josh blog

Ordinary language is all right.

One could divide humanity into two classes:
those who master a metaphor, and those who hold by a formula.
Those with a bent for both are too few, they do not comprise a class.

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8 Jun '20 08:24:07 AM

'In fact, philosophers have proposed two different kinds of theories about how, in what circumstances, and why philosophy arises. What motivates people to ask philosophical questions, and what kinds of answers do they look for? The first line of approach, initiated by Plato, is that it is a positive theoretical response to amazement, surprise, admiration, or wonder at something that is seemingly incomprehensible but impressive. The second approach also has an origin in antiquity, but it is most closely associated with Hegel and various of his followers. This approach emphasises that philosophy is a reaction to negative aspects of our general experience of the world: to apparently irreconcilable practical conflict, severe suffering, real loss, experienced deprivation or weakness. I don’t start philosophising when the cherry tree blossoms in May but when the government demands that I do something I find deeply and unconscionably repugnant, when loved ones die in random violence, when I confront the radical failure of my plans or my own death, or when my society as a whole seems bent on visibly self-destructive action. In a situation like this, I either look for a reason to accept the failure and inadequacy as inevitable, and therefore something I must simply learn to bear, or I try to understand why what seems to be an experience of pain, frustration, and failure is (really) not any such thing. Then there might be a kind of division of labour in which philosophy provides the ‘reason’ for accepting failure, limitation, and deprivation, and religion, especially monotheistic religion, provides a compensatory and fantastic consolation.

There is in principle a third approach, historically a minority view common only among some followers of Hegel (including Marx and John Dewey), which emphasises not the unchanging nature of the universe and the world we live in—as an object of wonder or something we must learn to tolerate—but as an inherently humanly malleable domain and which construes philosophy as a way of seeking to change the world so as to make it more satisfactory.

One implication of adopting the second or the third approach is that in a fully satisfactory society, one in which even my death has become not a complete and unmitigated trauma but, say, a positively integrated culmination of life, philosophy would be superfluous and would thus not exist. Or perhaps it might survive as a bit of historical folklore or theatrical spectacle, like the ‘reenactments’ of battles from the English Civil Wars which certain small towns sponsor. This does not imply that in deeply unsatisfactory societies philosophy will inevitably arise or maintain itself. Its existence will also depend on any number of further factors. In particular, for philosophy to exist, deeply rooted dissatisfaction with the state of our world must be experienced by some people who are living a life in which their basic physical needs are satisfied, are capable of focusing developed intellectual and cognitive powers on their situation, and do not think the situation is so self-evidently hopeless that there is no point in thinking about it. So we cannot assume that as our world falls apart now in ecological catastrophe, there will necessarily be any renewal of philosophical activity.

Philosophy presupposes a certain minimum of optimism; it is a comic, not a tragic genre of writing.…'

21 May '20 06:22:23 AM

'… we can't consider sleep as the only anti-capitalist tactic available to us.'

12 May '20 11:28:43 PM

'Everything is getting reduced to the essential thing of being there and playing.'

2 May '20 10:08:44 PM

'… when I was playing in the local highlife band, they would come to watch, asking me, "What [are you] doing? What is that?" Just because I had added hi-hats to the sound.'

13 Apr '20 07:10:26 AM

'The goal or object of practice is pleasure. Hence practice, in this sense, only recommends to us the means of suppressing and avoiding pain. But our pleasures have much more formidable obstacles than our pains: phantoms, superstitions, terrors, the fear of death—everything that tends to disturb the soul. The picture of humanity is one of a troubled humanity, more terrified than in pain (even the plague is defined not only by the pain and suffering it transmits, but by the disturbance of the spirit which it institutes). It is this disturbance of the soul which increases suffering, renders it invincible—although its origin is more profound and is to be found elsewhere. It is composed of two elements: an illusion which arises from the body of an infinite capacity for pleasure; then a second illusion, cast in the mind, of an infinite duration of the soul itself, which is given over without restraint to the idea of an infinity of possible sufferings following death. And the two illusions are linked: the fear of infinite punishment is the natural price to be paid for having unlimited desires. It is on this ground that one must seek out Sisyphus and Tityos; "the fool's life at length becomes a hell on earth." Epicurus goes so far as to say that if injustice is an evil, if greed, ambition, and even debauchery are evils, it is because they deliver us up to the idea of a punishment which may occur at any instant. To be delivered without defense to this turmoil of the soul is, precisely, the condition of man, or the product of this double illusion. "… As it is, there is no way of resistance and no power, because everlasting punishment is to be feared after death." This is why, for Lucretius as for Spinoza later on, the religious man displays two aspects: avidity and anguish, covetousness and culpability—a strange complex that generates crimes. The spirit's disquietude is therefore brought about by the fear of dying when we are not yet dead, and also by the fear of not yet being dead once we already are. The entire problem is that of the source of this disturbance or of these two illusions.'

12 Apr '20 09:55:32 PM

'Epicureans live convinced of the truth of Epicurus' theory of nature, which makes physical reality all the reality there is. All that is real is ultimately made up exclusively of material atoms moving in an infinite void, by chance at some places and times forming worlds, such as our own. Epicurus made major points in this theory available for memorization in his published Letter to Herodotus, a pupil. Having memorized these major points, one could readily call them to mind, thereby renewing one's convinced belief in their truth, in case something might happen to make one waver, and thus threaten one's steady and pleasure-filled state of mind by some foreboding or worry about nature's operations. In particular, this theory makes it completely clear that, though gods do exist, they do not and cannot affect human life, or the world and its operations, in any way, through any actions of their own. Their own long-lasting lives of supreme katastematic bliss, effortlessly and beautifully varied in their communal activities, make them paragons and paradigms of that immortal blessedness that we ourselves attain through the immortal good of friendship. Except in that way, that is, as models of long-lasting and continuous happiness for us to aspire to, the gods play, and can play, no role in our lives—unless, that is, we are foolish or deluded enough to imagine one for them to play, as many people, including philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics do. Likewise, Epicurus' theory of nature shows that our physical deaths are the permanent end to our consciousness, and so to our very existence, as agents and seekers of happiness.'

12 Apr '20 07:42:31 PM


9 Apr '20 06:49:50 PM


9 Apr '20 03:59:38 AM

'Either ethics makes no sense at all, or this is what it means and has nothing else to say: not to be unworthy of what happens to us. To grasp whatever happens as unjust and unwarranted (it is always someone else's fault) is, on the contrary, what renders our sores repugnant—veritable ressentiment, resentment of the event. There is no other ill will.'