Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Notes and Links

* From The Wild Hunt I see that there are signs of an SRA panic again. This sort of thing really can cause harms to a large number of groups that, because they are relatively small and either unknown or misunderstood, get treated as if they were somehow involved: practitioners of vodun, Wicca, Santeria. It will be important to keep an eye out for any stirrings of such a panic and stamp hard on any nonsense that floats about.

* David Dubin, The Most Influential Paper Gerard Salton Never Wrote. A mistake conflating two different papers, neither of which were on exactly the subject of the phantom paper, was carried forward by people copying the citation without going back to read the original work.

* Ben Goldacre discusses the not-always-rational dynamics of paper citation in Hit and Myth: Curse of the Ghostwriters at CiF.

* Electricity from trees. (ht) The amount is very, very tiny, so there's no way to use this for any major power generation, or even powering ordinary electronics. But it does mean that simple micro- and nano-scale environmental sensor electronics can be powered in forests without using batteries.

* A discussion of realism and feminist philosophy.

* Fascinating: Darwin's revisions across various editions of The Origin of Species.

* A new fragment of the Codex Sinaiticus has been discovered.

* An interesting post by Schwitzgebel on what he calls "confessional philosophy," whose purpose is to "display oneself as a model of a certain sort of thinking, while not necessarily endorsing that style of thinking or the conclusions that flow from it." He gives Augustine, Descartes, and Hume as examples. Descartes's Discourse seems to me to be set up much more completely as confessional than the Meditations; it's also here that it is most clearly seen that the confessional posture is, as Schwitzgebel suggests, a pose or posture; it is, so to speak, part of his sales tactic. Treatise 1.4.7 seems to me to be one of the most striking examples in modern history. But I think it's also very deliberately stylized in order to drive home the point of Treatise 1.4: reason proposes as it must, but nature disposes as it will. And that makes sense, I think: in confessional philosophy you aren't just randomly telling anecdotes; you are presenting the story as an occasion for reflecting on something very definite and specific.

Hume's "My Own Life" is arguably a more subtle example.


* The article on Minucius Felix in the IEP is really quite good. I've recommended Minucius's Octavius (his only surviving work) as a model philosophical dialogue before; beautiful stylistically (in some ways very Ciceronian), it is also very balanced in argument.

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