Hume's moral philosophy, though preferable to the childish and ridiculous approach of his contemporary Kant, is incredibly tedious reading when compar...moreHume's moral philosophy, though preferable to the childish and ridiculous approach of his contemporary Kant, is incredibly tedious reading when compared to his other work, and far less philosophically astute or argumentatively valid.
The whole project is a bit strange. He seems to accept much of what Hobbes argued, but then reduce what Hobbes thought was the foundation and basis of ethics to simply a prerequisite for morality to exist. Then he argues the famous case re: shared sentiment, etc., which I surely need not explicate.
The broader problems with this book (its perhaps unwarranted optimism concerning human nature, etc.) are only part of the issue. The big problem, for me, is that Hume thinks that this enquiry is essentially something like an empirical enquiry. So he's always relying on appeals to common sense, on appeals to pretty easily refutable and narrowly specific cases, on appeals to examples from earlier philosophy and poetry.
It is pretty unfair and hard to blame Hume for not being able to, in the 18th century, perform really anything like empirical scientific research into morality and human nature. But this book, unlike his other work, does not lay any real sort of groundwork or basis for future research in cognitive science, psychology, or neuroscience, in which Hume surely would have been working were he alive today. It, instead, consists mostly of pretty baseless speculation. The approach is interesting, and maybe influential, but ultimately futile.
He gives up a lot of the more philosophical argument in his other work for valid reasons, partly because he thinks morality is necessarily intuitive in some way, but the result, given what has transpired in the time that has passed since then, is that this book seems more like an oddity than brilliant philosophy.
It's a bit pointless to try to comment on this book, especially considering how much scholarship there is on Hume and how widely studied he still is b...moreIt's a bit pointless to try to comment on this book, especially considering how much scholarship there is on Hume and how widely studied he still is by the intellectually curious and in Philosophy departments. He is an amazingly advanced thinker for the time, and is still important today, partly because although he doesn't seem to like Spinoza or any of the Rationalists, most of the basis for contemporary psychology, cognitive science and neuroscience is found in these two great philosophers' writing.
The problem of induction is forcefully and eloquently articulated here, and Hume's mostly convincing on everything he writes about. There are some odd things in this book you rarely hear about, and Hume's discussion of religion is nuanced in a way that doesn't seem to register with most, at least not in my intellectual circles. (less)
It's not very good poetry, but it's a, pardon, ballsy piece of rhetoric. It basically does what most early proto-feminist texts do, which is speak fro...moreIt's not very good poetry, but it's a, pardon, ballsy piece of rhetoric. It basically does what most early proto-feminist texts do, which is speak from a stereotypically feminine position but reclaim that as a position of power. In this, Lanyer argues against the doctrine of original sin and even goes as far as saying that if anyone should take the blame it's Adam, that hedonist male moron, because Eve's just a poor old woman behaving femininely and was duped by that more cunning male figure, Satan, then just lovingly offered this delicious treat to her husband. Plus, if she came from him, isn't any evil in her really his fault. And other stuff. It's a neat little rhetorical strategy, though it's not exactly feminist in the contemporary sense, because she's still playing the role of innocent and naive woman who only knows a few core values (which she then endows Christ with, which is cool).
That part is the most interesting bit. Other than that there's a lot of boring poetry praising the lord and the like. (less)
This book is amazing. In philosophy and theory more generally, it's a mistake to talk about things being ahead of their time, because there are always...moreThis book is amazing. In philosophy and theory more generally, it's a mistake to talk about things being ahead of their time, because there are always assholes clinging onto false and blatantly idiotic notions (see natural law and/or divine command theory for an example) and keeping them contemporary, not even to mention that most of the world's public life is still based on not even interesting ancient myths. It's also the case that really most of the intellectual paths one may take were sketched out in ancient Greek, Indian, or Chinese philosophy. Of course Bacon's writing on science here is dated, but that is natural. Bacon did not have a time machine, after all, and it's good that he didn't, because he would probably have been severely depressed by the limited intellectual progress of human beings this many years after his lifetime, and would have stopped writing entirely. What's amazing about this book is how sharp and concise Bacon is in his attacks on various stray intellectual paths, human follies of reason, and assorted other bullshit. Bacon's enumeration of the Idols that stand between enlightenment and us is still relevant today (very sadly relevant), and his writing remains vastly important both historically and philosophically. Parts of this book read like very, very early analytic philosophy. Bacon is, at least, very good at understanding the role of philosophy and the role of science in intellectual progress.(less)
This edition is the one to get. The translation is far better than the other two I've read, and there's a terrific introduction and a collection of re...moreThis edition is the one to get. The translation is far better than the other two I've read, and there's a terrific introduction and a collection of related texts including most crucially Leibniz's "Metaphysics Summarized." Candide itself is as funny as it is disturbing and philosophically astute, and it certainly does retain its satirical bite. It almost pains me to say that, given that this book is probably responsible for justifying the sometimes infuriating tendency people, including myself, have to respond to careful, deliberate arguments with a whole lot of sarcasm instead of a careful, deliberate counter-argument. (less)
The Pilgrim's Progress, or Christianity for Dummies by John Bunyan.
So... John Bunyan was a crazy and apparently exceedingly stupid man who wrote one o...moreThe Pilgrim's Progress, or Christianity for Dummies by John Bunyan.
So... John Bunyan was a crazy and apparently exceedingly stupid man who wrote one of the most popular books ever in the Western literary tradition. I write of this book, obviously. The book's popularity and even its status as a Historically Important Classic is a harsh reminder of how immensely stupid and crazy humans, generally, are and always were. Because this book's status is such a harsh reminder of that fact, it's basically the most depressing thing you could ever read, if you have some level of intelligence.
Of course, the book is not a novel really, but an allegory, and it does indeed have Historical Importance, if you're one of those insufferable fucks who think we should give the remotest semblance of a shit about the several hundred year old ramblings of a lunatic. It has Historical Importance because it's part of the English Puritan literature of the time and basically is relevant w/r/t that theology and its various dimensions and how this is, although literally retarded even for the time, important, maybe, to understanding the progress of the arts and what not at the time, and how this fits into the rise of culture post-Middle Ages etc.
Except, you know, allegories had existed for a long-ass time before this thing reared its ugly head, and some of them were complex and balanced and literate and so on, including those in, uh, the Bible. Plus, there was a lot of very good literature before this came out, including in the religious tradition (see Milton, see Donne, and see others), so this thing's brutal awfulness is really inexcusable as "of the time" or whatever. No, it's just bad.
I opened this review/rant by calling this Christianity for Dummies, which is basically what it is. True, its explicit Protestant theology was different and what not, and this probably mattered a long time ago. But it reads, and probably has read for a long time, as Christianity for Dummies. You see, Bunyan's allegory can't even be called thinly-veiled. It's basically one insufferable lecture/sermon. I guess on a technicality it qualifies as an allegory, but it has to be the most ham-fisted and ridiculous allegory I've encountered. Here's a list of characters, which aren't really characters as such I suppose, because basically the names cover the whole deal; unlike other allegories, where a character may represent something or quality, here the names are it, there is no actual representation: Christian, Evangelist, Help, Worldly Wiseman, Hypocrisy, Discretion, Piety, Prudence, Charity, The Interpreter, Faithful, Talkative, Mr. By-ends, Hopeful, Giant Despair, Diffidence, Temporary, Mercy, Mr. Great-heart, Old Honest, Mr. Fearing, Mr. Feeble-mind, Valiant-for-truth.
"Oh, but it's of the time, Adam. Sure compared to anything written after it that's just hilarious and sad and not even endearing and after ten pages just infuriating, but it's of the time."
Shut the fuck up, strawman. Compared to most things written before it, again, including the fucking Bible itself, which most of this is a simplified rehash of with the slight narrative frame of A Man's Journey to Salvation, it's also just totally insanely stupid and infuriating.
But besides the fact that this is just terrible when it comes to any formal criteria, it's also just impossible to read if you're a non-believer or even anything resembling a modern Christian. The intensely spelled-out lessons here are either the worst ones you could choose from the Bible, or the product, ironically, of years of stupid Catholic theologians' bullshit, or they are, more rarely, really of the time in that they're newfangled Protestant things that still lie coiled at the heart of the darkest and most unpleasant aspects of contemporary Western culture.
But even if I didn't find this whole thing morally disgusting on nearly every level, it's just horrifically bad. It's shit allegory, shit fiction, shit everything. Written in prose bad even for the time, because you know, there was other prose written at the time. Take a look at it. It's not this bad.
And get this: nobody needs to read this today. Nobody. You can just, uh, talk about it, if you need to cover it and its content for historical purposes in the study of literature. There is absolutely no reason to actually read the thing because it has absolutely zero literary quality, or relevance, or importance. Here's everything you need to know about The Pilgrim's Progress, or Christianity for Dummies: it's real stupid, anything in it that's remotely interesting is in the Bible, or in books about the Bible, or about Christianity, that are far better than this, and it's just a hideously boring thing written by a lunatic, though it's popular because some people need to read things like this to dangerously simplify and remove any quality and intelligence from old myths and allegories, and write them anew in a supremely bullshitty manner. To the extent that this is Historically Important, that importance is in knowing about it and what the deal is with it. But you shouldn't actually read it, unless you're a masochist.
And really, I'm not the kinda guy who thinks you should never read old books. I just named Milton and Donne as two examples of near-contemporaries of Bunyan who are, uh, good writers, and as such still relevant in a literary sense, and who also are relevant in a historical sense, but much more so than Bunyan. Because this book has no relevance in a study of the history of allegories, in the study of the history of the novel, or poetry, or anything other than the persistent and sad idiocy of human beings, who have taken it upon themselves to translate this thing to more than a hundred languages, and also to still talk about a completely literally retarded piece of shit like this centuries after it was written, instead of doing something real Christian like helping others, doing something real literary, like reading almost anything else, or doing something better and more important with their basic human existence, like just talking to another person, or just sitting still and doing nothing. (less)
A work of staggering(ly mad) genius. Blake, in layer upon layer of delicious irony and satire, in prose and poetry and images that are both fundamenta...moreA work of staggering(ly mad) genius. Blake, in layer upon layer of delicious irony and satire, in prose and poetry and images that are both fundamentally unsettling and oddly reassuring, and most certainly deeply human, achieves true profundity, inspires puzzlement and outrage, and makes you laugh insanely hard-- assuming you have a good sense of humour.
I agree with the guy who says this is (potentially) dangerous, and it's sadly too easy to find people who call themselves fans of Blake who espouse an especially loathsome philosophy that is by no means entirely or, sometimes, even partially endorsed by Blake here. The text is incredibly enjoyable reading, but comprehension of its philosophical content requires careful attention.(less)
I want to have so much lovely sex with this woman. It's more an attack on Burke than a 'great book in philosophy,' which applies more to vindication o...moreI want to have so much lovely sex with this woman. It's more an attack on Burke than a 'great book in philosophy,' which applies more to vindication of the rights of woman, but she's just so great... and sexy. (less)
I read this electronic edition: http://www.earlymoderntexts.com/pdf/k..., which did not strike me as particularly hard to read or understand, despite...moreI read this electronic edition: http://www.earlymoderntexts.com/pdf/k..., which did not strike me as particularly hard to read or understand, despite the fact that those are very common complaints re: this book. Actually, I was mostly impressed with Kant's reasoning and argument, apart from the unnecessary conditions of morality later in the book, but deontological ethics (focused on good in itself, etc. divorced from consequence or social contract etc.) just don't work, and the (first formulation of the) Categorical Imperative fails because it is so utterly restricted, ruling out the moral worth of going beyond duty's call, and of course also of actions that we would not will to become universal laws, but would perform in situations where there is real benefit as a consequence of that action not just for ourselves, but for others too. One may admire the concept and work within it, and believing in it may 'make exceptions' for herself, but this person also has to accept that her actions have no moral worth, are not good. That all falls apart. The biggest problem I have with Kant's ethical system is how utterly individual it is, and how essentialist. The thought behind deontological ethics is itself admirable; I do think we are really desperate to find a solid theoretical grounding for practical ethics, a grounding that various other sorts of metaethical positions just don't give us (the average non-Kantian gets all jittery if asked to say that there is nothing inherently wrong with rape in a state of nature, even though professional philosophers and such are willing to do so), but to accept Kant's system is to accept a deeply flawed one. I understand that it's more intuitively appealing to read The Humanity Formula and get the fuzzies than to read Hobbes, but at some point we surely ought to be able to get past what seems nice and confront the fact that the metaethical truth that allows for justice and beauty in practical application is probably going to have some seriously ugly theoretical side effects. (less)
there has yet to be a more succint summation of the Bard's positives and negatives, even though some of Johnson's concerns are really dated and useful...morethere has yet to be a more succint summation of the Bard's positives and negatives, even though some of Johnson's concerns are really dated and useful only historically.(less)
Berkeley is basically the 18th century Plato. But not in that he does or develops further some of the interesting things Plato did all those years ago...moreBerkeley is basically the 18th century Plato. But not in that he does or develops further some of the interesting things Plato did all those years ago. No. He's the 18th century Plato in that he proves amazingly adept at the straw man fallacy, at what amounts to name-calling, and at being a smug prick who is mostly laughably wrong about everything.
But this thing is real entertaining, and Berkeley is adorable when he is complaining about language.(less)
One of the most incandescent books of philosophy or literature. The metaphysic here is obviously problematic (though resonant and deeply fascinating),...moreOne of the most incandescent books of philosophy or literature. The metaphysic here is obviously problematic (though resonant and deeply fascinating), and if you are not a Rationalist you will not be convinced by Spinoza on many points, but there is more capital-t Truth and capital-m Meaning in this book than in most of everything else I've read combined. It, and Spinoza himself, is warm, kind, elegant, and profoundly human.
Few doubt that Spinoza was a great philosopher, a genius, a towering intellect, that he was a wonderful man even fewer. That he was mostly right, on ethics at least, too many doubt. (less)