I recently spent a few days in Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital and only real city. Here are a few of my impressions. Continue reading
Last night I watched Soylent Green, the 1973 Charlton Heston film set in an overcrowded future America. Like Citizen Kane it has, for some reason, become known for its twist ending. That twist is actually one of the less interesting aspects of the movie, which is reminiscent of Blade Runner in its ceaselessly pessimistic imagination of human nature and our human future. Continue reading
Don’t let your fear of hollow words give you a fear of names.
Deep respect for a thing (/idea/sensation/behavior/attitude/etc.), and distaste for hollow talk in general, can make you wary of naming it, because the more convenient the name, the more easily it can get caught up in hollow talk about it and distracting noise about the thing. But names are handles, they let you work upon the thing, manipulate it: think about it and fit it into its relations with other things. The name facilitates important work, both negative and positive, upon the thing: negative — finding the flaws and incoherencies and disadvantages of the thing when all its consequences and alternatives are considered; positive — understanding yourself, the value of your things, what you can build from them. Perhaps especially for things that are dear to you it is essential to do this in order to expand your world, or else you will stagnate in a constricting world of so few things, neither leaving them aside when they are no longer good for you nor using them to create and reach new things
So go ahead and taxonomize, and circumspectly trust your ability to carry the whole meaning of the thing when you grasp its handle, trust that you can preserve the meaning in your use of the name.
Most of us, most of the time, rely heavily on intuition in our moral decision-making. Nothing wrong with that; it’s a lot more efficient than sitting down to philosophize every time we need to do or judge something, even if we had an abstract moral philosophy we were absolutely comfortable with, which most of us don’t. But intuition is vulnerable to certain types of fallacies, including those that seem solidly true because of their resemblance to something true in another field of life.
We’re all familiar with the principle behind the conservation of energy, even those of us who know nothing about physics; the basic idea of conservation forms a part of the body of received knowledge we call common sense. The moral equivalent of the conservation of energy could be called the conservation of evil. Unlike its physical analogue, the conservation of evil doesn’t stand up to more than casual scrutiny. Continue reading
My mental abilities are in decline. In theory this can motivate a swifter recovery, as the danger is very real that I will soon be incompetent to continue therapy. Indeed, I have trouble remembering what we’ve already hammered out. I chew over old questions, wasting precious time, and I’ve caught myself letting fresh questions slip, under the murky pretext of half-remembered answers. My psychotherapist, taking pity on my state, has donated me two Analyst’s Notebooks. When a question comes up, I open a ticket in the “Questions” notebook. If the previous question was number 343, for example, I write, on the next line, “344.” Over the course of the day, as I ruminate, if I come to complete resolution (and it’s extremely important that such resolution be utterly unshakeable, or the entire procedure would be annulled) I write the same number in my “Answers” notebook, thus closing the ticket. In this way I have been spared much doubt. If I am in remiss, I do penance; if not, I enjoy a clean conscience. At first it was extremely easy to verify my status. I leafed through the first notebook and, if I didn’t know off the top of my head whether “344” had been settled, I scanned for it in the second notebook. It’s true that on occasion several new doubts would arise in me over the course of the process of verifying; these I would write as incrementing letters, “a,” “b,” “c,” on to “aa,” “bb,” etc., on a disposable slip of paper and afterwards transfer them into the “Questions” notebook, often to find that the same tickets had already been opened under lower ordinals. When that was the case, I closed the duplicates immediately, putting off all other thoughts for the brief duration of this simple task. But for longer tasks, as when, though I have reason to think a ticket has been resolved, it is not forthcoming in the “Answer” notebook, I have much need of these auxiliary slips, since certainly so much repressed material is unearthed simply by association as I scan through the reams of my case-history.
(This is tentative.)
The reason we feel threatened with suffocation when reading the Philosophical Investigations is that it seems to point to no “outside”. The Tractatus seemed to have an outside.
Even the fly in the fly-bottle – if he knows he is in the bottle – has an outside, and an outside can be both an object of hope or one of despair.
Hence, perhaps, the “lack of hope” one can feel: it comes from the reader’s metaphysical intuition that change is something coming from the outside to the inside: if there is no outside, no change is possible.
Perhaps – once we are outside the fly-bottle, or imagining ourselves to be – we only feel trapped because we mistake “having no outside” for “our outside being somewhere we can’t get to”.
Americans often frame their opposition to government actions in terms of “your/my/our tax money is paying for this.” This practice is misleading and carries philosophical baggage its users may not be aware of. Continue reading