Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Martin Gardner, a 'whys' man

Martin Gardner died on May 22 at the age of 95. He wrote the 'Mathematical Games' column in Scientific American for 35 years and was an accomplished critic of pseudo-science.

I first became aware of Gardner by way of his work on C. L. Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll), especially as evidenced in his Annotated Alice (see also his Universe in a Handkerchief). Of all Gardner's works, though, my favourite one is his Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener (wise indeed). Here's a review from the New Criterion (where Gardner himself published several reviews).

If philosophy begins in wonder, then Whys is a great entryway into philosophy. The index is loaded with names like Wittgenstein, Russell, Reichenbach, Carnap, Rudolf Otto, Tillich, Barth and F. R. Tennant, but Gardner never introduces the philosophy cold (in textbook fashion). Instead, he makes the philosophical questions seem like the most natural and enticing explorations on which to embark. He works up to this effect by way of more literary reflections, sometimes making his approach through passages from children's literature.

For this purpose, Carroll and L. Frank Baum (author of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz) seem to have been Gardner's favourites. I particularly like Gardner's use of an episode from The Marvelous Land of Oz in connection with the concept of the numinous (on p. 342 of Whys). In this episode, Tip is startled when the wooden Saw-Horse comes to life. Gardner notes that the Saw-Horse is even more startled, rolling its eyes and "taking a first wondering view of the world in which he had now so important an existence" (Gardner quoting Baum, p. 342). Gardner then asks whether this (and other) quotations have not stirred in the reader "a similar sense of surprise and wonder." "Have you never," he continues, "felt amazed to find yourself not only living in an Ozzy world but, more incredibly, aware of the fact that you are alive?"

It was in Whys that Gardner announced his 'philosophical theism'. He later characterized himself as "a mystic in the Platonic sense."

I have found two nice blog tributes that focus on Whys, one by Julia Galef and one by William M. Briggs (from whom I've learned that Gardner studied at Chicago with Rudolf Carnap).

One of the best on-line resources concerning Gardner can be found at the Cambridge University Press blog, which includes a 5-part interview from 2008.

Here are several obituaries and tributes: the Guardian, the NY Times, the Telegraph, the Washington Post, the LA Times, the Lewis Carroll Society, Discover, the Skeptical Inquirer, one by James Randi, one by Roger Kimball, a video clip at BoingBoing, and several items at Scientific American (inc. a contribution by Douglas Hofstadter).

Here's an older article from the Wall Street Journal (last April 2) and an interview of Gardner by Alex Bellos.

Update (May 26, 2010): More tributes to Gardner are being tracked here (in English & Spanish).

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

More philosophy bits

Simone de Beauvoir

Katie Roiphe on the new translation of de Beauvoir's Second Sex

Melvyn Bragg talks to Jonathan Rée, John Haldane & Gwen Griffith-Dickson about William James' Varieties of Religious Experience
A review of a new book on Cardinal Newman

Two finds: the Goethe Institute has a set of introductions to German philosophers (from Leibniz to Tugendhat), and a list of the articles in the 'How to Believe' series at the Guardian

A review of two philosophy books about J. M. Coetzee's work

A review of Paisley Livingston's new book, Cinema, Philosophy, Bergman: On Film as Philosophy
An article on Hannah Arendt in the Tehran Review

A look at Hans Sluga's 2008 study of Arendt & Carl Schmitt

Historian Isaac Kramnick on Lockean liberalism & the American Revolution

Historian Jeffrey Collins on Perez Zagorin's new book about Hobbes

Historian Samuel Moyn on some recent books about the Enlightenment: "[Jonathan] Israel's monomaniacal Spinoza worship is amusing and exasperating" -- Moyn prefers Dan Edelstein's Terror of Natural Right

Brendan Boyle on Raymond Geuss' Politics and the Imagination. Here's a podcast of Geuss discussing utopian thinking

A. C. Grayling on Emerson

An April, 2010 article on Adam Smith by Amartya Sen (and here's a pdf of Sen's April, 2009 talk on Smith at the University of Glasgow)

Hume, Smith and Burke on 'dirty hands' ("the view that some forms of power, used properly, lead to guilt and bad actions")

Leibniz and the science of happiness. Here's an Aussie podcast in which Alan Saunders interviews Paul Redding & Simon Duffy about Leibniz

More recently, Saunders interviewed Ruth Abbey about Nietzsche

Martha Nussbaum on gay marriage & John Stuart Mill

A nice article on long-time religious skeptic Paul Kurtz

Here's a Philosophy Talk podcast in which Rebecca Goldstein discusses philosophy in fiction

All the Wittgenstein links you could ever want
H/t for some of these links to Bookforum's 'Omnivore' blog

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Morley Callaghan interview (1977)

Morley Callaghan was a Canadian author who associated with Hemingway and Fitzgerald in Paris in 1929. He wrote about this sojourn, and his boxing match with Hemingway, in That Summer in Paris. In this clip from a CBC interview in 1977, Callaghan expresses regret about a letter he sent to F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Kierkegaard around the 'net

I've noticed lately some good Kierkegaard resources on the web, and I thought I'd gather the links into one post (I linked to some other Kierkegaard items in an earlier post).

There's perhaps some irony in this, since some (viz. Hubert Dreyfus) think that Kierkegaard 'would have hated the internet'

Princeton University Press has put much of Kierkegaard's writing (in the Hongs' translation) on Google. (Here are some older translations.)

The Guardian ran an 8-part series on Kierkegaard by Clare Carlisle; and here's a Philosophy Bites podcast in which Carlisle discusses Fear and Trembling (I link to two more podcasts near the end of this post).

Carlisle also has a paper on Kierkegaard and Heidegger at the Oxford Research Archive. To get her paper at that last link, click on the pdf 'Attachment' button near the top right corner of the site. What you then get is a long document with four papers from a conference on Heidegger. Carlisle's begins on p. 2.

On p. 41 of the same pdf you'll find Stephen Mulhall's paper called 'Absolutely Paradoxical Finitude: Heidegger between Kierkegaard and Sartre'.

Also on the Oxford archive is this 2007 paper by David Groiser, 'Repetition and renewal: Kierkegaard, Rosenzweig, and the German-Jewish renaissance'.

The last item to which I'll link from that clunky (but substantial) Oxford resource is this 2008 dissertation by Matthew Kirkpatrick called 'Kierkegaard and a Religionless Christianity: The place of Søren Kierkegaard in the thought of Dietrich Bonhoeffer'. Actually, I'll likely add more links to that resource once the papers from this conference are posted there.

Here's a review of a new book about tragedy in relation to Kierkegaard and Aristotle at Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

In addition to the above-linked Carlisle podcast about Kierkegaard, here's one from the BBC (with Jonathan Rée, John Lippitt and Carlisle again) and one from Philosophy Talk