Sunday, May 29, 2016

Existentialism explained, and unexplained

I just got done reading "At the Existentialist Cafe," mentioned, if not recommended, by a friend on either Google Plus, Facebook or Twitter.

Well, I can tell you now, you probably don't need to read it.

At The Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and apricot cocktails with: Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Martin Heidegger, Edmund Husserl, Karl Jaspers, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and othersAt The Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and apricot cocktails with: Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Martin Heidegger, Edmund Husserl, Karl Jaspers, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and others by Sarah Bakewell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is overrated and mistitled and I'm going to explain why.

I wasn't sure exactly how to rate that book. This is another book that deserves a half-star rating, as in 3.5. Since so many others are overrating it, it thus gets the bump down to 3 stars. And, by the time I got done writing this, I wondered if even that were generous.

First, there's a typo/proofreading error on 11, that's tres funny, especially given that the book is primarily about Sartre. Instead of talking about him "exhorting" his readers, it actually mentions him "extorting his readers."

No radical freedom there!

There are one or two more serious errors of fact in the book, plus the fact that "glib" or whatever sometimes becomes disjointed.

A good example of this is when, in discussing Sartre's HUGE overwriting about Genet, she doesn't mention his amphetamine addiction. She only mentions it about 50 pages later, and then, it's never really called an addiction. But, that's part of a larger part — the book is a love affair with Sartre, papered over with the "Existentialist Cafe." It's a love affair with Sartre's cafe, then with Sartre and Beauvoir's. Camus (though I take his statement at face value that he was an absurdist, not an existentialist — something Bakewell never really explores), Levinas and Merleau-Ponty get short shrift. So, too, even in a popularizing account, do structuralists and deconstructionalist children or stepchildren of existentialism.

That points to a bigger problem. A David Edmonds of "Wittgenstein's Poker" or "Rousseau's Dog" fame would have focused on one or two fun issues (I've asked him to write a book about Koestler punching Camus), and written about 200 pages that we never expect to be a more serious history of Wittgenstein, Hume/Rousseau, etc.

However, Bakewell appears to fall between two stools in wanting to write something light, yet something serious, at the same time. And, to some degree, BOTH stools fall out from beneath her. If she wanted to be more serious, yet without giving a full analysis of existentialism, she could have analyzed why Sartre became an addict, or what was behind his existential dread (it was) of squishy, gooey things.

On to a few other issues.

On page 74, no, Germany's Social Democrats did NOT take power in Novemeber 1918 in "a kind of a coup." Instead, on Nov. 9, Prince Max of Baden, the Chancellor, announced that Wilhelm was abdicating as both German Kaiser and Prussian King. Max was forced to resign later the same day, when it became clear that only the Social Dems (to be precise, the majority Social Dems, not including the soon-to-be Communists) could hold the reigns of government and prevent an actual revolution. It's true that Friedrich Ebert demanded the chancellorship, but Max was likely recognizing already there was no alternative.

And, on page 75, in 1933, Hindenberg was head of state, not head of government, and therefore was not head of any coalition that gave power to Hitler. As president, he simply approved the coalition government that Hitler offered.

These are errors, especially the second, that shouldn't have been made. And, arguably, they may color how harsh Bakewell is, or is not, for Heidegger's early Nazism. I think they do.

Later, comes an error in biblical interpretation. On page 150, she says of Genesis 22, that Yahweh was "surprised" that Abraham went through with the offer of Isaac for sacrifice.

No, it doesn't, and in my read, it doesn't even hint that that is the mood of Yahweh. Ergo, she can't have a good grasp on either Kierkegaard's or Camus' writing about this episode. This probably ties with her giving short shrift to Camus.

On 152, she notes that Sartre attacked Camus for being too influenced by Hume. First, is this actually true, that Camus was more influenced by Hume? (The "too much," of course, is not true!) Second, why would Sartre feel that way? Bakewell never asks.

On 213, shockingly, she seems to misinterpret the end of "No Exit." She talks about the trio being "trapped" in hell — passive voice.

Not at all. The whole theme of the conclusion is that the trio have TRAPPED THEMSELVES! Yes, a demon placed them there, but they have the freedom to not only open the door, as they do, but leave — as they do not. Other parts of her interpretation of "Huis Clos" also seem incorrect.

Finally, on 257, and to no surprise to me, she misinterprets the Camus-Sartre split in a way most favorable to Sartre and in a way untrue to Camus and "The Rebel," in my opinion.

So, per some reviewers, this is an OK to good introduction **to Sartre and Beavoir.** To the whole of existentialism? No.

View all my reviews

Monday, March 07, 2016

Wittgenstein, linguistic games-playing, and analogies

The later Ludwig Wittgenstein is known for his philosophy of linguistics, summed up in the “Philosophical Investigations.” A common metaphor for what he did was that he worked to treat language, or at least sub-uses of it, like a game. More here on Wittgenstein, language games, and rules.

That leads to analogies galore, and regular readers of my philosophical posts should know that I love analogies.

These analogies fork into two large classes, as I see them.

The first?

Often, we talk past each other. That’s basically a lack of realization that we’re not quite playing the same game.

To use common board and card games, we can be far apart, or pretty close.

I may think we’re playing chess, and you think we’re playing Monopoly. A bit closer, but not too much, would be chess vs. checkers.

Or maybe you think we’re playing pinochle and I think we’re playing euchre. Or, closer yet, I think we’re playing contract bridge and you think we’re playing auction bridge.

Or, closer yet. We’re playing Monopoly, at your linguistic house, as you initiated the conversation. I think we’re playing Monopoly straight-up as written in the rule book, and you’re playing with added house rules. (Technically, this is not a private language, especially if you make clear that you have some added house rules, but, even if you initially don't, if I deduce that and you admit it.)

The early examples are usually no problem. The differences are recognized and hashed out. But, when most differences are eliminated, especially if the conversation is serious, the differences may get heated.

There’s four ways of responding.

One is to double down on talking past each other while continuing to play — or trying to — the same language game. The second is to double down on negotiating the differences as part of playing. The third is to stop playing, while starting a sidebar conversation to negotiate the differences. The fourth is to recognize an impasse and simply stop playing.

The fifth is something that one really can’t do in most actual board or card games. And, that is to pull a Husserl-like move and “bracket” the areas of the language game which are in disagreement.

As I mentioned, there are two main analogy forks.

The second?

Rather than talking past each other, it’s to quickly recognize that you’re saying the current game is, and needs to be, Monopoly, while I say it is, and needs to be, chess. We both double down on our starting positions, and soon accept that we’re not going to be playing together.

That often is a better move than to try to keep playing a game, or going through the motions. To take the first set of analogies, let’s say we’re pretty close on our language game — it’s straight Monopoly vs house-rules Monopoly. But, I refuse to play by your house rules from the start. Maybe it’s a matter of metanarratives, or something a bit like that; I’m generally predisposed against “house rules” versions of languages. Maybe you’ve earned distrust from me in the past for a linguistic version of an Overton Window with previous house games.

The neo-Cynic part of me says that a false agreement, or even a false partial agreement with bracketing, has unspoken signification for the future, too.

That said, when the differences are bigger, the simple answer is to state up front that I believe you’re either mistaken about your game, or, if it’s come to that, that I know you know you’re wanting to play the wrong game, and there’s reasons behind that.


Beyond that, I disagree with part of Wittgenstein's take. I don't believe that linguistic rules are purely abstract. He, of course, wrote before Chomsky and many others. However, I think some hard-core Wittgensteinians will still defend his version of linguistic games. 

I don't. Even with some of Chomsky's claims overstated, as those of some early follow-ups on him, he is wrong, and on philosophical grounds, not just science of mind ones. His abstract, idealized rules and family resemblances bear more than the smallest of whiffs of Platonism about them. And, in that sense, the Wittgenstein of the Investigations is the same as the Wittgenstein of the Tractatus, at least in mindset.

And hence I don't think he would have written differently had he lived 30 years later, and seen Chomsky's work, or even had Chomsky written first. The style of the two books is, of course, different indeed. The psyche behind the Tractatus and the Investigations seems quite continuous, though, or even almost unchanged in many respects.

I also think the idea that the rules of a linguistic game, or the rules (Platonic capitalization intended) of Language as Game, with their abstraction beyond individual games, conflict with the idea of meaning as use.

I agree with the idea that the use of language is in general gamelike, and with different games in different situations. Most of the rest of Wittgenstein's thought, the older I get, the more I distance myself from it in particulars.


I've not yet talked much about Wittgenstein's theory of meaning as use, also expressed in the PI. It was, as readers of that book know, expressed in seeming opposition to Augustine's definition of meaning.

But, that's not quite right. I see Wittgenstein as attempt to reconstruct a better version of some of Augustine's ideas, rather than deconstructing them, and this reconstruction as being driven in part by Platonic thought.

Why do I say this?

I think an unspoken idea behind meaning as use parallels that of games. Sometimes we disagree. And, with the use of words, and the meaning behind them, I think Wittgenstein is hinting at Platonic ideals as the ultimate dictionary. Because grammar, sociological conventions and other such things aren't covered by Platonic theory, Wittgenstein, in talking about rules as abstract, or abstracts perhaps even more, can't hat-tip to Plato in the same way.

I think Wittgenstein related to Augustine more broadly as one tortured soul to another, including, per Wiki, via the influence of Otto Weininger. Certainly, the fact he thought Weininger wrong in an "interesting way" reflects issues with sexuality and more.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Jesus mythicism and better ideas

I'm on record at this blog and my main blog as challenging the thought processes and intellectual level of the leading current crop of Jesus mythicists, or Jesus denialists, as I've called them.

Even the best of them are but second-rate in terms of actual biblical scholarship, and those below the level of the best aren't actual biblical scholars.

That said, I've also said that, while I reject the Jesus denialists — in part because for most of them, their pseudointellectual claims are part of broader Gnu Atheism — I don't reject Jesus mythicism in general tout court.

First, I should note that there's mythicism in the narrow sense, and there's mythicism in a broader sense.

The narrow sense is that the "protagonist" of the New Testament is entirely fictional.

The broader sense is that the Jesus of the Christian New Testament is a somewhat "true to life" character; that is, no such person existed with the alleged historic framework we are presented, but one (or more) people did exist upon whom the Jesus character was based. (I've also said that issues with mythicist claims need to be separated from issues with Gnu Atheism; not all mythicists are Gnus.)

I myself have wondered if Jesus wasn't based on one of the 800 Pharisees crucified by Alexander Jannaeus. That gives the Jesus story an extra century of development time. Combine that with just a 10-15 percent growth rate per decade, far less than what Christianist (sic) sociologist Rodney Stark has postulated — a 40 percent growth rate — and Christianity could be one-quarter of the Roman Empire, setting aside extra-Imperial growth in the Sassanid lands, Armenia, Georgia, and elsewhere, by the time of Constantine. That would be enough to make it influential, yet leave large swaths of the Empire pagan then, and fair amounts still that way a century later.

Said Jesus the Pharisee could have founded a school, like Hillel or Shammai, but perhaps more syncretistic or something.

Or, even a Jesus who lived just half a century before the actual — rather than being born shortly before Herod died, being killed at Herod's hands at about that time.

Now, as far as supporting something like this, rather than making arguments from silence that backfire because they could be used against all sorts of figures of antiquity, or other nonsense, just a couple of passages from Paul suffice to make some sort of mythicism at least plausible.

The first is Galatians 4:4, which reads:
But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law...

Before going down the exegetical road, several points must be laid out.

For the totally unaware, that is that Paul was writing some 20 years ahead of Mark, and at least 35, in my opinion, or more, ahead of Matthew, and probably 45 or more ahead of Luke. Galatians was either Paul's first letter, or his second, after 1 Thessalonians, written just after 50 CE.

So, we can't assume that Paul meant Jesus was born of Mary.

That verse above is the only thing in either the genuine OR pseudepigraphal Pauline letters where we hear about a detail of a physical Jesus, other than "you proclaim the Lord's death until he returns" in 1 Corinthians at the end of Paul establishing the Eucharist.

Even many liberal, critical New Testament scholars seem not to fully grasp that, just like they fail to translate the Greek "apodidomi" in the Eucharist as "arrested" rather than "betrayed," and thus read Judas into 1 Corinthians when Paul actually says nothing about him.

As for companions of Jesus, Paul mentions but two: James (the brother of the Lord) and Cephas. (Not Peter, except for in Galatians 1:18, where some manuscripts have Cephas, which I think is to be preferred as a reading.)

So, we have James, nowhere mentioned as a disciple in the four canonical Gospels (unless you think James the brother of John in the same person) and a Cephas, which yes, does mean the same in Aramaic as Peter does in Greek, but may, or may not, be the same person. (Angle three, since we're into mythicism, is that a "Cephas" was himself, like any "Jesus," radically reworked by the time we're into the Gospels.)

And, no, this is not some radical wild hare of my own; a distinction between Peter and Cephas as two different people goes back to some early Church Fathers (albeit not recognizing they were sowing tares among their wheat).

Anyway, there you have it.

Paul tells us nothing about Jesus himself other than he was a human being, and that itself may just be an anti-Gnostic or anti-Docetist statement. 

As for Jesus' life history, contra conventional readings of 1 Corinthians and Cephas passages, he tells us nothing about Jesus' life story that squares with the Synoptic Gospels and Acts. (Per the link above, John does use the Aramaic "Cephas."

That said, I disagree with the final thrust of the linked piece, which is an attempt to "save" Peter for papal authority and primacy. 

It seems clear, though, that per that link and the use of James with the modifier "the brother of the Lord" as a leader of the early Jesus movement again goes directly against the Gospels, where Jesus himself is recorded as saying, "who is my mother and brothers and sisters," and elsewhere allegedly being described as crazy by his own family.

Let's put this all on hold for a minute.

The verse in Galatians is just one of two Pauline passages for consideration.

The other is his Christological hymn in Philippians 2:
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature[a] God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.
 Again, critical Christian scholars seem to have their hands on something but they don't fully grasp it.

They recognize that this is a relatively "high" Christology.

But, they don't connect this with Philippians being written just a couple of years after Galatians, or really talk about how this elevated a Christology appeared so quickly. That issue is in more pressing need of explanation if you follow critical scholarship, as I do, in noting that Paul is using pre-existing material here.

So, we know Paul never met Jesus. Did he even have an idea of a historical Jesus he was hanging his hat on? Maybe, similar to Metatron of some of the Enoch literature, Paul's working with an archetype that he's trying to humanize.

And, while most "non-canonical" gospels are derivative, the Gospel of Peter reflects some traditions that are seemingly as old as those of Mark, but yet independent. An earlier floruit for a 'core historic Jesus" allows more time for a wider stream of tradition to have developed.

At the same time, other non-canonical documents further show the development of independent traditions early in Christian life, like the Didache's take on what has come to be called the Eucharist.

And per that plurality of traditions, that's another good argument, per this debate, also linked here, against mythicism in its narrow sense, at a minimum. Unfortunately, the author/framer of the debate either doesn't know New Testament scholarship that well or is engaging in some big cherry-picking. Dykstra misrepresents Q, claims that Lucan source "L" must represent only a written source (even if Ehrman claims that, which I've not heard, it's not true) and more. (Dykstra, per his blog, is not a biblical scholar, and per what I've said elsewhere about the academic qualifications, or lack thereof, of leading horseman of Jesus mythicism, probably is less a biblical semi-scholar than I am.) As for claiming L, and M, have no manuscript evidence, that's the old "argument from silence" that's a petard of sorts, even a potential hand grenade, for mythicism. We still have new manuscripts being discovered today, and even if a manuscript isn't discovered, that doesn't mean it never existed.

That said, Dykstra is right about "oral tradition" being a thin reed. Despite someone like John Lord on Balkan bards (a New Testament prof of mine leaned heavily on him) and the stress on orality in Vedic religion, they both make clear that oral transmission is based most strongly on formulaic materials, usually structurally formulaic like poems and hymns. Certainly, something like the Philippians 2 hymn fits this. But, while noting that L and M could have been more than one document each, the idea that they could be oral doesn't stand up well.

That said, Dykstra then goes on to set up seeming straw men. Ehrman nowhere refers to the "Jesus interpolation" in Josephus as an argument against mythicism. I don't know off the top of my head if he appeals to Tacitus or not; I don't myself, I can tell Dykstra that.

As for the Thomas Brodie he cites as a new light in mythicism? His riff on why Mark used the word "tekton" in referring to Jesus is, to put it charitably, stretching things.

To put it uncharitably, it's laughable.

Acts 14:17 DOES refer to the architect or shaper, and without connecting this to Jesus at all. Given that it was likely written 30 years later than Mark, one would have thought that it would have picked up on that idea. Rather, the other Synoptics "softening" Mark make clear they thought he was calling Jesus an actual carpenter.

From there, Dykstra clearly grasps at straws, with something like this:
As another biblical scholar, Joel Willitts, observes, "Over-confidence in what the tools of the historical-critical method can satisfactorily produce pervades Jesus research.” An article Willitts published in 2005 carefully examined the historical criteria used by six different Jesus scholars. ...
What Dykstra doesn't tell the reader is that Willits teaches at a conservative evangelical college and can hardly be called a bible scholar.

Dykstra does raise other good points, at the same time. If there was a historic Jesus as recounted by the gospels, and a historic James who was the non-Catholic blood brother of Jesus, how did he go from rejecting his brother, per the Synoptics, to being a key witness of his, per both Paul and Acts? (That seems even more problematic for David Tabor, Robert Eisenman and his ilk. And, it can't be interpreted a Pauline-based anti-Jamesian tradition in the Synoptics, as Paul himself calls James a leader of the church in Galatians, and refers again to this in 1 Corinthians 3. Or can it? By 1 Corinthians, if there ever was an Apostolic council in Jerusalem as reported in Acts, even if it did temporarily paper over differences, Paul had rejected Jacobean ideas on such things like requiring Gentiles to only eat kosher-slaughtered meat and food devoted to pagan idols.)

One doesn't need to believe in a "betrayal" of Judas to accept something like a literal Passion story. As I've noted elsewhere, this appears to be likely due to Mark getting "apodidomi" in the Pauline account of the Eucharist wrong, interpreting it as a passive voice rather than a middle voice verb.

As for citing Brodie as a worthy opponent to Ehrman, the fact that Brodie apparently thinks Paul as well as Jesus were mythical makes this, and Brodie's book, a head-scratcher. I mean, the mythicism of Paul is even more laughable than the mythicism of Jesus.

As for the book Dykstra briefly cites, "Is Not This the Carpenter," no, most of the "scholars" in it are not "well-known and well-respected," and from what I saw at Amazon, those who are, are at best for Dykstra's cause, agnostic, if that, on Jesus mythicism. That said, the scholars who do fit that are connected with a more-respected actual academic school of Biblical interpretation, Copenhagen, than Brodie, let alone American mythicists. (I agree with the "mainstream" within the Copenhagen school on a lot of its Old Testament/Tanakh findings. I think a historical David likely did not exist. I certainly think the size of any Davidic or Solomonic kingdom was not that large. And, I think it's possible no historic Solomon existed.)

And, Dykstra does note well that, in the likes of Thomas Thompson of Copenhagen, Ehrman does sometimes draw his "New Testament specialist" net too tightly. However, even without that, if Wiki is accurate, Thompson is on the "far fringe" of Copenhagen, and not just the far fringe of Old Testament/Tanakh scholarship, if he believes almost all the Tanakh was composed between the fifth-second centuries BCE. Thus, I find him less than fully credible for that reason alone, and as noted, I don't think the majority of the Copenhagen school goes as far as he does.

Conventional scholarship still stands behind the "documentary hypothesis" for the Torah, with the JED strands all in written form before the Exile; if's specious if Thompson calls the Torah post-exilic just because the P strand and final editing came into written form after the Exile. (In fact, per that link, Thompson allegedly dates the final redaction of the Torah to the Hasmonean era!) And, I still stand by some, if modified, version of the documentary hypothesis. Even if the fragmentary hypothesis is a modifier, I don't see an extreme version of it as being "controlling." Also, proponents of such an extreme version seem to laten the date of writing in Palestine. And, it seems like critics of the documentary hypothesis want to impose modern book-publishing editing ideas and mechanisms on authors of 2,500-3,000 years ago.

Conventional scholarship also considers the whole of the "deuteronomic history" to be Exilic, not post-Exilic, as internal indicators such as the end of 2 Kings and citations of earlier, seemingly written, sources, show.

As for the claim that Ehrman is an amateur in the area of intertextuality, I highly doubt that. And, Dykstra seems to think there's some special magic to not being an amateur in this area, as though intertextuality is a magic wand.

As for the idea that fear makes some scholars reticent? Might be true at religious universities, but not in the secular world. Some type of fallacy there by Dykstra.

That said, some modern minimalist critics appear to project ideas behind new literary criticism back on biblical writers without any proof. Yes, from Dykstra's piece, some people in antiquity may have thought of Jesus the way he does himself and the way he thinks they did.

We call such people "Gnostics."

Monday, November 16, 2015

Is the concept of god outside of science?

David Ottlinger, a former philosophy prof on a personal sabbatical, says yes

I say no. And, I offer a no that isn’t a scientism-based no.

First, I have to respectively disagree with Ottlinger on how we define the "sciences." I count the social sciences as sciences. If anything, it seems to be quasi-scientism to claim they’re not.

And, I'll also have to respectively disagree with the details of why we disagree. Psychology is becoming more scientific, through folks such as Kahnemann, Ariely, et al, on a regular basis, as far as gathering empirical data, analyzing it, and constructing theories. And, of course, evolutionary psychology — done correctly! — is just the fusion of this with evolutionary biology. Evolutionary anthropology is a similar fusion with cultural anthropology.

There are differences, of course.

For example, to go to history, now that I've touched on psychology and anthropology, and indirectly on sociology.

Historic events are multi-causal, of course. There was no "one" cause (and even no "three" causes) of, say, the American Revolution. And, historians will disagree which of those causes to weight more. But, history can and does conclusively rule out that, say, Manchu China had any causal contribution to the American Revolution.

Therefore, this:
Arguments modeled on science tend to fail because they do not appreciate the subtleties of the concepts and the ambiguities of implication.
Is precisely how the social sciences, at their best, are both social and scientific, because they appreciate the subtleties of concepts involved, but still bring a scientific eye to bear as much as possible.

To be specific, evolutionary psychology ideas of things like pattern detectors and agency imputers being part of the basis of religious evolution, even if ev psych can never meet provability hurdles of modern psychology, do seem reasonable and fit with what we know about human mental development.

While said social sciences can't provide "the answers" on this issue, they certainly can — and, in my opinion, should — "inform" philosophy.

Hence, my "philosophism" tag, for attempting to unduly exclude the sciences from this issue.

Thursday, October 15, 2015


Transience, and more specifically, meditation on it, can fit with several philosophies.

It can be a part of developing Stoic imperturbability. Or, it can be part of seeing the moment-by-moment chance for satori of Zen.

More modernly, it can fit existentialism in many ways. That includes challenges to be authentic, asserting one's radical freedom, and more. Or, in Camus' absurdism, it can provoke one to reflect on his "ultimate question." Or to say "mu" to his idea of meaninglessness.

Or per my Neo-Cynicism, it can lead one to ask, "Why don't I challenge the convention behind this particular transient moment?"

In any case, the world of newspapers has led me to reflect on transience more and more in recent times.

Dallas Cowboys running back Duane Thomas famously said of the Super Bowl, "If it's the ultimate game, why are they playing it again next year?"

Indeed, "news" strikes me the same way.

Most national and international news stories in print (print online counted) are simply small rollings of the ball forward from the previous versions of the story. It's similar in broadcast media.

But, to fill inches of paper, minutes of airtime, or clamorings of website electrons, we see these balls moved slowly uphill and call them "news."

The reality is that the first journalism, newspapers, WAS the "social media" of 200 years ago. It was in part something for people to gossip and mong rumors about, and it was in part actual gossip and rumor mongering.

Life is transient. And, though I despise the term "content" when it comes from a pulp writing mill, it's true that a lot what is called "news" is little more than filler.

Now, plenty a sociologist might argue otherwise. They might say that local news is lubrication for the grist-grinding of local sociological mills. But, is that much more than a fancier way of calling a newspaper "social media," with both connotative and denotative meanings?

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Is the world ready for some neo-Cynicism?

Update, March 13, 2015: The original essay, at the link, was one of the semifinalists in 3 Quarks Daily's politics and social science writing contest. Might sound strange to some to enter a philosophy essay into contest in those categories, but if you'll read on, maybe you won't think that way by the end.

By using the capital-C word, I'm indicating the ancient philosophy, not the psychological attitude.

Is the world ready? More important, is the world needing this? My answer here, at Massimo Pigliucci's new philosophy webzine.

That answer is a "yes," with details of how I think we should update Cynicism for today. Click the link for more.

For people unfamiliar with the basics of the philosophy, beyond perhaps knowing that Diogenes masturbated in public and told Alexander the Great to get out of his light, the Wikipedia entry has a good summary of base points:

1. The goal of life is Eudaimonia and mental clarity or lucidity (τυφια) – freedom from τύφος (smoke) which signified ignorance, mindlessness, folly, and conceit.

2. Eudaimonia is achieved by living in accord with Nature as understood by human reason.

3. τύφος (Arrogance) is caused by false judgments of value, which cause negative emotions, unnatural desires, and a vicious character.

4. Eudaimonia or human flourishing, depends on self-sufficiency (ατάρκεια), equanimity, arete, love of humanity, parrhesia and indifference to the vicissitudes of life (διαφορία).

5. One progresses towards flourishing and clarity through ascetic practices (σκησις) which help one become free from influences – such as wealth, fame, or power – that have no value in Nature. Examples include Diogenes’ practice of living in a tub and walking barefoot in winter.

6. A Cynic practices shamelessness or impudence (Αναιδεια) and defaces the Nomos of society; the laws, customs, and social conventions which people take for granted.
The “flourishing” is of course a commonality with most other ancient Greek philosophies. Point 2 gets back to Massimo’s Stoicism essay on showing some commonality, and is my point of departure, with a different assessment of human nature, for neo-Cynicism.

Points 3-6 then spell out how to achieve this … and why — that the challenging of convention, asceticism and related practices are designed to produce mental and emotional clarity.

In my comments on the piece in response to others (at least to others who get the difference between the philosophy and the small-c psychology), I responded to one person who asked about what a neo-Cynicism might be for, and not just against, my one-word answer?


My version of neo-Cynicism should be seen, in part, as being a more pessmistic outgrowth of humanistic psychologies of the 1950s and 1960s.


And, for the second time, one of my essays for Massimo has been picked up by 3 Quarks Daily.


In essays in the future on this blog, some of them will focus on developing the project of Neo-Cynicism in my personal life.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Card’nal, Card’nal

Indiana State Parks photo

Card’nal, Card’nal, trilling bright, 
In the forests, reddened sight; 
What wondrous hand or tool, 
Did frame thy beauty as a jew’l?

In the oaks, beneath the skies
Whence the fire of thine eyes;
And your majestic color-coat
You wear natural without gloat?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the stirring of thy heart?
On what chords dare you aspire?
What hand bids you sing higher?

Thy brightened beak, tis also true, 
Doth to beauty accrue.
Yet your mate, in lesser garb
Holds not a jealous barb.

No craftsman at glowing forge 
Did your work divine disgorge 
No one smiled his work to see
Thy charms themselves just came to be.

Card’nal, Card’nal, trilling bright, 
In the forests, reddened sight; 
Nature’s blind hand as tool, 
Did frame thy beauty as a jew’l.

            — March 29, 2015, with nods, but no apologies, to William Blake