Friday, November 21, 2014

Nassar on Jena Romanticism

I know a few people have found my occasional excerpts from the later works of Karl Wilhelm Friedrich von Schlegel to be somewhat interesting; those who have might be interested in this interview with Dalia Nassar on Jena Romanticism. The works I've been quoting have been from a much later period in Schlegel's life, indeed, the last period of Schlegel's life, when he was very conservative, devoutly Catholic, and an enthusiastic advocate of the importance of Sanskrit and Indian literature; but in his early days, Schlegel was a freethinking Young Turk of Jena. Indeed, as noted in the interview, he was one of the Big Three of Jena Romantic philosophy, the other two being Novalis and Schelling.

Between the young Schlegel and the old Schlegel there is a vast gap, one that began to grow as soon as he left Jena and became extraordinary during his period in Cologne; but our oldest reflections always carry something of our youngest enthusiasms, however distant the two may be from each other, and many of Schlegel's basic themes remained constant his entire life.

A Basic Timeline of Schlegel's Life

1772 -- Birth (March 10)

1796 -- Moves to Jena and begins collaborating with his brother August, Novalis, Fichte, and others.

1797 -- Moves to Berlin.

1798 -- August and Friedrich found the Athenaeum literary magazine, one of the key events creating the German Romantic movement.

1799 -- Marries Dorothea Veit, the daughter of Moses Mendelssohn, and moves back to Jena.

1801 -- Death of Novalis. Schlegel moves to Berlin. This year is usually regarded as the end of the Jena Romantic movement in the strict sense.

1803 -- Arrives in Paris and founds the review, Europa.

1804 -- Moves to Cologne and begins studying Gothic architecture and Sanskrit.

1808 -- Publishes On the Language and Wisdom of India. Friedrich and Dorothea convert to Catholicism.

1809 -- Goes to Vienna and is appointed Imperial court secretary for Archduke Charles of Teschen; accompanies the archduke in the War of the Fifth Coalition against Napoleon.

1814 -- Knighted in the Supreme Order of Christ

1820 -- Founds the conservative Catholic review, Concordia.

1828 -- Begins publishing some of his recent lectures as Philosophy of Life and Philosophy of History. The lecture series on Philosophy of Language was never fully completed.

1829 -- Death (January 12)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Promesse de Bonheur

Talking of a beautiful girl, a beautiful landscape, a beautiful picture, I certainly have very different things in mind. What is common to all of them -- "beauty" -- is neither a mysterious entity, nor a mysterious word. On the contrary, nothing is perhaps more directly and clearly experienced than the appearance of "beauty" in various beautiful objects. The boy friend and the philosopher, the artist and the mortician, may "define" it in very different ways, but they all define the same specific state and condition -- some quality or qualities which make the beautiful contrast with other objects. In this vagueness and directness, beauty is experienced in the beautiful -- that is, it is seen, heard, smelled, touched, felt, comprehended. It is experienced almost as a shock, perhaps due to the contrast-character of beauty, which breaks the circle of everyday experience and opens (for a short moment) another reality (of which fright may be an integral element).

This description is of precisely that metaphysical character which positivistic analysis wishes to eliminate by translation, but the translation eliminates that which was to be defined. There are many more or less satisfactory "technical" definitions of beauty in aesthetics, but there seems to be only one which preserves the experiential content of beauty and which is therefore the least exact definition -- beauty as a "promesse de bonheur." It captures the reference to a condition of men and things, and to a relation between men and things which occur momentarily while vanishing, which appear in as many different forms as there are individuals and which, in vanishing, manifest what can be.
[Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man, 2nd edition. Beacon Press (Boston: 1991) pp. 210-211.]

The claim that beauty is a "promesse de bonheur" (promise of happiness) comes from Stendhal's Rome, Naples, and Florence, but was made more widely known first by Baudelaire in The Painter and Modern Life and then by Nietzsche in On the Genealogy of Morality.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Music on My Mind

Peter Hollens and Avi Kaplan, "Black Is the Color of My True Love's Hair". This is a traditional folk song, with lots of versions. It was first recorded in Appalachia in the early twentieth century, but there are vocabulary indications in early versions that suggest it was brought over much earlier from Scotland. The most famous version is probably that of Nina Simone, although it has become standard fare in Celtic music circles, as in Lisa Lambe's version for Celtic Woman, which is fairly good.

The Hemlock Shakes in the Rafter

Misgivings (1860)
by Herman Melville

When ocean-clouds over inland hills
Sweep storming in late autumn brown,
And horror the sodden valley fills,
And the spire falls crashing in the town,
I muse upon my country's ills—
The tempest bursting from the waste of Time
On the world's fairest hope linked with man's foulest crime.

Nature's dark side is heeded now—
(Ah! optimist-cheer disheartened flown)—
A child may read the moody brow
Of yon black mountain lone.
With shouts the torrents down the gorges go,
And storms are formed behind the storm we feel:
The hemlock shakes in the rafter, the oak in the driving keel.

Ted Widmer has a good discussion of the background of this poem.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae 2-2.142.2 co. (my rough translation):

Something is said to be childish (puerile) in two ways. (I) Because it is appropriate to a child. And in this way the Philosopher is not trying to say that the sin of intemperance is childish. (II) According to some sort of likeness. And in this way sins of intemperance are said to be childish. For the sin of intemperance is a sin of excess craving (concupiscentiae), which is likened to a child in three ways.

(1) Inasmuch as it desires something, for, like the child, so also craving desires something ugly (turpe). The reason for this is that beauty is recognized in human things insofar as something is ordered according to reason, wherefore Tully says, in I Offic., "Beauty is what is in accord with human excellence in those things in which his nature differs from other animals." But a child does not pay attention to rational order, and similarly craving does not listen to reason, as is said in VII Ethic.

(2) They are appropriate to each other as to effect. For the child, if left to his own will, grows in self-will; thus it is said in Eccli. XXX, "The untamed horse becomes obdurate, and the lax son becomes headstrong." So also craving, if it is indulged, becomes stronger; thus Augustine says in VIII Confess., "Lust served is made into custom, and custom unresisted is made into necessity."

(3) As to the remedy applied to each. For the child is improved by being limited, wherefore it is said in Prov. XXIII, "Do not withhold discipline from a child; with your rod strike him and free his soul from hell." And likewise when craving is resisted, it is brought back to what worthiness requires (reducitur ad debitum honestatis modum). And thus Augustine says, in VI Musicae, that, the mind being fixed on spiritual things and remaining there, the momentum (impetus) of custom, that is to say of carnal craving, is shattered, and suppressed, it bit by bit is extinguished, for it was greater when we followed it, and though not wholly annihilated, it is surely less when we restrain it. And thus the Philosopher says, in III Ethic, that as a a child ought to live according to the precept of his teacher, so also the desiring part (concupiscibile) ought to harmonize with reason.

Links of Note, Noted

* Tributes to D. G. Myers.

* Ronald Aronson reflects on the fiftieth anniversary of Herbert Marcuse's One-Dimensional Man.

* Philosophers' Carnival #169 at "A Bag of Raisins".

* Richard Marshall interviews Anna Marmodoro on causal powers.

* Maths, Just in Short Words

* Whewell's Gazette #22 has history of science links.

* Brother Guy Consolmagno receives the Carl Sagan Medal.

* Christopher Graney's guest-post at "Renaissance Mathematicus" on the importance of a semicolon is an excellent read for anyone interested in Galileo.

* Building Medieval Plate Armor

* Gerard Magliocca discusses how the American understanding of the Bill of Rights has changed through time.

* Nick Romeo has an appreciation of Aristotle's innovative and ground-breaking work in biology, noting that while he got many of his specific empirical claims wrong, he has also often been shown to be right.

* Carl Rovelli, Aristotle's Physics: a Physicist's Look (PDf). He argues that just as Newtonian theory can be seen as an approximation of relativity theory, so also Aristotelian theory can be seen as an approximation of Newtonian theory. In particular, the Aristotelian theory of motion is capable of accurately capturing the phenomena on the assumption that bodies are suspended in a fluid in a uniform spherical gravitational field -- which, of course, the bodies around us are.

Amelia Carolina Sparavigna, The four elements in Robert Grosseteste's De Impressionibus Elementorum (PDF) discusses some of Robert Grosseteste's experimental work concerning the four elements.

* The last of the original Navajo Code Talkers from World War II, Chester Nez, recently died.

* When Mary Shelley published Frankenstein, it was almost immediately taken up and turned into stage plays. Some people think that the confusion between Victor Frankenstein and his monster, so that the latter is often called 'Frankenstein', began with the movies, but in fact it goes almost all the way back to the beginning, having arisen due to the nineteenth-century stage plays. And just as in the twentieth century up to our day more people had seen the movies than read the book, so in the nineteenth century more people had seen the plays than read the book, a fact somewhat significant given that the plays, like the later movies, amped up the drama and special effects. Online you can read the most famous of those plays, Richard Brinsley Peake's musical extravaganza, Presumption: or, the Fate of Frankenstein, whose major special effect was that it ended with a snowstorm and avalanche. Mary Shelley herself actually went to see it in the theater; she thought it badly managed as a whole, but liked how the Creature himself was portrayed and played.

* In the ancient world trade routes went everywhere, so there was a diffusion of artifacts over the entire African-Eurasian landmass -- very slow, but very definite. An archeological find from a fifth century Japanese tomb was recently confirmed to be a dish made in the Roman Empire in the first or second century.

* Thomas MacDonald discusses the old party game of snapdragon, in which kids would stick their hands in a flaming bowl of liquor to grab raisins. Can you imagine the fits some people would have if you did that at a kids' party today? I imagine that kids would love it, though. There's a website that gives a description of what it's like to play the game.

* Robert Cheeks discusses the philosophy of Edith Stein.

* Peter Kwasniewski considers the question of whether it is a mortal sin to depart from the liturgical rubrics.


* Paul Raymont also has some links up.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Westminster Quarters

Bells are an underappreciated instrument. I was thinking today about one of the most famous tunes in the world, a tune particularly for bells, known as 'Westminster Quarters', or, at times, 'Cambridge Chimes'. It's a tune you've certainly heard:

As near as anyone can determine, they were first composed for the bells of the Church of St. Mary the Great, which is the University church for the University of Cambridge. Nobody knows who, precisely, composed it, but the person most associated with it is the composer William Crotch, who seems to be the person who recommended the tune to the authorities. However, the chimes became world-famous when they were selected for the clock tower at the Palace of Westminster (whose largest bell, used to strike the hour, is itself world-renowned under the name 'Big Ben'). Thence it became the most common clock chime in the world.

Apparently the tune has common lyrics associated with it, although with lots of variations:

All through this hour,
Lord, be my guide,
And by Thy power
No foot shall slide.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Plato and Xenophon

So I think this is all wrapping up. There are a few other things that could be done, but I think they can be saved for later.

I've decided to move the Chinese Classics to Spring; I need time to gather resources for it. There were some suggestions for meanwhile-projects -- something from Aristotle, or Marcus Aurelius's Meditations being examples. So my suggestion is that we look at a selection from Aristotle (Aristotle full-bore would be a rather formidable project), namely, Aristotle's discussion of friendship in Nicomachean Ethics Books VIII and IX. Then Cicero's dialogue Laelius on Friendship. Then we can do some Stoic philosophy -- certainly Marcus Aurelius, perhaps also Epictetus and some Seneca. Any other thoughts on this?

Plato: Widely Recognized as Authentic

Phaedrus: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV
Hippias Minor
Gorgias: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV
Timaeus: Part I, Part II
Menexenus: Part I, Part II
Phaedo: Part I, Part II
Republic: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV
Protagoras: Part I, Part II
Laws: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV

Plato: Heavily Disputed

Alcibiades Major
The Platonic Letters: 7,8
Hippias Major

Plato: Usually Regarded as Spurious

The Platonic Definitions
Rival Lovers
De Justo
De Virtute
Alcibiades Minor
The Platonic Letters: 1,5,9,12 ; 2,4,10,13 ; 3,6,11
The Platonic Epigrams


Memorabilia: Book I, Book II, Book III, Book IV
Cyropaedia: Part I, Part II
Hipparchikos and Peri Hippike


The Clouds


On Socrates' Daimonion: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV

Related Posts

Some Thoughts Toward Reading Plato's Dialogues
The Golden Villain of Athens
Sydenham's Scheme for the Platonic Dialogues
Hermocrates: A Non-Reading
The Last Days of Socrates
Philosophos: A Non-Reading
A Philosophical Bendideia
Life in This Present Hades
Socrates in the Anabasis
The Aftermath of Arginusae

Saved for Later

Xenophon: Anabasis, Agesilaus, Constitution of Sparta, Hellenica, Poroi

Plutarch: Life of Socrates

Apuleius: The God of Socrates

Libanius: Defense of Socrates

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Plutarch, On the Genius of Socrates (Part IV: Interpretation of Signs)

The Thought

So much is going on in Plutarch's De genio Socratis that it's probably an error to think of the dialogue as having only one end or theme. However, I would suggest that a good first approximation in interpretation would take seriously the idea that a major theme of the dialogue is that of interpretation of evidence for the purposes of making decisions. The dialogue is constantly talking about this. Not only do we have the recurring discussions of Socrates' divine sign (in the three interpretations of Galaxidorus, Simmias, and Theanor), but we also have recurring instances of sacrificial omens (especially the opposition between Hipposthenides's interpretation of the sacrifices of Ceres and Theocritus's interpretation of his own sacrifices) and the various signs associted with the opening of tombs, as well as some indication of divine oracles. Nor is it only divine signs that are in play here. The conspirators have to coordinate with the exiles by messages and they have to assess the state of their conspiracy by reading the political signs, including those that suggest that the people in power already have wind of the conspiracy. Archias blunders by failing to read a message from Athens. At several points, people miss some key event and have to guess at or reason to it on the basis of what evidence they do have. It is specifically suggested at several points that the reading of divine signs is just a more finely tuned example of what we all regularly do in reasoning on the basis of our experiences. We swim in an ocean of evidences; signs are everywhere. All our decisions depend on skill and good judgment in the interpretation of signs.

Closely linked to this are the clear indications in the dialogue that personal character plays a significant role in interpretation of signs. It is especially good people who are given the aid of divine signs. Archias's wantonness leads to his failure to read the essential message on which his government depends. Hipposthenides without any malice misinterprets signs due to the weakness of his nature. And perhaps most significant of all is the character of Epaminondas, which adds an additional layer of complexity to the meaning of the dialogue.

Epaminondas was one of the greatest generals of the ancient world. After the liberation of Thebes, he would go on to do what even a generation before would have been thought virtually impossible: he broke the apparently unbreakable military might of Sparta. The Battle of Leuctra is one of the major case studies of military history, and it would be by building on his tactical innovations that the Macedonians under Philip and Alexander would change the face of the world. He is a significant character, of course. Unfortunately, we cannot compare his presentation in this dialogue to that in Plutarch's Life of Epaminondas, since the latter has been lost, but we do have Plutarch's Life of Pelopidas -- Pelopidas was Epaminondas' best friend, one of the exiles, and the one who struck the killing blow against Leontidas. In the Life of Pelopidas, Plutarch puts great emphasis on Epaminondas as a philosopher, which matches his portrayal in the dialogue on Socrates' daimonion. Epaminondas was a student of Lysis the Pythagorean; he devoted his life to philosophy and the cultivation of the mind. Plutarch portrays him in the Life of Pelopidas as having a wide array of virtues -- fortitude, magnanimity, gentleness, temperance, and justice, all of which are also on display here. In addition, in this dialogue Theanor insists that he has inherited the daimonion of Lysis, or at least some similar one.

This brief but vehement insistence by Theanor is all the more significant when one considers that Epaminondas is not portrayed as fully in favor of the revolution. He does not disagree with his goals, and has been working toward that end. In the Life of Pelopidas we have an interesting example of this:

Epaminondas, too, had long since filled the minds of the Theban youth with high thoughts; for he kept urging them in the gymnastic schools to try the Lacedaemonians in wrestling, and when he saw them elated with victory and mastery, he would chide them, telling them they ought rather to be ashamed, since their cowardice made them the slaves of the men whom they so far surpassed in bodily powers.

However, he refuses to participate in the conspiracy itself because of the danger of injustice toward his fellow Theban citizens -- a danger that becomes real in the assault, since a number of Thebans end up dead even despite the efforts of the leaders to persuade them at least just to stand by. That Epaminondas opposes the full conspiratorial plan is partly due to the fact that Plutarch is working with a historical story, in which Epaminondas only helps to consolidate the liberation of Thebes, but his philosophy, his virtue, and the claim that he is guided by a daimonion all contribute to showing that Plutarch does not intend the conspirators to be regarded uncritically. Unlike Epaminondas, who always acts with equanimity, most of the conspirators are heavily influenced by their passions. That the passions distort our interpretation of signs and lead us even to overlook essential ones is made explicit by Simmias and shown vividly by the fall of Archias. It is the fact that Socrates has purified himself of anything that might enslave himself to the passions that makes it possible for him to recognize what his daimonion wishes to indicate. Epaminondas, too, has trained himself to rise above his passions; he even clarifies exactly what this training was in his argument with Theanor about whether he should accept Theanor's gift: Epaminondas argues that we should train ourselves in virtue by foregoing the satisfaction of even acceptable pleasures, when they are not necessary. Epaminondas interprets signs well because he has the character for it. The conspirators have the right ends in view; but their means guarantee that they are continually in alarm at the possibility of discovery, and continually in danger of overreacting.

This emphasis on character, incidentally, is almost certainly one of the links between this dialogue and Plato's Phaedo, since the latter explicitly makes the case that the philosophical life is a kind of dying to the passions in order to achieve greater intellectual contemplation. I think it is clear that it is this purification from passion, not Socrates' death itself, that Plutarch primarily has in view in building the obvious links between this dialogue and that one.

What we learn from the dialogue, then, is that we live in a world filled with signs, both divine and otherwise. Proper interpretation of signs, however, requires the cultivation of a philosophical character, like that of Socrates, like that of Epaminondas. This is relevant to the making of decisions. Galaxidorus notes the fact of human psychology that we are often in some doubt about what we are to do, and that in this case a minor sign that would otherwise not sway us may actually tip the balance of our decision. (Simmias will deny Galaxidorus' claim that Socrates' divine sign was just a rule he had discovered by experience and inquiry, but everyone in the dialogue recognizes that small things can make massive contributions to decisions.) It appears to follow from this, however, that having a sense of what signs to follow and how to interpret them is part of the moral life: whether you do right or wrong will depend in part on how you take the little signs and evidences with which you are inundated. The passionate natures of the conspirators are constantly seeing causes of alarm; Epaminondas sees instead when it is appropriate to act, or to avoid acting, in order to act justly and with restraint.


Quotations from De genio Socratis are from William W. Goodwin's translation of Plutarch's Moralia, at the Perseus Project.

Plutarch, On the Genius of Socrates (Part III: Assault and Victory)

Theanor the Pythagorean enthusiastically affirms the story of Timarchus that was related by Simmias, noting that people will take swans, dogs, and reptiles to be sacred animals, and yet are for some reason averse to thinking that a human being could be a sacred animal, as well. In reality, the gods pick out some human beings and train them in divine signs:

Now as one that loves horses doth not take an equal care of the whole kind, but always choosing out some one excellent, rides, trains, feeds, and loves him above the rest; so amongst men, the superior powers, choosing, as it were, the best out of the whole herd, breed them more carefully and nicely; not directing them, it is true, by reins and bridles, but by reason imparted by certain notices and signs, which the vulgar and common sort do not understand. For neither do all dogs know the huntsman's, nor all horses the jockey's signs; but those that are bred to it are easily directed by a whistle or a hollow, and very readily obey.

The gods themselves direct very few such souls, and only those that they wish to raise to the heights of happiness. When these people die, they are not, like the rest of us, reincarnated, but instead become daemons or daemon-like things, advising and encouraging others. (His analogy is that of an old wrestler becoming a wrestling coach!) When some of us have been reincarnated a thousand times or more, having worked out the baser mistakes, the daemons are permitted by the gods to step in and give us extra help.

Epaminondas at this point notes that Caiphisias has a wrestling appointment elsewhere, but Caiphisias draws him, Theocritus, and Galaxidorus off to a corner of the porch. They try again to get Epaminondas in on the conspiracy; but he replies again that while he knows about it, the key issue is that it is intolerable for Theban citizens to be killed without due process of law. In addition, if the conspiracy is going to go through, there need to be citizens outside the conspiracy itself, who can be recognized as having an impartial point of view; otherwise, everything done in that direction will look as if it were just done for private ends. Epaminondas goes back to Simmias, while Caiphisias and the others head off to the gym for wrestling, during which they finalize revolution plans. From there, Phyllidas takes charge of Archias and his crowd, egging them on to partying in the hopes of keeping them from executing Amphitheus before anything can be done.

As night draws on, it is cold and stormy, and different bands of conspirators meet with different exiles: "Some as they entered had a flash of lightning on their right-hand, without a clap of thunder, and that portended safety and glory; intimating that their actions should be splendid and without danger." Forty-eight conspirators and exiles then met at Simmias's house. However, as they are meeting and Theocritus is making the sacrifices for an auspicious endeavor, guards from Archias bang on the door. Charon goes out with them and is told that he is summoned by Philip and Archias. The conspirators, of course, assume that they have been discovered, with most suspecting Hipposthenides. Charon sets out, but not before handing his fifteen-year-old son to his co-conspirators, telling them that they should kill him if Charon betrays anything of the conspiracy. (The conspirators, while admiring the bravery and commitment to the cause, are insulted by the gesture, and tell him to send his son elsewhere so that if worst comes to worst he will not be harmed by the association. Charon refuses, however, and insists that his son should stay.) After Charon is gone, another conspirator comes in, and hearing about Charon, demands that they set the plan in motion, lest they wait too long. Theocritus also comes in and says that his sacrifices are auspicious.

They thus start arming themselves, but, while they are doing so, Charon returns in an excellent mood. Archias and Philip were staggering drunk. Archias said he had heard that there were exiles returned and hiding in the city. Charon, acting surprised, replied that he has heard nothing, and that it might just be an idle rumor stirring up trouble; but he promised that he would ask around to find out what was going on. Thus, Charon suggests, the time is right for moving.

It has begun to snow, and the wind is blowing fiercely. The conspirators and exiles divide into parties and head out to strike at the tyrants. Charon had scarcely left Archias when Archias received an urgent message from Athens that laid bare the entire plot. But by this point Archias was falling-down drunk and, eager for women, tossed it aside without reading it, saying that business was for the morning. They assault Archias's house, and Archias dies, as does Philip; Cabirichus, the Theban chosen as archon by lot, they try to convince to stand with the revolution. Unfortunately, persuading drunk people is very difficult, and one of the conspirators ends up killing him, as well. In the meantime, the assault on Leontidas has proceeded, as the conspirators pretend to have an urgent letter for him. The servants open the door, and they all rush in. Leontidas, hearing the commotion, is ready for them, but he makes the mistake of keeping the candles lit rather than using the cover of darkness. He manages to run Cephisodorus through and to wound Pelopidas, but Pelopidas finally manages to strike a fatal blow; he falls on dying Cephisodorus, who dies with a smile on his face. They then assault the house of Hypates, and kill him as he is trying to flee across the roof of his neighbor's house.

Everyone meets in the forum, and they all head to the prison. Phyllidas tries to fool the jailkeeper by saying that Archias wants him to bring out Amphitheus for his execution; but the jailkeeper is not fooled, and Phyllidas ends up running him through. They free all the prisoners, and the word of what is happening begins to spread through the city.

Caiphisias goes to the temple of Minerva, where Epaminondas, Gorgidas, and their friends are gathered, and gives them the news. They declare the freedom of the city and begin arming the Theban citizens. Hipposthenides and his friends come out and join in, as well. They assault the fortress and its defenders. Inside the fortress, the defenders are perplexed; Lysanoridas the Spartan gave them orders to stay inside, but he is, by chance, not there that day. They finally surrender.

And thus was Thebes liberated.

So, with such an intricate, complicated, layered structure, what in the world is going on in this dialogue?

(to be continued)