Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Deadline day

At 11pm BST the football transfer deadline is reached and there will be no more buying and selling players in the Premiership or Football League until the turn of the year.  You can follow all the 'excitement' on sites like this one.  So, while I am supposed to be doing something else, I wondered whether it would be a good idea to run academic appointments in the same way.  Reports of the form: 'Just spotted: Dr X currently of University Y arriving at University Z for a final lecture presentation test...'  'University P is happy to let unsettled lecturer Q go provided it can lure Dr R as a replacement...'  I think it would be quite fun.  We'd probably all have to hire academic agents to get on the phone and tout us around (or pretend to tout us around in order to arrange a better deal where we are) and it might be a bit stressful to go home and announce that I've been moved to a university the other side of the country and need to be fit to give a first lecture next Saturday, but it might be worth a try...

Regrets.... I've had a few

Here is a very interesting paper by Dan Moller on 'Anticipated emotions and emotional valence' (Philosophers' Imprint 11, 9 (July 2011)'.  It's interesting to me because I am (still) wondering about the treatment of anticipation and memory in Plato, especially in the Philebus and it made me wonder what Plato might have to say about the experience of, say, regret.  In particular, I wonder whether he would welcome Dan's useful distinction between the feeling of regret and the associated sensations it provokes.  I doubt it.  Or he would perhaps claim that even absent pain and the like, the thought that one has made a mistake of the sort it is reasonable to think an object of regret is itself bad and to be avoided.  Why?  Perhaps it is just bad to be the kind of person who does such things. Perhaps regret is a sign that one is not the kind of virtuous agent one would like to be.  (I guess he would allow even a virtuous to live with 'pro tanto' regret: the thought that even the right decision had certain negative consequences.)

By the way, what is the ancient Greek for ‘regret’? I’ve done a quick search on μεταγιγνώσκω and related forms and it doesn’t quite capture it. Later, μετάγνοια/η does mean ‘remorse’ or ‘repentance’ but in classical texts I’m not sure the verb often means more than ‘change one’s mind about’ in a way that may or may well not also suggest an accompanying affective response (see e.g. Pl. Phaedr. 231a4).  Perhaps μεταμέλεια is the better bet (as in e.g. Arist. NE 1110b19...)

Anyway, on the subject of regret:

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Damascian sarcasm?

I've just found this comment in Damascius' lectures on Plato's Philebus §171.  Damascius is listing the various possible forms of false pleasures.  After those experienced by people in dreams or by the insane he gives this example:
ἀπὸ τῶν ἐν ἐλπίσι κεναῖς· ὃ καὶ οἱ πεπαιδευμένοι πάσχουσιν ἀρίστας πολιτείας ὑπογράφοντες καὶ ταύταις μὴ παρούσαις ἐφηδόμενοι.

Next: those that come from empty hopes.  This is what educated types experience when they sketch out ideal constitutions and take pleasure in them although they are not real.
Westerink's note assures the reader that Damascius certainly cannot have been making a sarcastic remark about Plato himself, who may, we can suppose, have taken a certain amount of pleasure in thinking about ideal yet unrealised constitutions.  Instead, Westerink sees a reference to some otherwise unknown contemporaries of Damascius.  I don't know enough about Damascius to judge his sense of humour (I suspect he may not have had one) but I like the comment all the same.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Middle age

Here is Miranda Sawyer on being middle-aged and perhaps thinking about having a crisis about it.

I think there are two kinds of problem here and they are sometimes conflated.  That's not such a bad problem because they are also clearly related to one another.  Let's call them:

1.  The problem of lost youth


2. The anxiety of comfort

Grand names for pretty mundane things, but they are, I think, distinct.  The problem of lost youth arises when you realise that you are not the young thing you once were.  This means not only that you have to accept that a lot of things you once might have thought were aimed at you (fashion, new technology, music) are not in fact aimed at you but also, perhaps more frightening, that you are now more like your parents were when you were a striving and objecting youth than the current striving and objecting youth.  (Spending my life teaching and talking to people aged 18-25ish makes me sometimes forget this fact but sometimes it reminds me of it starkly and violently.  Also, as my own kids grow up I think I will be more comfortable in the thought of not being a young thing myself.)  In part, this problem is also to do with a loss of possibilities.  I won't now ever be an Olympic athlete or professional footballer.  I won't ever be the charismatic guitarist in a challenging but popular new band.  (These weren't ever genuine possibilities, but now they are definitively ruled out not only by my sheer age but also because I don't think I'd want them any more.  The loss of those desires is something that is itself a little sad.)  Anyway, wrapped up in the problem of lost youth is a connected bundle of thoughts about loss of vigour, or sexual potency, of potential and of energy.

The anxiety of comfort, on the other hand, is a feeling you get when you realise at some point in your life that you have a job, a family, a house (and mortgage or rent) a car to tax and MOT etc.  These often impinge on my thinking in the guise of problems and difficulties but they also stand together as a reminder that I have already acquired and achieved various things.  I don't think any more about what it will be like to have a place of my own for the first time.  I don't aspire to the various things that I already have achieved.  True, we can replace these with other things to aspire to (a better job, a bigger house) in a never ending chain.  And such desires might well keep away for a while the anxiety of comfort by replacing it with a different kind of unfulfillable need.  But this is only ever temporary.  No.  The problem here (and it might be odd to think of it as a problem, but I reckon it is) is that at a certain point at least in the West and in certain parts of Western societies we really do have more or less all that we ever really wanted and more than we ever really need.  We can retain ambitions and hopes but, materially, all is well.  You can go and buy a sports car for weekends and jeopardise your comfort in various ways, but all in all, things are pretty good.  I think this is itself a cause of anxiety since I at least am not very good at appreciating what is excellent about comfort.  I tend to find it dull, boring, routine.  The thought that I might be doing for the rest of my professional life more or less what I do now is strangely irritating.  But why?  I quite like it.  It's what I spent years trying to do...  Some people, eh?

Anyway, that's what I think is the problem.  The two are related because part of what we miss in youth is the very precariousness and uncertainty that is gone.  And it is removed by the attainment of those very things that generate the irritating comfort.  

In other news, here's a greeting from the excellent 'someecards'

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

New essays on ancient Pyrrhonism

Brill have published (or perhaps are just about to publish) a volume of essays on ancient Pyrrhonism (click on the pic for details).  I wrote one of the essays.  It's, as usual, a pricey volume (€97.00/$133.00) but you might be lucky enough to be able to get online access to pdfs of it all via this site.  I tried to log in using my Cambridge Raven account but it doesn't seem to work.  Other people might have more success.  I haven't read all the other contributions yet.

1. Introduction Diego E. Machuca
2. A Pyrrhonian Plato? Again on Sextus on Aenesidemus on Plato
Mauro Bonazzi
4. The Cyrenaics versus the Pyrrhonists on Knowledge of Appearances
Tim O’Keefe
5. What God Didn’t Know (Sextus Empiricus AM IX 162–6)
James Warren
6. Skepticism and Everyday Life
Filip Grgić
7. Sextus Empiricus on Skeptical Piety
Harald Thorsrud
8. Sextus Empiricus’ Style of Writing
Stéphane Marchand
9. Moderate Ethical Realism in Sextus’ Against the Ethicists?
Diego E. Machuca
10. Is the Pyrrhonist an Internalist?
Otávio Bueno

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Purely belter

We were discussing at lunch whether there have been any really good football films.  Escape to Victory?  Surely not.  Anyway, here was my suggestion: Purely Belter.  Perhaps it works because it doesn't make the mistake of including choreographed football in it, but it's still a football film without doubt.

Here is the trailer:

And here is the bit where they steal Alan Shearer's car.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

A request

In a couple of weeks it will be time for the A level results (well, A2 results, I suppose).  There's been an unusual amount of real news recently so perhaps we will be spared the usual nonsense, but I would like you to send me any links to articles about the following:
  1. How terrible it is that so many students now get the top grades and how this shows that standards are slipping.
  2. How terrible it is that so many students who get the top grades did not get offers for undergraduate courses at Cambridge or Oxford.
It would be best of all if these two points were made in the same article or, failing that, the same edition of a paper.  But I'll take any examples of either.

And, as ever, do also look out for the classic photo op of (mostly girls) students 'leaping' with joy on receiving their results.  (Best illustrated here; it has already started.)  No doubt people at the Torygraph are praying for hot weather to last until the middle of the month.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Summer summer summertime (summertime)

Unlike the vast majority of jobbing classicists, I didn't go to the Cambridge Triennial last week.  I went here instead and had a lot of fun doing random things like clay pigeon shooting.  It's an interesting thought to wonder what the introduction of shot guns would have done to improve the Triennial... 

But now I'm back at the desk and face the familiar summer chores.  We need to prepare for incoming graduates and undergraduates, write or rewrite or revise the lectures for next year (I've never managed to work out how people write lectures during term; I really need to have them mapped out pretty fully before the teaching proper begins or I'd never keep my head above water), send off those articles I'd promised and badger people for chapters they've promised me (you know who you are...)  All this while trying not to miss out on the kids being home from school for the next few weeks.  And while trying to navigate a path through the hordes of tourists in Cambridge.  It was nearly impossible to move on Silver Street on Saturday and the coaches seem to think they can double park along Queen's Road to allow the backpacked ones to get on and off.  Grrrr.

Here are the Sundays. Harriet Wheeler is lovely.  And so is this song.