Friday, April 17, 2020

Misology - a hatred of argument, reasoning, or enlightenment

"Misology: a hatred of argument, reasoning, or enlightenment." That's Merriam-Webster's definition. Here's the definition in Dagobert Runes' Dictionary of Philosophy (1942): "Misology: (Gr. miseo: to hate; logia: proposition) A contempt for logic." In the Dictionary of Philosophy and Psychology (1902), James Mark Baldwin gives this definition:
Misology [Gr. ...] : Ger. Misologie ; Fr. misologie ; Ital.misologia. Hatred and despair of reason.Sometimes applied to intellectual PESSIMISM. (v. 2, The Macmillan Company, 1902)
Closely related is "misologia: an aversion to speaking or arguing" (APA Dictionary of Psychology).

The Wikipedia entry for misology provides an interesting history of the word. It notes the occurrence of the ancient Greek μισολογία in Plato's Phaedo (89d). Wikipedia also identifies Kant's use of the German "Misologie" in the Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten (395.32, 1785), where Kant defines it as a 'hatred of reason.' According to Henry Hitchings, Samuel Taylor Coleridge based his use of "misology" on Kant's misologie.

Webster's pegs the introduction of the English "misology" as being "circa 1834." The online version of Webster's does not identify the source. I believe the author of the Webster's entry had in mind the appearance of "misology" in an article in The Quarterly Review by Henry Nelson Coleridge, nephew and son-in-law of the great romantic poet. ("The Poetical works of S. T. Coleridge," The Quarterly Review, No. 103 [1834], p. 21) The article was published anonymously in 1834, but here is a cleaner copy of it with H. N. Coleridge identified as its author.

Henry Coleridge used "misology" while quoting his famous uncle's assessment of Goethe's epic poem: "The intended theme of the Faust is the consequences of a misology, or hatred and depreciation of knowledge, caused by an originally intense thirst for knowledge baffled." (Ibid.) Henry C. seems to have based the quotation on some written record of his uncle's 'table talk', since the same passage appears in the "Table Talk" entry for February 16, 1833. Apparently, S. T. Coleridge also applied "misology" to some religious sects in his book annotations.

In his 1992 article, James McKusick counts "misology" among Coleridge's "merely bizarre" coinages. (James C. McKusick, "'Living Words': Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the Genesis of the 'OED' Modern Philology, Vol. 90 [1992]: 1-45, at 20) In fact, though, Coleridge was not the first author to use the word in English.

I found an earlier use of "misology" in John Richardson's 1819 translation of Kant's Logik (1800): Logic from the German of Emmanuel Kant. (London: Printed for W. Simpkin and R. Marshall, 1819) Here is an excerpt from Richardson's translation:
Who hates science, but does not love wisdom the less on that account, is named a misologist. Misology commonly arises from a want of scientific knowledge, and from a certain sort of vanity therewith conjoined. And sometimes those, who at first cultivated the sciences with great diligence and success, but in the end found no satisfaction in all their knowledge, fall into the fault of misology. (p. 32)
I have consulted Thomas Taylor's 1793 translation of Plato's Phaedo (esp. 89d2-3), and did not find any use there of "misology." Rather than using a single word for Plato's term, Taylor uses the phrase "hatred of reason." (Four Dialogues of Plato: The Cratylus, Phædo, Parmenides and Timæus, [1793], pp. 197-8) It may be, though, that some earlier translator of Plato's work into English used "misology."

Professor Mark Mercer has a pdf entitled "In Defence of Misology."

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Misosophy: hatred of wisdom. A label applied to Voltaire, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Papists, Positivists, and Calvinists

Misosophy, n. Hatred of wisdom. So says the OED. The earliest use of the word cited by the OED is in Samuel Taylor Coleridge's posthumously published "Notes of Hooker" (in the 1830s).  Coleridge there writes,
There are, and can be, only two schools of philosophy, differing in kind and in source. Differences in degree and in accident, there may be many; but these constitute schools kept by different teachers with different degrees of genius, talent, and learning; — auditories of philosophizers, not different philosophies. Schools of psilology (the love of empty noise) and misosophy are here out of the question.
About forty years before Coleridge's coinage, Bertrand Capmartin de Chaupy wrote a book called  Philosophie des lettres, qui aurait pu tout sauver. Misosophie voltairienne, qui n'a pu que tout perdre, which translates roughly as Philosophy of letters, which could have saved everything. Voltairian misosophy, which could only lose everything. (Paris, chez Mme. Dufresne, au Palais royale, 1790, 2 volumes)

"Misosophy" pops up  in a philosophical dictionary in 1878:
MIS, MISO.-1. (Gr. [...], to hate;) in a number of compounds, as misagathy, hatred of the good; misandry and misanthropy, hatred of men; misarety, hatred of virtue; misogyny, misology, misosophy, misotheism. 2. From the Germanic languages, denoting wrong, failure, defect, as misdeed, mistrust, misuse. (Charles Porterfield Krauth, A Vocabulary of the Philosophical Sciences: [Including the Vocabulary of Philosophy, Mental, Moral and Metaphysical, by William Fleming, from the 2d Ed., 1860: and the 3d, 1876, Ed. by Henry Calderwood, LL. D.], Sheldon & Company, 1878, p. 770)
The word appeared in religious controversies. For instance, here's the barrister Henry Thomas Braithwaite in 1872: "That therefore is misosophy which discourages spoken petitions to the Throne of Grace on the plea that a Spirit cannot hear words." (Esse and Posse: A Comparison of Divine Eternal Laws and Powers [London: Longmans, Green, & Co., 1872], p. 252)

In 1880, the poet Algernon Charles Swinburne used the term in a dig at Carlyle. I can't resist quoting the whole intriguing passage:
Four principles of thought, we may say, are here impeached and impugned: a double enemy is assailed by the lover of faith and reason, love and hope, in the militant materialism of Papists and Positivists; by the lover of justice and mercy, humanity and freedom, in the Catholic philosophy of de Maistre and the Calvinistic misosophy of Carlyle. And if the sarcasms on theology seem to any reader more keen and violent than the satire on any other form of unbelief or infidelity to the truth as here conceived, he should remember that superstition with a lining of materialism is surely a worse thing than materialism stark naked; and that while it is palpably possible to be a materialist without being a Christian, it is implicitly impossible to be a Christian without being a materialist. ("Victor Hugo: Religions et Religion," Fortnightly Review no. 162 [June 1, 1880], p. 763)
WHEW! A few years later, Henry Hayman slaps the label on German pessimism, especially the thought of Schopenhauer and Hartmann("Pessimism," The Churchman No. 62 [November, 1884], pp. 113-125, at p. 124)

In these late 19th-Century cases, the authors take themselves not to be introducing a new word when they use "misosophy," unlike some later authors. For example, the word was re-invented (or reconstructed from the ancient Greek roots) by the Congregationalist theologian Peter Taylor Forsyth in 1915. He wrote, "Its Christianity has at heart always protested against its philosophy, or rather, if one may coin a word, its misosophy." (P. T. Forsyth, "Faith, Metaphysic, and Incarnation," The Methodist Review [September, 1915], p. 701

I cannot tell whether Gilbert Ryle thought he was coining a new term when he wrote the following: "A fraternity of persons of kindred credulities could only constitute a school of 'misosophy'." ('Taking Sides in Philosophy,' Philosophy 12 [Jul., 1937]: 317-332, at 318-319) His decision to flag the term with quotation marks suggests that he might have (thanks to Bernard Kobes for this observation).

Seyyed Hossein Nasr attributes the coinage of the word (or of its German equivalent) to Hermann Türck, a 19th-Century critic of Nietzsche. Here's Nasr:
The result has been the creation of philosophies which, from the traditional point of view, could only be called monstrous and which can only be characterized as what the German scholar H. Türck has called 'misosophy', that is, the hatred rather than love of wisdom and which others have considered as 'antiphilosophy'. (Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Knowledge and the Sacred: Revisioning Academic Accountability, State University of New York Press [19889], p. 43)
Türck did this in applying the term to his opponents (Nietzsche, Stirner, and Ibsen), contrasting these putative egoists with persons of true genius.

In The Way of Phenomenology(Pegasus [1970], p. 23, n. 4) Richard M. Zaner credits Gabriel Marcel with inventing the word. Zaner cites Marcel's book Man against Mass Society. (Regnery, [1952], trans. G. S. Fraser) Marcel's book (Les hommes contre l'humain) appeared first in French in 1951. (La Colombe) Since the libraries are closed, I cannot find hard copies of Marcel's book (in translation or in the original French), so it is difficult to determine what Marcel wrote. Based on some web searching, Marcel seems to have written (in G. S. Fraser's translation) of a
civilization in which technical progress is tending to emancipate itself more and more from speculative knowledge, and finally to question the traditional rights of speculative knowledge, a civilization which, one may say, finally denies the place of contemplation and shuts out the very possibility of contemplation, such a civilization, I say, sets us inevitably on the road towards a philosophy which is not so much a love of wisdom as a hatred of wisdom: we ought rather to call it a misosophy. (Man Against Mass Society, p. 48)
Finally, there is Gilles Deleuze's remark in his 1968 book Différence et répétition: "Everything begins with misosophy." (Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton, Columbia University Press, [1994])

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Byron's quarantine poem, another de-motivational post

Yesterday, I posted about Leibniz's uninspiring time in quarantine.

Byron, too, seems to have derived little from the measure. Like many travelers in the Mediterranean of his day, Byron had to put in time at a quarantine station at Malta.

On leaving the station, he dashed off a terrible poem called "Farewell to Malta" (May 26, 1811). Here's an excerpt:
Adieu, thou damned’st quarantine,
That gave me fever, and the spleen!
Adieu, that stage which makes us yawn, Sirs,
Adieu, his Excellency’s dancers! ...
And now, O Malta! since thou’st got us,
Thou little military hothouse!
I’ll not offend with words uncivil,
And wish thee rudely at the Devil,
But only stare from out my casement,
And ask, for what is such a place meant?
Then, in my solitary nook,
Return to scribbling, or a book,
Or take my physic while I’m able
(Two spoonfuls hourly by the label),
Prefer my nightcap to my beaver,
And bless the gods I’ve got a fever.
Byron gave the poem to a ship's commander. According to the Palgrave Literary Dictionary of Byron (M. Garrett, 2010), this poem "caused offence 'to all, but particularly' Major-General Hildebrand Oakes, governor or commissioner of the island." (p. 104) Byron wrote of hearing that, "They are all, but particularly Oakes, in a pucker." (Letter to Hobhouse, Nov. 3, 1811)

Byron kept no copy of the poem.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Community in solitude

Catherine Malabou (2020):
We know that Karl Marx made fun of eighteenth-century robinsonades like Rousseau’s. Marx said that the origin of the social can by no means be a state of nature where isolated men finally come to meet and form a community. Solitude cannot be the origin of society. ... I think on the contrary that ... a suspension ... of sociality is sometimes the only access to alterity, a way to feel close to all the isolated people on Earth. ('To Quarantine from Quarantine: Rousseau, Robinson Crusoe, and “I”' [In the Moment blog, March 23, 2020])
Alone together. On a related note ...

Thomas Clark (1666):
But being thus constrain’d to house-abode,
And so withheld from following work abroad,
Also of all things else almost bereft,
This yet some solace was and comfort left,
That though debarr’d Society with me,
I still might have converse with Book and Pen: [...]
And such good Books I had (though read before)
I now found time enough to re-read o’re,
With profit too (I hope) for Information,
Which may conduce to practice[al] Conversation.
This studious course, to which I was inclin’d,
Diverted many sad thoughts from my mind
And thereby did that saying versify,
'When most alone, then least alone was I.'
("Meditations in my Confinement," The Plague Epic in Early Modern England: Heroic Measures, 1603–1721, ed. Rebecca Totaro)
Updated April 21, 2020: Shannon Pufahl at the NY Review Daily: "Much of the future will be forged by the strange irony of our present moment: alone in our homes or tents or hospital beds, restricted from physical contact with one another, we are strangely and profoundly together. We are bound by a common experience in new, unprecedented, global numbers."

Leibniz in quarantine, a de-motivational post

We've heard that Isaac Newton developed calculus while in quarantine. It turns out that another calculus pioneer, Leibniz, was also in quarantine, but much later.

In October, 1713, Leibniz was quarantined in Vienna "due to an incident of the plague in the apartment opposite to his" (Gango, 2015).

What did Leibniz do with his time? He wrote letters lobbying to become the Chancellor of Transylvania. He didn't know or care much about Transylvania, but the post would have provided him with a salary and allowed him to live in Vienna. His bid for this post failed and Leibniz had to return to Hanover, where he died in 1716.

Source: Gabor Gango, G. W. Leibniz's Candidature for the Chancellorship of Transylvania, Studia Leibnitiana, 47 (2015): 44-66.

Saturday, April 11, 2020


"Ultracrepidarian: someone who has no special knowledge of a subject but who expresses an opinion about it." (Cambridge Dictionary)

A neat word coined by William Hazlitt. I found these uses of it:

1. "Like a conceited mechanic in a village alehouse, you would set down everyone who differs from you as an ignorant blockhead, and very fairly infer that anyone who is beneath yourself must be nothing. You have been well called an Ultra-Crepidarian critic." William Hazlitt, "Letter to William Gifford" (1819)

2. "In England excess in alcohol is responsible for only a very small proportion of cases of mental disease at all, in spite of ultracrepidarian views to the contrary." James R. Whitwell, letter to The English Review (March, 1929). p. 249.

3. "The Oklahoma Senate does not like what Secretary of Defense Charles E. Wilson said about the National Guard but it refused yesterday to call him 'ultracrepidarian.' A resolution had been introduced accusing Wilson of 'gross and unwarranted insult' .... Senator J. R. Hall, a Democrat, introduced an amendment which would have inserted 'ultracrepidarian.'" St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Jan. 31, 1957): 1.

4. "Now if Sino-Indo-European lexical comparison was just yet another drowsy backwater of the inveterate craze for ultracrepidarian transcontinental etymologizing, it would probably not even be justified to mention Ulenbrook's book in print." Wolfgang Behr, Review of Zum Alteurasischen. Eine Sprachvergleichung by Jan Ulenbrook, Oriens 36 (2001): 356-361, at 360.

5. "Philosophers are good at answering broadly conceptual questions of the first sort. They are no better than anyone else at answering questions of the second sort, despite their ultracrepidarian tendencies." Dudley Knowles, "Good Samaritans and Good Government," Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society New Series 112 (2012): 161-178, at p. 161.

6. "The FBI Hair Comparison Review does not seek to provide a precise and scientifically defensible estimate of the prevalence of ultracrepidarian testimony." David H. Kaye, "Ultracrepidarianism in Forensic Science: The Hair Evidence Debacle," Washington and Lee Law Review 72, no. 2 (2015): 230-257, at p. 247.

The inspiration for Hazlitt's coinage seems to lie in Naturalis Historia by Pliny the Elder, in which a painter tells a shoemaker and wannabe art critic to stick to judging shoes. This episode in Pliny gave rise to the Latin saying, "Sutor, ne ultra crepidam."

This post is derived from my Facebook post of April 8. 

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Ronald Knox and Gestalt switches

Here's Mgr. Ronald Knox using (in 1927) a visual-perception analogy to point out a change in belief that involves no new data but, instead, seeing old data in a new way:
[S]uddenly, when I’m thinking of something quite different, a game of patience, for example, I see the whole thing in a new mental perspective. It’s like the optical illusion of the tumbling cubes – you know, the pattern of cubes which looks concave to the eye; and then, by a readjustment of your mental focus, you suddenly see them as convex instead. What produces that change? Why, you catch sight of one particular angle in a new light, and from that you get your new mental picture of the whole pattern. Just so, one can stumble upon a new mental perspective about a problem like this by suddenly seeing one single fact in a new light. And then the whole problem rearranges itself. (emphasis added)
The passage appears in the first of Knox's mystery novels to feature Miles BredonThe Three Taps (1927). At the beginning of Ch. 25, Bredon says that when he's really stumped by a crime and continually hitting dead ends, he likes to get lost in a card game called 'Patience'. Absorption in the game facilitates a change in how he interprets the facts of the crime. The result seems to be not the taking in of any new facts, or data, but, rather, a new discovery or realization that emerges from seeing the facts in a new way. He sees one "fact in a new light," and then the related facts show up in a newly noticed "pattern."

I believe the optical illusion to which Knox refers is the reversible "cubes illusion" (described in Howard Crosby Warren's textbook, Human Psychology [1919, p. 262] - though I don't claim that this book was Knox's source).

Post-war philosophers made similar use of another visual phenomenon, the gestalt switch (though they didn't all use that phrase).

Wittgenstein reflects on gestalt switches in his discussions of aspect-seeing, using the example of Jastrow's duck-rabbit image, in his Philosophical Investigations (Part 2, sect. 11) and Remarks on the Philosophy of Psychology (v. I, sect. 70). (Cf. Robert Angelo's page on these Wittgensteinian passages.) Wittgenstein's reflections are focused on cases of visual perception, in which what one sees (a matrix of lines or dots) remains the same while what one sees (a duck or a rabbit) changes. In these cases, the visual input remains constant while its interpretation or categorization varies. (I don't attribute that characterization to Wittgenstein.)

In the above quotation of Knox, the input data remain constant while their interpretation varies, where the former are the 'facts' of a criminal case. So, while Knox relies on an analogy with visual perception, the diversely interpreted inputs in his example are not limited to visual phenomena.

There must be earlier examples of this idea (same facts - different interpretation).

The first chapter of N. R. Hanson's Patterns of Discovery (1958) builds on Wittgenstein's reflections to illustrate the theory-laden nature of perception. Also, Thomas Kuhn used the example of gestalt switches in his characterization of a paradigm shift. In philosophy of religion, John Wisdom riffed on a similar theme in his 'parable of the garden' in 'Gods' (1944), focusing on disagreements in which the parties agree on the facts but interpret them differently. Recently, Ray Monk has applied the idea of gestalt shifts to the writing of biography.

Did any of the gestalt psychologists or philosophers make something like Knox's point? Perhaps Max Wertheimer did in his book Productive Thinking (1945) -- I haven't read it yet.

This notion (same facts - different interpretation) must have earlier examples. I expect some 19th-century German made the point. I'd appreciate any help in finding such sources.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Towns in my history (part 2)

I posted about my childhood home of Goderich, a town centred on a round 'Square'. At its hub, which was actually an octagon, the clean lines of an Art Deco courthouse cut right angles amid a gnarled host of old maple, chestnut, and elm trees.
The Square, Goderich.
The courthouse wall that faced my street featured a clock above the central window, so that when I looked up the street from my front yard, there they were: the law and correct time.
Huron County Courthouse.
Wikimedia Commons, Rjsbird287 CC BY-SA 3.0
Venturing the other way took one to another juristic octagon, the Huron County gaol, an honest-to-goodness Benthamite panopticon.

Huron County Gaol.
Photo from Bruce Forsyth's page CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
The prominence of the octagon in the town's physiognomy has long fueled speculation, including this note in Goderich's Downtown Core Master Plan:
The uncanny resemblance between the Goderich Gaol design and that of the Square may be mere coincidence, as may be the octagonal shape coinciding with the eight letters of the town’s name, or it may have been deliberate. Certainly an octagon is a very unusual shape for a town 'square' and has few precedents beyond a utopian town layout found in Northern Italy [Palmanova] and in unbuilt town designs from the Renaissance. (Town of Goderich, Downtown Core Master Plan [May 14, 2012], p. 6 n. 1)
These observations conjure a dystopian theme, setting Goderich in the ambit of an all-seeing authority. This motif may find an echo in the Calvinism of the area's settlers, but I won't pursue it. While the region has its dark history, including the miscarriage of justice in the Truscott case, this was before my brief time there. No overbearing authority loomed in my childhood experience of the place. By then, the gaol had already become a museum, and the courthouse seemed barely occupied, a place people visited to pay parking tickets (if they ever went there at all).

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Mgr Ronald Knox anticipating Popper's critique of psychoanalysis

Here's a bit of 'found philosophy' in Monsignor Ronald Arbuthnott Knox's first mystery novel, The Viaduct Murder (1925):
If you’re out for [money], I should take to psycho-analysis. The system’s the same, generally speaking, only instead of dealing with primitive man, whom you can disregard because he isn’t there, you are dealing with a living man, who will probably tell you that you are a liar. Then you tell him that he is losing his temper, which is the sign of a strong inhibition somewhere, and that’s just what you were saying all along. The beauty of psycho-analysis is that it’s all ‘Heads-I-win-tails-you-lose.’ In medicine, your diagnosis of fever is a trifle disconcerted if the patient’s temperature is sub-normal. In psychoanalysis you say, 'Ah, that just proves what I was saying.' (Emphasis added)
The words are spoken by Gordon, one of the novel's quartet of amateur detectives, during his critique of his friend's too-clever-by-half theories about a murder (and just after denouncing anthropology).

Knox was Penelope Fitzgerald's uncle. Fitzgerald wrote about him in The Knox Brothers. There's also a biography about Knox by his friend, Evelyn Waugh, and another by Francesca Bugliani Knox.

In 2011, I noted George Eliot's anticipation of Popper's use of falsifiability as a mark of empirical science.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Towns in my history (part 1)

I was born after the first malls had opened, but they still confronted me as a deviation from the norm, which had been established for me by the traditional, downtown hub of Goderich, Ontario. The town's agora was the Square, an area delimited by a road that (ignoring its name) follows the contour of an octagonal yard, in which stands the Huron County courthouse. The town's main shops and businesses lined the outer edge of the road. Our house was a short walk north of the Square, which I visited often with friends or on errands for my parents. At first, attempts to reconcile the Square's name and shape flabbergasted my juvenile mind, yet immersion in the local culture soon led me to accept the contradiction as something perfectly natural and puzzling to outsiders only.
The Square (1920), archival image
The original courthouse, an Italianate structure completed in 1856, burned down in 1954.
Huron County courthouse, before 1954 (postcard, Valentine and Sons United Publishing Co.)
The courthouse yard's shape was set by the town's co-founder, John Galt, impressed (as he was) by the insight of an ancient Roman planner, Marcus Vitruvius Pollio, whose idea it had been that polygonal sites are easier to defend from attackers, such as the Visigoths (or the Americans on the other side of the lake).
The new courthouse, built in 1954 (Wikimedia Commons, JustSomePics [CC BY-SA 3.0 (])
One was continually meeting history in Goderich -- in the old jail (or 'gaol'), with its legacy of violence, in the lore about devastating storms that had swept in from the lake, in the local museum with its stuffed, two-headed calf and yard full of old artillery pieces, or in the war memorial on the courthouse lawn.

The most conspicuous history was a relic of the early-mid-19th century, when the place was designed and built as an outpost of the British Empire. The Empire loomed at practically every turn. Among the town's streets are these: Victoria St., Trafalgar St., Nelson St., Wellington St., Waterloo St., Wolfe St., Brock St., Elgin Ave. The commemorations said little of the Indigenous peoples who had lived there for millennia: the Wendat (or Wyandotte [aka Hurons]), after whom the county was named, the Attiwandarons of the 'Neutral' Confederacy, and the Mississaugas. They were largely gone from the town and its official, public memory.

Goderich, like its environs in Huron and Bruce Counties (Alice-Munro country), was colonized mainly by Scots-Irish immigrants, some of whom had fled the Highland Clearances. Both of Goderich's co-founders, Galt and William 'Tiger' Dunlop, were Scotsmen. Dunlop took his nickname from an earlier imperial adventure (when he had tried to clear Saugor Island in India of its tigers). He and Galt worked for the Canada Company, the main function of which was to facilitate the movement of British and Irish settlers into the area.

Coat of Arms of the Canada Company