Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Rain delay

June 22, 2017

First morning in recent memory when weather’s kept the dogs and me from our appointed rounds through the neighborhood, and it’s kinda nice sitting out here under our tin roof enjoying the gentle clatter. Habit and routine may be the enormous flywheel of society and sanity, but it’s good too, periodically, to break routine and look at things aslant. Like climbing up on Mr. Keating’s desk, reminded there’s more than one way to seize the day.

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McEwan’s thinking machine

June 21, 2017

Ian McEwan, reflecting on the experience of writing pre- and post-computing, reminds me of those primitive grad school days and nights when they chained us to typewriters and ordered us to churn out proof of our worthiness every three days, for nearly two weeks. The idea was either to kill us (i.e., cull us from the program) or make us stronger for the next hurdle, the Ph.D. I still like writing longhand, and sometimes feel nostalgic for my old Selectric. But McEwan is right, this is more like thinking… less pressure to get it right the first time, more opportunity to play with possibilities.

When asked how his writing process has changed with the onset of technology, McEwan answered: “In the seventies I used to work in the bedroom of my flat at a little table. I worked in longhand with a fountain pen. I’d type out a draft, mark up the typescript, type it out again. Once I paid a professional to type a final draft, but I felt I was missing things I would have changed if I had done it myself. In the mid-eighties I was a grateful convert to computers. Word processing is more intimate, more like thinking itself. In retrospect, the typewriter seems a gross mechanical obstruction. I like the provisional nature of unprinted material held in the computer’s memory — like an unspoken thought. I like the way sentences or passages can be endlessly reworked, and the way this faithful machine remembers all your little jottings and messages to yourself. Until, of course, it sulks and crashes.” WA

Right. Sometimes the machine sulks and crashes, but more often it’s the operator.

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Morning air & communion

June 20, 2017

Speaking of air, which was again lovely and chill this morning – actually had to don a jacket for our dawn stroll – Henry had it just right: “…let me have a draught of undiluted morning air. Morning air! If men will not drink of this at the fountainhead of the day, why, then, we must even bottle up some and sell it in the shops, for the benefit of those who have lost their subscription ticket to morning time in this world.” We inebriates of air can’t stop feeling a bit superior to those who sleep away their only shot at the fountainhead.

The other lingering feeling I continued to enjoy this morning, in the backwash of another pleasant Fathers’ Day, is that of paternal pride and sentiment. On that holiday in 2001, our girls  presented me with a shirt upon which they had imprinted their hand- and footprints. Sixteen years later, an update (with supplemental pawprints):

The sentiment is gratitude, for their persistence (this being the year they each graduated, from college and high school, respectively) and their grace. I was an @home dad when that first shirt arrived, and I will always look back on those charmed days in the company of our joyous and inquisitive children as the very best of times. As I’ve noted before, in echo of one of my favorite essayists, “daily companionship with a questioning child is a reminder of what intelligence is for–not, ultimately, for dominion, but for communion.” 
Yes, that form of communion I’ll always happily take. Why do I dote on my dogs? Practice, for the next time I’m graced with the steady company of a questioning child. 
In the spirit of communion, then, this slightly-tardy recognition of Fathers Day in the form of an 1895 letter from William James to his little girl Peggy. It reminds me of the picture book-inspired conversations I used to have with my little girls.
El Paso, Colo.Aug. 8, 1895.
Sweetest of Living Pegs,—Your letter made glad my heart the day before yesterday, and I marveled to see what an improvement had come over your handwriting in the short space of six weeks. “Orphly” and “ofly” are good ways to spell “awfully,” too. I went up a high mountain yesterday and saw all the kingdoms of the world spread out before me, on the illimitable prairie which looked like a map. The sky glowed and made the earth look like a stained-glass window. The mountains are bright red. All the flowers and plants are different from those at home. There is an immense mastiff in my house here. I think that even you would like him, he is so tender and gentle and mild, although fully as big as a calf. His ears and face are black, his eyes are yellow, his paws are magnificent, his tail keeps wagging all the time, and he makes on me the impression of an angel hid in a cloud. He longs to do good.
I must now go and hear two other men lecture. Many kisses, also to Tweedy, from your ever loving,

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Inebriates of air

June 16, 2017
Here’s an antidote to radical pessimism: reaffirmation of the will, as articulated by Robert Richardson in his 2010 talk at the William James Society’s gathering in Chocorua, New Hampshire.
Will You or Won’t You Have It So?” is our “most probing question,” James said. “We answer by consents or non-consents and not by words.” Consent isn’t just talk, it’s volitional action drawn by the vision of something better than the status quo, by refusal to surrender to fate. Richardson finds great inspiration in James’s imploring challenge to teachers, as urgent now as ever:

Spinoza long ago wrote in his Ethics that anything that a man can avoid under the notion that it is bad he may also avoid under the notion that something else is good. He who habitually acts sub specie mali, under the negative notion, the notion of the bad, is called a slave by Spinoza. To him who acts habitually under the notion of good he gives the name of freeman. See to it now, I beg you, that you make freemen of your pupils by habituating them to act, whenever possible, under the notion of a good. Get them habitually to tell the truth, not so much through showing them the wickedness of lying as by arousing their enthusiasm for honor and veracity. Wean them from their native cruelty by imparting to them some of your own positive sympathy with an animal’s inner springs of joy. And, in the lessons which you may be legally obliged to conduct upon the bad effects of alcohol, lay less stress than the books do on the drunkard’s stomach, kidneys, nerves, and social miseries, and more on the blessings of having an organism kept in lifelong possession of its full youthful elasticity by a sweet, sound blood, to which stimulants and narcotics are unknown, and to which the morning sun and air and dew will daily come as sufficiently powerful intoxicants.

And then, to illustrate, Richardson tosses off an allusion to Emily Dickinson that speaks directly to the peripatetic soul. The aspect of good that draws us walkers and cyclers out into the open and rejuvenating air of morning, day after day, is an intoxicant without painful residue. It leaves us better than we were, un-hungover, moving forward. An “inebriate of air” is positively addicted, happily dependent, and free. There’s nothing wrong with leaning on the sun.

I taste a liquor never brewedI taste a liquor never brewed –
From Tankards scooped in Pearl –
Not all the Frankfort Berries
Yield such an Alcohol!
Inebriate of air – am I –
And Debauchee of Dew –
Reeling – thro’ endless summer days –
From inns of molten Blue – 
When “Landlords” turn the drunken Bee
Out of the Foxglove’s door –
When Butterflies – renounce their “drams” –
I shall but drink the more!
Till Seraphs swing their snowy Hats –
And Saints – to windows run –
To see the little Tippler
Leaning against the – Sun!
Emily Dickinson, 1830 – 1886

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Radical pessimism at the door

June 15, 2017

Back from a satisfyingly heat-beating bikeride-and-walk to and through the Richland Creek Greenway. Reflected a bit on the British view of the American experience during the revolutionary period, through the lens of the BBC’s This Sceptred Isle . There’s always another side to every story.

I wonder if I’d have been a Loyalist or a Patriot? In the present context, I’m neither – the present context being the borderline dystopia lately surveyed in Jill Lepore’s New Yorker essay on the new literature of radical pessimism. “We are what happens when the seemingly unthinkable celebrity rises to power,” indeed. I’m not surrendering to pessimism yet, but these are challenging days for a melioristic pragmatist. That’s probably why I find myself drawn to the bigger picture, and to history. This too shall pass. And meanwhile?

I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s ride-and-walk through the Warner Parks.

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Anglo-American Minds

June 13, 2017

John Lachs makes his usual good pluralistic sense with a warning, a couple minutes into Phillip McReynolds’ brisk film American Philosopher, to beware talk of the American philosopher or mind or character or, really, the pretty-much-anything. It’s too late for a formal rechristening of our summer class The Anglo-American Mind, but henceforth we’ll just be AAM to ourselves – M is for minds, and what Anglos and Americans do with them.

It’s great to see so many of my old friends featured here, saying mostly sensible things. Not one of them “hates America,” but like William James they’re all immunized against what he called, in that wonderful letter to H.G. Wells, “our national disease.” (“The moral flabbiness born of the exclusive worship of the bitch-goddess SUCCESS. That – with the squalid cash interpretation put on the word ‘success’ – is our national disease.”)

Patrick Allitt, a Brit at Emory University whose “Great Course” on The American Identity, admits the danger of oversimplifying our pan-American distinctions and differences but also insists on the rootedness of cultural stereotypes in some degree of reality. Not all Brits carry on with stiff upper lips, not all Americans have an optimistic can-do, cash-value commitment to problem-solving. But those are good tropes to test. As our first week’s short essays and comments begin to appear, let the happy testing begin!

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Squirrels and American Philosophers

June 12, 2017

Since George brought it up…

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Image result for william james pragmatism squirrel

American philosophers, Jamesians anyway, agree: the ubiquitous rodent is a rich and instructive metaphor.

That’s my esteemed mentor John Lachs, about two minutes in, making a solid pluralistic point: beware talk of the American philosopher… or (as we noted the other day) the Anglo-American mind.

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Anglo-American politics

June 9, 2017

The present political turmoil in the U.K., following yesterday’s election results, should give us something else to chew on as we ponder Anglo-American minds. One way or another the Brits will “form a government” out of that evident chaos, they will “carry on” and get through their crisis of confidence. Can we say the same, in the U.S., especially in the aftermath of the Comey testimony? Wouldn’t it be nice if we could call a “snap election” and reshuffle the deck of our executive branch in next few weeks? Any thoughts, AAMers?

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June 6, 2017

Nice first meeting, Anglo-American Minders! I’ve posted a few thoughts here.

To Chap’s “too much information” response to Don’s sharing of Peirce’s “How to Make Our Ideas Clear,” I suggested that A Little History of Philosophy has everything you need to know about him. That was an overstatement. But you can glean plenty of helpful info from it, and from the online Philosophy Pages. For instance:

Charles Sanders Peirce

Life and Works
. . Belief
. . Reality
. . Pragmatism
Internet Sources
Charles Sanders Peirce studied philosophy and chemistry at Harvard, where his father, Benjamin Peirce, was professor of mathematics and astronomy. Although he showed early signs of great genius, an unstable personal life prevented Peirce from fulfilling his early promise. He wrote widely and delivered several series of significant lectures, but never completed the most ambitious of his philosophical projects. After a respectable scientific career studying the effects of gravitation with the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, Peirce taught logic and philosophy for five years at Johns Hopkins University. In 1887, however, he retired to a life of isolation, poverty, and illness in Milford, Pennsylvania.Peirce
Peirce’s early philosophical development relied on a Kantian theory of judgment, but careful study of the logic of relations led him to abandon syllogistic methods in favor of the study of language and belief. His place as the founder of American pragmatism was secured by a pair of highly original essays that apply logical and scientific principles to philosophical method. In The Fixation of Belief (1877) Peirce described how human beings converge upon a true opinion, each of us removing the irritation of doubt by forming beliefs from which successful habits of action may be derived. This theory was extended in How to Make Our Ideas Clear (1878) to the very meaning of concepts, which Peirce identified with the practical effects that would follow from our adoption of them.Peirce
In his extensive logical studies, Peirce developed a theory of signification that anticipated many features of modern semiotics, emphasizing the role of the interpreting subject. To the traditional logic of deduction and induction, Peirce added explicit acknowledgement of abduction as a preliminary stage in productive human inquiry. Continuing to defend a Kantian system of categories, Peirce proposed a descriptive metaphysics that presumed the reality of external referents for our sensations.

Recommended Reading:

Primary sources:
  • Philosophical Writings of Peirce, ed. by Justus Buchler (Dover, 1986)
  • Charles S. Peirce: Selected Writings, ed. by Philip P. Wiener (Dover, 1980)
  • Peirce on Signs: Writings on Semiotic, ed. by James Hoopes (North Carolina, 1991)
  • Charles Sanders Peirce, Chance, Love, and Logic: Philosophical Essays, ed. by Morris R. Cohen (Nebraska, 1998)
Secondary sources:
  • James K. Feibleman, An Introduction to the Philosophy of Charles S. Peirce (MIT, 1969)
  • Christopher Hookway, Peirce (Routledge, 1992)
  • Karl-Otto Apel, Charles Peirce: From Pragmatism to Pragmaticism (Prometheus, 1995)
  • Joseph Brent, Charles Sanders Peirce: A Life (Indiana, 1998)
  • Sandra B. Rosenthal, Charles Peirce’s Pragmatic Pluralism (SUNY, 1994)
  • C. F. Delaney, Science, Knowledge, and Mind: A Study in the Philosophy of C.S. Peirce (Notre Dame, 1993)
  • Floyd Merrell, Peirce, Signs, and Meaning (Toronto, 1997)
  • Gérard Deledalle, Charles S. Peirces’s Philosophy of Signs: Essays in Comparative Semiotics (Indiana, 2001)

Additional on-line information about Peirce includes:

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The Wordsworth Connection

June 3, 2017

I’m excited for the start Monday afternoon of our summer “focused study” of The Anglo-American Mind, wherein we’ll tack and attempt to navigate various “cross-currents in British and American thought, exploring ways in which classic thinkers on both sides of the pond have mutually influenced and reacted to each other.”

And, continues the official and possibly over-ambitious course description, “we’ll also read and discuss the likes of William Wordsworth, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Charles Sanders Peirce, Bertrand Russell, John Dewey, David Hume, Anthony Trollope….” Well, maybe. Never hurts to build your metaphorical castles in the air.

The English wit Oscar Wilde once said “we have really everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language.” I wish I’d said that, Oscar, but I will. It’s an exaggeration, of course, but in service of the defensible premise we set out from: Americans and Brits do have a special relationship, culturally and philosophically, and a motivated study of its various lines of mutual relatedness promises amusement, clarity, and light. It’ll be fun.

Our main texts: Pragmatism by William James, On Liberty by J.S. Mill, English Hours by Henry James, and Jay Hosler’s whimsical, graphical look at Charles Darwin’s peripatetic style of reflection, The Sandwalk Adventures.

We begin with the first four lectures of Pragmatism, starting with this question:

  • Why do you think James dedicated Pragmatism to the memory of J.S. Mill (“from whom I first learned the pragmatic openness of mind and whom my fancy likes to picture as our leader were he alive today”)?

There’s no short and simple answer to that, but one intriguing thread connects them: both suffered bouts of emotional despondency, and both turned to the poetry of William Wordsworth to pull them out of it.

The Mill-Wordsworth connection is familiar, having been prominently featured in the fifth chapter of his Autobiography

For though my dejection, honestly looked at, could not be called other than egotistical, produced by the ruin, as I thought, of my fabric of happiness, yet the destiny of mankind in general was ever in my thoughts, and could not be separated from my own. I felt that the flaw in my life, must be a flaw in life itself…

This state of my thoughts and feelings made the fact of my reading Wordsworth for the first time (in the autumn of 1828), an important event of my life. I took up the collection of his poems from curiosity, with no expectation of mental relief from it, though I had before resorted to poetry with that hope… But while Byron was exactly what did not suit my condition, Wordsworth was exactly what did…

What made Wordsworth’s poems a medicine for my state of mind, was that they expressed, not mere outward beauty, but states of feeling, and of thought coloured by feeling, under the excitement of beauty. They seemed to be the very culture of the feelings, which I was in quest of. In them I seemed to draw from a source of inward joy, of sympathetic and imaginative pleasure, which could be shared in by all human beings; which had no connection with struggle or imperfection, but would be made richer by every improvement in the physical or social condition of mankind. From them I seemed to learn what would be the perennial sources of happiness, when all the greater evils of life shall have been removed. And I felt myself at once better and happier as I came under their influence… I needed to be made to feel that there was real, permanent happiness in tranquil contemplation. Wordsworth taught me this, not only without turning away from, but with a greatly increased interest in, the common feelings and common destiny of human beings. And the delight which these poems gave me, proved that with culture of this sort, there was nothing to dread from the most confirmed habit of analysis… The result was that I gradually, but completely, emerged from my habitual depression, and was never again subject to it. J.S. Mill, Autobiography

Less familiarly known is the James-Wordsworth connection, newly spotlighted in William James Studies (Spring 2017, vol.13, no.1) by David Leary in “Authentic Tidings”: What Wordsworth Gave to William James” (PDF):

As regards James’s later psychological and philosophical work, the critical insights that distinguished his way of thinking revolved around the Wordsworthian convictions that the human mind is active; that it has its own interests; and that its feelings are as significant – perhaps even more significant – than its thoughts…

James gave expression to “the mind’s excursive power,” as Wordsworth put it.38 (Wordsworth’s use of this phrase underscored that his poetically described excursion through countryside and mountains was an allegory for the mind’s ability to wander, in imagination, around objects, assuming different perspectives, seeing reality now from this and now from that point of view.

“The mind’s excursive power” – that’s what we’ll be tracking, and tracking with, in our course. There’s even been talk of field trips into the rolling middle Tennessee countryside, as we wander in search of Anglo-American minds (which really ought to be pluralized in the course title as well).

Also noteworthy, in the vein, is the appreciative WJ Studies note by biographer Robert Richardson (Emerson, Thoreau, James), on John Kaag’s wonderful American Philosophy: A Love Story:

Kaag leaves us with what Goethe, Emerson, and William James all agreed on. In the beginning was not the word, but the deed, the act. The way forward is not twelve steps, or ten or three. It’s just one. Don’t sleep on it, sit on it, stand on it, or take it for a trial spin. Take the step, You have to do what you can, and you have to do it right now.

Well alright then, let’s get moving!

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(This post marks my experimental return to Up@dawn (version 1) as a primary publishing venue. Up@dawn 2.0 is for now set up to receive and store these posts, via IFTTT. But it doesn’t much matter when or where we mark dawn’s revelations, morning is still (as Henry said) whenever I am awake and there is a dawn in me.)

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