because it can never experience mental pains, tarachai. (This looks like the mental analogue of the criticism – at least as old as Callicles in the Gorgias – that to say that we should aim at painlessness is to say that we should want to be like a stone, that is simply incapable of feeling pain.) What they say in response is not so clear but seems to be in two parts: (i) animals can, at least to some extent, experience tarachai; (ii) animals cannot – as humans can – reason away irrational fears and in addition take further pleasure in recognizing their care-free state. What evidence I have found about this is in Philodemus On the gods 1 XV and Polystratus De Irrat. Cont. VI–VII.
This leaves as yet unconsidered whether katastematic pleasure of either sort feels pleasant by itself, as it were. I think Purinton argues that it is rather ‘joy’ which ensures the positive hedonic feel of a good life, which is why he thinks an Epicurean would not want a life of joyless katastematic pleasure. I’m not so sure; or, at least, I am not sure that the Epicureans either do or ought to take this route. It seems to me more likely that they do indeed want to insist that katastematic pleasure is itself pleasant: living a (physical) life without pain is pleasant and living a (mental) life without care is also pleasant. Joy is certainly, however, something distinct from katastematic pleasure. But it seems to me that joy is not necessary for the katastematic pleasure’s having any positive hedonic value. I can see no evidence for that point and the evidence I can find seems to point rather towards the characterisation of joy I tried in the previous post. Now, whether this is coherent, let alone plausible, is another matter. At the moment I can’t help being on Cicero’s side here. But that’s the Epicureans’ fault, not the fault of Cicero’s interpretation.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
I’ve been wondering again about Epicurean hedonism and in particular its claim that painlessness is the highest pleasure. Most people find this implausible and also hard to reconcile with any recognisable hedonism. So there are some interesting attempts to make sense of the Epicurean view. In one particularly interesting article, Purinton  argues that katastematic pleasure should be understood as the object of the intentional state of ‘joy’ (khara). Both katastematic pleasure and the various ‘smooth motions’ in body or soul identified as kinetic pleasures, are to be understood as possible objects of joy in this sense. On this account, katastematic pleasure may not immediately ‘feel’ good but rather ‘is’ good and, if we think properly about what we should value, can be an object of joy.
I am not sure this is quite right. One of the most important passages to be addressed is a quotation from Epicurus’ On the telos, found at Plut. Non posse 1089D (Us. 68):
τὸ γὰρ εὐσταθὲς σαρκὸς κατάστημα καὶ τὸ περὶ ταύτης πιστὸν ἔλπισμα τὴν ἀκροτάτην χαρὰν καὶ βεβαιοτάτην ἔχειν τοῖς ἐπιλογίζεσθαι δυναμένοις.
For the well-settled state of the flesh and the trusted expectation of it povide the highest and most secure joy for those able to appraise it.
The most important point to note about this quotation for our present purposes is that joy is closely associated here with the capacity for some kind of calculation of reflection, that is with some kind of rational activity (described as epilogismos) which involves the proper assessment of one’s current and likely future well-being.  Joy, in other words, is produced only when one is able rationally to reflect on the well-settled state of one’s body or able to expect that well-settled state to continue in the future. Indeed, the Epicureans regularly remind us that the expectation that painlessness will persist can be a source of present pleasure and that the suspicion that it will not can cause present distress. Consider, for example, SV 33’s insistence that the present absence and expectation of future absence of hunger and the like the ‘cry of the body’. Similarly, doxographic sources regularly contrast the Epicureans and Cyrenaics in terms of the formers’ distinctive acceptance that memory and anticipation can produce pleasure (see e.g. DL 2.89). The conclusion that ‘joy’ is the product of rational activity and assessment is supported by the scholion to Ep. Hdt. 66 in which khara and phobos, fear, are assigned to the workings of the rational part of the soul located in the chest. Most crucially, they are said to be distinct from the pathē such as pleasure and pain. ‘Joy’, on this account, is produced by rational activity and like fear, but unlike the pathē, it will be corrigible.  One can be either correct or mistaken in the assessment of one’s current bodily state. It is likely, therefore, that if there is a contrast or distinction to be drawn between ‘joy’ and ‘katastematic pleasure’ then it is not a distinction that makes katastematic pleasure the intentional object of joy, but it is a distinction between different types or sources of pleasure. Joy, we might say, is a positive rational evaluation of one’s present or future state just as its counterpart, fear, is a negative rational evaluation of one’s likely future state. Fear is a kind of pain; so we can infer that joy is a kind of pleasure. But what really distinguishes joy is that it is brought about in a particular fashion. Joy, for example, is not a possible affection of non-rational creatures since they lack the psychic capacity required for the rational evaluation of their current state, let alone the consideration of their future state. But those non-rational creatures may nevertheless experience the pathos of pleasure, indeed the fact that they do so and that it encourages them to act in a particular way is part of Epicurus’ opening, ‘cradle’, argument for the idea that pleasure is the good.
 J. Purinton, ‘Epicurus on the telos’, Phronesis 38, 1993, 281–230.
 See M. Schofield, ‘Epilogismos: an appraisal’ in M. Frede and G. Striker eds. Rationality in Greek thought (Oxford, 1996).
 See D. Konstan, ‘Epicurean ‘passions’ and the good life’ in B. Reis ed. The virtuous life in Greek ethics (Cambridge, 2006).
Sunday, October 14, 2007
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
“ἡ μὲν γὰρ ἀταραξία καὶ ἀπονία καταστηματικαί εἰσιν ἡδοναί· ἡ δὲ χαρὰ καὶ ἡ εὐφροσύνη κατὰ κίνησιν ἐνεργείᾳ βλέπονται.”
Unfortunately, the text is a bit wobbly and there are all sorts of tricky aspects of the syntax to work out: ἐνεργείᾳ or ἐνεργείαι, for example? Thats a job for another (rainy) day, perhaps.) But for now I thought I'd share one of my favourite bits of Epicurean provocation, which I remember once (I think genuinely) shocked one of my fellow graduate students. (That might be because he was of a Platonist sort of persuasion at the time...) Here goes:
I spit on the fine (τὸ καλόν) and those who vacantly gawp at it, whenever it produces no pleasure.Quoted at Athenaeus 547a (Us. 512)
Friday, October 05, 2007
There have always been bad cyclists in Cambridge, but now they are supplemented by huge pelotons of students, trying to stick together and therefore heading to lectures riding three or more abreast down the street. Many of them haven't cycled regularly since they were young kids and don't yet have the traffic sense to get out of the way when required and speed up when necessary. (And lots of them don't know yet how to change gear with confidence so end up peddling furiously in a low gear but failing to make much progress down the road.)
The cycle herds are reinforced by flocks of pedestrians. This morning a bunch of ten or so decided that in order to get to a lecture on the Sidgwick site they were perfectly entitled to stand in the middle of the Queen's Road/Silver Street crossroads. Like a bunch of Buridan's asses they seemed caught between an urge to get to the other side and an equipollent urge to retreat to the curb. So they just stayed there, waiting for some brave soul to take on a leadership role and manage the crossing. I've seen this sort of behaviour on David Attenborough programmes, so it's comforting -- in a way -- to have such a graphic illustration of the fact that humans are, after all, social animals in much the way that wilderbeest are. Thankfully, Cambridge drivers are -- for now -- generally in a forgiving mood or the body count would be pretty horrific.
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
But it's really there: http://la.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pagina_prima
Not quite up to the standard of the Private Eye degree citations, but close. Here's a good example:
Britannia Spears, dicta Britney Spears, est cantrix et saltatrix Americana. Nata est 2 Decembris 1981 in Silva Cantii (Anglice: Kentwood) in Ludoviciana. Musicam popularem canit. Anno 2004, Coemgeno Federline nupsit, et duos filios habent.
Britannia puella canere et saltare semper amabat. Anno 1991, cum annos novem haberet, ad Broadviam ivit ut "infrastudium" pro Laura Bella Bundy in fabula Immisericordis (Anglice: Ruthless) ageret. Postea, ab 1992 ad 1994, apparuit in Canale Disneyo cum Christina Aguilera et Iustino Timberlake in Sodalitate Mici Muris (Anglice: Mickey Mouse Club).
Hoc programmati primavera anni 1994 deleto, Britannia domi habitavit in Ludoviciana ut vitam puellae Americanam vulgaris habeat; revertit autem, post tres annos, ad mundum saltationis.
Monday, October 01, 2007
It might be because I was at the new undergraduates' matriculation dinner last night and it was hard not to be carried along by the mixture of pride, excitement and sheer terror that the new students are feeling at the thought of starting their degree courses. It's not so long ago -- I'd like to think -- that I was in a similar state myself. I seem to remember being particularly concerned about how to get the washing machines in the communal laundry to work; they were enormous great top-loading machines that had to be fed 50 pence pieces. They simply evened out the grime rather than properly washing things, so over the eight weeks your clothes became a uniform shade of grey. They would then emerge from the 20p guzzling 'driers' (enormous drums heated by alarming flames you could just glimpse if you peered round the back) slightly warm, damp, and grey...
But anyway, it's a very special time. In eight weeks or so we'll start interviewing for next year's intake, but for now we can concentrate on our current students and get them off to a good start in their first, or second, or whatever year.
This week is also a good time to be selling posters and toasters.
Monday, September 24, 2007
Last night series out set-up interviews with 'colourful' new neighbours began with Palin watching some crazy Bulgarian mystics dancing in circles at the summer solstice. Weird, huh? You wouldn't get people in Britain celebrating a simple astronomical event as if it were a major energizing of the spiritual whatnot, would you? Oh. In any case this must have been in June. But later in his 'travels', after seeing some gypsies in Sofia -- crikey! There are gypsies there! -- he arrives in Cappodocia (Göreme, in fact, which Palin insisted on pronouncing GO-remmy...) and it's in deep snow. Now, either the rail network and the lorry he 'hitched' in were very slow, or this wasn't really part of a single journey. 'Fess up, Palin! More shoddy BBC work. No wonder people are turning off.
If you live in Cambridge, of course, stay away from the town centre. The place was never designed to accommodate this influx of traffic and concerned parents. You'll never get served in a café and it's crazy to attempt to buy anything at Sainbury's or M&S. Best stay away altogether.
So we will swap the f*cking punt chauffeur types for bunches of students - new ones, a bit bewildered, not yet sure how to do laundry; returning students - suddenly feeling terribly important and confident.
Poor things. And poor parents too. They are paying for all this now and no doubt feel much more invested in the whole business. Many parents insist on coming to college Open Days and even try to come to the admissions interviews. Not a great idea, but you can see why they might feel they have much more of a part to play in the process these days.
Another symptom of the new atmosphere is the readiness of universities to address parents directly. See, for example, the St Andrew's website: http://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/parents/ Nothing comparable yet at www.cam.ac.uk. But students themselves here organize a 'parenting' system -- assigning new first years to 'parents' in the second or third year. It's something of an odd exercise in genealogy and not all 'parents' take an appropriately paternal or maternal attitude to their offspring, of course. But then, they haven't just driven from Devon with a pot plant obscuring the rear view mirror...
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
So we have a shiny new Content Management System and a number of us are busy generating pages and then making 'content'... It's pretty straightforward, if a bit fiddly. For example, I've spent the morning hunting down the odd character in pages we've more or less copied from the current site which is in the wrong coding. So a '£' shows up as a black square with a question mark inside...
I'm geeky enough to think this is all going to be worth it in the end. We should end up with a site which can be managed and updated by a number of people with much greater ease than the present arrangement. No one really needs to know any html or whatever, and what you see is (the stray tricky characters aside) what you get. The next big push is then to start putting video and audio on the site!
Thursday, September 13, 2007
But the best and strangest I found is this excellent site for Platonic fireplaces. I imagine they cast wonderful shadows... Perhaps they are good for rooms containing large numbers of prisoners who want to be given a misleading puppet show.
And I found this cartoon which made me laugh.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Now, I'm not sure if I understand the Epicurean notion of pleasure well enough to know whether this accusation is right. One of the problems, of course, is that Cicero is one of our fullest accounts of Epicurean ideas about pleasure and I find it hard to be sure that we have a sound and accurate picture against which we can compare him and find him wanting. The other evidence is similarly polemical (e.g. Plutarch) or else very scrappy and ripped from any sort of useful context (e.g. the quotations in Cicero and Plutarch; the fragment at Diog. Laert. 10.136).
So how do we proceed? I suppose we need to do three things. First we need to have a clear account of precisely what Cicero's argument is in texts like the opening of Fin. 2 and we need to construct as part of this process an account of what Cicero's understanding of Epicurean pleasure is. We should do the same for Plutarch, and any other source. Second, we need to do a thorough linguistic and philosophical analysis of the scrappy bits of genuine Epicurean material which survive and -- if possible -- see if they can be pieced together into a consistent, though perhaps gappy, whole. Third, we need to do some genuine philosophical inquiry ourselves. For example, we might ask whether we can come to a satisfying account of what pleasure is or, failing that, some picture of the various possible options and what the consequences of each of them is. So, what if we abandon the idea of pleasure as somehow related to perception? Must pleasure be associated with a certain kind of phenomenological 'feel'? If not, what can we say about it? This third part of the process will help to set down some parameters to guide our thinking about what is and is not a plausible or even possible opinion to hold on the question of pleasure.
Finally, we have to put the results of all three kinds of inquiry side by side and see how they relate to one another. Does Cicero's argument, for example, show that he is committed to a view of Epicurean pleasure which is evidently incompatible with the primary Epicurean evidence? If not, is the Epicurean evidence compatible both with Cicero's argument and also with other conceptions of pleasure which are less susceptible to his criticisms? Does either Cicero's attack on Epicurus or the likely Epicurean picture itself offer anything like a plausible conception of pleasure, judged independently?
This is a laborious business, to be sure. And it requires a great deal of both philological and philosophical skill. But it seems to me that this is something like the ideal methodology for approaching this kind of question: we certainly cannot simply legislate that Cicero must be biased and disregard his criticisms as a result. Fortunately, the enterprise as a whole is something that can be pursued collaboratively -- some providing part of the picture and others other parts. And it is something which can proceed gradually, always open to revising the results offered so far. But, considered with my best rose-tinted specs on, that is how I think good ancient philosophy is done.
Thursday, September 06, 2007
Here are some thoughts I’ve been having about Plato’s Philebus. I have been wondering whether, as an alternative to Socrates view that pleasures can be false, a coherent position can be outlined to the effect that pleasures are always true – not just in some sense of their being always ‘really’ a pleasure or some such, but that pleasures are always true in a sense of ‘true’ that corresponds closely with the likely sense in which Socrates thinks that pleasures can be ‘false’. He does not mean that some pleasures are not ‘really’ pleasures.
So, imagine that we disagree with Socrates of the Philebus and think that pleasures cannot be false. Imagine also that we disagree in this way not because we think that it is daft to think of pleasures as true or false, that is, we disagree not because we think pleasures are not ‘truth apt’. Rather, we disagree because we think that all pleasures are true. This is a possible view of Protarchus’ position in the Philebus.
On a plausible view of Socrates’ account, a pleasure can be false in this sense. Pleasures have, as it were, a propositional content. They can be expressed in statements of the form: ‘I am pleased that P’. A pleasure is false, on this view, if P is false. So if ‘I am pleased that you love me’ but you do not love me, the pleasure I feel is, alas, false.
Now imagine that we think that all pleasures are true. How is this expressed? Perhaps we borrow the notion that pleasures have a propositional content. So again, pleasure can be expressed in statements of the form: ‘I am pleased that P’. On this view, however, P is always true; it is true, presumably, in some sense because I take pleasure in it.
This is like one view of Protagoras’ position in the Theaetetus is respect of beliefs generally. On this view, Protagoras thinks that all beliefs are true. If I believe P then P is true. I cannot be mistaken. (He may also think that if P is true then I believe it. I am omniscient.)
Is Protagorean hedonism, the view that all pleasures are true, an absurd view? Certainly, it captures the sense in which we might baulk at the idea that it is possible to be somehow mistaken about what we take pleasure in. Socrates seems to want to say that it is possible to be experiencing a pleasure but there to be some kind of falsity about that pleasure. It is not merely that pleasures can be generated by beliefs that are mistaken; rather, there is something mistaken or wrong about the pleasure itself.
Protagorean hedonism rejects that. If I am pleased at P then P is true. Now, it is depressingly easy to find prima facie objections to this. For example, I might indeed take pleasure in thinking how much you love me, but in fact you do not love me at all. Surely there is something wrong about the pleasure here? If we do not want to go along the route of denying that pleasures are ‘truth apt’, we must somehow instead relativise the object of the pleasure. Now, ‘I am pleased that P’ where P is something true but its truth cannot be undermined by unfortunate facts about, for example, whether you do in fact love me or not. Instead, the truth of P must, it seems, somehow be guaranteed instead simply in virtue of my taking pleasure in it. Somehow, the truth of the pleasure I take in thinking how much you love me is entirely independent of whether you do or do not. It is instead guaranteed by my taking pleasure.
So this is where I have got. Now I have two other questions: How coherent is 'Protagorean hedonism'? Could an argument be mounted against it analogous to the arguments mounted in the Theaetetus against Protagoras’ more general position about beliefs?
Monday, September 03, 2007
The first idea is that kids at 11 who are under-performing would not be allowed automatically to proceed to secondary school. (Here's the BBC report. And here is the Tories' own version of the story.) They may be kept back at primary school until their level of achievement is up to the move. I suppose the idea is that this is an incentive not to be kept back, because of the possible stigma that might bring, and also that it might help secondary schools by removing the need for extensive remedial work with incoming pupils. Well, maybe. But here is what David Laws, the Lib-Dem spokesperson, had to say:
"Like the old 11-plus, proposals for what the Tories have called a remedial year would stigmatise the very children who need extra help. They would also increase class sizes and make it impossible for teachers and parents to plan ahead."The first point is perhaps true but is presumably in part the point of the exercise. Whether in the long term it is overall to the educational and general social benefit or detriment of the pupil concerned is something I really have no idea about. So this might turn out to be a very bad idea, all told. But Laws' second point, though, is surely not quite right. Holding back pupils will increase class size, he says. Well, yes. But surely it will also decrease class sizes. For every extra pupil still in primary school there will be one fewer in secondary school. Or can we now manufacture pupils e nihilo? Sure, there may be an extra burden on some schools, but this is hardly an absolute increase in class sizes... The Tories certainly will need to say something about what they are going to do to help the primary schools to accommodate any such people. But they are even at present being put somewhere...
The second idea was apparently less worthy of the other parties' immediate comment. Here is the Torygraph report. But it seems to me not a bad idea to explore:
"The sixth form experience of many young people is now dominated from year one by the examination system and teachers tell us that the opportunity to explore young people's curiosity and enthusiasm in pursuit of academic byways has been almost totally removed," says a panel of experts, led by a former cabinet minister, Stephen Dorrell, and ex-vice-chancellor Baroness Pauline Perry.That does sound like something worth taking seriously. And that has left me with a very disconcerting thought. Am I really thinking that the Tories have some potentially useful ideas in their education policies? Help! Either I am getting old and cranky -- and, please no, might even end up reading the Daily Mail... -- or British politics has finally gone completely topsy-turvy.
Sunday, September 02, 2007
But best of all is the BBC Radio Five commentary. It's a real saviour for parents who, let's face it, aren't going to be allowed 2 hours of TV during the weekend to devote to watching a game. You can be doing something else while it's on, and still feel the excitement. It's perhaps even better in the car. For me, it certainly evokes the relief of getting back to the car after fighting your way around the shops on a Saturday afternoon, particularly around Christmas. A few minutes of commentary sets you up for a cup of tea and the radio when you get home. Or it reminds me of driving home from visiting the parents on Boxing Day. Special times.
Friday, August 31, 2007
So I started off thinking about companions with this question: What would I want the ideal one of these to be like? I reckon, it ought to have a number of virtues, certainly including these four:
- It should offer a reliable account of the subject area. For a historical subject, this would mean saying what the evidence is, what is generally made of it, and so on.
- It should give a good idea of why the subject area is interesting.
- It should give a sense of what at present are the major scholarly debates or schools of thought on the given subject.
- It should guide the reader to more specialised discussions, related areas and the like.
But there is something else I think they ought to do. For companions (or whatever) to philosophy, I would think they ought to give an impression of the practice of philosophy. So a companion to metaphysics ought not to be a list of positions or a survey of what conclusions might be reached; instead it would also have to show what it is like to be engaged in philosophical inquiry. It would therefore have to exemplify what it is about.
For my line of work, a companion to some historical period or school of philosophy, a good companion would introduce the reader to the practice of thinking philosophically and to the practice of interpreting and contextualising the particular subject matter. So it would have, for example, to show how to read a bit of Aristotle both by engaging with the argument and also, perhaps even initially, by showing how to get from a bit of Aristotle's writings to a relatively clear view of what it means. Of course, these two practices are not easy (or desirable) to keep apart; that, it seems to me, is what working on historical philosophy is all about: it is both history and philosophy.
I think I am coming to the view that a good companion will have two, perhaps very different, functions. It will (i) lay out the state of play, explain where to go to find various texts, say what they are generally thought to be about and so on; but also (ii) it will function as a protreptic to further deeper work and offer a set of examples of what is involved in working 'unaccompanied' with this material. This second might take the form of more specific or specialised bits of research. The authors can feel liberated from the need to 'cover' an area because their job here is to offer up an example of what the next stage of work would look like, exposing the difficulties and wondering explicitly about methodological questions.
 There are some interesting thoughts in G. R. F. Ferrari's introduction to the new Cambridge Companion to Plato's Republic (2007, Cambridge), xv. Ferrari also stresses the idea of 'accompaniment': 'This Companion, by contrast [sc. with a scout striking a new path], seeks to walk with those who are already on the road...'
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Just don't try fresh pineapple or kiwi fruit!
These fruits contain an enzyme, a molecular machine, which chops up proteins. As gelatine is a protein it is chopped up by the enzyme. As the gelatine fibres are chopped up their net falls to pieces, allowing the water to flow freely and turning the jelly back into a sloppy liquid. If you fancy pineapple in your jelly, then use the tinned sort. As part of the canning process the fruit has been heated up. This destroys the enzyme so that it can no longer chop up the gelatine.
So only tinned pineapple will do.... Damn those fresh fruit!
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
The Red Lion, Winfrith Newburgh. Really good food. There wasn't any lamb kleftiko this time, alas, though I'm told the beef stifado was just as good. R. liked the bruscchete.
Sunday, August 26, 2007
Thursday, August 16, 2007
- How much did Sextus know about e.g. the Stoic philosophy he was attacking? Was he, for example, fully aware of the Stoic distinction between the sense in which the present exists and the past and future merely subsist?
- If he did know about these niceties did he care about them? If not, is this due to sheer sloppiness or does he simply think that such word-magic is of no philosophical use?
- Who was he writing for? Were M 9 and 10 written for people already tempted by Pyrrhonism, perhaps even practising Pyrrhonists? It's unlikely that any committed Stoic would be much moved by what he writes, for example, so does that make him a poor dialectician or is that all part of the Pyrrhonist stance?
- How much had Sextus read? In particular, how much did he know of any philosophical work (particularly in the dogmatic schools) after, say, Aenesidemus?
- What are we to make of the methodological introduction to M 9? Does Sextus carry through with this manifesto? If not, why not? If he does so more in some areas than others, why?
- Sextus seems both very taken by and also keen to distance himself from Diodorus Cronus although Diodorus produces plenty of useful material for the anti-physiologia project. Why? Does this have to do with methodological qualms, differences of aim, or something else?
Monday, August 13, 2007
Thursday, August 09, 2007
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
Sunday, August 05, 2007
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
Lots of fun. And, it has to be said, it has made me look a little differently at some of my colleagues. Perhaps those odd non sequiturs at lunch are not a sign of age or the sheer weight of learning. Perhaps it is just difficult to keep track of things when you're zooming back and forth across the space-time continuum. And no wonder people seem to have more time than I to get things done. If a deadline is looming, they just pop into a time machine and give themselves a but more leeway... Handy.