Sunday, June 23, 2019

Nationalism: Ethnic and Philosophical Formulations

Professor  Hodges has been engaged in a polemic on the subject of "Nationalism."  See HERE, HERE and HERE for a sample of his exchanges (apparently back-channel) with an anonymous interlocutor.

A number of remarkable remarks have been made; perhaps the most useful is Professor Hodges' distinction between "ethnic " and "civil" nationalism, which parallels the distinction I draw between, respectively, "ethnic" and "philosophical" nationalism.

Many years ago in an 18th century European history course the professor made a good case that European nationalism(s) and American nationalism are distinct. Here is his idea, embellished with my own thinking on the matter:

European nationalism is configured around language, ethnicity and culture (and religion is a component of this). On the other hand, American nationalism is based on political philosophy, law and the US Constitution. Now, the law and the Constitution (and the Declaration) are clearly descendants of English and Scottish culture and political movements, and linguistically are tied to the English language, as the law (the Constitution) is written in English. But importantly in American nationalism, the operative principle are coherent legal and ethical philosophies rather than ethnic identification.

European ethnic nationalism vs. American legal-philosophical nationalism represents an important distinction, and this distinction should be kept in mind when considering arguments on the subject. Nationalism, of the American variety, is a pretty good apparatus for protecting property, advancing the equitable distribution of wealth, and creating new pathways for promoting social justice.

An early formulation of such a nationalism--creating institutions protecting a broad middle class, and the political philosophy that under-girds such a project--can be found Aristotle. See HERE, for example.

Franklin, Adams and Jefferson formulate the plan for a new nation.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Highbrow Hiatus

I am off on an expedition. See you next week.  

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

WAH Center Opening: Permanent Collection, Part 3: Selections from Artists' Rescue Team, 3/11 Japan

Show dates: June 15th - June 30th, 2019. Opening reception: Saturday, June 15th, 4-6pm

The Williamsburg Art & Historical Center will conclude the 2019 fiscal year with the final section of the "Permanent Collection Show, Part 3: Acquired between 2010 to 2012."

In 2011, The WAH Center organized a team of volunteers and artists to host the WAH Center Artist Rescue Team for Japan. Directed by Yuko Nii, this two day art benefit included over 230 artworks for sale and dance performances. The WAH Center worked towards sustaining continuous aid and effort to Japan and keeping the momentum for recovery with their efforts. Through this benefit, and several other fundraisers held throughout New York City, the WAH Center acquired a number of artworks that both enriched the YNF’s collection and provided much needed financial support to those affected by the earthquake, tsunami, and Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant disaster in Japan, collectively known as “3/11, Japan”.

During the show, the WAH Center is holding a special Silent Auction in the small gallery. The proceeds will be split evenly between the WAH Center and the artists. 

Please click HERE for the full press release with Curator's Statement 

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

William Poole's Milton and the Making of Paradise Lost

The other day, I picked up William Poole's new book Milton and the Making of Paradise Lost.

I am about half way through the book, and I have found Poole's remarks on Milton's scholarship, poetic theory (Tasso gets good mentions) and theology to be enlightening. Just ahead in my reading, in the second half of the book, Poole describes Paradise Lost. Thus far, I see some interesting reflections of my own questions and "hunches." Indeed, I am inclined to think that this is the best book I've ever read on Milton and Paradise Lost.  This study will certainly be helpful as I seek to appropriately and accurately apply Milton to my ideas on the subject of philosophy and literature.

Two remarks:  1) Poole's treatment of the scholarship is exhaustive, to-the-point and well-selected. 2) He is making it very "easy" (if that is the right word) for me to take Milton's ideas and apply them to things I find interesting in Locke, Jonathan Mayhew, Hawthorne, Melville, Nabokov, Wittgenstein, and the authors of the Declaration and the U.S. Constitution.  Reminding us at the beginning of his book that the subject of Milton and politics has been done over and over again, Poole dismisses any anticipated claims that his project could be construed as "whiggish," and he states instead that his subject is chiefly Milton's theology. It is a pleasant statement.

Please click the cover image to visit the Amazon sales page:

Saturday, June 8, 2019


Stellarium is a free planetarium for your computer.

Please click HERE.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Jupiter is Near

Jupiter will be in opposition the next several days. June 10 is the date of opposition, but because of our elliptical orbits, June 12 is the date of greatest proximity. For the next few days, Europa, Io, Callisto and Ganymede--Jupiter's four largest moons--should be "clearer-than-usual" through binoculars. Let's hope the atmosphere will be cooperative.

Please click HERE for more information.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Emanations: Chorus Pleiades in Nigeria

Emanations 7 came out over six months ago. Today, I received news from contributor Ebi Robert that the book has at last reached him in Nigeria.  Ebi's poetry has been appearing in Emanations since our third volume.  Enjoy the  pictures, and please click the cover image at the bottom of this post to buy the book.

Ebi Robert is a poet, playwright and short story writer. He is a Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. He was a Research Assistant with the Federal High Court, Nigeria. He currently works as a Co-Editor with The Nigeria Lawyer (TNL), and serves as the General-Secretary of the Association of Nigerian Authors, and Lead-Rep of Poets In Nigeria, Yenagoa Connect Centre. He is also the An Administrator of World Poet Institute, Bayelsa State Chapter. Ebi Robert is a member of the International Authors board of editorial advisors.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

"Thinking about Thinking"

What is Philosophy?

Our second answer is:

2) Philosophy is thinking about thinking.

When viewed in this way, our initial response is to turn to the study of logic.  The study of logic is an instructive and useful pursuit, but students and philosophers who are serious about thinking should shift their attentions to a consideration of grammar—to an exploration of the context, sense and meaning of propositions.  The progression of the history of logic suggests this shift; moreover, while logic is a broad field, the key touchstones of its history can be summarized rather briefly. They main points of this progression begin with Socrates’ elenchus, which is a sort of prosecutorial cross-examination that reveals inconsistency, credulity, or fraud.  Plato (if indeed he is to be fully distinguished from his teacher) places emphasis on taking simple noun-predicate sentences as the basis of logical structure, though his contextualization of such statements as elements of dialogue needs to be acknowledged as central to his assessment of the meanings of expressions.  Aristotle represents the emergence of logic as a distinct and formal discipline; his efforts yielded deductive logic, and the classification of ordered chains of premises and conclusions, or syllogisms, with emphasis upon sentences beginning with “all”, “no”, and “some”. We might note here, that Aristotle’s “all”, “no”, and “some” are attached to nouns and verbs, while he neglects words like “if” and “then”, which link sentences and trace the progress of our inferences. But we digress. In order to evaluate and classify different kinds of syllogisms, Aristotle attached schematic letters to these statements, and symbolic logic was born.  Aristotle’s activity with logic was to create a tool (organon in Greek) to clarify scientific and philosophical problems. His model of a "systematized” and “categorized” method of logic, however, will later enable figures like Kant and Russell to attach metaphysical significance to logic (or to reason) and so create the mirage (as I call it) that philosophers are somehow equipped to do something “scientific.” Through their obscurantist (elaborate, potted, sophistic) activity exercising dazzling logical architectures, some philosophers make a claim upon scientific, moral and political authority, which in our time is among the greatest threats to democracy, rule-of-law, equality before the law, human rights, freedom of speech, integrity of property, and the fair and merit-based distribution of goods and services. Here it is appropriate in this discussion of systemized logic to ask how far we are departing from “thinking about thinking” and discovering an appropriate overview of how we really think in the world. Aristotle’s contribution, his influence and the re-discovery of his methods in the Scholastic period deserve careful consideration. Nevertheless, in his wake there follows a long hiatus in the development of logic as a tool for thinking about thinking, and our formulation of a useful exposition of the “real” thinking we’re seeking to uncover. The key transition occurs, first, with the emergence of inductive reasoning, which is the activity of assembling long lists of variously related statements, facts, and data-points, and clearly saying intelligent things about them. The second point of transition comes with William of Occam’s observation that logic is properly the analysis of philosophical and scientific language. Still, we have not said much about what it means to think about thinking, and moreover this task is complicated by the fact that such notions as “thinking” (regarded as a sort of neurological activity resembling a computer process) and “ideas” (in particular the notion that ideas are the “objects” of thought) are abstract and misleading. Consider: thinking is an activity that is expressed through language, and ideas are not really “objects.” So, we should wish to move away from these abstract concepts and rather talk about what we are really doing when we are thinking. What do we see when we look at ourselves thinking? To find out, we must clearly understand where we are, what we are doing, what we are discussing with one another, what we are attempting to do—such is the point of thinking itself, and which is properly revealed when we look at the language of our expressions and our dialogues. Such questions as “What is the context of my statement?”, “What do I mean when I say X?”, “What am I doing when I say X?”, and what am I seeking to do when I say X?”,  help us to expose the nature, the sense and the meaning of our expressions, and reveal to us the usefulness, the suitability, the legitimacy, and the appropriateness of our “thinking.” At this point, we should do well to define thinking as “coming to an understanding.” When we do good philosophy, we are creating a synoptic overview of our thinking, in which we can see ourselves thinking—or writing, or talking. Thus, we seek to clarify our language, seek to understand the context of our discussions, seek to assess the appropriateness of our language, seek to clarify questions, seek to answer questions, seek to solve problems—and in these ways we prepare to take good actions.  All the while, we are keenly aware of how our actions are linked to our understanding, and that our understanding is an on-going process continually subject to revision and improvement. 
Please see HERE for a note on propositions, and please see HERE for a discussion about setting up synoptic overviews for assessing our use of language. Also, please see HERE for a bit of therapy in regard to these matters. After looking closely at this stuff, a bit of therapy is in order.

This post is part of a series:

Giuseppe Bottani, “Athena revealing Ithaca to Ulysses”

Saturday, June 1, 2019


A tentative note:

A proposition is a statement that can be said to make a claim about reality or a state of affairs.  Our examination of a proposition should seek to identify the proposition’s meaning, its sense (its meaning in context and/or in relation to something else), its verity (true or false?), it’s legitimacy (whether it is the case or is not the case) and the proposition’s appropriateness. Identifying the context in which a proposition is uttered is key to answering these questions and to coming to an understanding of the proposition.

For the nonce, let’s say that there are four types of propositions: 1) Analytic, such as, “two and two is four”; 2) internal, such as “I have a headache”; 3) External, or Empirical, such as, “I hear a Cardinal in the trees” or “I see an error in the data"; and 4) Categorical/Subjective, such as, “stealing is wrong" or “the ‘Mona Lisa’ is a beautiful painting.”

I am wondering if there is after all only one type of proposition that can either be true or false (or anyway that can be proven true or false with logic): Analytic. The others are rather statements of a different order. Internal propositions do not describe anything that can be logically proven: whether they are true or false has little or no bearing upon our philosophical understanding or a description of actual reality. Rather, such statements guide (or do not guide) our behavior and our utterances. External propositions can be no more than descriptive. If descriptive statements are false then they are simply nonsense, and thus are not propositions; that is, they don't inform us about anything, except perhaps that a person who vocalizes them is stupid, lacking a reliable or reasonable sensibility, or is lying. Categorical (aesthetic, moral, political) propositions—or rather the expressions of moral, aesthetic, or political views—are neither true nor false, they are simply statements about belief or conviction. The question is, are they persuasive or do people agree?

This is not the final word, but a sketch.  When it comes to this subject, I very much doubt there can be a final word. 

I plan to revise and elaborate this in future. Stay tuned for more.

 Daniel Huntington, "Philosophy and Christian Art" (1868)

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Monday, May 27, 2019

Gottfried Leibniz and his Grammar

Brandon C. Look's article on Leibniz (appearing in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)  is fascinating. It is a clear (well, perhaps "as clear as possible") article on Leibniz, and it will amuse and reward people who take the time to read it. There is indeed something compelling about Leibniz's ingenuity that needs to be described by philosophers.

It follows also that there is something in Leibniz's language that needs to be parodied by writers who seek to expose the grammar of the representational flights and excursions that characterize poetic language.

Without being too reductive, I think it is reasonable to characterize the "avant-garde" as largely a formalist experiment.  In examining the syntactical features of philosophical language, however, we might shift the emphasis of our experiments from form to grammar.

Consider the following passage from Look's article, which is rich in ingenious and wonderful language:
4.1 The Logical Conception of Substance    
In §8 of the Discourse on Metaphysics, Leibniz gives one of his most important accounts of the nature of individual substance. There he claims that the Aristotelian idea that a substance is that which is the subject of predication and which cannot be predicated of something else is insufficient for a true analysis of the nature of substance. He next appeals to the PC and the PIN: in every true predication, the concept of the predicate is contained in the concept of the subject. “Since this is so,” Leibniz claims, “we can say that the nature of an individual substance or of a complete being is to have a notion so complete that it is sufficient to contain and to allow us to deduce from it all the predicates of the subject to which this notion is attributed.” (A VI iv 1540/AG 41) In other words, xis a substance if and only if x has a complete individual concept (CIC), that is, a concept that contains within it all predicates of x past, present, and future. The CIC, then, serves to individuate substances; it is able to pick out its bearer from an infinity of other finite created substances. Leibniz gives as an example Alexander the Great. The concept of Alexander contains being a King, being a student of Aristotle, conquering Darius and Porus, and so on. Now, “God, seeing Alexander's individual notion or haecceity, sees in it at the same time the basis and reason for all the predicates which can be said truly of him.” (A VI iv 1540–41/AG 41) Leibniz's invocation of the Scotist notion of a haecceity is intriguing. What Leibniz is telling us is that Alexander's thisness is determined by the sum of his qualitative properties. Moreover, we can see a metaphysical aspect to this logical conception of substance: the complete individual concept of a substance is the notion oressence of the substance as it known by the divine understanding. 
Leibniz concludes this section with his celebrated doctrine of marks and traces: “when we consider carefully the connection of things, we can say that from all time in Alexander's soul there are vestiges of everything that has happened to him and marks of everything that will happen to him and even traces of everything that happens in the universe, even though God alone could recognize them all.” (A VI iv 1541/AG 41) The doctrine of marks and traces, therefore, claims that, because the CIC contains all predicates true of a substance past, present, and future, the entire history of the universe can be read (if only by God) in the essence of any individual substance. 
The consequences that Leibniz draws from the logical conception of substance and the doctrine of marks and traces are remarkable. In the following section (§9) of the Discourse on Metaphysics, we are told they include the following: 
 1 No two substances can resemble each other completely and be distinct. (PII)
 2 A substance can only begin in creation and end in annihilation.
 3 A substance is not divisible.
 4 One substance cannot be constructed from two.
 5 The number of substances does not naturally increase and decrease.
 6 Every substance is like a complete world and like a mirror of God or of the whole universe, which each expresses in its own way.

Initially, it strikes me that genre fiction could best lend itself to parodying these sorts of ideas, these ways of thinking, these ways of being clever with grammar... Alternatively, take the above instances of "substance," "marks," "traces," etc., and for them substitute alternative words, curious abstractions, exotic concepts, odd nouns, comical gerunds...

Elector Sophie of Hanover honors Leibniz symbolically with the laurel wreath,
relief by Karl Gundelach, part of the historical frieze at the New Town Hall of Hanover

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Richard Kostelanetz's A Dictionary of the American Avant-Gardes has been published

A Dictionary of the American Avant-Gardes is now available.

According to Amazon: "For this American edition of his legendary arts dictionary of information and opinion, the distinguished critic and arts historian Richard Kostelanetz has selected from the fuller third edition his entries on North Americans, including Canadians, Mexicans, and resident immigrants."

The American edition contains my article on Herman Melville.  Please click here for information on the larger third edition.

(And it contains an article on me.)

Please click the cover image to view the Amazon description:

 Please click HERE for information on the larger third edition.

Friday, May 17, 2019

On the Highbrow Highway

I am tooling along the Highbrow Highway and so will enlarge upon my second definition of Philosophy, "Thinking (talking) about thinking," when I have the leisure of my study.  Until then, allow me to recommend a video from 2018 featuring my International Authors colleague Sushma Joshi discussing the Ubud Readers and Writers Festival. Please click HERE.

Sushma Joshi

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

"Love of Wisdom."

What is Philosophy?

Our first answer is: 

1) Philosophy is the "Love of Wisdom."  More appropriately, it is an enthusiasm for discussing interesting things.

To proceed on this track, it is necessary to draw a distinction between "word-for-word" and "thought-for-thought" translations. 

In the first formulation, Philosophy φιλοσοφία, Philosophia, literally means "love of wisdom."  Unfortunately, I have very little Greek and have not read the word in such contexts as it was originally used (it has been suggested Pythagoras originated the phrase).  Observe, however, that English has many more words than Greek, and hence our ability to put our finger on a precise meaning of the term, as it can be expressed in English, goes beyond what the Greeks were able to do.  Originally, Sophia connoted "cleverness, skill", but was subsequently shaped by the term philosophia to connote "wisdom" and intelligence", or Phronesis. Note, however, that Gnosis ("knowledge") is absent from this formulation. As things transpire in history, knowledge will become an offshoot of Philosophy, and today we associate (rightly and wrongly) that knowledge with the word Science. Along these lines--and considering how the word is used to describe all manner of eccentric, obtuse and suspect matters--we might precisely translate Philosophy to mean "an enthusiasm for discussing interesting things."  And if a skeptical nuance can be inferred from my use of "enthusiasm" and "interesting", so much the better.

In the second formulation, our "thought-for-thought" translation, we should carry this nuance forward and, in the consideration of interesting things, we might wonder about the significance, the relevance, and the legitimacy of philosophical utterances. As we pass though our second, third, and fourth answers, we will see this nuance is appropriate. Additionally, we will find it profitable to insinuate "cleverness, skill" throughout our definition.

And thus we close with a consideration of a famous statement attributed to Socrates: "The unexamined life is not worth living." Now, what is revealed by considering an inversion of this formula, that is: "The examined life is worth living"?  Clearly, when considering what examining one's life could mean--in terms of introspection, circumspection, and what such examination could yield--the former is more desirable; that is, if we are seeking an ethical or "appropriate" response to the matter.

Socrates on trial

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

What is Philosophy?

Here are four ways to look at the question. 

1) Philosophy is the "Love of Wisdom."  More appropriately, it is an enthusiasm for discussing interesting things.

2. Philosophy is thinking (talking) about thinking.

3. Philosophy is the analysis of philosophical and scientific language and concepts.

4. Philosophy is gossiping about school teachers and the things they do and say.

I'll dilate upon these definitions in future Highbrow posts.

As Plato and Aristotle might agree: whatever it is, it is engaging.