Thursday, December 23, 2010

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The B Club, post-war

I've added some more of the minutes from the B Club books, now taking the story up past the 100th meeting to the end of 1954.  The archive can be foud here.  Some highlights include:

1.  The minutes of the refounding of the club in 1946.  Here, I smiled at the idea in club rule 6: 'That if there were on any occasion no volunteer to read papers at subsequent meetings the question might be decided by lot.'

2.  On 19 January 1953, Professor Ryle 'of Magdalen college, Oxford, read a paper entitled "Socrates' Dream - Theaetetus 201-20" in which he discussed Plato's attack on Greek epistemological theory, [almost] identical with the 20th century "Logical Atomism" of Frege, Russell, and others".    The 'almost' was added in later, perhaps by the Chair (H. Bowden) when the minutes were read at the next meeting...  This is likely, I think, to be an ancestor of the paper eventually published in Phronesis 35 (1990) [JSTOR link].  According to the annotated bibliography in Burnyeat's Theaetetus, Ryle had read the paper to the Oxford Philological Society in  February 1952 [The Phronesis article's Forward includes the minutes of that meeting].  The January meeting of the B Club was perhaps its next appearance.

Here is Ryle in a deckchair:

Saturday, December 11, 2010


My Christmas present this year is an Amazon Kindle.  I'm planning to use it a lot for reading pdfs from JSTOR and the like (as well as the handy pdfs of OCTs and Teubners you can get from  But is there anything else I really must have on it? have some free philosophy editions - Hume's enquiries, for example - but I can't always tell whether the translations of, say, Plato and Aristotle are any good.  I did buy Jowett's complete Plato for 72p, because I'm a real risk-taker like that. But are there any other bargains I should know about?

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Christmas presents

I know it's probably too late because you are all super-organised types who do all your Christmas shopping in July and have your cards ready to post and the turkey stuffed and all that, but just in case...  the good people at the Unemployed philosophers guild have some lovely things for the thinker in your life.  For example, who would not like a prime number watch?  Or a 'What would Nietzsche do?' t-shirt?  (Or this one.)  There's not so much ancient philosophy stuff.  But the little beanie Socrates is quite cute...

Wednesday, December 01, 2010


Movember has gone and I'm pretty glad that I can at last shave off the moustache.  Many thanks to everyone who donated some money -- our team managed to raised nearly £1800.

December is always extremely hectic; the term is soon to finish, but the last week is always full of meetings with my philosophy students and my tutees.  Then there is the MPhil examining, setting papers for the undergraduate examinations in the summer, and somehow trying to put the finishing touches to a paper on Laws 5.  (I've also got a bee in my bonnet about something around the notorious passage at Philebus 40a but other people seem to be writing papers on that dialogue faster than I can read them, so I'm getting a bit swamped because of the sheer volume of stuff to get through; I'm pretty sure I haven't been scooped, but I do need to keep on top of what's being said.)

And now I've got the dates for the girls' school carol concert, the infant Christmas show, and all the other festive guff.

Most important of all is the admissions interview season that kicks off on Monday.  I'll be interviewing for four different subjects (a good thing, I reckon, at least because it gives me a bit of perspective on my own philosophy candidates) and it's hard work; probably harder for the candidates, of course, but we all take this very seriously and there are big decisions to be made.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

CAG etc

Lots of the CAG volumes are available in digital format but often you can't get them via Google books in the UK.  But here is a site where you can download the (often enormous) files.  Hooray.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The B Club - the early years

I've made a modest start on archiving the minutes of the B Club.  You can find the minutes for the years before the Second World War here.  I'll add to them as and when I get the time.

There are also plans to produce a database of papers, speakers and the like.  It would be, if nothing else, an interesting record of part of the history of ancient philosophical scholarship since the 1930s.

Some highlights:

The 44th meeting, in 1937, usefully notes that they had to wait to start because their guest had to go home to get his specs.

The 57th meeting, in 1938, recalls Skemp's discussion of Dies' interpretation of Plato's nuptial number which 'was illustrated on the blackboard'.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Movember spawned a monster...

Here (by not really popular demand) is the state of the 'tache on day 19.

If this picture has made you laugh them please donate here.

Art and that

I’m enjoying our Thursday seminars reading Laws II. Yesterday we got to this bit: 668c4–8

Δεῖ δὴ καθ' ἕκαστόν γε, ὡς ἔοικε, γιγνώσκειν τῶν ποιημάτων ὅτι ποτ' ἐστὶν τὸν μέλλοντα ἐν αὐτῷ μὴ ἁμαρτήσεσθαι· μὴ γὰρ γιγνώσκων τὴν οὐσίαν, τί ποτε βούλεται καὶ ὅτου ποτ' ἐστὶν εἰκὼν ὄντως, σχολῇ τήν γε ὀρθότητα τῆς βουλήσεως ἢ καὶ ἁμαρτίαν αὐτοῦ διαγνώσεται.

Saunders translates:
So it looks as if a man who is not to go wrong about a given composition must appreciate what it is, because failure to understand its nature–what it is trying to do and what in fact it is a representation of–will mean that he gets virtually no conception of whether the author has achieved his aim correctly or not.
This is supposed to help us to understand the correct way to judge the creations of mousikē and who the good judge of those creations would be. My question is about what the metaphysical commitments of this comment are. In particular, I want to know about the ousia of 668c6. This seems to be the ousia of the artistic product and the Athenian has in mind here products of imitative (eikastikai) arts. So it will be a painting (of something), or a statue (of something), or a dramatic performance (of something)...

First question: is the phrase ... τί ποτε βούλεται καὶ ὅτου ποτ' ἐστὶν εἰκὼν ὄντως (‘what it is trying to do and what in fact it is a representation of’) supposed to be a gloss on this ousia? If so, then the ousia of this painting will be what the painting is ‘trying to do and what in fact it is a representation of...'

Second question: if so, then:

Is the Athenian saying the following the ousia of this is ‘human’ or ‘Lisa del Giocondo’? Is either really plausible?  I suppose if someone pointed to it and asked me 'What is this?' I might say 'A woman' or 'Lisa'.  But I might also say 'a painting'.  Yes, I might agree that it is a painting of someone but I see no reason not to think that its ousia is 'painting'.

And is the ousia of this ‘a lark’ or ‘a lark’s song’?

Add to this the Platonic idea that even things that are not the product of human eikastic crafts are also, in a sense, imitations of some perfect, intelligible, spooky sort of thing and  things get really weird... Boy, no wonder Aristotle got so stroppy and started Cat. 1 as he did.  He even says that the figure in the picture (to gegrammenon [sc. zōōn])is only homonymously a human, not just that we would be a bit batty to say that the ousia of the picture itself is 'human'.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


It's my turn this year to do the introductory lectures to our 1A (mostly first year) Classics students on 'Socrates and Plato'.  We all have to distribute feedback forms to our audience and then take note of what is said.  This year, one reply complained that I spent the lectures talking about particular dialogues in turn, sometimes just bits of a particular dialogue (e.g. I did a lecture on Socrates and Polus in Gorgias) rather than giving an introduction to what Plato thought.

Now, this is a reasonably easy complaint to explain away and I can give a good defence of why I do things the way I do.  (There's one exception: for today's lecture I will talk generally about the various jobs that 'Forms' do in the dialogues and highlight some difficulties; but I do that only after I've spent a couple of weeks on e.g. the Phaedo and shown the way in which these ideas are in fact introduced in the dialogues themselves.)  But I wonder what is the best way to get students interested in ancient philosophy.  We used to start them off with Thales and co.  But I remember a number of students finding this all just too weird ('Everything comes from water, huh?  Idiot.') and the source critical stuff you really have to do is a bit challenging for an introductory course. So we start with Socrates, well Plato's Socrates...

I could do it by theme, I suppose, but jumping from work to work like that would get confusing.  So I do what I do in part because I want to encourage the students to look at an argument, react to that argument sensitively with regard to its context and the role it plays within the work as a whole.  We can then move off to more general questions (e.g. we had a talk about akrasia and whether cases like Leonteus in Republic do indeed occur).

And if that's no good we could always learn this dance routine:

Monday, November 15, 2010

Being a philosopher

There are a few of these going round the interwebs.  I like this one.

e.g. "Won't it be hard for someone who has no frakking contact with anything resembling a worthwhile life to figure out what constitutes a worthwhile life?"

Thursday, November 11, 2010


My grandfathers hardly ever talked about their service during the war.  But it affected them deeply.

Most war poetry has been dulled by GCSE syllabus drudgery , but some of it is still very powerful.  Here is a poem written by Flt Lt Rupert 'Tiny' Cooling, which he recited during an excellent BBC documentary on Wellington Bombers (sadly, I think, not still on the iplayer).  He cried as he read it.  So did I.

This muster of names,
This directory of faceless, formless beings
Suffocates the mind.

Is it solely a tabulation as on
pages of Smith's in volume S to Z?
Or a company of friends
Awaiting recognition
Amidst a legion of Strangers?

In the quest, shadows emerge,
Forgotten faces relive
Brief moments of shared experience
And call upon yet others to be identified …

Now what became of him? And him?
And their names too are
carved in the roster.

I dare not look for my own,
it should be there.

Our Flight Commander, Hinks,
Quiet Ronnie Frost (he joined with me),
Young Naylor who was lost in the North Sea …
Was he twenty when he came into my room
and cried like a baby the night Bob Hewitt died,
leaving a pregnant wife?

Three weeks later
I helped to clear his room,
And found his Bible by his bed.

And, to cheer you up after that:

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Ever since the XP-38 came out...

...they're just not in demand any more.  I know I should be doing other things, but I've worked hard on revisions to an article this morning so I built the last of my birthday presents.

Monday, November 01, 2010

The B Club

When I have more time, I plan to go through the minutes of the Cambridge B Club (a society that meets around 8 times a year to hear papers on topics in ancient philosophy) and create a digital archive of the--mostly hand-written--minute books.  Here is a taster: the entries for the very first meeting on 21 November 1931 and the first meeting after the war on 21 January 1946.  The Club will celebrate its 500th meeting in Cambridge in May 2011.

This is the inscription on the first page of the first minute book, presumably by H. C. Baldry, who was elected the first secretary of the club:

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Beards, tweed, etc.

Simon Hoggart visited Cambridge last week and had dinner at Clare College.  He wrote this in Saturday's Guardian:
At least my double ticket took me to Cambridge, where I was giving a talk at Clare College. We dined in hall, where they still have a "high table", one foot above the undergraduates' level. We all had to stand while the fellows filed in and what a wondrous sight they made: stooped, bearded, often distracted as if the gong had called them away when they were on the very brink of discovering a cure for heart disease.

I occasionally wonder what happens when a young, ambitious chap becomes a don. Presumably at the age of 24 they are taken off to a special outfitters where they're told, "soon have you looking the part, sir! We'll just glue on this silly-looking beard, and get rid of all that hair on the top of your head. And pebbly 1930s glasses are all the rage now! A nice knobbly stick, sir? And these soft shoes are perfect for shuffling along …"

I suppose that the dons in that short transition stage between graduate student and ancient pedagogue are actually eating at home with their young families. Possibly.
Why the 'possibly'?  (And note also the emphasis on 'chaps' here; there are women Fellows in these colleges, although they may well be even less well represented at dinners than they are in the general composition of the Fellowship of many of these colleges.)  At home with their young families?  That's exactly where some of us are.  Others of us are still in the library, in an office marking essays, in a lab doing experiments, or just having a life outside of the college.

I emailed Simon to point out that he might, next time he is in town, come along for lunch.  He'd find, I imagine, a rather different crowd and, I think, would see a different face of the university: busy people running between lectures, labs, and supervisions; catching up with friends and gossip; doing college business; moaning about HE policy and the like.  Without the gong.  In fact, although we often think the best thing to do for visitors and guest is to take them to dinner, it does often give a lop-sided picture of what we're most of us up to most of the time.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Quantifying pleasure

I should have read this before, but I've only just discovered J. C. Hall, 'Quantity of pleasure', PAS 67, 1966-7, 35-52 (JSTOR link here). I can't say I am immediately convinced but I did enjoy the suggestion of the following unit for pleasure comparison (p.44):
Suppose a boy, John, to have a taste for bull's eyes that is constant throughout the time we are concerned with, suppose one bull's eye of a given make of constant size to be available to him each hour from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and suppose that he is able, when they are so spaced, to eat up to twelve bull's eyes in a day without satiety setting in to any appreciable degree. These conditions presuppose that the ordering relations, including quality, are applicable to John's pleasure, at different times, in eating bull's eyes; otherwise one could not say that his taste was constant or say when satiety set in. There is therefore a class of recurrent experiences, guaranteed by the initial conditions as being equal in pleasure. If we could also find an operation analogous to addition, whereby the pleasure obtainable from two members of this class could be combined, we could then use any member of this class as a standard unit applicable to the measurement in terms of pleasure of as many of John's experiences (within the period covered by the initial conditions) as could be compared as being equal in pleasure to, or greater or less in pleasure than the eating of one bull's-eye under the spacing conditions laid down.
Those readers not au fait with traditional British sweets might appreciate learning that a 'bull's eye' is a minty boiled sweet, a bit like a humbug...

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Weighing pleasures and pains

At Protagoras 356a8–c1 Socrates uses the metaphor of weighing to describe how we make choices between different possible courses of action on the basis of the pleasure or pain involved in each. He mentions three tests and gives a recommendation for each based on the outcome. We imagine a pair of scales that registers only which pan contains the heavier material: this is the pan that drops.  It does not give a calibrating value to the weight in each pan.

1. Weigh pleasures against pleasures (b3).

Here, choose the option with the most pleasures.  (Of two options pick the one that is the heavier; of more than two options pick the one that is heavier than every other option.)

2. Weigh pains against pains (b4).

Here, choose the option with the least pains.

The third, however, seems rather different:

3. Weigh pleasures against pains (b5).

Here, if pleasures outweigh pains then do this praxis. If pains outweigh pleasures then do not do this praxis.  (Let's leave aside for now whether this is a recommendation or a description of what people generally do anyway.)

It seems to me that the question settled by 3 is different from the questions addressed in 1 and 2. They are concerned with ranking options, all of which are apparently being considered as possible courses of action. In 3, however, it is being decided whether a course of action should be done or not taking into account that an action will likely involve both pleasures and pains.

Also, the combination of the three will not immediately generate the clear guidance that Socrates seems to want.

We can imagine the procedure as follows. A good maximiser first gathers up the pleasures and pains for a particular action and weighs the pleasures against the pains. Let us imagine the pleasures win out. That course of action is therefore given a recommendation. He will perhaps also consider other courses of action and retain all those for which their respective pleasures outweigh their pains. But now what does he do? He needs to rank the options in order to choose the one in which there is the greatest preponderance of pleasure over pain since he is a maximiser. But the procedures in 1 and 2 will not allow him to settle this question. Imagine two courses of action that are being considered: A and B. Both A and B have both pleasures and pains associated with them. For both A and B, moreover, it is the case that the pleasures outweigh the pains (so both pass the test in 3). But how will the good maximiser then choose between A and B? For example, course of action A may have more pleasure associated with it than course of actions B (A will beat B in test 1) but course of action A may also have more pains associated with it than course of action B (A will lose to B in test 2). The procedure as elaborated here will be unable to adjudicate between such cases since 1 and 2 only register the fact of one set of pleasures being greater than another or one set of pains being greater than another. They are unable to adjudicate between different degrees to which the pleasures of a given option outweigh its pains or, for that matter between different degrees to which the pains of a given option outweigh its pleasures. This is because both pleasures and pains are being considered to have positive mass, as it were. This is helpful because it allows the procedure in 3: pleasures can be weighed against pains. But it prevents us from considering the ‘net’ weight of a given course of action as being the combination of the positive value of pleasures and the negative value of pains.

For example, imagine that course A will produce 8 units of pleasure while course B will produce 6. (So A beats B in test 1.) But course A will produce 6 units of pain while B will produce 5. (So A loses to B in text 2.) Both course A and course B will pass test 3 since in both there is more pleasure than pain produced.

What is needed is a new procedure: a fourth test in which the pleasures of course A are combined with the pains of course B and weighed against the pleasures of course B combined with the pains of course A. The winning course of action is the one whose pleasures are in the heavier pan. (If PleasureA + PainB is greater than PleasureB + PainA, then PleasureA + PainB - PainA  is greater than PleasureB, and PleasureA - PainA  is greater than PleasureB – PainB.) (Denyer notes the need for such a procedure in his commentary ad 356b1 but I don’t think Socrates makes any explicit reference to it in the description here.)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

In praise of lower-league football

R (who is nearly 9) and I went again to see Cambridge United yesterday.  We managed to go quite a few times last season and, a but to my surprise, R is keen to go more often.  I have to say that I'm delighted.  It's not a cheap afternoon out (tickets for the 'Family stand' are £16 for an adult and £5 for a child) and, let's be honest, you will see better football if you spend the money of a subscription to Sky sports.  But on the other hand, there is something magical about the walk to the ground as gradually people all wearing replica shirts and scarves converge from the side streets on their way to the turnstiles.  And the walk home is just as lovely, even when you have lost, particularly later in the winter when it is already dark and you leave the floodlights behind.  (And yesterday we won 3-1.  Come on the Us!)

And given that only around 3000 people are there, you somehow feel as if your presence is important.  You have made a reasonable contibution to the support and the noise.  You can sit close enough to the pitch to hear the players swearing at one another.  You get recognised after only a few visits by the programme seller.  And the hot dogs are great.  (Probably they aren't really great, of course, but they taste good when you are there in the stands.)

Anyway, this is all working up towards a plug for next Saturday's game.  It's a 3 o'clock kick-off (as it should be) and it's the FA cup.  A tie vs. Lewes FC (of the Blue Square South) and it's a 'quid a kid' so there really is no excuse for not taking your child (under 10...) along.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Rat girl

I'm reading Kristin Hersh's wonderful sort-of-autobiography, Rat Girl.

Here are Kristin and Tanya doing 'Red Shoes' in 2007:

And here they are as Throwing Muses doing the same song at Glastonbury in 1989:

Wednesday, October 06, 2010


This Movember, the month formerly known as November I’ve decided to donate my face to raising awareness about prostate cancer.  My donation and commitment is the growth of a moustache for the entire month of Movember.  This will make me look very silly.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men. One man dies every hour from the disease in the UK. This is a cause that I feel passionately about and I’m asking you to support my efforts by making a donation to The Prostate Cancer Charity. To help, you can either: 

•  Click this link and donate online using your credit card or PayPal account .

The Prostate Cancer Charity will use the money raised by Movember for the development of programs related to awareness, public education, advocacy, support of those affected, and research into the prevention, detection, treatment and cure of prostate cancer.
For more details on how the funds raised from previous campaigns have been used and the impact Movember is having please visit

Thank you in advance for helping me to support men’s health. 

Monday, October 04, 2010

Plato, pleasure, pdf

I've just received the pdf offprint of my essay 'Plato on the pleasures and pains of knowing' that will appear in the next Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy.  You can find a link to it on my Faculty webpage.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

On power ballads

Yesterday, discussion in college turned to power ballads.  These are generally easy to recognise and perhaps best exemplified by this classic (Tyler 1982):

We were wondering what the defining characteristics of this type are but found it difficult to come up with a set of necessary and sufficient conditions. Most display one or more of the following characteristics:
  • A quiet, perhaps slow, start that leads into a loud chorus section.
  • A solo of some kind - usually either on lead electric guitar or saxophone.
  • The song must express some kind of deep emotion.  Many are plangent in some way, referring to stories of heartbreak, loss, or sorrow.  Many express regret or longing.
  • There is usually a stirring key change late in the song.
  • The singer must deliver the song earnestly and with a barely-perceptible crack in the voice every so often in order to demonstrate the depth of feeling involved.
There are clear rules for the videos of any such power ballad.  If located indoors, they have to involve billowing curtains, preferably in a large and empty house.  It must be night-time.  And there must be a lot of candles.  If located outside, again night-time is the default option.  There should be a wide open space for the singer to occupy, lit by flaming torches or burning vehicles.  There will in both cases be the occasional close-up of the singer, perhaps in slow motion, as he/she closes his/her eyes and turns away in deep but barely expressed emotional turmoil.  Many examples are used in film soundtracks and therefore clips from the film may be interspersed throughout the video.

On reflection, I wondered what became of this genre.  What was the last power ballad (not a cover version or a remix) to be in the 'hit parade'?  Answers on a postcard to...

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Charging and paying for it

Here is a good argument to show why it is important to charge for philosophical discussions and also also important to pay for a bit of philosophical teaching.  Antiphon attacks Socrates with this dilemma (Xen. Mem. 1.16.11-12, Marchant's translation):
πάλιν δέ ποτε ὁ Ἀντιφῶν διαλεγόμενος τῷ Σωκράτει εἶπεν: ὦ Σώκρατες, ἐγώ τοί σε δίκαιον μὲν νομίζω, σοφὸν δὲ οὐδ᾽ ὁπωστιοῦν: δοκεῖς δέ μοι καὶ αὐτὸς τοῦτο γιγνώσκειν: οὐδένα γοῦν τῆς συνουσίας ἀργύριον πράττῃ. καίτοι τό γε ἱμάτιον ἢ τὴν οἰκίαν ἢ ἄλλο τι ὧν κέκτησαι νομίζων ἀργυρίου ἄξιον εἶναι οὐδενὶ ἂν μὴ ὅτι προῖκα δοίης, ἀλλ᾽ οὐδ᾽ ἔλαττον τῆς ἀξίας λαβών. [12] δῆλον δὴ ὅτι εἰ καὶ τὴν συνουσίαν ᾤου τινὸς ἀξίαν εἶναι, καὶ ταύτης ἂν οὐκ ἔλαττον τῆς ἀξίας ἀργύριον ἐπράττου. δίκαιος μὲν οὖν ἂν εἴης, ὅτι οὐκ ἐξαπατᾷς ἐπὶ πλεονεξίᾳ, σοφὸς δὲ οὐκ ἄν, μηδενός γε ἄξια ἐπιστάμενος.

“Socrates, I for my part believe you to be a just, but by no means a wise man. And I think you realise it yourself. Anyhow, you decline to take money for your society. Yet if you believed your cloak or house or anything you possess to be worth money, you would not part with it for nothing or even for less than its value. Clearly, then, if you set any value on your society, you would insist on getting the proper price for that too. It may well be that you are a just man because you do not cheat people through avarice; but wise you cannot be, since your knowledge is not worth anything.”
If Socrates is honest then since he does not charge for a chat  it must be that he does not consider his conversation to be worth anything. But in that case, if Socrates is honest then he cannot be wise. If he is wise and his conversation is worth something, then he is not honest because he does not charge for it. Socrates is therefore either wise or honest, but cannot be both.

Someone dishing out a bit of philosophy for free is either an idiot or is dishonest. And you wouldn't want to learn philosophy from an idiot. And it's unsettling to learn it from someone who is dishonest about its value.  (Socrates replies in 1.16.13 that just as there are right and wrong ways to go about bestowing beauty, so too there are honourable and shameful ways to dish out wisdom.  It's pretty seedy to sell one's beauty even if its rightly thought to be something valuable; so too it's a dirty business to sell wisdom.)

Friday, September 24, 2010

Don't think too much...

I cam across this, quoted in Christopher Hamilton's book Middle Age.  It's from the 'Lord Chandos letter' (1902) by Hugo von Hofmannsthal (full text here; some info here).  I wondered if it might also describe the possible effects of having an overly critical approach to ethical notions -- just imagine what it would really be like to have a sceptical view about the truth of common ethical judgements and then not be able to leave it at the door when listening to everyday chat...
Gradually, however, these attacks of anguish spread like a corroding rust. Even in familiar and humdrum conversation all the opinions which are generally expressed with ease and sleep-walking assurance became so doubtful that I had to cease altogether taking part in such talk. It filled me with an in­explicable anger, which I could conceal only with effort, to hear such things as: This affair has turned out well or ill for this or that person; Sheriff N. is a bad, Parson T. a good man; Farmer M. is to be pitied, his sons are wasters; another is to be envied because his daughters are thrifty; one family is rising in the world, another is on the downward path. All this seemed as indemonstrable, as mendacious and hollow as could be. My mind compelled me to view all things occurring in such conversations from an uncanny closeness. As once, through a magnifying glass, I had seen a piece of skin on my little finger look like a field full of holes and furrows, so I now perceived human beings and their actions. I no longer suc­ceeded in comprehending them with the simplifying eye of habit. For me everything disintegrated into parts, those parts again into parts; no longer would anything let itself be en­compassed by one idea. Single words floated round me; they congealed into eyes which stared at me and into which I was forced to stare back-whirlpools which gave me vertigo and, reeling incessantly, led into the void.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Lots of people paint views of Cambridge.  I like this one a lot, in part because it is not of the usual suspects.  And because I cycle along this street nearly every day.

Image (c) Monika Umba

It's by Monika Umba, and you can see some more of her work on her website here.  We're lucky to have some of her paintings at home: two decorative pieces and a lovely picture of the North Brink in Wisbech that I got as a birthday present.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Warburton v. Ladyman

... on Radio 4's Today this morning.  (The BBC website has a longer account of Warburton's position here.)  'Philosophy bites' is a good thing, but I am not convinced that academic philosophers have an obligation to engage the wider public in all that they do. Nor is it true that all philosophy can be made accessible.  Nor am I convinced that 'the core' of philosophy is  'how we live: moral questions, political questions'.  So a score-draw, I reckon.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


It feels properly autumnal now and today was more or less the last day of the summer 'research period' I can call my own.  Tomorrow is a college Open Day, next week I have some interviews to do and then the Southern Association for Ancient Philosophy meeting.  After that, we are into the preterminal week.

Still, I've been plugging on with a paper on 'Comparing lives in Laws V' and making a bit of progress.  I'm going backwards now through the text trying to track discussions of self-control and akolasia for the next section.  Fortunately, we'll be reading book two in the Thursday seminar next term so I will have some time to mull over that section properly.  No doubt I will have some more questions about it, though, and they may find themselves posted here.

The new Cambridge diary is here and filling up...  So the madness is about to begin.  (Yes, I know it only lasts for nine weeks or so but it feels much longer, I promise...)

Thursday, September 09, 2010


The Open University is advertising for a Chair in Classical Studies.  Details here.  Note the emphasis in the advertisement on reception studies, couched in the horrid second-person address that these ads sometimes use:
You will be a leader in research who can build on the Department’s achievements in reception studies and develop research into the bond between the study of the ancient world and the creation of knowledge and culture in recent and contemporary societies.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

A balanced life

I’m looking at bit of Laws V where there is an argument for the choiceworthiness of a virtuous life on the grounds that it is more pleasant than a vicious life. As part of that argument the Athenian distinguishes three kinds of life: one with large and intense pleasures and pains (call this a Calliclean life) one with mild pleasures and pains (call this a ‘quiet’ life) and a third, what the Athenian calls a ‘balanced’ or isorropos life: 733c-d. This is the bit I’m interested in right now:

ἐν ᾧ δ’ αὖ βίῳ ἰσορροπεῖ, καθάπερ ἐν τοῖς πρόσθεν δεῖ διανοεῖσθαι• τὸν ἰσόρροπον βίον ὡς τῶν μὲν ὑπερβαλλόντων τῷ φίλῳ ἡμῖν βουλόμεθα, τῶν δ’ αὖ τοῖς ἐχθροῖς οὐ βουλόμεθα.

As is the case for the other two kinds, of such ‘balanced’ lives we prefer those in which what is dear to us predominates and not those in which what is harmful to us predominates. It is often thought that this is a life that is balanced in the sense that neither pleasures nor pains predominate. But Saunders argues that this cannot be correct since the Athenian is quite prepared to identify preferences even within this category of life between such lives in which what is ‘dear to us’ predominates and those in which ‘what is hostile’ to us predominates. Rather, on his view a ‘balanced’ life is one in which it is neither the case that both pleasures and pains and numerous, intense, and large, nor that both are few, mild, and small [1]. Another advantage of this interpretation is that it the Athenian to give an exhaustive classification: a life will either be a ‘Calliclean’ life, or a ‘quiet’ life, or it will be a balanced life, this latter being understood simply as a life that is of neither of the two first kinds. On Saunders’ view, it seems that most lives will in fact turn out to be ‘balanced’ in this way since in most lives it will be the case that some pleasures and some pains are mild, some intense, some large and some small.

I like this reading but I am wrestling with two worries about it. I wonder if anyone can help.

[A] On Saunders’ reading, such a life is balanced because it falls between two extremes. But in his comments it is not clear whether this does in fact allow a range of lives that will count as balanced in this way and make or whether it denotes a particular life ‘half-way’ between the other two kinds that will allow there to be other lives that a not ‘balanced’ but nevertheless also fail to be one of these extreme kinds. He writes: ‘The equal-balanced life must then be that life which is equal- or well-balanced in the sense that it is balanced equidistant from two polar states: it does not topple over either to emotional extremes (life A [= my ‘Calliclean life’]) or to near ἀπάθεια (life B [= my ‘quiet life’).’ Here the notion of being ‘equidistant’ suggests a rather specific hedonic profile. However, in the very next sentence, he adds: ‘The feelings of a man who lives a βίος ἰσόρροπος are moderate (cf. 728e), but obviously this moderation does not prevent them from varying in number and intensity etc. over a limited range; and it is in this limited range that there is scope for pleasures to outweigh pains and vice versa.’ So there is some degree of variation allowed within the set of balanced lives.

[B] Saunders assumes that when in 733d1 the Athenian describes us distinguishing between balanced lives on the basis the preponderance of ‘what is dear to us’ and ‘things that are hostile to us’, he is referring respectively to pleasures and pains. This is perhaps a reasonable assumption given the general thrust of this passage and the careful exposition of basic hedonic preferences so far. However, I wonder whether it is right. Just a little later, at 733e1, the Athenian appears to distinguish between what is dear to us (to philon) and what is pleasant (to hēdu). This is rather important since, if balanced lives  are distinguished by some other criterion than their pleasantness, then we are once again at liberty to understand the balance in question as indeed an equivalence between the pleasures and pains in such a life.

[1] Saunders, T. J. 1972. Notes on the Laws of Plato. BICS supplement 28, University of London Institute of Classical Studies, 25-7.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Under the helmet

Does it really matter who 'is' The Stig?  No.  No more than it matters that we know who 'is' Batman in the latest film.  Sure, the guy concerned wants to make a bit of money with his book (and some lawyers have made plenty of money from the case) but I really don't think that anyone who watched and enjoyed Top Gear, and enjoyed the teasing references to the mysterious bloke who never spoke and never took off his helmet, was particularly interested in genuinely finding out the secret identity behind the character.

Because that is what The Stig is: a character.  A role.  I was perfectly happy to think that it was a whole series of different people.  In fact, I probably assumed it was just because that would have been more convenient.  Less helpful for the comparative assessment of different cars round the same track, but that was hardly a scientific experiment anyway.

So, Ben Collins can write his book and I hope the BBC will just continue with another new Stig.  He can regenerate like the Doctor, perhaps.  But I can't help feeling a little bit patronized by the coverage.  As if we didn't all know that there was a jobbing former racing driver in the costume...

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


I'm trying to find a snappy way of distinguishing between the following cases, both of which involve someone enjoying something unexpectedly.

1.  Anne comes home to find her friends have arranged a surprise party.  She really enjoys it.

2. Bob knows he is going to a friend's party that evening; he does not think he will enjoy it.  But he goes nevertheless and ends up having a really enjoyable time.

(And we might even add 3. Charlie spends the day agonising about a friend's party he has to go to that evening.  His afternoon is ruined in dreading the thought of it.  Be he goes, out of duty, and ends up having a really enjoyable time.)

The pleasures that Anne and Bob enjoy at their respective parties can both be called, I think, 'unexpected' or 'surprise' pleasures.  I want a pair of labels that will clearly and concisely distinguish them. 

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

You’ll like this

I've been going back to a piece I'm trying to write about character and consistency in the Philebus. Along the way, I've been wondering about what you might call Protagorean hedonism, namely the idea that all pleasures are true – true in the same sense that Socrates wants to argue that some pleasures and false – and from there back to the Theaetetus. At Theaetetus 178d8–e6, Socrates argues that a cook is a better predictor than a dinner guest of whether a meal will be pleasant:

Or suppose a dinner is being prepared. Even the guest who is going to eat it, if he has no knowledge of cooking, will not be able to pronounce so authoritative a verdict as the professional cook on how nice it is going to be (περὶ τῆς ἐσομένης ἡδονῆς). I say 'going to be', because we had better not at this stage press our point as regards what is now pleasant to any individual, or what has been in the past. Our question for the moment is, whether the individual himself is the best judge, for himself, of what is going to seem and be for him in the future.
Trans. M. J. Levett rev. M. F. Burnyeat

We might find this peculiar since, after all, de gustibus nil disputandum. I am not inclined to think that if I dislike a meal at a restaurant I should defer to the chef's opinion that it is in fact delicious. But Socrates is clearly less reticent in affirming that matters of gastronomic pleasure are analogous to matters of health, for example, in being the province of a kind of expertise. An uneducated palate might well not take pleasure in something it should. The other important point is that Socrates is not considering cases in which a chef will tell a diner that what he thinks is not pleasure is in fact pleasant. Rather, the point is about predicting what will be pleasant. Here perhaps this is not such a peculiar thought. After all, famous chefs regularly produce dishes which an inexpert diner will predict are not pleasant (e.g. snail porridge) but which are in fact very nice. The chef's command of taste combinations allows him to produce surprisingly delicious new dishes. Still, we might reasonably insist that not all diners are the same and what one persons may enjoy another will not. So chefs might need to know something about their clientele and personal preferences. 

All the same Socrates' cautious restriction to talk about future pleasure does not show that he is at all committed to the thought that when it comes to the estimation of present pleasure each person is an authoritative and incorrigible guide. Not only is it clear from other discussions that Socrates has a tendency to think that people are often badly mistaken about their current state of pleasure or pain, but it is evident that the restriction to future pleasure in this case is merely for argumentative convenience at this point in his exploration of Protagoras' view. Even granted that restriction, Socrates and Theaetetus are inclined to think that an individual is not necessarily the best judge of what will be pleasant to him. Insofar as such a person can be mistaken (e.g. by believing on Monday that he will not like snail porridge but finding it pleasant on Tuesday), then this will offer a useful example of a false belief to add to the mounting case against Protagoras' assertion that 'main is the measure'. 

It seems to me that the Philebus adds to this analysis the idea that rather than a belief on Monday that such-and-such will or will not be pleasant, we might instead talk about a pleasure or pain on Monday in anticipation of a supposed pleasure or pain on Tuesday. If I am pained on Monday by the imagined experience of eating snail porridge on Tuesday but then enjoy the snail porridge on Tuesday, then Monday's was a false pain.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Chelmsford 123

Attention Virgin media customers in the UK!  You can now watch all of Chelsmford 123, the 1988-90 comedy set in Roman Britain on TV Choice on demand.  You can also watch it on Channel 4 On Demand and via Your Tube (just search for the title).  That means you can enjoy gems like this first episode which includes the first scene all in Latin.

Here's a clip from another episode:

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Jobs for philosophy graduates

What can you do after studying philosophy at Cambridge?  Well, if you can't start a punk-surf band like this, you can do excellent work like this.  Carlene read Philosophy at Fitzwilliam College and I am pleased to say that I supervised her for her work in ancient philosophy. 


I'm just back from a holiday en famille at Center Parcs, near Thetford.  I was a bit apprehensive before we went because I had the idea it might be either a slightly up-market Butlins or else full of Fit Family types running from badminton lesson to quad-biking in their sports kit.  But in fact it was very nice.  We didn't do much running or biking or jumping, but we did a lot of swimming in the excellent pools (with slides and a raging rapids river...) and we did a lot of eating at the restaurants on site.  (Sure, you can cater for yourselves but we couldn't be @rsed, to be honest.)  The weather was mostly OK but even if it's bucketing down it's quite fun.  I decided on balance not to do the Cable Water Skiing just because it might have put to shame some of the obvious beginners who were having a go and (let's be frank) no one needs to see me in a wet suit.

I reckon it's a good family holiday, free from hassles about driving about the British countryside as we have done for the last few years, negotiating annoying car parks and over-priced 'attractions' (Yes, Wookey Hole, I mean you.)

We will probably feel sufficient academic guilt to want to go away someone at Easter (the kids want to see Pompeii...) but for now I feel quite rested.  Or at least, I did until I picked up the post and email when we got back.  (That's another thing: reception on Orange at the Elveden Center Parcs is patchy at best so you really can't reply to much.)

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Eulogy magazine

Here's an interesting new magazine: Eulogy.  It discusses mortality, loss, funerals, mourning and celebrating the deceased.  Sounds like a perfectly good idea to me.  After all, there are all manner of magazines dealing with getting married or having a baby or buying a pram or choosing a house.  So why not one about something we are all going to do?  True, the dead are not the best demographic for marketing, so I suppose the editors are pitching more at the prospective dead.  But there are a lot of those around.  And don't you want to find out about a company that will press someone's ashes into a vinyl record?  Of course you do.  So here they are.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Food in Budapest

We've all been (for the second time) to this cafe in Budapest.  It's really good and the portions are enormous.  I couldn't even face the dessert menu although the hardy souls that did could tuck into some enormous pancakes with very very sticky chocolate sauce.  I'm told that the dish advertised as 'Pike-Perch' (I think it's Zander) was very good.  I had Wiener Schnitzel today and (I kid you not) the veal was a good nine inches in diameterLast time I had the goulash.   Anyway, what's important is if you are in this neck of the woods you should go along.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Queasy Jet

Not a lot to say at the moment, mostly because I ought to be working hard to keep up with the conference I'm at.  But here's a brief rant.  I'm luck to have access to email and the internets while I'm away.  So I was able to work out that a strange email from EasyJet with my booking reference as its subject line probably meant I should check my bookings on the website.  Turns out that my return flight has been 'disrupted' (i.e. the departure time has changed) and I may need to change to an alternative flight.  This happened after I had left home, of course, so I would have had no idea of the change without the email thingy.  It seems a bit much to me that they assume I do have access to this means of getting in touch when I'm away.   Tut tut.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Hellenistic Philosophy

I'm supposed to be writing a short piece about Hellenistic philosophy for a encyclopedia thing (called L'Antichità, I think).  I've about ten pages to fill and the title I've been given is: 'Luoghi, modi e caratteristiche della filosofia ellenistica'.  Fortunately, I can write it in English and they will translate.

I thought it wouldn't be too bad. After all, I often give introductory lectures to the period and have to say something general to orient students when they start.  But now I'm thinking about it I'm not entirely sure what I'm going to say.  I suppose in part the problem is because although I could say something about the period being characterised by dogmatic schools, each with a comprehensive philosophical account, and various sceptical adversaries.  But I'm not sure that's particularly distinctive.  A move to a kind of orthodoxy based on a founder's or some founders' views might be novel, but it seems to me that there is a lot of continuity between the classical and Hellenistic periods that is often overlooked.  After all, things didn't all completely change the morning after Aristotle died.  The Academy soldiered on, people continued reading and disagreeing about Plato, Theophrastus kept on looking at plants and stones and the like.  Even the Epicureans can trace a lot of their philosophy to earlier ideas and, for my money, were just as interested in reading Plato (and perhaps Aristotle) as the other guys.

So I think I'm going to say that the big changes occurred as the period went on.  Three hundred years later and philosophy has dispersed again from Athens across to centres around the Mediterranean including, most important of all, Roman Italy.  The rise of philosophy in Latin and the influence of Rome politically and intellectually and probably the most interesting changes over these three hundred years.

Right.  That's a line, at least.  I'll give that one a go today.

Update:  Look!  Here I am thinking about some Hellenistic philosophy in the library, brought to you by the power of the wireless interweb.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Hope and despair

The Philebus has lots of interesting things to say about the psychology of desire.

The desire involved when a person is thirsty, for example, involves the memory of the state of not being thirsty which supplies the drive and impulse towards finding something to drink. Presumably, the drive to find a drink to remove a thirst involves the conjuring from memory of some appropriate representation of the proper object of desire or perhaps of the proper state of that desire being fulfilled. Socrates then goes on to distinguish two cases involving a person who is in pain but can remember the pleasant things he lacks. In the first, he has a ‘clear hope’ (elpis phanera 36a8) of attaining what he lacks. In that case, the memory provides some pleasure while he is also experiencing pain (36a–b). In the second, he is both in pain and also aware that there is no hope of replenishment. In that case his suffering is two-fold (36b–c). We should note, then, that hopes and desires all involve some activity of memory since it is memory which provides the store of experiences which can be drawn upon to generate the appropriate objects of pursuit in any given situation and which allows the animal to bring to mind some state (which it has experienced in the past) which is the opposite of its present condition.

My question is: what is the force of the qualification phanera at 36a8? It seems to me that there are two possibilities. First, what we might call an ‘internalist’ view, is that it shows that to the hoper, as it were, the hope is clear and vivid. That clear and vivid character of the hope is what allows it to be a source of pleasure even though the hoper is also in pain. And the clear and vivid character of the hope is irrespective of whether in actual fact what is being hoped-for is likely to be attained. For all that it matters here, it could be a very vivid and arresting sort of hope that is extremely unlikely to come to fruition.

Second, what we might call an ‘externalist’ view, is that the hope is phanera just in case that the object that is being hoped-for is indeed likely to be obtained. (This may be in addition to the hoper being convinced that it is likely to be obtained or it may not; presumably, good hopers tend to hope for things that are likely to be obtained.)

(The same might be said of despair, of course: I might have a ‘clear’ desperation both in cases where I merely think that what I need is unlikely to come my way although in fact it is not at all unlikely, and also in cases where I accurately recognise the unlikelihood of my getting what I need.)

All in all, I’m not sure I can see much in the text at 36a that points one way rather than the other for certain. And perhaps that’s not a surprise. After all, it is in the next four pages or so that Socrates turns to outline to Protarchus that there is a very important distinction to be made between the pleasures to be had from hoping that are true and those that are false, although they may both seem pleasant enough to the hoper.

Thursday, July 08, 2010


Good to see Ben off of Outnumbered scoring a header last night to put out the Nationalmannschaft.  But wasn't it a bit past his bedtime?


Ben after a bit of a haircut.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Summer, summer, summertime (summertime)

It's the summer, so it's time for summer schools to come and fill up the college rooms that the students have just left.  This is mostly not a problem.  We need the cash and, being a very old college with some less-than-four-star plumbing in many rooms, we can't really fill up with swanky conference guests.

Still, I'm not too chuffed at this appearing on my staircase this morning.  (Click to make it bigger. I'm in P7.)  Other signs tell me to 'Speak English!' and that my laundry day is Sunday.  If I brought some washing in, do you think they'd wash it for me?

In other news, I'm doing some homework for the Symposium Hellenisticum on Cicero's De Finibus, trying to finish papers on the comparison of pleasure and activity with the 'bloom on those in their prime' in NE 10.4 and rejigging an piece on the Philebus so that it's directed at the question why Socrates thinks that just and pious people aren't likely to have the sort of false pleasures described in the example at 40a.

And we've still got to go through the college results.  But that's after a very large breakfast.  Perhaps some more on that next week...

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Latin in primary schools

Read the report, written by Christopher Pelling and Llewelyn Morgan for Politeia, here (pdf format).

It proposes:
If the new Government decides to accept the status quo, i.e. most primary schools are already teaching a foreign language, the Secretary of State should ensure that Latin is given the same status as other foreign language options. This would mean including Latin as a primary foreign language option in statutory measures or nonstatutory guidance. In particular:
• The DfE’s previous non-statutory guidance for foreign language teaching for primary schools should be changed so that Latin is treated in the same way as other foreign languages.
• The DfE should make clear that Latin is a permissible option and give Latin the same prominence and support as given to the modern language options. The simplest course might be to change the official documents or guidance to read ‘foreign language’ teaching (not ‘modern foreign language) and make consequential changes in departmental papers and instructions for such teaching in schools.
If the Government decides to withdraw any non-statutory encouragement to primary schools to teach foreign languages, it should nonetheless ensure that schools which do voluntarily offer a foreign language have the same official encouragement to offer Latin as a modern foreign language.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Plato's careful composition...

..of his works was, of course, noted in antiquity.  Most famously, there is this story, told in Dion. Hal. Comp. 25.209-18 (cf. DL 3.37):
ὁ δὲ
Πλάτων τοὺς ἑαυτοῦ διαλόγους κτενίζων καὶ βοστρυ- (210)
χίζων καὶ πάντα τρόπον ἀναπλέκων οὐ διέλειπεν
ὀγδοήκοντα γεγονὼς ἔτη· πᾶσι γὰρ δήπου τοῖς φιλο-
λόγοις γνώριμα τὰ περὶ τῆς φιλοπονίας τἀνδρὸς ἱστο-
ρούμενα τά τε ἄλλα καὶ δὴ καὶ τὰ περὶ τὴν δέλτον,
ἣν τελευτήσαντος αὐτοῦ λέγουσιν εὑρεθῆναι ποικίλως (215)
μετακειμένην τὴν ἀρχὴν τῆς Πολιτείας ἔχουσαν τήνδε
‘Κατέβην χθὲς εἰς Πειραιᾶ μετὰ Γλαύκωνος τοῦ Ἀρί-
 But Plato did not cease, when eighty years old, to comb and curl his dialogues and reshape them in every way. Surely every scholar is acquainted with the stories of Plato's passion for taking pains, especially that of the tablet which they say was found after his death with the beginning of the Republic ("I went down yesterday to the Piraeus together with Glaucon the son of Ariston") arranged in elaborately varying orders. (trans. W. Rhys Roberts).

Monday, June 28, 2010

Plato and stichometry

Jay Kennedy at the University of Manchester has an interesting piece coming in Apeiron applying a musical analysis to the construction of Plato's dialogues.  There's an introduction to his work here and the pdf of the proof of the article is here.

No one will deny, I think, that Plato was a careful writer.  But just how careful and for what end?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Office 2010

So I have a shiny laptop to use for conferences and the like. And it has arrived with the new Office 2010 software. I hadn't spent much time with the 2007 version and the ribbon thing takes up an enormous amount of the screen (though you can hide it) but there are already a couple of small touches that seem to be a real improvement on the 2003 version I've used most on XP. Two examples for now, though these might seem standard to the Maccy types…

First, there is a cute button in Word that takes one click to attach the document you are working on to an email. That's handy; before you'd have to plug in a pdf printer-thing, print the file to pdf then find it and attach it to an email.

Second, Word comes with what I'm using now – a natty thing that lets you type a blogpost and then publish with a click, so you don't have to rely why you are typing on the WYSIWYG editor thing on the website. I quite like it.

Saturday, June 19, 2010


Here is some applied ethics for you.  Is it justifiable to boo your own team?  The World Service blog has some comments on the question and we now know that Mr Rooney's view is that it is never acceptable, even if you have watched your national team wander aimlessly around for 90 minutes unable to pass to one another.

There seem to be two relevant factors.  First, booing a team will demoralise them and make them play worse.  I'm not sure if that's true; certainly, last night it did not seem to help at all.  Second, booing a team is a reasonable reaction to being faced with a poor performance that has cost a lot of time and money to watch.  The tension here is between considering the team as something to which the fan owes allegiance and support and something that is being viewed by a paying audience member.

Both perspectives are evidently at work in any fan's experience; a fan both will consider his or herself as somehow contributing to their chosen team's performance and will think that they can positively influence that performance in some way and will also think that their commitment of time and money entitles them to some kind of return.  

Consider two different kinds of perspective.  Someone who pays to go and see a concert by a favourite performer will probably feel it reasonable to voice their objections if the concert is poor.  But this is only a partial analogy: it is not the case that a concert audience will  think it an integral part of their role in the whole concer try to inspire the performer to do better with cheering and chanting during the song.  Second, someone who goes to support their child in a school team will cheer on the team so as to encourage them.  But the parent will probably not feel it reasonable to boo the team if they perform below par.

So, Wayne isn't right.  But he isn't entirely wrong either because a football fan occupies a curious hybrid position as both a supporter and audience member/consumer.  Wayne might like only to think of us in the former category but his manager and PR people would do well to remember the latter category too.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

USA! USA! USA! etc.

(T-shirt available at When Saturday Comes.)  So we didn't beat Team USA!  (As R remarked as we watched the game: 'Why is there always someone called Brad?')  But then Spain lost to them when they played last year and there are quite a good team.  I'm more worried about us mucking up against Algeria and Slovenia.

Things to be cheerful about: Heskey did a good job; Lampard and Gerrard played well; Lennon and Wright-Phillips were good attacking wingers.  Rooney took a while to get going, and our centre-backs looks a bit dhort for pace when people ran behind them, but all in all we've seen worse.  France were poor in their first game, much poorer than England.  And only Argentina so far have looked very strong.  So let's cheer up.

And I did predict 1-1 in the college 1st round score-predictor-game, so silver linings and all that...

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Coming up for air

Phew. The examining is nearly over. We all take this bit of the job very seriously, of course, even though the marking can be grim.  Probably not as grim as taking the exams, but grim nonetheless.  There are some nice moments too and some very impressive performances, but we get everything done in an intense and short period of time - so as to leave the summer for research - so everything else gets dropped while the scripts get marked.  I shall console myself with a list of things I will do once we have seen the students off the premises.
  • I will watch lots and lots of the World Cup.  Even Serbia v. Ghana. 
  • I'm off to a conference in July in Hungary.  I've never been there before and it looks like it will be good.  Have to finish the paper first.
  • I will be able to get back to some thoughts stirring on some bits of Plato's Protagoras and Laws and trying to finish something on NE 10.4.
  • I want to read the new David Mitchell book properly.  I've started but haven't had the energy to dive in fully.
If I wanted, I could get very worried about the likelihood that Higher Education funding might be cut significantly and be partially replaced by higher tuition fees.  (You can read Willetts' speech given earlier today here.  He seems mostly to be interested in getting various places to do teaching for students then to be examined by external universities.  People will worry about an explicit and institutionalised  (return to a) two-tier tertiary sector, I reckon.)  I haven't got my head around precisely which bit of the oncoming storm is the most awful because I don't really want to think about it at all.  But it's coming alright.  What's worse is the likely dearth of jobs in the next few years so people, excellent people, finishing PhDs and trying to start a career, are going to find it even harder than ever.
Still, cheer up.  It's 'Universities week' next week.  (No, I didn't know either.)  There's a cheery website about it here

Friday, June 04, 2010

They might be giants

I'm very tempted to get tickets to the They might be giants Science Festival concert at the end of the month in the Babbage Lecture theatre.  More details here.  Here they are telling you about the Sun.

and here they are telling you about palaeontology.

Thought gang

Thought some of you might find this funny, from Tibor Fischer's The Thought Gang (p.19):
I made the Ionians my speciality.  Very few people realise that you can read the entire extant oeuvre of the Ionians, slowly and carefully, in an hour.  Most of them come in handy packets and adages.  Extremely impotant, the first caught having a go with their reason, the inventors of paid thought and science - anything you'll find in a university - and blissfully curt.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010


Was it just me or did Loofa (Idris Elba) last night ask his chum to get details on a crim from Detective Munch in New York? Is he a Homicide: Life on the Streets fan?  (Wikipedia says so...)

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Big Ethics

In between the usual business of college life and dealing with the onset of undergraduate exams, I spent last week at the Mayweek seminar reading through the Magna Moralia.  It was quite pleasant, really, particularly since the participants seemed all keen to muck in and no one had anything very much invested in what we would eventually conclude (so there wasn't very much personally and professionally at stake).

I don't think I would have read it through like this left to my own devices and I probably won't rush to read it through like that again.  But there were some good parts.  I thought there were some interesting questions concerning the author's relationship to Platonism since he did seem to have been pulling his punches here and there particularly on metaphysical issues.  The general disfavour of an intellectual or contemplative life is interesting too -- and here I did begin to wonder if MM might be part of the general milieu of the Peripatos that also spawned the difference of opinion between Dicaearchus and Theophrastus on the good life.  And there were some interesting thoughts about the relationship of this text to the Hellenistic penchant for pseudepigrapha since the text does seem to want to appear as if composed by Aristotle himself.  (If there was any general agreement, I think we nearly all agreed that the text wasn't by Aristotle, partly because bits of it were so close to NE and EE that the most plausible explanation is that they were composed by someone working with these two  texts.)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Action philosophers

I might write something about our Mayweek Magna Moralia seminar once I've decided what I think about it all.  But for now, here is a wonderful page from Van Lente and Dunlavey's Action Philosophers.  (Click on it to make it big.)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sunny music

I know some people are already bored about me going on about  them, but you really should all listen to and love Camera ObscuraWe had this on while driving home in the sun this afternoon and we all felt very happy.  And the CD cover has these two on it with great hats and a snazzy pair of glasses:

No video for that one, unfortunately, but it's a real toe-tapper. And this is lovely too:

And this one has one of the best choruses I've heard for ages. The cheesy intro from the TV presenter is bad, but once the song begins it's brill: