When Does Intent Cease To Matter?

Most philosophy of ethics views intentionality as key. Was the mental intention good or bad?

I have been thinking about this in the context of recent presidents. Trump almost certainly did not mean to give Israeli intelligence to Hezbollah (though it’s questionable how much of a pass he gets for his apparent intention being ‘show off to Russian officials in order to bolster self-esteem and impress Vladimir Putin’).

But I actually am thinking more about this in the context of George ‘Dubya’ Bush. One can feel almost nostalgic for Dubya while in the thrall of dangerous insecure man-child. At worst, one thinks, he was merely a well-meaning idiot. And didn’t he direct a lot of money towards fighting the spread HIV internationally?

It’s easy to forget all the terrible, ethical lapses of his presidency; of a war driven by Freudian conflicts vis-a-vis, his father.

But even if we accept the premise that he was well-meaning, at what point does intention not matter? Even if he did not intend so many deaths, so many maimings, so much destruction, so much lost, at what point does the water of consequences burst the dam of intention? When is ‘I meant well’ (truly stated) not enough to stave off sin?

Simone De Beauvoir’s Office

Or a replication/re-creation thereof.

And a brilliant idea by the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

The Second Sex is brilliant and I have read The Mandarins at least three times, but when I first read about this exhibition, I didn’t put two and two together and realize that it was right here in Washington, DC. It was just coincidence that we happened to visit the museum that day.

As you can see, I got a kick getting my picture taken while sitting at a re-creation of her desk.

While much of the stuff were merely examples of things from her study and not actual originals, there were two handwritten pages from The Second Sex, which is pretty awesome.

A friend is a security guard there and she took me to see a marble statue and when I looked at the name, it was by Sarah Bernhardt, the famous actress of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century stage – who was, apparently, a skillful sculptor in her spare time.

The museum is a beautiful building inside, to boot.


I’m always reading several books at a time. Sometimes, too many. They pile up beside the bed in the dozens (to the consternation of my better half).

But I like to vary my reading based on moods (though lately, they have all been linked by classical Greece and Rome). I have a copy of some works of Cicero nearby and I finished On Duties but can’t seem to get into On Friendship nor On Old Age, but they’re all in the same tome and I feel like I should just finish the physical book.

I just finished reading though Stone’s The Trial of Socrates (not in the least because it vocalizes some of my nagging complaints about the Socrates of the Platonic dialogues, namely, that he’s a bit of a flat track bully; it’s also got some wonderful sounding close reading of the original Greek texts; I saw wonderful sounding because I don’t read Ancient Greek and have, really, no idea if his translations and interpretations of individual words is better or worse than others). If I have one criticism, it’s that he closes weakly, by going into a discussion of the etymology of terms for ‘freedom of speech.’ Not that it’s not interesting, but like the ending of Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments, it brings the (for lack of a better term) ‘narrative’ momentum to a crashing halt.

I finished the second volume of the sci-fi/space opera quartet, The Hyperion Cantos (the names of this one is The Fall of Hyperion). It’s not nearly so pretentious as the word ‘cantos’ implies. I’d compare it to some of Samuel Delaney’s wild space operas, but less formally complex and also less lyrical (even though the reconstructed personality of John Keats is a major character in The Fall of Hyperion). Shouldn’t keep you away from these books, if you like good sci fi. It’s a well thought out, well realized universe with some excellent literary flourishes.

Sally Wen Mao’s Mad Honey Symposium lies beside my bed and the title would have drawn me in, even if the poetry weren’t excellent (which it is).

‘On Interpretation’ By Aristotle

It was shorter than I had expected (the volume contains three book: Catergories, On Interpretation, and Prior Analytics). Which, you might say, that is good. But maybe it is actually not good (or not-good, which you might also translate as bad), because it means that Prior Analytics will be longer and I’m a little scared.

So this middle volume hinges on that ‘good,’ ‘not good,’ and ‘not-good’ thing mentioned earlier. And contradictories and contraries and how they do and do not match up (or if they do; in at least one instance, the conclusion to the book felt inconclusive on that subject). I remembered a good bit from college: some are, all are, none are, some are not, etc. I’d brush up, but that old college textbook on my shelf is possibly more intimidating.

Tao Te Ching

To be totally honest, by the time I reached the last half, for reasons unrelated to Lao Tze’s wisdom, I just wasn’t in the mood to digest his guidance. I was more in a mood to be moody.

But a couple of times, I was still pulled up short by the Tao. A line about attacking by surprise during warfare that could have come from (or was cribbed by Sun Tzu). Recommendations on rulership that read like the subtext to Machiavelli’s true goals. And certainly, ‘sage’ is on my list of ideal jobs.

Aristotle’s ‘Categories’

Now that I finally have this book and am reading it (the volume also contains On Interpretation and Prior Analytics) I am consumed with the fear of forgetting. Having finished Categories in a careful and deliberative fashion, I still feel that I will move on to the next and remember almost nothing of what preceded it.

I minored in philosophy at college and still read it for pleasure, but while logic was my favorite branch at college, it is a right pain to read later in life, no matter how useful (and make no mistake; studying logic in college was incredibly useful; if you are in college, I highly encourage you to take a couple of logic courses, because it will give you a new and valuable perspective on things).

Alas, but I may still hope to retain something and the peripatetic master has forced me to consider the meaning of the things I say (though I wonder how many of his categories were inspired by ancient Greek’s declining nouns?).

When The World Spoke French

9781590173756This book is a collection of miniature biographies, focused on (mostly, though confusingly, not exclusively) non-French figures of the eighteenth century who were deeply influenced by eighteenth century French culture, most especially, the intellectual milieu of the French Enlightenment. The biographies themselves, naturally, focus on these figures’ intersections with French Enlightenment culture.

The book is deeply interesting and provides some lovely insight into well known figures (Frederick the Great of Prussia, Catherine the Great of Russia) and less well known persons (Abbe Galliani).

I did get very irritated around the half way point as the author started dropping the name Grimm. I assumed that it wasn’t one of the famed Brothers Grimm, but it would have been really cool to at least include a first name. At around the three quarter mark, we finally get a bio of Friedrich Melchior Grimm, editor of a famed journal of the Enlightenment, but only after I’ve been made to feel ignorant for not knowing ‘Grimm’ since birth. Similarly, a reference to the Enlightenment loving crowned heads included a list, among whom was Stanislaw. Stanislaw who, you ask? Well, the very last bio is of Stanislaw Augustus II of Poland.

But I shouldn’t gripe. It’s not a perfect book, but it’s a lovely, winding journey through drawing rooms and salons, highlighted by excerpts from letters, of a wonderfully fecund time in European intellectual history.