Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Looking at things that are far away

I wrote a foreword for the 2012 reprinting of Guthrie's The Greek Philosophers.  I've just seen the cover that Routledge have chosen.  I like it.  It's also quite long way back to 1950, of course, when Guthrie wrote the book.

Look through here to see things from a long time ago.
It's not available until the autumn but if you can't wait to spend £9.99 click here:

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Subject taster day for prospective undergraduate applicants

Subject Taster Events for students in Year 12
20th March 2012

Politics, Psychology and Sociology

These events will involve lectures and sessions by academics, including the subject Director of Studies, and are designed to:

• stimulate interest and thought
• give a sense of university-level study
• highlight the particular nature of the Cambridge course
• enrich students’ academic studies

The first session starts at 10.30 and the event ends at 15.15. Lunch and refreshments are included. The closing date for applications is 5th March 2012. Early booking is advised.

Applications must be made via your school.  Please use the nomination form (link below) and return the completed form to the address shown.  Schools can nominate a maximum of 2 students per taster event.

Closing date for Nominations 5th March 2012
Nomination Form

For more information on studying as an undergraduate at Corpus click here.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

More middle fingers

Now it's Adele continuing a fine tradition of Cynic digital dismissal.

Adele, being a bit like Diogenes the Cynic: 'You want to listen some more to Blur?  Well, that's Britpop for you!'

In other news, now That's a good idea:

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Philebus 42b: a helpful suggestion

My worry about Philebus 42b got this helpful answer from Mehmet Erginel.  He writes:
It would indeed be hard to make sense of it if Socrates were claiming that pains seem lesser and less intense when compared with pleasures, when he is claiming that pleasures seem greater and more intense when compared with pain. It would also be inconsistent with what Plato says about the mutual intensification of juxtaposed pleasures and pains in Republic IX (at least as I understand it): 586c1-2, for instance, suggests that both pleasure and pain appear more intense when juxtaposed with one another. Moreover, 584a7-10 and 584e8-585a5 suggest that the effect of juxtaposition with a contrasting experience is symmetrical in the case of pleasure and pain. 
My suggestion is to understand 'the opposite' differently: we are to understand that the intensity of pleasure and pain can be placed on a continuum, such that maximally intense pleasure and maximally intense pain are at the opposite ends of this continuum, with the neutral state in the middle. On this understanding, pain appearing more painful and intense could be understood as the opposite of pleasure appearing more pleasant and intense. This use of 'the opposite' would be like its use in saying that on certain economic policies, the rich get richer and the opposite happens to the poor, meaning that the poor get poorer - each becoming more of its kind.
This would get Socrates to say something sensible, I suppose.  Nearer pains might appear more intense and nearer pains might do the opposite, by appearing more intense too.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Philebus 42b2-6

Socrates is trying to convince Protarchus of a second way in which a pleasure can be false.  This kind of false pleasure somehow arises out of a mistaken comparison with a pain in a way similar to that in which things that are closer or further away sometimes appear larger or smaller in comparison with one another than they really are.  At 42b2-6 he says:
Νῦν δέ γε αὐταὶ διὰ τὸ πόρρωθέν τε καὶ ἐγγύθεν ἑκάστοτε μεταβαλλόμεναι θεωρεῖσθαι, καὶ ἅμα τιθέμεναι παρ' ἀλλήλας, αἱ μὲν ἡδοναὶ παρὰ τὸ λυπηρὸν μείζους φαίνονται καὶ σφοδρότεραι, λῦπαι δ' αὖ διὰ τὸ παρ' ἡδονὰς τοὐναντίον ἐκείναις.
 Which I think means something like:
But now, because of the fact of being seen from nearby and then far away in turn and, at that same time, being set against one another, the pleasures appear greater and more intense when compared with pain, while the pains seem the opposite when compared with pleasures. 
I'm a bit confused by this.  On the face of it, Socrates seems to say that pleasures seem greater and more intense when compared with pain and that pains seem lesser and less intense when compared with pleasures.  But why should that be so?  I might think that what he ought to say is something about us being biased to the near, whether what is nearer is a pleasure or a pain: the nearer pleasure seems greater and more intense than it ought in comparison with a further pain and a nearer pain seems greater and more intense than it ought in comparison with a further pleasure.  But he doesn't, or at least I don't think he does.  (Damascius thinks he does: In Phileb. §187.)[1]  Socrates does not say that nearer pains appear greater and more intense than they ought in comparison with later pleasures.  But such a claim about nearer pains seems at least as plausible as the claim he certainly does make about nearer pleasures. 

Is it because Socrates thinks we are biased not to the near but to the pleasant?  This might be what be he is interested in rather than a bias to the near; the analogy with nearer and further objects of sight would on this account be rather misleading.  Or could it be that he somehow combines the two thoughts?  He thinks we are biased so as to tend to overvalue mistakenly only the nearer pleasure (but that we do not equally tend mistakenly to overvalue the nearer pain).  Or is Socrates simply not at all interested about mistakes concerning pains, only those that concern pleasures and therefore is not very careful to spell out the possibility of doloric mistakes?

[1] : Ὅτι ὡς ἐπὶ τῶν αἰσθητῶν τὰ μὲν ἐγγύθεν ὁρᾶται μείζω, τὰ δὲ πόρρωθεν ἐλάττω, τὰ αὐτὰ ὄντα, οὕτω καὶ ἐπὶ τῶν ἡδέων καὶ ἐπὶ τῶν λυπηρῶν· τὸ γὰρ παρὸν ἀεὶ μεῖζον εἶναι δοκεῖ τοῦ ἀπόντος, καὶ <λυπηρὸν> λυπηροῦ καὶ ἡδὺ ἡδέος καὶ ἡδὺ λυπηροῦ καὶ λυπηρὸν ἡδέος.

"My band is...

...spinach, I guess."

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

One-fingered salute

So, it turns out that M.I.A. made a particular unidigital gesture during a Super Bowl performance.  Cue apologies similar to those that followed a wardrobe malfunction on a previous show.  The BBC report wonders how old the gesture might be and points to Diogenes the Cynic.  Diogenes Laertius (6.34) reports:
ξένων δέ ποτε θεάσασθαι θελόντων Δημοσθένην, τὸν μέσον δάκτυλον ἐκτείνας, “οὗτος ὑμῖν,” ἔφη,“ἐστὶν ὁ Ἀθηναίων δημαγωγός. 
When some friends from out of town wanted to do and see Demosthenes, he stretched out his middle finger and said, "This is the Athenians' demagogue".
It seems that there was little love lost between Diogenes and Demosthenes.  And Diogenes is not averse to a bit of shocking behaviour so perhaps it is a gesture of contempt.  But I wasn't not sure whether what he have here is an insulting gesture of contempt aimed at his guest-friends for wanting to go and see Demosthenes in action.

A similar story appears in Epictetus 3.2.11:
οὐκ οἶδας, ὅτι Διογένης τῶν σοφιστῶν τινα οὕτως ἔδειξεν ἐκτείνας τὸν μέσον δάκτυλον, εἶτα ἐκμανέντος αὐτοῦ ‘Οὗτός ἐστιν’, ἔφη, ‘ὁ δεῖνα· ἔδειξα ὑμῖν αὐτόν’;
Anyway, a quick TLG search seems to confirm that it is more or less the gesture we know now.  Scholiasts on Aristophanes Clouds (ad 653 and 549) suggest as much.  And here is the Suda:

The verb is σκιμᾱλίζω,'to hold up the middle finger': 
τῷ μέσῳ δακτύλῳ συναρμόσας τὸν μέγαν καὶ πλήξας ἐφυβρίζει. ἢ ἀντὶ τοῦ  κατεδακτύλισε· σκιμαλίσαι γάρ ἐστι κυρίως τὸ μέσον τὸν δάκτυλον εἰς τὸν πρωκτὸν τοῦ ὀρνέου ἐμβαλεῖν. οὐ μόνον δὲ τοῦτο, ἀλλὰ καὶ ὅταν βουλόμενοι ἐνυβρίσαι τινά, τὸν μέσον δάκτυλον ἐντείνοντες καὶ τοὺς λοιποὺς συνάγοντες δείξωσιν αὐτῷ. Ἀριστοφάνης· καὶ τὸν δορυξὸν οἷον ἐσκιμάλισεν.
So, it is principally to do with shoving a middle finger up a bird's anus and also can be used to insult someone.

Thursday, February 02, 2012


 University Lectureship in Classics (Ancient Philosophy) at the University of Cambridge.  Details of the post and information about the application process are available here.  Further particulars [pdf].  More details about ancient philosophy at the University of Cambridge can be found here.


Have you been watching Jonathan Meades on France?  I hope so.  I think it has now finished but the iplayer might let you catch up.  Last night was typical: odd, off-putting, unashamedly indulgent and clever-clever (How many programmes, even on BBC4, use the word 'oinological'?) but sensible or at least provocatively interesting (On not blaming architecture for social problems; put the same design of tower block in a chic bourgeois neighbourhood and it becomes 'as they say, "sought-after"') and funny.  ROFL funny.  Last night he came out (en passant and in a deadpan delivery) with the phrase: 'This is a France so profonde it is almost gnomic'.  The Guardian review collects some more.