I sometimes express skepticism about the value of the study of history. If history has lessons, they don't seem applicable to the present in any useful way. But there is no denying that history is a rich source of exemplary lives. These exemplary lives show what is humanly possible and furnish existential ideals. Helmuth James von Moltke was a key figure in the German resistance to Hitler. The Nazis executed him in 1945. Here is his story. Here is an obituary of his wife, Freya.
We who were swept up in the running boom of the 1970s for a lifetime of fitness and satisfaction owe a debt of gratitude to the runners and writers who popularized the sport. The four who stand out most prominently in my memory, 37 summers after I first took to the roads, are the running writers Jim Fixx and George Sheehan, and the world-class competitors Bill Rodgers and Frank Shorter.
Shorter is often credited with being the father of the running boom due to his winning of Olympic gold at Munich in 1972 in the marathon. October's Runner's World features a lengthy piece on Shorter that tells of his triumphs but also of the physical and psychological abuse that he and his siblings received from their Jekyll-and-Hyde father.
At the time I knew her, in the mid-'70s, I had no idea what a remarkable person she is. I was a graduate student and she was a young professor. We spoke a few times in the hallway. A while back I was re-reading some Plato and I came upon a marginalium of mine: "Ask Lynne about this." That put me in mind of her and I wondered what had become of her. I had heard that she had left academe but knew nothing more. A few key strokes and her inspiring story unfolded before me.
If you are a blogger, then perhaps you too have been the recipient of his terse emails informing one of this or that blogworthy tidbit. Who is this Dave Lull guy anyway? Patrick Kurp of Anecdotal Evidence provides an answer:
As Pascal said of God (no blasphemy intended) Dave is the circle whose center is everywhere in the blogosphere and whose circumference is nowhere. He is a blogless unmoved mover. He is the lubricant that greases the machinery of half the online universe worth reading. He is copy editor, auxiliary conscience and friend. He is, in short, the OWL – Omnipresent Wisconsin Librarian.
For other tributes to the ever-helpful Lull see here. Live long, Dave, and grease on!
Having paid tribute to WD-40, the least I can do is pay tribute, once again, to my wife. She may not be a solvent, but she contributes mightily to my being solvent.
As for marriage, it is a good thing if one enters into it for the right reasons, at the right time, and after due consideration. Bear in mind that every man has two heads. The big one is for thinking, the little one for linking. Understand their offices and respective spheres of operation. To cerebrate with the organ of copulation is Clintonian and not conducive unto happiness. Even in the question of marriage, the big head must be the ruling element.
Morris Raphael Cohen (1880-1947) was an American philosopher of naturalist bent who taught at the City College of New York from 1912 to 1938. He was reputed to have been an outstanding teacher. I admire him more for his rationalism than for his naturalism. In the early 1990s, I met an ancient lady at a party who had been a student of Cohen's at CCNY in the 1930s. She enthusiastically related how Cohen had converted her to logical positivism, and how she had announced to her mother, "I am a logical positivist!" much to her mother's incomprehension.
We best honor a thinker by critically re-enacting his thoughts. Herewith, a passage from Cohen's A Preface to Logic, Dover1944, pp. 186-187:
...the exercise of thought along logical lines is the great liberation, or, at any rate, the basis of all civilization. We are all creatures of circumstance; we are all born in certain social groups and we acquire the beliefs as well as the customs of that group. Those ideas to which we are accustomed seem to us self-evident when [while?] our first reaction against those who do not share our beliefs is to regard them as inferiors or perverts. The only way to overcome this initial dogmatism which is the basis of all fanaticism is by formulating our position in logical form so that we can see that we have taken certain things for granted, and that someone may from a purely logical point of view start with the denial of what we have asserted. Of course, this does not apply to the principles of logic themselves, but it does apply to all material propositions. Every material proposition has an intelligible alternative if our proposition can be accurately expressed.
These are timely words. Dogmatism is the basis of all fanaticism. Dogmatism can be combatted by the setting forth of one's beliefs as conclusions of (valid) arguments so that the premises needed to support the beliefs become evident. One can also show by this method that arguments 'run forward' can just as logically be 'run in reverse,' or, as we say in the trade, 'One man's modus ponens is another man's modus tollens.'
In Cohen's day, the threats to civilization were Fascism, National Socialism, and Communism. Today the threat is Islamo-totalitarianism. Then as now, logic has a small but important role to play in the defeat of these threats. The fanaticism of the Islamic world is due in no small measure to the paucity there of rational heads like Cohen.
But I do have one quibble with Cohen. He tells us that "Every material proposition has an intelligible alternative..." (Ibid.) This is not quite right. A material proposition is one that is non-logical, i.e., one that is not logically true if true. But surely there are material propositions that have no intelligible alternative. No color is a sound is not a logical truth since its truth is not grounded in its logical form. No F is a G has both true and false substitution-instances. No color is a sound is therefore a material truth. But its negation Some color is a sound is not intelligible if 'intelligible' means possibly true. If, on the other hand, 'intelligible' characterizes any form of words that is understandable, i.e., is not gibberish, then logical truths such as Every cat is a cat have intelligible alternatives: Some cat is not a cat, though self-contradictory, is understandable. If it were not, it could not be understood to be self-contradictory. By contrast, Atla kozomil eshduk is not understandable at all, and so cannot be classified as true, false, logically true, etc.
So if 'intelligible' means (broadly logically or metaphysically) possibly true, then it is false that "Every material proposition has an intelligible alternative . . . ."
The blogosphere has been good to me, having brought me a number of friends, some of whom I have met face to face. For now I will mention just three.
Having read my announcement that PowerBlogs will be shutting down at the end of November, Keith Burgess-Jackson kindly sent me a number of unsolicited e-mails explaining how I could import the PowerBlogs posts, together with comments, en masse into this Typepad site. I had forgotten that the Typepad platform allows for multiple blogs. Keith's idea was simply to set up an archival blog and dump the old posts there. As usual, the devil is in the details. But a careful perusal of his-emails gave me all the clues I needed to get this project underway. Eventually, I will install a link to the PowerBlogs archive on my front page.
Keith is one my oldest blogospheric friends. We met early in 2004 not long after I had entered the 'sphere. He has been more than kind in promoting my efforts over the years. I fear that I have not reciprocated sufficiently. So I want you to go to his site right now and read his current batch of offerings. I should also mention that if it weren't for Keith I would never have met philosopher Mike Valle who lives a few miles from here.
I can't recall how exactly I met Ed Feser; it may have been via Keith's old Conservative Philosopher group blog. In any case, we have had a number of invigorating discussions. We have our differences, but our common ground makes their exfoliation fruitful. I am presently gearing up for another round as I study his latest book, Aquinas: A Beginner's Guide (One World, 2009), an inscribed copy of which he kindly sent me. Ed chimes in on his blog in agreement with my recent rant about copy editors and their political correctness. Please check it out.
Last but not least, Peter Lupu, who, though not a blogger, is the Real Thing as philosophers go. Such birds are rarely sighted even within (especially within?) the academic aviary. He discovered me via the old PowerBlogs site and left the best comments there that I have received in five years of blogging. To my great good fortune he flourishes here in the Zone and we see each other regularly. Last Thursday he came by and we talked from 2 to 9 P.M. He would have gone on til midnight had I let him. I have met in my entire life only one other philosopher with whom I could have as deep and productive a discussion, and that is my old friend Quentin Smith who I met in my early twenties. Like Smith an avis rara, Lupu has become the Smith of my late middle age.
So the blogosphere has been good to me. Today's stats hit an all-time high of 1,212 page views. I have nothing to complain about. Thanks for reading.
Brian Magee spent a year at Yale University where he attended a seminar given by Brand Blanshard on empiricist epistemology. In Confessions of a Philosopher, p. 124, Magee remembers Blanshard:
He was reminiscent of Bertrand Russell in his commitment to rational analysis and argument in forms that did not subordinate them to considerations of language. [. . .]
At first his teaching method struck me as a trifle chilly, but then I realized that it was the first philosophy teaching I had encountered that was not sectarian and excommunicative. The interpretations put on everything by Oxford philosophers had been analogous to the interpretations put on current affairs by active members of the Communist Party: partisan, belligerent, propagandist, intolerant, nakedly self-oriented and one-sided. Blanshard was quite different from this. Although he was himself in opposition to the tradition he was discussing he presented it with an admirable fairness in its relationship to other traditions. [. . .]
At Oxford the assumption has always been that the empiricist tradition was philosophy. There had been one occasion when I had raised a question about the existentialist tradition as represented by philosophers like Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Heidegger, only to have it explained to me that these were "not philosophers." Among other things Blanshard's seminar was for me an object-lesson in academic fairness . . . .
It was 25 years ago today, during a training run. Running pioneer James F. Fixx, author of the wildly successful The Complete Book of Running, keeled over dead of cardiac arrest. He died with his 'boots' on, and not from running but from a bad heart. It's a good bet that his running added years to his life in addition to adding life to his years. I've just pulled my hardbound copy of The Complete Book of Running from the shelf. It's a first edition, 1977, in good condition with dust jacket. I read it when it first came out. Do I hear $1000? Just kidding, it's not for sale. This book and the books of that other pioneer, George Sheehan, certainly made a difference in my life.
The atavism and simplicity and cleansing quality of a good hard run are particularly beneficial for Luftmenschen. Paradoxically, the animality of it releases lofty thoughts.
See here for a comparison of Fixx and Sartre. And here for something on George Sheehan.
The best undergraduate philosophy teacher I had was a lowly adjunct, one Richard Morris, M.A. (Glasgow). I thought of him the other day in connection with John Hospers whose An Introduction to Philosophical Analysis (2nd ed.) he had assigned for a course entitled "Linguistic Philosophy." I also took a course in logic from him. The text was Irving Copi's Symbolic Logic (3rd ed.) You will not be surprised to hear that I still have both books. And I'll be damned if I will part with either one of them, despite the fact that I have a later edition of the Copi text, an edition I used in a logic course I taught.
I don't believe Morris ever published anything. The Philosopher's Index shows a few citations for one or more Richard Morrises none of whom I have reason to believe is the adjunct in question. But without publications or doctorate Morris was more of a philosopher than many of his quondam colleagues.
The moral of the story? Real philosophers can be found anywhere in the academic hierarchy. So judge each case by its merits and be not too impressed by credentials and trappings.
I contacted Morris ten years ago or so and thanked him for his efforts way back when. The thanking of old teachers who have had a positive influence is a practice I recommend. I've done it a number of times. I even tracked down an unforgettable and dedicated and inspiring third-grade teacher. I asked her if anyone else had ever thanked her, and she said no. What ingrates we are.
So if you have something to say to someone you'd better say it now while you both draw breath. Heute rot, morgen tot.
I'm a list maker. I have lists of all sorts of things, including one entitled, Lithuanians I Have Known. It sports names like Mickus, Mickunas, Dauciunas, Klimosauskas, et al. If I ever start a list of solvents I have known and loved, first on the list would the legendary WD-40.
This stuff is amazing. I've used it on all sort of jobs with surprising results. Years ago my male cat Zeno decided to mark some territory. His territory was my countertop on which sat a touch tone phone. After Zeno duly anointed the phone with his seminal fluid, the keys were sticky. A counter-libation of WD-40 solved the problem. That was perhaps ten years ago. Zeno is dead and gone but the old phone is still in use, or at least it was until my wife inadvertently sprayed it with dishwater. (Or rather that is my conjecture given my Blame Wifey policy.)
Completely nonfunctional, the old phone looked to be in dire need of replacement. So we went out to look at phones, but being cautious and cheap, I didn't buy one. Instead, I hooked up an old rotary phone dating from the 1970's. It had been languishing in my garage for many a year, and despite the infernal Arizona summer heat was still working.
But then I remembered the WD-40 and gave it a try by simply spraying the keys of the touch-tone phone. Unbelievably, it worked one more time. It unstuck the keys and cleaned the contacts.
So WD-40 takes the lead position on my solvents list.