18 April 2014

The Age of Anxiety

Faces along the bar

Cling to their average day:

The lights must never go out,

The music must always play . . .

Lest we should see where we are,

Lost in a haunted wood,

Children afraid of the night

Who have never been happy or good.

"The Age of Anxiety" (published 1947) is the strangest flower of a marvellously fertile period. It would come to inspire a symphony and a ballet and win the Pulitzer prize. It was the last long poem WH Auden would ever write.


17 April 2014

William Barrett on Existentialism, part 2 of 3

Heidegger and Modern Existentialism"
From the 1978 BBC series "Men of Ideas" with Bryan Magee.

William Christopher Barrett (1913–1992) was a professor of philosophy at New York University from 1950 to 1979. Precociously, he began post-secondary studies at the City College of New York when 15 years old. He received his PhD at Columbia University. He was an editor of Partisan Review and later the literary critic of The Atlantic Monthly magazine. He was well known for writing philosophical works for nonexperts. Perhaps the best known among these were Irrational Man: A Study in Existential Philosophy and The Illusion of Technique, which remain in print.





THE world is too much with us; late and soon,
 Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
 Little we see in Nature that is ours;
 We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
 The Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
 The winds that will be howling at all hours,
  And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
  For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
  It moves us not.--Great God! I'd rather be
  A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
  So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
  Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
  Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
  Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

(Society is so bent on making and spending money in smoky factories and fast-paced business enterprises that it ignores the pristine glory of nature, which is a reflection of the divine. This is a universal theme that remains relevant in today's world.)
William Wordsworth is believed to have composed the poem in 1802, when the Industrial Revolution was in full flower. No doubt the materialism the revolution engendered was one of the reasons Wordsworth wrote the poem. He published it in 1807 as part of a collection, Poems in Two Volumes.



William Barrett on Existentialism

An interview with William Barrett. Discusses the fact that the philosophy of Existentialism seems to flourish best in nations recently defeated in war, as in Germany after the First World War, when its outstanding representative was Martin Heidegger, or France after the Second World War, when the outstanding figure was Jean-Paul Sartre. The thought of these key figures is examined, with the accent on Heidegger.



"It is the familiar that usually eludes us in life." William Barrett



7 April 2014

The Road to Freedom

"Freedom is not an end in itself, nor is it an engine that drives you.  It is an action!

The important thing isn't in the freedom but in the road you take to get to it."

The Road to Freedom, describes the life of the French philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre. The three-part BBC documentary: Human All To Human, shows that Sartre believes it is up to each individual human being to give his or her own life a meaning and a purpose.



16 March 2014

Positivism and Metaphysics

Positivism is a philosophy of science based on the view that information derived from logical and mathematical treatments and reports of sensory experience is the exclusive source of all authoritative knowledge, and that there is valid knowledge (truth) only in scientific knowledge. Verified data received from the senses are known as empirical evidence. This view holds that society, like the physical world, operates according to general laws. Introspective and intuitive knowledge is rejected. Although the positivist approach has been a recurrent theme in the history of Western thought, the modern sense of the approach was developed by the philosopher and founding sociologist Auguste Comte in the early 19th century. Comte argued that, much as the physical world operates according to gravity and other absolute laws, so also does society.

Metaphysics is a traditional branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world that encompasses it, although the term is not easily defined. Traditionally, metaphysics attempts to answer two basic questions in the broadest possible terms:

1.What is ultimately there?
2.What is it like


"In spite of difference of soil and climate, of language and manners, of laws and customs, in spite of things silently gone out of mind and things violently destroyed, the Poet binds together by passion and knowledge the vast empire of human society, as it is spread over the whole earth, and over all time. The objects of the Poet's thoughts are every where; though the eyes and senses of man are, it is true, his favorite guides, yet he will follow wheresoever he can find an atmosphere of sensation in which to move his wings. Poetry is the first and last of all knowledge--it is as immortal as the heart of man."
--William Wordsworth, "Preface to Lyrical Ballads"



21 February 2014

16 February 2014

Karl Marx and Marxism

The Three Marxists by Jose Remillan   

world history
is a history of
constant conflicts
among classes
                                                             ­                antithesis
world history is
shaped by us,
conflicts emanate
from unconscious
                                                             ­                    synthesis
world history?
let's make profit
from Capitalism
then build





26 January 2014

The Unknown Citizen

He was found by the Bureau of Statistics to be
One against whom there was no official complaint,
And all the reports on his conduct agree
That, in the modern sense of an old-fashioned word, he was a
For in everything he did he served the Greater Community.
Except for the War till the day he retired
He worked in a factory and never got fired,
But satisfied his employers, Fudge Motors Inc.
Yet he wasn't a scab or odd in his views,
For his Union reports that he paid his dues,
(Our report on his Union shows it was sound)
And our Social Psychology workers found
That he was popular with his mates and liked a drink.
The Press are convinced that he bought a paper every day
And that his reactions to advertisements were normal in every way.
Policies taken out in his name prove that he was fully insured,
And his Health-card shows he was once in hospital but left it cured.
Both Producers Research and High-Grade Living declare
He was fully sensible to the advantages of the Instalment Plan
And had everything necessary to the Modern Man,
A phonograph, a radio, a car and a frigidaire.
Our researchers into Public Opinion are content
That he held the proper opinions for the time of year;
When there was peace, he was for peace:  when there was war, he went.
He was married and added five children to the population,
Which our Eugenist says was the right number for a parent of his
And our teachers report that he never interfered with their
Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd:
Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.

Here's a link to Auden's poem that shares themes from Catch-22. I would say it's about living an inauthentic life. What we can see on the outside of people, what we can say about them, doesn't speak to the inner life. Files, paperwork, records. These are supposed to tell us what's important about a person in our society. But it's all just paper in the wind. What of the actual lives being lived?


“It is horrible to think that the world could one day be filled with nothing but those little cogs, little men clinging to little jobs and striving towards bigger ones - a state of affairs which is to be seen once more, as in the Egyptian records, playing an ever-increasing part in the spirit of our present administrative system, and especially of its offspring, the students. This passion for bureaucracy ... is enough to drive one to despair. It is as if in politics ... we were deliberately to become men who need "order" and nothing but order, become nervous and cowardly if for one moment this order wavers, and helpless if they are torn away from their total incorporation in it. That the world should know no men but these: it is such an evolution that we are already caught up, and the great question is, therefore, not how we can promote and hasten it, but what can we oppose to this machinery in order to keep a portion of mankind free from this parcelling-out of the soul, from this supreme mastery of the bureaucratic way of life.”
― Max Weber
Karl Emil Maximilian "Max" Weber (21 April 1864 – 14 June 1920) was a German sociologist, philosopher, and political economist whose ideas influenced social theory.  Weber is often cited, with Émile Durkheim and Karl Marx, as among the three founding creators of sociology.





4 January 2014

Waste Paper: A Poem of Profound Insignificance (C.1922)

Poem by H.P. Lovecraft; 

I used to sit on the stairs of the house where I was born
After we left it but before it was sold
And play on a zobo with two other boys.
We called ourselves the Blackstone Military Band
Won’t you come home, Bill Bailey, won’t you come home?
In the spring of the year, in the silver rain
When petal by petal the blossoms fall
And the mocking birds call
And the whippoorwill sings, Marguerite.
The first cinema show in our town opened in 1906
At the old Olympic, which was then call’d Park,
And moving beams shot weirdly thro’ the dark
And spit tobacco seldom hit the mark.
Have you read Dickens’ American Notes?
My great-great-grandfather was born in a white house
Under green trees in the country
And he used to believe in religion and the weather.




22 December 2013

7 December 2013

From ‘A Tale of Two Liars’

As a tree has its shadow,
Let me have my love,
As wax melts in a fire,
Let him burn to my touch,
Now and forever,
In me be his trust
Trapped in desire
Until all turns to dust
Amen, Selah.

That Spinoza would wish to maximize the active affects is understandable in light of his characterization of life led under the sway of the passions. Such a life is one in which the individual exercises little effective self-control and is buffeted by external circumstances in ways that are largely random. “The man who is subject to the [passive] affects,” Spinoza writes, “is under the control, not of himself, but of fortune, in whose power he so greatly is that often, though he sees the better for himself, he is still forced to follow the worse” (IV Preface). Life under the sway of the passions is a life of bondage.
It is from this rather pessimistic diagnosis of the human condition that Spinoza’s ethical theory takes off. In view of this, it is not at all surprising that his ethics is largely one of liberation, a liberation that is directly tied to the cultivation of reason. In this respect, Spinoza’s ethical orientation is much more akin to that of the ancients than to that of his fellow moderns. Like the ancients, he sought not so much to analyze the nature and source of moral duty as to describe the ideal human life. This is the life that is lived by the so-called ‘free-man’. It is a life of one who lives by the guidance of reason rather than under the sway of the passions.
From ‘The Ethics’ by Benedict de Spinoza



2 December 2013

Age of Enlightenment

Age of Enlightenment 

Originating about 1650 to 1700, it was sparked by philosophers Baruch Spinoza (1632–1677), John Locke (1632–1704), Pierre Bayle (1647–1706), Voltaire (1694–1778) and physicist, Isaac Newton (1643–1727).
In a recent article, Kenan Malik quotes’ Jonathan Israel by saying that: “It was the Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza that provided the Enlightenment’s heart and soul.”


9 November 2013

For everything that is, there is a reason why it is.

Spinoza holds that everything can be fully “conceived” or “understood”; we can regard these terms
as being synonymous with “explained”. Spinoza does not think that we do understand everything,
or that we have explanations for everything. He thinks that everything can be understood, and
that there are explanations for everything. To use another of his terms, everything is “intelligible”.

Everything has a cause.

Prof Geoff Pynn


“For all is like an ocean, all flows and connects; touch it in one place and it echoes at the other end of the world.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov







3 November 2013


“Spinoza’s most famous concept: God and Nature are one and the same, and identical with all of Existence, mental and physical.  God is the mind of the universe; the universe is the body of God.  This is often called pantheism -- God is everywhere and in everything -- but in his day, it was called atheism.” 




28 October 2013

Anthony Quinton and Bryan Magee discuss the ideas of Spinoza and Leibniz

A philosophical discussion between Anthony Quinton (for him, philosophy was "an essentially social undertaking", and dialogue "its bloodstream") and Bryan Magee British broadcaster, politician, poet, and author, best known as a popularizer of philosophy.  In this broadcast they discuss  the ideas of rationalist philosophers Baruch Spinoza and Gottfried Leibniz.
Anthony Meredith Quinton, Baron Quinton was a philosopher, born 25 March 1925; died 19 June 2010.



27 October 2013

Baruch de Spinoza

Frederick Pollock commenting on the words of Baruch Spinoza, says that Spinoza points out the advantage of being many-sided (as we should now say) in both mind and body, and thereby being apt to receive new impressions and put forth new activities. (35) This is one of the points, in which he (Spinoza) curiously anticipates modern ideas about development and adaptation to one's environment.
He (Spinoza) insists in the strongest terms on the importance of society to man's well-being.

“Society is imperfect” [he says], “but even as it is men get far more good than harm by it. Therefore let satirists laugh at men's affairs as much as they please, let theologians decry them, let misanthropes do their utmost to extol a rude and brutish life; but men will still find that their needs are best satisfied by each other's help, and that the dangers which surround them can be avoided only by joining their strength.” (36)



20 October 2013

Marcus Du Sautoy

In this clip, Marcus Du Sautoy (Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford and current Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science) participates in an experiment conducted by John-Dylan Haynes (Professor at the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience Berlin) that attempts to find the neurological basis for decision making.




16 October 2013

Spinoza as a righteous atheist

Professor Yirmiyahu Yovel – a distinguished public intellectual and recipient of the 2000 Israel Prize for philosophy –  a philosopher involved in the cultural and political field in Israel and abroad. Yovel’s oeuvre includes studies of Kant, Hegel, Spinoza and Nietzsche, alongside opinion pieces written and broadcast, on public issues. His teaching at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the New School for Social Research is complemented by his founding and running the Jerusalem Spinoza Institute.







12 October 2013

Spinoza: Mind of the Modern

A discussion featuring Rebecca Goldstein and Antonio Damasio from Open Source.

At the core of one big conundrum is Spinoza’s formulation (Propositions 14 and 15 in his Ethics) that: “Except God no substance can be granted or conceived,” and “Whatever is, is in God, and nothing can exist or be conceived without God.” To 19th Century Romantics Spinoza seemed a “God-intoxicated man,” fathering a religion of nature. In his time and ours, the hyper-rationalist philosopher who gave the intellect at work a virtually sacramental standing has also been deemed a pantheist and an atheist for “disappearing” God into His natural creation.




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