Tuesday, December 21, 2004

SAYBROOK AND BALLIOL BLOGS, TAKE TWO: In the interests of further clannish self-indulgence, and for the sake of accuracy, and addendum to my long boring tangent below about blogs created/authored by other students at/graduates of Saybrook College, Yale and Balliol College, Oxford:
On the Balliol side, Chris Brooke has kindly informed me of three additional Balliol blogs -- Class Worrier, Very True Things, and PooterGeek.
As for Saybrook, the other night I ran into a fellow Old Saybruggian whom I hadn't seen for several years. It emerged that Saurav has his own blog, Dark Days Ahead, which I highly recommend -- he's a lovely guy, and one of the most thoughtful left-wing activists I know.
It also transpires that an old college room-mate, Jon Markowitz (one of the original founders of this blog) has a photoblog, appropriately titled Jon Markowitz et. al. Thus far, Jon and his fiancee Becca's cat, Sophie, seems to feature heavily. Jon and Becca have been two of my dearest friends for a while, and I spent a good and delightful portion of the summer looking after Sophie while they were away, so it's very nice to see her making her way into the blogosphere. Hi, Sophe!

WHEN AMERICAN LIBERALISM WAS GREAT: Observing, and deploring, the public's distrust of liberals when it comes to foreign policy, Eric Alterman holds up, as models of intellectual acuity and integrity, two of my own intellectual heroes and formative influences (both, happily, still with us though ripe in years) -- John Kenneth Galbraith and Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. As he notes, both presented liberalism as a 'fighting faith' (Alterman attributes the phrase to Kevin Mattson, author of a new book on Cold War American liberal thought that I'm very excited about, called When America Was Great, as well as a very good book on the intellectual precursors of the New Left; Mattson is, like his subjects, both a talented scholar and a public intellectual, who among other things has edited an important book about the corporatisation of universities, and was attacking Michael Moore from a left-wing perspective before it was cool to do so -- if, indeed, it is now. So, all credit to Mattson. However, the statement that liberalism is a fighting faith comes, so far as I know, from Schlesinger's classic The Vital Center). Yet while Galbraith and Schlesinger both had faith in liberal democracy, and were willing to fight for it, theirs was a sceptical faith, and the fighting spirit of each was, and is, balanced by their humanity and intellectual responsibility. Galbraith has been a particularly sharp and incisive social critic of modern, capitalist society, and the Voltaire of economics; Schlesinger has not only provided, in his works of history, a vividly-sketched 'usable past' for liberals, but also made an important and eloquent contribution to the profound deepening, and darkening, of liberal thought in the mid-twentieth century, when liberal thinkers confronted the dark depths of human nature, the uncertainties of history and the limits of knowledge. The Vital Center, in which Schlesinger combines the Augustinian humanism of Reinhold Niebuhr with the humane pluralism of his friend Isaiah Berlin, remains probably the best statement of this mid-century, anti-totalitarian liberal vision.
For those lamenting the failure of liberalism in America today, the writings and examples of Galbraith and Schlesinger, who witnessed and contributed to some of American liberalism's brightest moments, are a resource, a model, an inspiration -- and a challenge to carry on their work.

ALAS: The wonderful lirico-spinto soprano Renata Tebaldi has died, aged 82. Over at Crooked Timber Chris Bertram has a round-up of obits. Most worth checking out is the NY Times obituary online, which links to all-too-brief sound clips of this most sublime of sopranos. (Though, despite the ill-grace of looking a gift horse in the mouth, I can't stifle my disatisfaction at the Times's decision to include three extracts from Puccini operas, and no Verdi -- and, among their Puccini selections, to not include something from Tebaldi's recording of Turandot, which is a particularly high moment for both Tebaldi, and opera.)

Monday, December 20, 2004

According to this quiz, of the different schools of Hellenistic philosophy I'd belong to the Sceptics. This seems plausible, given that Sextus Empiricus was the ancient philosopher I liked most my first semester as an undergraduate. On the other hand, I imagine that if they had represented Epicureanism accurately, rather than equating it with a fairly sybaritic form of hedonism, it might've been a toss-up, which would have depended on my mood (in some moods I might also have wound up a Stoic, like Chris Brooke, via whom I came across this very enjoyable quiz. This is, incidentally, none too surprising, given that Chris is a scholar of Stoicism -- or rather, of Stoicism's influence in the 17th and 18th centuries. I would've thought he'd have been well-disposed towards the Cynics as well ...).
Such lack of definite and consistent commitment to any one school perhaps just confirms that Scepticism is the place for me.
You are a Sceptic.
You are a Sceptic.
Philosophical skepticism originated in ancient
Greek philosophy. One of its first proponents
was Pyrrho of Elis (c. 360-275 B.C.), who
travelled and studied as far as India, and
propounded the adoption of 'practical'
skepticism. Subsequently, in the 'New Academy'
Arcesilaos (c. 315-241 B.C.) and Carneades (c.
213-129 B.C.) developed more theoretical
perspectives, whereby conceptions of absolute
truth and falsity were refuted. Carneades
criticised the views of the Dogmatists,
especially supporters of Stoicism, asserting
that absolute certainty of knowledge is
impossible. Sextus Empiricus (c. A.D. 200), the
main authority for Greek skepticism, developed
the position further, incorporating aspects of
empiricism into the basis for asserting

Greek skeptics criticised the Stoics, accusing them
of dogmatism. For the skeptics, the logical
mode of argument was untenable, as it relied on
propositions which could not be said to be
either true or false without relying on further
propositions. This was the argument of infinite
regress, whereby every proposition must rely on
other propositions in order to maintain its
validity. In addition, the skeptics argued that
two propositions could not rely on each other,
as this would create a circular argument (as p
implies q and q implies p). For the skeptics
logic was thus an inadequate measure of truth
which could create as many problems as it
claimed to have solved. Truth was not, however,
necessarily unobtainable, but rather an idea
which did not yet exist in a pure form.
Although skepticism was accused of denying the
possibility of truth, in actual fact it appears
to have mainly been a critical school which
merely claimed that logicians had not
discovered truth.

Which Hellenistic School of Philosophy Would You Belong To?
brought to you by Quizilla

PATRIOTISM, SECURITY AND EQUALITY: The recently-created intellectual blog Left2Right continues to be a source of unusually intelligent, well-reasoned and balanced commentary. I find Elizabeth Anderson's statement of liberal patriotism particularly impressive and stirring -- I wish that more progressives were able to put such points across so succesfully (and that more people were listening to those who do). Elsewhere on the site, Joshua Cohen summarises the acute dangers posed by unsecured nuclear material, and asks why securing nuclear materials has not been more of a priority in the US's 'war on terror'; Cohen suggests that it is in part because doing so would require the sort of international cooperation that the current administration seems to disdain. I'm not sure if this is the case, but I can't think of any good explanation either. Don Herzog makes a very basic point about equality. It seems pretty obviously true to me, but seems not to occur to many people -- and there also seems to be a certain amount of resistance to it (I remember having a long, fruitless argument in class as a college freshman, making essentially the same point as Herzog makes against a libertarian classmate, who just didn't get the point.) Herzog also addresses the problem of public ignorance; his post moves over a number of good and interesting points, from a glance at Lippmann's and Dewey's differeing responses to the problem (with a link to a great Mencken article on Veblen, which was new to me), to some cursory suggestions for how the media can do a better job informing the public (with a nod to Weber), though it doesn't develop any of these points quite as fully as one might wish (Herzog himself refers to his suggestions as 'baldly peremptory', and designed to start off discussion) -- but it's a good and useful stab at one of the most important problems in contemporary American society. Well done, all round.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?