Monday 26th of October 2020

philosopher at work ahead...


Here I was listening to Stanley Hoogland playing Alkan on YouTube, engrossed in reading about a philosopher, Agnes Callard, who had written an article “Should We Cancel Aristotle?” published in the New York Times… The NY Times had been in the Gus’ bad books recently for publishing some rubbish — and this was a redeeming feature. An extended interview of philosopher and professor Callard by Cliff Sosis was also interesting in her frankness and somewhat decisive enthusiasm for the living “philosophical thought”…

Alkan is not well-known, but his works are masterpieces of forcefulness and subtleties, in which melodies are deliberately arrested with silences and counter-melodies. I would describe him as a precursor of the expressionists and even surrealists, when the fashion in his time from the 1830s to 1870s, represented by Liszt and Chopin, was about romanticism, including waltzes... Often very hard to play, some of these works demand the metronome set at up to 170 beat per minute. But I was amazed at the dexterity of the pianist who by all count was playing double speed… So much absorbed by Callard's foray into Aristotle, I had not noticed that I had opened two concurrent windows playing different Alkan piano works… It was like loving salty food and sprinkling more of the stuff, till the dog start licking your hands for the salt of your sweat on them...

Here are some of Professor Callard thoughts at random and in disorder:

What is philosophy? Why should we study it?

Philosophy is unbounded inquiry that aims at knowledge of what is and what is not. We should study it because we want to have that knowledge, and also because we never want to hit the point in any conversation where we throw up our hands and say “that’s too rich for my blood” or “isn’t that just a matter of how you use the words” or the like. I think, contra Wittgenstein, that philosophy is what makes it impossible for language to go on holiday.

In regard to Wittgenstein, see also:


Biggest differences between you and other philosophers?

I think I tend to be/have

(1) More colors.

(2) More female.

(3) More children.

(4) More lists.

(5) More trouble with eye contact.

(6) More inclined to talk about myself.

(7) More dominating of conversations.

(8) More half-baked theories.

(9) Fewer well-developed theories.

(10) Fewer arguments.

(11) More inclined to glaring lapses in basic knowledge.

(12) Less stressed or guilty in relation to my work.

(13) More intellectually impulsive/destructive.

(14) Worse memory.

(15) More ungrounded confidence in self.

(16) More of an oversharer.

(17) Much less easy to offend.

(18) More worn out by group socializing.

(19) More optimistic.

(20) More refutable.

(21) More inclined to believe in God.

(22) More competitive.

(23) Less political.

(24) Less precise.

(25) Less clear.

(26) More rhetorical.

(27) More similar to undergraduates.

(28) More popular in the short term.

(29) Less popular in the long term.

What I mean by (28)-(29) is: if you meet me and some random other philosopher at a conference, you’re more likely to want to talk to me at the conference than the other philosopher, and 2 years later you are less likely to want to email me than the other philosopher. Many find that my charms wear thin over time.


And from another Callard list:

(7) Fernando Pessoa was a philosopher.

Fernando Pessoa:

[…] on 8 March 1914 – I found myself standing before a tall chest of drawers, took up a piece of paper, began to write, remaining upright all the while since I always stand when I can. I wrote thirty some poems in a row, all in a kind of ecstasy, the nature of which I shall never fathom. It was the triumphant day of my life, and I shall never have another like it. I began with a title, The Keeper of Sheep. And what followed was the appearance of someone within me to whom I promptly assigned the name of Alberto Caeiro. Please excuse the absurdity of what I am about to say, but there had appeared within me, then and there, my own master. It was my immediate sensation. So much so that, with those thirty odd poems written, I immediately took up another sheet of paper and wrote as well, in a row, the six poems that make up "Oblique Rain" by Fernando Pessoa. Immediately and totally... It was the return from Fernando Pessoa/Alberto Caeiro to Fernando Pessoa alone. Or better still, it was Fernando Pessoa’s reaction to his own inexistence as Alberto Caeiro.[62]

Fernando Pessoa, like Voltaire and others before him, even Rabelais, and Mr Leonisky on a good day, had invented various characters who voiced their opinions and styles — while plodding along their ordinary (and sometimes less-ordinary) lives, like making tea or vacuuming otherwise. It’s sometimes hard not to be confuse as to which character says what, especially at the present moment as not to be taken for a Trump lover…


In college, what did you do in your spare time?

I spent my spare time in the library. I even had sex there.


Excellent…. This reminds me listening to the moon landing (1969) on the radio of a broken down car, while having sex on the backseat… "A small step for man, a giant leap for..."

But we need to move back to Aristotle, the main subject of these meanderings… 

Should We Cancel Aristotle?

He defended slavery and opposed the notion of human equality. But he is not our enemy.

By Agnes Callard

Ms. Callard is a philosopher and professor.


The Greek philosopher Aristotle did not merely condone slavery, he defended it; he did not merely defend it, but defended it as beneficial to the slave. His view was that some people are, by nature, unable to pursue their own good, and best suited to be “living tools” for use by other people: “The slave is a part of the master, a living but separated part of his bodily frame.”

Aristotle’s anti-liberalism does not stop there. He believed that women were incapable of authoritative decision making. And he decreed that manual laborers, despite being neither slaves nor women, were nonetheless prohibited from citizenship or education in his ideal city.

Of course Aristotle is not alone: Kant and Hume made racist comments, Frege made anti-Semitic ones, and Wittgenstein was bracingly upfront about his sexism. Should readers set aside or ignore such remarks, focusing attention on valuable ideas to be found elsewhere in their work?

This pick-and-choose strategy may work in the case of Kant, Hume, Frege and Wittgenstein, on the grounds that their core philosophical contributions are unrelated to their prejudices, but I do not think it applies so well to Aristotle: His inegalitarianism runs deep.
Aristotle thought that the value or worth of a human being — his virtue — was something that he acquired in growing up. It follows that people who can’t (women, slaves) or simply don’t (manual laborers) acquire that virtue have no grounds for demanding equal respect or recognition with those who do.

As I read him, Aristotle not only did not believe in the conception of intrinsic human dignity that grounds our modern commitment to human rights, he has a philosophy that cannot be squared with it. Aristotle’s inegalitarianism is less like Kant and Hume’s racism and more like Descartes’s views on nonhuman animals: The fact that Descartes characterizes nonhuman animals as soulless automata is a direct consequence of his rationalist dualism. His comments on animals cannot be treated as “stray remarks.”

If cancellation is removal from a position of prominence on the basis of an ideological crime, it might appear that there is a case to be made for canceling Aristotle. He has much prominence: Thousands of years after his death, his ethical works continue to be taught as part of the basic philosophy curriculum offered in colleges and universities around the world.

And Aristotle’s mistake was serious enough that he comes off badly even when compared to the various “bad guys” of history who sought to justify the exclusion of certain groups — women, Black people, Jews, gays, atheists — from the sheltering umbrella of human dignity. Because Aristotle went so far as to think there was no umbrella.
Yet I would defend Aristotle, and his place on philosophy syllabuses, by pointing to the benefits of engaging with him. He can help us identify the grounds of our own egalitarian commitments; and his ethical system may capture truths — for instance, about the importance of aiming for extraordinary excellence — that we have yet to incorporate into our own.

And I want to go a step further, and make an even stronger claim on behalf of Aristotle. It is not only that the benefits of reading Aristotle counteract the costs, but that there are no costs. In fact we have no reason at all to cancel Aristotle. Aristotle is simply not our enemy.

I, like Aristotle, am a philosopher, and we philosophers must countenance the possibility of radical disagreement on the most fundamental questions. Philosophers hold up as an ideal the aim of never treating our interlocutor as a hostile combatant. But if someone puts forward views that directly contradict your moral sensibilities, how can you avoid hostility? The answer is to take him literally — which is to say, read his words purely as vehicles for the contents of his beliefs.

There is a kind of speech that it would be a mistake to take literally, because its function is some kind of messaging. Advertising and political oratory are examples of messaging, as is much that falls under the rubric of “making a statement,” like boycotting, protesting or publicly apologizing.

Such words exist to perform some extra-communicative task; in messaging speech, some aim other than truth-seeking is always at play. One way to turn literal speech into messaging is to attach a list of names: a petition is an example of nonliteral speech, because more people believing something does not make it more true.

Whereas literal speech employs systematically truth-directed methods of persuasion — argument and evidence — messaging exerts some kind of nonrational pressure on its recipient. For example, a public apology can often exert social pressure on the injured party to forgive, or at any rate to perform a show of forgiveness. Messaging is often situated within some kind of power struggle. In a highly charged political climate, more and more speech becomes magnetically attracted into messaging; one can hardly say anything without arousing suspicion that one is making a move in the game, one that might call for a countermove.

For example, the words “Black lives matter” and “All lives matter” have been implicated in our political power struggle in such a way as to prevent anyone familiar with that struggle from using, or hearing, them literally. But if an alien from outer space, unfamiliar with this context, came to us and said either phrase, it would be hard to imagine that anyone would find it objectionable; the context in which we now use those phrases would be removed.

In fact, I can imagine circumstances under which an alien could say women are inferior to men without arousing offense in me. Suppose this alien had no gender on their planet, and drew the conclusion of female inferiority from time spent observing ours. As long as the alien spoke to me respectfully, I would not only be willing to hear them out but even interested to learn their argument.

I read Aristotle as such an “alien.” His approach to ethics was empirical — that is, it was based on observation — and when he looked around him he saw a world of slavery and of the subjugation of women and manual laborers, a situation he then inscribed into his ethical theory.

When I read him, I see that view of the world — and that’s all. I do not read an evil intent or ulterior motive behind his words; I do not interpret them as a mark of his bad character, or as attempting to convey a dangerous message that I might need to combat or silence in order to protect the vulnerable. Of course in one sense it is hard to imagine a more dangerous idea than the one that he articulated and argued for — but dangerousness, I have been arguing, is less a matter of literal content than messaging context.

What makes speech truly free is the possibility of disagreement without enmity, and this is less a matter of what we can say, than how we can say it. “Cancel culture” is merely the logical extension of what we might call “messaging culture,” in which every speech act is classified as friend or foe, in which literal content can barely be communicated, and in which very little faith exists as to the rational faculties of those being spoken to. In such a context, even the cry for “free speech” invites a nonliteral interpretation, as being nothing but the most efficient way for its advocates to acquire or consolidate power.

I will admit that Aristotle’s vast temporal distance from us makes it artificially easy to treat him as an “alien.” One of the reasons I gravitate to the study of ancient ethics is precisely that it is difficult to entangle those authors in contemporary power struggles. When we turn to disagreement on highly charged contemporary ethical questions, such as debates about gender identity, we find suspicion, second-guessing of motives, petitioning — the hallmarks of messaging culture — even among philosophers.

I do not claim that the possibility of friendly disagreement with Aristotle offers any direct guidance on how to improve our much more difficult disagreements with our contemporaries, but I do think considering the case of Aristotle reveals something about what the target of such improvements would be. What we want, when we want free speech, is the freedom to speak literally.


Read more:

So do we owe a blind dedication to equality in our democracies, often at perceived personal expense, while not really improving the lot of others?...

More to come…

Personal slave to himself…

Image at top from MAD magazine...

equality, etc...


How does arguing work? Argumentation of any kind resembles fighting—a zero sum game of dominance and submission. And yet disagreement, done right, is essential to intellectual life. You can set out to fill gaps in your knowledge, but being proven wrong is the only way to locate those gaps covered over by illusions of knowledge. When other people refute you, they teach you what you couldn’t have known you needed to learn.

Arguments are only productive if people follow certain basic rules of engagement, such as:

--Winning the argument is less important than finding the truth.

--Don’t use rhetorical tricks to achieve persuasion.

--It’s good to acknowledge what you don’t know.

--You shouldn’t straw-man your opponent.

--Acknowledge that your refuter does you a favor.

Maxims of this kind are so familiar, so clichéd, that we are inclined to ignore the fact that they have a history. But they do. They did not appear out of nowhere, nor have they always been with us. Rather, they were explicitly introduced by one individual: Socrates. That, at any rate, is the story we find in Plato, in whose dialogues the character Socrates appears as stating, explaining and defending these norms. He introduces the practice of arguing for the sake of the truth, as opposed to for the sake of victory, or popularity, or audience-gratification. Does Socrates really deserve this much credit? Plato tries to make the case that he does, in a series of dialogues in which he considers and rebuts any claim that poets, or sophists, or political leaders, or orators, or ordinary citizens have on that title.

The book the Guggenheim Award is being used to support, The World Socrates Made, will analyze contemporary intellectual culture—within philosophy; within academia more broadly; and extra academically, on social media—in the light of its Socratic origins. Our cultures of debate have a peculiarly Socratic structure—that of an adversarial division of epistemic labor—that we have come to take for granted. Both the idealistic heights we expect from argumentative engagement, as well as the depths (defensiveness, ad hominem argumentation, and mutual suspicion) to which it often, in reality, sinks bear the Socratic signature. Learning to read it is critical to creating the culture of refutation that we want and need.


My first book, Aspiration: the Agency of Becoming (OUP, 2018) was about how we come to value new things. I argued that such fundamental personal transformations as becoming a parent, acquiring a passion for classical music, or becoming a patriot of one’s adopted homeland can be understood as governed by a rational process of self-creation.

Aspiration was reviewed in the Times Literary Supplement and discussed in The New Yorker.


Here Agnes Callard does not explore the unfathomable purpose of humankind but the practical ways to make it acceptable and, to some extend make this senseless purpose pleasurable and peaceful, even if we argue with one another like barking monkeys. Agnes does not waste time on the imponderables, but surveys some practicality of being with each others. This is not new per se, but she brings another level of energy, including some fresh air, in this debate. 

Now, under this stadium floodlights on a grey day, do we owe a blind dedication to equality in our democracies, often at perceived personal expense, while not really improving the lot of others — or do we act with superiority to the rest of the mob?… What would define superiority, and/or exceptionalism? Can we become rich without someone becoming poor?

The answer should be simple  but we fiddle-fuddle about it. Take D H Lawrence for example. He can’t refrain himself from harbouring a belief in some people superiority and some people slavery… (… 

As mentioned earlier at top, no-one is preventing us to argue about our piece of gristle which at the end of our political sickness become a useless debate about the cost of survival. Our political luminaries, who should be at the forefront of humanity, always end up with their mittens deep in our pockets — or squeezing our genitals with religious fervour...


Some thoughts from Katharine Murphy:

Indulge me for a moment while I get this off my chest. What passes for a conversation about debt and deficit in this country is cartoonish. It has been ludicrous for a long time, but perhaps we hit peak ludicrous when the Coalition chose to weaponise Labor’s Keynesian response to the global financial crisis for partisan advantage.

In the run up to the 2013 election, Tony Abbott pursued two utterly self-interested political strategies. The first was “axe the carbon tax” (which I note for possibly the 800th time was never a “tax” but a carbon price with a fixed period); and the second howler was the “budget emergency” and “debt and deficit disaster”. Abbott’s apocalyptic pitch was bunkum, but it worked, and Labor conspired with the cacophonous onslaught of hyper-partisan hyperbole by being idiots themselves, choosing to prioritise the civil war between Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard over being in government.                                    
Read more:


And the science of it all, ends up in a shaffbag at sea, as we forget we are part of an environment and that this environment made us, no matter how spiritual we wish we were separate from this little pebble we call earth. It’s our home. It should be our philosophy to protect it and live with it…

This is the ultimate philosophical debate at this level and it isn’t about life being an illusion for some superior 20th century French philosophers, or a pain in the arse  — a sin — as per the old religious mobs, but about how much we can extract from this lovely place without turning its nature into a dump and a wasteland. Is there an irreversible limit? The sciences are reasonably clear: we are eating ourselves. Some people like Tim Flannery wrote books called “The Future Eaters”. What does this mean? It means we are borrowing more and more from our future survival ability, in order to live at the present. This isn’t sustainable. Should philosophy be about social sustainability towards the personal inevitability?

In our democracy, the information-loading is mostly in the hands of charlatans and media-baron robbers. They know how to shift the “equality debate” in their favour, which more likely will be to plunder as much as possible while taking a percentage. Our intellectual low-life is about influencing as many bogans as possible to make sure they believe that their life can only be sustained by raping the future. And we let the bad monkeys do it, by using the greatest fudge ever: economic rationalism.

The Covid pandemic, fake or real, has achieved one accidental objective: our economic rationalism is screwed and some people are making huge amount of cash behind our back as we end up queuing at Centrelink (the dole handouts)…

Equality? Yes: one person one vote, as long as you shut up as you are screwed when the next choice in November is between two dorks to lead the Western world… and not about understanding the greater system of planetary life.

I better go back to sleep… This is what I used to do in philosophy classes… Though I don’t mind being woken up from time to time by someone like Agnes Callard...





... see also:

the legacy of slavery…

and the happy chickens too...

Tatjana Višak (born 12 December 1974), often credited as Tatjana Visak, is a German philosopher specialising in ethics and political philosophy who is currently based in the Department of Philosophy and Economics at the University of Bayreuth. She is the author of Killing Happy Animals (2013, Palgrave Macmillan) and the editor, with the political theorist Robert Garner, of The Ethics of Killing Animals (2016, Oxford University Press), an edited collection. She is known for arguing that utilitarians should not accept that nonhuman animals can be replaced by other, equally happy, beings, meaning that utilitarians can oppose the routine killing of animals in agriculture.


Read more:šak





We need proteins to survive. Is there enough proteins in nuts and vegetables, not to have to kill chickens? 




Višak is known for her exploration of the ethics of killing nonhuman animals who have lived happy lives, and specifically her rejection of the idea that it is acceptable to kill animals for agricultural purposes provided they have pleasant lives. She challenges Peter Singer's idea that nonhuman animals are "replaceable", meaning that it is acceptable to kill nonhuman animals provided an equally happy animal is created to take their place.[7] In her book Killing Happy Animals, Višak explores this and the related "logic of the larder"—the idea that farming nonhuman animals benefits them, as they would not exist otherwise—from within utilitarianism. She suggests that the replaceability argument is based on Total View Utilitarianism, which entails that the utility of both actual and potential beings (the latter being individuals whose existence or non-existence depends upon the actions of others now). Instead, Višak suggests, utilitarians should adopt a Prior Existence View, entailing that only the utility of actual beings is taken into account in the judgement of the rightness or wrongness of an action. She rejects the logic of the larder by arguing that beings are not made better off by being brought into existence. Ultimately, then, utilitarianism is not restricted to the avoidance of suffering, and contains the tools to censure the routine killing of nonhuman animals, even in "animal friendly" agriculture.[4]




"Probleme bezüglich Implikationen und Fundierung, und ein Verbesserungsvorschlag – Kommentar" ["Comment on Wessel's Happiness-Desire Ethics: Problems Regarding Its Implications and Foundations and a Suggestion for Improvement"]



Wessel's poems and plays are frequently satirical and humorous. His literary style is deliberate elaborate and digressive and at the same time elegant and witty. Another genre is the epigram that he mastered, especially his short, witty, impudent, precise and also self-ironic commemorative poems.

Wessel is known first of all for his many humorous and satiric verse tales referring to man's foolishness and injustice. Most notable is Smeden og Bageren ("The Smith and the Baker") about the only smith of a village who is pardoned for manslaughter since the village people need one, while a more superfluous baker is executed instead (there are two bakers, the village only needs one) in order to observe the rules that "life pays life".

In Herremanden ("The Squire") a man coming to Hell makes unpleasant discoveries of the origin of his own son while Hundemordet ("The Dog Murder") tells about wrangle about trivial things.

His satirical play Kierlighed uden Strømper ( Love without Stockings, 1772—with epilogue, 1774) is a generic parody of neoclassical tragedy; it takes place in a daily milieu of banal conflicts but observes the formal rules of "heroic language". It is still performed.


Read more:




Peter Albert David Singer AC (born 6 July 1946) is an Australian moral philosopher. He is the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, and a Laureate Professor at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at the University of Melbourne. He specialises in applied ethics and approaches ethical issues from a secularutilitarian perspective. He is known in particular for his book Animal Liberation (1975), in which he argues in favour of veganism, and his essay "Famine, Affluence, and Morality", in which he argues in favour of donating to help the global poor. For most of his career, he was a preference utilitarian, but he stated in The Point of View of the Universe (2014), coauthored with Katarzyna de Lazari-Radek, that he had become a hedonistic utilitarian.

On two occasions, Singer served as chair of the philosophy department at Monash University, where he founded its Centre for Human Bioethics. In 1996 he stood unsuccessfully as a Greens candidate for the Australian Senate. In 2004 Singer was recognised as the Australian Humanist of the Year by the Council of Australian Humanist Societies. In 2005, the Sydney Morning Herald placed him among Australia's ten most influential public intellectuals.[3] Singer is a cofounder of Animals Australia and the founder of The Life You Can Save.[4]


Read more:




Gus: my chickens come from organic free-range happy farms... my fish comes from the Sydney Fish market and my wild prawns from the sea off Coffs harbour. I rarely indulge in beef, lamb of veal...The pigs are happier that I don't eat them (not a religion). The veggies are from various farms, including my little garden. I avoid insecticides, herbicides and artificial fertilisers. I am told my electricity comes from wind and solar farms... And I recycle as much as possible... and... and... and... my name isn't Johan Herman Wessel, but could be...



Read from top.

an old philosopher...

Giuseppe Paternò set his sights on obtaining a university education as a child growing up in Sicily in the 1930s. Poverty, war and supporting a family got in the way. Now, at 96, he has achieved his goal, becoming Italy’s oldest graduate in the process.

“I’ve finally realised my dream,” the former railway worker and second world war veteran said this week, after graduating with a degree in philosophy from the University of Palermo.

“Being able to study has always been my greatest aspiration, but my family wasn’t able to pay for my education. We were a large family and very poor.”

Paternò, the eldest of seven siblings, started working as a child, when he helped his father with his job at a brewery in Palermo. In July 1943, when the allied forces landed in Sicily, Paternò was working as a telegrapher for the Italian army in Trapani.

“I came out unscathed from the war and took a job working for the state railway service. I wasn’t enthused about my job, but I knew I had to do it because by that time I was married and had a family to support. At the same time, I had an overwhelming desire to dive into books and read, study and learn.”

At the age of 31, after attending evening classes, Paternò graduated from high school as a surveyor. “During the day, I’d work. In the evening I’d attend school, and at night I’d study,” he said. But his dream of earning a university degree remained elusive.

Eventually, in 2017, Paternò enrolled in the department of philosophy at the University of Palermo.

“I’d wake up at seven to study,” he said. “I’d use an old typewriter to complete my assignments. I’d rest in the afternoon and in the evening I’d study until midnight. My neighbours used to ask, ‘why all this trouble at your age?’ But they couldn’t understand the importance of reaching a dream, regardless of my age.”

With a few exams left, the Covid-19 pandemic risked stalling his graduation. When courses transitioned to remote learning platforms, Paternò was obliged to come to terms with the new technology.


Read more:



Read from top.