Friday, January 29, 2010

Once again, time is short, so let me give you a topic: outlines vs. diagrams.

Discuss amongst yourselves.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Circumstances prevent me from making a full post today, but perhaps tomorrow I will tell you all about the prying personal questions I asked William Desmond this evening.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

the horror

Gadamer, on the purification of misery and horror (AKA pity and fear):
It seems clear to me that Aristotle is thinking of the tragic pensiveness that comes over the spectator at a tragedy. But pensiveness is a kind of relief and resolution, in which pain and pleasure are peculiarly mixed. How can Aristotle call this condition a purification? What is the impure element in feeling, and how is it removed in the tragic emotion? It seems to me that the answer is as follows: being overcome by misery and horror involves a painful division. There is a disjunction from what is happening, a refusal to accept that rebels against the agonizing events. But the effect of the tragic catastrophe is precisely to dissolve the disjunction from what is. It effects the total liberation of the constrained heart. We are freed not only from the spell in which the misery and horror of the tragic fate had bound us, but at the same time we are free from everything that divides us from what is.

Should we not recoil in horror at the miserable fate of losing a sense of misery and horror? If someone fails to rebel against and refuse to accept the "agonizing events" of the 9/11 attacks, or the holocaust of unborn children in America and throughout the world, is this not something inhuman? Why then should we attend and foster the birth of such a terrible beauty as accomplishes this purgation of feeling?
[In religious rituals and in the proclamation of the Word in preaching], "being present" means genuine participation in the redemptive event itself. No one can doubt that aesthetic differentiation--attending to how "beautiful" the ceremony was or how "well preached" the sermon--is out of place, given the kind of claim that is made on us. Now, I maintain that the same thing is basically true when we experience art. Here too the mediation must be thought of as total. Neither the being that the creating artist is for himself--call it his biography--nor that of whoever is performing the work, nor that of the spectator watching the play, has any legitimacy of its own in the face of the being of the artwork itself.

As a lover of poetry and in particular of poetic drama, I am in complete accord with this saying of Gadamer in Truth and Method. But as a religious being searching for piety, I cannot understand how the anxiety does not arise for Gadamer which his religion-art parallel induces in me. How are we to decide whether the claim a work of art makes on us is one which it is pious to obey? If it is impious to ask such a question, how are we to become initiated into the correlative piety? Or if it is a matter of returning to an original piety from the impiety of questioning the claim a work of art made on us, how are we ever to extricate ourselves from idolatrous claims? What if the play which presents itself in a work of art and in doing so making a claim on the whole of life (as Gadamer also says) is a wicked god, like the gods Augustine discerned behind the "scenic plays" of ancient Rome?

Monday, January 25, 2010

What Wittgenstein's Picture Theory is For

Sorry to change the subject abruptly but this is a blog, after all.

My thinking is going to be somewhat constrained by the courses I'm taking for the next few months, and today is Wittgenstein day.

The picture theory of language as expounded in the Tractatus seems to me something like a vigorous assertion of the reach of the correspondence theory of truth--it charges again and again in the direction of thinking and though it is at each advance prevented the force of its attack does pull it up into an orbit of significance. Lots to explain in that sentence. First, why do I say that Wittgenstein's approaches to thinking are prevented? Witggenstein says, "What a picture must have in common with reality, in order to be able to depict it--correctly or incorrectly--in the way it does, is its pictorial form." It must be admitted that in this formulation he has taken a step in the direction of thought, in that he has identified something that appears before the mind but as such is no longer the original state of affairs. However, all this step accomplishes (and it is in the positive spirit of the Tractatus to accomplish very little), is to extend the plane of the thinkable to include mental pictorial structures--even making these the principal objects of thinking. It does not in the least explain the act of thinking, nor the structure of language, as it is supposed to do.

What does it mean to "picture facts to ourselves?" how is this different than simply to picture facts? Is it a matter of first composing a logical construction with a certain pictorial form, and subsequently putting it on display within the mind? The ludicrousness of this interpretation shows that there must be in a single moment both the construction and the display, and not even in the sense of two simultaneous but distinct acts. To "picture to ourselves" is not perspicuously analyzable into construction and display. It has to be understood all together or not at all. "The thought," as something presented to thinking for its appreciation, is a fiction. It is part of a narrative which gives discursive thinking something to hold on to, in a matter too immediate to be thought in its immediacy.

The distinction between thinking and the thought must be collapsed if we are to make progress beyond the facts of what thinking has for its object, and beyond the manner in which it presents itself to thinking. The notion of "the thought" brings with it precisely the same structure and penetrates not at all into thinking. But to give up this distinction means to give up the explication of thinking in terms of pictorial form.

Wittgenstein claims to achieve very little in the Tractatus. This is correct, in that the greater work remains of renouncing what he has achieved. I do not know whether this renunciation belongs to the "late Wittgenstein," but I am certain that it is the proper and logical consequence of the picture theory.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Have some more having

Here's what I hope to convince you of first: physical property is not the primary object of having.

I think the natural tendency in analyzing having would be to reduce it to an ever more physical grasp. When I say that I have a car, for instance, surely this is by extension from the fact that I can count on putting into my hands that part of the car which makes it useful as a car, namely, the key, which I have in my pocket. And by this I mean that at any time I could reach into my pocket and have it in my hand. Any closer to me and the key would be inside me, and my having it would fall prey to the fact that you can't have your key and eat it, too. A skilled and dexterous thief could perhaps extract the key from my hand, and if having it only meant being able to put it into one's grasp, he would have it more than I, even as I hold it in my hand.

Yet, perhaps the tendency to reduce having in this way to the physical grasp isn't so natural as it seemed. For what sort of nature would this course be innate? Not to the animal. Having in the hand is something no animal does except in the act of transforming this having into some use. Having a big stone means being able to take a crack at a palm nut. The stone is never simply grasped but already put to use as soon as the monkey's finger touches it. What the monkey has is not a stone but an ability to use the stone.

The above reduction of having to holding in the hand is in fact secretly guided by this fact, in conjunction with the prejudice that having means first of all having to oneself. Next, I hope to show the error of this prejudice.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

What's the use continued

My previous post may have struck you as uncharacteristically "analytic." Just keep in mind that analytic philosophy is bastardized Hegelianism and I am the intellectual bastard child of bastards crossed with bastards, trying to become somebody (maybe get my name in the phone book), and I hope you'll forgive me. And I'm not going to backspace any of what I just wrote because I'm trying to become a blogger and being a blogger means not backspacing. At least, not very much.

Why is my instinct to analyze? Why do I want to know what I mean when I say "I have a laptop?" What significance could such an analysis have for the purpose of saying what the meaning of tradition is? Well, I don't know yet. That's why this is a blog and not a book. There's no design here, just what I think when I sit down for half an hour to write in the evening, more or less moderated to bear on a line of thought. But I do believe that I will find answers to those questions which could be put about my way of proceeding and that I will find myself justified in some sense (even if it is in the sense of being brought into line from error) in proceeding as I did. If I didn't believe this I wouldn't dare expose my thinking.

So, in case you were wondering, what's the use of following this blog, if I don't even know what I'm talking about, the answer is that this blog is bound to a destiny in thought to which its author is striving to adhere. Do you believe that it is good to listen to something like that? If you do, keep reading. If you don't, the internet is a big place and I'm sure you will find on it somewhere a philosophy blog by someone who does know what they're talking about.

But the question, let's not forget, is what does it mean to have? And I wanted to approach this question by describing what I think I mean when I say that I have something. Which I'll get back to tomorrow, perhaps, now that I've unburdened my intellectual conscience.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

use enjoys myself

What does it mean to have something? I'm suddenly getting that overwhelming feeling that comes from having loudly announced to a room that I have something significant to say. But neither of the "haves" in the previous sentence will do for the present purpose, although they too will have to be explained. I also say that I have a laptop. I think I mean that I count on being able to use it. Why should I make such a point of distinguishing using it from enjoying it? To answer that I'll have to say what "use" means.

That's all I've got today. You were expecting, what, a dissertation?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Preview of a thought I am still hoarding

In speaking of tradition in terms of the meaning of the word "tradition," that is, in terms of turning something over (to someone), it is tempting to say that this is a metaphor with a limited application to the sorts of things to which we would like to apply it. Intellectual, liturgical, and cultural traditions seem to be exempt from the inescapable fact which makes the turning over of physical property difficult and involves it in contentions so fervid that complex legal structures of contract law and enforcement are required to keep them from tearing human society apart: that the one who turns over property no longer has it. Yves Congar in The Meaning of Tradition, writes:

Usually, when it is a question of handing over a material object, the donor loses possession of it and can no longer enjoy it. But this is no longer true when it is a question of spiritual riches--when a teacher transmits a doctrine he commits it into the keeping of another, to be enjoyed by him, without losing any of it himself.

Spiritual riches, we like to think, are free from competition. But is it always or even preeminently true of traditions that the possession of what is turned over is beyond contention? I believe that Congar maintains this position only by mistaking the meaning of competition for goods, and therefore of what it means to possess them or turn them over. Is it in order to enjoy some good that I strive to possess it when someone else has it and cling to it when I have it?

Tune in tomorrow (by which I do mean Wednesday, January 20, 2010, and not in any other iteration of the eternal return but in continuity with this very day!), when I shall try to say something of what I myself think about the meaning of possession, competition, and turning over (and therefore of the "meaning of tradition").

Monday, January 18, 2010

How Chunky is Space?

Speaking of chunks, how about Sebastian's argument "that space, in its actuality, must be finitely subdivided?"
Now, it would seem that it would take an infinite amount of time to move through an infinite amount of space, unless one has the capacity to move at an infinite velocity. Since human beings do not seem to possess the means to means to travel at an infinite velocity, it follows that no one would be able to cross even a finite distance, since to do so they would have to move through the infinite subdivisions of the finite amount of space. In fact, nothing unable to move at an infinite velocity would be able to move at all, since it would have to cross infinite space to reach a point even infinitesimally farther away from where it started.

At first I resisted, but now I am reconciled to the logic of this reasoning. However, I am making this concession with no idea in mind but to show that the same argument also proves that space is infinitely subdivided. The argument says that it would take an infinite amount of time to move through an infinite amount of space at a finite velocity. But how far apart should we say the discrete units of space are, which according to the argument are supposed to divide space? At no distance from each other, or at some distance? If at no distance, then all space is in the same place, and no motion is possible. If at some distance, then there is either a measure for the distance between them, which is a further division of space, or the distance between them is infinite, and motion from one to the other would require infinite time and/or infinite velocity, neither of which is available to humans or to anything with whose motion we are familiar.

The only possible conclusion of this argument, from which two contradictory conclusions follow, is that motion is not what the argument takes it to be, namely, a traversal of a certain kind of topological extension, which unlike other such extensions is perfectly blank and indifferent. I have the feeling this is what Sebastian has been trying to get at anyway, but only he can say.

Friday, January 15, 2010

It's getting mighty chunky up in here

Philosophy KTL's archnemesis Richard Chappell has a nice refutation up of the peculiar evasion of responsibility afforded by consequentialism of a certain modal outlook (different from Chappell's own consequentialism). Ever the sucker for a charming turn of phrase, I can't get over Chappell's handling of the term "chunky" ("chunkiness of market sensitivity," "chunky impacts"):
It might typically take 100 boycotters to ensure that one less crate of 100 steaks is bought. But one of those hundred individual choices must have made the difference between the store choosing to buy X crates or X-1. We just don't know which one -- where the tipping point lies -- whether we just need to decrease demand by 1 more steak, or 36, or 99, before the store will respond. So, in the absence of any further information, any individual consumer should see their personal steak boycott as having a 1/100 chance of reducing the store's purchasing by 100 steaks. (And so on up the supply chain.) That's an expected impact of (ta-da) one steak. The "chunkiness" of the market's sensitivity thus makes no difference. Your lessened chance of making an individual impact is exactly counterbalanced by the higher steaks payoff if you happen to succeed in influencing an entire 'chunk' of demand.

But verbal ingenuity aside, it does lead me to wonder at the kind of world which would lead one to think that almost all of one's day-to-day choices are, you know, inconsequential. Isn't it so like the sleek casings with which we like to have our electronics masked, to protect us from the complexity of their real mechanisms? You can scratch an iPod with a nail for hours without messing up its operation.

There's a reflection cooking somewhere in there on the connection between macroeconomics and the essence of technology. I just wanted to give you a whiff of it.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Morgan Meis at The Smart Set reports that Heidegger's "coffin is sealed" by the publication of Emmanuel Faye's Heidegger: The Introduction of Nazism into Philosophy.

I'm still waiting to see if Heidegger knows the one inch punch.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Results of a Conversation

[Update (1/27/10): I'm prefixing the actual result up at the top for those of you who do not want to read the tedious transcript: The question of whether and in what way a man can be the same as God is the same question as whether poetic inspiration can be the same as divine inspiration, provided that the hypothesis was correct that poetic inspiration is being inspired by one's own spirit.]

A couple friends came over today to talk. Rolf was wondering how poetic inspiration stands in relation to divine inspiration. I'm often wondering this myself, so I was glad to talk about it. At some point Rainscape hypothesized that in poetic inspiration one is inpsired by one's own spirit. Then, by way of a digression on the manner of communication involved in divine inspiration (dictation, planting an idea in the intellect, or what), we got to talking about how much the inspired author should be said to contribute, and after some time concluded that it would depend on the extent to which it would be true to say that he was like a god or the same as God--taking it for granted that there must be some upper limit to such a saying, but not knowing just where to put it.

Here's how we left it, tying it all together. The question of whether and in what way a man can be the same as God is the same question as whether poetic inspiration can be the same as divine inspiration, provided that the hypothesis was correct that poetic inspiration is being inspired by one's own spirit.

Boast for thinkers

Seems every Johnny Headswell and Jane Q. Thinkypants from here to some other place far far away from here has an idea to sell, which is to say a way to sell themselves. Not me, though. I've got nothing but the shirt on my back (and my other clothes and possessions), a few sundry intangibles, and a head full of questions.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

reading the Posterior Analytics

"All teaching and all intellectual learning come about from already existing knowledge." (first sentence of the Posterior Analytics)

I still haven't figured out how this can possibly be correct. Wouldn't you have to learn the particulars in order to learn universals through induction? The particulars are not all clear from the moment of your birth, and neither deduction nor induction could account for your coming to know the particulars (deduction could if you already knew the universals, but since we're talking about particulars from which an induction to a universal is possible, the universal will have to wait. Therefore, you must learn the particulars in some other way than induction or deduction. But what way is there of learning on the basis of prior knowledge besides induction and deduction? And what prior knowledge, for that matter, could be involved in learning a particular?

I realize this is an obvious and probably superficial objection, and that fifty eminent scholars have explained it somewhere but do you see me sitting on top of an already read stack of fifty eminent scholars' writings on the Posterior Analytics? I have a hard enough time getting through one article in a week.

new rule for KTL in 2010

I started this blog as part of an effort to produce more by lowering my standards. But as you can see it quickly succumbed to my usual perfectionist paralysis. I'm not giving up yet, though. I just need to keep reminding myself, as pseudonoma (to whose comment I have still given no answer) has reminded me, that it's just an effing blog.

So from now on: less deliberating and dilating, more posting. I'm going to try to post something every day, at least on weekdays, and to reply to comments within 24 hours. I reserve the right to proceed in my usual way on the gracklog, but here please expect to hear from me more often.