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Unruliness

When I’m alone late at night on a deserted road, I like to walk on the double yellow lines.  One time I decided to stop and lie down, right there in the middle of the road.  I kept myself narrow, arms pinned, so cars could pass on either side.  But I wasn’t invisible, and I alarmed a kind policeman who happened to drive by me.  After determining that I was not dead, drunk or high, he concluded I was suicidal.  We had a long talk. It didn’t help for me to explain that if I had wanted to be run over I would’ve moved several feet in one direction or the other.  And picked a busier road.  He wanted to know, why, if I didn’t want to be run over, was I lying in the middle of the road?  
There were so many reasons. I wanted to see the night sky from the perspective of the road; I wanted to be in this secret spot that always got passed by and never occupied; most of all, I just wanted to feel what it was like to lie there, with the double yellow lines running under me from head to heels.  But …
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Reciprocally Unrequited Love

If I love you, but you do not love me, then my love for you is unrequited.  Suppose you come to love me.  Does it follow that my love for you becomes requited?  Not necessarily.  There is more to requitedness than reciprocation, since I may not know that you have come to love me. If you keep it to yourself, your love of me makes no mark on my first-personal experience.  And this situation might be symmetrical: it could be that you came to love me in total ignorance of the fact that I loved you.  For it could be that I, too, am good at keeping the signs of my love to myself.  In this case, each of us loves the other but it seems that in some sense we do not love each other.  For instance we might both pine miserably for one another in the manner characteristic of unrequited lovers.  
In the case I’ve just described, our mutual ignorance is an accident.  Our love happens to be both reciprocal and unrequited.  It could become requited if we were informed about one other’s mental lives. …

Socratic Humility

Philosophers aren’t the only ones who love wisdom.  Everyone, philosopher or not, loves her own wisdom: the wisdom she has or takes herself to have.   What distinguishes the philosopher is loving the wisdom she doesn’t have.   Philosophy is, therefore, a form of humility: being aware that you lack what is of supreme importance.   There may be no human being who exemplified this form of humility more perfectly than Socrates. It is no coincidence therefore, that he is considered the first philosopher within the Western canon.
Socrates did not write philosophy—he simply went around talking to people.  But these conversations were so transformative that the second philosopher, Plato, devoted his life to writing dialogues that represent Socrates in conversation.  These dialogues are not transcripts of actual conversations, but they are nonetheless clearly intended to reflect not only Socrates’ ideas but his personality. Plato wanted the world to remember Socrates.  Generations after Socra…

Progress in Philosophy

In a recent post on his blog Marginal Revolution, Tyler Cowen talks about whether there has been progress in philosophy. Tyler approaches this question by describing some ways other fields have taken on philosophical problems, approaches or insights. One might still wonder: what have philosophers done for philosophy itself? This question is related to another: why do we (still) read old books of philosophy?  In what follows, I try to answer these questions, and also to consider what the demand for progress reveals about the relationship between philosophers and non-philosophers.
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Academic disciplines regularly export technologies, ideas and practices outside the ivory tower, or to other parts of it.  Tyler’s list consists mostly of what I would classify as (sometimes second- or third-hand) philosophical exports.  I don’t deny the value or the philosophical character of any of those items, but I do deny the implication that philosophy should be judged by what gets exported from it—…