Saturday, October 24, 2020

Ahmet Midhat Efendi, Felâtun Bey and Râkım Efendi


Opening Passage:

Have you heard of Felâtun Bey? You know who I'm talking about, old Mustafa Meraki Efendi's son! Doesn't ring a bell? Well now, he's a lad worth meeting.

Mustafa Meraki Efendi lives in a district near Beyoğlu, in the Tophane neighborhood. There is no need to provide the name of this district. You know the neighborhood, right? Well, that's all you need to know. (p.1)

Summary: The novel sets up a contrast between two young men, the Felâtun Bey and Râkım Efendi of the title, although in practice it spends much more time on Râkım -- deliberately, I'm sure, since part of the point is that Râkım would inevitably have a more interesting life. Felâtun Bey comes from a very wealthy family whose father has pretensions of cosmopolitanism. He thus raises his son for the alafranga life, the life of a Western European (which in this period still primarily means French, hence the word alafranga, although English customs are also a significant influence). This is seen even in Felâtun's name; 'Felâtun' is the Turkish form of the French version of a Greek name, Plato, and it's clear that Felâtun himself, picking up the pretension from his father, sometimes goes by the name Platon Bey, and monographs his suitcases, French-style, with a P. It's important to the story that Felâtun is not in any way stupid or malicious. He is not a hypocrite, nor is he faking his French manners -- how can you be faking something that is the only thing you have ever learned? But his life has a shallowness to it, as indeed it must, for he is a Turk who has not really learned to be a Turk due to his father's misguided notions of what a sophisticated education is, and to be alafranga is not actually to be French or English, but rather to be somebody who has picked up the most shallow customs of the French and English without having really grown up as French or English. We know his type very well even today, even in our own country -- the people of the world who are ignorant of life a few counties over and preserve no real family traditions but who count themselves (and are accounted by other people of the world) sophisticated and educated because they eat ethnic food and have a socially respectable education and have been tourists in Paris. And while you do get people like that who are like that partly because they are stupid and malicious, in reality most of them are like that just because they were raised to be people who were ignorant of their own traditions and customs, on the misguided assumption that this is what it is to be educated.

Râkım Efendi, on the other hand, grows up in a very poor Turkish family. Because of this, his education is not handed to him; he has to work for every single bit of it. What this means is that, while Felâtun and Râkım both have real talents, only Râkım's talents are properly cultivated. Ironically, growing up in a wealthy household has guaranteed that Felâtun's talents go to waste, because that wealth was used to pry him out of ordinary, run-of-the-mill Turkish life. Râkım has a facility with languages, so besides Turkish, he learns Arabic, Persian, and French. He actually has an enthusiasm for French literature, and this is quite important. The contrast between Felâtun and Râkım is not that the former is educated in French culture and the latter in Turkish. In reality, of course, Felâtun is a Turk, he lives in Istanbul, most of the people with whom he interacts are Turks. His life is an alafranga life, but an alafranga life is one way to be Turkish. And while Râkım lives an alaturka life, this is not a matter of repudiating Western ideas, customs, or arts. Quite the opposite: Râkım has close friendships with both English and French;  he is as fluent in French as Felâtun, and, if anything, he is far more enthusiastic about French literature than Felâtun is. But he lives life as a thoroughly Ottoman Turk who loves French literature. The point of the contrast is not that the Ottoman Empire should close itself up within an isolationist bubble but that it should learn, exchange, and interact freely with French and English culture without making the mistake of treating its own culture as defective for not being French or English.

There's a nice episode early on, when Felâtun is introduced to the Ziklas family, a well-to-do English family whose daughters Râkım is tutoring in Turkish. Felâtun repeatedly bungles minor issues of Turkish literature and language that even the English girls can easily see, because he is, so to speak, a cradle Turk who has never had to convert to being Turkish. The narrator points out that this is not because he is stupid or even really ignorant, but that he doesn't know how he has learned the Turkish culture he has learned:

Come on now! How is it possible that Felâtun didn't know the alphabet?

Well, it wasn't that he didn't know but there are some men who don't know how they learned the things they know. Especially in our country, most people who know don't know how they learned. Felâtun Bey was one of those people. He didn't know how he learned what he knew. Why does this surprise you? We even knew a clerk with beautiful handwriting who connected every letter when composing formal ministry documents. And yet he wasn't able to explain the rules of his own handwriting! (pp. 23-24)

This seems to me quite insightful. There are things we know because we understand them, but there are things we know only because we have become familiar with them. Felâtun has learned Turkish customs and language through osmosis; he was never given an education that would lead to understanding any of it. It's not something to be understood; it's just the arbitrary way things happen to be. He doesn't know any of the reasons, because his education didn't ever cover any of the reasons, and he never had to force himself to learn the reasons. This is a compact summary, I think, of how cultures deteriorate.

Felâtun eventually engages in the very alafranga practice of having a fancy mistress and gambling. Needless to say, this is not going to turn out well. Râkım has a more complicated story, because living the alaturka life in part means paying much more attention to personal connections than the social-appearance-obsessed alafranga life. Râkım will buy a Circassian slave, Janan, and eventually the two will fall in love and marry. It's a quiet life, without all the glitz and glamor of the alafranga lifestyle, but also without all the dissolution and dissipation. And in the end, it's a better way to be an Ottoman Turk.

Favorite Passage: 

Yes, this time the medicine had a stronger effect! The patient who could barely move in her bed started wandering around the room. Now, can you refute what Molière said about doctors? The most scientific aspect of being a doctor is understanding if a patient is dead; otherwise even if they can diagnose the specific disease, since diseases have many types, they can never discern its type. The books on pathology say there is no medicine for tuberculosis and all the medicines that are being prescribed are experimental. In fine print, however, the last two lines war, "There are people who survive this illness on their own." Now, when our Doctor Z-- saw that Jan was returning to life, he thought, "So this last remark in the pathology book is true!" Feeling surprised and after observing that the girl would definitely recover, he pranced around like Luqman the Wise. "If my mother-in-law were with me now, even she would pass herself off as Hippocrates," he thought to himself. (p. 144)

Recommendation: Recommended.


Ahmet Midhat Efendi, Felâtun Bey and Râkım Efendi: An Ottoman Novel, Levi & Ringer, trs., Syracuse University Press (Syracuse, NY: 2016).

CT7D: Cumarseti

When traveling, you want to have some fun as well as business, so that's what the lessons turn to today: sports and entertainment. Sports terms tend to be easy in Turkish:

sporu : sports

tenis : tennis

golf : golf

basketbol : basketball

masa topu : table tennis (literally, 'table ball')

yüzmeyi : swimming

koşmayı : jogging

yelkenciliği : sailing

yürümeyi : walking

spor seyretmesini : watching sports

If you want to say that you like doing any of these things, you say Ben...severim; e.g., 'I like walking' is Ben yürümeyi severim. If you need sports locations, some examples are:

stadyum : stadium

tenis sahası : tennis court

yüzme havuzu : swimming pool

If you need to ask where something is, you always use nerededir, e.g., Basketbol sahası nerededir?

It's not sports if you don't have interjections! Something about athletic contests requires them. Some common Turkish interjections and exclamations, with loose English approximations:

Aman! : Oh dear!

Maşallah! : Wonderful!

İnşallah! : God willing!

Aferin! : Well done!

Çok güzel! : Very good!

If song and dance are more your thing, 'song' is şarkı and 'dance' is oyun. When people say Susalım!, that means 'Hush!' and Program başliyor means that the show is starting. A belly dancer is a dansöz; 'to dance' is dans etmek.

If you want to take an active verb and make it passive, you do so by adding -il-/-ıl-/-ul-/-ül- to the stem, as vowel harmony requires, unless the stem ends in -l, in which case you use -in-/-n-. Thus sevmek, to love, becomes sevilmek, to be loved; görmek, to see, becomes görülmek, to be seen; almak, to take, becomes alınmak, to be taken; okumak, to read, becomes okunmak, to be read.

Conditional is a particular mood in Turkish that gets an -se- suffix to the stem. So in Ben böyle dans edersem, çok kilo kaybederim, 'If I dance like this, I will lose a lot of weight', the 'dans edersem' starts with the infinite, dans etmek; the -r- indicates an aorist tense, the -se- indicates a conditional, and the -m indicates first person.

If you want to say "Let's....", you do this in Turkish with the interjection Haydi and adding -(y)alim/-(y)elim at the end of the verb:

Haydi, lokantaya gidelim : Let's go to the restaurant.

Haydi, yüzelim : Let's swim

Haydi, bir kayık kiralıyalım : Let's rent a boat.

And that's enough for a taste of Turkish today. We have one more to complete the week, when tomorrow, Pazar, we cover chatting topics: saying what you do, talking about the weather, and so forth.


Tayfun and Gillian Çağa, Conversational Turkish in 7 Days, Passport Books (Chicago: 1992).

Friday, October 23, 2020

Of Things Beyond Our Reason and Control

The Sound of the Sea
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The sea awoke at midnight from its sleep,
And round the pebbly beaches far and wide
I heard the first wave of the rising tide
Rush onward with uninterrupted sweep;
A voice out of the silence of the deep,
A sound mysteriously multiplied
As of a cataract from the mountain's side,
Or roar of winds upon a wooded steep.
So comes to us at times, from the unknown
And inaccessible solitudes of being,
The rushing of the sea-tides of the soul:
And inspirations that we deem our own,
Are some divine foreshadowing and foreseeing
Of things beyond our reason or control.

CT7D: Cuma

I haven't done any of the dialogues from CT7D, but this is a good day to give an example.

Kiralık oto ofisinde / At the car-rental office
Jill and Daniel have some free time in the morning. They rent a car to drive to the Anatolian plateau.  
Daniel: İyi sabahlar. Bir araba kiralamak istiyorum.
Ofis yetkilisi: Hay hay efendim. Kaç kişi için? Küçük bir Peugeot ve büyük bir Ford Granada var. Ford Granada'da rady ve kaset çalar da var.
Jill: Fiyati nasıl oluyor? Günlük vey kilometre başina mı?
Ofis Yetkilisi: Gün başina.
Daniel: Peki Ford'un fiyatı nedir?
Ofis yetkilisi: İşte fiyat listesi ve sigorta ücreti.
Jill: Biz Peugeot'u istiyoruz bir gün için.
Ofis yetkilisi; Lütfen bana İngiliz ve uluslararası sürücü ehliyetinizi veriniz. Evet, her şey tamam. İşte arabanın anahtarı. Lütfen benim ile geliniz, arabayı görünüz.

İyi sabahlar is 'good morning' (literally 'good mornings'). Araba is 'car'; kiralamak is to 'to rent; so Bir araba kiralamak istiyorum means 'We want to rent a (one) car'. Yetkilisi means someone in authority, so here it means 'manager'. Hay hay is 'of course' and efendim is 'sir' or 'mister'. The office manager next says, "For how many people? There is (or, in this context, 'we have') a small Peugeot and a large Ford Granada. The Ford Granada has a radio with cassette player." (It's the early 90s!) Jill wants to know how the price (fiyat) is calculated (literally 'happens', from olmak, 'to become, to happen, to occur'); in particular, she wants to know if it is per day (Günlük, from gün, 'day') or by the kilometer. The manager replies, "By the day." Peki is roughly like 'OK'. Daniel asks how much the Ford costs; the manager shows the price list and the insurance (sigorta) cost. Evet, her şey tamam means, very literally, "Yes, every thing is complete." İşte is 'Here', anahtar is 'key'. And the manager ends by saying, "Please come with me and see the car."

Other useful car terms: benzin is 'gasoline' and oto park is 'parking lot'. Arabamı bozuldu is 'Our car has broken down'. Onarabilir misiniz? is 'Can you fix it?'.

In this lesson we get the past tense, which we already saw with Arabamı bozuldu, from bozulmak, 'to break down'. you use the affix -di-/-dı-/-du-/-dü- according to vowel harmony, although the d becomes t immediately after some consonants. Thus yapmak means 'to do', so 'I did' is Ben yaptım. We rented a car is Bir araba kiraladık. Ne istediniz? means 'What did you want?'

Sometimes you get into various kinds of accident; you might even need to go to the hastahane (hospital) or the eczane (pharmacy). Hastayı means 'I am ill'. Bir doktor gerek var means 'A doctor is needed'. Midem bulandı is 'I have been sick' or 'I was sick'. If you need to notify someone that you are pregnant, that is Ben hamileyim. Other useful phrases:

Karakol nerededir? : Where is the police station?

Acil hastahanesi nerededir? : Where is the emergency hospital?

Sizin hatanızdı. : It was your fault.

Yardım! : Help!

Tehlike : Danger

Kayboldum : I am lost

Kaybetmek, to lose, seems particularly useful:

Biletimi kaybettim : I have lost my ticket.

Pasaportumu kaybettim : I have lost my passport.

Fotoğraf makinemi kaybettim : I have lost my camera (literally: photograph machine).

Anahtarımı kaybettim : I have lost my key.

And so that's the taste of Turkish for today. Tomorrow, Cumartesi, the topic is leisure and fun.


Tayfun and Gillian Çağa, Conversational Turkish in 7 Days, Passport Books (Chicago: 1992).

Thursday, October 22, 2020


Today is the feast of Pope St. John Paul II. From Veritatis splendor:

The Church has often made reference to the Thomistic doctrine of natural law, including it in her own teaching on morality. Thus my Venerable Predecessor Leo XIII emphasized the essential subordination of reason and human law to the Wisdom of God and to his law. After stating that "the natural law is written and engraved in the heart of each and every man, since it is none other than human reason itself which commands us to do good and counsels us not to sin", Leo XIII appealed to the "higher reason" of the divine Lawgiver: "But this prescription of human reason could not have the force of law unless it were the voice and the interpreter of some higher reason to which our spirit and our freedom must be subject". Indeed, the force of law consists in its authority to impose duties, to confer rights and to sanction certain behaviour: "Now all of this, clearly, could not exist in man if, as his own supreme legislator, he gave himself the rule of his own actions". And he concluded: "It follows that the natural law is itself the eternal law, implanted in beings endowed with reason, and inclining them towards their right action and end; it is none other than the eternal reason of the Creator and Ruler of the universe".

Man is able to recognize good and evil thanks to that discernment of good from evil which he himself carries out by his reason, in particular by his reason enlightened by Divine Revelation and by faith, through the law which God gave to the Chosen People, beginning with the commandments on Sinai. 

CT7D: Perşembe

 When you travel, you sometimes have financial needs and need to talk to the banka memuru (bank teller) or kambiyo memuru (currency exchange clerk). Some banking terminology: 

Çek kartım var : I have a check card

Banka kartım var : I have a bank card

Kredi kartım var : I have a credit card

Amerikan doları : US dollars

ödermek : to pay

para yatırmak : to deposit

para çekmek : to withdraw

This is a fairly grammar-heavy lesson. We learn the genitive case, which consists of adding -(n)ın, -(n)un, -(n)in, or -(n)ün, depending on vowel harmony. Thus 'hotel's' would be otelin. Personal pronouns are similar, although first person pronouns use -im instead. Thus from ben, I, we get benim, my. Possessive pronouns agree in case endings with their nouns (Turkish is very rational in linking pronoun endings to the endings of nouns modified by them): benim bavulum, my suitcase; onun pasaportu, her passport.

We also get the future tense. Ne kadar bozduracaksınız?, from bozdurmak, to change (in the financial sense of exchanging), means "How much will you change?" What makes it future is the -acak- or -ecek- affix that connects the stem with the second-person plural ending.

You could also end up at the postahane, and need to talk to the posta memuru, the post-office clerk. Some post office vocabulary:

mektup : letter

paket : package

adres : address

Posta kutusu nerededir? : Where is the mailbox?

You may also need a telefon. 'To dial' is çevirmek.

If you want to send or call to something, say England, you use the dative case: İngiltere'ye, to England, Londra'ya, to London. If you want to receive something from somewhere, you use the ablative case: İngiltere'den, from England, Londra'dan, from London.

To express duty, necessity, or obligation, you often use a -malı-/-meli- affix. So if you want to say, "We must send this package to London", you say, Bu paketi Londra'ya göndermeliyiz. There are also words like gerek and lazım that will express the same idea as the necessity affix.

And that's just another taste of how Turkish works. Tomorrow, Cuma, the topic is cars and emergencies.


 Tayfun and Gillian Çağa, Conversational Turkish in 7 Days, Passport Books (Chicago: 1992).

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

The Impulse Against the Cabal

 I've complained about the conspiracy-theory thinking that people have sloppily let pervade their political thinking, but it's also important to have a sense of proportion about these things -- you're not going to eliminate conspiracy-theory thinking (it arises from natural features of human mental and social life), and the problem with it is when you start handing it the keys to the car. I've seen a lot of people characterize QAnon as dangerous in the past few months. It probably would be if it had any real power, but in practice QAnoners seem usually to be participating in it from the fun of the social interactions, and QAnon is not an activist conspiracy theory (like Russiagate or 9/11 Trutherism sometimes are), because it is the central message of QAnon that the Satanic pedophile cult running the world is unraveling on its own.

In any case, proportion is called for, which brings me to the Anti-Masonic Party. We take political third parties for granted, but we tend not to ask what they have been. The first 'third party' -- and by any third party standards, a quite successful one, one of the most successful third parties in American history* -- was the Anti-Masonic Party. In 1826, a former Mason who had become a sharp critic of Freemasonry vanished. To this day nobody knows what happened to him, but as he vanished shortly after a bunch of Masons denounced him and a few people had tried to burn down his newspaper office**, it was very widely thought that the Masons had murdered him. Thus began the Anti-Masonic movement, out to save the world from the secret murder society that was trying to control the world behind the scenes. The Anti-Masonic Party was formed in New York in 1828 and took the political position that secret societies governing America was a violation of the principles of republican government, which you have to admit is quite true. It got a significant amount of support from Protestant churches -- the Masons were widely seen as an anti-Christian society -- and they were supported by John Quincy Adams and his supporters; Adams, who was not well supported in his own party, needed external allies, and many of his opponents were in fact Masons, most notably Andrew Jackson. The party had a successful populist message, because it took off. For a while it became the major opposition to the Democrats in New York; it spread to Pennsylvania and Vermont, each of which elected an Anti-Mason to governor in the 1830s. They often got people into state legislatures, although always as a minority -- but a stable minority party is a swing party, and they played a very significant role in a number of states. They also did moderately well with getting candidates into the House of Representatives. They eventually drifted apart, in part because the Whigs were more attractive to more people, but the migration of the Anti-Masons into the Whigs strongly imbued the Whigs with a populist strain that stood them well (for a while) against the Democrats. They also brought in some things they invented as part of their populism -- like party conventions.

Despite the problems with conspiracy-theory thinking, anti-cabal-ism -- an absolute abhorrence of the idea of someone manipulating things from behind the scene, of backroom deals, and of underhanded violence on the sly -- is an undeniable American tradition, and one that has influence well into the mainstream. (I suspect, in fact, that one reason President Trump does relatively well among some parts of the population is that absolutely nobody thinks he could manage to keep anything behind the scenes or on the sly.) If it sometimes experiences an algal bloom on the margins, that's not really surprising, either, and for the most part is not dangerous. It's not as if there's something morally problematic with being opposed to murder societies or pedophile cults; all reasonable people are. The problem here is just in the over-reading of facts, leading to an occasional over-reaction. You keep an eye on it and it usually burns itself out eventually without all that much damage -- not ideal, certainly, but manageable. Far more serious are revolutionary movements like nativism, anarchism, or Communism, which are often as conspiracy-theory-ridden but add the more serious problem of being willing to do violence for morally wrong ends.


* The Republican Party, of course, is the most successful third party in American history because it became one of the two major parties and has managed to stay there; it was the anti-slavery party that leveraged the political force of abolitionism to replace the Whigs. The American Party, also known as the Know Nothings, is another highly successful minor party, and had some decent success in Congressional elections in 1854 and 1855 on an anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant, anti-slavery populist platform. It began to fail when it lost its more moderate members to the Republicans, in part because the Republicans were more actively abolitionist. The Progressive Party, also known as the Bull Moose Party, is the party after the Republicans that has had the best showing in a Presidential election, under Theodore Roosevelt, but they never did all that well in other elections. While others have occasionally done well, my guess is that these are probably the best candidates for 'most successful third parties in American history'.

** The attempt to burn the newspaper office may seem particularly damning, but trying to burn down newspaper offices was surprisingly common in the nineteenth century and makes an interesting history of its own. People setting up newspaper offices would often fireproof them, to the extent possible, in anticipation of someone trying to burn them down over something or other printed in the newspaper.

CT7D: Çarşamba

 The morning lesson for Çarşamba, Wednesday, is about travel. So we learn a little about the dolmuş, which is like a taxi except it has a regular route and specific stops and is always shared, and the minibüs and otobüs, the tren and the uçak, plane. But the primary concern, of course, is places and times. Some notable place words: 

merkez : downtown

banka : bank

postahane : post office

otel : hotel

hava alanı : airport

istasyon : train station

Times are important for travel, too, and you need to know numbers:

0 sıfır

1 bir

2 iki

3 üç

4 dört

5 beş

6 altı

7 yedi

8 sekiz

9 dokuz

10 on

11 onbir

12 oniki

If you want to ask what time it is, you say, Saat kaç? If you want to ask at what time something else is, you say Ne zaman? If you wanted to say, "Ten o'clock", you'd say, Saat on. Minutes after the hour up to the half-hour are marked by geçiyor, minutes before the hour back to the half-hour are marked by var:

Saat onu on geçiyor (It is ten past ten)

Saat ona on var (It is ten to ten)

Time, of course, is always a complicated feature of language, but that's enough to get a sense of how Turkish handles it. There are also, of course, adverbs of time:

şimdi : now

sonra : later

bugün : today

dün : yesterday

yarın : tomorrow

önce : before

bazen : sometimes

For places, Turkish has a locative case, which is -da/-de or -ta/-te depending on the letters that come before. If you say otelde, that means 'at or in the hotel', and masada means 'on the table'.

That gives a taste of how Turkish handles times and place. Tomorrow, Perşembe, we get to the business side of travel: banking, mailing, phoning.


 Tayfun and Gillian Çağa, Conversational Turkish in 7 Days, Passport Books (Chicago: 1992).

Music on My Mind

The Hound + The Fox, "The Paradox".

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Evening Note for Tuesday, October 20

 Thought for the Evening: Peirce's Neglected Argument

In "A Neglected Argument for God's Existence", C. S. Peirce attempts to argue for the importance, value, and reasonableness of a nonformal kind of reasoning. That is the 'Argument' of the title -- Peirce is clear that by 'Argument' he doesn't mean what we would usually mean by an argument (premises resulting in a conclusion), which he calls 'Argumentation', but a "process of thought reasonably tending to produce a definite belief" (p. 435). It's a process of thought that can be had by anyone, regardless of their level of formal training or their ability to articulate premises in sequential steps. The paper is an explicit attempt to show that there are reasonable Arguments that are not Argumentations; that, in fact, philosophers have overlooked a kind of reasoning that is reasonable, simply because it did not fit the tools they often use.

The key concept in the Neglected Argument is Musement, which Peirce opposes to "vacancy and dreaminess" on the one hand and reasoning in attempt to get a particular conclusion on the other (p. 436). It is a free play of mind (one of several), a kind of reflective thought about the world in which you consider the interplay of possibility, actuality, and representation in your experience, with an interest in asking why they have the interplay they do. If you've ever tried to figure out something, and in doing so improvised diagrams or new kinds of description or simple experimental tests, played around with looking at something from different perspectives, wondering about things this way and that, you've been engaging in something like what Peirce calls 'Musement'. If we muse about how possibility, actuality, and signification interrelate as a whole, Peirce holds that this naturally raises the hypothesis of God's real existence, not because there aren't other possible hypotheses, but because it's a hypothesis that does not end up trying to 'explain away' obvious parts of experience. This hypothesis will necessarily be vague, but if you continue on to consider different things in light of this hypothesis, in light of the Idea of God, you eventually begin considering things like its beauty, its sublimity, its potential value for ethical life, and -- despite not having gone beyond hypothesis yet, you can start responding to the loveableness and adorability of this hypothetical God. This stage of the Argument is 'humble'; it makes no pretensions, anyone can do it, it's reasonable because it's a natural flowering of a healthy part of the life of thought.

In the second stage, we get the 'Neglected Argument' in a strict sense: the mind reflects on this line of thought itself and develops a "vindicatory description" (p. 446) of the reasonableness of the humble stage of the argument, showing that it is not artificial but natural and closely tied to the experiences that start the whole process, as well as to practical life in general. This is 'neglected', because Peirce says that while theologians and philosophers can't present the humble stage -- that everyone has to go through themselves -- they should have done more to try to describe, delineate, and defend it as a reasonable and natural line of thought.

The third stage is a logical 'methodeutic', in which we recognize that the stages so far are in fact the same kind of stages that underlie scientific and other kinds of discovery: we start with pondering the facts of experience, reflectively and freely, and we develop hypotheses out of this through which we view the world in order to see what we find, and come out with beliefs that are capable of blossoming into action.

[C. S. Peirce, The Essential Peirce, Volume 2, ed. by the Peirce Edition Project, Indiana University Press (Indianapolis: 1998).]

Various Links of Interest

* An interesting discussion about a highly cited paper that turns out not to exist: The phantom reference and the propagation of error.

* Samuel H. Baker, Aristotle on the Nature and Politics of Medicine

* Juan Miguel Suay and David Teira, Kites: The Rise and Fall of a Scientific Object

* Samuel Hughes, In praise of pastiche

* C. C. Pecknold, False notions of the common good

Currently Reading

Ahmet Midhat Efendi, Felâtun Bey and Râkım Efendi
Rex Stout, The Second Confession
Declan Finn, Deus Vult

CT7D: Sali

 The morning lesson for Tuesday, Sali, opens with breakfast (kahvaltı), giving standard words for common Turkish breakfast items;

ekmek : bread

tereyağı : butter

beyaz peynır : feta cheese

zeytin : olives

And, of course the standard beverages, Turkish tea (Türk çayı) and Turkish coffee (Türk kahvesi). There's also standard table vocabulary;

bıçak : knife

çatal : fork

kaşık ; spoon

bardak : glass

tuz : salt

biber : pepper

We also learn a little about imperatives, with the polite request, "Please bring me the check":

Lütfen, bana hesabı getiriniz

Lütfen is similar to 'please', bana is 'to me', and the -iniz ending is the imperative.  And we get demonstratives for this (bu), that (şu), and that over there (o), which also gives us the words for here (burada), there (şurada), and over there (orada).

For evening lesson, we get shopping terms, like the all-important shopping phrase, "How much?" (Kaç lira?).

In Turkish, you don't always need an article, but bir, which can either precede or succeed its noun, can mean 'a' or 'the' depending on context.

If you want to say that you can do something, you use the aorist present tense. So görmek means 'to see'; if we say görebilmek we mean 'to be able to see', and 'I can see' is görebeilirim.

While it's not necessary unless you are being specific, you indicate the accusative with a -(y)i  or -(y)ı, as is appropriate.

And that's a quick taste for Tuesday. Tune in tomorrow for travel.


Tayfun and Gillian Çağa, Conversational Turkish in 7 Days, Passport Books (Chicago: 1992).

Monday, October 19, 2020

Hume and Berkeley

At "Daily Nous", they are discussing Felix Waldmann's "David Hume in Chicago: A Twentieth Century Hoax", in which Waldmann, one of the top experts on early modern philosophical correspondence in English, argues that the 1934 letter from Hume to Ramsay is a forgery. As far as I can tell, Waldmann's case is not definitive, but he focuses on the mention of Pluche in the letter and argues with considerable plausibility that this raises problems for thinking it authentic. While good, it is not an earth-shattering argument (contrary to what Waldmann seems to want it to be); the letter does not provide much that we did not know from elsewhere (the primary thing of interest would be the early date), and in the last several years it's pretty clear that skepticism about the letter has been on the rise for entirely independent reasons. But it's a good time to update my 2011 post that used the question of Hume's reading of Berkeley to discuss how evidence works in history of philosophy.


In 1959 Richard Popkin touched off a heavy debate with his article, "Did Hume Ever Read Berkeley?" Much of what Popkin was trying to do was shake up a common historical narrative, one that was too easily taken for granted (and, indeed, is still often taken for granted): the narrative that British empiricism ran a certain course, in which Locke began building the empiricist approach, Berkeley took it farther so as to dissolve the material world and leave only the mind, and Hume took Berkeley's developments even farther to dissolve even the mind, thus making the British empiricist tradition a straightforward chain and Hume the natural terminal point in it. Popkin suggested that the actual evidence for the key idea here, that Hume knew anything specific about Berkeley, was very slight. Hume obviously knew of Berkeley, since he's mentioned in footnotes in a number of places (the Treatise, the Enquiry, the Essays). But the question Popkin put on the table was this: What evidence was there that Hume had the opportunity to become acquainted with details of Berkeley's arguments?

This is a very good question, and it remains a very good question to ask despite the fact that Popkin's question has pretty much been answered several times over. This is one of the things that historians of philosophy do: we establish topographies of evidences. Even if you know that Hume had reading knowledge of so-and-so, it's still worthwhile to know exactly what supports the claim that he did so. One reason, obviously, is that you can't actually know that Hume had reading knowledge of so-and-so without knowing the evidence for it; but another reason is that the evidences sometimes highlight features of Hume's work that might go unrecognized if you don't realize that the evidences are there in the first place. This is precisely what happened: Hume scholars went to work answering Popkin's question. Actually, almost no one thought that Popkin was right in suggesting Hume's ignorance, but forcing scholars to lay out in a clear and articulated way why he was wrong led to all sorts of discoveries about Hume's work.

There are a number of internal evidences for Hume's real acquaintance with Berkeley. For instance, Hume footnotes Berkeley in a passage in the Treatise  (1.1.7, on abstract ideas) that has close connections to the Principles. You might not put much emphasis on the footnotes, although Hume is so stingy when it comes to acknowledging influences (this is not unusual in the period) that one could reasonably argue that a footnote acknowledging the importance of someone is more than just a casual mention in passing. But one definitely does want more, and there are internal evidences aplenty. In the essay "Of National Characters" he paraphrases a passage from Berkeley's Alciphron (and attributes the idea to Berkeley in a footnote); the passage is buried deep in Dialogue V of Berkeley's work, so that suggests it was not from a light reading. More than this, however, it is possible to find what are likely echoes of Berkeley in Hume's discussions of our knowledge of bodies, sensible minima, the distinction between primary and secondary qualities, his account of mind, and others. Careful sifting by scholars still turns up new plausible cases even today.

The internal evidence, then, is quite good; much better than Popkin had suggested, although Popkin was quite right that most of it is not on the immediate surface. To find it you have to identify echoes of phrasing, parallel structures of argument, and ideas original to Berkeley that are also found in Hume. This takes quite a bit of comparative work to do properly, and, indeed, much of it has taken decades of serious work and considerable debate. But an additional problem with internal evidences in general is that they admit of alternative explanations. Berkeley's main works were talked about quite a bit; it's always possible that genuinely Berkeleyan ideas were the topics of conversation and thence made it into Hume. In this sort of case, Hume would have known genuinely Berkeleyan arguments and ideas, but the kind of transmission would be different. This would be important to know, because secondhand oral transmission of philosophical ideas and arguments works rather differently than transmission by direct access to philosophical texts. Other explanations also can arise: sometimes ideas are 'in the air', i.e., due to common environmental or social causes; sometimes common ideas in two authors indicate not influence between them but influence from a common source (who may or may not be already known); and so forth. Given the extent of the internal evidence that Hume was acquainted with details of Berkeley's work, the scale on which one would have to deploy these alternative explanations would be extraordinary and implausible. But the internal evidences themselves don't fully rule them out.

What one needs is a direct link, and in the Berkeley-Hume case, the first real direct link was the purported discovery of a letter from Hume to Michael Ramsay dated August 31, 1737; for purposes of Hume scholarship, arguably the most important letter from Hume ever discovered. In this letter, Hume, who is about to publish the first book of the Treatise of Human Nature recommends some background reading for Michael Ramsay to understand the metaphysics of the work. He recommends, specifically, Malebranche's Search after Truth, Berkeley's Principles of Human Knowledge, the more metaphysical articles in Bayle's Dictionary, such as the articles on Zeno and Spinoza, and, if Ramsay could at all find it, Descartes's Meditations on First Philosophy. Since Hume is quite clear that he was directly influenced by these works, it is, as one might say, a 'smoking gun'. The Ramsay letter is one of those far-flung lines of evidence that are often found in the history of philosophy. A Polish princess, Princess Izabella, had acquired it. She was actually Scottish herself, Isabella Fleming by birth, but had married to Prince Adam Kazimierz Czartoryska. At some point the princess had met David Hume the younger -- the nephew of David Hume the philosopher and historian -- and she made a serious effort to obtain manuscripts of the original Hume. In 1790 she acquired five letters of Hume, one of which was the Ramsay letter. Thus the direct evidence for whether the Scottish philosopher had ever closely read the Irish philosopher was hanging out in the Czartoryski Museum in Krakow, Poland. Tadeusz Kozanecki published three of the letters in a Polish journal in 1963; Popkin became aware of this and in 1964 conceded the point in the article, "So, Hume Did Read Berkeley".

In 1973, Michael Morrisroe published a potentially even better 'smoking gun' evidence. In another letter to Michael Ramsay, this one dated September 29, 1734, Hume explicitly says that he was re-reading Berkeley's Principles and Locke's Essay. You can't get plainer than that. Unfortunately, things get a little complicated. Morrisroe tells us that he was given the opportunity to make a typescript, but that the letter was auctioned off and its location unknown. He did not say what he did to establish authenticity, although the letter (about ten sentences long) sounds broadly Hume-like. As far as I know Morrisroe's source has never been rediscovered. It was generally accepted as legitimate, but the circumstances put it in a very different category of evidence than the 1737 Ramsay letter. Hume scholars have generally been cautious with it; it primarily only gets mentioned in biographical contexts, and in recent years there has been some more skepticism about it. This letter from Morrisroe is the letter that Waldmann has argued, based on its mention of Pluche, cannot be authentic. 

In 2011, while preparing a 1709 edition (which was he second edition) of Berkeley's An Essay Toward a New Theory of Vision for an exhibit, Donald Kerr at the University of Otago discovered that the book had a David Hume bookplate. Peter Anstey discussed it online not long after. This gives us a different kind of evidence from a letter. We have here a book with a bookplate. The bookplate establishes at the very least that the book was in the library of one of the two David Humes (the philosopher or his nephew); and the bookplate in question is one of two different David Hume bookplates. If we add to this the Hillyard-Norton hypothesis that the State A bookplate is that of the original David Hume, we get the result that Hume had this work in his library, and thus had at least the opportunity to have read it; and given Hume's penchant for reading, it increases the likelihood that he read this particular work. This of course has a certain tenuousness to it. There are good reasons to accept the Hillyard-Nortan hypothesis, but they are all indirect; and merely having the book on the shelf isn't an automatic guarantee of having read it. (I mean, I am a voracious reader, usually reading several books a week, and I've had books on my shelf for ten years that I have still not gotten around to reading.) But, as I noted before, one of the topics on which internal evidence suggests that Hume was influenced by Berkeley is the topic of sensible minima, so this discovery immediately suggests the project of looking more closely for parallels, echoes, and the like connecting this particular work with Hume's discussion of that topic.

Of course, when we are talking about whether Hume read Berkeley, we really mean several different works by Berkeley, and this needs to be taken into account. The result we actually have is, roughly:

(1) Hume certainly read the Principles, and very early on; the internal evidence supports this very strongly already, and if even one of the Ramsay letters mentioned above is genuine, the evidence establishes this as much as anything of this sort can be established. 

(2) Hume may have read the Three Dialogues at some point, but this is only suggested by occasional internal evidence -- passages in Hume's works that are reminiscent of things in the Three Dialogues.

(3) Hume very likely read the Alciphron, on the basis of the fact that he paraphrases and refers to a particular passage in it in the essay "Of National Characters"; this, the strongest of the internal evidences, would put the reading of the Alciphron before 1752, when the essay began to be published in Hume's essay collections. Unfortunately, as the passage in question is a pretty trivial passage and is incidental to Berkeley's overall argument, it doesn't tell us much at all about how closely Hume read this dialogue, beyond the fact that he seems at least to have been struck by a figure of speech in Dialogue V. It does, however, establish that he cracked the book and read some of it. Possible lines of further study are links between the Alciphron and Hume's economic essays and links between it and the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion.

(4) Hume could well have read the New Theory of Vision, since he likely had it in his library, due to the bookplate evidence; some internal evidence is at least consistent with this, and a closer look at internal evidences relevant to the topics in this work is thus warranted.

(5) People have argued that there is some internal evidence of the influence of Berkeley's Querist on Hume's economic essays, although I don't know how strong some of the suggested evidence actually is.

(6) Of a number of Berkeley's other works -- Siris, the Theory of Vision Vindicated, etc. -- there is currently no evidence (so far as I know) of influence, although , of course, new evidence could always turn up. Hume was at least aware of the basic idea of Passive Obedience, i.e., passive obedience, since he mentions it, but I don't know of any work done on direct links or influences, and this is very much one of the ideas that would have been talked about anyway.

All this is somewhat simplified. Getting this far really involves a great deal of argument back and forth among scholars as they try out the various ramifications of looking at the evidence this way and that. But it serves to give an idea of how the finding, sorting, filtering, and integrating of evidence works in historical approaches to philosophy.

CT7D: Pazartesi

 Some time ago, I took a number of language classes, just whichever ones were available and could fit into my schedule, my idea being that while I wouldn't be likely to become fluent in any of the languages, I would at least get a better sense of how the language works, and, through them all, how languages in general work. One of the classes I took was introductory Turkish, done by the local Turkish cultural center. When I was taking that class, I picked up a book from Half Price Book called Conversational Turkish in 7 Days. I never got around to using it. But I'm currently reading Felâtun Bey and Râkım Efendi, and the Turkish language itself is used as a sort of symbol or emblem of Turkish culture. So why not pick up Conversational Turkish in 7 Days again, to go with the fortnightly book? And I might as well do some posts about it. The lessons are quite large (and divided into sabahleyin, in the morning, and öğleden sonra, in the evening, sub-lessons), so I won't be doing the whole lessons here -- just a little taste of Turkish to go with the fortnightly book.

One way in which we have it much easier than a Turkish learner in Ahmet Midhat Efendi's days: Turkish in his day used an Arabic alphabet; modern Turkish uses a Roman alphabet with 21 consonants and 8 vowels. There is no q, w, or x. The additional consonants are: ç, which is pronounced like ch; ğ, which is not so much pronounced itself as indicating that you should increase the length of the previous vowel; ş, which is pronounced like sh. Two potentially confusing letters for English speakers are c, which in Turkish is pronounced like the English j when pronounced strongly, and j, which in Turkish is pronounced more like zh sound. The eight vowels are a (pronounced uh), e (pronounced eh), i (pronounced halfway between ih and ee, like the i in 'pin'), ı (pronouned halfway between uh and ih, like the e in butter), o (pronounced oh), ö (pronounced halfway between uh and oo, like the u in 'fur'), u (pronounced like the oo in 'foot'), ü (pronounced halfway between ee and oo). Because of the distinction between the dotted and dotless ı, the capital letter for the dotted i also has a dot. The vowels are quite important in Turkish, because Turkish is a vowel harmony language -- the vowels change to agree with vowels in associated words.

So let's dive into Monday, Pazartesi, when we arrive at the airport. In the morning lesson, we learn a number of important basic phrases, of which the following are just a small sample.

İyi günler : Good day

This is a handy occasion for lesson, because in Turkish it's literally 'good days': -lar and ler endings indicate plurals.

Merhaba : Hello, for informal situations

Hoşça kalınız : Good-bye

Hoş geldiniz : Welcome, and its response, Hoş bulduk (roughly, a pleasure to be here)

These last two are really important; when I took my Turkish class, they were literally the first phrases learned, and Turks use them liberally.

If you want to say 'My name is Brandon', you say: Benim adım Brandon.

Ben is the first person pronoun. The word for 'name' is ad.  Benim is 'My'. Turkish links the possessive to the noun by suffix (Turkish uses a lot of suffixes), so you get -m suffix; the vowel that goes with that suffix is determined by vowel harmony. (This goes beyond what the lesson here says, but I think it's worth a comment or two out of place here, because vowel harmony is the sort of thing you need to start getting used to immediately:The soft or ince vowels (e, i, ö, ü) go together and the hard or kalın vowels (a, ı, o, u) go together. The way to think of vowel harmony is to think that you are blurring the former vowels over the suffix. So the Turkish word for 'school' is okul. If you want to say 'My school', you'd say Benim okulum.) 

In the evening lesson, which is all about hotels, I learned something very new to me (I'm pretty sure it never came up when I took the Turkish class): the Turkish word for waiter is garson, from the French, of course. 'I want to drink' is Ben .... içmek istiyorum. (The word 'içmek' is 'to drink' and 'istemek' is to want or need'.) So add some beverage words and you can order at the bar:

bira : beer

şarap : wine

çay : tea

kahve : coffee

Notice that the object goes before the verb, not after.

If you wanted to say, 'I am drinking tea', the present tense is a suffix -yor or -iyor (to prevent y from butting up against a consonant) that goes directly to the verb root, and then you add the pronoun suffix to that. So içmek is 'to drink'; we drop the infinitive ending 'mek', and add -iyor to indicate present tense and -um for the pronoun: içiyorum. And, we add the object to get: Çay içiyorum.

Tune in tomorrow, Sali, for breakfast and shopping.


Tayfun and Gillian Çağa, Conversational Turkish in 7 Days, Passport Books (Chicago: 1992).

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Four Sources of Human Error

The dead abstract notions of the intellect, the dialectical disputes of the reason, the purely subjective and one-sided apprehension of objects by a deluded fancy, and the absolute will, are the four sources of human error. Considered apart from the aberrations of passion, special faults of character, and prejudices of education, as well as the false notions and wrong judgments to which the latter give rise these four are the springs from which flows all the error of the soul which makes itself the centre of the terrestrial reality, and which, springing out of this soil, is nourished and propagated by it. To what then are we to look to dispel these manifold delusions but to a closer and more intimate union of the soul with God as the source of life and truth?

[Friedrich Schlegel, The Philosophy of Life, Morrison, tr. Bohn, (London: 1847) p. 105.]