26 October 2014

The Beauty of Things

To feel and speak the astonishing beauty of things – earth,
            stone and water,
Beast, man and woman, sun, moon and stars-
The blood-shot beauty of human nature, its thoughts and frenzies
       and passions,
And unhuman nature its towering reality–
For man’s half dream; man you might say, is nature
      dreaming, but rock
And water and sky are constant – to feel
Greatly, and understand greatly, and express greatly, the
Beauty is the sole business of poetry.
The rest’s diversion: those holy or noble sentiments, the
    intricate ideas,
The love, lust, longing: reasons, but not the reason.

What is art for?

Alain de Botton's animated guide – video provides the reason.




Who Are We?

Who Are We?

Not that I remember, but that I am
Memory, am all that has befallen
Unbroken being and knowing
Whose flow has brought me here, laden with the forgotten
Times and places, once here and now
Of those who were, from day to day,
From life to life, as I,
Presences of that omnipresence without end or beginning,
Omniscient through our being,
That brings and takes away the unremembered living
Moments of joy and wisdom, the once-familiar
Rooms and temples and fountains, the long-ago gardens
Of a thousand summers, music once heard,
Travelling through me and on, like a wave
Of sound, a gleam
Irrecapturable. And who are we
Who gather each one leaf, one life of the myriadfold tree
Of the lost domain, and mourn
The flowing away of all we never were, or knew?
Promises, messages reach us, instruct us,
The untold, the untellable, undying
Heart's desire, resonance
Of elsewhere, once, some day, for ever.


19 October 2014

The Instrument

“Death, and it is broken,
The delicate apparatus of the mind,
Tactile, sensitive to light, responsive to sound,
The soul’s instrument, tuned to earth’s music,
Vibrant to all the waves that break on the shores of the world.”


The Elements of Cognition

Many arguments of the first half of the "Critique of Pure Reason" are intended to reveal the inadequacy of the empiricist theory of cognition.  As Kant understood that view, cognitions arise in us through the actions of objects causing representations in our minds via our outer senses or our internal senses (which he called inner sense).  The representations received are connected via the law of association.  Thus the connections among representations in our minds reflect the patterns of our sensory experiences:  However, Kant argued that mere association is insufficient to explain the ways in which representational elements are connected in empirical cognitions that everyone acknowledges that we possess.
In the case of perception, Kant maintained that we could not achieve a perceptual image solely through receiving and associating sensory impressions.  Some of his metaphysics lectures provide a helpful illustration of the issue.

Suppose I take in part of the Manhattan skyline, by looking first at the Empire state building and then at the Chrysler building.  To form the whole image, I must reproduce, for example, the visual materials acquired from the interaction of my senses and (light rays from) the Empire State Building.  Following then standard psychology, Kant characterized the capacity to represent in perception objects that were not or were no longer present to the senses as the “imagination.”  He noted that although an imagination that reproduced previously acquired visual material is necessary to form such an image, it is not sufficient.
If however, representations reproduced one another without distinction , just as they fell together, there would be no determinate connection, but merely unruly heaps of them, and no cognition at all would arise.

The problem is that I cannot form an image of this part of the skyline merely by reproducing the different pieces in the order I took them in.  Rather, the imagination must create an order amoung the representational elements that represent the simultaneous spatial positions of the landmarks. Despite his legendary obscurity, Kant could not have been more clear about the new role for imagination in his epistemology:
No psychologist has yet thought that the imagination is a necessary ingredient of perception itself.  This so partly because it has been believed that the senses do not merely afford us impressions but also put them together, and produce images or objects, for which without doubt something more than the receptivity of impressions is required, namely a function of the synthesis of them.
In the first edition Kant provided an explicit account of the crucial activity of synthesizing:
By synthesis in the more general sense, however, I understand the act of putting different representations together with each other and comprehending their manifoldness in one cognition The synthesis is manifold it is what first brings forth cognition and unifies them into a certain content. 
That is, synthesis is an activity of the mind whereby elements contained in diverse representations are brought together and represented as unified (in various ways) into further representations. We have seen why he thought that a synthesis is involved in perception. To produce an image, various perceptual elements that were taken in sequentially must be put together in some way other than by repeating the sequence given in sense. The citation makes the sweeping claim that a synthesis of diverse elements is what first gives rise to any cognition.

Certainly, synthesis is carried out by the mind, but the question is whether the mind puts things together in a way that corresponds to a reality independent of it.  Since (as Kant says) in making any judgement we are putting items together in thought, this same question as we had with judgements.  Kant's solution was to say that either the object makes the representation possible, or else the representation makes the object possible.  With empirical judgements the object makes the representation possible.  The same will be true with empirical synthesis: here the mind's putting-together will be guided by experience.  If there is such a thing as a priori synthesis - and Kant argues that there must be - then certainly, Kant will say that the representation makes the object possible, our synthesis contributes to tht ordering of things that constitutes the world we can know about, the world of appearances.  But his reason for saying this rests entirely on his principle that since the object does not make the representation possible, the representation must make the object possible.

Patricia Kitcher



18 October 2014


The nominalist in me invents
A life devoid of precedents.
The realist takes a different view:
He claims that all I feel and do
Billions of others felt and did
In history’s Pre-me period

Arguing thus, both voices speak
A partial truth.  I am unique,
Yet the old, ceaseless self-distress
Of desire buffets me no less
Than it has other sons of man
Who’ve come and gone since time began:

The meaning, then, of this dispute?
My life’s a nominal/real pursuit,
Which leaves identity clear and blurred,
In which what happens has occurred
Often and never – which is to say
Never to me, or quite this way.


14 October 2014

The Things of the World

I would like to say something for the things as they are, in themselves
Not standing for anything else, multiform, legion
In their fleeting exactitude,

Fashioned in intricate and elusive ways, individual,
Each like nothing else precisely. I am speaking
Of observable things, this chair,

This leaf, that slab, the sun, dust, a fly,
Sometimes interacting, sometimes not, depending
On the nature of each, but always

And ever changing, coming into being, vanishing;
Maybe observed or not; beautiful or ugly
Only as someone’s opinion;

Neither right nor wrong; neutral; concerned only with
Their presence here, enduring their given span;
The manifold things of the world

“The Only Possible Basis of Proof,” a book written by Immanuel Kant uses the language of Leibnizian throughout. But in it the distinction between the actual and the possible goes back to the more profound methodological distinction between ‘contingent’ and ‘necessary’ knowledge, between “truths of fact” and “truths of reason.” The latter, to which belong all propositions of logic and mathematics, are independent of the state of transient things, for they do not express the particular existent, occurring once, here and now, in a specific locus in space and at a determinate point of time, but rather they signify relations that are valid completely universally and are binding on any given content. That 7 + 5 = 12, that the angle inscribed in a semi-circle is a right angle are “eternal truths,” which do not depend on the nature of spatio-temporal things, and which remain true even if there were no things of those sorts and no physical world. In logic, in pure geometry and number science, and moreover in the principles of the pure theory of motion, it is thus a matter of cognitions that express a purely ideal dependence between substances in general, not of a connection between determinate empirical, actual objects or events.  If we translate this logical insight into the terminology of Leibnizian metaphysics, it can be said that the truths of pure reason, are valid for all possible worlds that are comprehended in the divine understanding, while the mere truths of fact pertain only to specifications of the one actual world that has been lifted out of this sphere of general possibilities and “permitted” actual existence.

Reference:  Kant’s Life and thought, by Ernst Cassirer


28 September 2014

In Memory of Sigmund Freud (May 6, 1856 - September 23, 1939

When there are so many we shall have to mourn,
when grief has been made so public, and exposed
     to the critique of a whole epoch
   the frailty of our conscience and anguish,

of whom shall we speak? For every day they die
among us, those who were doing us some good,
     who knew it was never enough but
   hoped to improve a little by living.

Such was this doctor: still at eighty he wished
to think of our life from whose unruliness
     so many plausible young futures
   with threats or flattery ask obedience,

but his wish was denied him: he closed his eyes
upon that last picture, common to us all,
     of problems like relatives gathered
   puzzled and jealous about our dying.

For about him till the very end were still
those he had studied, the fauna of the night,
     and shades that still waited to enter
   the bright circle of his recognition

turned elsewhere with their disappointment as he
was taken away from his life interest
     to go back to the earth in London,
   an important Jew who died in exile.


14 September 2014

Orphic Primary Words

A stanza by Goethe articulating his view that the ends to which a human aspires are invariably determined by a person's unchangeable innate character:

As on the day that lent you to the world

The sun received the planet's greetings,

At once and eternally you have thrived

According to the law whereby you stepped forth.

So must you be, from yourself you cannot flee,

So have the Sibyls and the prophets said;

No time, no power breaks into little pieces

The form here stamped and in life developed.



31 August 2014

The World as Will and Representation

We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are.”
― Anaïs Nin 

"This amounts to saying that an object, as far as we can know it, is no more than an object of experience, and anything beyond experience we cannot say. After all, we can hardly jump outside of our experiential correlation with the world to view reality from a godlike perspectiveless view from nowhere. To know an object is to know it as we know it, and not as it is in itself." alistair robinson 

The subject–object problem, a longstanding philosophical issue, is concerned with the analysis of human experience, and arises from the premise that the world consists of objects (entities) which are perceived or otherwise presumed to exist as entities, by subjects (observers).

How much of the knowledge of on an object is our own conception or thought?  Only with our own ideas and concepts do objects start to have meaning because until then they are simply a collection of visual phenomena.  Our own changing thoughts and moods can also influence how we see and feel about the things around us.

Schopenhauer explains it this way:

It is only when the understanding begins to act - a function not of a single delicate nerve extremity but of that complex and mysterious structure of the brain...only when the understanding applies it's sole form, the law of causality, that a powerful transformation takes place whereby subjective sensation become objective intuition Thus by virtue of it's own particular form and so a priori, in other words, prior to all experience (since until then experience was not yet possible) the understanding grasps the given sensation of the body as an effect (a word comprehended only by the understanding), and this effect must necessarily have a cause. Simultaneously the understanding summons to its assistance space, the form of the outer sense lying predisposed in the intellect, i.e., the brain. This it does in order to place that cause outside the organism; for only in this way does there arise an outside whose possibility is simply space, so that pure intuition a priori must supply the foundation for empirical intuition.  On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason.

A key focus of Schopenhauer was his investigation of individual motivation. Before Schopenhauer, Hegel had popularized the concept of Zeitgeist, the idea that society consisted of a collective consciousness which moved in a distinct direction, dictating the actions of its members. Schopenhauer, a reader of both Kant and Hegel, criticized their logical optimism and the belief that individual morality could be determined by society and reason. Schopenhauer believed that humans were motivated by only their own basic desires, or Wille zum Leben ("Will to Live"), which directed all of mankind



10 August 2014

The Clementine

Folk 'N' Word, a spoken and sung performance 

Performance poetry and spoken word has its emphasis less on text than on the poet’s presentation of the work as can be seen in this performance of The Clementine by Poeticat.  'She sits at Embankment station and hums...' The platform was empty except for her....

Percussion is also important in performance poetry. The modern style has been influenced by hip-hop, which utilizes all of these devices. This type of poetry should also have an idea, emotion, or perspective that drives the poem. Often, this may relate to popular culture or social or political events.




9 August 2014

Everything changes and nothing stands still

Everything flows and nothing stays.
Everything flows and nothing abides.
Everything gives way and nothing stays fixed.
Everything flows; nothing remains.
All is flux, nothing is stationary.
All is flux, nothing stays still.
All flows, nothing stays.
As quoted by Plato in Cratylus

Cratylus was an ancient Athenian philosopher from the mid-late 5th century BCE, known mostly through his portrayal in Plato's dialogue Cratylus. He was a radical proponent of Heraclitean philosophy and influenced the young Plato.


20 July 2014

A Person of Practical Wisdom

U.C. Berkeley philosophy professor Dreyfus discusses the importance of Merleau-Ponty's renowned focus on the "body" to "grip" reality's "gestalt" for "skillful coping" ... for Merleau-Ponty it is the our physical body with its "skills" that allow us to "relate to things" and others via "intercorporeality" which is deemed "magical" ... the body is always "geared" toward the world...


REDUCTIONISM: The theory that every complex phenomenon, especially in biology or psychology, can be explained by analyzing the simplest, most basic physical mechanisms that are in operation during the phenomenon. 

Part of the rationalist ethos is binding yourself emotionally to an absolutely lawful reductionistic universe — a universe containing no ontologically basic mental things such as souls or magic — and pouring all your hope and all your care into that merely real universe and its possibilities, without disappointment.

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky



21 June 2014

George Orwell: A life in Pictures

Artistic expression has an undisputed place in contemporary social activism.  Understood in the broadest sense to include music and street theatre as well as all forms of visual representation. There is a long, perhaps even ancient history of wall writing and what we would today call street art and graffiti used as means to express discontent and catch public attention.
George Orwell was successful in his attempt to make political writing an art; his famous satires on totalitarianism; his search for objectivity and honesty in journalism. “What was unique about Orwell was that he hated fascism, but also stood apart from the official Stalinist-dominated left of his time."  Mick Hume







14 June 2014

The More Loving One

In the face of meaningless and indifference it is still possible to be engaged in the world:

Looking up at the stars, I know quite well

That, for all they care, I can go to hell,

But on earth indifference is the least

We have to dread from man or beast.

How should we like it were stars to burn

With a passion for us we could not return?

If equal affection cannot be,

Let the more loving one be me.



1 June 2014


U.C. Berkeley philosophy professor Hubert Dreyfus discusses the importance of Merleau-Ponty's renowned focus on the "body" to "grip" reality's "gestalt" for "skillful coping" ... for Merleau-Ponty it is the physical body with its "skills" that allow us to "relate to things" and others via "intercorporeality" which is deemed "magical" ... the body is always "geared" toward the world...


The term ‘intercorporeality’ simultaneously foregrounds the social nature of the body and the bodily nature of social relationships. As a concept, it emphasizes the role of social interactions in the construction and behaviours of the body: ‘the experience of being embodied is never a private affair, but is always mediated by our continual interactions with other human and nonhuman bodies’ (Weiss, 1999, p. 5). At the same time, it suggests that our existence in relation to others – our intersubjectivity – is something tangible and bodily (Csordas, 2008).


Cafe Philosophy News

The next issue of Cafe Philosophy: on the topic of Existentialism, will be released toward the end of the week.



24 May 2014

Albert Camus

BBC host: Melvyn Bragg talks about the Algerian-French writer and Existentialist/philosopher Albert Camus, with  Peter Dunwoodie, Professor of French Literature at Goldsmiths, University of London; David Walker, Professor of French at the University of Sheffield; Christina Howells, Professor of French at Wadham College, University of Oxford.


Further Reading
ARONSON, Ronald, Camus and Sartre: The Story of a Friendship and the Quarrel that Ended It (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004)

BRAUN, Lev, Albert Camus: Witness of Decline (1974)

BRÉE, Germaine, Albert Camus (1959)

CARROLL, David, Albert Camus the Algerian: Colonialism, Terrorism, Justice (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007)

CRUICKSHANK, John, Albert Camus and the Literature of Revolt (1960)

DUNWOODIE, Peter, Writing French Algeria (Oxford: Clarendon, 1998)

ELLISON, David, Understanding Albert Camus (Columbia: Uni. of South Carolina Press, 1990)

FREEMAN, Edward, The Theatre of Albert Camus: A Critical Study (1971)

HANNA, Thomas, The Thought and Art of Albert Camus (1958)

HUGHES, E.J., The Cambridge Companion to Camus (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007)

LONGSTAFFE, Moya, The Fiction of Albert Camus: A Complex Simplicity (Oxford/Bern, Peter Lang, 2007)

LOTTMAN, Herbert, Albert Camus: A Biography (1979)

McCARTHY, Patrick, Camus: A Critical Study of his Life and Work (1982)

MASTERS, Brian, Camus: A Study (1974)

O’BRIEN, Conor Cruise, Camus (1970)

PARKER, Emmett, Albert Camus: the Artist in the Arena (1965)

RIZZUTO, Anthony, Camus: Love and Sexuality (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1998)

SAGI, Avi, Albert Camus and the Philosophy of the Absurd (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2002)

SOLOMON, Robert C, Grim Thoughts: Experience and Reflection in Camus and Sartre (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006)

THODY, Philip, Albert Camus 1913-1960 (1961)

TODD, Olivier, Albert Camus: A Life, trans. B. Ivry (New York: Knopf, 1997)












22 May 2014

12 May 2014


Dr. Sproul provides a very dramatic description of Existentialism and the defining ideas that have made it what it is. He is a very effective speaker and makes his point with confidence and clarity.

Dr. Sproul talks about the book Being and Time by Martin Heidegger during his lecture.
For Martin Heidegger, what defines the human being is this capacity to be perplexed by the deepest and most enigmatic of questions: Why is there something rather than nothing? So, the task of Being and Time is reawakening in us a taste for perplexity, a taste for questioning.
The first line of Being and Time is, "We are ourselves the entities to be analysed". This is the key to the crucial concept of mineness (Jemeinigkeit), with which the book begins: if I am the being for whom being is a question – "to be or not to be" – then the question of being is mine to be, one way or another. This brings us to a very important point: if the being of being human is defined by mineness, then my being should not be matter of indifferenceto me. A table or chair cannot recite Hamlet's soliloquy or undergo the experience of self-questioning and self-doubt that such words express. But we can. This is the kernel of Heidegger's idea of authenticity (Eigentlichkeit), which more accurately expresses what is proper to the human being, what is its own. For Heidegger, there are two dominant modes of being human:  Authentic  vs Inauthentic.






4 May 2014

Being and Time

Bryan Magee and Hubert Dreyfus discuss Martin Heidegger and Edmund Husserl.

Hubert Dreyfus is known for his interpretation of Martin Heidegger, which critics labelled "Dreydegger.”
Erasmus University awarded Dreyfus an honorary doctorate "for his brilliant and highly influential work in the field of artificial intelligence, and for his equally outstanding contributions to the analysis and interpretation of twentieth century continental philosophy.”

Edmund Husserl is best known as the father of the 20th Century Phenomenology movement.




27 April 2014


Our next issue of Cafe Philosophy will feature the topic of Existentialism and we recommend watching this excellent video on the subject.  But first a short aphorism by Friedrich Nietzsche

Injustice and filth they throw after the lonely one: but, my brother, if you would be a star, you must not shine less for them because of that.
And beware of the good and the just! They like to crucify those who invent their own virtue for themselves—they hate the lonely one.  Friedrich Nietzsche




18 April 2014

William Barrett on Existentialism, part 3 of 3

William Barrett and Bryan Magee discuss Existentialism in terms of Martin Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre.


The book by Henry Miller: The Air-Conditioned Nightmare referred to in this video by William Barrett chronicles Miller’s return to America in 1939. The Air-Conditioned Nightmare is a collection of sketches, set out on a cross-country journey to re-discover his homeland and all infused by Miller’s judgments and generalizations, variously insightful, humorous and poetic.



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