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.

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

Hitchens On Paine


I felt a little bad reading this because I have a nice, inexpensive copy of The Rights of Man which I have never finished and here I am putting the cart before the horse and reading about it before actually reading it. I suppose that makes me like most readers of this book but, to be honest, I have always thought I was better than most people, at least as regards my reading habits, if not morally and hygenically.

We read Hitchens, of course, for Hitchens, regardless of the ostensible focus, but we can see the appeal: a polemicist and pamphleteer in the Enlightenment tradition who made a widely recognized contribution to the course of human events. In dedicating the book to the then president of a post-Saddam Iraq, he must have been hoping, somewhere, that one day he might be recognized in some small way as contributing to a similarly successful product, even if the years appear to have only proven him more wrong on that particular adventure than it seemed even when he wrote this.

I had never heard it before and won’t vouch for its provenance, except to express my belief that Hitchens would have made a good faith effort to examine its sources, but I love the anecdote about William Blake, the mystical poet, warning Paine, the (small ‘r’) republican pamphleteer, that he was in danger of arrest, inspiring the latter to immediately cross the water to revolutionary France.

Learning about Paine’s career was the fascinating. My own knowledge, prior, was rather thin. While no substitute for a biography by a professional biographer or historian, I am not likely to read one, so I’m glad that I got this brief look at his career.