5 Sep 2013

20 minute workout at 6:00 AM: warmup (100 motions), 300 lowrise steps. 20 minutes physio, again, six “centuries” (sets of 100 movements) using legs, hand weights and hand gestures without weights.

Study

Constant rereading of Kant and the Cambridge companion will be the only road to full understanding. The Critique is a new obsession. But I am also reading my poor son’s copy of the Groundwork for a Metaphysic of Morals in a copy with his underlining and commentary. My former wife was cleaning out his room (I don’t know how she found the courage) and the Groundwork turned up, so she asked me if I wanted it. I very much did. Particularly heartbreaking are my son’s underlinings of passages on suicide.

Also heartbreaking are the first paragraphs of the Groundwork where Kant points out that all we can know to be good is the “good will”. The decision of a low bottom alcoholic to stay sober for a day is Good even if he takes a drink in a day or the next hour after all.

The alcoholic’s sponsor after a couple of weeks introduces her to the Second Step, perhaps at a “Step” meeting where the chapter is read aloud. Some people prefer solitary reading, but most, I’d hazard, prefer the oral route. AA tries hard not to be elitist. The Big Book and here the book “Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions” are marvels of simple yet brilliant writing, for our time the equivalent of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Holy War and God’s Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners.

I found the god-concept of the Second Step perfectly understandable in part because it was natural of me, having studied St Anselm’s “ontological proof” to conceive of a God more perfect than I willing to take action and kick my ass into gear. I don’t know if God is “perfect”: God allowed the Holocaust.

But how to bear witness? Perhaps a literature table at Princeton’s registration. I am typing while nodding off, and dreaming of Princeton:

… Thou hast nor youth nor age,
But, as it were, an after-dinner’s sleep,
Dreaming on both …

Shakespeare, Measure for Measure

John Bunyan as Prose Stylist, and More

Despite the Miltonian complexity of his sentence structure, something that Kant’s readers as well as Bunyan’s mastered and seemingly liked in contrast to readers today (or, perhaps, what we are told about contemporary readers), Bunyan is widely acknowledged to be a master of prose style: as here.

CHR. Wherein, O Apollyon! have I been unfaithful to him?

APOL. Thou didst faint at first setting out, when thou wast almost choked in the Gulf of Despond; thou didst attempt wrong ways to be rid of thy burden, whereas thou shouldst have stayed till thy Prince had taken it off; thou didst sinfully sleep and lose thy choice thing; thou wast, also, almost persuaded to go back at the sight of the lions; and when thou talkest of thy journey, and of what thou hast heard and seen, thou art inwardly desirous of vain-glory in all that thou sayest or doest.

CHR. All this is true, and much more which thou hast left out; but the Prince whom I serve and honour is merciful, and ready to forgive; but, besides, these infirmities possessed me in thy country, for there I sucked them in; and I have groaned under them, been sorry for them, and have obtained pardon of my Prince.

APOL. Then Apollyon broke out into a grievous rage, saying, I am an enemy to this Prince; I hate his person, his laws, and people; I am come out on purpose to withstand thee.

Some Semi-Random Academic Thoughts

Fascinated as always by academia, without being a success. Left academia in disgust for software engineering when I saw how bullying apportioned rewards in graduate school, and how an unemployable if brilliant thug with three PhDs to his name dealt with his rage by attacking women in the bookstore where we worked for wearing feminist buttons and threatening physical harm to undergraduates who challenged him. Later realized how tenure is guarded so jealously and how it’s cynically treated as a privilege with a certain dollar value.

The thought “hmm, I can’t get fired or laid off in all probability: how best to exploit this asset?” replaces the ideal of protecting outspoken people who think (which group includes union organizers, entrepreneurs, and me). Outspoken people who think are pushed aside whilst tenured academics produce little of value.

I love uni press books but most of them are authored by people who want tenure. Unlike me or my Dad, most people (including most male academics in my experience) do not like to read, think, or write, and many academics, mostly male, strike anti-intellectual poses as a way of asserting shaky manhoods and putting down the work of junior people, especially women.

You make a name for yourself in male academia thru verbal violence. This seems to have started in the 1960s. PF Strawson, at that time, accused Kant of a “non sequitur [doesn’t follow]fallacy of numbing grossness” went Kant reasons from change to an underlying substance which is changed in B232 of the Critique. In the accusation that the inference cannot be made, Strawson was assuming Humean ontology, so Kant in fact made no errors of numbing grossness when he reasoned that substance cannot be destroyed; the numbingly gross error was to assume Hume; our world consists of something more than bundles of sensation, it certainly seems to contain objects (such as children, wives and husbands) that persist and which in some cases make ethical demands on us. In fact, that’s been a standard claim of realism since Aristotle yet by 1960 standards of respect for the past had declined and postwar philosophers were less well-educated than the Bloomsbury generation which allowed them to attract attention and get cheap laffs by mocking the past…it’s basically easier, the past can’t fight back.

I make, probably, too many thinly-researched claims owing to my wide reading. To do justice to what I only suspect to be Strawson’s intellectual irresponsibility I need to reread and make sure I understand his book The Bounds of Sense. But I can Open Source this reconsideration of Strawson’s work. Ignoring the 1787 edition of the Critique certainly sounds like an oversight of numbing grossness even though Strawson didn’t have the 1998 Cambridge edition of the Critique as translated by Paul Guyer and Allen Moore. Surely Strawson knew of the later edition. So as Open Source (eg., let me pick your brain) comment on this matter.

The metaphysical claim, which Kant entertains in B232, that there’s an underlying monism of substance makes sense if the world is constructed like paintings were until the time of Sir Joshua Reynolds: as layers of thin translucent color glazes over a monochrome grisaille; perhaps the artist’s underlying drawings are things in themselves. A monistic substance ontology might be the fanciful claim that “we’re all living inside a narrative painting so the world is made of oil paint”.

I was quite shocked at meetings of Northwestern’s philosophy club at the not so veiled threats of physical violence, and since that time (circa 1970) the filth on the Internet (the Sokal hoax, the bullying of posters known to be women or minorities, etc.) has confirmed my dim view of academia’s hidden violence which may be how Strawson made his name.

Eddie

My son Eddie had all we know to be good, a Good Will. He was delighted to have a baby brother and always seemed to treat his baby brother well. He would ask, given a treat, if Peter was going to get one too. He would tell me that what I thought to be innocent teasing of Peter was wounding Peter. He helped Peter and Wendi with the babies and in one photo is looking down at one of them with a tender smile he must have learned from his mother and me.

My ex wife told a particularly heart-breaking story at the funeral: every year in Eddie’s grade school and high school she would take him shopping and they would have fun buying school supplies while Eddie would reassure her that “this year will be different”.

I too remember September’s love of scholarship, and being on the fall Dean’s List at uni only to have the year dissolve into those dreams we have, of academic tasks ill-done. I finally learned to maintain the pace in graduate school.

But my son never learned and I quite frankly blame the system. I have two brilliant friends whose parents failed to blame the victims of poor education and were pulled from secondary school. One went from racist schooling in South Africa to the prestige Bishop Cotton school in Bangalore to Princeton where we encountered each other. The other went from incomplete high school to the wonderful dance school Bennington.

Oxonian and Cantabridgian friends, also, tell me of the tutorial system where you don’t have to attend classes, more precisely, lectures. You read the books in the class and meet with a tutor.

Having to attend classes was to me at uni one of the most onerous demands of my education, strange to say, and apparently my son (whose stellar SAT scores and interviews landed him a scholarship) also found this onerous…especially morning classes.

Mornings unless freely chosen are the bane of intellectuals such as my son. Descartes was hired by the Queen of Sweden to tutor her; unfortunately Queen Christina, a wonder of her sex, liked to get up for exercise in midwinter in the Swedish mode, and then rouse poor Descartes at six. Being French, Descartes preferred ten am for his rising time and after a few months of this rigor, poor Descartes died. NoSleepSo ergo erat, no sleep so therefore I was.

Screen Shot 2013-09-05 at 2.48.35 PM

Christina Vasa, Queen of Sweden

Apparently, at that moonswept, utterly cold in winter, hot in summer campus of the University of Illinois, the instructors took attendance as if this was a kindergarten, and Eddie was frequently not there.

But I was also frequently absent, discussing philosophy in the round-tabled cafeteria annex of Roosevelt, where its intellectuals would hold forth primarily, in these pre-feminist days, to impress women; it may as well have been an ape watering hole. But the worst that happened was that I’d get Bs, and gentleman’s Cs, in this era before competition to get the best GPAs, and graduate cum laude.

Poor Eddie lived in a different time, when his lordly contempt for grades assigned by his intellectual inferiors wasn’t quite the thing anymore, and even I torpedoed, in the short run, an academic career…only to get admitted, in a sense, to Princeton, and there repeat my insistence on following my own path, “marching to a different drummer” as my unusually understanding boss put on a performance review.

Damn. I seem to be suffering from after-effects of yesterday’s extra pain killers altho I’ve had none today in excess of what I had yesterday, two in as many hours owing to pain caused by a “ski boot” that prevents my foot drop. I am exceedingly drowsy.

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