‘Essays Towards A Theory Of Knowledge’ By Alexander Philip


Alexander Philip was, apparently, a Scottish lawyer with a penchant for philosophizing and a minor fame incurred by his theories and advocacy of calendar reform.

At first I was surprised by his quotations from interesting but lesser French thinkers like Diderot and Taine, but it soon became he was the sort of nutty dilettante who would merge Kantian with Viennese thinkers like Mach, so why not treat Diderot as a leading epistemologist if you’ve decided to go that route.

I was actually okay with his incorporation of action into time as a way of understanding periodicity and his idea of physical engagement with experience/sensation replacing Kantian categories as a necessary mediator, but when he rambles about energy, it is clear he read an Edinburgh Review article about the new fangled physics and got way ahead of himself.

He also manages to set upon a theory of consciousness that smacks of a reductive materialism without giving up on a more religious/spiritual idea of consciousness, which is possible if you work hard to not think about it too much.

And he has a wonderfully anachronistic habit of capitalizing words that don’t need to be, like Energy and Presentment (which, in my head, I always pronounce as if it were French, which makes it seem hella cooler).

Also, have I read this before? If so, that’s the second time that has happened to me lately. I actually think that I read another philosophical tract of his (which he references, refuting, he thinks, some critiques of it), but I can’t be sure.

‘A Warning’ By Anonymous


Anonymous is not an intellectual. S/he is not a member of the conservative intelligentsia. You may think that this is a good thing. A good advisor to the president need not be one, but it just seems to me that s/he wears their learning, such as it is, not so much lightly as shallowly. A few sprinkled quotes from the Founding Fathers and great leaders of the past (a bit of classical “learning” and the occasional snippet from the Gipper or, rather, his speechwriters) but their understanding of ethics, as a field of study is thinner than even that annoying Starbucks philosopher talking to loudly to his embarrassed girlfriend. They refer to classical thinkers because they both need to pad their moral case and because they want to show they know that stuff (I don’t think they really do; I don’t think they actually read Cicero’s De Officiis. I think they did more run just read a Wikipedia article, but something much less than actually reading him. Which, by the way, you should. He’s really good.

Anonymous could be seen as, despite their protests, another kind of emblem of Trump’s inability to attract the best, or even adequate, people. They seems like the kind of frat boy douchebag who was hoping for a Marco Rubio presidency. Someone shallow and shamelessly political, who has never had a real job, but who can do a passably tolerable impression of a man with some principles for the kind of reader who doesn’t read beyond the first two paragraphs of any newspaper not about a hockey fight or one of Marco’s Sunshine State compatriots doing something blissfully stupid involving alligators, the highway patrol, and a can of coffee that has been repurposed to hold his dope.

The anecdotes are frequently a mixture of the nonspecific and publicly known. You don’t need a senior administration official to tell you that John Kelly had a horrified look on his face when His Obesity defended the Nazis in Charlottesville.

There was one newish sounding nugget, though. When Trump is about to push a lawyer to do something patently illegal, he scans the room for people who might be taking notes and screams at them to stop.

Also, I think they are a man. But that’s neither here nor there and based on my own hidden prejudices, I suspect.

So why did I read another one of these Trump histories? I have sworn off them more times often than I have sworn to delete my Facebook account.

Well, the short version is that we were at the Northeastern Library (the little one was getting her first library card), which is an awesome library. Better, frankly, than the other two I visit regularly. The selection of books visible upon even a cursory examination were so exciting. Including this one. I should have known something was up when there wasn’t a waiting list, when it was just sitting there. Typically, these kinds of self flagellatory tomes have a longish waiting list of people ahead of you in the queue.

A sidebar or a point of personal privilege, perhaps. Anonymous gives us some classical tidbits. If you’ve ever seen the movie or the play The History Boys (and I highly recommend it), you might remember the term ‘gobbets.’ Little bits of poetry or seemingly irrelevant knowledge used to illustrate a point or just liven up the text. Anonymous does a lot of that.

Several of their ‘gobbets’ are about Athens. Going beyond the Athens of Socrates and Pericles, the city remained famous for centuries as the center of philosophy. Indeed, it sometimes seems as if it became a sort of university town in later antiquity. De Officiis is in the form of a letter to Cicero’s son (in fairness, they also knew this) who is studying in… Athens. Cicero slight laments that his son is studying under a Stoic teacher and asks him to look kindly upon the Skepticism of his own training. Gore Vidal writes, in Julian, about the titular emperor (in his pre-purple days) similarly going to Athens as a sort of intellectual finishing school.

Might not that Athens, the Athens long past its imperial glory and the days chronicled in Platonic dialogues, have also been wonderful? A place of nearly pure learning. To go as a young man and learn the arts of being virtuous or as an older man and bask in the golden light of a culture of philosophical inquiry? I say ‘man’ because I think it’s safe to say that it wouldn’t have been so nice to be a woman there, if better than many other places.

Oh, and someone, not me (I don’t write in books; not even my college textbooks), did a little freelance copyediting.

‘Beauty: A Very Short Introduction’ By Roger Scruton


When Roger Scruton died, it seemed well past time to read him. He’s been on my mythical list of authors to read for some time. In the short term, the options at the library were limited to this particular book. Pleasantly, I had to buckle down and finish it because someone else put a hold on it, likely also inspired by reading Abuut his passing.

I was reassured about my own openness to other points of view by reading this. I can appreciate and even find some points of agreement with intelligent, educated, and principled conservatives.

Scruton seems to want to settle on an enlightenment aesthetics. Specifically, the Scottish enlightenment of Smith and Hume. Kant gets plenty of love, but those two Scotch thinkers are his constant reference points. Unsurprisingly, art of the classical period to the eighteenth century seen to represent his idea of the best which artistic endeavor has to offer.

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.

Symposium


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.