Archive | October 10, 2011

The Final Encyclopedia

Today I learned (from an Egyptian Students’ Association poster – apparently verified here) that the Library of Alexandria (the current one, obviously) houses the sole backup copy of the Internet Archive.

Why yes, said the first little pig, I’m going to rebuild my house, and I’m using all straw again.

Caffeinate the State!

For my readers in the Auburn area: the Auburn Philosophy Club will be hosting a panel discussion on the subject of “The State” this coming Wednesday, October 12th, 5:00-7:00 p.m., at the Gnu’s Room (the used bookstore and coffeeshop next to Amsterdam Café, near the intersection of Samford and South Gay; map here). The choice of topic is partly in honour of the PPE (philosophy / poli sci / econ) program we’re developing.

Auburn philosophy students at the Gnu's Room

There’ll be brief presentations from two or three faculty members (including your humble correspondent) and two or three students, followed by general discussion. (My presentation will focus on how, contra Locke, the undesirability of people being judges in their own case is actually an argument against the state, not for it.)

These meetings tend to be fairly popular, and the Gnu’s Room’s meeting space is not exactly enormous, so those interested should try to arrive early to be sure of finding a seat. (Also make sure to try the coffee – it’s the best in town.)

Of Interest to the Stronger

Socrates menaced by a Lonely Assassin

I finally paid out the drakhmas to get the proceedings (both print and electronic, so over $100 total) of the Athens conference I went to in 2008. Here’s my contribution: “Thrasymachus and the Relational Conception of Authority” (in Patricia Hanna, ed., An Anthology of Philosophical Studies, vol. 3 (Athens: Athens Institute for Education and Research, 2009), pp. 27-36).

And here’s the abstract:

Thrasymachus defines justice as the interest of the stronger/rulers. Hence one might expect him to hold that when the stronger/rulers act in their own interest, they are being just. Yet Thrasymachus says just the opposite – that when the stronger/rulers act in their own interest, they are being unjust. This apparent inconsistency is to be explained by Thrasymachus’s having a relational conception of the notion of stronger/ruler; to act in the interest of the stronger/ruler is to act in the interest of someone stronger-than-oneself, of a ruler-over-oneself. Hence when a subject acts to benefit the ruler, he acts justly, by putting a superior’s interests before his own; but when the ruler acts in his own interest, he acts unjustly, since he pursues his own interests and defers to no superior.

This is something I think almost everyone who teaches Plato’s Republic gets wrong.

Eye For An Eye

Women go crazy for the big blue eye. — Tom Waits, “Eyeball Kid”

Here’s an interesting analysis of the Doctor Who finale. I hadn’t thought before of these past two seasons being bookended by gigantic eyeballs with opposite meanings. (Come on, by itself that’s not much of a spoiler.)

I could add that the past two seasons have been obsessed with eyes and vision even more strongly than the review mentions. Weeping Angels, the Silence, and the eyepatches are the most obvious cases. (And remember the Angel in Amy’s eye.) Then there have been all the uses of perception filters and psychic paper … and Van Gogh’s vision that enables him to see blind (!) monsters and exploding TARDISes invisible to others ….

Cloaking Device

We all know it’s depressing/frustrating to be a libertarian and watch tv. But the same applies to being a philosopher and watching tv.

spinning wheel illusion

Tonight I half-watched a series of National Geographic specials about vision, memory, illusions, and such. It was fascinating, and all the science in it was sound (AFAIK). But not all the purported science in it was science. What the series did (as is fairly typical for science programs) was to translate the scientific results into a conceptual framework that is actually philosophical (and philosophically controversial), not scientific. All the stuff about colour not existing in extramental reality, about our brains “filling in” background information, and so forth are part of a particular philosophical interpretation of the scientific data, not something one can simply read off the data.

I happen to think that the particular conceptual framework into which the National Geographic series was cramming its data is a deeply mistaken and oft-refuted philosophical confusion. But that’s not my point just now. My point is that the people who make shows like this don’t even realise that they are making any philosophical assumptions. And that in turn is because the entire field of philosophy is essentially invisible in our culture (meaning, in this context, American culture; things are a bit different in, say, France). People who are interested in what are actually philosophical questions generally turn to science or religion, because they are simply unaware that there are philosophical methods for addressing such questions.

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