Wednesday, April 18, 2018


If I had time one of the things I would most like to do is write a book about Schopenhauer, possibly relating his thought to that of Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, and Anscombe. So I might blog about him, especially The World as Will and Representation, from time to time. Here are some interesting bits of the preface:
I propose to point out here how this book must be read in order to be thoroughly understood. By means of it I only intend to impart a single thought. Yet, notwithstanding all my endeavours, I could find no shorter way of imparting it than this whole book. I hold this thought to be that which has very long been sought for under the name of philosophy
According as we consider the different aspects of this one thought which I am about to impart, it exhibits itself as that which we call metaphysics, that which we call ethics, and that which we call æsthetics
no other advice can be given as to how one may enter into the thought explained in this work than to read the book twice, and the first time with great patience, a patience which is only to be derived from the belief, voluntarily accorded, that the beginning presupposes the end almost as much as the end presupposes the beginning, and that all the earlier parts presuppose the later almost as much as the later presuppose the earlier.
the first perusal demands patience, founded on confidence that on a second perusal much, or all, will appear in an entirely different light
The second demand is this, that the introduction be read before the book itself, although it is not contained in the book, but appeared five years earlier under the title, “Ueber die vierfache Wurzel des Satzes vom zureichenden Grunde: eine philosophische Abhandlung” (On the fourfold root of the principle of sufficient reason: a philosophical essay).
But the same disinclination to repeat myself word for word, or to say the same thing a second time in other and worse words, after I have deprived myself of the better, has occasioned another defect in the first book of this work. For I have omitted all that is said in the first chapter of my essay “On Sight and Colour,” which would otherwise have found its place here, word for word. Therefore the knowledge of this short, earlier work is also presupposed.
Finally, the third demand I have to make on the reader might indeed be tacitly assumed, for it is nothing but an acquaintance with the most important phenomenon that has appeared in philosophy for two thousand years, and that lies so near us: I mean the principal writings of Kant
He likens reading Kant to having cataracts removed and to being reborn. And yet he does not seem to think that Kant has yet done enough.

There is also quite a bit of Wittgenstein-ish stuff like this (from the second preface):
anything true one may have thought, and anything obscure one may have thrown light upon, will appeal to any thinking mind, no matter when it comprehends it, and will rejoice and comfort it. To such an one we speak as those who are like us have spoken to us, and have so become our comfort in the wilderness of this life.  
Compare the first words of the Tractatus' preface:
This book will perhaps only be understood by one who has himself already at some time thought the thoughts that are expressed herein – or at least similar thoughts. –It is therefore not a textbook.—Its end would be reached if it gave pleasure to one person who read it with understanding.
In general there seem to me to be quite a few similarities to the early Wittgenstein here, even if they turn out to be only superficial.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

American playlist

I haven't posted much lately, which always makes me feel both lazy and that I must post something pretty good to make up for it. This is not that pretty good post. Instead it's some nonsense about music. Sorry.

I recently visited St Louis and doing so got me thinking about driving across the country, and what music I would listen to if I did that. I'm thinking of a playlist made up of ten blues albums, ten jazz albums, ten folk albums, ten country albums, and ten rock'n'roll albums. Within each genre I'd like, within reason, to approximate an ideal of two albums by each of the best two female artists, two albums by each of the best two male artists, one compilation, and one album by someone else. And the idea is to emphasize classics, so nothing of merely historical interest and nothing too recent. All artists should be from the USA.

What's likely to happen is that I don't ever do the road-trip but do create and listen to the playlist. So I'd like it to be good.

If you have suggestions, e.g., for specific albums, feel free to make them here.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Winch on Understanding Other People

If you have access to the journal Philosophical Investigations you can read my forthcoming paper by following this link. I should be able to get access for other people soon, too. Stay tuned.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Ethics After Anscombe

Something very close to the published version of this book is now available at

Friday, March 16, 2018


Maybe I'm just unusually ignorant, but the version of the Encyclopedia Britannica that I remember seeing online contained either very short articles or perhaps an introductory paragraph followed by a message that I didn't have the right to read the rest of the article. As far as I can see this has changed, and not just because my library has taken out a subscription. The whole thing seems to be available for free as long as you don't mind seeing some ads. And the philosophy artifices look very good. There's Ray Monk on Wittgenstein, Roger T. Ames on Confucius, Wendy Doniger and others on Hinduism, and so on. Apologies if this is old news. 

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Eldridge lore

Richard Eldridge has an interesting essay on liberal education here. I don't know that I have much interesting to say about it, but he talks about the point of higher education, which I have talked about before, and I do have something, however slight, to say in response.

One of his key ideas is this:
human beings are enabled to flourish in and through the exercise of rational powers only through education as paideia: the actualization of rational powers and the direction of preference and interest toward appropriate ends. Merely having a biological life and a lot of pleasant experiences is not sufficient for living well. Absent education as paideia, then, human life threatens to collapse back out of the rational-cultural and into the animal-instinctual. To flourish, we must learn from each other to engage in activities that support the actualization of rational powers.
This is another:
If I can get students to pay attention — close attention — to the details and intricate coherences of, say, François Truffaut’s Day for Night or Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice or James Baldwin’s Another Country, Friedrich Hölderlin’s “Half of Life” or Rilke’s “An Archaic Torso of Apollo,” Plato’s Symposium or Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, then, I think to myself, that’s something. There’s a chance that they will resonate to the insights and, more important, the powers of perception infused with thought that are manifest in these works. They might learn to see their lives, their social circumstances, and the currently obscure possibilities within them more clearly and with more hope. That would be something, and I am not quite ready to give up. 
And his conclusion is along these lines:
In any case, I will carry on, with such modest successes in paideia as I am able to manage. Within a general culture that no longer expects or appreciates paideia and within an institution that is shaped by that general culture, this will sadly remain difficult and often-enough fruitless work. The larger issue is the plight of liberal education, paideia, in an ongoing war between Deweyan-Rawlsian liberal democracy and neoliberalism, where neoliberalism is winning.
I'm sympathetic to a lot of what he says, even if he sounds a bit like a grumpy old man (as I often do) when he brings up electronic dance music. But do I really agree that developing powers of perception is what higher education should mostly be about? Would I spend tens of thousands of dollars a year to send each of my children to university just for that? I think I would not, unless I had won millions on the lottery. 

One thing to note is that I wouldn't count on any university in particular right now to even try to get students to pay close attention to great works of art. My daughter (majoring in engineering) goes to an expensive university and has not been required to take any course that aims to do this. I don't think the college I teach at requires its students to take any such course either. So if you're paying for this kind of paideia, at least at one of those two places, you're out of luck. Secondly, students get exposed to some works of art in high school, and can be exposed to more by their parents. Might that be enough? And thirdly, how much can colleges and universities do to make students appreciate great works? Even if that is a worthwhile goal, and I think it is, is enough success likely to make the great expense of college worth it? Eldridge emphasizes the value of science, art, politics, and friendship. If someone like my daughter is already invested in three of these heavily and takes some interest in the fourth, how much should I worry that she might be missing out on something really important? A little, but enough to justify spending lots of money for the possibility of maybe partially filling the gap? The question seems simply irrelevant to all but the richest parents.

Eldridge, I think, recognizes this. The problem is less what universities teach and more the precarious state in which people entering the job market find themselves. If there were less inequality, if being at the bottom were less terrible, then we would be less worried about the need for our children to get job qualifications. It would also help, of course, if higher education were much less expensive. In the meantime, though, as he suggests, colleges and universities can at least try to cultivate the minds of students in less utilitarian ways. I agree with him that it's a shame we don't do more of this.  

As things stand, a college degree increases one's expected lifetime earnings enormously but is also very expensive. Which means the advantage goes to the children of richer parents. That is unfair, and means that we all suffer from living in a less meritocratic society (the talents of working class children are often wasted, to the disadvantage of all except the less talented members of the higher classes). This strikes me as a bigger issue than paideia.

But I do care about paideia as well.     

Friday, March 9, 2018

Miranda Fricker at Washington & Lee

Yesterday Miranda Fricker spoke at Washington & Lee University about "Epistemic Equality as a Condition of Well-functioning Blaming and Forgiving." It was a strange experience for me because we were contemporaries as undergraduates, not just at the same university but at the same college within the university, although I don't think we've ever had a conversation. She has achieved rather more than I have since then. I'm not sure that her promise was recognized as much as it should have been at the time.

She talked her talk rather than reading it, which was impressive and more engaging than the usual philosophy presentation, but it also led to a problem with timing and, unless I missed something, she didn't get to finish saying what she meant to say, even in abbreviated form. It didn't help that a man in the audience interrupted the talk to ask a question. What she did say was a kind of (necessarily very brief) summary of her ideas about epistemic injustice, followed by some application of these ideas to blame (I don't think she got to forgiveness, except perhaps very briefly).

Epistemic injustice occurs when someone either is not listened to, or is not taken fully seriously, when they make a statement because of unjust prejudice against them or some group to which they belong, or when their participation in "practices of shared social understanding" is limited. These ideas of Fricker's are relatively well known.

What was new in this talk, as far as I know, was the application to blame. I was slightly confused by some of this, so I may be presenting the ideas inaccurately, but here's what I think she said. One kind of blame (and by 'blame' she seems to mean the public act of accusing someone of having done wrong, not just holding a grudge or privately judging someone to be in the wrong) is fairly straightforward: your friend is late to meet you, say, and you point this out (perhaps she had thought the arranged time was later than it really was), whereupon she acknowledges the badness of her behavior, apologizes, and life goes on as normal. Another kind, though, is more complicated. This is the part I struggled with, especially in terms of imagining an actual example of the phenomenon in question.

This kind of blame involves someone who does not see anything wrong with their behavior, who sees no reason why they should have behaved differently. Here pointing out what they did will make no difference to them. Perhaps they acknowledge that they were late but see no reason why they should ever be punctual, for instance. Fricker's handout says:
Treat someone as if she already recognizes a reason to have acted differently, and (given she has sufficient base-line respect or care for you) you may thereby cause her to come to recognize the reason.
I'm speculating here, but maybe the idea is something like this. I tell my friend not to worry about her lateness since the time flew by as I waited for her because I was enjoying reading and rarely get a chunk of time like that in which to read; she is initially puzzled because she doesn't expect people to care about lateness, but realizes that I obviously take it to be something one might well care about; putting two and two together, she comes to see that even if she never minds when others are late, she had better be more careful with other people's time in future.

If she goes through a process of reasoning like this then the value of punctuality has now become more widely entrenched in our social world. But whether his happens, or to what extent it happens, will depend in part on how seriously she takes what I say and on how well she is able to understand what I am saying. So there is room for problems of epistemic injustice to make a difference here.

That, at least, is what I think she means. And it seems right to me.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The fallacy of the course again

I wrote about the fallacy of the course here. Since I have several posts drafted but never seem to get around to finishing and posting them, I may as well revisit the idea. In a nutshell, where it probably belongs, the fallacy is to think that requiring students to take a course will give them some significant, life-enhancing skill. Put like that it doesn't sound so fallacious, perhaps, but here's an example from the Chronicle of Higher Education:
Students in every major are well advised to take a class or two in improvisational acting, creative writing, or drawing. Being proficient at writing code or any other technical skill will take you only so far in an evolving labor market.
Without creativity, good luck not being replaced by a less costly alternative.
See the problem? A class or two in drawing will not make you creative. Perhaps it will make you more creative in some ways (though I doubt it--I imagine it would mostly a) make clear to you that you are not that great at drawing, and b) teach you some techniques to improve your drawing). But why on earth would anyone think it would make you more imaginative in a general or transferable way?  

Parts of the article are fine. Its overall point, rightly understood, might even be right. But it's hard to think that any real thought has gone into it when you see this kind of thoughtless blather about creativity.

For more of my grumpy ranting see also here

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Belgrade Philosophical Annual: Perspectives on Wittgenstein

You can read the whole issue online (as far as I can see) here. The details are these:

Issue 30, Year 2017

Belgrade Philosophical Annual
Institute for Philosophy, University of Belgrade
ISSN: 0353-3891
Guest Editors: James R. Connelly, Andrej Jandrić, Ljiljana Radenović


Hans-Johann Glock


Arif Ahmed


Leon Kojen


Severin Schroeder


S.G. Sterrett


Pasquale Frascolla


James Russell Connelly


Henry Jackman


Russell B. Goodman


Dejan Todorović


David G. Stern


Ljiljana Radenović, Slaviša Kostić

Saturday, February 17, 2018

(in parenthesis)

This website, dedicated to Anscombe, Foot, Murdoch, and Midgley, looks great.
“The Golden-Age of Female Philosophy” is a rare case of women flourishing and achieving collective prominence in the discipline, at a standard that rivalled their male counterparts. Through a detailed historical study of this period, with particular focus on the life and work of Mary Midgley, Iris Murdoch, Elizabeth Anscombe and Phillipa Foot, In Parenthesis describes the particular conditions under which this happened. As well as illuminating some of the more well-documented barriers to inclusion, there is scope to discover unknown factors and ultimately new strategies for gender activism within philosophy. By examining a brief window, albeit in parenthesis, where the social and intellectual landscape of academic philosophy was altered as a result of the disruptions of the second World War, the current project promises to reflect on the questions facing contemporary women philosophers and the more general question of ‘women in philosophy’, as it is known.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Grappling with every donkey

Some interesting stuff about Wittgenstein on an essay by Ludwig Hänsel on p. 19 of this catalogue.
Summarising his opinion on the front wrapper, Wittgenstein writes: "Auch ein Museum braucht einen Kurator, der weiß, was wohin zu stellen ist, und nicht Dreck und Wertvolles durcheinander in alle Schränke stellt" (museums need curators who know what goes where, and don't jumble up the rubbish with the valuable stuff). In the margins of the text, like a schoolmaster, he convicts Hänsel of waffle ("Geschwätz, gehauen nicht & nicht gestochen!"), ambiguity ("Wie verschwommen!") and lack of focus ("Wenn man sich mit jedem Esel herumschlägt, wird man leicht selber einer" – if you grapple with every donkey you'll become one yourself). He asks at one point "Was ist durch diese Fassung geleitet?" (how does this get us any further forward?), and at another writes "Hier wird kein Problem gelöst, sondern nur das, was problematisch wiederholt" (here you haven't solved the problem, only restated it). He also observes "Nimm die Wiederholungen fort & das Leere der Paragraphen wird sich zeigen" (take these repetitions out, and the vacuity of the paragraphs will be manifest). Towards the end, in mock-exasperation, he declares "Wenn das Philosophie ist, dann sollten die Menschen ein für allemal auf sie verzichten" (if that's philosophy, then we should all give it up for good), and against Hänsel's closing paragraph he suggests he keep his pearls of wisdom to himself - "Behalt's bei Dir!"
H/t Julian Baggini on Twitter.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Anscombe and Wittgenstein

Looking for information about this book I came across a blog post with some nice memories of Anscombe. It's by Louis Roy O.P., and he writes:
During homilies, she and her husband Peter Geach, himself also a renowned philosopher, would look at the preacher with severe, apparently distrustful eyes. Given that they had got in touch with the Dominican prior provincial of England to accuse of heresy a friar at Cambridge who was on the whole more traditional than me in his ideas, it was intimidating to preach in front of these two powerful and highly critical intellects.
If accusing people of heresy doesn't sound very nice, this is more heartening:
Yet they cared for Dominicans and they invited me to dinner once. Their residence had no curtains – a bit like the bare house Wittgenstein had designed for his sister. Seated on the floor, they drew for me the truth tables (or logical constants) of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus on a little black slate. Realizing that I was not understanding much about those tables, I was afraid they would summon me to rephrase the gist of what they had taught me – which I would have been incapable of doing. Fortunately, I did not undergo this humiliation, because it was soon time for supper. The prayers were pronounced with piety. Suddenly John, a simple-minded person who would spend his days in town, speaking with anybody – including me –, appeared and ate with us. The Geaches had invited him to occupy a room in their home, but he declined, explaining he would prefer staying next door, in the shed.
The whole thing is worth reading.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

God as the creator of the world

Something that I would expect someone (specifically DZ Phillips, if I had to guess) to have done is to take Wittgenstein's sentences "My attitude toward him is an attitude toward a soul. I am not of the opinion that he has a soul" and "The human body is the best picture of the human soul" and use them as a model for talking about God. A quick search on Google suggests that someone (indeed it is DZ Phillips) has done this for the latter but that no one has done it for the former. On p. 240 of Religion and Hume's Legacy, edited by Phillips and Timothy Tessin, Phillips writes:
Wittgenstein said that the human body is the best picture of the soul. Maybe for religious believers the world is the best picture of God -- the face and gesture of God. They believe there is something to be seen here. When the Psalmist says that the heavens declare the glory of God, he does not mean that the heavens are evidence of the glory of God. What he means is not captured by the cosmological argument. 
This seems about right to me, and yet:
  1. Is it better to say that the world is the best picture of God or that it is the only true picture of God, that it is the picture of God? Ramanuja says something like: the world is the body of God. (Sally McFague sounds like someone else to read on this too.) Perhaps that goes too far, but if so it's going too far in a good direction.
  2. I don't like the addition of the words "the face and gesture of God," as if there is much to God that is not to do with the world. The idea I want to see expressed is that God is the creator of the world, so that as long as we accept the idea of the world then it almost goes without saying that God exists. 'God' means: whatever brought this about. But without accepting any such thought as: There is some x such that ...   
  3. I'm also not sure about "there is something to be seen here." There is everything to be seen here, I would say.
  4. As for the Psalmist, why not say that the heavens are evidence of the glory of God? What else might count as such evidence? What better evidence could there be?  On the one hand I would say this, but on the other hand, point 2 implies (rightly) that talk of evidence is really out of place here. That is: there is no question of evidence, really. But if we are going to allow such loose talk, then the whole (natural) world and each thing in it is all the evidence you could ever need. The world is evidence of God in the way that a dead body with a knife in its heart is evidence of a murder.
  5. There are different cosmological arguments made by different people for different purposes. Couldn't some of them be attempts to express what I am trying to say in 2 above?
The idea that belief in God might be something like an attitude probably sounds too much like atheism for some people. But if it's an attitude that cannot be expressed or explained without reference to God then it is surely not exactly atheistic. 

Wittgenstein himself might be brought in as a witness against the idea of belief as attitude. In his lectures on religious belief the following exchange is said to have taken place:
Suppose someone, before going to China, when he might never see me again, said to me: “We might see one another after death” – would I necessarily say that I don't understand him? I might say [want to say] simply, “Yes. I understand him entirely.”
Lewy: “In this case, you might only mean that he expressed a certain attitude.”
I would say “No, it isn't the same as saying "I'm very fond of you” – and it may not be the same as saying anything else. It says what it says. Why should you be able to substitute anything else?
But Wittgenstein doesn't here (assuming he is being quoted accurately) deny that the person going to China is expressing an attitude. What he primarily denies is that what is expressed can be equally well expressed in different words. There is also an implication that we are not talking about a mere attitude. On p. 12 Wittgenstein is reported as saying:
“He could just as well have said so and so” – this [remark] is foreshadowed by the word “attitude”. He couldn't just as well have said something else.  
This is his objection to the word 'attitude' here. If we use the word' attitude' in some other way, as in the "attitude toward a soul" case, I would think, then the objection doesn't stand.

What if the same idea could be expressed in other words? In the Lecture on Ethics he says that:
all religious terms seem in this sense to be used as similes or allegorically. For when we speak of God and that he sees everything and when we kneel and pray to him all our terms and actions seem to be parts of a great and elaborate allegory which represents him as a human being of great power whose grace we try to win etc. But this allegory also describes the experience which I have just referred to. For the first of them is, I believe, exactly what people were referring to when they said that God had created the world; and the experience of absolute safety has been described by saying that we feel safe in the hands of God. Third experience of the same kind is that of feeling guilty and again this was described by the phrase that God disapproves of our conduct.
The suggestion here is that we describe or point to certain experiences by saying certain things, in this case about God. Saying that God created the world refers to the experience of wonder at the very existence of the world. It sounds a bit odd to say that we are referring to or describing experiences here, and to talk as if describing an experience is the same thing as referring to it. Imagine a dialogue:
A: I sometimes have this feeling of absolute safety
B: What's that like?
A: We are safe in the hands of God
Or this:
A: God created the world
B: What are you referring to?
A: I wonder at the existence of the world
These are not the best dialogues ever written, but they don't seem that odd to me after all. In the abstract, referring to something and describing it seem like different things, but in these cases they seem to more or less come to the same thing. It is clear that we are not in the business here of simply describing or referring. It's more that something is being expressed, and I don't know what to call that something except an attitude. Wittgenstein calls it an experience, but it's not an experience that can be described without reference to the attitude in question. It isn't an experience like the feeling you get when x happens (the dentist gives you laughing gas, say), or the experience of  Mardi Gras in New Orleans (which might not be any particular kind of feeling). Wondering at the existence of the world is not just feeling wonder. (The existence of the world is not a state of affairs that happens to be the cause of feeling W in this case.) Nor is it the experiencing of some particular event or state of affairs. Whatever it is, it is something (not some thing) that cannot be understood without reference to something like the existence of the world or God's act of creation.

Whether it is (rightly or best called) just an attitude will depend, I would think, on how it goes with the rest of one's life.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Nordic Wittgenstein Review

Volume 6, Number 2 is out now.

There are papers by Lars Hertzberg and Edmund Dain, among others, and a review of Roger Teichmann's new book by me.

Mark Smith is dead

If you know who he is then you already, almost certainly, know this. But it's still sad.

Rather than pick one of his songs, here's one that was inspired by him.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

If a whale could speak

Furthermore, as his windpipe solely opens into the tube of his spouting canal, and as that long canal- like the grand Erie Canal- is furnished with a sort of locks (that open and shut) for the downward retention of air or the upward exclusion of water, therefore the whale has no voice; unless you insult him by saying, that when he so strangely rumbles, he talks through his nose. But then again, what has the whale to say? Seldom have I known any profound being that had anything to say to this world, unless forced to stammer out something by way of getting a living

Monday, January 15, 2018

Nutshell studies

More about these scenes here. And, if you're wondering, these are just pictures from an exhibition I visited recently accompanied by passages of philosophy that they reminded me of. I'm not trying to make a deep point.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Philosophy of action

There are all sorts of useful-looking resources on philosophy of action at this site.