(view spoiler)[Well, it is not as if there are minutely exact parallels, but rough parallels are all over the place. Martin takes events from across English history and sticks them together to serve his plot. A murder-by-pushing from Elizabeth’s time might be stringed together with an usurper’s story from early 12th Century, and so on. So it is not that you will completely ruin your viewing/reading pleasure (btw, since interesting things to read far outstrips good TV material, it might be a better strategy to just go with the series and avoid the books, esp since it is more or less certain that Martin is not going to be able to finish the series), it is just that the overall thrust of the series becomes much more predictable, and you start to get a sense of who has to die and when the next generation has to take over, etc.
It is subtle, but knowing too much history is injurious to GoT fandom. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
The book is primarily directed at building a model for combating poverty by tackling them at the earliest level of per...more Building High-Achieving Schools
The book is primarily directed at building a model for combating poverty by tackling them at the earliest level of perpetuation - in schools.
Schools, Payne advocates, should be our first line of defense against encroaching poverty and also our most effective weapon to beat it back. Unlike most economic tools, schools can be fine-tuned and deployed according to strict frameworks.
The thrust is thus primarily on how to deal with poverty in schools and how to equip the students with tools and education to fight their way out of it.
For this teachers have to understand what poverty is and the disadvantages that characterize poverty — these are usually classed as inherent problems of the students, instead they have to be reframed as disadvantages that are the duty of the teachers to correct in any decent school environment.
The ‘Framework’ in the title is then a Framework for the Teachers.
A Framework For Teachers
Payne uses what he calls an ‘Additive Model’, implicit throughout this book, as a vital tool for better understanding and addressing poverty, as well as the underlying factors that perpetuate it.
Some of the most important aspect of the Model are:
1. Identifies the mindsets and patterns that individuals use to survive different economic environments-and provides a vocabulary to talk about it.
2. Identifies strengths and resources already found in the individual, family, school, and community-and adds new information and a new perspective for creating and growing resources.
3. Offers economic diversity as a prism through which individuals and schools can analyze and respond to their issues.
4. Identifies skills, theories of change, program designs, partnerships, and ways of building schools where students achieve.
5. Encourages the development of strategies to respond to all causes of poverty.
Poverty & Its Baggages
An individual brings with him/her the hidden rules of the class in which he/she was raised. Even though the income of the individual may rise significantly, many of the patterns of thought, social interaction, cognitive strategies, etc., remain with the individual.
Schools and businesses operate from middle-class norms and use the hidden rules of middle class. These norms and hidden rules are not directly taught in schools or in businesses.
For our students to be successful, we must understand their hidden rules and teach them the rules that will make them successful at school and at work. We can neither excuse students nor scold them for not knowing; as educators we must teach them and provide support, insistence, and expectations.
Out of Poverty: A Resource-Kit
To move from poverty to middle class or middle class to wealth, an individual must give up relationships for achievement (at least for some period of time). Two things that help one move out of poverty are:
a. Education and
Leaving poverty could indeed be a conscious exercise. Four reasons one chooses to leave poverty are:
1. It’s too painful to stay,
2. A vision or goal,
3. A key relationship, or
4. A special talent or skill.
Typically, poverty is thought of in terms of financial resources only. However, the reality is that financial resources, while extremely important, do not explain the differences in the success with which individuals leave poverty nor the reasons that many stay in poverty. The ability to leave poverty is more dependent upon other resources than it is upon financial resources. Each of these resources plays a vital role in the success of an individual:
1. FINANCIAL: Having the money to purchase goods and services.
2. EMOTIONAL: Being able to choose and control emotional responses, particularly to negative situations, without engaging in self-destructive behavior. This is an internal resource and shows itself through stamina, perseverance, and choices.
3. MENTAL: Having the mental abilities and acquired skills (reading, writing, computing) to deal with daily life.
4. SPIRITUAL: Believing in divine purpose and guidance.
5. PHYSICAL: Having physical health and mobility.
6. SUPPORT SYSTEMS: Having friends, family, and backup resources available to access in times of need. These are external resources.
7. RELATIONSHIPS/ROLE MODELS: Having frequent access to adult(s) who are appropriate, who are nurturing to the child, and who do not engage in self-destructive behavior.
8. KNOWLEDGE OF HIDDEN RULES: Knowing the unspoken cues and habits of a group.
The education system should be able to equip the students with these vital resources.
Knowledge Of Hidden Rules
This aspect might sound a bit esoteric and bears illumination with a couple of examples:
1. The importance of Socially Accepted Language:
All the state testsSAT, ACT, etc. are require an understanding of formal language (called ‘the formal register’). It is further complicated by the fact that to get a well-paying job, it is expected that one will be able to use formal register. Ability to use formal register is a hidden rule of the middle class. The inability to use it will knock one out of an interview in two or three minutes. The use of formal register, on the other hand, allows one to score well on tests and do well in school and higher education.
This use of formal register is further complicated by the fact that these students do not have the vocabulary or the knowledge of sentence structure and syntax to use formal register. When student conversations in the casual register are observed, much of the meaning comes not from the word choices, but from the non-verbal assists. To be asked to communicate in writing without the non-verbal assists is an overwhelming and formidable task, which most of them try to avoid. It has very little meaning for them.
Another version of this is noticeable in educated people from the lower segments of society: They often they turn out too formal in their language. And thus cant function so well in intimate/casual social settings, which are also essential for career progression.
In a school setting this means that:
• Formal register needs to be directly taught.
• Casual register needs to be recognized as the primary discourse for many students.
• Students need to be told how much the formal register affects their ability to get a well-paying job.
• Students need to be told the importance of being adaptive in their registers.
2. The importance of learning to Manage Money:
One of the biggest difficulties in getting out of poverty is managing money and just the general information base around money. How can you manage something you've never had? Money is seen in poverty as an expression of personality and is used for entertainment and relationships. The notion of using money for security is truly grounded in the middle and wealthy classes.
The above are only a couple of simple examples, the reality is much more complex and requires much greater effort from the educational system.
Being in poverty is rarely about a lack of intelligence or ability. Many individuals stay in poverty because they don't know there is a choice-and if they do know that, have no one to teach them hidden rules or provide resources. Schools are virtually the only places where students can learn the choices and rules of the middle class.
Teachers must recognize a larger role: as Motivators + Educators + Enablers, so must the school system and the governments.
It is time we mobilized this important weapon in the fight against poverty.(less)
Philip Hans Franses takes the reader through the most elementary concepts of econometrics, or as much as is possible in such a s...more A Demonstrable Problem
Philip Hans Franses takes the reader through the most elementary concepts of econometrics, or as much as is possible in such a short book. This is well supplemented by a series of practical research questions in various economic disciplines, which are then ‘demonstrated’ for the reader by showing how they can be answered using econometric methods and models.
This makes the book a good introduction to the empirical practices of the ‘real’ econometric world, which, as the author takes pains to emphasize is slightly different from the typical text book assumed world where the data is reliable, the questions are already framed and the variables are not suspect, with only the modeling (even the models are often taken for granted in standard textbooks!) and the statistical tools occupying center stage.
This format of a typical econometrics textbook has its origin in a traditional view of econometrics, where the econometricians were supposed to match (mainly macro-) economic theories to data, often with an explicit goal to substantiate the theory. In the unlucky event that the econometric model failed to provide evidence in favor of the theory, it was usually perceived that perhaps the data were wrong or the estimation method was incorrect, implying that the econometrician could start all over again.
This view assumed that most aspects of a model, like the relevant variables, the way they are measured, the data themselves, and the functional form, are already available to the econometrician, and the only thing s/he needs to do is to fit the model to the data. The model components are usually assumed to originate from an (often macro-) economic theory, and there is great confidence in its validity.
A consequence of this confidence is that if the data cannot be summarized by this model, the econometric textbook first advises us to consider alternative estimation techniques. Finally, and conditional upon a successful result, the resultant empirical econometric model is used to confirm (and perhaps in some cases, to disconfirm) the thoughts summarized in the economic theory.
The author instead realizes that the most common refrain from newbie researches out in the field is “where do I start?” and takes his discussion forward from there. With this introduction that shows the process of econometric research in simplistic but essential detail, Franses makes sure that the student will be less clueless when confronting a possible opportunity to pose a useful question.
The most valuable chapter in the book (Chapter 4) addresses this problem even more directly and contains step-by-step discussion of sample research case studies. These are meant to indicate that the main ideas in the book shine through present-day applied econometrics. These illustrations suggest that there is a straight line from understanding how to handle the basic regression model to handling regime-switching models and a multinomial probit model, for example.
To conclude, I quote the concluding paragraph from the introduction, which I simply loved. It is a valuable economic exercise to indulge in, to strengthen the analytic muscles or even just to pass time!
Finally, as a way of examining whether a reader has appreciated the content of this book, one might think about the following exercise. Take a newspaper or a news magazine and look for articles on economic issues. In many articles are reports on decisions which have been made, forecasts that have been generated, and questions that have been answered. Take one of these articles, and then ask whether these decisions, forecasts, and answers could have been based on the outcomes of an econometric model. What kind of data could one have used? What could the model have looked like? Would one have great confidence in these outcomes, and how does this extend to the reported decisions, forecasts, and answers?
More a survey of sacred practices than an insightful deconstruction, Eliade’s work gets repetitive beyond a point as it keeps...more This Ontological Thirst
More a survey of sacred practices than an insightful deconstruction, Eliade’s work gets repetitive beyond a point as it keeps on multiplying examples, never coming to conclusions that go past a premise that is interesting but is also a truism, by construction.
Eliade’s primary objective is to define the fundamental opposition between sacred and profane. This is done by showcasing the very perception of human mind towards the sacred and by categorizing the human mind/society into the ‘Sacred Man / Archaic Man’ & the 'Profane Man / Modern Man’. The Sacred Man is defined as one who seeks, creates and needs the sacred space (and the meaning invested thus into his own life and surroundings) to exist, while the Profane Man does not. No real explanation is provided as to why the Modern or Profane man is able to transcend this thirst for the Sacred. That is to me the biggest oversight in the book.
Besides, the ontological thirst of the human mind is itself a profound mystery and any meaningful exploration should incorporate that into the question instead of conveniently placing that into the answer to a simpler question.
The other major problem with this approach of distinguishing the sacred and profane is that ‘sacred’ can now be only defined as the ‘opposite of profane’. And since the profane is defined as everyday experience, the sacred has to be defined as something that is invented, or ‘manifested’ by the human mind that seeks to create meaning out of the everyday existence.
This definition means that any ‘manifestation’ of meaning will be imbued with the sacred. And by designating the act of manifestation as the ‘hierophany’, tt is incapable of signifying anything more than its etymological content, i.e., that ‘something sacred shows itself to us.' This makes the whole argument of what is sacred too circular to be of much use in a deeper exploration of the significance of the religious quest into understanding human nature itself.
As Eliade is forced to admit in the end, this makes the book primarily a historical survey and the premises of the survey does not allow it to be anything more. For beyond it “begins the realm of problems proper to the philosopher, the psychologist, and even the theologian.”(less)
(view spoiler)[Well, it is not as if there are minutely exact parallels, but rough parallels are all over the place. Martin takes events from across English history and sticks them together to serve his plot. A murder-by-pushing from Elizabeth’s time might be stringed together with an usurper’s story from early 12th Century, and so on. So it is not that you will completely ruin your viewing/reading pleasure (btw, since interesting things to read far outstrips good TV material, it might be a better strategy to just go with the series and avoid the books, esp since it is more or less certain that Martin is not going to be able to finish the series), it is just that the overall thrust of the series becomes much more predictable, and you start to get a sense of who has to die and when the next generation has to take over, etc.
It is subtle, but knowing too much history is injurious to GoT fandom.
About Schama’s own work, it is an exceptional piece of writing and Schama takes great pains to make the history as readable and personal as possible. Often you might be doubting if you are reading an historical account or a racy piece of fiction, that is how packed with personal vignettes this book is. But in this process of constructing a narrative, and avoiding the usual dry tone of historical texts, Schama has to also sacrifice the mention of dates - long sections of the book go by without allowing the reader to place the events in a chronological context. This is disorienting, especially for the reader who is in it not just for the entertainment. I often found myself rudely surprised to find that a century has elapsed in the midst of some court intrigue, and was even more often stunned to suddenly be thrust into the midst of familiar (read famous) events without any warning.
However, it has to be accepted that this was probably a necessary trade-off that Schama had to make to write this book the way he has. It is fun to read and even with all the wealth of detail never loses the pace. I just wish someone would be able to reach a better synthesis between story-telling and historical progression. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
How would it be to live in the very near future? What will happen once we cross the rubicon, the point beyond which cli...more Glimpses Of An Ordinary Future
How would it be to live in the very near future? What will happen once we cross the rubicon, the point beyond which climate change overwhelms the Anthropocene and humans are no longer in charge of their surroundings?
We should expect high human drama under such extreme duress, right?
Daily life will carry on. That is what will happen.
So What’s New in The Very Near Future?
Extinction Rate in Oceans Now Faster Than on Land. Coral Reef Collapses Leading to Mass Extinctions; Thirty Percent of Warm-water Species Estimated Gone. Fishing Stocks Depleted, UN Declares Scaleback Necessary or Commercial Species Will Crash.
Topsoil Loss Nears a Million Acres a Year. Deforestation now faster in temperate than tropical forests. Only 35% of tropical forests left.
The average Indian consumes 200 kilograms of grain a year; the average American, 800 kilograms; the average Italian, 400 kilograms. The Italian diet was rated best in the world for heart disease.
Environmental estrogens suspected in lowest-ever human sperm counts. The Antarctic ice has started to break up as early as May every year.
The El Nino cycle has accelerated so much that it is now called The Hyper Nino. The Gulf Stream has begun to shut down and the water no longer sinks due to the influx of fresh water from glaciers. Europe faces a complete ice age.
Two Billion Tons of Carbon Added to the Atmosphere This Year. One of the five hottest years on record. The Fed Hopes U.S. Economy Will Grow by Four Percent in the Final Quarter.
I was constantly reminded of the movie The Day after Tomorrow when I read this. But unlike DAT, 40 Signs is not designed as a disaster story, but as a ‘domestic comedy’, to use KSR’s own phrase. It is not meant to shock and awe the audience; or to use the disaster potential of sudden climate change to produce high drama. Instead it is a very subtly constructed future, achieved by sketching ordinary people from specifically selected walks of life that the audience knows are bound to be affected, and thus pays attention for tiny hints on how they have been in fact affected even as they go about their daily lives.
We soon notice that the plot advancing moments have a tendency to be connected to the changed world they live in. For example, the elevator scene shows how life, or at least the perception of daily life, has changed radically from our’s when flooding of the subway system is par for the course and does not even make the list of things to be discussed over dinner.
And thus it turns out that their lives have been altered immensely by the gathering doom -- it is just that they are now used to every incremental change and walks, almost casually, into the gathering ‘whimper’ that awaits them at the end.
The Theaters of the Future
There is not much here plot wise or excitement wise compared to a the dense action of Red Mars, but as always KSR makes up for it by the wealth of ideas and thoughts provoked.
The plot operates mostly in what KSR clearly considers to be the Theaters of the Future - Science & Politics. In fact, a core sub-plots of the book, and one of the key ideas in it, is about the Paradigm Shift (yup, Kuhn again) that has to occur in the field of science to make the scientists aware of their political responsibility. He says that an unfortunate repercussion of the World Wars' political promotion of science was that this overt politicization of Science led to an almost knee-jerk reaction -- the scientific community withdrew almost entirely from politics and took a much more ’neutral’ role. This meant that they no longer get directly involved in important political questions and so a vital and authoritative voice that can save humanity is lost to us. This has to change.
A Disaster Too Slow
Of course, most of the characters are scientists or politicians, and all of them have adequate information, theories and concerns, and fully appreciates the threat that global warming poses, but they just can't seem to awaken a Day After Tomorrow sort of urgency in their lives.
No matter how fast climate change occurs, it is not fast enough to not let us say ‘let us get used to this’, and to postpone decisive action for later.
The disasters just cannot strike fast enough for them to really act!
The most environmentally aware and empathetic politician in the book has this to say even as world falls apart around him:
Then the words burst out of Charlie: “So Phil! Are you going to do something about global warming now?”
Phil grinned his beautiful grin. “I’ll see what I can do!”(less)
‘This is no potted history of Greece and Rome, but a brilliant demonstration that the continual re-excavation...more Golden Oldies – Always The Latest Craze
‘This is no potted history of Greece and Rome, but a brilliant demonstration that the continual re-excavation of our classical past is vital if the modern world is to rise to the challenge inscribed on the temple of Apollo at Delphi to “Know yourself”.’
This VSI, one of the best among those I have read, is an eloquent and captivating journey into the world of the Classics. Rather than running through the Peloponnesian Wars, Greeks and Persians, Athens as the birthplace of democracy, Rome as the birthplace of plumbing, the Conquest of Britain, and other landmarks of the subject as it used to be taught in the school room, Classics focuses on one particular artifact — a spectacle that is familiar, but, at the same time, puzzling and strange: dismembered fragments of an ancient Greek temple put on show in the heart of modern London (the friezes from the Temple of Apollo at Bassae in Arcadia), using them as the starting point of a wide-ranging exploration of issues that are of current concern in the professional study of the Ancient World and of changing attitudes to the classical past.
The core idea explored is that the Classics is a subject that exists in that gap between us and the world of the Greeks and Romans. The questions raised by Classics are the questions raised by our distance from ‘their’ world, and at the same time by our closeness to it, and by its familiarity to us. In our museums, in our literature, languages, culture, and ways of thinking. The aim of Classics is not only to discover or uncover the ancient world (though that is part of it, as the rediscovery of Bassae, or the excavation of the furthest outposts of the Roman empire on the Scottish borders, shows). Its aim is also to define and debate our relationship to that world, which is taken as the first step towards any such education.
The questions raised by Bassae is thus used as a model for understanding Classics in its widest sense, and the essential issues that are at stake — questions about how we are to read literature which has a history of more than 2,000 years, written in a society very distant and different from our own. We are told that we are obliged to find a way of dealing with that clash between our imaginary vision of Greece and what we actually see when we get there, or when we actually read the classics first hand, instead of going by hearsay — this is bound to always involve confronting different and competing visions of Classics and the classical world.
Always Back with a Bang
The Classics are to be always discovered anew and yet to be always known only in the light of the discovery of the past generations — which only serves to make our own discovery even more exciting, richer, deeper and stronger. It is precisely when a generation skips on the classics or on a classical education that they come back with even more of a bang. This gives me pause and makes me think of the sudden craze of classical based (at leas mythological) fiction in India. I can only hope that the next step in that craze would involve going beyond the familiar myths into the vast body of Sanskrit literature as well.
All this makes the book more about the discovery of the classical world, about the motivations that inspired that discovery, and in the end about the relation of the modern world to the classical world, and how it was all imagined into existence — each begetting the other.(less)
The vampire’s very existence was an infernal parody of the resurrection, and its chief means of sustenance was a diabolical twist on C...more Takeaway tidbit:
The vampire’s very existence was an infernal parody of the resurrection, and its chief means of sustenance was a diabolical twist on Christ’s words: “Whoso eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life.”
As that shows, the book is a mostly western exploration (except for a very small section that mention other myths in passing) and fails to take into consideration that vampire myths predate christian perversions and even gothic folklore, and probably originated in Africa for all we know. I need to get a proper scholarly book to clear up the mess this book has made for me.
I picked it up thinking it will allow me to reel off some high-brow vampire trivia the next time someone talks of a popular vampire based book/movie/tv show. Turns out the book was capable of boring me even more than what I was counting on inflicting upon my would-be listener. Serves me right. (less)
Simple, uncomplicated poetry. It is no wonder that Larkin is one of the best loved poets. He never tries to hide anything behind his words, his words...more Simple, uncomplicated poetry. It is no wonder that Larkin is one of the best loved poets. He never tries to hide anything behind his words, his words and his poetry are all-in, so to speak. I need to read the properly arranged version, but this was a good start.
“Best Society” by Philip Larkin
When I was a child, I thought, Casually, that solitude Never needed to be sought. Something everybody had, Like nakedness, it lay at hand, Not specially right or specially wrong, A plentiful and obvious thing Not at all hard to understand.
Then, after twenty, it became At once more difficult to get And more desired — though all the same More undesirable; for what You are alone has, to achieve The rank of fact, to be expressed In terms of others, or it’s just A compensating make-believe.
Much better stay in company! To love you must have someone else, Giving requires a legatee, Good neighbours need whole parishfuls Of folk to do it on — in short, Our virtues are all social; if, Deprived of solitude, you chafe, It’s clear you’re not the virtuous sort.
Viciously, then, I lock my door. The gas-fire breathes. The wind outside Ushers in evening rain. Once more Uncontradicting solitude Supports me on its giant palm; And like a sea-anemone Or simple snail, there cautiously Unfolds, emerges, what I am.
‘Doubt Truth to Be a Liar’, ostensibly the book being reviewed here, is a championing of the ideas ofdial...more Book 3: The Basic Instruments Of Philosophy
‘Doubt Truth to Be a Liar’, ostensibly the book being reviewed here, is a championing of the ideas of dialetheism, which argues that some contradictions can indeed be true. Priest mounts an effective challenge against Aristotle’s fundamental Law of Non-Contradiction (as we will see, it is the heart of Book 3), and against the many philosophies and arguments that have grown up around Aristotle’s First Principle. This book is much more than a discussion on this particular book of the Metaphysics and touches on a variety of other Aristotelean works. But since I want to have something on each book of my Metaphysics reading up (so that I am forced to move to the next book only after I organize and summarize my notes of the former and because this book was a fascinating and well-argued counter to Aristotle’s flat-out assertion, and especially since the Symposium Aristotelicum is not available for this particular book) I have chosen this review as a place to primarily discuss Book 3 -- This is a disservice to Priest’s book which is wonderful reading if you want to explore further the role that contradiction plays in our thinking and logical maneuvering. Do check out other reviewers for more on the book.
I am using my parallel readings on Aristotle & Metaphysics to keep my notes/understanding of each book in separate pockets before bringing them together in a final review, if that is possible.
Book Gamma: Going Further
After the historical surveys and problems discussed in the first two books, Aristotle is now in a position to give his famous assertion on what is presumably his definitive statement of what philosophy and especially metaphysics is — It is the study of "being qua being". That is, while other sciences investigate limited aspects of being, metaphysics investigates being itself. This study of being qua being amounts to be the same thing as the study of the primary causes and principles, which has previously been said to be the task of philosophy, because the primary causes and principles are the causes and principles of being qua being.
This is because Being itself is primarily identified with the idea of substance, and also with unity, plurality (as we are later told, philosophy will interest itself in plurality, the contrary of unity, since all sciences study contraries, and so consider difference, dissimilarity, etc.), and a variety of other related concepts. Aristotle implies that he will be investigating these soon.
But before he sets out on the investigation, Aristotle needs to make his readers familiar with the basic tools of argumentation since proper, rigorous philosophy is also concerned with logic and the principles of demonstration, which are also very general, and hence concerned with being itself — In making this addition, he is resolving the dilemma posed by puzzle 2 of book Beta. Ideally, Aristotle seems to be saying, the reader should already be familiar with the Organon’s arguments before he/she goes further than this book. The bulk of the rest of book Gamma is, accordingly, devoted to the defense of the fundamental principles of demonstration/logic. Aristotle evidently feels that it will not be possible to be certain about the conclusions later to be drawn about substance, unless the principles of demonstration itself have first been vindicated.
The most fundamental principle according to Aristotle, the only thing he is prepared to elevate to the level of an axiom, is the principle of noncontradiction: nothing can both be something and not be that same something. To Aristotle, this is the First Principle of logical demonstration, which though not of course deducible, is the ultimate principle governing all being and all knowledge. Aristotle defends this principle exhaustively by arguing that it is impossible to contradict it coherently. Aristotle also presents in this connection the principle of non-contradiction is the Principle of the Excluded Middle, which states that there is no logical middle position possible between two contradictory positions. That is, a thing is either x or not-x, and there is no third possibility in-between those two positions.
Back on The Attack
Book Gamma concludes by looking back at Books 1 & 2 and uses the new principles the readers have now been made familiar with to launch another attack on, and reject, the several general claims of earlier philosophers: that everything is true, that everything is false, that everything is at rest, and that everything is in motion.
Aristotle proves that these claims amount to a rejection of the principle of non-contradiction. First, he deals with those who claim either that everything is true or that everything is false. Each of these claims is in fact self-destructive: if everything is true, then so is the denial that everything is true, and if everything is false, then so is the claim that everything is false. Secondly, he also refutes those who claim either that everything is at rest or that everything is in motion. That everything is not at rest is shown by the fact that the very proponent of the claim himself came into existence at some time in the past. That everything is not in motion is shown by the fact that for anything to be in motion there must be something which is not in motion and also by the fact that there are some things that are eternal.
The question of Motion, whether there is something permanently in motion and whether there is primary cause of motion which is itself permanently unmoving, is to be explored at greater length in book Lambda. In this book Aristotle expertly connects this fundamental exploration of metaphysics to the mistakes of his predecessors by subjecting them to the scrutiny of, according to him, the most basic techniques of demonstrative philosophy. After Book 2’s seemingly ‘unsolvable’ puzzles, if any reader felt that they might be in for a shaky and doubtful ride, this book shows that Aristotle is completely in control of the voyage and knows exactly where he is sailing. No worries.(less)
-- The 16th Symposium Aristotelicum, dedicated to Book Beta of Aristotle’s Metaphysics, organized by...more Book 2: An Introduction to Philosophical Problems
-- The 16th Symposium Aristotelicum, dedicated to Book Beta of Aristotle’s Metaphysics, organized by Michel Crubellier and Andre Laks, was held in Lille from 20 to 24 August, 2002, in the premises of the Ecole Superieure de Commerce de Lille. --
I am using my parallel reading of Symposium Aristotelicum (SA) to keep my notes/understanding of each book in separate pockets before bringing them together in a final review, if that is possible.
This was a wonderful book to have a Symposium on since Aristotle poses the 14+1 questions and leaves them open ended. So it is good to discuss them further and in detail by ourselves before going on to see how Aristotle resolves them indirectly.
Each of the Aporia are tackled in turn (starting from Zero!) in this SA.
Fifteen Metaphysical Puzzles
The Book Beta consists of a series of fifteen metaphysical puzzles (also called Aporia, since they are left unresolved) on the nature of first principles, substance, and other fundamental concepts. In each case, Aristotle presents a thesis and a contradicting antithesis, both of which could be taken as possible answers to the puzzle.
Here are the puzzles, in summary form:
(i) Can one science treat of all the four causes?
(ii) Are the primary axioms treated of by the science of substance, and if not, by what science?
(iii) Can one science treat of all substances?
(iv) Does the science of substance treat also of its attributes?
(v) Are there any non-sensible substances, and if so, of how many kinds?
(vi) Are the genera, or the constituent parts, of things their first principles?
(vii) If the genera, is it the highest genera or the lowest?
(viii) Is there anything apart from individual things?
(ix) Is each of the first principles one in kind, or in number?
(x) Are the principles of perishable and of imperishable things the same?
(xi) Are being and unity substances or attributes?
(xii) Are the objects of mathematics substances?
(xiii) Do Ideas exist, as well as sensible things and the objects of mathematics?
(xiv) Do the first principles exist potentially or actually?
(xv) Are the first principles universal or individual?
The characteristic structure of these problems is that of a plausible seeming thesis and an equally plausible but contradictory antithesis — well defined questions announced in the form of an alternative: ‘Is it ___ , or rather ___ ?’
The care with which the contrasting arguments are balanced and the constant repetition of the same procedure for each of the fifteen aporiai give the appearance of a practice governed by strict rules. One might well think that such presentation of the question in a standard form, which would require perhaps certain methodological rules and criteria of success for its development and resolution, would constitute part of dialectic, in the Aristotelian sense of the term, that is to say, the technique of discussion.
Usually, the thesis and antithesis are taken one from the extreme naturalists or Atomists, the other from the Idealists, Pythagoreans and Platonists. The purpose of the whole exercise is to illustrate the poverty of both these extreme positions, so as to prepare the way for the exposition of Aristotle’s own solution throughout the rest of the Metaphysics, which will in many respects be a compromise between materialism and idealism.
Thus we could consider them as the statement of Thesis & Antithesis of each of these positions and we can assume the rest of Metaphysics as a mediation, i.e., as a Synthesis.
Aporia as a Dialectical Instrument
In the brief introduction before plunging us into the puzzles, Aristotle gives a quick explanation for the employment of this method:
We must, with a view to the science which we are seeking, first recount the subjects that should be first discussed. These include both the other opinions that some have held on the first principles, and any point besides these that happens to have been overlooked.
For those who wish to get clear of difficulties it is advantageous to discuss the difficulties well; for the subsequent free play of thought implies the solution of the previous difficulties, and it is not possible to untie a knot of which one does not know.
But the difficulty of our thinking points to a ‘knot’ in the object; for in so far as our thought is in difficulties, it is in like case with those who are bound; for in either case it is impossible to go forward. Hence one should have surveyed all the difficulties beforehand, both for the purposes we have stated and because people who inquire without first stating the difficulties are like those who do not know where they have to go; […] while to him who has first discussed the difficulties it is clear.
Further, he who has heard all the contending arguments, as if they were the parties to a case, must be in a better position for judging.
This excerpt (slightly modified for brevity) shows clearly that Aristotle sees the Aporia as a the logical next step after the Book 1, which was a literature survey, or a ‘doxographical’ survey.
Doxography and Aporia are two means of beginning a philosophical inquiry, ones which can be rivals, but which can also be employed together. In particular, aporia presupposes, to a certain extent at any rate, the existence and the consideration of opinions on the question, but it is not reducible to this.
Doxography is oriented toward the past, while Aporia anticipates the pursuit of inquiry —
The former is to know what others have thought, to try to under stand what they have wished to say and even, to a certain point, to sort out what is true and what false in this, while the latter is to methodically to construct a philosophical problem in the belief that this represents a step in the apprehension of a matter that is difficult to comprehend.
Book Beta and The Project of Wisdom
The principal presupposition, which is found in the background of all the books of the Metaphysics is of a programmatic nature: This is the grand project/quest — of a knowledge called ‘wisdom’, or ‘Primary Knowledge.’ We can call this The Project of Wisdom as short for “The Project of a Primary Knowledge.” Or we can just call it Metaphysics, even though Aristotle never called it that!
Thus this ‘Project of Wisdom’, or 'Metaphysics', mobilizes philosophical material that had been progressively developed, beginning with Plato, right down to Aristotle himself in Book Alpha. And this is why, despite the difference of form, Book Beta is in a sense the proper continuation of Book Alpha. It takes up the story where the other left it off, since the sequence covered by the Aporia of Beta proceeded from Thales to Plato — proving clearly that Aristotle was continuing his presentation in this book.
Aristotelian doxography of Book Alpha presents us the views of his predecessors, even if in a slightly sarcastic and personal way — Aristotle must have realized that his listeners might be tempted to take sides in such a presentation, even (occasionally) against his own very strong position. At least, this reader was!
But the Aristotelian Aporia of Book 2 submits the contents of their statements (of the predecessors’) to the test of argumentation and to a standard that requires rational coherence. When the aporia is presented as a contradiction, the tension is maximal — Here the serious reader will have to let go of any last whimsical fancies and biases; and one finds oneself in definite impasses, where the choice between two given theoretical positions presents itself as being at once necessary — and yet impossible.
Aristotle audaciously assures us, though, that the formal structure of the difficulty, once well understood, can teach us something about the nature of the object that has given birth to the difficulty, and that if we move forward with him, we will reach satisfactory resolutions.
This is an assurance that is hard to believe easily after this harrowing Book, but Aristotle now has our undivided attention!
By writing, he could escape futile self-analysis through assuming a higher perspective.
I was tempted to pick this up as I struggled through The Castle...more By writing, he could escape futile self-analysis through assuming a higher perspective.
I was tempted to pick this up as I struggled through The Castle. This VSI presents a minutely personal and deliberately non-literary exploration of Kafka. The literary works are treated as works of self-analysis. I am not qualified to comment on the correctness of this approach, but I can say that it was quite unsatisfactory.
In any case, it would have been impossible to decode Kafka or say baldly what Kafka’s work is ‘about’. There is no way into Kafka except by reading Kafka and puzzling over Kafka.(less)
Kaufman (author more than translator, I feel) boasts: In this work you will learn how people are to be treated an...more Quick Demo: On Ruining a Classic Text
Kaufman (author more than translator, I feel) boasts: In this work you will learn how people are to be treated and dealt with. The work was written for men in command and leaders of states. It is for the ambitious and strong spirited; do not seek morality lessons here.
Sun Tzu has been translated and interpreted countless times by people with little knowledge of true combat reality on either the physical or mental level.
Most of the available translations and interpretations maintain a poetic approach that really doesn’t pertain to the times we are living in. There is a tendency to maintain a “mystique” regarding ancient knowledge. This is quaint, relative to today’s aggressive personality. We are living in a global network and must think in decisive terms if we are to succeed.
He also chooses to leave out the valuable commentaries, which are supposed to be as much a part of the work as the original.
He says: In reality, who cares what Ch’en Fu thinks about Sun Tzu’s hidden meaning about the jade stalk in the midst of the enemy’s goldfish pond? We are grown-up and intelligent enough to develop our own understanding without the need for quaint allegories. There is nothing sacred here. I find that approach unnecessary, limiting, and a waste of time to the educated reader.
And here is a fun fact:
As an acknowledged and world-recognized martial arts master, a Hanshi (which is the highest rank attainable), I am thoroughly aware of my responsibility for the interpretation of this doctrine, and I have made it incumbent upon myself to explain Sun Tzu’s tenets as I perceive them in a definitive manner.
— Must have recently taken a crash course on how to prepare a CV!
Well, the book is a bore and a complete failure. It does no justice to Sun Tzu’s masterpiece and is worse than the regular self-help fare because it has only pretentiousness (of being tough, goal-oriented, warlord-like, if you please) and no real intention of even trying to 'help' any non-delusional executive.
There is a reason why The Art of War is always presented poetically — it is so that the metaphors can be interpreted by the reader and applied as they want, so that they can understand the spirit of planned and prepared combat/conduct and apply that in life. That is why Art of war is an enduring an much loved classic.
The author obviously has no clue about all this. He thinks it is a good idea to just present the text as-is, without ornamentation, without poetry, without any hints at broader applications beyond the battleground — Because the global corporation IS a battleground! Hello!
Not realizing that once you strip away the poetry, you also strip the power of metaphor and what you have left is a dated txt that talks of war and claims to be for managers. It makes no sense to be told in plain prose to poison your enemy and insult his wife. Idiotic, without even being entertaining. Takes all the fun out of reading a bad book.(less)
The Symposium Aristotelicum series is a splendid companion to have while reading Aristotle. This volume of...more Book 1: A Preliminary Outline of Philosophy
The Symposium Aristotelicum series is a splendid companion to have while reading Aristotle. This volume offers a chapter-by-chapter commentary on Alpha, the first book of the Metaphysics, along with comprehensive essays on various topics.
It is important to understand Alpha well. Here Aristotle presents what he means by philosophy and what is involved in the search for truth. Aristotle opens the book by broaching a topic which is to be of recurring concern throughout the work -- What is the nature of philosophy?
Aristotle tells us that we can tackle this tricky question by first exploring a few by-ways. He does this by inviting us to first figuring out what should be the proper object of philosophical interest. The simple answer is: Wisdom. But that only leads us to more question: What is wisdom? How can we reach it with our limited human capabilities? Can we?
What is wisdom? Aristotle tries to answer this by listing out the characteristics of ‘wisdom’ (philosophy) -- he claims that wisdom is a process with many constituent steps: we reach it by advancing from 1) sensation (or, sense-perception) through 2) memory to 3) experience, and 4) art, to 5) theoretical knowledge.
Once we are capable of applying this experience/knowledge of the particular to the universal, then we approach Wisdom. But it is not just any knowledge that is enough. Aristotle also ranks types of wisdom/knowledge. The that knowledge of universals is somehow higher or more valuable than that of particular things, and that kind of universal knowledge is the Highest, which tries helps to understand the fundamental causes and principles of all things. This is the Highest Science and since Philosophy is study of the Highest Science, it is thus proved that this is the True Domain of the True Philosopher.
True Philosophy is thus the search for the most fundamental causes and principles of the most general aspects of the world. And a true philosopher will demonstrate his wisdom by being able to teach and impart his knowledge to others. That is the final test, which apparently A was passing in flying colors even as he was delivering this very lecture!
The Doxographical K.O.!
Before he embarks on this himself, he catalogues and examines the paths taken by earlier philosophers, and surveys these previous philosophies,from Thales to Plato, especially their treatment of causes --There are four kinds of cause, or rather kinds of explanation, for how things are: (1) the material cause, which explains what a thing is made of; (2) the formal cause, which explains the form a thing assumes; (3) the efficient cause, which explains the process by which it came into being; and (4) the final cause, which explains the end or purpose it serves.
In this ‘doxographical’ survey, Aristotle condescends that the explanations of earlier philosophers have conformed to these four causes but not as coherently and systematically as Aristotle’s formulation. Aristotle acknowledges that Plato’s Theory of Forms gives a strong account of the formal cause, but it fails to prove that Forms exist and to explain how objects in the physical world participate in Forms. It is only fair to say that he takes them apart mercilessly.
Conclusion? Most tried to search for material causes, a few searched for efficient causes and a select few stumbled close to searching for the formal causes, but all of them without any systematic understanding about the objectives of philosophy, all of them stumbling in the dark... they were either naive, wrong or obscure in their formulations. To be of any use, they have to be integrated into Aristotle's system of thought. Thus he draws his survey of earlier thought to a triumphant conclusion, vindicating his claim that every serious attempt at explanation of the world must fit into one of his four approved styles. It is just that they did not know it yet!
By laying out the historical path/development of Philosophical thought in an organized way, Aristotle also pioneers a 'sense of development', as if whole of philosophy was developing, even if unaware of it, towards his grand synthesis. This conception (or conceit?) of science and knowledge is something that we moderns love to embrace with elation.
A Personal Note
To me Alpha was a fun read, to have demonstrated by the "Master' himself how it is done -- to challenge openly and without question all established doctrines, no matter how prestigious. Though the effect is spoiled a bit by Aristotle’s evident hostility towards anything remotely tending towards poor Pythagoras. It is a miracle that he still has a decent reputation.
But it also showed me an important contrast between Plato/Socrates and Aristotle. Plato shows a more lenient, accepting way of challenging conventional wisdom, while Aristotle prefers to tackle and reject, almost heedlessly. Current scholarly opinion seems to be of the view that Aristotle was slightly on the reckless side, perhaps reducing the arguments he was challenging into straw-men that he could easily knock down without acknowledging fully their importance or contributions to his own thought.
In any case, it is great that Metaphysics opens on such an entertaining and personal note. It makes the first acquaintance less intimidating than would have been expected.(less)
Cherniss’ book is a compilation of lectures focused on the conflict arising from the existence of a clear and fundamental discrepanc...more ARISTOTLE’S PLATO
Cherniss’ book is a compilation of lectures focused on the conflict arising from the existence of a clear and fundamental discrepancy, between the theory of ideas as it appears in Plato's Dialogues and what Aristotle represents as being Plato's theory of ideas. Cherniss uses his investigation into this discrepancy to shed new light on the nature and working of the early Academy.
He says that Aristotle’s representations, such as the identification of the ideas with ‘nonmathematical’ numbers, and the derivation of these idea-numbers from two ultimate principles, (the One and the dyad of the great and the small), which principles are at the same time the causes of good and of evil respectively — of all this there is not a word in the Platonic dialogues
Cherniss’ lectures are not merely attacks on Aristotle’s misrepresentation of Plato however. He also shows that much of the fault lies in modern commentators for one is likely to find it stated in modern treatises that Aristotle "constantly" attributes the doctrine of idea numbers to Plato and even that he knows of but one Platonic philosophy, that which identifies the ideas with numbers. This, he says, is clearly an exaggeration and is does no justice to the complexity of the Aristotelian evidence. But despite this concession, we have to accept that Aristotle does in fact ascribe to Plato the doctrine of idea-numbers.
This disconnect between Plato and Aristotle forces the scholars into uncomfortable arguments. Two options stand open to them:
1. They can allow the dialogues to stand as expressions of Plato's own thought and admit that the theory of ideas in the dialogues is Plato's own doctrine — thus reject Aristotle’s testimony on Plato.
This would imply that:
a. Aristotle either deliberately misrepresented Plato
b. Did not understand Plato
Clearly both of these were anathema to scholars for much of modern history.
Thus they chose the second argument.
2. Accepting Aristotle's testimony concerning the idea-numbers.
This would imply that:
a. They have to assert (and strive to prove) that the theory of ideas underwent at Plato's hands a radical alteration or a radical development
b. This new form of the Theory was never committed to writing by Plato and can be recovered only from the reports of Aristotle and the fragmentary references which seem to derive from the writings of Plato's students.
Cherniss claims that to preserve the integrity of Aristotle, these scholars have used fragmentary evidence of one lecture given by an elderly Plato to construct an elaborate story of how Plato used to give lectures on the more esoteric subjects that were never committed to writing and hence is not available to us. Contrary to popular understanding, Cherniss shows very clearly that only ONE lecture of Plato is ever alluded to and there is no reason to extend that evidence to attribute an entire teaching style and alien philosophy to Plato, especially when contemporary commentaries never attribute any extra philosophies, lectures or extant works to Plato. Nor is the required reconstruction supported even by the remaining accounts of Plato's one attested lecture, for what credible ancient testimony there is for that lecture on the Good indicates that in it there was no specific identification of ideas and numbers.
The hypothesis of an oral Platonic doctrine thus rests on very shaky ground.
Cherniss continues his investigation by examining Plato and Aristotle side by side and concludes that Aristotle’s reports have discrepancies. Aristotle's evidence itself, he shows us, are testifying against itself, by attributing different versions of the theory to Plato. Cherniss, disdaining this creation of such an elaborate insubstantial doctrine for plato, proposes the alternative hypothesis, that the identification of ideas and numbers was not a theory of Plato's at all but the result of Aristotle's own interpretation.
Unravelling the Riddle
By elaborate comparative analyses, Cherniss shows us that not only was Aristotle’s conception o the Thoery of Ideas and idea-numbers different from Palto, but so were those of Plato’s other successors and students — Speusippus (Plato’s nephew) and Xenocrates, among others, developed their own contending versions of Plato’s theories, just like Aristotle did.
This examination leads Cherniss to speculate on the nature of the early Academy itself — upon the question of Plato's activity there, and of his relation to these men who are usually called his "pupils."
How could they have misinterpreted the master's writings when he was there to explain his meaning to them ? Did he think it unimportant to teach his pupils to understand and accept the doctrine of ideas? If he did not teach them this, of which he wrote with such fervor, what did he teach them ? And if he taught them something else, why did he not write that which he taught?
What, then, did Plato really do in his Academy?
After further brilliant analyses, Cherniss concludes that: Plato’s role appears to have been not that of a "master" or even of a seminar director distributing subjects for research reports or prize essays, but that of an individual thinker whose insight and skill in the formulation of a problem enables him to offer general advice and methodical criticism to other individual thinkers who respect his wisdom and who may be dominated by his personality but who consider themselves at least as competent as they consider him in dealing with the details of special subjects.
Cherniss also uses a powerful, but in my opinion weak, argument — that extrapolates the educational system laid out in The Republic onto the possible structure of the Academy — to show why it was that Aristotle was never really a ‘philosophical’ student of Plato. After all, Plato would not have imparted real philosophical training to anyone under 50 year of age under his own scheme in The Republic, and Aristotle was around 38 years of age when Plato died. This is a remarkably clever argument, and I enjoyed it immensely but there is unfortunately no evidence to make such a claim about the structure of the Academy.
In the end Cherniss musters all the evidence and shows us how they all point unmistakably to the same conclusion: The Academy was not a school in which an orthodox metaphysical doctrine was taught, or an association the members of which were expected to subscribe to the theory of ideas.
If this was so, then it was only natural for Aristotle to develop his own theories. Thus, while Plato gets a very favorable, almost laudatory, conclusion, Cherniss leaves us with an Aristotle who either distorted or misunderstood the works of Plato, though the distortion was much more subtle than it has been portrayed by popular treatises and commentaries.
The only consolation is that Plato probably would not have minded the bold explorations of his student, even when occasionally at the expense of his pet ideas, which he always knew were ‘difficult to accept, and difficult to reject.’
I would like to move away from Cherniss in this conclusion to take a less extreme view and entertain the possibility that perhaps Aristotle was talking of the Academy in general when he talked of ‘Platonist’ ideas and not of Plato in particular — maybe he could take this liberty of expression because his audience would have understood what he was referring to better than we do now.
This is a valuable work to read while transitioning from study of Plato to Aristotle. It provides perspective and understanding about Aristotle’s positions and keeps the reader from getting lost, or worse, questioning his own understanding of Plato.(less)
This book is designed to lead the interested reader on to further learning through the reading lists that are attached to many of the entries. The aut...more This book is designed to lead the interested reader on to further learning through the reading lists that are attached to many of the entries. The author says that the original aim was to compile the 100 greatest management ideas and the 100 greatest gurus of the 20th century, an average of one big thought and one big thinker per year. Would have been a great idea. Obviously, that didn’t happen.
Hindle makes an interesting demarkation to help classify the thinkers:
1. The idea that management is a science — represented most notably by F.W. Taylor’s ideas about “scientific management” 2. The idea that management is an art — represented most memorably perhaps by Douglas McGregor’s Theory Y.
This divide can be said to account for the two main disciplines that management gurus come from:
1. Social science — represented by Elton Mayo, McGregor, Abraham Maslow and Elliott Jaques; and 2. Engineering — represented by Taylor, Michael Porter, Michael Hammer and Taiichi Ohno.
I thought this was a nice and informative way to organize the book and also very useful to keep in mind while reading management text books. It was the best part of the book.(less)
I enjoyed this VSI. What was most valuable was that it gave me a good frame of reference to tackle Aristotle — by letting me...more On Approaching Aristotle
I enjoyed this VSI. What was most valuable was that it gave me a good frame of reference to tackle Aristotle — by letting me prepare for Aristotle in relation to Plato. Of course, Jonathan Barnes mostly assumes that the the reader has already taken the trouble to read Plato. That is the trouble with inviting such a distinguished scholar to write a basic introduction.
This was just what I needed as I prepare to take my first tentative steps towards a fuller reading of Aristotle (having a dabbled a bit with Rhetoric before). Putting Aristotle’s works in perspective by relating them to their points of departure from Plato, makes a whole corpus suddenly much more familiar and in tune with things I have been reading and thinking about for months on end now. The VSI only hints at this and does not do this exhaustively, but that is enough and the reader can do the heavy slugging on their own.
The Popularity Contest
Besides directing the studies in the Academy, Plato himself gave lectures and his hearers took notes. It is important to notice that these lectures were not published, and that they stand in contrast to the dialogues, which were published works meant for "popular" reading.
If we realize this fact, then some of the sharp differences that we naturally tend to discern between Plato and Aristotle disappear, at least in part:
We possess Plato's popular works, his dialogues, but not his lectures. The situation is the exact opposite in regard to Aristotle, for while the works of Aristotle that are in our hands represent his lectures, his popular works or dialogues have not come down to us—only fragments remain. We do not possess a record of the lectures that he delivered in the Academy (though we have more or less cryptic references in Aristotle), and this would be all the more to be regretted if those are right who would see in the dialogues popular work designed for the educated laymen, to be distinguished from the lectures delivered to professional students of philosophy.
We cannot, therefore, by a comparison of Plato's dialogues with Aristotle's lectures, draw conclusions, without further evidence, as to a strong opposition between the two philosophers in point of literary ability, for instance, or emotional, aesthetic and "mystical" outlook.
We are told that Aristotle used to relate how those who came to hear Plato's lecture on the Good, were often astonished to hear of nothing but arithmetic and astronomy, and of the limit and the One. So we can assume that if we had only his lecture notes, even the supremely inventive Plato might be able to bore us!
An Unfair Contrast
Thus we have a queer situation here. What has come down to us from Plato were exactly the material he had designed to be read by the public, while most of the surviving writings of Aristotle were perhaps never intended to be read; for it seems likely that the treatises which we possess were almost wholly put together later from Aristotle’s lecture notes.
The notes were made for his own use and not for public dissemination. They were no doubt tinkered with over a period of years. Moreover, although some of the treatises owe their structure to Aristotle himself, others were plainly put together by later editors – the Nicomachean Ethics is evidently not a unitary work, the Metaphysics is plainly a set of essays rather than a continuous treatise. In the light of this, it will hardly be a surprise to find that the style of Aristotle’s works is often rugged.
Plato’s dialogues are finished literary artefacts, the subtleties of their thought matched by the tricks of their language. Aristotle’s writings for the most part are terse. His arguments are concise. There are abrupt transitions, inelegant repetitions, obscure allusions. Paragraphs of continuous exposition are set among staccato jottings. The language is spare and sinewy. If the treatises are unpolished, that is in part because Aristotle had felt no need and no urge to take down the beeswax. But only in part; for Aristotle had reflected on the appropriate style for scientific writing and he favoured simplicity.
Aristotle could write finely – his style was praised by ancient critics who read works of his which we cannot – and some parts of the surviving items are done with power and even with panache. But he probably did not feel the need for it in his lectures, where the premium was on packing maximum information into limited time available, much like today.
The Best Approach to Aristotle
All this is not to suggest that reading the treatises is a dull slog. Aristotle has a vigour which is the more attractive the better it is known; and the treatises, which have none of the camouflage of Plato’s dialogues, reveal their author’s thoughts – or at least appear to do so – in a direct and stark fashion.
Above all, Aristotle is tough. A good way of reading him is this: Take up a treatise, think of it as a set of lecture notes, and imagine that you now have to lecture from them. You must expand and illustrate the argument, and you must make the transitions clear; you will probably decide to relegate certain paragraphs to footnotes, or reserve them for another time and another lecture; and if you have any talent at all as a lecturer, you will find that the jokes add themselves.
Let it be admitted that Aristotle can be not only tough but also vexing. Whatever does he mean here? How on earth is this conclusion supposed to follow from those premises? Why this sudden barrage of technical terms? One ancient critic claimed that ‘he surrounds the difficulty of his subject with the obscurity of his language, and thus avoids refutation – producing darkness, like a squid, in order to make himself hard to capture’. Every reader will, from time to time, think of Aristotle as a squid. But the moments of vexation are outnumbered by the moments of elation. Aristotle’s treatises offer a peculiar challenge to their readers; and once you have taken up the challenge, you would not have the treatises in any other form.
It is easy to imagine that you can overhear Aristotle talking to himself.(less)
The book is like a slightly expanded and selective index of common economic ideas. Useful for a quick glance. This index-of-an-index is for reference:...more The book is like a slightly expanded and selective index of common economic ideas. Useful for a quick glance. This index-of-an-index is for reference:
01. The invisible hand
the condensed idea:Self-interest is good for society
02. Supply and demand
the condensed idea: Something is perfectly priced when supply equals demand
03. The Malthusian trap
‘Malthus has been buried many times, and Malthusian scarcity with him. But as Garrett Hardin remarked, anyone who has to be reburied so often cannot be entirely dead.’
‘Comparative advantage. That it is logically true need not be argued before a mathematician; that it is not trivial is attested by the thousands of important and intelligent men who have never been able to grasp the doctrine for themselves or to believe it after it was explained to them.’
~ Paul Samuelson, US economist, in response to mathematician Stanislaw Ulam
the condensed idea: Specialization + free trade = win-win
‘The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.’
~ Winston Churchill
the condensed idea: The least worst way to run an economy
the condensed idea: Governments should spend to prevent deep recessions
the condensed idea: Control the growth of money
the condensed idea: An egalitarian, entirely state-run society
‘Once it has been perceived that the division of labour is the essence of society, nothing remains of the antithesis between individual and society. The contradiction between individual principle and social principle disappears.’
‘The first panacea for a mismanaged nation is inflation of the currency; the second is war. Both bring a temporary prosperity; both bring a permanent ruin. But both are the refuge of political and economic opportunists.’
~ Ernest Hemingway
the condensed idea: Keep prices rising slowly
20. Debt and deflation
the condensed idea: Falling prices can cripple an economy
the condensed idea: As inevitable as death
the condensed idea: Zero unemployment is impossible
23. Currencies and exchange rates
the condensed idea: The barometer of a country’s standing
24. Balance of payments
the condensed idea: The ledger of a country’s international economic relations
25. Trust and the law
the condensed idea: The irreplaceable foundations of society
26. Energy and oil
the condensed idea: Deal with oil shortages through innovation
27. Bond markets
the condensed idea: Bonds are the basis of government financing
‘What is robbing a bank compared with founding a bank?’
~ Bertolt Brecht
the condensed idea: Banks connect borrowers with lenders
29. Stocks and shares
the condensed idea: Stock markets sit at the heart of capitalism
30. Risky business
the condensed idea: Pass risk to those more willing to take it
31. Boom and bust
the condensed idea: Boom and bust are inevitable
32. Pensions and the welfare state
the condensed idea: Beware promising money you can’t give
33. Money markets
the condensed idea: Money markets make the financial world go round
34. Blowing bubbles
the condensed idea: Humans are addicted to bubbles
35. Credit crunches
‘The market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent.’
Here Plato engages with the concept of ‘knowledge’ and ‘understanding’ as in many other dialogues, but Theaetetus is often hail...more Epistemological Idiots
Here Plato engages with the concept of ‘knowledge’ and ‘understanding’ as in many other dialogues, but Theaetetus is often hailed as ‘Plato’s most sustained study of epistemology,’ and is a deep investigation into the question ‘What is knowledge?’ As such, it is the founding document of what has come to be known as ‘epistemology’, as one of the most important branches of philosophy and went on to influence Aristotle, the Stoics and the modern geography of the field.
In comparison with most Platonic Dialogues, Theaetetus is a complex and difficult work of abstract philosophical theory and attempting to summarize would only serve to make it even more so. The difficult topic of epistemology and its many twists and turns are best left to Socrates’ expert hands. Here I will only try to outline my understanding of how this dialogue fits into Plato’s overall objectives.
Socrates’ abiding passion was the question of practical conduct, and to be able to have any workable theory on conduct and the ‘good life’, it is not acceptable that truth is relative — if there is no stable norm, no abiding object of knowledge, Socrates (and thus Plato’s) basic objective collapses. This is why it was essential to be convinced that ethical conduct must be founded on knowledge, and that that knowledge must be knowledge of eternal values which are not subject to the shifting and changing impressions of sense or of subjective opinion, but are the same for all men and for all peoples and all ages, eternal.
This conviction that there can be knowledge in the sense of objective and universally valid knowledge is what animates the spirit of Theaetetus — to demonstrate this fact theoretically, and to probe deeply into the problems of knowledge, asking what knowledge is and of what.
Keeping with this objective, in the Theaetetus Plato's first object is the refutation of false theories. Accordingly he sets himself the task of challenging the theory of Protagoras that knowledge is perception, that what appears to an individual to be true is true for that individual. His method is to elicit dialectically a clear statement of the theory of knowledge implied by the the epistemology of Protagoras, to exhibit its consequences and to show that the conception of "knowledge" thus attained does not fulfill the requirements of true knowledge at all, since knowledge must be, Plato assumes, (i) infallible, and (ii) of what is.
Sense-perception is knowledge fails spectacularly (and quite satisfactorily for Plato) in this examination as it is neither the one nor the other. Sense-perception is not, therefore, worthy of the name of knowledge. It should be noted how much Plato is influenced by the conviction that sense-objects are not proper objects of knowledge and cannot be so, since knowledge is of what is, of the stable and abiding, whereas objects of sense cannot really be said to be but only to become.
This first of Theaetetus’ (Theaetetus was a famous mathematician, Plato’s associate for many years in the Academy) three successive definitions of knowledge — that knowledge is simply ‘perception’ — is not finally ‘brought to birth’ until Socrates has linked it to Protagoras’ famous ‘man is the measure’ doctrine of relativistic truth, and also to the theory that ‘all is motion and change’ that Socrates finds most Greek thinkers of the past had accepted, and until he has fitted it out with an elaborate and ingenious theory of perception and how it works. He then examines separately the truth of these linked doctrines and, in finally rejecting Theaetetus’ idea as unsound, he advances his own positive analysis of perception and its role in knowledge:
Thus Socrates proceeds to the next two definitions of knowledge — that ‘Knowledge is simply "True Judgment”’ and that ‘Knowledge is True Judgment plus an "Account" of it.’ After systematic exploration of these ideas (with a few amusing digressions) and rejecting them as unsound Socrates paves the way toward an acceptable theory of Forms, to be explored further in dialogues such as Parmenides and The Republic.
Epistemological Idiots? Not Quite.
Once we reject the three proposals and reach the aporetic conclusion of the dialogue, our first impulse might be, as with all epistemological explorations, to conclude that Socrates has proved that it is impossible to define ‘what is knowledge’ and hence, by extension, the impossibility of knowledge itself. I almost laughed with triumph at this nihilistic ending until I was put in my place by reading commentaries on the subject. For a quick flavor:
SOCRATES: And so, Theaetetus, if ever in the future you should attempt to conceive or should succeed in conceiving other theories, they will be better ones as the result of this inquiry. And if you remain barren, your companions will find you gentler and less tiresome; you will be modest and not think you know what you don’t know. This is all my art can achieve — nothing more.
Instead, a more nuanced reading of Theaetetus’ conclusion by situating it among the Platonic corpus will tell us that the conclusion to be drawn is not that no knowledge is attainable through definition, but rather that the individual, sensible object is indefinable and is not really the proper object of knowledge at all. The object of true knowledge must be stable and abiding, fixed, capable of being grasped in clear and scientific definition, which is of the universal, as Socrates saw. In the Theaetetus he shows that neither sense-perception nor true belief are possessed of both these requirements; neither, then, can be equated with true knowledge.
This is the real conclusion of the dialogue, namely, that true knowledge of sensible objects is unattainable, and, by implication, that true knowledge must be knowledge of the universal and abiding, which must be, as we have said, (i) infallible, (ii) of what is.
The key to understanding Theaetetus is to accept that Plato has assumed from the outset that knowledge is attainable, and that knowledge must be (i) infallible and (ii) of the real. True knowledge must possess both these characteristics, and any state of mind that cannot vindicate its claim to both these characteristics cannot be true knowledge. It follows, then, that it is the universal and not the particular that fulfills the requirements for being an object of knowledge. Knowledge of the highest universal (beauty, goodness, justice, courage, etc.) will be the highest kind of knowledge, while "knowledge" of the particular will be the lowest kind of "knowledge." This connects us directly to the famous line analogy of The Republic and paves the way for The Theory of Forms.
Theaetetus is a valuable but difficult dialogue to be familiar with since Plato explores epistemology without letting on his intentions and this might prove difficult to readers who treat this dialogue as standing by itself. Instead it needs to be treated as part of a continuum, that started with Parmenides and is carried forward in The Sophist and The Statesman (the next two parts of the ‘trilogy’) and on to The Republic, destined to trouble Plato for the rest of his career, never being resolved satisfactorily enough.(less)
This a dark and deeply depressing book, trying hard to be hopeful — on the lines of Douglas Adams' Last Chance to See.
Kolbert's book reminds us that we could be the last couple of generations to witness true diversity, maybe the last to see such magnificent and delicate creatures as the amphibians.
The story of the Sixth Extinction, at least as Kolbert has chosen to tell it, comes in thirteen chapters. Each tracks a species that’s in some way emblematic — the American mastodon, the great auk, an ammonite that disappeared at the end of the Cretaceous alongside the dinosaurs.
The creatures in the early chapters are already gone, and this part of the book is mostly concerned with the great extinctions of the past and the twisting history of their discovery, starting with the work of the French naturalist Georges Cuvier.
The second part of the book takes place very much in the present—in the increasingly fragmented Amazon rainforest, on a fast-warming slope in the Andes, on the outer reaches of the Great Barrier Reef.
Martyrs to Awareness?
Kolbert’s book also spends much ink tracking the history of humanity’s (well, western at least) awareness of extinction and then the science of studying it. It starts from the biblical conception of all creatures as eternal and changeless to the gradual awareness that some animals might be rare or extinct and eventually to the awareness of Natural selection and the importance of change for life on Earth.
Thomas Kuhn, the twentieth century’s most influential historian of science, has much to say about such paradigmatic revelations: about how people process disruptive information — Their first impulse is to force it into a familiar framework: hearts, spades, clubs. Signs of mismatch are disregarded for as long as possible—the red spade looks “brown” or “rusty.” At the point the anomaly becomes simply too glaring, a crisis ensues—what the psychologists dubbed the “’My God!’ reaction.”
This pattern was, Kuhn argued in his seminal work, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, so basic that it shaped not only individual perceptions but entire fields of inquiry. Data that did not fit the commonly accepted assumptions of a discipline would either be discounted or explained away for as long as possible. The more contradictions accumulated, the more convoluted the rationalizations became. “In science, as in the playing card experiment, novelty emerges only with difficulty,” Kuhn wrote.
But then, finally, someone came along who was willing to call a red spade a red spade. Crisis led to insight, and the old framework gave way to a new one. This is how great scientific discoveries or, to use the term Kuhn made so popular, “paradigm shifts” took place.
The history of the science of extinction can be told as a series of paradigm shifts. Until the end of the eighteenth century, the very category of extinction didn’t exist. The more strange bones were unearthed—mammoths, Megatherium, mosasaurs—the harder naturalists had to squint to fit them into a familiar framework. And squint they did. The giant bones belonged to elephants that had been washed north, or hippos that had wandered west, or whales with malevolent grins. When Cuvier arrived in Paris, he saw that the mastodon’s molars could not be fit into the established framework, a “My God” moment that led to him to propose a whole new way of seeing them. Life, Cuvier recognized, had a history. This history was marked by loss and punctuated by events too terrible for human imagining. “Though the world does not change with a change of paradigm, the scientist afterward works in a different world” is how Kuhn put it.
Are the early participants of Humanity’s ‘Mega Kill’, the ‘Sixth Extinction’, if you will, martyrs to humanity’s self-awareness as immoral killers -- required to make us finally think through to the consequences of our actions?
Anthropocene & Morality
Humanity might finally be capable of perceiving the change that has been wrought, and moving into the most crucial understanding of all — that our survival depends on preserving Earth as close to how we inherited it as possible!
The emblematic extinctions are valuable because they serve as blazing sign posts. The eco-system might be too slow in its actions to warn us in time, but our aesthetic sensibility might be capable of warning us in advance when we are too far off the tracks. That might in turn finally engage our moral responsibility for creating an Anthropocene in which most of our co-inheritors of the planet cannot survive. ‘Love thy neighbor’? Can we? Or will we continue to shy away from any moral colorings to the argument? Even as we commit to and associate ourselves with blatant Ecocide?
Our biggest threat is ecological, human-induced change and, to be more specific, rate of change:
When the world changes faster than species can adapt, many fall out. This is the case whether the agent drops from the sky in a fiery streak or drives to work in a Honda.(less)
Grammar snobs who like to bully people have done an incredible job of alienating the rest of us from even wanting to know stu...more For Whom the Snob Trolls
Grammar snobs who like to bully people have done an incredible job of alienating the rest of us from even wanting to know stuff like how to use the word “whom.” But there’s a good reason to learn. So good that it’s worth overcoming the visceral aversion to the word that these grammar snobs have instilled in us.
And here is that reason: About half the people you hear spewing the word “whom” in everyday conversation don’t really know how.
It’s now almost normal to just glaze over when you hear about who/whom or I/me or that/which or terms like “subject pronouns” and “object pronouns.” But there is no need to do that — if you stop and take notice, you’ll see that they’re completely self-explanatory. Punctuation, another bugbear, too is pretty darn simple.
In fact most of grammar is extremely simple stuff, with just a few confusing gray areas. These gray areas, of course, are where we make our mistakes and, therefore, where snobs & perfectionists find fodder to intimidate the bejesus out of us.
Casagrande asks the reader to not let this get to them. That’s what the grammar snobs want. And if we retreat now, the meanies win.
Grammar Emperors Wear No Clothes
Casagrande insists that the rules are at best self-evident and at worst ridiculous. So it’s a good thing we didn’t invest too much time reading the works of grammar snobs, punctuation pundits and word pervs. And just to prove her point, she ingress out famous gamer snobs and pulls them down. SHe doesn’t hesitate to discredit the worthies as well — Strunk & White too coming in for special hammering.
So if you ever find yourself being roughed up by people who actually expect you to say ridiculously stuffy-sounding things like, “I did it wrongly,” or “I followed the directions rightly,” just know that, eventually, all grammar bullies get their comeuppance.
Even better, with a little confidence you can be the one who puts them in their place.
Channel The Hatred!
Okay, maybe spite isn’t the best reason to learn grammar and usage. But it’s certainly good motivation. What’s more, the meanies— just by being themselves—have provided us with excellent fodder for having a good time while we learn. And that is the crux of the book, learn good grammar while being really mean and bashing up your bullies.
Stripped of all the foul mouthing, the book is a simple call to learn grammar and not to be intimidated and offended by snobs into ignoring it. Sure, good way to dress it, but does it work? To an extent, yes. Among all the supposed fun are some well articulated and simple rules that might help make grammar easier for the long-bullied.
Casagrande takes a few common worry spots such as whom-usage, me/I, etc. and reassures the reader that they are, in fact, more often right than they think.
And, hey, if making a few jokes at rules and getting righteously angry is what it takes to remember, go right ahead, eh?
Are You a Snob?
Am I one? Yes, of course — anyone who cares for the language is. It is the sense of humor that counts, the idea is to not be snobs that troll. Also, endeavor to not be too harsh as snobs, because most rules have loopholes, if you are good enough a grammarian. If it is the language you care about and not your own ego, then trolling or bullying the occasional honest mistake is not the answer. It will only serve to alienate people from good english.
This is Our Language Too
This funny and useful book tells the lay reader that when the experts can’t even get their stories straight and when professional writers make egregious flubs, it’s actually good news for the rest of us. It means that the seemingly huge gulf between the duds and those in the know isn’t so huge after all. It means that nine out of ten times when we’re worried we don’t know the right way to speak or write the experts don’t know either. It means that our instincts are good and that common sense applies. It means that the super-arcane, super-difficult aspects of the language aren’t things we’re expected to know anyway. It means, in short, that this is our language too and we shouldn’t be afraid to point out occasionally when the emperors struts out with no clothes on.
So, “Whom’s afraid of the big bad grammar snob?” or “Who’s afraid of the big bad grammar snob?” Not you, that’s for sure.
ONE LINE SUMMARY: GRAMMAR EMPERORS WEAR NO CLOTHES.(less)