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Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

It is not the nature of human beings to let thing that interest us go unthought about. “What is it?” and “Why?” are not just modes of speaking and thinking: they are living ways of standing in and toward the world. In the face of our most powerful experiences, those questions may not get fully answered, but it is intolerable for them to go entirely unanswered either, and impossible for them to go unasked. For good or ill, to be greatly and noticeably affected by anything, and not to seek the cause, is no part of life as we live it. If that were not so, if we refrained from all reflection, important things could happen to us without becoming part of our experience at all. Life would pass through us without being lived by us.

–Joe Sachs, “Introduction,” Aristotle: Poetics (Focus 2006), p. 1

The above is from Sachs’ newest translation, and also illustrates why I think his translations are not only well done linguistically, but are the “thinking man’s” translation of Aristotle. He breaks, judiciously, with the Latinate technical tradition to focus on the Hellenic. But more than that, he himself clearly engages Aristotle on a deeply reflective level.

I use Sachs for my Aristotle translations I use in class, and am glad to see one more of Aristotle’s works from him. I still fervently wish he would translate something from the Organon, preferrably the Categories, though one of the Analytics or De Interpretatione would not be unwelcome, either.

So that others may share my own joy and enthusiasm, here are the Sachs translations of some of Aristotle’s major works:

Aristotle’s Physics: A Guided Study (Masterworks of Discovery)
Aristotle’s Metaphysics (Sachs’ introduction to his translation of the Metaphysics, is here.)
Aristotle’s On the Soul and On Memory and Recollection
Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics
Aristotle: Poetics

Sachs also has a translation on one of Plato’s works:
Plato: Theaetetus

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From Ivan Kireyevsky’s On the Necessity and Possibility of New Principles in Philosophy (1856):

. . . [B]etween the time of Aristotle and the general submission of world culture to Christian teaching, many centuries elapsed, during which many different and contradictory philosophical systems nourished, consoled, and disturbed man’s reason. Few of these systems, however, were characterised by extremes; in general, culture grew out of what was common to the extremes, out of middle ground. Between the Stoics’ virtuous pride and the Epicureans’ sensual philosophy, between the alluring heights of the lofty mental constructions of the Neoplatonic school and the unfeeling, implacable, all-uprooting plough of scepticism, stood Aristotle’s philosophy, to which men’s minds constantly returned from extreme deviations, and which cast the logical snares of its impartial system into the most biased forms of thought. This is why it may be said that, whereas in the ancient pre-Christian world there were several different philosophies and several mutually contradictory sects, the vast majority of thinking humanity and all of culture’s moral and intellectual power belonged to Aristotle. Precisely what influence did Aristotle’s philosophy have on culture and the moral dignity of man? The solution of the problem is important, and not only for past history.
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[Note: I will be passing this out to my logic class this week. Our logic class meets on Monday nights, and our textbooks are Kelley’s The Art of Reasoning, and the companion book of analytical readings by Hicks and Kelley.]

I had the benefit of a public school education that taught me how to learn and how to study. In sixth grade we were taught how to use the library for research, how to take notes, how to cite sources, and, ultimately, how to write a research paper. This was reinforced throughout my junior and senior high years. So, when I embarked on my undergraduate education, I was ready. I may not have always exercised the discipline I needed to learn and to study, but I knew how to do it. Given my personal experience, I have for some time assumed that students on coming to college either already know how to study or find out how to study by utilizing campus resources (such as the learning center or their academic advisor). But as I have taught more classes, I have found that that assumption is very rarely true.

So, I have decided to provide a general methodology of study for this class (but which can be slightly adapted as needed and applied to any class). But be forewarned: there is no such thing as “easy” learning. Anyone selling you on that is simply not mentally sound or is out to take your money. Learning and study are hard work. Even those who are “gifted” for academic study have to work to study and to learn. If you think that you can simply read the chapter once, before class, and copy the answers to the practice quizzes, and just write down some quick answers to any Hicks and Kelley question AND get an A, or even a B, in the class, you are chasing an illusion. Even if you have some basic familiarity with critical reasoning, unless you’ve done some work in logic before, you will have to work hard in this class to get an above average grade of B or an excellent grade of A. If you are not prepared to invest one to two hours per class hour a week outside of class in study and reading, then you should not expect a grade higher than a C.

My suggestion for study is generally as follows:

Give yourself a break on Tuesday, the day after class, and don’t do any logic homework. If you’ve been following my study suggestions, your mind needs a break from logic. Use Tuesday to work on other classes or to read other matters that interest you, or to go to a movie, take a walk in the park, or engage in spirited recreation. Enjoy time with your family and friends.

On Wednesday read through the chapter twice, underlining/highlighting passages that are main points of the chapter or are unclear to you–but don’t take any extensive notes at this point. Just read through the chapter twice and make some marks to call your attention to important or unclear passages. Also, don’t do any of the practice quizzes yet. This should take you perhaps about an hour. (1 hour)

On Thursday, go through the text again, this time going slowly and taking as extensive notes as you need to understand the text. Once again highlight anything that is unclear to you. I would suggest that an hour of doing this, perhaps an hour and a half, would be sufficient. Once again, do not do the practice quizzes. Anything that is still unclear to you, send me an email about and I’ll try to clarify it. (1 to 1 ½ hours)

On Friday take up the textbook again and this time work through the practice quizzes. Go through each quiz one at a time, checking your answers against the key in the back. Note each incorrect answer, but don’t spend any time on trying to understand your error yet. After you’ve worked through all the practice quizzes, go back through and note where you have incorrect answers. If you understand your error, you very likely don’t need to do much more study on that particular item, since it may have simply been a misunderstanding of the question or just a simple forgetting or a simple mistake. Nonetheless, if you understand your error, it was still an error and so you will want to do some light review of that item to make sure you understand it. For those errors that you do not understand why they are errors, go back through the text and see if you can get a better understanding of why you made the mistake you did. If you are still unclear, email me. This process on Friday should take about an hour. (1 hour)

On Saturday, then, read through the text again, focusing on the areas in which you made mistakes on the practice quiz or about which you are still unclear. If I haven’t clarified those issues in an email, make a special note to bring the matter up in class. This should take maybe a half hour or an hour. (½ to 1 hour)

On Sunday, if there are no Hicks and Kelley readings assigned, don’t do anything with regard to logic. Let the study you have been doing over the previous few days “simmer” in your subconscious. If you do have Hicks and Kelley readings, read over the text once, work through the questions by referring back to the text. This is to be “light” work, a way to reinforce the chapter you’ve studied. It should take only about an hour. Especially if you do not have any Hicks and Kelley questions, make sure to enjoy the day free of studying for this class. Read inspiring texts. Listen to classical music. Spend some time enjoying whatever weather the day brings. Always make the effort to spend large and generous amounts of time with your loved ones. If you have to work, work diligently and be respectful of your co-workers and customers. Listen to conversations carefully. Classroom study is not a separate part of your life, and what happens in your life outside of class impacts your “classroom life.” Be at peace outside of class and your class time and study time will improve. (If Hicks and Kelley are assigned: 1 hour)

On Monday, the day of class, do a light review. Skim through the chapter headings, the portions of the chapter you underlined. Review items you’ve memorized. Go over your practice quizzes lightly. Don’t take much more than a half-hour doing this. Reserve all questions about matters that are unclear for class time. (½ hour)

All told, you are looking at about five or six hours of study outside class. I’ve seen various guidelines about how much time to study per class hour, but my own experience and the experience of students I have spoken with is that you should invest one to two hours per class time outside of class, or, in our case, 3-6 hours of study.

I recognize that many in the class, perhaps yourself included, have full-time jobs, families, are taking other classes, and so on, and the expectation that one take 3-6 hours of study time outside of class seems impossible, or at least impractical. Here each situation will differ, but clear, open and honest communications with family members and house mates about your school obligations, if possible talking with your employer/supervisor, and just the hard work of personal time management–all these will help in carving out those hours.

If I can be of further assistance, let me know.

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A very interesting article from Classical Quarterly. Note: pdf file.

Mimesis and Understanding: An Interpretation of Aristotle’s Poetics 4.1448B4–19

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The Joy of Discovery

Back in late spring of 2003, I was reading a translation of Aristotle’s De Anima, specifically III.4-5 on human thinking, and ran across a footnote that tied DA III.5 to the Metaphysics XII.7, 9. That is to say, human thinking episodically thinks the same thing as divine thinking (when each is thinking the form of a thing).

Which seems straightforward enough. But III.5 is terribly obscure, for it talks about imperishable thinking, and of course thinking is an activity of the soul, and yet in DA Bk I, Aristotle clearly notes that when a body dies the soul ceases to be. So how could imperishable thinking cease to be on the death of the body? Or, conversely, how could imperishable thinking not cease to be on the death of the body? And if it ceased to be, how could it be imperishable?

That is only one of the troubling questions. For DA III.5 is also the notorious “active intellect” (or as some call it the “maker mind”) passage. Is the active intellect that brings potential intellect into full being-at-work (i.e., “actuality”) an aspect of the human intellect, and therefore of the human soul? Or is it external to the human soul (is it, say, the divine intellect)?

And finally there is the vexing question of the relationship between theoria, which is the most divine of human intellectual activity and is a thinking of the forms, and phronesis, which is the sort of human intellectual activity that enables one to choose to act virtuously. And as Aristotle notes, eudaimonia, happiness, comes about through a life of virtue in accordance with reason (intellect).

But Aristotle tease out a seemingly contentious relationship between theoria and the life of virtue in Nicomachean Ethics X, which would seem to split human intellectual activity between the divine (theoria) and the mundane (the life of virtue). One could have the best, divine contemplation, but one usually and most often has to settle for the second best, the life of virtue, since we are inescapably social-communal animals.

And in fact EN VI seems to present a sharp distinction, even an apparent separation, between intellect (nous) and practical judgment (phronesis), the former having to do with universals–which can found true knowledge, the latter having to do with particulars and choices–upon which knowledge is impossible to found. (Very Ur-Kantian!)

But I had had an intuition that I should try (precisely because of EN X) to see if there weren’t an ethical dimension to thinking the forms. I just could not come up with any sort of reconciliation.

But then I was reading an article for my dissertation proposal and came across an almost throw-away comment by the author, about how in EN VI is another passage which unites intellect and practical judgment in the activity of the intellect which derives out of practical judgment’s ultimate particular the very universal thing one needs to know (a la the practical syllogism of EN VII) to make a deliberate and voluntary choice to act virtuously in a specific instance.

This opens up further investigation.

Ah, the joy of serendipitous discovery.

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Interesting Blogs

Caveat lector.

Right Reason

The Conservative Philosopher

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Some Free Will Reading

Back in May, when I was finishing up my paper on free will (pdf file), due to the press of time and urgency, I only quickly and partially engaged the texts that I was utilizing for my paper. (Which in part accounts for why, even by my own estimations, this is not evidence of my best work.)

In the last week I have set about to rectify that problem. I recently completed Peter van Inwagen’s classic libertarian free will text An Essay on Free Will. And I have just picked up Timothy O’Connor’s Persons and Causes: The Metaphysics of Free Will, for a much more leisurely read. I’m saving the best to last: Robert Kane’s The Significance of Free Will, which I hope to get to by the end of the week.

It was my first encounter with van Inwagen’s text, I’m a bit shamed to say. But it was an enjoyable one. I admit to having read rather quickly over his specific modal argumentatioin, but the outline of his argument is quickly summarized. It is contained in the two things he spends the majority of the book proving:

1. Determinism is incompatible with free will.

That is to say, compatibilism is not an option. Determinism and free will are mutually excluding truths, in terms of human volition/action. Either we have free will and it is up to us to freely act in accordance with our deliberations, or determinism is true and all our acts are the necessary consequences of past events and the natural laws that obtain.

Now, he does not pretend to settle the issue as to whether or not free will is irrefutably proven to be true. But he does, it seems to me, to make the excellent case that compatibilism cannot be true.

2. Moral responsibility requires free will.

While there are several accounts, along the lines of Frankfurt-style counterexamples, that argue for a compatibilist account of moral responsibility, the fact of the matter is, there are no real advocates for moral responsibility if determinism is true. But van Inwagen shows that moral responsibility is not predicated upon the outcome of acts (i.e., whether or not one could have done otherwise) but upon the volitional aspect behind human action. Part of that demonstration has to do with the argumentative weaknesses of Frankfurt-style counterexamples, but it also banks heavily on everyday intuitive language and behavior.

I think this summary quite nicely accounts for libertarian free will. By eliminating compatibilism, it really quite nicely lays out the true options. (It also heavily undercuts Reformed Calvinism as a bonus). And by grounding moral responsibility in free will it clarifies what it is one can be morally responsible for.

But of course laying out the libertarian free will case is not the end of the matter. It also matters that one be able to defend indeterminist and incompatibilistic free will against skeptical charges (that indeterminism and free will are just as exclusive of one another as are determinism and free will; i.e., that the agent’s acts are up to chance and not the agent’s control), and to provide some sort of account which will recommend it to the prevailing naturalistic mindset. O’Connor’s and Kane’s books set out to do just that.

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