Jefferson’s Three Laws

In an otherwise only marginally interesting answer to the question of whether the United States should renounce its treaties with France until it had established a government. While it’s not clear who needs to establish a government, because both countries had some ups and downs, the date of 1793 suggests it was France that needed to sort itself out.

In terms of practical politics, of course, America needed to adhere to its earlier treaties, barring some truly exceptional occurrence (the French Revolution, arguably, would qualify).

Here is what caught my eye:

The law of nations, by which this question is to be determined, is composed of three branches. 1. The moral law of our nature. 2. The usages of nations. 3. Their special conventions.

It’s an interesting bit of morality, couched in enlightenment terminology (Lockean?), which seems out of place in the Jefferson I have been reading.


An irritating edition in some ways (the parenthetically suggestions to compare to Aristotle’s Politics are not helpful).

I had forgotten, if, indeed, I ever knew, that it (in this dialogue, at least) was Eryximachus who tells the tale of a single creature split in half and who then seeks his missing half). I know that this is one of his most popular dialogues, on account of its frank eroticism (Alcibiades’ account of his attempts to seduce Socrates are funny, to be sure), but I don’t feel very enlightened tonight. Probably just my mood.

Letters From A Stoic

Coming at a difficult period (a toxic work climate and the passing of a beloved family member), I read this slowly. It is exactly the sort of consolation one might want from a collection of Stoic writings. How to deal with bad influences, grief, old age, and illness. How to appreciate friends.

Because he mostly writes these letters from a sort of pastoral exile (at one point, from the house that once belonged to Scipio Africanus), it also reinvigorated my own fantasies of a wealthy, rural exile.

In a more academic sense, it does not necessarily delve too deeply into things like Stoic atomism and not at all (except by noting it exists) Stoic logic (for which, I gather, they were most famous; I haven’t read any of the school’s treatises on logic but I gather they are mostly concerned with “and” and “or” statements).

Mount Analogue

I read about this book years ago. Well over a decade, at least. But out of print, of course.

But on my birthday, my two beautiful angels took me to Solid State Books to pick out a present and while randomly browsing, there it was.

It takes the form of an adventure story, with the narrator meeting a character similar to Professors Lindenbrock or Challenger, but everything driven by symbolic rather than scientific concerns. They are seeking a mountain which has an almost Cartesian reason for existing: it exists because something so necessary must. As you might have guessed, Daumal means ‘analogue’ in a pre-digital sense.

The book ends mid-sentence, the authors having apparently been interrupted by a friend’s visit and then dying before returning to his writing. He was in the middle of the story of a guide, living at the base of Mount Analogue, and how he broke the rules and was forced to remain at the base, rather than pursue a journey to the higher reaches.

America The Philosophical

A sort of history of mostly twentieth century American philosophy (Carlin threatens to talk about Emerson, but doesn’t; he also writes briefly about the mostly nineteenth century Peirce and James in the context of Peirce, but those two reached into the next century; he also finds space for this millennium and even for Obama). Continue reading

The Metaphysical Club

What might be most interesting about The Metaphysical Club is that it purports to be about how figures like Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr, William James, Charles Pierce, and John Dewey (among others) created a new and modern American from the ashes of the Civil War, it manages to never explicate James’ nor Peirce’s nor Dewey’s philosophy nor that the first two are both considered the founders of American pragmatism (James association with it is mentioned once or twice; Pierce never) nor that Dewey’s has work might be connected to it over the course of three fourths of the book. Instead I found a series of frustrating threads, connecting Holmes to James and James to Peirce but not Peirce to Holmes in any meaningful sense. Supposed schools of thought like the Burlington transcendentalists (shouldn’t transcendentalist be capitalized, too, in this case, if it’s a legitimate, albeit no longer extant, school of American thought?) appear, are discussed in not insignificant length and then noted to be almost entirely meaningless to the topic and not influential at all. Jane Addams is the only woman noted beyond her relationship to a man and she gets briefly shoehorned into a lengthy rumination on Dewey’s Chicago. Continue reading