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.