Dried Roses

Vendler on the Humanities

Helen Vendler urges that the arts be made the centerpiece of teaching in the humanities (in “The Ocean, the Bird, and the Scholar”, the online version of her Jefferson Lecture). Unfogged expresses disapproval; Brian Leiter offers gossip and (at second hand) a nasty review of Jorie Graham. What follows is an examination of Vendler’s proposal.


LinkMay 9, 2004 in Academic Affairs · Literature

Inequity in the Academy; (S)he’s Leaving Home

Tim Burke’s response to Erin O’Connor’s post on leaving academia.
AcademyGirl’s point-by-point response to Burke.
Apartment 401 on being out, Wolfangel on getting an MA and getting out, Mister BS on his last class.
Thoughtful comments at Caveat Lector on the “ethics of work” in the academy, with a pointer to the Invisible Adjunct thread on jobs and working conditions in the humanities.
Eugene Volokh on “academic Calvinism” (via Crooked Timber).
David Lodge, in the Guardian, on Nabokov’s Pnin (via Crooked Timber).

LinkMay 10, 2004 in Academic Affairs

Là-bas… Les merveilleux nuages!

The American Midwest doesn’t do mountains or oceans. One thing it does do is clouds. This evening as I sat in the bay window on the second floor, looking northwest, the setting sun played off a cumulus cloud set against a background of thin cirrus. The trailing, western edge was pink and reddish-orange; the bulk of the cloud was grey, gradually darkening toward the east. A cloud thus illuminated has relief, it gains mass, becomes, however temporarily, a thing. Now the sun has set and the wind has taken it east, out of sight—across the river, perhaps.
You don’t need wind to make a cloud disappear. You can banish it with logic, using the sorites paradox.


LinkMay 11, 2004 in Metaphysics & Epistemology

The Cat is in the Window

No philosophy here—unless you think cats are intrinsically metaphysical


LinkMay 12, 2004 in Æsthetics · Cats

La philosophie en miettes…

A recent fad in the world of blogs is those little banners or placards announcing that a site is “RSS Safe”, on Blogshares, or FOAFish. As a philosophercogitosum I am bound, of course, to take note only of the eternal, the αἰῶν or whatever. Nevertheless, in the interest of bringing philosophy absolutely up to date I present here a set of philosophically correct banners:


LinkMay 13, 2004 in History of Philosophy · Web/Tech

Iris visits

A fragment of rainbow over downtown, northeast of here. Thunder in the background, on its way to Chicago. The damp of fresh rain carried through the upstairs windows by a languid breeze from the northwest. A few minutes later the rainbow has dimmed, but by way of compensation it now extends over a sixty-degree arc.
It’s not difficult to understand why people thought that the rainbow must be a sign. Spectral hues, in order, set against the heavens: how often does inanimate nature offer such a spectacle? Even level-headed old Kant could not resist the interpretation of colors:


LinkMay 23, 2004 in Æsthetics · History of Philosophy

Grattan-Guinness’s Search for mathematical roots

I. Grattan-Guinness. The search for mathematical roots, 1870–1940. Logics, set theories and the foundations of mathematics from Cantor through Russell to Gödel. Princeton & Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2000.
A richly documented study that takes issue with received views of the origins and content of logicism. GG begins with Lagrange’s “algebraization” of the study of differential equations; this, he argues, was one of the inspirations for Boole’s and De Morgan’s algebraic logic, which in turn fed into the algebraic logics of Peirce and Schröder near the end of the 19th century. I would regard that portion of the history as belonging to the history of the extension and generalization of algebraic notions, a history that also includes the emergence of “abstract” groups, vector algebra, and the beginnings of commutative algebra. (Whitehead’s Universal algebra (1898) belongs here too.)
What philosophers think of as “foundations”—the logics of Frege and Russell—was a largely separate line of development whose sources included the “arithmetization” of analysis, Cantor’s Mengenlehre (with Zermelo’s work on the axioms of set theory), and Peano’s efforts to create a symbolic language for mathematics. Whitehead and Russell’s Principia (1910–1913), not Frege’s earlier work, is the centerpiece of GG’s history. GG distinguishes the historical Frege from Frege´, the father (with Russell) of analytic philosophy. Frege´, whose influence since World War II has been enormous, is an invention, “an analytic philosopher of language writing in English about meaning and its meaning(s), and putting forward some attendant philosophy of mathematics”. The historical Frege, “a mathematician who wrote in German, in a markedly Platonic spirit, principally on the foundations of arithmetic and on a formal calculus in which it could be expressed”, has only a modest place in the history of logicism, though (as GG argues) he was read more widely than Russell implies in an appendix to the Principles of mathematics in 1903.


LinkMay 26, 2004 in Books · History of Philosophy · Philosophy of Mathematics

Merz’s History of thought

John Theodore Merz, History of thought in the nineteenth century (Edinburgh & London: Blackwood, v. 1–2, 1896; 2nd ed. of v. 1–2, 1907; v. 3–4, 1912, 1914; repr. New York: Dover, 1965.)
Volumes 1 and 2 deal with the natural sciences, 3 and 4 with philosophy. Merz restricts himself to authors in France, Great Britain, and Germany. Though he tends to favor the Germans, Merz’s work is a good place to start if you want to survey the intellectual landscape as it appeared to a well-informed intellectual historian at the end of the century.
Merz, an electrical engineer by trade, knows his science and mathematics, at least till near the end of the century. In physics, the concept of energy (at that time just half a century old), the laws of thermodynamics, and Maxwell‘s theory have completed the classical edifice. Atomism has still not carried the day: the phenomenalism of MachErnst Mach (1838-1916), author of Die Mechanik in ihrer Entwicklung (1883), Die Analyse der Empfindungen (1886), and Erkenntnis und Irrtum (1905). ernstmach and others was, in the 1890s, a tenable position. Merz’s coverage of biology (the name was coined at the very end of the eighteenth century, and becomes current by way of Cuvier) is very good. The transformation wrought by Darwin is fully in evidence. Defining the essence of the living remains an issue, but “mechanistic” explanations are gradually winning out over various versions of vitalism. In psychology, German authors predominate; at the end of the century, Brentano and James appear briefly, but Freud is absent.


LinkMay 31, 2004 in Books · History of Philosophy · History of Science