Thanks: Includes anecdotes involving Virginia Woolf, Ludwig Wittgenstein and logical positivism, John Maynard Keynes, and a funny one with Winston Churchill; talk about being near the center of 20th-century intellectual life…
When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
‘My point is only that Santayana — the Spanish-born, Boston-bred, Harvard educated cosmopolite — stands out as an unusual specimen in the philosophical fraternity. He wrote beautifully, for one thing, commanding a supple yet robust prose that was elegant but rarely precious or self-infatuated’
and Kimball on Santayana’s interaction with William James:
‘Temperamentally, the two men were complete opposites — James bluff, hearty, the thorough New England pragmatist in manner as well as philosophical outlook: Santayana the super-refined, sonnet-writing, exquisitely disillusioned Catholic Spaniard. In many ways, Santayana was closer in spirit to William’s brother Henry.’
For what it’s worth, I recall a deeply Catholic lament and longing in the Spanish character, which can be combined with a kind of clear-eyed realism and stoicism, but not always. The faith runs deep in St Teresa and her passions, and despite Miguel de Unamuno’s rationalist influences, I remember a general preference for wisdom in the Tragic Sense Of Life.
Something clicked regarding Spain when I finally visited the Escorial outside of Madrid after many months of being in that city. It’s a grand castle of course, but it also struck me as rather plain, barracks-like at times. Very austere. It was explained that the Escorial was both a royal palace and a monastery:
‘Philip’s instructions to Herrera stipulated “simplicity of form, severity in the whole, nobility without arrogance, majesty without ostentation,” qualities clearly illustrated by the long sweep of these facades.’
‘El Escorial was built to honor St. Lawrence, who was burned on a grill. In order to remind the citizens of his martyrdom and sacrifice, the entire building is a grill. Yes, it is shaped like a grill. There are paintings of St. Lawrence on a grill, grills are carved into the doorways, the weather vain is in the shape of a grill, the backs of chairs are supposed to be grills, the list literally could go on forever.’
‘Given that liberalism fractures on so many issues — the nature of liberty, the place of property and democracy in a just society, the comprehensiveness and the reach of the liberal ideal — one might wonder whether there is any point in talking of ‘liberalism’ at all. It is not, though, an unimportant or trivial thing that all these theories take liberty to be the grounding political value. Radical democrats assert the overriding value of equality, communitarians maintain that the demands of belongingness trump freedom, and conservatives complain that the liberal devotion to freedom undermines traditional values and virtues and so social order itself. Intramural disputes aside, liberals join in rejecting these conceptions of political right.’
The idea of bronze men (appetitive, trading), silver men (guardians), and gold men (philosopher-kings) rings authoritarian to the modern ear. Plato’s Ideal City has a rigid, birth caste system.
Yet, he founded the first university, more or less, and grounded learning away from Homer and towards a different set of truth and knowledge claims. Many of these claims became intertwined within Christian doctrine later on.
Reading Thrasymachus more as a nihilist, too, has its uses (as a counter-balance to Marx, to the radical utopians and to the postmodern power-all-the-way-down theorists).
This blog remains skeptical of the idea that ‘political theory’ and the modernization of new and emergent fields of thought will meet the claims of many political theorists and modernizers.
If you want to acquire or re-acquire a deep map of understanding, and one of the founding doctrines of Western thought, here’s the material presented pretty clearly and knowledgably.
Really, it’s conversational, like a good podcast ought to be:
“The Peloponennisian War created the sorts of tension in Athens that would appear to support Thucydides’ analysis. Obligations to the community required greater sacrifice and presented a clearer conflict with the self-seeking “Homeric” pursuit of one’s status, power and pleasure. In political terms, people had to decide whether or not to plot against the democracy to bring off an Olgarchic coup. In moral terms they had to decide whether or not to ignore the demands of the community, summed up in the requirements of “justice,” in favor of their own honor, status, power, and in general their perceived interest. Plato was familiar with people who preferred self-interest over other-regarding obligation; his own relatives, Critias and Charmides, made these choices when they joined the Thirty Tyrants.
Arguments from natural philosophy did not restrain people like Critias and Charmides. Democritus argues unconvincingly that the requirements of justice and the demands of nature, as understood by Atomism, can be expected to coincide. Protogoras rejects the view that moral beliefs are true and well grounded only if they correspond to some reality independent of believers; admittedly they are matters of convention, but so are all other beliefs about the world. This line or argument removes any ground for preferring nature over convention, but at the same time seems to remove any rational ground for preferring one convention over another.”
From a previous video:
‘Along comes someone like Pilate, Pontius Pilate, and says something like: ‘What is truth?’ and everybody goes sort of dizzy, and you look to the philosopher to provide a suitably abstract and highfalutin answer. The minimalist says you shouldn’t answer Pilate, or rather, if you answer Pilate, you answer should take the form of a question…which is “What are you interested in?’
So basically, you throw the question ‘What is truth?’ back until the person who’s interlocuting you… gives you an example and says ‘Well, I’m interested in whether penguins fly’ and you say ‘Okay well the truth there…the truth would consist in penguins flying…’
From Kelley Ross, who takes a step back from moral relativism and good ‘ol American Pragmatism:
‘It is characteristic of all forms of relativism that they wish to preserve for themselves the very principles that they seek to deny to others. Thus, relativism basically presents itself as a true doctrine, which means that it will logically exclude its opposites (absolutism or objectivism), but what it actually says is that no doctrines can logically exclude their opposites. It wants for itself the very thing (objectivity) that it denies exists. Logically this is called “self-referential inconsistency,” which means that you are inconsistent when it comes to considering what you are actually doing yourself. More familiarly, that is called wanting to “have your cake and eat it too.” Someone who advocates relativism, then, may just have a problem recognizing how their doctrine applies to themselves’
‘Pragmatism is really just a kind of relativism; and, as with Protagoras’s own strategy, it is a smoke screen for the questions that ultimately must be asked about what it means that something is “better,” or now that something “works.” Something “works,” indeed, if it gets us what we want — or what Richard Rorty wants. But why should we want that? Again, the smoke screen puts off the fatal moment when we have to consider what is true about what is actually good, desirable, worthy, beneficial, etc. All these responses are diversions that attempt to obscure and prevent the examination of the assumptions that stand behind the views of people like Rorty. It is easier to believe what you believe if it is never even called into question, and that is just as true of academic philosophers like Rorty as it is for anybody else. Being intelligent or well educated does not mean that you are necessarily more aware of yourself, what you do, or the implications of what you believe. That is why the Delphic Precept, “Know Thyself” (Gnôthi seautón) is just as important now as ever.’
For those don’t mind order; honoring duties to family, heritage and country, while making few excuses for the always present corruption, favoritism, and self-interest found within any existing order, you might take a look at Oakeshott (a yellow-toothed, tweed-wearing limey).
The righteous mind, while making political action the primary pursuit of meaning in one’s life, tends to happen within the ‘labor of the negative.’
Truth, and its possibility in the postmodern soup, is too often a casualty.
‘Oakeshott was deeply learned and humane, and tended to see politics as an inferior—though very important—kind of activity. To put it differently, politics is “attending to the arrangements” of government, which matters very much. Yet real human fulfillment does not consist in winning political battles, or in preparing to win them, or even in the fighting. No doubt there are times for battle, as Oakeshott would have acknowledged. But he considered other social and contemplative activities far more vital to sustained human flourishing.‘
You know that kid they found up on Rte 9 yelling? Screaming at traffic then he collapsed?
Runaway blood boy from Pinecrest.
Starship Truthers: First, there is no city. Second, no rock ‘n roll..
Grace Slick and Marty Balin sold out so utterly, so profoundly, they managed to come out the other side. From hippie mud-parties full of dosed-out lost 60’s souls, to an 80’s transcendent popcraft which endures today, we, the Starship Truthers, contend that while influential, the entire catalogue of Jefferson Starship does not exist.
The Traveling Wilburys: Pure Potemkin-caravan supergroup snake-oil.
Get yer steaming piles of fake Americana horseshit right here, folks:
‘Well, it’s all right riding around in the breeze Well, it’s all right if you live the life you please Well, it’s all right doing the best you can Well, it’s all right as long as you lend a hand.’
Don’t be taken in.
Eddie Money was a good vocalist, and the unearned sentiment attached to second and third-hand nostalgia is so great…I actually find myself becoming nostalgic:
The pure heart of the 80’s may be coming into view.