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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13 Mar '19 05:24:58 AM

'But this choice between "must" and "ought" is not merely occasional in the moral life; it is essential to it. "Ought," unlike "must," implies that there is alternative course you may take, may take responsibility for; but reasons are brought to urge you not to. (Cf. "Must We Mean What We Say?", pp. 28–31). However, unlike the case of games, what is and is not an alternative open to you is not fixed. Actions are not moves, and courses of action are not plays. What you say you must (have to, are compelled to…) do, another will feel you ought to do, generally speaking, other things equal, etc., but that here you ought (would do better) not to. (That is a much more usual moral conflict than the academic case of "You ought to do X", "You ought not to do X".) What you say you must do is not "defined by the practice", for there is no such practice until you make it one, make it yours. We might say, such a declaration defines you, establishes your position. One problem of the freedom of the will lies in what you regard as a choice, what you see as alternatives you can take, and become responsible for, make a part of your position. This is a deeply practical problem, and it has an inexorable logic: whether what you say you "cannot" do you in fact will not do because of fear, or whether out of a consistent conviction that it is not for you, in either case that is then your will. If the alternative is blocked through fear, then your will is fearful; if from single-mindedness, then it is whole. It is about such choices that existentialists say, You choose your life. This is the way an action Categorically Imperative feels. And though there is not The Categorical Imperative, there are actions which are for us categorically imperative, so far as we have a will. And though Respect for The Law may not sustain moral relationship, respect for positions not our own, will. And if the only thing good in itself is a good will, then the only thing evil or corrupt in itself is an evil or corrupt will. (That all actions which are, in this sense, categorically imperative, are self-imposed, our choice, indicates that the mere fact of self-imposition is not enough to achieve what Kant, or Freud, would mean by autonomous action. Compare Thoreau at the eighth paragraph of Walden: "It is hard to have a Southern overseer; it is worse to have a Northern one; but worst of all when you are the slave-driver of yourself." Cf. The Senses of Walden, p. 78.)…'

11 Mar '19 07:16:38 PM

Reading along in Epictetus, I happened upon a passage (they are common) in which (in Robin Hard's translation) he is exhorting a 'poor wretch' to whom he gives the diagnosis that he has 'neglected and ruined' that part of himself 'by which we desire things, or seek to avoid them, or exercise our motives to act or not to act'. I suspected that I'd find a form of meletai in the original, and sure enough:

ἀλλὰ πολύχρυσος εἶ καὶ πολύχαλκος: τί οὖν σοι κακόν ἐστιν; ἐκεῖνο, ὅ τι ποτὲ ἠμέληταί σου καὶ κατέφθαρται, ᾧ ὀρεγόμεθα, ᾧ ἐκκλίνομεν, ᾧ ὁρμῶμεν καὶ ἀφορμῶμεν. πῶς ἠμέληται; ἀγνοεῖ τὴν οὐσίαν τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ πρὸς ἣν πέφυκε καὶ τὴν τοῦ κακοῦ καὶ τί ἴδιον ἔχει καὶ τί ἀλλότριον. (3.22.31–32)

For many years before I got around to reading all of Foucault's Hermeneutics of the Subject lectures, I had been caught on the early days in which it seemed to me that all he was doing was emphasizing a distinction without ever illuminating its content—the one between knowing oneself and taking care of oneself:

'Whatever meaning was actually given and attached to the Delphic precept "know yourself" in the cult of Apollo, it seems to me to be a fact that when this Delphic precept, this gnōthi seauton, appears in philosophy, in philosophical thought, it is, as we know, around the character of Socrates. Xenophon attests to this in the Memorabilia, as does Plato in a number of texts to which we will have to return. Now not always, but often, and in a highly significant way, when this Delphic precept (this gnōthi seauton) appears, it is coupled or twinned with the principle of "take care of yourself" (epimeleia heautou). I say "coupled," twinned." In actual fact, it is not entirely a matter of coupling. In some texts, to which we will have to return, there is, rather, a kind of subordination of the expression of the rule "know yourself" to the precept of care of the self. The gnōthi seauton ("know yourself") appears, quite clearly and again in a number of significant texts, within the more general framework of the epimeleia heautou (care of oneself) as one of the forms, one of the consequences, as a sort of concrete, precise, and particular application of a general rule: You must attend to yourself, you must not forget yourself, you must take care of yourself. The rule "know yourself" appears and is formulated within and at the foremost of this care. Anyway, we should not forget that in Plato's too well-known but still fundamental text, the Apology, Socrates appears as the person whose essential, fundamental, and original function, job, and position is to encourage others to attend to themselves, take care of themselves, and not neglect themselves.…'

I didn't realize at the time that his listeners were just being given a (preliminary) hint, an instrument, with which to be able to notice more; something that would cast philosophy and philosophical texts in a different light. And as with Hadot's reconstruction of 'philosophy as a way of life' (which relies pretty crucially on a model of self-relation that he finds in the Stoics), I didn't realize just how much it would be indebted to a fairly overt and regular feature of Epictetus's discourses, there to be read off the surface, as it were.

9 Mar '19 11:06:40 PM

'I hear those greatest of punk rock virtues: negation and refusal.'

9 Mar '19 11:03:48 PM

The Necessity of Being Judgmental: On "k-punk: The Collected and Unpublished Writings of Mark Fisher"

6 Mar '19 11:52:31 PM

'… you never thought that hip-hop would take it this far…'

2 Mar '19 04:12:30 PM

'All the way through Psycho, uncertainty is Hitchcock's little game. This may seem odd, for his usual watchword was, 'Clarify! Clarify!'. This very watchword may ring oddly, when you consider that his stock-in-trade was mystery (plus MacGuffinry). But a mystery works on controlled implication: you have to clarify what it is that you're being mysterious about, and what sort of thing might count as clues, hints, suggestions, suspicions (or red herrings). Here, Marion's impenetrably innocent behavior keeps the audience uncertain. More important still: when, eventually, we discover her decision, we realise that seeing everything, we knew nothing; that unspoken thoughts are always brewing… like those 'mental shapes' working away within the cityscape… The hotel scene uses ambiguity of the alternating type (Sam blowing hot and cold). The office scene uses ambiguity of the parallel type (spoken versus unspoken).

Howard Hawks noted another factor: Discussing the script of Rio Bravo (1959), he said, 'Television has come in and… [has] used so many thousands of plots that people are getting tired of them. They're a little too inclined – if you lay a plot down – to say, "Oh, I've seen this before." But if you can keep them from knowing what the plot is, you have a chance of holding their interest. And it leads to characters… [i.e. meaning: more detailed characters]'. The Marion story is very low on plot, very high on detail. Indeed, 1959 was to be the year of the vanishing plotline: in Psycho, L'avventura, La dolce vita.

In both Psycho and L'avventura, a woman disappears, a third of the way through, and then a couple look for her, in vain.'

28 Feb '19 11:15:17 PM

A human (but human, all too human?) measure: 'some days are worse than others'.

(The quotidian pessimist's variant: 'some days are better than others'.)

25 Feb '19 06:46:12 AM

'Statt »Ich habe ihn gemeint« kann man freilich manchmal sagen »Ich habe an ihn gedacht«; manchmal auch »Ja, wir haben von ihm geredet«. Also frag dich, worin es besteht, ›von ihm reden‹!'

24 Feb '19 06:18:39 PM

'Certainly reflective thinking has not been described accurately enough. Most likely it should have been called expansive concentration. By gauging its subject matter, and it alone, thinking becomes aware of what within the matter extends beyond what was previously thought and thereby breaks open the fixed purview of the subject matter. For its part the subject matter can also be extremely abstract and mediated; its nature should not be prejudged by a surreptitiously introduced concept of concretion. The cliché that thinking is a purely logical and rigorous development from a single proposition fully warrants every reservation. Philosophical reflection must fracture the so-called train of thought that is unrefractedly expected from thinking. Thoughts that are true must incessantly renew themselves in the experience of the subject matter, which nonetheless first determines itself in those thoughts. The strength to do that, and not the measuring-out and marking-off of conclusions, is the essence of philosophical rigor. Truth is a constantly evolving constellation, not something running continuously and automatically in which the subject's role would be rendered not only easier but, indeed, dispensable. The fact that no philosophical thinking of quality allows of concise summary, that it does not accept the usual scientific distinction between process and result—Hegel, as is known, conceived truth as process and result in one—renders this experience palpably clear. Philosophical thoughts that can be reduced to their skeleton or their net profit are of no worth. That countless philosophical treatises are philistine and count not care less about being so is more than just an aesthetic shortcoming: it is the index of their own falsity. Where philosophical thought, even in important texts, falls behind the ideal of its constant renewal through the subject matter itself, it is defeated. To think philosophically means as much as to think in intermittences, to be interrupted by that which is not the thought itself. In emphatic thinking the analytic judgments it unavoidably must use become false. The force of thinking, not to swim with its own current, is the strength of resistance to what has been previously thought. Emphatic thinking requires the courage to stand by one's convictions. The individual who thinks must take a risk, not exchange or buy anything on faith—that is the fundamental experience of the doctrine of autonomy. Without risk, without the imminent possibility of error, there is objectively no truth. Most stupidity in thinking takes shape where that courage, which is immanent to thinking and which perpetually stirs within it, is suppressed. Stupidity is nothing privative, not the simple absence of mental ability, but rather the scar of its mutilation. Nietzsche's pathos knew that. His imperialistically adventurous slogan about the dangerous life basically meant instead: to think dangerously, to spur on thought, to shrink back from nothing in the experience of the matter, not to be intimidated by any convention of received thought. Autarkic logical consistency, however, from its societal perspective has not least of all the function of hindering this idea. Wherever thinking today emphasizes an emphatic and not an agitating influence, this is probably not to be ascribed to individual qualities like talent or intelligence. The reasons are objective: one of them, for instance, is that the thinking person, favored by biographical circumstances, did not allow his vulnerable thinking to be completely extirpated by the control mechanisms. Science needs the person who has not obeyed it; what satisfies his spirit is what defames science: the memento of obtuseness, to which science inevitably condemns itself and for which it feels a preconscious sense of shame.'