motto lotto

Thursday, November 27, 2008

an anti-metaphysical approach to existential meaning

Stumbled upon this thesis a while back--
The anti-metaphysical approach to meaning does not say ‘this is meaningful that is not meaningful’ but it says ‘there can be different meanings’. So a metaphysical approach to the meaning of life can also find a place for itself in the anti-metaphysical one. Neither later Wittgenstein nor later Nietzsche tell what the meaning is but say that meaning can be divergent. Anti-metaphysical approach to meaning does not lead to a nihilistic attitude as Heller claims but rather by introducing multiplicity of grounds and diversity of meanings it gives room to different remedies to our existential problems. The right answer to our existential problems is the one that leaves us in peace that we do not need to be concerned about anymore. But this peaceful state of mind cannot be achieved via one kind of method. Sometimes a nice poem cures our existential illnesses and sometimes just the voice of another person in the house makes us feel at ease.

Nietzsche and Wittgenstein: An Anti-Metaphysical Approach to Existential Meaning
Serife Tekin - [pdf] [abstract]

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

reading over the holidays

I've been reading The Rebel by Camus and I intend to read The Fall pretty soon. I'm not really far enough along to know what I think about it yet but his difference between a rebel and a revolutionary is interesting to me so we'll see how it goes.

Bob lent me his copy of Niel Stephenson's Anathem so I'll start reading that. Hopefully it'll pull me in.

Sarah and I might read a bio of Thomas Jefferson together. You gotta love Jeffersonian pluralism--
The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. If it be said, his testimony in a court of justice cannot be relied on, reject it then, and be the stigma on him. Constraint may make him worse by making him a hypocrite, but it will never make him a truer man. It may fix him obstinately in his errors, but will not cure them. Reason and free enquiry are the only effectual agents against error. Give a loose to them, they will support the true religion, by bringing every false one to their tribunal, to the test of their investigation. They are the natural enemies of error, and of error only. Had not the Roman government permitted free enquiry, Christianity could never have been introduced. Had not free enquiry been indulged, at the aera of the reformation, the corruptions of Christianity could not have been purged away. If it be restrained now, the present corruptions will be protected, and new ones encouraged. Was the government to prescribe to us our medicine and diet, our bodies would be in such keeping as our souls are now.

Notes on the State of Virginia

Monday, November 24, 2008

Peter Hacker on Wittgenstein

A number of Peter Hacker's recent papers are available from his website. (PDFs)
Philosophy: a contribution, not to human knowledge, but to human understanding’, forthcoming: Royal Institute of Philosophy Lectures, 2007/8

Gordon Baker’s late interpretation of Wittgenstein’ published in G. Kahane, E. Kanterian, and O. Kuusela eds. Interpretations of Wittgenstein (Blackwell, Oxford, 2007)

The relevance of Wittgenstein’s philosophy of psychology to the psychological sciences’, forthcoming in Proceedings of the Leipzig Conference on Wittgenstein and Science 2007
via Methods of Projection

Sunday, November 23, 2008


M: Last night I talked about what it means to experience thinking. Did you want me to explain what I meant by that?

S: I guess so.

M: Well, I said, "I'm more interested in practical knowledge but theoretical knowledge has some practical value."

S: Right, and I really didn't see how that was relevant to what we were talking about.

What were we talking about initially?

S: I was talking about how I learn by doing.

M: Oh yeah, and I said, "I think everyone actually learns by doing but some people fool themselves into thinking they know things without the relevant practical experience."

That's really not a good statement by itself because there's a specific type of experiential knowledge gained through the process of thinking and that too has practical value. It still doesn't constitute practical knowledge but experiencing thinking related to a subject area has its benefits. To put it another way, thinking is something you're doing.

The problem is that people sometimes mistake having collected information about a subject with knowledge of the subject. It's not a good idea to diminish what can be gleaned solely through the subtleties of experience.

S: Who talks like this?

M: I'm insane.

You unnecessarily complicate matters.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

the sum of all human wisdom?

"As for you, Maximilien, here is the secret of my conduct toward you: there is neither happiness nor unhappiness in this world; there is only the comparison of one state with another. Only a man who has felt ultimate despair is capable of feeling ultimate bliss. It is necessary to have wished for death, Maximilien, in order to know how good it is to live.

Live, then, and be happy, beloved children of my heart, and never forget that, until the day God deigns to reveal the future to man, the sum of all human wisdom will be contained in these two words: Wait and hope."

Alexander Dumas (Edmund Dantés - The Count of Monte Cristo)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

the center cannot hold

The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre,
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

William Butler Yeats

Source: The Second Coming (poem) - wikipedia

Monday, November 17, 2008

midnight regulations

Most recent presidents passed a bunch of midnight regulations on their way out. It looks like GWB has once again found a way to make himself stand out, even at this late stage in the game.
Why do Presidents wait till the last moment to push through changes they’ve had the power to impose all along? Legal scholars have advanced a variety of explanations; these range from megalomania (each Administration tries to extend its influence into the next) to simple distraction (federal agencies, like ninth graders, have a hard time focussing until they’re up against a deadline). Under the best of circumstances, experts point out, rule-making is a laborious process; many of the regulations published toward the end of the Clinton Administration—such as a rule limiting the amount of arsenic allowed in public drinking water—had been the subject of years’ worth of hearings and scientific review.

But none of these explanations is adequate to the current situation. What distinguishes this Administration in its final days—as in its earlier ones—is the purity of its cynicism. White House officials haven’t even bothered to argue that these new rules are in the public interest. Such a claim would, in any event, be impossible to defend, as just about every midnight regulation being proposed is, evidently, a gift to a favored industry.

Midnight Hour: Comment -Elizabeth Kolbert (
Like a zillion other things that would have been big news in a more competent administration, these will be a few more that fly under the radar because of the more prominent crises we face.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

the right to crypto is the neo "right to bear arms"

xkcd's alt text --

"It's totally a reasonable modern analogue. Jefferson would have been all about crypto."

Friday, November 14, 2008

estimates of the near term probability of human extinction

via slashdot
It is possible for humanity (or its descendents) to survive a million years or more, but we could succumb to extinction as soon as this century. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, U.S. President Kennedy estimated the probability of a nuclear holocaust as “somewhere between one out of three and even” (Kennedy, 1969, p. 110). John von Neumann, as Chairman of the U.S. Air Force Strategic Missiles Evaluation Committee, predicted that it was “absolutely certain (1) that there would be a nuclear war; and (2) that everyone would die in it” (Leslie, 1996, p. 26).

More recent predictions of human extinction are little more optimistic. In their catalogs of extinction risks, Britain’s Astronomer Royal, Sir Martin Rees (2003), gives humanity 50-50 odds on surviving the 21st century; philosopher Nick Bostrom argues that it would be “misguided” to assume that the probability of extinction is less than 25%; and philosopher John Leslie (1996) assigns a 30% probability to extinction during the next five centuries. The “Stern Review” for the U.K. Treasury (2006) assumes that the probability of human extinction during the next century is 10%. And some explanations of the “Fermi Paradox” imply a high probability (close to 100%)of extinction among technological civilizations (Pisani, 2006).

Reducing the Risk of Human Extinction - Jason G. Matheny
My thoroughly unscientific guess? 90% probability we'll destroy ourselves within the next 200 years.

I'm an optimist.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

"The Labyrinth"

Anthropos apteros for days
Walked whistling round and round the Maze,
Relying happily upon
His temperament for getting on.

The hundredth time he sighted, though,
A bush he left an hour ago,
He halted where four alleys crossed,
And recognized that he was lost.

    "Where am I?" Metaphysics says
No question can be asked unless
It has an answer, so I can
Assume this maze has got a plan.

If theologians are correct,
A Plan implies an Architect:
A God-built maze would be, I'm sure,
The Universe in miniature.

Are data from the world of Sense,
In that case, valid evidence?
What in the universe I know
Can give directions how to go?

All Mathematics would suggest
A steady straight line as the best,
But left and right alternately
Is consonant with History.

Aesthetics, though, believes all Art
Intends to gratify the heart:
Rejecting disciplines like these,
Must I, then, go which way I please?

Such reasoning is only true
If we accept the classic view,
Which we have no right to assert,
According to the Introvert.

His absolute pre-supposition
Is--Man creates his own condition:
This maze was not divinely built,
But is secreted by my guilt.

The centre that I cannot find
Is known to my unconscious Mind;
I have no reason to despair
Because I am already there.

My problem is how not to will;
They move most quickly who stand still;
I'm only lost until I see
I'm lost because I want to be.

If this should fail, perhaps I should,
As certain educators would,
Content myself with the conclusion;
In theory there is no solution.

All statements about what I feel,
Like I-am-lost, are quite unreal:
My knowledge ends where it began;
A hedge is taller than a man."

Anthropos apteros, perplexed
To know which turning to take next,
Looked up and wished he were a bird
To whom such doubts must seem absurd.

W.H. Auden

Monday, November 10, 2008

"typical Rocky Mountain toughs"

William James's version of empiricist and rationalist temperaments-
Now the particular difference of temperament that I have in mind in making these remarks is one that has counted in literature, art, government and manners as well as in philosophy. In manners we find formalists and free-and-easy persons. In government, authoritarians and anarchists. In literature, purists or academicals, and realists. In art, classics and romantics. You recognize these contrasts as familiar; well, in philosophy we have a very similar contrast expressed in the pair of terms 'rationalist' and 'empiricist,' 'empiricist' meaning your lover of facts in all their crude variety, 'rationalist' meaning your devotee to abstract and eternal principles. No one can live an hour without both facts and principles, so it is a difference rather of emphasis; yet it breeds antipathies of the most pungent character between those who lay the emphasis differently; and we shall find it extraordinarily convenient to express a certain contrast in men's ways of taking their universe, by talking of the 'empiricist' and of the 'rationalist' temper. These terms make the contrast simple and massive.

More simple and massive than are usually the men of whom the terms are predicated. For every sort of permutation and combination is possible in human nature; and if I now proceed to define more fully what I have in mind when I speak of rationalists and empiricists, by adding to each of those titles some secondary qualifying characteristics, I beg you to regard my conduct as to a certain extent arbitrary. I select types of combination that nature offers very frequently, but by no means uniformly, and I select them solely for their convenience in helping me to my ulterior purpose of characterizing pragmatism. Historically we find the terms 'intellectualism' and 'sensationalism' used as synonyms of 'rationalism' and 'empiricism.' Well, nature seems to combine most frequently with intellectualism an idealistic and optimistic tendency. Empiricists on the other hand are not uncommonly materialistic, and their optimism is apt to be decidedly conditional and tremulous. Rationalism is always monistic. It starts from wholes and universals, and makes much of the unity of things. Empiricism starts from the parts, and makes of the whole a collection-is not averse therefore to calling itself pluralistic. Rationalism usually considers itself more religious than empiricism, but there is much to say about this claim, so I merely mention it. It is a true claim when the individual rationalist is what is called a man of feeling, and when the individual empiricist prides himself on being hard-headed. In that case the rationalist will usually also be in favor of what is called free-will, and the empiricist will be a fatalist-- I use the terms most popularly current. The rationalist finally will be of dogmatic temper in his affirmations, while the empiricist may be more sceptical and open to discussion.

I will write these traits down in two columns. I think you will practically recognize the two types of mental make-up that I mean if I head the columns by the titles 'tender-minded' and 'tough-minded' respectively.


Rationalistic (going by 'principles'),

Empiricist (going by 'facts'),

Pray postpone for a moment the question whether the two contrasted mixtures which I have written down are each inwardly coherent and self-consistent or not--I shall very soon have a good deal to say on that point. It suffices for our immediate purpose that tender-minded and tough-minded people, characterized as I have written them down, do both exist. Each of you probably knows some well-marked example of each type, and you know what each example thinks of the example on the other side of the line. They have a low opinion of each other. Their antagonism, whenever as individuals their temperaments have been intense, has formed in all ages a part of the philosophic atmosphere of the time. It forms a part of the philosophic atmosphere to-day. The tough think of the tender as sentimentalists and soft-heads. The tender feel the tough to be unrefined, callous, or brutal. Their mutual reaction is very much like that that takes place when Bostonian tourists mingle with a population like that of Cripple Creek. Each type believes the other to be inferior to itself; but disdain in the one case is mingled with amusement, in the other it has a dash of fear.

Now, as I have already insisted, few of us are tender-foot Bostonians pure and simple, and few are typical Rocky Mountain toughs, in philosophy. Most of us have a hankering for the good things on both sides of the line. Facts are good, of course--give us lots of facts. Principles are good--give us plenty of principles. The world is indubitably one if you look at it in one way, but as indubitably is it many, if you look at it in another. It is both one and many--let us adopt a sort of pluralistic monism. Everything of course is necessarily determined, and yet of course our wills are free: a sort of free-will determinism is the true philosophy. The evil of the parts is undeniable; but the whole can't be evil: so practical pessimism may be combined with metaphysical optimism. And so forth--your ordinary philosophic layman never being a radical, never straightening out his system, but living vaguely in one plausible compartment of it or another to suit the temptations of successive hours.

William James
Pragmatism - A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking Lecture I
Source: Project Gutenberg

clash of human temperaments

The history of philosophy is to a great extent that of a certain clash of human temperaments. Undignified as such a treatment may seem to some of my colleagues, I shall have to take account of this clash and explain a good many of the divergencies of philosophers by it. Of whatever temperament a professional philosopher is, he tries when philosophizing to sink the fact of his temperament. Temperament is no conventionally recognized reason, so he urges impersonal reasons only for his conclusions. Yet his temperament really gives him a stronger bias than any of his more strictly objective premises. It loads the evidence for him one way or the other, making for a more sentimental or a more hard-hearted view of the universe, just as this fact or that principle would. He trusts his temperament. Wanting a universe that suits it, he believes in any representation of the universe that does suit it. He feels men of opposite temper to be out of key with the world's character, and in his heart considers them incompetent and 'not in it,' in the philosophic business, even tho they may far excel him in dialectical ability.

Yet in the forum he can make no claim, on the bare ground of his temperament, to superior discernment or authority. There arises thus a certain insincerity in our philosophic discussions: the potentest of all our premises is never mentioned. I am sure it would contribute to clearness if in these lectures we should break this rule and mention it, and I accordingly feel free to do so.

William James
Pragmatism - A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking Lecture I

Source: Project Gutenberg

Friday, November 7, 2008

a warning

They served their nonsensical, unknown god; we serve our rational god, whom we know most thoroughly. Their god gave them nothing but eternal, torturing seeking; our god gives us absolute truth--that is, he has rid us of any kind of doubt. Their god did not invent anything cleverer than sacrificing oneself, nobody knows what for; we bring to our god, the United State, a quiet, rational, carefully thought-out sacrifice.

Yevgeny Zamyatin We

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Tell Obama your ideas for how to change the country.

The form is here.

fix this, Barack

Vote on the issues you want to see changed.

Optimistic that he'll be paying attention but worth a shot.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

this is a great idea

The Libertarian Party UK 1984 campaign is this week delivering a copy of George Orwell's prophetic novel to every Member of Parliament. The books will be inscribed with the words, 'This book was a warning, not a blueprint' and will arrive at Parliament on or before November 5th - a date of well known historical significance for that building.

Every MP to receive a copy of Orwell's 1984
We should get some sort of similar project going here in the US.

Monday, November 3, 2008

partisan reading lists

The pattern was always the same. There was one group of readers who bought conservative books and another that supported liberal authors. The maps Krebs made of Americans' book-buying patterns pictured two swarms: liberals on one side and conservatives on the other.

There were always one or two books in the middle-books both sides read, connector books between readers who otherwise had little in common. In Krebs' first map in 2003, the connector book was What Went Wrong, Bernard Lewis' book on the Islamic world. The books in the middle would change with the times, but there was always something both sides were reading in common.

Until last week.

The Big Sort : America's Partisan Reading List

Sunday, November 2, 2008


quotes of the day

"We seem to believe it is possible to ward off death by following rules of good grooming." - Don Delillo

"Children are all foreigners." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

"It is possible to store the mind with a million facts and still be entirely uneducated." - Alec Bourne

"As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality." - Albert Einstein

via The Quotations Page