Thursday, September 02, 2010

Links and Notes

* John Farrell has an article on Pius XII and Humani Generis at the WSJ. He discusses it further in a post here.

* My favorite logical positivist, Otto Neurath, at the SEP.

* William Bristow has an article at the SEP on the Enlightenment. I don't think it's a bad article, but I find it odd to read, because in virtually every choice one has to make in writing an article on this topic, Bristow chose the opposite of what I would have done. Unlike Eric Schliesser, I can see the point of saying that the Enlightenment only became self-reflective in its later German form, although it is potentially misleading and skews the discussion. (It's like saying that rationalists and empiricists only became self-aware of themselves as such toward the end of the early modern period; there's a legitimate sense in which this is so, but putting this way is potentially misleading as to the actual disputes between rationalists and empiricists.) I think it was a mistake to speak in terms of general tendencies of the 'the Enlightenment'; the local expressions (the French Enlightenment, the German Enlightenment, the Scottish Enlightenment, etc.) are indeed nodes in a general communication network concerned with intellectual development, but they do not all have the same general tenor, nor are their favored projects the same. To do justice to anything in the Enlightenment, one really must focus on the hubs, both the activity within the hub and between hubs. One reason for this is infrastructure: the French Enlightenment, for instance, is radically different from the Scottish Enlightenment, and much of the reason is the different role both educational institutions and churches play in each. A further issue is the abstraction from chronology and historical events; many of the things we associate with the Enlightenment period arise fairly late due to, e.g., educational reforms following from interest in Rousseau; the American and French Revolutions are historical events that leave their mark very clearly on the history of the period; much Enlightenment thought spreads due to specific actions by governments; and so forth. All of this is important.

* The BBC has an interview from its archives with J. R. R. Tolkien.

* There is a European region whose dominant religion is Tibetan Buddhism. The Head of Kalmykia, Kirsan Nikolayevich Ilyumzhinov, is apparently one odd politician, who is obsessed with chess (making it a compulsory subject in school) and believes he was abducted by aliens once.

* Roger Pearse has a good post on the cliche, often uncritically bandied about, that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. I've criticized it myself before and said that it is gibberish that has the function of furthering intellectual laziness: when you try unpack the meaning of both 'extraordinary claims' and 'extraordinary evidence' you find that the only plausible ways of doing so leave you with principles that are either obviously false or only true given highly controversial assumptions. Its plausibility is entirely a matter of its rhetorical parallelism -- there is literally no substance to it beyond that.

* AS Byatt says, in response to a question about religious belief, "I think Wallace Stevens is my religion," which is about as pretentious as I would have expected her response to be: her abiding sin, in which her books are steeped, lies in a capacity for expression that is too clever by half and too clumsy by far. But she actually says some interesting things in the interview, especially when she starts getting excited as to possible future avenues for novels.

* A good post on homology and analogy by John Wilkins. Some of the commenters note some weaknesses with the abstract algebra, but since we in philosophy have a Manifest Destiny to mangle as we please, and I think the primary interest in the post is not in the finer details but the overall approach, I regard this as a minor matter. This is the sort of thing that needs to be done; that it's still at draft stage doesn't change that. Mathematicians only reach dianoia on the Divided Line, anyway. (^_~)

* Speaking of which last, I think Japanese-style emoticons (both kao-moji proper and the more general 'anime' emoticons derived from them) should be more common; they are so much more expressive than Western-style emoticons.

* Isaac Bonewits, the founder of the Ár nDraíocht Féin, one of the major Neo-Druid organizations, died recently; the ADF has some interesting YouTube videos excerpting eulogies from the memorial service.

* JavOICe: this is a quite interesting Java applet in which you can draw sounds.

* Daniel Fincke has the 113th Philosopher's Carnival at "Camels with Hammers". I think this carnival is one of the more interesting collections of posts in recent times; Daniel is to be congratulated on the work of putting it together.

* Kenny Pearce has been blogging on various points that arise in reading Sobel's Logic and Theism, which I've recommended before as probably the best discussion of theistic arguments from an atheistic perspective that is currently available. So far the posts are:
Sobel's Logic and Theism
Divine Freedom and Worship
Normative Skepticism and the Existence of God
The Dialectical Appropriateness of Ontological Arguments
Sobel's Argument Against Believing in the Possibility of a Perfect Being
A Genuine Dialectical Problem for Ontological Arguments

* Enbrethiliel has a post on theology of the body, at least as commonly understood; fairly harsh and not very wrong, I think.

* Ed Feser discusses Thelonius Monk.

* The beauty of Google: A very long time ago, in elementary school, I remember reading a short story about unicorns. I don't remember the story itself, but I remember very vividly that a character in it was thinking about what to call a group of unicorns -- a word like 'herd' not really doing justice to them -- and settled on 'surprise': a surprise of unicorns. That has always stuck with me, since it's just exactly right, but I hadn't the faintest idea where it comes from. So I googled the phrase "surprise of unicorns" and it came up: "The Boy Who Drew Unicorns" by Jane Yolen, in The Unicorn Treasury.

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