see also philosophy of science
- non-euro Global Philosophy
- Political Philosophy
thecollector.com 11-11-2023 Isaiah Berlin’s Two Concepts of Liberty: Negative and Positive Liberty – Isaiah Berlin popularized the notion of negative and positive liberty. But what is the difference between these two kinds of liberty, and is one better than the other? By Joseph T F Roberts
… The main problem with positive accounts of liberty, in Berlin’s view, is that they licence oppression and totalitarian politics. It does so by extending this analogy between a ‘true’ inner self governed by reason and our ‘natural’ selves. In the same way that being free, in a positive sense, requires suppressing one’s irrational, base, instincts, the social aspect of positive freedom is achieved when “the higher elements in society—the better educated, the more rational, those who ‘possess the highest insight of their time and people’—may exercise compulsion to rationalise the irrational section of society” (Berlin, 2002, p. 196). This belief, Berlin argues, is what motivates and justifies the coercion required to instigate a revolution to pursue some form of ultimate goal, such as a classless society as envisioned by Karl Marx. If the ultimate goal is truly valuable, coercion is not incompatible with liberty. Instead, it allows us to achieve our true freedom through collective self-determination (Honderich, 1995, p. 486)
Although at times Berlin’s prose makes it difficult to see, Berlin argues that, ultimately, we ought to prefer a negative conception of freedom. The reason is that negative freedom allows individuals to autonomously determine what values they ought to follow, and how they should pursue their lives. Positive freedom, as we have seen, licences coercion of people in the name of satisfying their ‘true’ or ‘rational’ selves. It is animated by a belief that all good things in life are, in principle, compatible. In other words, it is based on a denial of value pluralism. Berlin believes the idea that there is a possible state in which all human values are fulfilled is a metaphysical chimera. Contrary to what utilitarians and other value monists believe, there is no universal scale against which all values can be graded, and the result maximised. Instead, our values are in irresolvable conflict. Choosing to pursue one (more equality, or more justice) will inevitably involve trade-offs with other values (e.g. freedom) (Honderich, 1995, p. 92) It is precisely because our values sometimes come into conflict that we value freedom to choose, for if we had an assurance that “in some perfect state, realisable by men on earth, no ends pursued by them would ever be in conflict, the necessity and agony of choice would disappear, and with it the central importance of the freedom to choose” (Berlin, 2002, p. 214). In other words, we need to protect negative freedom because there are no utopias in which an ultimate end is applicable to everybody. Having to choose between values is an inescapable part of the human condition. Unlike positive conceptions of freedom, negative freedom respects this aspect of the human condition because it does not aim to force us to suppress this inescapable aspect of our lives in service of a potentially erroneous overarching goal.
theguardian.com 7-2023 Review – The Visionaries by Wolfram Eilenberger – four women who changed the world – The complicated lives and questing minds of Ayn Rand, Hannah Arendt, Simone de Beauvoir and Simone Weil – by Caroline Moorehead
In the summer of 1933, four women, all in their 20s, were busy contemplating the meaning of their own existence and the importance of others to it. The word existentialism had not yet been invented, but the quartet were intrigued by the idea of finding a new philosophy, using their own intelligence to change themselves and the world, while working out how the individual and the collective played into the malaise of modern times. Over the next decade, as Wolfram Eilenberger writes, they all crossed paths intellectually, sometimes agreeing, more often not, though it seems that they never actually met….
‘A tremendous book, timely, wise, authoritative and clear’ Stephen Fry
‘A brilliantly eloquent, incredibly insightful reimagining of liberalism’ Owen Jones
‘Thank God Daniel Chandler has written this fine and necessary book’ Russell Brand
‘Inspiring … impassioned … full of hope’ Zadie Smith
‘This is a fantastic book’ Thomas Piketty
Imagine: you are designing a society, but you don’t know who you’ll be within it – rich or poor, man or woman, gay or straight. What would you want that society to look like?
This is the revolutionary thought experiment proposed by the twentieth century’s greatest political philosopher, John Rawls. As economist and philosopher Daniel Chandler argues in this hugely ambitious and exhilarating intervention, it is by rediscovering Rawls that we can find a way out of the escalating crises that are devastating our world today.
Taking Rawls’s humane and egalitarian liberalism as his starting point, Chandler builds a careful and ultimately irresistible case for a progressive agenda that would fundamentally reshape our societies for the better. He shows how we can protect free speech and transcend the culture wars; get money out of politics; and create an economy where everyone has the chance to fulfil their potential, where prosperity is widely shared, and which operates within the limits of our finite planet.
This is a book brimming with hope and possibility – a galvanising alternative to the cynicism that pervades our politics. Free and Equal has the potential not only to transform contemporary debate, but to offer a touchstone for a modern, egalitarian liberalism for many years to come, cementing Rawls’s place in political discourse, and firmly establishing Chandler as a vital new voice for our time.
theguardian.com 14-4-2023 Free and Equal by Daniel Chandler – the road to fairness
A stirring call to make justice and equity a reality by applying the ideas of liberal philosopher John Rawls – review by Stuart Jeffries
Economist.com 8-2-2023 Book review- Anaximander. By Carlo Rovelli. Anaximander is a hero in the development of scientific thinking – The polymath demonstrated the utility of challenging perceived wisdom.
>humanism, history of ideas
theguardian.com 24-3-2023 Humanly Possible by Sarah Bakewell review – the meaning of humanism – A skilful examination of seven centuries of thought that deftly combines philosophy, history and biography -by Jane O’Grady
…”…To date the rise of “humanism” to the early Renaissance is, strictly speaking, anachronistic; there was no such term until the 19th century. But Humanly Possible traces a lineage, less of theories than of kindred spirits, over seven centuries in Europe. This runs from medieval umanisti (students of humanity), who remained Christian even while resurrecting “the flowering, perfumed, fruitful works of the pagan world spring” (as John of Salisbury called them), to today’s (more secular) self-declared humanists.
Along with intellectual developments, Sarah Bakewell gives us their material background – books, book-selling, printing, corpse dissection, plagues and sprezzatura (courtly nonchalance). Among figures both well known and not are Christine de Pisan, with her redoubtable defence of women’s worth; Erasmus, praising the “folly” of love; the erudite Montaigne, wondering what on earth he knew; Spinoza, challenging the accuracy of biblical narratives; Voltaire, lampooning “the best of all possible worlds” and ridiculing the notion that “whatever is, is right”; Thomas Paine, who deemed religion “irreligious” in its claustrophobic gloom; John Stuart Mill, with his incisive analysis of the oppression of women; and Bertrand Russell, sent to prison for opposing war.
Free thinking, inquiry and hope – these, says Bakewell, are perennial humanist principles. Petrarch rejoiced in “the former pure radiance” transmitted through rediscovered classical texts, but the authority of these would in its turn need to be questioned. Studying Aristotle’s arguments was “not doing philosophy but history”, said Descartes. In 1543, the anatomist Andreas Vesalius would “marvel” at the “blind faith” he had placed in the once-liberating Galen. Books should be signposts, not destinations, wrote EM Forster (he is referenced often and affectionately).
While exalting education, humanists have differed over how much it should consist in implanting knowledge, or in fostering innate “seeds” so “the inner life of the soul” could unfurl; and similarly over how much morality needs to be instilled, how much it is simply the extension of natural “sympathy”, as David Hume maintained. Joseph Stalin might agree with Innocent III that humanity should be remodelled, but (Bakewell quotes a post-Khmer Rouge Cambodian) revolution is often so “pure” it leaves “no room for humans”.
Having achieved the death of God, and taken on ‘the task of the murderee’, now we are threatened with the death of man
What actually is a “human”? In the 14th century, Humanitas (being human) implicitly involved refinement, civility, erudition and being articulate. And certainly, says Bakewell, we “occupy a field of reality that is neither entirely physical nor entirely spiritual”, which includes talking, drawing, telling jokes, passing on memories, trying to do the right thing, worshipping in temples, building pyramids, art, literature, culture…”…
Seven Hundred Years of Humanist Freethinking, Enquiry and Hope by Sarah Bakewell – buy at guardianbookshop.com.
>political philosophy, Rousseau, Political Obligation, Anarchism, Contract Theory, Democracy , politische Verpfichtung, Anarchismus, Vertragstheorie, Demokratie
academia.edu 2012 “Rousseaus philosophischer Anarchismus. Der demokratische Gesellschaftsvertrag und das Problem der politischen Verpflichtung” – Rousseau’s Philosophical Anarchism: The Democratic Social Contract and the Problem of
Political Obligation – by Robin Celikates
Abstract – In this article I firstly sketch the current discussion of the problem of political obligation and the position of philosophical anarchism. In the second step, Rousseau’s answer to this problem is interpreted as a variant of aposteriori philosophical anarchism. Thirdly, I show under which conditions, according to Rousseau, the political obligations of
citizens cease to exist or become qualified, and finally I raise the question whether a specifically Rousseauian perspective on civil disobedience can be developed against this background.
>reason, rationality, continental, Fascism, History, Imperialism, Marxism, Philosophy, War,
monthlyreview.org 1-2-2023 The New Irrationalism by John Bellamy Foster
…”…The capitalist world economy as a whole is now characterized by deepening stagnation, financialization, and soaring inequality. All of this is accompanied by the prospect of planetary omnicide in the dual forms of nuclear holocaust and climate destabilization. In this dangerous context, the very notion of human reason is frequently being called into question. It is therefore necessary to address once again the question of the relation of imperialism or monopoly capitalism to the destruction of reason and the ramifications of this for contemporary class and anti-imperialist struggles.
In 1953, Georg Lukács, whose 1923 History and Class Consciousness had inspired the Western Marxist philosophical tradition, published his magisterial work, The Destruction of Reason, on the close relation of philosophical irrationalism to capitalism, imperialism, and fascism.1 Lukács’s work set off a firestorm among Western left theorists seeking to accommodate themselves to the new American imperium. In 1963, George Lichtheim, a self-styled socialist operating within the general tradition of Western Marxism while virulently opposed to Soviet Marxism, wrote an article for Encounter Magazine, then covertly funded by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), in which he vehemently attacked The Destruction of Reason and other works by Lukács. Lichtheim accused Lukács of generating an “intellectual disaster” with his analysis of the historical shift from reason to unreason within European philosophy and literature, and the relation of this to the rise of fascism and the new imperialism under U.S. global hegemony.2
This was not the first time, of course, that Lukács had been subjected to such strong condemnations by figures associated with Western Marxism. Theodor Adorno, one of the dominant theorists of the Frankfurt School, attacked Lukács in 1958 when the latter was still under house arrest for supporting the 1956 revolution in Hungary. Writing in Der Monat, a journal created by the occupying U.S. Army and funded by the CIA, Adorno charged Lukács with being “reductive” and “undialectical,” writing like a “Cultural Commissar,” and with being “paralysed from the outset by the consciousness of his own impotence.”3
However, the 1963 attack on Lukács by Lichtheim in Encounter took on an added significance due to its absolute condemnation of Lukács’s The Destruction of Reason. In this work, Lukács had charted the relation of philosophical irrationalism—which first emerged on the European Continent, particularly in Germany, with the defeat of the 1848 revolutions, and that became a dominant force near the end of the century—to the rise of the imperialist stage of capitalism. For Lukács, irrationalism, including its ultimate coalescence with Nazism, was no fortuitous development, but rather a product of capitalism itself….”…
Western Continental, Existentialism, Phenomenology, Experiential
…”…At the end I should mention the main reason at the bottom line. The inferiority complex is connectedwith the believe in the bad nature of the human being. This believe is also unnatural. It appeared inwestern Europe somewhen before the Reformation, and was expressed in Protestantism (mainlyCalvinism) in the believe that the original sin has completely and finally perverted human nature, whichis why man does not deserve salvation and only God’s chosen few (elite) will be saved. This is thesource of the western nihilism, negativism, competition, inequality and fear.”
>global, chinese, taoism
theconversation.com 19-1-2023 Finding your essential self: the ancient philosophy of Zhuangzi explained – by Oscar Davis
>political philosophy, pragmatism
newyorker.com ggpage 3-1-2023 A Philosophy Professor’s Final Class – This past spring, Richard Bernstein investigated the questions he’d been asking his whole career—about right, wrong, and what we owe one another—one last time. – by Jordi Graupera
..”…Bernstein… went to the University of Chicago, where he wrote an undergraduate thesis on love and friendship in Plato’s works. One of his classmates was Richard Rorty, who would go on to become philosophy’s most prominent postwar pragmatist. (Another classmate was Susan Sontag.) Rorty went to Yale for his Ph.D. and urged Bernstein to follow him there. Bernstein did, writing his dissertation on the pragmatist John Dewey’s philosophy of experience—a daring choice, given Dewey’s diminished status at the time. The German philosopher Jürgen Habermas, echoing a comment Lessing made of Spinoza, told me that Dewey was generally regarded back then as a “dead dog.”…
…The great insight of classical pragmatists was to recognize that we conduct intellectual inquiries in the same way that we go about living and acting in the world. We clash with the world when we test our theories in the field and when we argue with our political enemies. Truth may be elusive, but our experience is real, and it forces us to think, to argue—possibly, to change….”…
>global, anthropology, history, philosophy, art – Installation Art, Feminism, India, Contemporary Art, Capitalism,Anthropocene, Sheba Chhachhi
academia.edu 2016 Cracks and Luminosities: through the anthropocene and capital matters – by Kumkum Sangari
This essay examines the leverage of capitalism and the anthropocene in the contemporary context. It looks at the relationship between nature, time scales, durations, body, biosphere, place, land, sky, sand, coal, soil, fossils with an emphasis on geo-historical archives, feminist art and Sheba Chhachhi’s works. The essay discusses representations of Asia, aviaries, elephants, digital multiples, the feminist copy and the tangible gift.
…”…The anthropocene epoch is laden with destructive actions, urgent pro-tests and reparative initiatives. Yet it comprises a powerful and indelible planetary shaping without the ability to control its scale or eﬀects – an agency that cannot master or reverse the new phenomena it creates, abiological–chemical–geological force that cannot escape itself or fully understand its own co-dependence on nonhuman (vegetal, animal, microbial) entities. That is, the ‘human’ is positioned as at once cause and consequence, as a set of agencies compacted into an external and inter-nalized structural force, while the anthropocene epoch coheres as a set of recursive and reactive processes which create the joint vulnerability of the planet and its life-forms. Anthropocene-epoch humans become ﬁnitesubjects and temporary inhabitants assigned an unprecedented agential power that is simultaneously pared down by its own limits, and by the growing emphasis on the ontological and agential status of a human and nonhuman entities.As a rapidly evolving academic ﬁeld, the anthropocene skitters between materialist anti foundationalisms and a return to ontologies.However, the anthropocene can only become a signiﬁcant heuristic and critical concept if it carries the speciﬁc contexts and force of the histories of violence, exploitation and irresponsibility that have engendered it. Many longstanding disciplinary ﬁelds and social movements revolved around urgent concerns – subsistence and food security, livelihood and environmental renewal, public health and pollution, biodiversity and climate change, social justice and equity, the rights of workers, tribals,minorities, the disabled and women – and opposed colonial ecocideand genocide, environmental imperialism and racism, nuclear weapons testing and nuclear power, capitalist globalization and erosion of thecommons, corporate bioprospecting and biogenetics, militarism and war, before this epoch was given a name. Yet these concerns may not ﬁteasily into the unfolding conceptual parameters of the anthropocene.As a concept it must also contend with the several renditions of nature and agency that preceded its naming. If conceived simply as cumulative actions against a given real and extra-discursive nature, it is confronted by scepticism about the very existence of an originary and static nature only unsettled by recent human intervention – a scepticism derived in part from the evolutionary record of mass species extinctions, diluvial and glacial episodes, as well as by doubts about what counts as un-mediated nature outside its social–historical fashionings. The givenness of nature has long been counterposed by open-ended interactive or co-constitutive processes that interweave nature and history by feminist and indigenist undoings of the nature/culture binary as a Eurocentric universalization of Cartesian dualism, and understandings of nature–culture as a continuum or a coproduction; as well as refusals to separate nature or the epochal ecological crisis from politics, the economy, the social and military violence. …”…
The Return of Metaphysics: Russell and Realism – Analytic philosophy’s realist revolt and its limits
Fraser MacBride – Editor of the Monist and author of On the Genealogy of Universals: The Metaphysical Origins of Analytic Philosophy (Oxford, 2018).
Bertrand Russell and G.E. Moore saw their revolt against Hegelian idealism, and their embrace of realism, as ushering in a ‘new philosophy’, what eventually became known as ‘analytic philosophy’. For Hegel and his followers, reality only made sense as a whole: to understand anything you needed to understand how it was a manifestation of reality overall. Russell and Moore, on the other hand, thought that science and common sense taught us that reality is made of individual things that can be understood on their own, separately from everything else. This metaphysical picture, however, depended on an epistemological one: direct realism. According to Russell, we come to know about the world by direct acquaintance with its objects. As it turns out, a critique of that position lied at the foundation of Hegel’s thought, a critique that continues to haunt analytic philosophy today, writes Fraser MacBride.
This is the fourth installment in our series The Return of Metaphysics, in partnership with the Essentia Foundation. Read the series’ previous articles The Return of Metaphysics: Hegel vs Kant, The Return of Idealism: Hegel vs Russell, and Derrida and the trouble with metaphysics.
Ludwig Wittgenstein’s war on philosophy -He preferred the ‘rough ground’ of everyday existence
BY TERRY EAGLETON
…”…In this and other ways, Wittgenstein’s thought steadily undermines middle-class individualism. We are not isolated beings sealed within our own private, incommunicable experience. On the contrary, the way in which I come to know you is pretty much the way in which I come to know myself. How can I know that what I am feeling is jealousy unless I have been reared within a language which contains the concept? And language is nobody’s private property. Behind this distaste for the cult of the individual one can feel the disdain of aristocratic Vienna for the stout burgher.
Wittgenstein was an intriguing combination of monk, mystic and mechanic. He was a high European intellectual who yearned for a Tolstoyan holiness and simplicity of life, a man who could never decide whether he was a Brahmin or an Untouchable. He turned away from what he called the pure ice of the intellect to the “rough ground” of everyday existence. However abstruse the problems we set ourselves, their roots are to be found in our routine practices. It is what we do, he comments, which lies at the bottom of our language-games. As one who hailed from an empire populated by Germans, Slovaks, Romanians, Serbs, Slovenes and a good many other quarrelsome ethnic groups, he came to see human culture as inherently diverse. The simple English phrase “it takes all kinds to make a world” struck his semi-outsider’s ears as “a very kindly and beautiful saying”.
Yet he was also an irascible autocrat with the haughtiness of his social class, as well as a man who lived for much of the time in spiritual torment. “Tell them it’s been a wonderful life,” he said on his deathbed, though quite in what sense is one of the many enigmas of his life and work. He was, he felt, a sinner in search of redemption, though he believed neither in sin nor redemption. My tutor had a wonderful life too, at least judging from the outside, but in one sense this was exactly his problem. To be a great artist or thinker you have to live, and decent chap though he was, he never quite got round to doing much of that.”
tandfonline.com 3-2022 Thales – the ‘first philosopher’? A troubled chapter in the historiography of philosophy – by Lea Cantor
Abstract: It is widely believed that the ancient Greeks thought that Thales was the first philosopher, and that they therefore maintained that philosophy had a Greek origin. This paper challenges these assumptions, arguing that most ancient Greek thinkers who expressed views about the history and development of philosophy rejected both positions. I argue that not even Aristotle presented Thales as the first philosopher, and that doing so would have undermined his philosophical commitments and interests. Beyond Aristotle, the view that Thales was the first philosopher is attested almost nowhere in antiquity. In the classical, Hellenistic, and post-Hellenistic periods, we witness a marked tendency to locate the beginning of philosophy in a time going back further than Thales. Remarkably, ancient Greek thinkers most often traced the origins of philosophy to earlier non-Greek peoples. Contrary to the received view, then, I argue that (1) vanishingly few Greek writers pronounced Thales the first philosopher; and (2) most Greek thinkers did not even advocate a Greek origin of philosophy. Finally, I show that the view that philosophy originated with Thales (along with its misleading attribution to the Greeks in general) has roots in problematic, and in some cases manifestly racist, eighteenth-century historiography of philosophy.
KEYWORDS: Historiography of philosophyGreek philosophyThalesAristotleracism
orionphilosophy.com/ 2022 PHILOSOPHY FOR LIFE – WHAT IS ORION? – Philosophy in the ancient world was used to try and understand who we are, the world around us, and our place within it. Life is complicated and without direction it can become hard to navigate. The concepts of practical philosophy can give us a framework with which to dampen the noise of modern life, structure our inner world, figure out better ways to live, become more understanding, and see the world more clearly. It’s an antidote to the depressions and anxieties that can creep into our unguarded mind. Orion is designed as a hub where anyone can come and sit down to go through ideas from all areas of life and philosophy. The conditions of our mind dictate the conditions of our life, and our mind is our responsibility.
1 Being You: A New Science of Consciousness by Anil Seth
2 Critical Lives: Hannah Arendt by Samantha Rose Hill
3 The Case for Rage: Why Anger Is Essential to Anti-Racist Struggle by Myisha Cherry
4 Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman
5 Coming of Age at the End of History by Lea Ypi
thetimes.co.uk/ 12/2021 16 best philosophy and ideas books 2021 – No Descartes in sight — James Marriott and James McConnachie’s picks take in morals, meritocracy, trans issues and technology
Anglo Analytic Philosophy
city-journal.org 25-9-2023 The University of Oxford Dominated Philosophy in The Twentieth Century. Three new books examine the brilliant if eccentric minds nurtured there – by Michael Gibson
- A Terribly Serious Adventure: Philosophy and War at Oxford 1900–1960, by Nikhil Krishnan
- The Women Are Up to Something: How Elizabeth Anscombe, Philippa Foot, Mary Midgley, and Iris Murdoch Revolutionized Ethics, by Benjamin J. B. Lipscomb –
- Parfit: A Philosopher and His Mission to Save Morality, by David Edmonds
In 1963, the philosophers Gilbert Ryle and Isaiah Berlin had lunch with the composer Igor Stravinsky. Ryle, the least famous of the bunch, was the most scathing in his survey of the philosophical landscape. He dubbed the celebrated American pragmatists William James and John Dewey the “Great American Bores.” He condemned the work of French Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin, with its speculation about an emerging world consciousness, as “old teleological pancake.” Then he summed it up in a sweeping crossfire that could serve as the most Oxonian of putdowns: “Every generation or so philosophical progress is set back by the appearance of a ‘genius.’”
What did Ryle have against such geniuses? And is progress in philosophy even possible?
Largely thanks to Ryle and his colleagues, by the 1950s Oxford had ascended to a commanding position in philosophy, at least in the English-speaking world. On the European continent, things were different: German and French philosophers had run headlong down another path. The two broad traditions that emerged from the split after World War I are known as analytic and continental philosophy. The gap between the two styles is vast. Most continental philosophy requires translation from the original gibberish. It’s arcane and cryptic, obsessed with power—raw or disguised—and sadly, is the origin point of postmodernism, most justifications for Communism, critical race theory, DEI, and therefore, all the woke slogans you’ve ever encountered on social media.
The analytic tradition is mainly Anglo-American. To this day, virtually all philosophy departments in America pursue research in this vein, but it began at Oxford in the 1920s. It started with a youthful rebellion against abstractions emitted by the descendants of Hegel and Kant. All the argle-bargle metaphysics had to go; sobriety and clarity would replace intoxicating confusion. Authority was also out; the new style rejected appeals to the great thinkers. Commentaries on commentaries on the thoughts of long-dead humans could prove helpful, but they were not the point. The point, instead, was to attack the mysteries and riddles of existence head-on. The new philosophy would build on the formal power of mathematical logic and the undeniable success of science to develop a new method for reaching the truth about great questions: What is the deepest reality? Is there any knowledge that is beyond all doubt? What is the nature of consciousness? Is there a single true morality?
In grappling with these mysteries, Oxford philosophers developed and refined old and new techniques. Reasoning, deduction, explanation, more care and precision in language, crisper concepts, deeper distinctions, elaborate models, thought experiments, devastating counterexamples, intuitive principles that press to surprising conclusions—on all of these things, Oxford led the way, and the rest of the Anglosphere followed. Its legacy is less a set of ideas or even a series of sacred tenets and Delphic sayings than it is a devotion to rigor, clarity, truth, and a very practical British revulsion to nonsense.
Three recent books depict the evolution of the Oxford style through the lives and careers of some of its most adept practitioners. The stories they tell overlap to some degree, but, taken as a whole, they cover a century of philosophy. Chronologically, the first in this thrown-together series is Nikhil Krishnan’s A Terribly Serious Adventure: Philosophy and War at Oxford 1900-1960, an engrossing history of ideas that also brings to life the characters behind them. Picking up where Krishnan tails off, Benjamin J. B. Lipscomb’s The Women Are Up to Something: How Elizabeth Anscombe, Philippa Foot, Mary Midgley, and Iris Murdoch Revolutionized Ethics offers a group biography that vividly portrays the friendship that sustained these women through decades of discouragement from their mostly male counterparts and sets the context for the rebellion they initiated against moral relativism and other subjectivist views of ethics. That was a campaign they did not finish, at least not convincingly, which brings us to the last book: David Edmonds’s Parfit: A Philosopher and His Mission to Save Morality. Edmonds has written a sharp and sympathetic biography of Derek Parfit, who may well have been the last wizard-like genius to come forth from the old Oxford tradition. His death in 2017 marks the end of an era.
Creative genius is evenly distributed in neither time nor place. A survey of the past shows that genius is not randomly scattered about, like the seeds of a dandelion, but concentrates: ancient Athens, Renaissance Florence, Silicon Valley, among other examples. Why these fertile eras and places appear, peak, and then decline is understudied as a historical phenomenon. Oxford philosophy in the twentieth century, though not as astonishing as Florence or as productive as Silicon Valley, is nevertheless an example of the clustering of philosophical genius.
The characters in these three books did not meet by chance. Oxford’s allure pulled them in. It also transformed them; there was, as it were, something in the water. I can trace at least four factors.
To begin with, practically all the philosophers in these histories had to pass through the eye of an academic needle. Many had achieved top marks in the study of “Greats,” a uniquely Oxford undergraduate course of study that entailed mastering a challenging body of knowledge—ancient history, literature, and philosophy—all in the original languages. Mastery here required not only the ability to read in ancient Greek and Latin but also sufficient skill to compose poems and essays in them. Whether this actually contributed to achievement in philosophy may have been less important than the fact that it weeded out the lazy, the sloppy, and the unexceptional.
Next, by tradition, Oxford has always cared little for lectures and instead has relied on the use of one-on-one or one-on-two tutoring as its primary mode of instruction. That may be a lucky accident of history, but nevertheless, research in the psychology of education has found that one-on-one tutoring far surpasses any other form of instruction in improving student performance. The Oxford Greats’ once-a-week tutorials, where no word in any paper was left unchallenged, sharpened one’s talent and hardened one’s skin to criticism.
All three books delightfully bring to life the genteel atmosphere of the classic tutorial—the sweaters worn under coarse wool jackets, the spectacles, the fumbling preliminaries in elaborate British courtesy, a tray and two cups of tea, our tutor stirring tea in his cup while contemplating an undergraduate’s desperate attempt at respectability, a forgotten cigarette burning away in an ashtray, the pregnant pause, and then the interrogation. “I have five objections to your thesis. To begin with, what should we say if someone tells us they don’t have free will?” Everyone pretended to find the donnish conceits ridiculous, yet all religiously adhered to them, even if apologetically. It may have been an aristocratic tradition adapting to an egalitarian age, but it made for great philosophy.
Third—and strangely left unexplored by the authors—nearly all the philosophers in these books did not have Ph.D.s in philosophy. Gilbert Ryle, J. L. Austin, Isaiah Berlin, Iris Murdoch, Philippa Foot, Elizabeth Anscombe, A. J. Ayer, R. M. Hare, Bernard Williams, and Derek Parfit—not a single doctoral degree in philosophy among them. A first in their undergraduate exams—meaning a grade of “A+”—was enough to send them on their way. Yes, each won prizes and fellowships, but none wrote anything like a dissertation under the supervision of an advisor. One might conclude, as the analytic tradition fades into its senility, that requiring a graduate degree in philosophy made academic philosophers worse at philosophy.
Perhaps most importantly, Oxford was rich in social and intellectual influences outside the tutorials. Again, all three books bring this vividly to life. A new club seems to have formed every decade to discuss philosophy. The old discussion groups stuck around, too. The Jowett Society, the Wee Teas, the Metaphysicals, J. L. Austin’s Saturday Morning Meetings, the Tuesday Group—out of these clubs, friendships formed in breakaway circles. Those circles became crucibles for refining thought, shaping and sharing a vision about what counted as good work and what big debates were worth addressing. More than mentorship, collaborative and somewhat rivalrous friendships set the pace, escalated the level of play, and expanded the edge of the possible. Only your friends can rev you up to desecrate the monuments of the last generation.
By contrast, as is the case in most graduate programs today (including Oxford), the mentor-protégé system stifles creativity. The love and loyalty a student expresses for a dissertation advisor are often stronger than his commitment to innovation and discovery. Add to that the power of the mentor to advance a student’s career, and one is left with a parrot house full of incremental bird calls. Early in her career, Anscombe displayed an almost slavish devotion to Ludwig Wittgenstein, even to the point of imitating his speech patterns, mannerisms, and Austrian accent. That period also coincides with her least interesting work. Her best work came out of her conversations with friends.
For 20 years, every weekday after lunch, Anscombe and Foot would repair to the Senior Common Room at Somerville College to discuss philosophy with anyone who cared to join. (The “Senior Common Room” is Oxford-speak for the faculty lounge.) Anscombe usually picked the topic, but it was an informal conversation among friends that could last hours until tea arrived. Out of these discussions came a revival of virtue ethics and the invention of the famous trolley-problem thought experiment.
The fourth and final factor was that this collegial competition led a few of these misfits into levels of obsession and single-mindedness that I’ve seen paralleled only in competitive sports.
As Krishnan and Lipscomb show, Austin would take an extreme, almost monomaniacal pleasure in the nuances of language and barely detectable shades of meaning. Anscombe once complained, “That man would find a difference between ‘enough’ and ‘sufficient.’” Some people found him pedantic, even condescending. But no one ever said he was careless. Berlin kept a sign on the mantlepiece in his office, taken from a car dealer, that read “AUSTIN.” It was a reminder to write and think at the Olympian standards that his friend had set.
Parfit was another maniac who came to possess a religious fervor for philosophy. As Edmonds affectionately details, Parfit would read while brushing his teeth, and he’d read—naked—while riding on his recumbent exercise bike. He’d take meetings at 3 a.m. Some philosophical discussions could last six hours. It was not unusual for Parfit to return 50 pages of comments on a draft paper written by anyone, whether a tenured professor or a visiting student. Parfit once followed Bernard Williams to his car and stood in the rain, pounding the hood of the car trying to convince Williams that morality had an objective foundation. Williams ignored Parfit and drove off, leaving him in a storm.
What set Oxford apart was that Ryle, Austin, Anscombe, Parfit, and others believed that ordinary philosophers, working together, could make extraordinary advances. To believe progress in philosophy is possible is to characterize it as a non-natural science much like mathematics, only less developed, with worse tools, and addressing some of life’s greatest mysteries.
So, from the 1920s to the present, what progress was made in solving these mysteries?
As great as these three books are at explaining knotty philosophical debates, you should go to the sources and judge for yourself. Krishnan counts the papers and books written by these figures as “some of the great works of twentieth-century literature,” with moments that have moved him as deeply as music and poetry. I agree. For my money, one can make an excellent beginning with Austin’s “A Plea for Excuses,” Berlin’s “Two Concepts of Liberty,” Murdoch’s The Sovereignty of the Good, and Parfit’s Reasons and Persons. Each is a startling achievement. You will see how varied the sensibilities and conclusions are, but underneath it all you will also detect the hum of a common vision and commitment to finding the truth.
Philosophy keeps alive our sense of wonder. It is a craft more for the sake of the questions than the answers. Some things we will never know but will always feel compelled to discuss. Philosophers keep the conversation going.
Sadly, however, analytic philosophy is exhausted nowadays, a stagnant backwater. American philosophers picked up where Oxford left off and have carried the torch further, but with advances measured in inches, not miles. Its practitioners bear a stronger resemblance to low-level bureaucrats in a professional union than to dashing figures chasing the profound. In the wider public debate, and in terms of cultural influence, analytic philosophers have lost out to the heirs of continental philosophy. The very idea of truth is up for grabs, not only in seminar rooms but also in the White House and on the front pages of every newspaper.
There has to be another way. The need to make progress in philosophy weighed on Parfit like an anvil. We could do worse than read these three books to remind ourselves that progress is indeed possible.
penguin.co.uk 2022 Metaphysical Animals: How Four Women Brought Philosophy Back to Life by Clare Mac Cumhaill & Rachel Wiseman –
spectator.co.uk The women who challenged a stale, male philosophy – Clare Mac Cumhaill and Rachael Wiseman describe how Mary Midgley, Iris Murdoch, Elizabeth Anscombe and Philippa Foot and her friends rejected logical positivism and brought philosophy back to life – review by Kathleen Stock
commonwealmagazine.org 23/11/2021 Should Philosophy Retire? ‘Pragmatism as Anti-Authoritarianism’ By George Scialabba
“Richard Rorty (1931–2007) was the philosopher’s anti-philosopher. His professional credentials were impeccable: an influential anthology (The Linguistic Turn, 1967); a game-changing book (Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, 1979); another, only slightly less original book (Consequences of Pragmatism, 1982); a best-selling (for a philosopher) collection of literary/philosophical/political lectures and essays (Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity, 1989); four volumes of Collected Papers from the venerable Cambridge University Press; president of the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association (1979). He seemed to be speaking at every humanities conference in the 1980s and 1990s, about postmodernism, critical theory, deconstruction, and the past, present, and future (if any) of philosophy…”…
…”…Like all those who publish young, Wittgenstein was doomed to have to change his mind in public. Perhaps afraid of this, he never published another book during his lifetime, though he wrote several, the most notable being Philosophical Investigations (published in 1953, two years after his death), which immediately set up epochs in his canon: early Wittgenstein versus late Wittgenstein. Though his ideas would change radically over time — to the point of disowning most of the Tractatus — his insistence on language as the thing that plugs us into reality remained the linchpin of his pensée. The Tractatus then was not the end of Wittgenstein’s philosophy but its point of departure…”…
iai.tv/articles/ 1978 10 questions ignored by philosophy World Philosophy Day 2021
dailynous.com 5/2021 Analytic Philosophy’s “Triple Failure of Confidence” By Justin Weinberg. “Analytic philosophy suffers from a triple failure of confidence, especially among younger philosophers.”
Liam Kofi Bright (LSE) : … “For what I think is gone, and is not coming back, is any hope that from all this will emerge a well-validated and rational-consensus-generating theory of grand topics of interest. We can, and we will, keep generating puzzles for any particular answer given, we will never persuade our colleagues who disagree, we will never finally settle what to say about the simple cases in order to be able to move on to the grand problems of philosophy. My anecdotal impression is that junior philosophers are hyper aware of these bleak prospects for anything like creation of a shared scientific paradigm.”
…”Musonius was millennia ahead of society in his defence of gender equality. Here is what he says about women and the ability to think rationally:
Women as well as men … have received from the gods the gift of reason, which we use in our dealings with one another and by which we judge whether a thing is good or bad, right or wrong … Moreover, not men alone, but women too, have a natural inclination toward virtue and the capacity for acquiring it, and it is the nature of women no less than men to be pleased by good and just acts and to reject the opposite of these.
This is rather stunning for someone who was alive in the 1st century of the modern era, but it was actually common opinion among the Stoics (and the Epicureans)…”…
ft.com 2021 The Greeks and The Greek Revolution — an ancient debt
wikipedia The Phenomenon of Man (French: Le phénomène humain) is an essay by the French geologist, paleontologist, philosopher, and Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. In this work, Teilhard describes evolution as a process that leads to increasing complexity, culminating in the unification of consciousness. The text was written in the 1930s, but it achieved publication only posthumously, in 1955.
bactra.org/ 1960? The Phenomenon of Man – review by Peter Medawar …the Book of the Century. Yet the greater part of it, I shall show, is nonsense, tricked out with a variety of metaphysical conceits, and its author can be excused of dishonesty only on the grounds that before deceiving others he has taken great pains to deceive himself. The Phenomenon of Man cannot be read without a feeling of suffocation, a gasping and flailing around for sense. There is an argument in it, to be sure — a feeble argument, abominably expressed — and this I shall expound in due course; but consider first the style, because it is the style that creates the illusion of content, and which is a cause as well as merely a symptom of Teilhard’s alarming apocalyptic seizures.
sydneyreviewofbooks.com 2021 Philosophy in Troublous Times – Knox Pedenon reviews This Life by Martin Hägglund
…”I started composing this review during the peak of the bushfires in January. I returned to complete it as the coronavirus pandemic settled into its critical phase. The globalising, unifying elements of such crises are palpable, and resonate with Hägglund’s focus on fragility as an ineliminable element of political effort, just as it is for life as such. And yet his universal philosophy betrays a startling parochialism in the way it apportions which routes of anti-capitalism are viable and which aren’t. The world religions are unaided by their implausible origin stories, but it’s unclear why German Idealism and its legacy in sectors of the humanities academy should be any more likely a candidate to give us the total explanation for the world’s depredations.
Hägglund thinks religious belief is disabling to the extent that it turns us away from this world, and redeemable to the extent that it doesn’t. But one wonders in the end what reality this contrast captures, and whether it isn’t best regarded as yet another sectarian view, another voice in the wilderness. (Here I am reminded of the words of the young Indiana Jones alone in the desert, decades before the Last Crusade: ‘Everybody’s lost but me.’) Hägglund locates the uniqueness of his project in its sense of life’s incompletion, the rootedness of our dignity in our finitude and mutual dependence. But this is hardly a unique view, and doesn’t require the machinery Hägglund marshals to justify it. He ends This Life with an homage to King that calls for us to turn away from the New Jerusalem in order to build the New New York. But it bears repeating that these efforts weren’t mutually exclusive for King as they are ultimately – and necessarily – for Hägglund.
Hägglund thinks religious faith offers guarantees and a release from worldly difficulties, a caricature that prevents him from seeing allies in the struggle against consumerism and ethnic divisiveness at a time when they are sorely needed. And yet, alone in North Africa in 1908, near the trading post of Tamanrasset, the French mystic Charles de Foucauld also conceived of a project of evangelisation, in which he would spread the gospel among the Tuareg people of the Sahara. In the years to follow he would learn their language, immersing himself in their culture, even producing a Tuareg-French dictionary. As he considered what lay before him, he wrote a letter to the apostolic prefect for the region:
There is a phrase of holy Scripture that we must, I believe, always remember. It’s that Jerusalem was reconstructed ‘in angustia temporum’ (Daniel). We must work all our life in angustia temporum. Difficulties are not a temporary state that we let pass like a squall so that we can set to work when the weather will be calm. No, these are the normal state. We must count on them being so for our entire life, for all of the good things that we want to do, in angustia temporum.
In angustia temporum – ‘in a troubled time,’ or, in the more melodious King James version, ‘in troublous times.’ In 1916, as the effects of the European war extended to French Algeria, Charles de Foucauld was murdered by a band of tribesmen, shot in the head during a botched kidnapping. Years later the Church recognised him as a martyr. It seems to me that there are better uses for philosophy than to wonder at his sincerity.”
dailynous.com 24/11/2021 New: Journal of Spinoza Studies By Justin Weinberg
The Journal of Spinoza Studies (JSS) is a new, online, open-access, peer-reviewed journal that “aims to publish original, innovative scholarly work on any aspect of Spinoza’s thought or its reception, and is committed to promoting a lively exchange of ideas among scholars working in different intellectual and philosophical traditions.” The editors of JSS are Andrea Sangiacomo and Kristin Primus – jss.rug.nl/index
…”Hegel’s reception in the US has long been complicated. In the mid-to-late 19th century, he was widely read and respected. There were several well-established groups, often heavy with German immigrants, dedicated to Hegel study, such as the Ohio and the St Louis Hegelians. There were prominent Hegelian Idealists in the universities, notably Josiah Royce at Harvard and G Watts Cunningham at Cornell. And, perhaps most important, several Pragmatists, especially Charles S Peirce and John Dewey, were influenced by Hegel. (William James was not a Hegel fan.) Then the reaction set in. It started in England, with Bertrand Russell and G E Moore’s revolt against the British Idealists, but the Americans picked up the banner and then doubled down on the rejection of Hegel with the infusion of logical positivists escaping Nazi Germany in the 1930s.
Anglophone philosophy turned against Hegel for several reasons. His philosophy was seen as the epitome of a grand metaphysical system purporting to lay out a priori the fundamental structure of reality, which turned out to be mental, or in Hegel’s vocabulary, spiritual – something like a world soul, or (even worse), a Spinozistic, pantheistic God. Thus, not only was Hegel’s system grandiose metaphysics, it was grandiose theology as well. Hegel also defended a holism that conflicted with the atomism (and the foundationalistic theory of knowledge) that comes naturally with empiricism and which seemed to be a lesson taught by modern science. Hegel’s philosophy opposed the antimetaphysical, atomistic, foundationalist and empiricist bent of Anglophone philosophy, which was also increasingly secular in orientation.
At a slightly less abstract level, Anglophone philosophy had become enamoured of the developments in logic initiated by George Boole, Gottlob Frege, and Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead. Investigations into logic, generalised into the philosophy of language, became first philosophy in Anglophone lands. From this perspective, Hegel’s logic (arguably the heart of his philosophy) was either terribly retrograde or, in all its talk about dialectic, hardly intelligible. And last, the obscurity of Hegel’s writing made rejecting Hegelian philosophy all the easier. After all, who could tell what he was actually saying?
The renaissance in Hegel appreciation that has bloomed in the past few decades in the US responds to most of these complaints. It has been led by Robert Pippin, Terry Pinkard, and Ken Westphal. Most recently, Robert B Brandom’s massive volume on Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit (1807), called A Spirit of Trust (2019), has gone beyond Hegel interpretation to elaborate a philosophy that, while still rooted in the philosophy of language, also reclaims Hegel as a (maybe even the) seminal forebear. …”…
History of Ideas
amazon.co.uk 1970 The Great Chain of Being: A Study of the History of an Idea Arthur O. Lovejoy
From later antiquity down to the close of the eighteenth century, most philosophers and men of science and, indeed, most educated men, accepted without question a traditional view of the plan and structure of the world. In this volume, which embodies the William James lectures for 1933, Arthur O. Lovejoy points out the three principles—plenitude, continuity, and graduation—which were combined in this conception; analyzes their origins in the philosophies of Plato, Aristotle, and the Neoplatonists; traces the most important of their diverse samifications in subsequent religious thought, in metaphysics, in ethics and aesthetics, and in astronomical and biological theories; and copiously illustrates the influence of the conception as a whole, and of the ideas out of which it was compounded, upon the imagination and feelings as expressed in literature.
greaterkashmir.com 11/2021 The Philosopher who laid the foundation of Modern Europe – A critical re-examination of over four centuries of work put forth Averroes at the highest pedestal of Aristotelian expression by Sheikh Muzamil Hussain
It is 1492 and Christopher Columbus is preparing to sail from the Spanish port of Palos de la Frontera, hoping to find a new world towards west, the riches of which are thought unprecedented. The same year, the remnants of 700-year-old Muslim rule in Andalusia, the Islamic Spain, are on verge of collapse. The Christian Reconquista is almost at the climax and the Almoravids are set to lose the stronghold of Granada, the last fortress of Muslims in southern Spain.
While the seeds of European colonialism were being sown in the far west, mainland Europe after an aeon of dark ages was foraging tools of scientific method, courtesy of two centuries of scholasticism that revived its intellectual atmosphere. It was here three centuries ago in 1128 AD, in the cosmopolitan capital city of Al- Andalus — Cordoba, that Abul Walid Muhammad Ibn Rushd was born, commonly referred to in West by his Latinized name — Averroes. He was born in family of Jurists but his affair with philosophy soon began to cause him trouble and he fell into trouble. He subsequently left Cordoba and migrated to the city of Lucena where he dedicated his time to writing exhaustive works of Philosophical tradition. Later he would move further south to Marrakesh where he died in 1198 AD.
The fall of Muslim Spain has been subject of ‘foretold reprimand by God’ for a nation that contrives on the use of mantiq and falsafa — Logic and Philosophy — instead of the revealed text. In orthodox circles, the rational means to demonstrate the fundamentals of religion which Ibn Rushd and its predecessors attempted, are seen as a deviation from truth that was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) in the form of the Qur’an. But to most of the Muslim philosophers of the Islamic golden age, it wasn’t so. Ibn Rushd believed that ‘One truth’ (Revealed religion) cannot contradict another truth (Philosophical Inquiry). Nonetheless, such belief was paradoxical to theologians as well as common believers.
Ibn Rushd mastered Aristotle and translated his copious works and simultaneously presented and ‘improved on’ his thought. The works of Aristotle were translated by the fall of the 13th century into Latin making him the bridge of knowledge transfusion between the Islamic World and Europe, which was recuperating from centuries of intellectual inactivity. He became the leading teacher for those who explored Peripatetic philosophy. Emerging centers of learning taught him, scholastics quoted him and revered him. Raphael’s (d.1520) famous renaissance painting, ‘The School of Athens’ bears testimony to this by portraying Ibn Rushd along with Plato and Aristotle. Dante Alighieri (d.1321) had Ibn Rushd secured the position in the ‘limbo of the unbaptized’ in his famous work Inferno along with Plato and Aristotle among others, away from hellfire.
Along with Al-Farabi (d.950) and Ibn Sina (d.980 ), Ibn Rushd is among the major Islamic thinkers who shaped the course of logic and philosophy in the Islamic World by the tools expounded by the Greek philosophers. However, by the time he was born, Greek Philosophy, which had made lasting inroads in the Muslim world since the opening of the House of Wisdom (Bait-ul-Hikmah) during the reign of Abbasid Caliph Harun al-Rashid (d. 809), had suffered hugely at the hands of Muhammad al-Ghazali (d. 1111) whose Tahafut al-Falasifa, or The Incoherence of Philosophers had swayed a deathly blow to the advancing Greek Philosophy. Ibn Rushd wrote a line by line refutation of the Tahafut called the Tahaful al-Tahafat — The Incoherence of the Incoherence, but the damage was already done.
Apart from the natural cravings to seek wisdom and knowledge; as Immanuel Kant said ‘that everyone has an urge to philosophize’, Ibn Rushd was also influenced to pursue Aristotle by the Almohad King Abu Yaqub Yusuf (d.1184) who was an avid reader of philosophical texts especially ones by Aristotle. However, by that time, the tradition of Aristotle was altered to an extent, due to multiple translations across space and time, copying errors and interpolation. The available wholesale corpus was in no sense a credible source of his actual work. Irritated, the King asked Ibn Rushd to parse through all translations and pen down the authentic corpus anew. The critical re-examination of over four centuries of work put forth Averroes at the highest pedestal of Aristotelian expression ever since.
Ibn Rushd’s contribution to European development of thought can be gauged, among many reasons, by the fact that much of his work despite being written in Arabic originally, came to pass to later generations in Hebrew and Latin translations implying the propagation his work enjoyed in European lands. His ideas gained root, but not where he would have had anticipated. There were impediments like the Bishop Trempier’s Condemnation of 1277, an effort to set loose the perpetuity of philosophy with Christianity, much like as Muslim world had witnessed post-Ghazali’s Incoherence. But Averroes’s work endured, more in Hebrew than in Latin, reaching as far as the time of Spinoza (d.1677).
Aristotle is called the first genuine scientist for his method and deductive reasoning and hadn’t it been for Ibn Rushd’s stupendous and gargantuan translation of his works, supplemented with Ibn Rushd’s likewise massive commentaries, which in fact consisted his original thought as well, Europe’s infatuation with The Philosopher would have been delayed, if not entirely hampered. Moreover, the quality of Ibn Rushd’s translations were unmatched. In total, he wrote 38 books of commentaries on the works of Aristotle.
Ibn Rushd soon became a prominent figure in the European philosophy and was known as The Commentator, the epithet for being the most credible source of Aristotle, whom Ibn Rushd like most, used to call The Philosopher. In the Islamic World however or as Historian Peter Adamson prefers, the Arabic philosophical world, no interest was bestowed upon him since the heretical nature of Greek Philosophy was shunned, primarily in the Sunni circles.
Ibn Rushd wrote immensely and not just on philosophy. His subjects included astronomy, medicine, law, and physics. As far as his translations of Aristotle are concerned, one can categorize them under three phases — Short, Middle and Long Commentaries, as Richard C. Taylor has classified. Then, are his original treatises which he wrote mostly in the latter half of his life. Major of those are his Decisive Treatise on the Harmony of Religion and Philosophy (Fasl al-maqal fima bayn al sharia wal-hikma min ittisal), the Explanation of the Sorts of Proofs in the Doctrines of Religion ( Kashf ‘an manahij al-adilla), De Anima or Appendix on Divine Knowledge and his famous Incoherence of the Incoherence ( Tahafut al-tahafut).
His philosophical convictions, much like his fellow Aristotelian thinkers composed of believing in the eternity of the world and the impossibility of the physical resurrection. A unique postulate of his met a good share of hostility, alike from religious and philosophical blocks, that there is a sort of universal intellect from which individuals procure capacity to reason. He had probably taken the concepts of ‘Agent Intellect’ and ‘Material Intellect’ from earlier Muslim thinkers, most notably the esteemed Andalusian Ibn Bajja (d. 1138) and Al-Farabi (d.950). As a Jurist, his most notable work probably was the Decisive treatise written in a legal judgment style (Fatwa). He concluded that not only was the pursuit of philosophy encouraged but even obligatory (only for those who possessed high intellect). To buttress his argument, he cited Quranic verses such as “Learn a lesson, then, O you who are endowed with insight!” (59:2) and “Then do they not look at the camels — how they are created? And at the sky — how it is raised?” (88:17–18). He also denied the literal interpretation of the Quranic verses about recompenses of the afterlife.
He was an ardent critic of the dialectic weakness of Ashʿarite theology and their inability to field demonstrative tools to supplement their proclamations. Theologians lack the clarity of argument because they presuppose the existence of a transcendental super-being and all whatever is established by the sound tradition of the religion. Their tendency to favour these presuppositions ahead of reasoning was to Ibn Rushd their major shortcoming due to which they had to rely completely on rhetorical argumentation to persuade their opponents. This, in fact, is the main difference between a theologian and a philosopher, he argues.
Today he is little known in the Islamic World, except for those who take pains to find him in the oblivion of forgotten masters. He was once a chief judge and the court physician to Almohad Kings. After the fall of Muslim Spain, the philosophic tradition faded in the Islamic world, though the same cannot be said for the theological philosophy which continued to thrive. Influence of theological philosophers like Al- Suhrawardi (d.1191) and Mulla Sadra (d.1640) bears testament to that fact. But it was in Europe where he gained prominence and even had an emulation in the form of a philosophic school known as the ‘Latin Averriosts’. He paved the way for rational methodology through his works which became the new normal in the coming centuries, pushing Europe stepping into the Age of Enlightenment.
Sheikh Muzamil Hussain is an architect and urban planner. He is an alumnus of CEPT Ahmedabad.
Moral + Practical Philosophy, Ethics
baos.pub 2021 John Haldane’s Practical Philosophy: Ethics, Society and Culture – by Massimo Pigliucci.
“Practical ethics is a branch of moral philosophy involving the systematic use of philosophical thinking to identify and resolve questions of values and conduct as these arise in the various departments of human life.”
So begins the first section, after the introduction that we have discussed last time, of John Haldane’s Practical Philosophy: Ethics, Society and Culture. Having dispatched, fairly convincingly, of David Hume’s famous “is/ought” problem, and having reassured us, a bit less convincingly, of the reality of human agency, Haldane is now ready to move on to different types of ethical inquiry in practical philosophy.
The first important distinction he makes in this section of the book is that between psychological and philosophical aspects of moral questions…”…
…”One of the most delightful and philosophically profound Platonic dialogues is the Euthyphro, where Socrates converses with the title character about “piety,” meaning knowledge of the right thing to do, ethically speaking. Socrates asks Euthyphro, who is cocksure of the righteousness of his judgments, how does he know that he is right. Euthyphro says that what is right is what the gods love (and adds that of course he knows what the Gods think!). But Socrates points out that this means that righteousness is entirely arbitrary, a question of might makes right. Euthyphro then backtracks and goes for the other horn of the dilemma that ever since bears his name: the gods love what is right because it is right. Ah, says Socrates, but that means that there is an external source of morality, independent of the gods, and which we could, in theory, be able to access without, shall we say, the need for a middle-god. At this point Euthyphro doesn’t know where to go next. So Socrates says: “Then we must begin again and ask, what is piety? That is an enquiry which I shall never be weary of pursuing as far as in me lies; and I entreat you not to scorn me, but to apply your mind to the utmost, and tell me the truth. For, if any man knows, you are he; and therefore I must detain you, like Proteus, until you tell.” (Notice the Socratic sarcasm…) But Euthyphro beats the most hasty retreat in the history of philosophy: “Another time, Socrates; for I am in a hurry, and must go now.”
Plenty of theologians have attempted to get out of Euthyphro’s dilemma, but have failed. The most common strategy is to claim that it is in the nature of God to be good. But this line of reasoning still gets impaled by the second horn of the dilemma: in order to agree that God’s nature is good we need some sort of independent standard of evaluation. Lacking that, we fall back on the first horn.
I truly think that if more people were familiar with Euthyphro’s dilemma the world would see less religious hatred and violence. The question, however, still remains: what do we appeal to in order to arrive at objective ethical judgments? Here the only viable answer, I think — and Haldane agrees with me — is the sort of naturalistic ethics first articulated by Aristotle and the Stoics and nowadays endorsed by people like Philippa Foot and Alasdair MacIntyre.
The idea is that what is ethical is what helps human beings to live and flourish, and what is unethical is whatever gets in the way of those goals. That’s because those are the natural goals intrinsic in the very nature of humanity as a biological species. Just like light, water, and minerals are good for a plant, because those are the ingredients of a good vegetable life, so community, friendship, love, and reason are the ingredients of a good human life. Of course, there is more than reasonable one way to cash out this type of naturalistic ethics, which is why there are different schools of thought that espouse it (Aristotelianism, Epicureanism, Stoicism, Confucianism, Daoism, and so forth). This multiplicity of acceptable answers to the question of what constitutes a good human life explains why there are several options available on the second floor of Haldane’s classification. But it also makes clear why not all options are viable. Fascism, say, is a bad philosophy of life. Objectively so, because it undermines human flourishing, regardless of how many people seem to think otherwise. I would argue the same about Ayn Rand-style Objectivism, though for different reasons…”…
Political Philosophy – global, critical theory
academia.edu – gg/pdf 2023 Anthropodicies pf Coloniality – Urbanocene, Plantationcene and Critical Theory – Eduardo Mendieta – 2023
thecollector.com/ 3-2023 Herbert Marcuse’s Eros and Civilization: Is Repression Necessary?
thecollector.com 28-1-2023 What Is the Ideal World? 5 Utopias Proposed by Famous Philosophers – Plato, Thomas More, Campanella, Burke, and Godwin – Is it a utopia where everyone is happy and has no material problems? Or is it something else? – By Viktoriya Sus
newstatesman.com 2021 Reimagining political philosophy- Charles Mills, who died earlier this year, was a model for a political philosophy engaged with subjects the discipline had systematically ignored, first among them race and racism. By Sophie Smith
tandfonline.com/ 2018 Philosophy, Rhetoric, and Thomas Hobbes by Timothy Raylor
Philosophy of History
1. The Perez Technology Philosophy of History
Thesis: Technology is the dominant driver of history and we can best understand the future by extrapolating technological trends. Predicting where the world is going can be done by taking the emerging technologies of any era and extrapolating them out to their logical conclusion.
Example Interpretation: The internal combustion engine leads to the car which creates urban structure of the US and suburbs.
Books and People:
- Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital by Carlota Perez
- Network State by Balaji Srinavasan
- Snow Crash
- The Sovereign Individual by James Dale Davidson and William Rees-Mogg
- The Dream Machine by Mitchel Waldrop
- Energy and Civilizationby Vaclav Smil
- The Fourth Economy by Ron Davison
2. The Zeihan Geography and Demographic Philosophy of History
Thesis: Geography is the driver and we can best understand the future by analyzing geography and its implications.
Example: Germany has historically been warlike because it was situated in a hard to defend area between Russia (via Poland) and France. The US has been successful owing to rich natural resources and a highly defensible position with Oceans on either side.
Books and People:
- Peter Zeihan is a well known proponent of this camp.
- I would add the Realist school of foreign policy espoused by John Mearsheimer (though it doesn’t map perfectly)
- Probably Jared Diamond as well (though he has more of an evolutionary biology bent to his view as well).
3. The Fukuyama Institutional Philosophy of History
Thesis: humans are also norm-following creatures. They follow norms of behavior of others around them.
Since an institution is nothing more than a norm that persists over time, human beings have a natural tendency to institutionalize their norms and behavior
Example: In Europe, the Catholic church changed the rules of inheritance to make it much more difficult for kin groups to pass resources down to their extended families which established it as a separate institution. The Rule of Law can be understood as the rules that are banding on even the most politically powerful individuals and has its basis in religion across cultures. The rule of law became most deeply institutionalized in Western Europe due to the role of the Roman Catholic Church.
Associated People and Books:
- Francis Fukuyama’s 2 Part series on Political Order is the primary exponent of this view of history that I am aware of. This is my summary of Fukuyama. Fukuyama’s End of History and the Last Man suggests that we are in a period of institutional decay.
- I would probably put the transaction cost economics literature from people like Ronald Coase and Douglass North in here as well.
4. The Harari Narrative Philosophy of History
Thesis: Culture/narratives are the primary driver of history and history evolves along the lines of these myths. The truly unique feature of human language is its ability to transmit information about things that do not exist at all: narratives and myths
Example: Trade cannot exist without trust, and it is very difficult to trust strangers. The global trade network of today is based on our trust in such fictional entities as the dollar, the Federal Reserve Bank, and the totemic trademarks of corporations. However these things don’t exist in any physical sense, they are myths that we all agree on.
Associated People and Books:
- Sapiens by Noah Yuval Harari is the most contemporary well known proponent of this theory. (Summary)
5. The Marxian2Economics Philosophy of History
Thesis: History is fundamentally driven by economics. Marx was the first one to advocate this by positioning a historical dialectic where communism was the inevitable result of class conflict generated by 19th-century capitalism. Similar economic theories exist across the political spectrum.
Example: Imperialism where Britain and later the US would install puppet dictators or engage in a foreign policy designed to promote private interests. This was arguably continued via institutions that purported to be neutral like the IMF and World Bank which basically forced a neoliberal agenda in exchange for loans. The countries that developed most successfully in the second half of the 20th century were largely those that ignored these ideas.
Associated People and B0oks:
- Karl Marx
- Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber
- How Asia Works by Joe Studwell
- The Ascent of Money by Neils Ferguson
The Two Schools of Historical Determinism
There’s another dimension I think is important. These five theories are situated between two poles of how the causal mechanisms of history operate as coined by Isaih Berlin’s Essay the Fox and the Hedgehog.
To what extent are these each driven by a complex interplay of forces that are hard to identify (The Fox School) or to what extent are they driven by “Great Persons” who influence the course of history (The Hedgehog School).
The Fox School
Thesis: There is no discernible driver to history, it’s all too complex and full of butterfly effects which end up with us being “fooled by randomness.”
Associated People and Books:
The Hedgehog School
Thesis: History is driven by Great Persons who shape the course of history and we are all just following in their wake.
Associated People and Books:
- Most Biographies fall into this camp (though I think this is sometimes more out of a convenience factor than anything else. It’s hard to write a book without a main character to follow so you end up telling from one person’s POV)
Towards a Nuanced View of History
I tend to lean fairly strongly towards Fox School vs. The Hedgehog School in that I believe history is all a good deal messier than it appears in history books. Though particular leaders may be catalyst for change, it is often that there is a huge stack of dry hay in the barn and if one match doesn’t set it off then another likely will.
I tend to discount any simplistic historical philosophies as I don’t feel I know the right way to think about it but I know that reducing it down to a simple cause/effect model is usually the wrong way to think about.
My own bias among the philosophies tends towards the camp of economics as the proximate cause, for most historical change.
I tend to view Institutions, culture, geography, and technology as feeding into economics. Technology seems to be becoming gradually more impactful and geography gradually less over time so I tend to think economics and technology are the most useful historical philosophies for our present moment.
However, this is obviously incorrect in certain contexts (and me incorrect today!). To take only one example, the European age of exploration was probably more motivated by religious/cultural considerations than economic ones. From Roger Howley’s Conquerors, a history of the Portuguese Empire:
Since the fall of Constantinople, Christian Europe had felt itself increasingly hemmed in. To outflank Islam, link up with Prester John and the rumored Christian communities of India, seize control of the spice trade, and destroy the wealth that empowered the Mamluk sultans in Cairo—from the first months of his reign, a geostrategic vision of vast ambition was already in embryo; it would, in time, sweep the Portuguese around the world.”
To be sure, there was an economic component, but it seems hard to read histories of the Middle Ages such as Barbara Tuchman’s Distant Mirror and come away with a primarily economic or technologically driven view – culture and institutions seemed to play a much larger role.
The main thing I’ve gained from reading history is how many different interpretations there are and how many of them have a legitimate point. I think the best way to think about these schools is to recognize that all of them matter in varying degrees with their impact changing over time. If reality has a surprising amount of detail, it would make sense that the history of reality does too.
So the question is always what are the most important ones for our historical moment?
- This is obviously a reductionist model and a lot of them overlap, but I’m interested in finding a better way to think about it and some simplified taxonomy seems useful.
- I’ using the word Marxian rather than Marxist because “Marxist economics” has come to take on a very specific meaning with communist/socialist focus. I’m just using Marx here because he was the first person I encountered who posited economics/class as the driving historical force.