Up@dawn 2.0

Monday, May 23, 2016

May 25 Quiz

Happy #Towel Day!

A request from Dawn McCormack: "Could you or one of the students take a few photos of the MALA philosophy class and email them to me? I am updating the website and would like some photos with real students and professors in the program. Maybe even walking???"

So let's make a point of doing some photogenic-peripatic discussion time today! Send your best candid shots to Dawn.Mccormack@mtsu.edu.

Postscript. Great job, Dean. Now we just need to get you and Angel into the picture!

A Stroll in May (slideshow)

7-Knowledge is Power

1. What key Aristotelian principle was embodied by the Great Library at Alexandria?

2. What did Aristotelians have to save, to sustain his assumptions about nature and the universe?

3. What Archimedean claim would Aristotle have rejected, even though his own method implied it?

4. What were Archimedes' last words, and his most famous word?

  • Herophilus'"curiosity was insatiable," correcting Aristotle's anatomical errors and raising the first questions of medical ethics. (93) Do we adequately value and encourage curiosity in our educational institutions today?
  • Is there a case to be made for "saving the appearances" (94) as part of a program to take ordinary experience (the cave) at least as seriously as theory and refined scholarship (the light)? Isn't the appearance/reality distinction inherently biased against the former?
  • Would a God necessarily have to be a "supreme geometer," (95) committed to an ordered and rational creation? What if the creator had a preference for disunity and a messy creation?
  • Has the ideal of Pentathlos, the scholar-athlete, (96) held up as more than a collegiate marketing concept in our time?
  • Are Aristotelians and empiricists generally too specialized, too fixated on how and not why, techne but not theoria, on puzzles but not Big Picture breakthrougshs? (98)
  • Is it inevitable that research is driven by miliary-industrial applications? (99)
  • Is the "Eureka" moment an "inner eye" phenomenon, shackled by rigid proof-based inquiry with "no possiblity of dissent"? (The philosopher of science Paul Feyerabend had interesting thoughts on this.)
  • Do you agree that everything real must in principle be quantifiable? (102) What about mental phenomena-thoughts, intentions, feelings, delusions,...?
  • [Please post yours]

8-Hole in the Soul

1. What did Cicero mean by an "Archimedean problem"?

2. Which anti-Roman resistance fighter later chronicled their unparalleled historical achievement?

3. How did Cicero's conception of the republic differ from Plato's?

4. What can a good orator say to his audience, if he's read and mastered his Rhetoric?

  • "...everything was a Roman copy of a Greek original." (111) Fair? What have the Romans ever done for us, Brian, aside from etching Plato and Aristotle "into the grain of Western civilization"?
  • Do you see the "mixed constitution" (114) as a healthy precursor of our balance of powers, or a foreshadowing of political dissolution and mob rule? Does modern democratic man "live from day to day" without order or restraint? (115) Was Plato prescient about class struggle between rich and poor and the "dismal cycle" of decay and revolution "without end or purpose"? (116)
  • Was Roman fatalism the fault of their politics and their fascination it (117), their personal temper, their incurious lust for conquest, or what? Are we replicating their decline, and their sense of being "never in worse shape" even as they were "never more powerful"?
  • Was there any truth to Cato's denunciation of Socrates the "windbag" (118)?
  • Cicero "admired Plato more than any other thinker" (120)-would you put him on Team Plato, or Team Aristotle?
  • Is public eloquence a problem for democracy, or a solution? (122)
  • Why is it so difficult for democracies to persuade most of the people that they're "all in this together"? (125)
  • ...
9-Dancing in the Light

1. What was Cicero's posthumous status?

2. What Platonic myth set the stage for Roman disaffection, degeneration, decay, decline, and dissolution?

3. What virtue did Seneca advise the wise to cultivate?

4. William Blake's "eternity in a grain of sand" is a possible  reflection of whose philosophy?

  • Do you agree with Caesar about the best kind of death? (129)
  • Are we "too happy"? (131) Is "true happiness" (133) more Platonic or Aristotelian, Epicurean or Stoic or Skeptical? Does it require "a flight from all worldly connections"? (144)
  • Is disaffection and alienation the natural outcome of cave-thinking? (132)
  • Is it wise to have "no fears and no hopes"? (135)
  • "What difference does it make" to you to live a long life? How do you interpret and respond to Marcus Aurelius' rhetorical question about that? (137)
  • Plotinus was "relentlessly antimaterialist" but he'd also read his Aristotle. Does that make sense? Does "the cave still reflect the distant light of truth"? (139) Do the woods look better or worse through Plotinus' eyes? (140)
  • What do you think of the Great Chain of Being idea? Does it really lead out of the cave? (141)
  • Do we all, "whether we know it or not, want to be one with perfection"? 142)
  • Can one be rationally persuaded to make the "leap of mystical illumination" or does it have to come in a flash? Have you ever or often (like Plotinus) "woken to [your]self out of the body"? (143)
  • ...
John Lachs's Stoic Pragmatism... ebook online... Lachs on YouTube... Peter Adamson's "History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps" podcast... Peter Adamson on YouTube... Adamson, Plotinus... Law & Justice, Cicero & Roman Republicanism... School of Life videos... A History of Ideas (BBC videos)... Stoics & Skeptics (Happiness)... Lovejoy's Great Chain of Being... summary... Old nonsense
“Despite the Great Chain of Being's traditional ranking of humans between animals and angels, there is no evolutionary justification for the common assumption that evolution is somehow 'aimed' at humans, or that humans are 'evolution's last word'.”
Richard Dawkins, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution

“The soul in its nature loves God and longs to be at one with Him in the noble love of a daughter for a noble father; but coming to human birth and lured by the courtships of this sphere, she takes up with another love, a mortal, leaves her father and falls.”

“When we look outside of that on which we depend we ignore our unity; looking outward we see many faces; look inward and all is one head. If a man could but be turned about, he would see at once God and himself and the All.”

“Withdraw into yourself and look. And if you do not find yourself beautiful yet, act as does the creator of a statue that is to be made beautiful: he cuts away here, he smoothes there, he makes this line lighter, this other purer, until a lovely face has grown upon his work. So do you also: cut away all that is excessive, straighten all that is crooked, bring light to all that is overcast, labour to make all one glow of beauty and never cease chiselling your statue, until there shall shine out on you from it the godlike splendour of virtue, until you shall see the perfect goodness surely established in the stainless shrine.”

“Those who believe that the world of being is governed by luck or chance and that it depends upon material causes are far removed from the divine and from the notion of the One.”
According to Plotinus, the soul that has descended too far into matter needs to "merely think on essential being" in order to become reunited with its higher part (IV.8.4). This seems to constitute Plotinus' answer to any ethical questions that may have been posed to him. In fact, Plotinus develops a radical stance vis-a-vis ethics, and the problem of human suffering. In keeping with his doctrine that the higher part of the soul remains wholly unaffected by the disturbances of the sense-realm, Plotinus declares that only the lower part of the soul suffers, is subject to passions, and vices, etc. In order to drive the point home, Plotinus makes use of a striking illustration. Invoking the ancient torture device known as the Bull of Phalaris (a hollow bronze bull in which a victim was placed; the bull was then heated until it became red hot), he tells us that only the lower part of the soul will feel the torture, while the higher part remains in repose, in contemplation... IEP
But is matter really so debased, or so insensitive? William James, contemplating the mortal remains of a dear friend, spoke of the "sacred" matter that had been capable of assuming such exquisite form.
I found myself saying nicer things about the Stoics than I'd intended, yesterday, as we wrapped up our Maymester Happiness course. Maybe I'll continue that trend on Wednesday as our "Stroll Through Western Civilization" continues. (It was great seeing two of our fellow strollers last night at the Masters of Liberal Arts Open House, and some hot prospects for next time as well.)

I probably come across as more generally unsympathetic to the Stoics than is truly the case. I’m not hostile, just sometimes impatient with what seems their occasional surrender to circumstance when what’s really demanded is a fight. They’d say that’s an emotional judgment, and that we need to pick our fights with the greatest deliberation. A fight with Nero wasn’t going to save Seneca’s own skin, true enough, and it wasn’t going to look good in the philosophy books alongside a lifetime of counsel against anger and futility.

But lying down and dying at the behest of a crazed despot doesn’t look so good either.

I do still think Roman philosophy gets an undeservedly bad rap. Cicero in particular is way underrated as a philosopher, and in most texts underrepresented. Jennifer Hecht rectified that a bit in her Doubt: A History.

Cicero‘s wonderful dialogue with a Skeptic, a Stoic, and an Epicurean, Nature of the Gods, would have been fun to join. “Cotta” says it all: 
Are you not ashamed as a scientist, as an observer and investigator of nature, to seek your criterion of truth from minds steeped in conventional beliefs? The whole theory is ridiculous… I do not believe these gods of yours exist at all, least of all the uninvolved, uninterested ones like the Epicurean-inspired Disinterested Deist Deity. If this is all that a god is, a being untouched by care or love of human kind, then I wave him good-bye.
If you want truth, as JMH observes, you have to avoid making things up.

Novelists and other artisans of the well-chosen and well-spoken word (like Hecht, a poet and historian as well as a terrific philosopher) have appreciated Cicero more than most of my philosophy colleagues. There’s Tom Wolfe‘s A Man in Full, for instance, in which Epictetus gets the star treatment.

Robert Harris’s Conspirata was good company last Fall on my daily commute up and down I-24, and before that Imperium. Simon Jones’s narration is delightful, even if he sounds a lot like Arthur Dent.

And then there’s the Victorian Trollope’s compendious Life of Cicero.

The older I get, the longer my reading list grows. Cicero said that was one of the consolations of aging. He was a wise old consul, and an honest Stoic.
After the loss of his daughter Tullia in childbirth, [Cicero] turned to Stoicism to assuage his grief. But ultimately he could not accept its terms: “It is not within our power to forget or gloss over circumstances which we believe to be evil…They tear at us, buffet us, goad us, scorch us, stifle us — and you tell us to forget about them?”
But my favorite mention of Cicero in all of literature is still from Emerson:
Meek young men grow up in libraries, believing it their duty to accept the views, which Cicero, which Locke, which Bacon, have given, forgetful that Cicero, Locke, and Bacon were only young men in libraries, when they wrote those books. [An honest Stoic, 2.1.13]
But they were probably not in libraries when they had their most original ideas. Our study is out in the world.
Lucretius (our first selection in the Hitch anthology, from De Rerum Natura) was another Epicurean, but he downplayed the god-talk.The finality of death and the absence of the gods did not seem depressing; indeed, they seemed to add to the sweetness of life.

Marcus Aurelius, as close to a philosopher-king as the West would ever know: “I am a part of the whole which is governed by nature.”He had a Big Picture cosmic perspective. From a vantage “raised up above the earth,” consider life’s brevity and our common humanity. We are one species, as Carl Sagan liked to say, and our time here is brief. Don’t squander it in fear, worry, malice and meanness.

Marcus also said:
Whether the universe is a concourse of atoms, or nature is a system, let this first be established, that I am a part of the whole which is governed by nature; next, I am in a manner intimately related to the parts which are of the same kind with myself.
We are one species, as Carl also liked to say.

"Do not act as if thou were going to live ten thousand years." Well... depends on what "thou" means. Once we give up the delusion of immortality for our precious personal selves we can claim a wider identity. It's not hubris to hope and plan for a species-life of 10K, at least. Our species depends on it.

Now, fast forward (past those refreshingly-strange gnostics and their contempt for the creator God) to Boethius, “last of the Romans, first of the scholastics.” His Consolations of Philosophy“completely ignored Christianity.” That’s really hard to do. We'' talk about it next week.

Also coming soon, the tragedy of Hypatia. Her alleged killer Cyril nearly killed philosophy and science and civilization as well, and was rewarded with Sainthood. Also, a prominent spotlight of shame on Cosmos. [Romans & redeemers, 2.16.10... Back to the garden, 2.15.10... Seneca falls, 2.17.10... What the Stoics Have Done For Us, 1.31.13... Stoicism in Georgia, 9.13.12]... Be a friend & (or)go to hell, 9.12.12]
Interestingly related to Don's call last week for civics education. See also my "Democracy in America" post.
Boston Review (@BostonReview)
Public education should make citizens, not just workers, and that means focusing on the humanities—not just STEM. bit.ly/1OSGx0K

What does “cosmopolitan” really mean? Don’t trust Google on this, it takes you straight to that silly magazine with its sex tips and “lifestyle” advice. Funny, or sad, how current linguistic use has corrupted these grand old terms. (Think also of “epicurean,” “cynic,” maybe even “platonic”…)

The question arises in connection with Anthony Appiah’s book and interviewKosmopolites is the Greek root meaning citizen of the world, thecosmos. What a large identity to claim, and yet what a miniscule corner of existence we actually occupy.
The cosmos used to coincide strictly with the known terrestrial world, before anybody’d ever even circumnavigated it. Now we’ve seen our tiny world from space, in perspective.

So now we know: it’s a really big cosmos, and we are here.

So far as we can tell we’re the only part, around these parts anyway, that knows it’s part of a cosmos. We’re the cosmopolitans.
Alexandria was the greatest city the Western world had ever seen. People of all nations came here to live, to trade, to learn. On any given day, its harbors were thronged with merchants, scholars, and tourists. This was a city where Greeks, Egyptians, Arabs, Syrians, Hebrews, Persians, Nubians, Phoenicians, Italians, Gauls, and Iberians exchanged merchandise and ideas. It is probably here that the word ‘cosmopolitan’ realized its true meaning: citizen, not just of a nation, but of the Cosmos. To be a citizen of the Cosmos

More Sagan… portal… mote… calendar… golden record… apple pie... Tyson's Cosmos

So who was the first cosmopolitan in philosophy? Socrates, possibly, he’s said to have declared himself a citizen of the world – but still so loyal an Athenian that he insisted on having his hemlock. Scholars wonder if that was really him or Plato talking.
Whether Socrates was self-consciously cosmopolitan in this way or not, there is no doubt that his ideas accelerated the development of cosmopolitanism and that he was in later antiquity embraced as a citizen of the world. In fact, the first philosopher in the West to give perfectly explicit expression to cosmopolitanism was the Socratically inspired Cynic Diogenes in the fourth century bce. It is said that “when he was asked where he came from, he replied, “I am a citizen of the world.” SEP

That doesn’t sound “cynical” in the perverted modern sense at all, does it? Diogenes spent a lot of time under the stars. He knew where he was. [The real cosmopolitans, 9.18.12]

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