Wednesday, April 18, 2018


If I had time one of the things I would most like to do is write a book about Schopenhauer, possibly relating his thought to that of Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, and Anscombe. So I might blog about him, especially The World as Will and Representation, from time to time. Here are some interesting bits of the preface:
I propose to point out here how this book must be read in order to be thoroughly understood. By means of it I only intend to impart a single thought. Yet, notwithstanding all my endeavours, I could find no shorter way of imparting it than this whole book. I hold this thought to be that which has very long been sought for under the name of philosophy
According as we consider the different aspects of this one thought which I am about to impart, it exhibits itself as that which we call metaphysics, that which we call ethics, and that which we call æsthetics
no other advice can be given as to how one may enter into the thought explained in this work than to read the book twice, and the first time with great patience, a patience which is only to be derived from the belief, voluntarily accorded, that the beginning presupposes the end almost as much as the end presupposes the beginning, and that all the earlier parts presuppose the later almost as much as the later presuppose the earlier.
the first perusal demands patience, founded on confidence that on a second perusal much, or all, will appear in an entirely different light
The second demand is this, that the introduction be read before the book itself, although it is not contained in the book, but appeared five years earlier under the title, “Ueber die vierfache Wurzel des Satzes vom zureichenden Grunde: eine philosophische Abhandlung” (On the fourfold root of the principle of sufficient reason: a philosophical essay).
But the same disinclination to repeat myself word for word, or to say the same thing a second time in other and worse words, after I have deprived myself of the better, has occasioned another defect in the first book of this work. For I have omitted all that is said in the first chapter of my essay “On Sight and Colour,” which would otherwise have found its place here, word for word. Therefore the knowledge of this short, earlier work is also presupposed.
Finally, the third demand I have to make on the reader might indeed be tacitly assumed, for it is nothing but an acquaintance with the most important phenomenon that has appeared in philosophy for two thousand years, and that lies so near us: I mean the principal writings of Kant
He likens reading Kant to having cataracts removed and to being reborn. And yet he does not seem to think that Kant has yet done enough.

There is also quite a bit of Wittgenstein-ish stuff like this (from the second preface):
anything true one may have thought, and anything obscure one may have thrown light upon, will appeal to any thinking mind, no matter when it comprehends it, and will rejoice and comfort it. To such an one we speak as those who are like us have spoken to us, and have so become our comfort in the wilderness of this life.  
Compare the first words of the Tractatus' preface:
This book will perhaps only be understood by one who has himself already at some time thought the thoughts that are expressed herein – or at least similar thoughts. –It is therefore not a textbook.—Its end would be reached if it gave pleasure to one person who read it with understanding.
In general there seem to me to be quite a few similarities to the early Wittgenstein here, even if they turn out to be only superficial.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

American playlist

I haven't posted much lately, which always makes me feel both lazy and that I must post something pretty good to make up for it. This is not that pretty good post. Instead it's some nonsense about music. Sorry.

I recently visited St Louis and doing so got me thinking about driving across the country, and what music I would listen to if I did that. I'm thinking of a playlist made up of ten blues albums, ten jazz albums, ten folk albums, ten country albums, and ten rock'n'roll albums. Within each genre I'd like, within reason, to approximate an ideal of two albums by each of the best two female artists, two albums by each of the best two male artists, one compilation, and one album by someone else. And the idea is to emphasize classics, so nothing of merely historical interest and nothing too recent. All artists should be from the USA.

What's likely to happen is that I don't ever do the road-trip but do create and listen to the playlist. So I'd like it to be good.

If you have suggestions, e.g., for specific albums, feel free to make them here.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Winch on Understanding Other People

If you have access to the journal Philosophical Investigations you can read my forthcoming paper by following this link. I should be able to get access for other people soon, too. Stay tuned.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Ethics After Anscombe

Something very close to the published version of this book is now available at

Friday, March 16, 2018


Maybe I'm just unusually ignorant, but the version of the Encyclopedia Britannica that I remember seeing online contained either very short articles or perhaps an introductory paragraph followed by a message that I didn't have the right to read the rest of the article. As far as I can see this has changed, and not just because my library has taken out a subscription. The whole thing seems to be available for free as long as you don't mind seeing some ads. And the philosophy artifices look very good. There's Ray Monk on Wittgenstein, Roger T. Ames on Confucius, Wendy Doniger and others on Hinduism, and so on. Apologies if this is old news. 

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Eldridge lore

Richard Eldridge has an interesting essay on liberal education here. I don't know that I have much interesting to say about it, but he talks about the point of higher education, which I have talked about before, and I do have something, however slight, to say in response.

One of his key ideas is this:
human beings are enabled to flourish in and through the exercise of rational powers only through education as paideia: the actualization of rational powers and the direction of preference and interest toward appropriate ends. Merely having a biological life and a lot of pleasant experiences is not sufficient for living well. Absent education as paideia, then, human life threatens to collapse back out of the rational-cultural and into the animal-instinctual. To flourish, we must learn from each other to engage in activities that support the actualization of rational powers.
This is another:
If I can get students to pay attention — close attention — to the details and intricate coherences of, say, François Truffaut’s Day for Night or Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice or James Baldwin’s Another Country, Friedrich Hölderlin’s “Half of Life” or Rilke’s “An Archaic Torso of Apollo,” Plato’s Symposium or Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, then, I think to myself, that’s something. There’s a chance that they will resonate to the insights and, more important, the powers of perception infused with thought that are manifest in these works. They might learn to see their lives, their social circumstances, and the currently obscure possibilities within them more clearly and with more hope. That would be something, and I am not quite ready to give up. 
And his conclusion is along these lines:
In any case, I will carry on, with such modest successes in paideia as I am able to manage. Within a general culture that no longer expects or appreciates paideia and within an institution that is shaped by that general culture, this will sadly remain difficult and often-enough fruitless work. The larger issue is the plight of liberal education, paideia, in an ongoing war between Deweyan-Rawlsian liberal democracy and neoliberalism, where neoliberalism is winning.
I'm sympathetic to a lot of what he says, even if he sounds a bit like a grumpy old man (as I often do) when he brings up electronic dance music. But do I really agree that developing powers of perception is what higher education should mostly be about? Would I spend tens of thousands of dollars a year to send each of my children to university just for that? I think I would not, unless I had won millions on the lottery. 

One thing to note is that I wouldn't count on any university in particular right now to even try to get students to pay close attention to great works of art. My daughter (majoring in engineering) goes to an expensive university and has not been required to take any course that aims to do this. I don't think the college I teach at requires its students to take any such course either. So if you're paying for this kind of paideia, at least at one of those two places, you're out of luck. Secondly, students get exposed to some works of art in high school, and can be exposed to more by their parents. Might that be enough? And thirdly, how much can colleges and universities do to make students appreciate great works? Even if that is a worthwhile goal, and I think it is, is enough success likely to make the great expense of college worth it? Eldridge emphasizes the value of science, art, politics, and friendship. If someone like my daughter is already invested in three of these heavily and takes some interest in the fourth, how much should I worry that she might be missing out on something really important? A little, but enough to justify spending lots of money for the possibility of maybe partially filling the gap? The question seems simply irrelevant to all but the richest parents.

Eldridge, I think, recognizes this. The problem is less what universities teach and more the precarious state in which people entering the job market find themselves. If there were less inequality, if being at the bottom were less terrible, then we would be less worried about the need for our children to get job qualifications. It would also help, of course, if higher education were much less expensive. In the meantime, though, as he suggests, colleges and universities can at least try to cultivate the minds of students in less utilitarian ways. I agree with him that it's a shame we don't do more of this.  

As things stand, a college degree increases one's expected lifetime earnings enormously but is also very expensive. Which means the advantage goes to the children of richer parents. That is unfair, and means that we all suffer from living in a less meritocratic society (the talents of working class children are often wasted, to the disadvantage of all except the less talented members of the higher classes). This strikes me as a bigger issue than paideia.

But I do care about paideia as well.