Thursday, December 7, 2017

Doyle on Anscombe

I knew James Doyle slightly in graduate school, but wasn't aware then of any interest on his part in Wittgenstein and Anscombe. Now he's got a very interesting looking book on Anscombe coming out. I haven't seen the book yet, but it looks as though you can get a taste of it from this paper on "Modern Moral Philosophy."

Strikingly, he says early on in his paper that Anscombe's paper "has not been properly understood, at all." (I'm not sure when the paper was written, but it cites a paper from 2014, so it's at least fairly recent.) Reassuringly, he later qualifies this claim by saying that "only the few authors who are sympathetic to Anscombe's overall view avoid more or less basic misconstruals of" Anscombe's second thesis in MMP, which he takes to be "both fundamental to the structure of 'MMP' and what makes the paper especially profound (if it is)." These few authors include Cora Diamond and Candace Vogler. This still leaves the possibility that he thinks even they have misconstrued Anscombe's argument, thereby failing to properly understand it. Indeed, I think his belief in this failure is implied by what he says. Which makes his claim a bold one.

It's not bold in the sense of stupid though. Doyle points out some inconsistencies in what Anscombe says, and then makes the best sense he can of what she has written. This involves ignoring some of her claims, or writing them off as slips. Near the end he concludes:
In short, the parts of Anscombe's view that really matter fit together much less awkwardly if we simply drop any supposedly deep distinction between law-based and virtue-based conceptions of ethics. At least, I cannot see what is lost, except gratuitous confusion, if we suppose that all conceptions are ultimately virtue-based, that all of these will involve exceptionless norms, and that an important species of these is distinguished by the norms being commandments of God, this species alone comprising all and only the various versions of the law conception, so that the search for a secular law conception has no interest in it.
This is an interesting view, but it doesn't sound (as Doyle recognizes) like Anscombe's view. So maybe no one has really understood her properly yet. Or, at least, there is more work to be done, such as fully explaining what Anscombe really meant (which I suppose is the point of Doyle's book) or else explaining where he goes wrong.

Shorter version: if you're interested in Anscombe or questions about the nature of morality and what reason there is to be moral then I recommend the paper linked to above. [Warning: it's the time of the semester when I spend all my time grading papers, so I might be slow to respond to any comments.] 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Nordic Wittgenstein Review

Nordic Wittgenstein Review welcomes original contributions on all aspects of Ludwig Wittgenstein's thought and work - exegetical studies as well as papers drawing on Wittgensteinian themes and ideas in  contemporary discussions of philosophical problems.
The journal is interdisciplinary in character, and welcomes contributions in the subject areas of philosophy and other human and social studies including philology, linguistics, cognitive science, and others. The journal includes an invited paper, an articles section, a section in which high-quality seminal works are re-published or where previously unpublished archival materials are made available for the first time, as well as a book review section.
By the help of high quality peer review and indexing, the journal seeks to provide its contributors with academic support and wide visibility.
The previous issues are available Open Access online. We apply a double-blind peer review process.

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Publication: Nordic Wittgenstein Review, Vol 7, No 1 (2018)
Submission deadline: February 28, 2018
Publication form: Open Access online & Print & electronic subscription
Peer-review: Yes; double-blind
Range: International
Language: English

Published by the Nordic Wittgenstein Society.


NWR was started as a part the EU-funded research project Agora - Scholarly Open Access Research in European Philosophy and its processes have been experimented on and monitored by the research project.

Twitter #nordicwittgensteinreview

The editors of NWR 2017-2018: Gisela Bengtsson & Tove Österman.
Editor-in-chief:  Simo Säätelä.

*Please do circulate*

Friday, November 3, 2017

Foucault Friday

Probably not the start of a series, but you never know. 

Michel Foucault The Order of Things: An Archaeology of theHuman Sciences Vintage Books, New York, 1994, p. xv.

This book first arose out of a passage in Borges, out of the laughter that shattered, as I read the passage, all the familiar landmarks of my thought — our thought, the thought that bears the stamp of our age and our geography — breaking up all the ordered surfaces and all the planes with which we are accustomed to tame the wild profusion of existing things, and continuing long afterwards to disturb and threaten with collapse our age-old distinction between the Same and the Other. This passage quotes a "certain Chinese encyclopedia" in which it is written that "animals are divided into: (a) belonging to the Emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (1) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off" look like flies". In the wonderment of this taxonomy, the thing we apprehend in one great leap, the thing that, by means of the fable, is demonstrated as the exotic charm of another system of thought, is the limitation of our own, the stark impossibility of thinking that.

But if you could just see the beauty

My wife has started working on Saturdays and Sundays, which for a while left me stuck at home with not much to do. Until I realized I could go out and watch movies, so that's what I've done the last two Sundays. I've talked about Kingsman 2, but most recently I saw Loving Vincent, which is also good, though quite different.

This is one to see on a big screen, if at all. What I liked about it most is some of the quotations from Van Gogh given near the end of the film. Here's one:
Work is going quite well – I’m struggling with a canvas begun a few days before my indisposition. A reaper, the study is all yellow, terribly thickly impasted, but the subject was beautiful and simple. I then saw in this reaper – a vague figure struggling like a devil in the full heat of the day to reach the end of his toil – I then saw the image of death in it, in this sense that humanity would be the wheat being reaped. So if you like it’s the opposite of that Sower I tried before. But in this death nothing sad, it takes place in broad daylight with a sun that floods everything with a light of fine gold.
The idea of death as a reaper is hardly new, but death with a sun that floods everything with a light of fine gold, and nothing sad in it, is a beautiful idea. If it isn't a lie.

Here's another, which reminded me of Joy Division:
What am I in the eyes of most people — a nonentity, an eccentric, or an unpleasant person — somebody who has no position in society and will never have; in short, the lowest of the low. All right, then — even if that were absolutely true, then I should one day like to show by my work what such an eccentric, such a nobody, has in his heart. That is my ambition, based less on resentment than on love in spite of everything, based more on a feeling of serenity than on passion. Though I am often in the depths of misery, there is still calmness, pure harmony and music inside me. I see paintings or drawings in the poorest cottages, in the dirtiest corners. And my mind is driven towards these things with an irresistible momentum.
Finally, this idea of walking to the stars reminded me of Wittgenstein talking about going to the moon and a rose having teeth:
Looking at the stars always makes me dream, as simply as I dream over the black dots representing towns and villages on a map.
Why, I ask myself, shouldn’t the shining dots of the sky be as accessible as the black dots on the map of France?
Just as we take a train to get to Tarascon or Rouen, we take death to reach a star. We cannot get to a star while we are alive any more than we can take the train when we are dead. So to me it seems possible that cholera, tuberculosis and cancer are the celestial means of locomotion. Just as steamboats, buses and railways are the terrestrial means.
To die quietly of old age would be to go there on foot.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Kingsman and politics

Perhaps I was just in the right mood for it, but I loved the first Kingsman movie when I saw it recently. It's fast-paced, stylish*, and funny, a bit like what you might get if Quentin Tarantino directed a James Bond film. [Spoilers from now on.] About half a second later, though, I realized how, shall we say, alt right it is. Let me count the ways:
  1. the only major black character is also the major villain
  2. his sidekick is played by someone from Africa, and is also the only disabled person in the film
  3. the bad guys are extreme environmentalists
  4. the good guys are an organization of highly privileged, almost all male, and all white, British people
  5. when they realize that their lack of diversity is hurting them, they recruit a member of the white working class  
  6. he supports Millwall
  7. it ends with a sexist joke 
  8. there is almost certainly more that I'm forgetting
Thankfully the sequel, though spoiled by some unconvincing CGI, including the terrible idea of killer robot dogs, is much better from a political point of view. The villain is a woman drug-dealer, so once again just the kind of person that neo-Nazis would hate, the heroes include a good old boy or two from Kentucky, and the main hero is once again our white working class Englishman fighting for the otherwise completely posh British Kingsman organization. Also, the film is banned in Cambodia because of its disrespectful (but not physically damaging) treatment of temples there. And yet:
  1. the guy who repeatedly stops a black woman rising within the Kentuckian organization turns out to be a baddy
  2. the recreational use of drugs is presented as unwise but innocent
  3. a Donald Trump-style President tries, with support from at least one military officer, to "win the war on drugs" by letting the villain kill almost all users of illegal drugs worldwide, which is presented as unambiguously evil and leads to his arrest and removal from office
  4. Elton John features as a a comical but also somehow heroic figure (although there is also a questionable joke about him at the end too)  
  5. our hero has several close, black friends
  6. the woman who was before a prisoner he would not release unless she gave him a kiss (and who went on to offer her body as if it were an object for his pleasure) is now his girlfriend and seems free to decide what she wants to do    
There is some other dubiousness, e.g. Fox News features heavily, but mostly the film does not leave you picking swastikas out of your teeth after watching it. Which is a relief.  

Now they just need to find a way to combine the best of the two. I hope that's possible.

*It's not actually that stylish, but I've seen reviews describing it that way, and I suspect part of the reason I like it is that it looks (relatively) good.

Halloween playlist

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Pigs? In there?

Russell B. Goodman writes, in his paper "Thinking about Animals: James, Wittgenstein, Hearne," that:
Three  years  after  he  published  the Principles  of  Psychology,  James published an anonymous letter in a French newspaper that shows a different  attitude  towards  animals  than  that  of  the  thirty-one-year old medical doctor who defended vivisection. He writes (in French, my  translations  here)  of  walking  daily  past  a  large  masonry  box  in which  a  local  farmer  keeps  his  pigs. It  is  a  sight,  he  writes,  the memory  of  which obsesses  him,  “as  the  poor  animals  are buried alive in a kind of tomb”. The box has one opening at the top to let in air;  another  with  a  lid  that  is  opened  to  throw  in  food.   “When one  imagines  what  the  air  and  darkness  in  this  tomb  must  be”, James  writes,  “and  when  one  thinks  that  its  inhabitants  are  buried all  their  lives,  except  for  the  moment  when  they  are  taken  out  to have  their  throats  cut,  one  must  avow  that  there  is  cruelty  here,  if  not  active,  at  least  passive  and  unreflective  by  men  governed  by ignorance,  routine,   the  refusal  to  think”.  “What  a  destiny”,  he continues, “for a living being for whom the air and the light are the source  of  well  being  as  much  as  they  are  for  us!   Each  time  that  I take a walk again in the magnificent weather we have been having, I see this species of grave where the poor beasts are entombed, and it darkens all my pleasure” (James 1987a: 141). James sees the pigs as fellow creatures who deserve their time on earth, in the light and air.