Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Links and Notes

* Carnival of the Feminists 25 is up at "Philobiblon". There is some really great stuff in this one; I especially recommend the Women of History section. There's also an interesting post about an appallingly sexist cartoon. Perhaps most interesting of all, though, was the juxtaposition of two opposing viewpoints on the veil: Salma Yaqoob's So much for the sisterhood and Kate Smurthwaite's Lifting the veil. I find something of merit in both arguments. I am inclined to think Yaqoob is more in the right here; but my viewpoint is colored by an experience I once had, which I think I've mentioned before on this blog. I was going to the University of Toronto Philosophy Department one day, and stepped into the elevator at 215 Huron Street. In the elevator there was a conservatively veiled Muslim graduate student with whom I had once taken an Islamic Philosophy course. We had occasionally talked in class, but we didn't know each other's names (we had been introduced, but neither of us remembered the other's name), and we had never seen each other outside of class -- she was in the Near Eastern studies program, I was in the Philosophy program, and it had been the only class we'd ever taken together. But when I stepped onto that elevator she lit up as if I were her best friend. And the reason was that in that same elevator there was another student -- neither of us knew him -- who had scared her half to death. All he had done was point to her veil and say that it was a sign of oppression; but he had done it in a cold way that she felt was menacing. And I can understand her feeling entirely, because the would-be liberator didn't really come across as having her best interests at heart: she was for him simply an ideological issue, not a person. I always remember that day when this issue comes up, because it's a healthy reminder that it's not only those who support the veil who can use it to dehumanize those who wear it. I think it's an issue where neither side is entirely right or wrong: it's probably true that in the long run the best interests of the women involved are best served by the elimination of the veil. But in the short run, the best interests of the women involved are best served by the respect -- and perhaps even more importantly by the sisterhood -- Yaqoob feels is missing from the discussion.

* Wired has an interesting (but in many ways odd) article on the 'New Atheists' and their assault on agnosticism -- I don't think the agnostics really have much to worry about from them. Dawkins's claim that we can't prove that the Flying Spaghetti Monster doesn't exist is, of course, blatantly false; as I've noted before, claims that you can't prove a negative, or that you can't prove that something doesn't exist, only survive by an illicit ratcheting-up of the standards of proof in the negative case. That is, you can't prove a negative only when you raise the standards of proof high enough that you can't prove it; and that's about it. Flying Spaghetti Monsters and the like are good cases in point. And contrary to the suggestion of the article, Dawkins's arguments are never a 'conscientious deduction of conclusions from premises'. Dawkins is not a logical thinker; a close look at the logic of his arguments always shows them to be very sloppy. His strength is being able to reduce things to a concise, clear point that (as it were) shows you directly his own point of view. The often does make up for the logical sloppiness; such a talent would make up for more serious flaws most of the time. But Dawkins is just not a sufficiently rigorous thinker to engage in the 'conscientious deduction of conclusions from premises'.

* William Morris's essay on Useful Work versus Useless Toil is always worth reading. Morris, in fact, is always worth reading; here's a selection from his essay on The Revival of Handicraft:

Yes, we do sorely need a system of production which will give us beautiful surroundings and pleasant occupation, and which will tend to make us good human animals, able to do something for ourselves, so that we may be generally intelligent instead of dividing ourselves into dull drudges or duller pleasure-seekers according to our class, on the one hand, or hapless pessimistic intellectual personages, and pretenders to that dignity, on the other. We do most certainly need happiness in our daily work, content in our daily rest; and all this cannot be if we hand over the whole responsibility of the details of our daily life to machines and their drivers. We are right to long for intelligent handicraft to come back to the world which it once made tolerable amidst war and turmoil and uncertainty of life, and which it should, one would think, make happy now we have grown so peaceful, so considerate of each other's temporal welfare.

You can find more of Morris at The William Morris Internet Archive.

* Somehow I only just found out that the Online Library of Liberty has Shaftesbury's Characteristics online. This work's influence on British philosophy in the eighteenth century can scarcely be exaggerated. It's also a very curious work, being a collection of rather diverse writings on various subjects -- it's a philosophical miscellany. Expect a post or two on Shaftesbury when I have the time.

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