Imre Lakatos, Paul Feyerabend, their father figure Karl Popper, and their adjunct Thomas Kuhn - it's hard not to think of these four philosophers as bImre Lakatos, Paul Feyerabend, their father figure Karl Popper, and their adjunct Thomas Kuhn - it's hard not to think of these four philosophers as being of a piece, even (especially?) when they disagree, because their disagreements were usually so exceedingly affectionate. So reading the correspondence between Lakatos and Feyerabend is peeking into the workaday lives of a cadre of philosophers. They talk about womanizing, Berkeley politics, travel, conferences, etc. They also talk about their philosophical concerns (mostly the effectiveness of science as a predictive tool, its simliarities/dissimilarities with other ways of knowing, its cultural uniqueness in the West) in these sometimes unprompted, unrehearsed and underdigested letters.
The upside is you can read Lakatos's masterpiece Proofs and Refutations all day and never quite understand what's behind the text, but here, he just lays it all out. You also get a portrait of the firebrand Feyerabend as a middle-aged wonk that is pretty contrary to all the molotov cocktail-throwing in his published writings.
The downside is that a lot of this correspondence is really boring.
For people who are interested in Popper and his philosophical progeny, this may be valuable. For others, these are not the droids you're looking for....more
The most interesting thing I got out of the book was that Kepler was the first to realize that light has mass enough to move things - he called this fThe most interesting thing I got out of the book was that Kepler was the first to realize that light has mass enough to move things - he called this force the vis motrix. IIRC, it was Newton who rightly corrected the vis motrix out of Kepler's theory of vision, but then, around 500 years later, people decided Kepler's physics were pretty reasonable, and light does indeed have force. Remarkable.
The book's definitely a little on the dry side; on the other hand, it draws a direct line from Aristotle's theories of optics through Al-Kindi and Alhazen, the Arabs who adapted Greco-Roman medicine, and shows how the "lost" knowledge was digested (with typical alacrity) by generations of medieval scholars and reintroduced in no small measure due to artists like Brunelleschi.
While the whole narrative is bound to strike some Medievalists as annoyingly triumphal in focus, Lindberg's research is impeccable though not so exhaustive to be boring, and it was published at a time when a lot of people still liked to pretend that anyone of swarthy skin during the pause in history between Cicero and Da Vinci was a barbarian deserving of slaughter by righteous crackers. For that, I exclaim, David Lindberg, thou hast Balls. ...more
Contains a typical Medieval schematic of areas of knowledge, along with a nifty exposition on the importance of rhetoric, in reaction to Peter AbelardContains a typical Medieval schematic of areas of knowledge, along with a nifty exposition on the importance of rhetoric, in reaction to Peter Abelard and all those pesky sophists...more
Interesting stuff. The Greeks had complex magic procedures for, like, getting your goats to be less noisy. This is always passed over in books on GreeInteresting stuff. The Greeks had complex magic procedures for, like, getting your goats to be less noisy. This is always passed over in books on Greek philosophy, but it shouldn't be - it's important to remember that when "philosophers and boy-lovers" Aristotle and Plato argued the primacy of reason, they were definitely in the minority....more
This book disappointed me on a few counts. First of all, its authors opted never to allow chronology to get in the way of a good story. There are allThis book disappointed me on a few counts. First of all, its authors opted never to allow chronology to get in the way of a good story. There are all too many sentences that go something like this: "The conversation Oppie had with Chevalier that night would become very important twelve years later when, while testifying before HUAC..." etcetera. Only in the book, the spoilers are even more portentous.
I would have preferred more physics and less politics. The authors, on the other hand, wanted always to refocus the reader's attention from physics to the indignities Oppenheimer suffered in the 50s (presumably because no one understands quantum mechanics). This is reasonable on the surface, but in a biography of the second most famous physicist of the 20th century, physics might be hard to avoid. Anyway, to this end, we also hear about Eisenhower being elected president before we hear about Oppie traveling to Europe to have a conversation with - wait, what's this - Supreme Commander of NATO Allied Forces Eisenhower? This doesn't happen once, but many times; instead of leaving a few threads to dangle for a little while and assuming that the reader is not so obtuse as to have forgotten them, the authors chose to leapfrog around, often needlessly. Doing so might have put the stress on Oppie's political difficulties, but those were not the most interesting parts of the book, for me, anyway.
What is great about this book is the panoply of intellects and historical figures you encounter, everyone from George Kennan to Hermann Gödel to T.S. Eliot. The book also changed my opinion of Truman, who is portrayed here as an obstinate and dull man. Sometimes these people are reduced to other people's apothegms about them, but at least they're clever apothegms.
One thing the book also does that is invaluable is provide a little backstory on the various military figures who were pivotal in the development and use of the bomb as well as the excesses of the anticommunist 50s. Lo and behold, the military establishment was far from univocal in these years, and there was more than enough animus between generals, joint chiefs, and the branches of the military to go around. This point is usually glossed over by other historians, who sometimes see the American military as a complex, instead of a complex. You don't get to read about the well-respected, highly decorated peaceniks in the Army (!) very often, even though they were definitely there after WWII....more