Month: December 2013

An enduring way of doing itAn enduring way of doing it

“Homer would appear to be divinely inspired in comparison with other poets; he did not attempt to make a poem out of the whole Trojan War even though the war had a beginning and an end, for it would have become too big to be easily seen as a whole, or, even if moderated in length, it would have become too complex in its variety of events. What he did is to select one part of the whole and use many episodes taken from the other parts, e.g., the Catalogue of Ships and other episodes, which he interspersed in the poem.” – Aristotle, Poetics (trans. Apostle and Gerson)

Pay me to watch me sufferPay me to watch me suffer

“There’s more than one way to tame an artist, and liberal democracies have developed their own strategies of containment for the unruly. The deal liberalism has made with art is that artists can say whatever they want as long as they don’t touch anything that doesn’t belong to them. And artists have to compete for attention with multibillion-dollar corporations bent on entertaining their way into viewers’ pockets. That way, the risk to current structures of power is minimized without disturbing the state’s ostensible commitment to freedom of expression. And when art struggles in its fuzzy handcuffs, it generates new images for sale.” – Malcolm Harris, “U.S.Ai.”

A human trinityA human trinity

“In every state there are three parts: the very rich, the very poor, and the middle class. So since it is agreed that the best and the mean is that which is moderate, it is evident that the best possession of goods which comes from fortune, too, is the one which is moderate, for this is the easiest to deal with in a rational manner; for he who greatly excels in beauty or strength or high birth or wealth, or in the contrarities of these, i.e. in ugliness or weakness or low birth or poverty, finds it difficult to follow reason. The former tend to become insolent or great criminals, but the latter rather rogues and petty rascals; for, of unjust effects, some result through insolence, others from roguery.” – Aristotle, Politics, Book IV (trans. Apostle and Gerson)


“Since those who are equal in one respect only should not share equally in all respects and those who are unequal in one respect should not share unequally in all respects, such forms of government which violate this principle are of necessity perversions.” – Aristotle, Politics, Book III (trans. Apostle and Gerson)

Teach your children wellTeach your children well

“The nurture and pursuits of the young should be regulated by laws, for when they become habitual they are not painful. Getting the right nurture and care while young, however, is perhaps not sufficient; but since young men should pursue and be habituated to these also when they have become adults, laws would be needed for these too, and, in general, laws would be needed for man’s entire life, for most people obey necessity rather than argument, and penalties rather than what is noble. In view of this, some think that legislators (a) should urge men to pursue virtue and should exhort them to act for the sake of what is noble, expecting those who are well on their way in their habits of acting well to follow their advice, (b) should impose punishments and penalties on those who disobey and are of inferior nature, and (c) should banish permanently those who are incurable; for they think that a man who is good and lives with a view to what is noble will obey reason, while a bad man who desires pleasures should be punished by pain like a beast of burden. And this is the reason they also say that the pains inflicted should be those which are most contrary to the pleasures these men love. So if, as already noted, the man who is to be good should be well nurtured and acquire the proper habits so that he may live in good pursuits and neither willingly nor unwillingly do what is bad, these would be attained by those who live according to intellect and an order which is right and has effective strength.” – Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book X (trans. Apostle and Gerson)

The buck stops everywhereThe buck stops everywhere

“Humanists who do not believe in God or a future life have been in a stronger position to insist on the urgency of making things better at once, in this one. If this is the only life that anybody has, then the fact that many people must spend it in such misery becomes more obviously and inexcusably scandalous. Salvation is needed now; it can’t be put off to some vaguely planned future state.” – Mary Midgley, Science as Salvation

They are few and evil and we allow them to be oursThey are few and evil and we allow them to be ours

“Aristocracy passes over into oligarchy by the badness of the rulers, who distribute the goods of the state in violation of merit, taking most or all of the goods for themselves, and paying attention to wealth most of all. Accordingly, these rulers are few and evil, instead of being the most equitable.” – Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book VIII (trans. Apostle and Gerson)

What are the assumptions underlying your assumptions?What are the assumptions underlying your assumptions?

“Any conclusions that specialists may draw about the relation of physical discoveries to life come from the whole of life, not just from physics, and are no stronger than their weakest link. Physics itself, moreover, is no self-contained enclave. Its arguments, like all other arguments, involve philosophical presuppositions, ideas that come from outside it. The questions involved in causal problems about the Big Bang are not internal to physics. They are shaped by crucial metaphysical notions about how causality, necessity, space, time, etc. should in general be conceived. Scientists who deal with these questions are doing metaphysics. They are perfectly entitled to do it and indeed must do it for these large, structural purposes. But whether their metaphysics leads them into religious thinking depends on all sorts of considerations internal to it and quite outside physical science itself. There is no short cut.” – Mary Midgley, Science as Salvation

Friending is virtual, befriending is realFriending is virtual, befriending is real

“Friendship is a virtue or something with virtue, and, besides, it is most necessary to life; for no one would choose to live without friends, though he were to have all the other goods. Also those who possess wealth or have acquired authority or power are thought to need friends most of all; for of what benefit is the possession of such goods without the opportunity of beneficence, which is most exercised towards friends and most praised when so exercised, or how can such goods be guarded and be preserved without friends? For the greater these goods, the more insecure they are.  In poverty and other misfortunes, too, we regard our friends as our only refuge. Friends help the young in guarding them from error, and they help the old who, because of their weakness, need attention or additional support for their actions, and they help those in the prime of life to do noble actions.” – Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book VIII (trans. Apostle and Gerson)

One hopes to write a novelOne hopes to write a novel

“People are always complaining that the modern novelist has no hope, and that the picture he paints of the world is unbearable. The only answer to this is that people without hope do not write novels. Writing a novel is a terrible experience, during which the hair often falls out and the teeth decay. I am always highly irritated by people who imply that writing fiction is an escape from reality. It is a plunge into reality, and it’s very shocking to the system. If the novelist is not sustained by a hope of money, then he must be sustained by a hope of salvation, or he simply won’t survive the ordeal.” – Flannery O’Connor, Mystery and Manners

What justice is, in case anyone’s forgottenWhat justice is, in case anyone’s forgotten

“Justice is a disposition in virtue of which the just man is said to be disposed by intention to do what is just and to make a distribution, either between himself and another or between others, not so as to get more of what is choiceworthy for himself and to give less of it to another, nor to take less of what is harmful and to give more of it to another (and similarly if the distribution is between others), but in such a way that the parties receive what is proportionally equal. As for injustice, which is the contrary of justice, it is of what is unjust; and this, which is in violation of what is proportional, is an excess or deficiency of what is beneficial or harmful, respectively.” – Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book V (trans. Apostle and Gerson)

Train ’emTrain ’em

“Of things which come to us by nature, we first bring along the powers and later exhibit the corresponding activities. This indeed is clear in the case of sensations; for it is not by seeing often or hearing often that we acquired the corresponding power of sensation, but conversely: we used the power after we possessed it, we did not come to possess it after using it. In the case of the virtues, on the other hand, we acquire them as a result of prior activities; and this is like the case of the arts, for that which we are to perform by art after learning, we first learn by performing, e.g. we become builders by building and lyre-players by playing the lyre. Similarly, we become just by doing what is just, temperate by doing what is temperate, and brave by doing brave deeds. This is confirmed also by what happens in states. For it is by making citizens acquire certain habits that legislators make them good, and this is what every legislator wishes, but legislators who do not do this well are making a mistake; and good government differs from bad government in this respect.” – Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book II (trans. Apostle and Gerson)

Amassing new opiatesAmassing new opiates

“Among intellectuals, Marxism attracted people who like the heroic because of its emphasis on conflict, and it reassured those among them who might have distrusted its purely emotional appeal by the cragginess of its texts. (At this level, it pays to be unintelligible. Ex-party members who have had to study the works, not just of Marx, Engels and Lenin but also of Stalin, can still testify to the stiffness of the ordeal.) For a time, this body of theory seemed to many thinkers to open an intellectual new Jerusalem, not just because it promised a millennium gained by conflict, but because it seemed to back this promise with a scientific status. It seemed like a means of extending the reliability of science over the whole area of practical thinking—a way of spreading it that would be free from doubtful value-judgments, since the theory was impartial, non-sectarian, essentially scientific. The modesty of science was to be combined with the constructive achievement of a new and central moral insight.  This hope appealed to the architectonic intelligence in many bright scientists. It satisfied that urge towards a general, comprehensive understanding which had brought them into science in the first place. It balanced the fragmentation of their specialized studies, allowing them to relate scientific aims to a wider humanitarian idealism. This was not a trifling gain; it was not a luxury. If we find no new way of making that relation—if nothing better now replaces Marxism—the loss will be serious. We are not in a position just to dance on the grave of Marx. We need to learn from his failures.” – Mary Midgley, Science as Salvation

The hard and the soft of itThe hard and the soft of it

“The investigation of truth is in one sense difficult, in another easy. A sign of this is the fact that neither can one attain it adequately, nor do all fail, but each says something about the nature of things; and while each of us contributes nothing or little to the truth, a considerable amount of it results from all our contributions. Thus, if the truth seems to be like the door in the proverb ‘Who would miss it?’, in this sense it would be easy; but to have some of the whole truth and not be able to attain the part we are aiming at, this indicates that it is difficult. Perhaps the cause of this difficulty, which may exist in two ways, is in us and not in the facts. For as the eyes of the bat are to the light of day, so is the intellect of our soul to the objects which in their nature are most evident of all.” – Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book II (trans. Apostle and Gerson)

Or if you are so scared you spy on themOr if you are so scared you spy on them

“Though it is possible to be too trusting, someone who systematically distrusts people rather than trusting them does not strike us as an admirable or sensible character. Some degree of social courage—the willingness to risk being hurt in order to get near to people, to risk being misled in order to communicate—is an essential cognitive tool. It is also a necessary virtue, since the things that need doing for people cannot be done if you are too scared to go near them.” – Mary Midgley, Science as Salvation

Prospects for rape were daily contrivedProspects for rape were daily contrived

“The literature of early modern science is a mine of highly-coloured passages that describe Nature, by no means as a neutral object, but as a seductive but troublesome female, to be unrelentingly pursued, sought out, fought against, chased into her inmost sanctuaries, prevented from escaping, persistently courted, wooed, harried, vexed, tormented, unveiled, unrobed, and ‘put to the question’ (i.e. interrogated under torture), forced to confess ‘all that lay in her most intimate recesses’, her ‘beautiful bosom’ must be laid bare, she must be held down and finally ‘penetrated’, ‘pierced’ and ‘vanquished’ (words which constantly recur).  Now this odd talk does not come just from a few exceptionally uninhibited writers. It has not been invented by modern feminists. It is the common, constant idiom of the age.” – Mary Midgley, Science as Salvation

Would you like fries with that?Would you like fries with that?

“If our curiosity is in no way respectful—if we don’t see the objects we speculate about as joined with us and related to us, however distantly, within some vast enclosing common enterprise which gives them their independent importance—then (it appears) our curiosity, though it may remain intense, shrinks, corrupts and becomes just a form of predation. We then respond to these beings we enquire about with some more or less hostile, alienated attitude, something ranging between fear, aggression, callous contempt and violent suppression. We see them either as enemies to be conquered or as brute objects ranged over against us—as aliens, as monsters, as victims, as trivia or as meat to be eaten.” – Mary Midgley, Science as Salvation

It does seem to exist when one is lateIt does seem to exist when one is late

“That time is either altogether nonexistent, or that it exists but hardly or obscurely, might be suspected from the following: One part of it has come to be but no longer exists; the other part will be but does not yet exist; and it is of these two parts that infinite time, or any time one might take, is composed.  But it is thought that what is composed of nonbeings cannot participate in substance.  In addition, if any thing with parts is to exist, then, when it exists, all or some of its parts must exist.  But, although time is divisible, some parts of it have been and others will be, and no part of it exists.  And as for a moment, it is no part of time, for a part measures the whole, and the whole must be composed of the parts, but it is thought that time is not composed of moments.” – Aristotle, Physics, Book IV (trans. Apostle and Gerson)

By the sign of the rod and caveBy the sign of the rod and cave

“Psychological symbols cannot be altered in the brisk way in which one might change a road-sign. They are not, like words, conventional signs, loose pieces arbitrarily nailed to their meanings. Nor are they even fixed items, standing in regularly for a single meaning, as Freud seems to have thought. For him, pen simply meant penis and bag meant womb. Questions scarcely ever arose about what the penis or womb themselves meant.  In our imaginations, however, these questions are extremely important. Such symbols are not simple counters, they are gateways to whole uncharted territories.” – Mary Midgley, Science as Salvation

Varying your orderVarying your order

“Order in the world does not consist in a single, simple, basic arrangement of indestructible balls or bricks which give the real explanation of everything. Instead, it is a wide range of much less simple, interconnected patterns. Order as we perceive it at the level of everyday experience is not an illusion. It is not a mask for a quite different order at the microscopic level, and below that for real contingency, for radical disorder among distinct bricks. It is one set among others of these real patterns—subtle, complex, interconnected arrangements. Elementary particles, as much as ponds or people, are inherently unstable, transient, incomplete entities, deeply dependent for their existence on the contexts around them. But that in no way interferes with either their reality or their meaning.” – Mary Midgley, Science as Salvation

And just how did that happen?And just how did that happen?

“Science is important for exactly the same reason that the study of history or of language is important—because we are beings that need in general to understand the world in which we live, and our culture has chosen a way of life to which that understanding is central. All human beings need some kind of mental map to show them the structure of the world. And we in the West have placed particular confidence in mapping it through methodical, detailed study.” – Mary Midgley, Science as Salvation