Saturday, February 27, 2010


I wish I could buy just the Guide section of the Saturday Guardian. I've been persisting with buying the paper but now it's mainly for the handy-sized TV guide it contains.

Today, the paper has a supplement of reactions to a pamphlet produced by Citizen Ethics. (You can read it online here; there's some more info on the project here.) This is a good idea. But whose reactions do they print? It's an election year, so we get one from each leader of the major political parties. These are desperate pleas for votes rather than considered reflections on what they take to be the central values behind the various budget cuts they will have to enforce if their particular gang gets to wave red suitcases around. Then there are reactions from some more contributors to the Comment is Free site mixed with others from a list of familiar contributors and worthies.

Here's the end of Mary Warnock's contribution :
We need to learn that just because someone is religious, doesn't mean they are a moral expert. There is no such thing in a democracy, for we can all become experts.
The first sentence is true. But I have no idea how to understand the second one. I don't understand the inference it contains. (Is it: '1. Everyone can be F, so 2. there are no Fs'? I hope not.)

Perhaps one important thing we might think about if we're wondering about ethics is the importance of thinking about thinking properly.

Monday, February 22, 2010


Looks beautiful , albeit not the easiest place to read ancient philosophical texts!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


I’m trying to say something about forms of agreement and, in particular, the relationship between a person’s thoughts, words, and deeds. These forms of agreement are to be found within a given individual. Let us call them forms of ‘intra-personal’ agreement.

1: Agreement between what a person thinks and what he says.
2: Agreement between what a person thinks and what he does.
3: Agreement between what a person says and what he does.

These are formulated in synchronic terms but there are also diachronic forms of intra-personal agreement, all of which might be captured by the term ‘Consistency’; we can evaluate a person’s beliefs, statements, and actions over time and notice whether there is any agreement between what is thought, said, or done first at one time and then at another.

There are also ‘inter-personal’ agreements between two or more individuals:

4: Agreement between person A and person B that some given proposition is the case.
5: Agreement between person A and person B that some given action is to be done.

Let us call these forms of ‘inter-personal agreement. These last two forms of agreement can be between two or more individuals.

I want to label each of 1–5 in a way that will help to distinguish them but I’m not finding it easy. So far I have:

1. Sincerity
2. Integrity
4. Consensus

But 3 and 5 are a bit harder. So far I have:

3. Trustworthiness (But I’m not at all happy about that.)
5. Accord (Again, I’m not sure that’s anything other than just a synonym for ‘agreement’; I want something that is more obviously tied to it being an agreement to act.)

Any thoughts?

Monday, February 15, 2010

David Furley

Professor David Furley died last month. I met him only once or twice but learned a lot from his publications. In particular, his 'Nothing to us?' in The Norms of Nature set me thinking about some very interesting questions.

Update: there is a brief obituary here.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Review editors beware?

You might take a moment to consider this story of a reviews editor being charged with criminal libel by an author for including a critical review of her book in his journal.

The journal editor comments here (pdf).

Friday, February 12, 2010

Desert islands

Which records would I take to a desert island? I thought I'd start the list just so I'm prepared when the BBC gets in touch. I've limited myself to one track per band. There's not much variety here, I'm afraid, but when I thought about it there really aren't any classical pieces, for example, that I really love.

1. William, it was really nothing -- The Smiths

I could have chosen lots of Smiths records. Cemetry (sic) Gates was close, and so was There is a light that never goes out but this is magnificent.

2. She bangs the drums -- The Stone Roses

Try not to dance in a baggy Mancy kind of way...

3. Teardrop -- Massive Attack

Liz Fraser on fabulous form.

4. If I can't change your mind -- Sugar

Bob Mould's cardigan is wonderful.

5. A love supreme -- John Coltrane.

Sara and I had this played when we got married. My friend Joel is so cool he didn't realise that it came from the Sound of Music.

6. Not too soon -- Throwing Muses

I was so in love with Tanya. This just beat Kristin being harrowing...

7. Here's where the story ends -- The Sundays

8. Rainy night in Soho -- The Pogues

And a close runner-up.

Love will tear us apart -- Joy Division

Mostly for Peter Hook's baseline. This was close too.

I could light fires with the free Bible you are cast adrift with and might read some Shakespeare if I got desperate but the third book I could take would have to be either the complete Plato or the complete Aristotle. A difficult choice but I think Aristotle would win.

My luxury? A loaded revolver.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Blooming youth again

Many thanks to everyone who has sent helpful suggestions on my recent post. I've now three more texts that I think are important in the background of Aristotle NE 10.4.

The first text I have in mind is Plato Republic 601b. Socrates is considering poetry. A poet, he argues, adorns his account of cobbling or generalship or some other activity with metre, rhythm, and harmony. But when his poetry is stripped of these elements, the words that remain are ‘like the faces of men who are youthful (ὡραίοι) but not really beautiful, when the bloom of youth (τὸ ἄνθος) abandons them’. What seems clear is that this bloom is something relatively fleeting, being visible only for a brief period when the young man is at a particular stage of his growing maturity. This is certainly a text that Aristotle knows well because he refers to it in his discussion of similes at Rhet. 3.3 1406b36ff. and we might therefore presume that it is a text the reader of NE 10.4 might also be expected to call to mind. In terms of the relationship between pleasure and activity, the claim that there are young men who nevertheless only display this bloom of youth for a brief period during their youth would imply that the simple presence of the underlying disposition is not sufficient for this completion but that the completion only comes about under certain ideal circumstances.

Now, two more Xenophontic texts to put alongside Mem.2.1. Second, at Mem. 1.6.13 there is a similar and use of the term. Antiphon has noticed that Socrates does not charge for people to engage him in conversation and claims that if Socrates is honest then he does not charge for something he considers not properly to be worth anything. But if he 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. In response, Socrates draws an analogy between wisdom and physical beauty (ὥρα 1.6.13) since it is thought that both can be either fine or shameful. Physical beauty is shameful if its possessor sells it to anyone who wishes to pay for it as a male prostitute (πόρνος) might; but it is noble if someone should recognise it and become a find and good erastēs as a result. Indeed, we might even consider such a person to be continent (σώφρων). Again, there is the strong connection between this particular form of physical beauty (ὥρα) and a youthful object of desire. In addition, we find here a distinction between two possible reactions to this beauty on the part of the young man concerned and his lover. The more base version sees the beauty as an opportunity for monetary gain on the part of the boy and sexual pleasure on the part of the lover. The more elevated version sees the beauty as instigating a longer-term bond which is related to and may even cement certain virtuous traits in the lover and his beloved.

Third, towards the end of Xenophon’s Symposium, Socrates is contrasting two distinct kinds of relationship: one in which the attachment between lover and beloved in based on an appreciation of goodness and virtuous character and another in which the lover is simply bent on gratifying his physical desires. In this latter case, Socrates claims, the boy neither shares in a bond of erōs with his lover nor even does he share sexual pleasure with the older lover but instead is merely selling his physical beauty (ὥρα) in the market place (Symp. 8.21).

Now, to work out just how these all inform NE 10.4...

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

The Ox Factor

The News of the World has launched a campaign to widen access to Oxford. The article is here. Though there are various things about it that are a bit baffling, including the rhetoric about 'ordinary homes' and the slippage in the article between 'state schools' (to participate students must be state educated) and comprehensive schools (from which come 1 in 5 applicants to Oxford) the whole thing seems to be both well meaning and a good idea. It boils down to a funded summer school for interested and enthusiastic students with some discussions with current students and tutors thrown in. Quite how this means the NotW will 'Get you into Oxford' is not spelled out, but it can't be a bad thing all told provided participants don't assume anything is guaranteed. Full details, with less of the random CAPITALISATION and hysterical rhetoric, are here. (And even more info from Oxford itself, which more or less reveals the NotW is not quite the driving force behind the scheme that the intial article implies, can be found here and in a flashy e-brochure here.) Credit where it is due. Here it is due to Oxford and the Helsington Foundation for sponsoring the places.

And Cambridge University runs a similar set of courses, in partnership with the Sutton Trust. You can find out about those here.

What's more annoying is Ed Balls' reaction to the whole thing. He 'backs' the NotW campaign.

EVERY child should have the chance to go as far as their talents can take them.

And I believe no barrier should get in the way of young people making the most of their potential - whether it's where they live, their family income of their family or the school they go to.

For too long our education system was geared to making sure some young people got a great education, but the rest could settle for second best. That's now changing. More and more young people are going to university - including more from state schools and lower income families. But I know there's still more to do.

Every young person must have the chance to succeed and get good qualifications, whether their strengths are practical, academic or both.

So this is another great campaign from the News of the World.

It will give young people, who have the potential to succeed at one of our best universities, the extra help and leg-up that others take for granted. That's why, as well as getting more young people to university, we've tripled the number of apprenticeships.

The third paragraph is interesting from someone whose party has been in charge of educational policy for 12 years now, more or less the entire school life of the students at whom these courses are aimed. And the final paragraph is a baffling non sequitur. The government has tripled the number of apprenticeships in order for 'the NotW campaign' to give the extra help that others (wonder who he has in mind?) take for granted? Perhaps a sentence has been cut out in the edit...

Monday, February 01, 2010

Dressing to impress?

I’m looking for philosophical uses of ὥρα -- the term that Aristotle uses in NE 10.4 in a suggestive analogy for the relationship between pleasure and activity. I’ve now found three interesting passages from Xenophon and one from Plato. Here’s the first one from Xenophon.

When describing Eudaimonia, the goddess who competes with Aretē in Prodicus’ story of the choice of Heracles, Xenophon writes that she wore ‘a dress from which her ὥρα might particularly shine forth’ (ἐσθῆτα ἐξ ἧς ἂν μάλιστα ὥρα διαλάμποι, Mem. 2.1.22). I am tempted to think this means that she is wearing something revealing or provocative and this would be perfectly fitting for the goddess who is trying to tempt Heracles to choose a life of pleasure and ease. At the least, it is likely that ὥρα here is meant to stand for her visual appeal and it is probable that this appeal is linked to pleasure, perhaps even sexual pleasure specifically. But I can’t easily get hold of Gigon’s commentary on Mem. 2 and the library is in a bit of a state because of building work so the Budés are not on the shelves either. So, does anyone know of any discussion of this or (what I want) some confirmation that what is being described here is some kind of alluring, visible physical beauty and the sort of thing that might evoke or promise pleasure?

Here's Annibale Carracci's 1596 painting of the choice of Hercules. There's plenty here 'dialamp-ing', I reckon.

I’ll try to remember to talk about the other passages later. I’m rather interested in the Plato passage and will let you know what I think once I’ve decided.