Thursday, August 28, 2014

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Philosophy link-o-rama

Here are the podcasts from an Oxford conference on 'Religious Epistemology, Contextualism, and Pragmatic Encroachment'.

From Philosophy TV, Gregg Caruso and Neil Levy on consciousness and moral responsibility; and Al Mele and Eddy Nahmias on free will and science.

Over the past few months, Siris has developed an epic series of posts on the Platonic corpus (including writings that used to be in that corpus but which are now doubted to have been written by Plato). Here's a list of what had been covered by August 1. Since then, there have been posts on the Symposium and the Republic. Also, there have been four thorough posts on Plato's letters as well as posts on Alcibiades Minor, Clitophon, Hippias Major, Xenophon's Symposium, and Plato's Epigrammata.

At Partially Examined Life, the hosts 'walk a live audience through Plato’s dialogue [Symposium] about love, sex, self-improvement....'. They also have a recent item about 'Maimonindes on God'.

Elisa Freschi has a series of posts about a conference on Buddhist philosophy (inc. one on Buddhism and philosophy of mind).

Cambridge have posted podcasts for several symposia, including the following: Ian Rumfitt and Gary Kemp on truth and meaning, Hallvard Lillehammer and Roger Crisp on moral testimony, Gideon Rosen and Marcia Baron on culpability, duress, and excuses, Amber Carpenter and Stephen Makin on the ethical significance of persistence, and Tamar Szabó Gendler and Jennifer Nagel on self-regulation.

Cambridge have also posted Alan Millar's Inaugural Address and Michael Bratman's Routledge Lecture.

From Elucidations, Jeff Buechner's podcast on Kripke and functionalism.

David Auerbach has a series of posts on Georg Simmel's Philosophy of Money.

Barry Stocker has a series of posts in the field of 'philosophy and literature', including several on Vico. See also his posts at NewApps.

At In Our Time (BBC), Melvyn Bragg discusses the philosophy of solitude with Melissa Lane, Simon Blackburn, and John Haldane.

From The Encyclopaedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory, 'Schopenhauer and Nietzsche on Moral Growth'.

From Philosophy Bites, Amia Srinivasan on Nietzschean genealogy and Roger Scruton on the sacred.

Some Roger Scruton quotations.

From the bio of Polish philosopher Henryk Elzenberg (who taught the poet Zbigniew Herbert):
Besides being motivated by his own philosophical inquiries, he took part in classes run by H. Bergson, F. Rauh, E. Durkheim, L. Levy-Bruhl and V. Delbos .... Elzenberg spent the years 1913-1917 on intensive studies on the philosophy of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. ... In the autumn of 1916 ... his work Foundations of Leibniz's Metaphysics was presented .... It was followed by his third book (habilitation) entitled Marcus Aurelius. On History and Psychology of Ethics (1922).
John Gray on Kenan Malik's history of ethics and John Gray on Michael Oakeshott.

Ádám Tamás Tuboly's review of Greg Frost-Arnold’s Carnap, Tarski and Quine at Harvard.

Timothy Yu on 'Wittgenstein, Pedagogy, and Literary Criticism'.

Wittgenstein links from the British Wittgenstein Society.

The IEP entry for Victor Kraft; the SEP entry for Ludwig Fleck; and the University of Iowa's bio for Gustav Bergmann.

Historian George Mosse on Bergmann: 
Gustav Bergmann in philosophy was the most visible refugee on campus, a distinguished logical positivist, yet a difficult person, opionated and combative. ... Hardly any of his colleagues managed to get along with him. We clashed straight away about the Western Civilization course and much else besides. (George L. Mosse, Confronting History: a Memoir, p. 144)
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Saturday, August 23, 2014

Links on the University of Illinois' termination of academic freedom

John K. Wilson reproduces Chancellor Wise's alarming letter. Every word of Wilson's critique (in the first four paragraphs of the linked post) is golden. Here's an excerpt:
Wise greatly expands the concept, declaring that not only persons but “viewpoints themselves” must be protected from any disrespectful words. I am puzzled as to exactly how a free university could possibly operate when no one is allowed to be disrespectful toward any viewpoint.
More by Wilson on the Salaita case at Illinois (Urbana-Champaign). Cary Nelson defends the opposing view. Scott Lemieux replies.

From Timothy Burke's letter:
I am not troubled by the idea that an acceptance of all students as they come to you is an important professional standard. ... But you must not measure adherence to this standard by reading what scholars or intellectuals say or write in the public sphere, whether in formal publication or in social media. ... Neither the University of Illinois nor any of the proponents of your decision have presented any evidence that Professor Salaita would be or has been unable to adhere to those ethics. The only evidence is a handful of tweets that really say nothing about how he approaches the classroom, how he mentors students, how he participates in evaluation.
Brian Leiter:
It is not an exaggeration to say that the Chancellor and the Board of Trustees have now declared that the First Amendment does not apply to any tenured faculty at the University of Illinois.
Michael C. Dorf gives a very detailed examination of the relevant laws:
Academic freedom and freedom of speech protect all viewpoints, even those that are hostile to academic freedom or freedom of speech. Moreover, as I explain below, none of the peculiarities of Salaita’s case justifies the university’s revocation of its offer.
Corey Robin links to some of the many petitions protesting the University of Illinois' treatment of Salaita.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Dawkins on Down Syndrome and Abortion

Richard Dawkins on what to do upon discovering that a fetus has Down Syndrome (DS):

'Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.'

People have argued that it's morally permissible to abort in order to prevent having a DS child, but I haven't heard of anyone contending that it's actually obligatory. Dawkins is saying that any parents who knew their baby would have DS but who didn't abort are guilty of doing something immoral. They had a duty to abort.

Dawkins has since backpedalled, issuing this statement:
If your morality is based, as mine is, on a desire to increase the sum of happiness and reduce suffering, the decision to deliberately give birth to a Down baby, when you have the choice to abort it early in the pregnancy, might actually be immoral from the point of view of the child's own welfare.
The locution 'might actually' is mysterious. Dawkins clearly doesn't want to say merely that, for all we know, it's possible that having a DS child will reduce the sum of happiness. Given the context of his earlier remark (on Twitter), he seems to think it's likely that the child's creation will have this negative impact.

The antecedent in the above, longer quotation suggests that Dawkins bases his view on a utility calculation for those who are affected by the birth of a DS child -- taking all of them into consideration, the sum of happiness is greater (and the amount of suffering lower) if we prevent the creation of a DS child. However, the final clause of the quotation suggests that Dawkins wants to assess the impact on only the DS individual's well-being -- it's for her sake that we shouldn't permit her to be born.

That's not even plausible. DS does not saddle one with such a low quality of life that one is better off not existing in the first place. It's hard to see how the DS individual is better off by being killed prenatally (or by having its fetal precursor killed -- if that's how one prefers to speak).

Turning to the former claim (that the creation of a DS child is most likely contrary to the project of increasing the sum of happiness for all who are affected by the act), evidence is called for. Dawkins is making a prediction about the net impact on happiness of having a DS child. Why does he give no empirical support for his prediction? After all, these are very complicated matters of fact, so we oughtn't to rely on armchair intuition-crunching.

Has Richard Dawkins, the great champion of empirically supported reason, proclaimed such a shocking conclusion and charge of immorality without first examining the evidence?

Update (August 21, 2014): Ari Kohen summarizes some of the relevant evidence

Monday, August 18, 2014

Cafes Reichsrat and Arkaden

Six years ago, I posted on some interwar Viennese cafés of historical interest, including the Arkaden and the Reichsrat. I noted the significance of the Reichsrat in connection with Viennese logicians and Wiener Kreis positivists. Specifically, Kurt Gödel presented some of his incompleteness results there in 1930 (to Carnap, Feigl, and Waismann).

In that post, I ventured a hypothesis about the location of the Reichsrat. It turns out that I was just plain wrong. The excellent logician Richard Zach, has found Café Reichsrat's location 'at the north-west corner of Stadiongasse and Reichsratsstraße/Rathauspark'.

In Café Griensteidl before 1897 (photo by Carl von Zamboni)

There's a new book on Viennese cafés: The Viennese Café and Fin-de-Siècle Culture (ed. Charlotte Ashby, Tag Gronberg, and Simon Shaw-Miller [Berghahn Books, 2013]). The book's coverage reaches beyond Vienna to include papers about early 20th-century coffeehouses in Zagreb and Krakow. Also, there's a paper by Edward Timms called 'Coffeehouses and Tea Parties: Conversational Spaces as a Stimulus to Creativity in Sigmund Freud's Vienna and Virginia Woolf's London'.

The book primarily explores the cafés' contribution to Vienna's intellectual firmament. Central European coffeehouses were great, semi-public venues (what the sociologist Ray Oldenburg calls a 'third place') in which poets, mathematicians, politicians, journalists, psychiatrists, etc. etc. rubbed shoulders and shared ideas. Timms charts some of the relations among the Viennese café Kreise (circles) by means of a diagram (p. 207) that looks like a reproduction of the one he made for the first volume (Fig. 1, p. 8) of his magnificent biography of Karl Kraus. It's a good diagram, but Timms put a more complex one in volume 2 of his Kraus biography (p. 108). The latter diagram locates some of the Kreise in their preferred cafés and has the interesting label 'Vienna Circles: the Field of Cultural Producton'.

(For more about the many Vienna circles, see '"Wiener Kreise": Jewishness, Politics, and Culture in Interwar Vienna' by Wolfgang Maderthaner and Lisa Silverman, in Interwar Vienna Culture between Tradition and Modernity, ed. Deborah Holmes [Rochester, NY: Boydell & Brewer, 2009].)

There's very little about philosophers in the above-mentioned The Viennese Café and Fin-de-Siècle Culture. All I could find was an endnote in Shachar Pinsker's contribution (p. 96 n. 36, where Pinsker says that Wittgenstein and members of the Wiener Kreis frequented the Arkaden Café) as well as a brief mention of Otto Neurath in Steven Beller's paper (p. 56, where Beller says that Neurath and members of the Wiener Kreis often hung out in Café Herrenhof).

Pinsker's article is called 'The Central European Café as a Site for Hebrew and Yiddish Modernism'. It has sections devoted to cafés in Lemberg and in Berlin, but the largest section concerns the coffeehouses of Vienna. In that part of his paper, Pinsker mentions the Hebrew poet Avraham Ben-Yitzhak, about whom Elias Canetti wrote. (Canetti referred to this author as Dr. Sonne.) Pinsker situates Ben Yitzhak in an important group of Yiddish and Hebrew writers who congregated in the Arkaden Café before and during WWI. Based on the memoirs of some of these authors, Pinsker characterizes this café as 'the place in which Jewish immigrants from Galicia felt at home' (p. 86). (The index entry for 'Arkaden Café' doesn't include a reference to Pinsker's discussion.)

Added (August 20, 2014): I noted in my post on Lviv/Lemberg/Lwow that the mathematicians and logicians of that city did much collaborative (and solitary) work in the Scottish Café. Some of those thinkers received part of their education in Vienna, so it wouldn't be surprising if Viennese logicians and mathematicians did some collaborative work in the cafés (as the physicists did).

Friday, August 15, 2014

Some quotations on Kenneth Fearing

Ron Capshaw notes that poet and novelist Kenneth Fearing was one of the founders of the Partisan Review.

I discovered Fearing's poetry in my first year as an undergrad. I've since had a weakness for his 'American Rhapsody (5)', which begins near the bottom of p. 649 of this old anthology. I've inserted that page below. (The poem appears to have been incorrectly labeled 'American Rhapsody (4)' in this anthology, though that might have been the correct numbering when this collection was published.)

Capshaw says,
When Fearing, who died in 1961 and would have turned 102 this week, was asked the $64,000 question when he appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1950—“Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?”—he answered, “Not yet.”
David Orr: 'Fearing’s poetry is what you’d get if you threw five newspapers, ten comic books, Das Kapital, the script for The Big Heat, and Palgrave’s Golden Treasury into a blender'.

Walter Kalaidjian (quoting something that Kenneth Burke wrote in 1935):
As [Kenneth] Burke pointed out ..., Fearing more than Cummings effected a powerful "fusion of ecclesiastic intonations (the lamentation) and contemporary cant (slang, business English, the imagery of pulp fiction, syndicated editorials, and advertising)."
Robert M. Ryley:
[Fearing's] "St. Agnes' Eve" is a little anthology of American styles, focusing attention not so much on crime and suffering and death as on their transformation into the language of film, newspaper, cartoon, poem, and ordinary speech. It is as if we are meant to see at work in the poem, and at a distance that protects us from its normally irresistible power, the mythmaking machinery of the whole culture.
Robert Polito:
Ordinary life rarely enters Fearing’s poems except through the slippery deflections of popular culture, and there is no snooty distance or criticism, as though for a poet and citizen of the 20th century the inescapable, omnipresent urban media assume roles that the natural world, say, performed for prior poetry.
Weldon Kees (1941):
[Fearing] has taken over and extended techniques of the anti-poetic common to both Whitman and Sandburg, supplementing them with more raucous tricks not unknown to the soap-boxer, the radio orator, and the side-show barker. Principal among these are the device of repetition, esteemed also by the writer of advertising copy, and the device of listing and cataloguing.
More from Kees' review of Fearing:
Contemporary civilization has been anything but reserved in providing its satirical writers with abundant horrors; and Fearing, who gathers up-to-the-minute horrors with all the eager thoroughness of a bibliophile cackling over pagination errors, has ... much cause to be grateful.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

On August 3, 1914, Germany declared war on France...

The war began with Austria-Hungary opening fire on Serbia on July 28. The UK entered the war on August 4.

Stephen Evans on 'World War One: Germany's forgotten war' (BBC):
A book by Christopher Clark, an Australian historian based at Cambridge University, has become a run-away best-seller in its German translation. The Sleep-walkers analyses the run-up to the war and paints a picture of blunders and misunderstandings in the complexities of European imperial politics.
Norman Stone in the Evening Standard:
The First World War was part of the great question of British foreign policy since about 1840: Germany or Russia? The British opted for Russia in 1914, as they did again in 1941.
Martin Kettle in the Guardian:
In Britain the commemoration at the Imperial War Museum is fundamentally about Britain and British people. Step into the new galleries and you find yourself watching newsreel film about the people of Britain in 1914. In Berlin the commemoration is fundamentally about Europe and the wider world. Step into that gallery and you find yourself watching newsreel film from Berlin, Vienna, Paris and St Petersburg.
Deutsche Welle's WWI page (in English).

Spiegel International's WWI page (in English).

WWI pictures at the Atlantic.

WWI links with a focus on Austria-Hungary

From the BBC, 'Music on the brink' -- mostly Viennese music of the time; and a BBC postcard from Vienna by Professor David Wyn Jones, read by Jonathan Pryce.

John Horne reviews Tim Butcher's new book on Gavrilo Princip, and so does Robert Fox.

Review of a book about Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Countess Sophie Chotek. The book is The Assassination of the Archduke.

In WWI, one of Robert Musil's second-cousins, Alois Musil (aka Sheikh Musa al-Rweili), was Austria-Hungary's version of Lawrence of Arabia, except that Alois Musil, unlike Lawrence, had a mastery of many Arabic dialects.

Quoting Colin O'Connor, 'During the First World War, [Alois] Musil was sent to the Middle East to counteract the efforts of the great English Arabist T. E. Lawrence - or Lawrence of Arabia as he is known to many.' Back in Europe, Musil had a career as a theology professor. Some of his documents have been translated into English. Here's a pdf with a bio and photos.

Chris Kelly on her Austro-Hungarian ancestors, including Count Franz Clam-Gallas.

Stefany Anne Golberg quoting from Béla Zombory-Moldován's memoir of the first eight months of WWI in a Hungarian unit:
Nature slumbered … flowed on its course, impervious to the absurd behavior of men … The whole world was manifestly indifferent in the face of the life-and-death struggles of men: it neither took their side nor opposed them, but simply paid no attention.
More about this memoir, The Burning of the World: A Memoir of 1914. Here's an excerpt.

Kafka's diary entry for August 2, 1914: 'Germany has declared war on Russia. Swimming in the afternoon.'

Robert Zaretsky revisits 'Kafka's "The Trial" and World War I'.

English version of a comprehensive survey of WWI from an Austro-Hungarian perspective.

Here's the first item in Spiegel Online International's WWI series.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Dystopic bliss

Emily Witt's diary entry in the latest issue of the LRB has left me seeking a handy label for articles that effectively say 'Aldous Huxley's dystopia is here now', but in which the author affects an innocence of all such critique by mimicking the unknowing, sensation-seeking obsessions of a naif in an Aldous Huxley dystopia.

I'm sure there's more to Burning Man, but Witt makes it sound like a Pleasure Dome for millionaires

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Quoting Bertrand Russell (on Harvard in 1914)

I miss in the professors the atmosphere of meditation and absent-mindedness which one associates with thought -- they all seem more alert and business-like and punctual than one expects very good people to be. And they are all overworked; President Lowell, whom I find utterly loathsome, is determined to get his money's worth out of them and throw them on the scrap heap when they are used up. -- From Russell's letter to Lucy Donnelly (March 20, 1914) (reproduced on p. 41 of Bertrand Russell's America: His Transatlantic Travels and Writings. Volume 1 1896-1945, ed. Barry Feinberg, Ronald Kasrils [Routledge, 1973])