Tuesday, July 10, 2007


Netflix is Great!

So I've been doing a trial run of Netflix ever since I heard my friend Brant was using it. It's great! They have all the movies I've been dying to rent but which are never, ever in the local video store.

Not sure how it compares to Blockbuster, but I like the web interface a lot better than the Blockbuster interface I tried out (it lets me do things like search by language, and the schematization of the films is superior imo).

So far I've seen Pale Rider, Wild Strawberries, and Bullitt. Good times, good times.

Monday, July 02, 2007


Are There "Philosophy" Professors Nowadays?

Michael Cholbi has a new blog up, In Socrates' Wake, who's goal is to "stimulate dialogue and disseminate ideas about the teaching of philosophy as an academic discipline". Looks like it should be an interesting blog for all those students like me who are thinking about pursuing an academic career.

His second post, Was Socrates so great anyway?, caught my attention, especially in light of Richard Rorty's recent death. Rorty worked hard to argue, as Derrida did, that philosophy was basically just another literary genre. The relevant upshot is that philosophy shouldn't necessarily be seen as a perennial human activity. Like Victorian literature, Homeric epic poetry, and Punk music, philosophy is mostly just something Socrates did. The fact that it has a historical legacy, and numerous transformations through the ages, shouldn't make those who practice "philosophy" nowadays think they are doing "philosophy" in any way similar to Socrates (not that dissimilarity is bad).

Here's the comment I wanted to leave on Professor Cholbi's site (I decided not to since I didn't want to be obnoxious, and thought it didn't quite answer the questions he posed, which only grad students and philosophy professors are capable of answering):

I think this all depends on how one understands the history of philosophy, and whether the word 'philosophy' means the same thing to us as it did to Plato.

Some people in the 'philosophy' profession treat it as a narrow academic niche concerned with specific problems inaugurated by presently practicing professors (i.e., Kuhnian standard practioners).

Other see it as dealing with perennial problems (or combine the above attitude with their work, claiming that recently inaugurated problems are perennial).

Then there are those who attempt to practice philosophy the same way Socrates practiced philosophy. Or there are those who see philosophy as just another genre of literature.

I suspect the third and fourth groups I mentioned would respect Socrates, while the second group might treat him the same way medical science treats Galen. I doubt the first group has much use for him.


Wednesday, August 30, 2006


Thomas Sheehan Interview in Contemplatio

Via Enowing, it looks like the undergraduate philosophy journal Contemplatio has an interview with Thomas Sheehan. While the whole interview was quite interesting to me, I especially enjoyed this last exchange:

C: What advice would you give to someone contemplating
philosophy as a career?

S: I really have no advice for anyone else. I can only tell you some
things that concern me when I do philosophy.
I try to keep in mind some of my favorite maxims,
beginning with Seneca’s primum vivere, deinde philosophari --
“Live first, philosophize later.” To me that means that your
philosophy will be only as good as your life. Live as good and rich
a life as you can, and only on that basis do philosophy. My second
favorite is a note that Lenin scribbled in the margins of Hegel’s
Logic, which he was studying in Zurich in 1916: “Only be as
radical as reality itself.”

Philosophy can become an addiction – in fact it is an
addition, and a radical one. Not a bad addiction at that, but
hopefully only as addictive as life itself, and only as radical as
reality itself.

Everything depends on the experiences we bring to our
philosophy. Whose experiences am I talking about when I claim to
ask “radical” questions? Presumably, my own lived experience,
both individual and social, and hopefully it’s an experience that
goes deeper than just ideas. Philosophers run the risk of living on
the highest (and thinnest) point of the pyramid of power: the realm
of ideas, the “ideological” world where we create and interpret
symbols, compare them, argue about them -- and then go home.

I try to remember that underneath the realm of ideas there
is a material order of power: the economic order with its winners
and losers, the social order with its in-crowd and out-crowd, the
legal, political, and policing order – power all the way down, with
us philosophers and culturati perched on top of it, either oblivious
of the power under our butts, or enjoying it, or critiquing it and,
when necessary, changing it.

I ask myself if anyone can do philosophy today with a good
conscience without knowing something substantial about the
economic, social, and political orders (globally at that), and at least
wanting to have something to say as a philosopher about those
issues. How can I avoid including those orders of power within
the experience that I’m reflecting on? Power is there, just under my
philosophical butt, and it is my experience. How can I ignore it?

Or something simpler: I wonder if I can seriously do
philosophy today without knowing something substantial about
evolutionary human biology, about brain research, about the
burgeoning literature on consciousness – topics that our colleague
Suzanne Cunningham used to quietly urge on us. That kind of
information was not available to Plato and Aristotle, not even to
Husserl, Heidegger, and Sartre -- maybe not even to Derrida for all
I know -- but it is available to us. I think some of the most
challenging questions about phenomenology -- which after all is a
first-person ontology – are being asked by analytic philosophers of
consciousness, not Husserlians and Heideggerians.

Like the natural sciences, philosophy isn’t a body of
knowledge so much as a method, an idealized set of steps for
gaining knowledge, making good decisions, enriching human
encounters, and for a full enjoyment of life. As a method, it’s
governed by a set of “transcendental imperatives,” such as: be
awake, sensitive, and inquisitive; be insightful, reasonable, and
honest; and be courageous and wise in making judgments:
courageous enough to live out the consequences, and wise enough
to redo all those steps ad infinitum. That may sound like a sermon,
but I’m just paraphrasing what Lonergan calls the transcendental
imperatives of cognitive inquiry. There are different sets of imperatives for praxis, for interpersonal encounters, for aesthetic
experiences, for religious observance, for all the ways of living
responsibly. From my years in the guild, I think that’s really all
philosophy is and does – and it’s quite a lot. Philosophy is co-
extensive with life. It begins with as rich an experience as possible,
and then tries to enrich it further, for oneself and others.
Philosophy is a matter of living life as humanly as possible.

Friday, July 14, 2006


Myopia in American Academic Philosophy

In a post that's begging to get philosophers frothing at the mouth denouncing the evils of French-influenced humanities departments, Prof. Jason Stanley artfully introduces what probably ought to be (and maybe is) a topic of concern in American academics: the complete neglect of Angle-American philosophical interests within non-philosophical humanities programs.

In other words, professors in your average comparitive literature department just don't care about reading Kripke.

Of course, Prof. Stanley's most important point isn't that they don't care, but that they evidence distate for and attempt to deligitimize the activity of Angle-American academic philosophy.  Which brings us to the next question: why?

There's much to be said about this, and I'm not going to attempt an answer here. But Kosta Calfas, a commentor to Prof. Stanley's post, begins, I think, to note a key difference between Anglo-American academics and French academics when he remarks:
It seems to be the case, rather, that philosophers in the US tend to work with little concern to what their colleagues in the other humanities are doing and vice versa. In contrast to, for example, France, where sociologists(eg. Pierre Bourdieu), historians (e.g. Marc Bloch and the Analles School) and psychologists (Piaget, Lacan) either studied philosophy or had more than a passing familiarity and philosophers (Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, Foucault) were well acquainted to ultra-philosophical humanistic pursuits of their time. For better or worse, there seems to be a division of intellectual labour in America, which breeds its own kinds of problems (e.g. the near-complete absence of philosophical ideas from intellectual or political discourse, and the conspicuous lack of synoptic philosophical projects of the greek or german variety which attempt to unify or order the disciplines).

That French intellectual life involves such a unification of concerns, and that American intellectual life resembles the structures found in a large business corporations, explains in part why American humanities students have so largely been reading Derrida and Foucault whilst neglecting Frege.

Friday, July 07, 2006


Macrons - Why the Mac Rocks Over Windows

So I'm adding the finishing touches to an old Latin drill program I wrote using PyObjC (a bridge to the OS X native Cocoa programming platform and descendent of NeXTStep), when I realize how much easier it is to program good software on a Mac. It's all in the simple things, in fact.

Take the challenge of adding macrons over the vowels in Latin words.  While real Latin texts don't have macros, teachers use macrons in Latin courses all the time to help students differentiate declension and/or conjugation formats from one another. For example, the word "puella", which is the nominative singular word for girl, can only be differentiated from "puellā", which is ablative singular, by the macron (i.e., little dash above the "a"). Eventually students dispense with macrons - but while they're learning, and doing exercises early on, thindispensablensible.

Hence the challenge for any software program that provides drills on Latin declensions/conjugations.

On Windows, with .NET at least, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to apply macrons over my vowels. I tried combUnicodenicode constants - so sorry, no deal (though this 'theoretically' should have worked). I hard-codingcoding the specific vowels required - not so hot either (I often had to grab the macron directly from a charpaletteallete). Despite a couple of different approaches, macrons were just a pain to deal with on Windows.

On OS X, however, I can just open up the international keyboard settings and use the sequence "alt-a, vowel" to procure a macron-crusted vowel.  I can even download a custom keyboard layout that lets me type 'alt-vowel' to make a macron - easy schemesy! (Go to this page to get the layout!)

Now that I can type macrons, and save my source to a UTF-8 encoded format, working with macrons has become so simple.  I love it! Three cheers for OS X!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


Whoa, I've Got a Lot of Strauss!

So I started cataloging my books in Library Thing when I realized that I have a lot of books by Leo Strauss.

This isn't too surprising, I suppose. I used to be way into Strauss before I decided other modern authors were not only more forthcoming with their philosophical positions, but that they delivered the 'philosophical goods' without all the pay-no-attention-to-the-man-behind-the-curtain conspiracy ideas that riddle Straussian hermeneutics.

It's not that Strauss isn't insightful - he is, and he does some simply amazing philosophical exegesis when it comes to PlatoMachiavellili, Spinoza and Hobbes. Even so, he always leaves me feeling like he's just about to divulge some great secret that would tie his ingenious textual exegesis together.... and then he doesn't do it.  This is a shame because he philosophizes at a very important time during the 20th century as one who both dialogues with Heidegger and understands the ineliminable situatedness that burdens modern, objective social science.  He might have been in a position to offer a hermeneutic solution to how a 'science of man' is even possible. Alas. 

Of course, If I were still a committed Straussian I suppose I'd think I need to get better at reading between the lines, or reading slower and more carefully, and that maybe Strauss really does have more to say.  But frankly, that's bunk - I read pretty well and I'm able to read quite difficult material.  I guess if he does have more to say he won't saying it to me in the short term future.

Friday, June 23, 2006


Silly Anglicans

Well, before ELCA does something even sillier, I'm going to capitalize on some riotously funny quotes Chad has posted at his blog site The Vossed World:
Presiding Bishop-elect Katharine Jefferts Schori: "Our mother Jesus gives birth to a new creation. And you and I are His children."

Reverend Eugene McDowell (on rejecting resolution that affirmed Jesus as Lord and the only way for salvation): "This type of language was used in 1920s and 1930s to alienate the type of people who were executed. It was called the Holocaust."


Preferred Superpower

In order to advance the cause of philosophy and religion I must pose a very important question: if you were to choose one super power, what would it be?

[Uberich: Hmmm, seems like you're advancing the cause of the Ungame?]

In talking with my wife, I decided the coolest super power would be the ability to read at a super-human pace with maximal reading comprehension. I consider this a kind of super power because, as it probably apparent to anyone who attempts to read material other than the newspaper, real reading isn't at all like optical character recognition with a little character encoding thrown in.

I guess I'd miss out on flying, invisibility and telepathy, which all seem fun - but I'd rather be reading I think. My main attack would have to be uttering just the right quote to diffuse a situation and make my nemesis ponder their own existence.

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