Thursday, September 08, 2016
Sunday, May 29, 2016
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 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
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.
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
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.)
Let's put this all on hold for a minute.
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.
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. ...
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
Arguments modeled on science tend to fail because they do not appreciate the subtleties of the concepts and the ambiguities of implication.
Thursday, October 15, 2015
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
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.
1. The goal of life is Eudaimonia and mental clarity or lucidity (ἁτυφια) – freedom from τύφος (smoke) which signified ignorance, mindlessness, folly, and conceit.
In essays in the future on this blog, some of them will focus on developing the project of Neo-Cynicism in my personal life.