Category Archives: Historical episodes

The Cold War’s shaping of American philosophy

John McCumber, Time in the Ditch: American philosophy and the McCarthy era (Northwestern UP 2001) George Reisch, How the Cold War Transformed Philosophy of Science (Cambridge UP 2005) Whether inclined toward socialism in the 1930s or defending itself against anticommunism … Continue reading

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“Perfect Language” essay on Aeon

Poets, historians, scientists, philosophers – we all seek to capture the world in a net of language. Yet it is the nature of nets to capture some things while letting others slip away. Our words turn experiences into objects, qualities … Continue reading

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Knowledge, that human practice

Ordinarily, we think knowledge is having in one’s head some kind of story or an explanation that matches how Things Really Are. This ordinary conception has at least two problems. First, it assumes that there is a way Things Really … Continue reading

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Demons and Descartes

(Reading The Possession at Loudun, by Michel de Certeau, translated by Michael B. Smith) Over the years 1632-38, in the French town of Loudun, 17 nuns and 10 secular women were examined and treated for being under the sway of … Continue reading

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The flux of it all

[An excerpt from Reality: a primer] Heraclitus was one of the earliest known philosophers. He lived in what we now recognize as western Turkey, in the late 6th century BCE. We know hardly anything about him, and his philosophy is … Continue reading

Posted in Historical episodes, Metaphysical musings | 3 Comments

The Problem of Disenchantment

[Reading Egil Asprem, The Problem of Disenchantment: Scientific Naturalism and Esoteric Discourse, 1900-1939. Brill, 2014.] Egil Asprem’s fascinating and learned work is centered around seeing disenchantment – or the growing propensity to see nature as empty of magical and divine … Continue reading

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Victorian anthropology

[Reading George W. Stocking, Victorian Anthropology (Free Press, 1987)] Stocking’s book is most centrally about how 19th-century upper-class British males managed to combine their sense of superiority with an emerging awareness of Darwinian evolution. Many loose threads needed to be woven … Continue reading

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Living cynically

(an excerpt from Doubts) The contemporary German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk defines “cynicism” as enlightened false consciousness. It is what results when we know all too well our own weaknesses and limitations, and our own involvement in dastardly practices, but then … Continue reading

Posted in Books, Historical episodes, Meanings of life / death / social & moral stuff, Stacks of Books | 7 Comments

Under the right conditions, ideas matter; but far less than we commonly suppose

In the big picture, ideas don’t matter as much as people like me try to pretend. Obviously, in some broad sense, some ideas matter very much to some people, sometimes. But even in those cases where ideas matter in big … Continue reading

Posted in Historical episodes, Items of the academy / learning, Meanings of life / death / social & moral stuff, Metaphysical musings | 5 Comments

Krug’s pen

Wilhelm Traugott Krug (1770-1842) was the philosopher who succeeded Kant in the chair for logic and metaphysics at the University of Königsberg. Just before taking on that role, he had thrown down a challenge for Schelling’s idealist philosophy: could Schelling, … Continue reading

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Philosophical zombies and 1984

(from today’s “Zombie Zymposium”) I’d like to discuss two things. First, I’ll discuss the quasi-technical use of “zombies” in recent discussions of the philosophy of consciousness. I’ll call these entities “philosophical zombies” since, as we’ll see, they are not much … Continue reading

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John Dee’s books, magic, and ruling the world

There’s a great little essay here by Brooke Palmieri on the JHI blog, which I’m reposting here mainly so that I don’t forget to go back and study in more detail. Excerpt: No wonder Dee could argue so forcefully in … Continue reading

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On knowledge regimes

Yesterday I came across the phrase “early modern knowledge regime,” and it teased my curiosity. What could this term mean? [I already have a short list of books to start reading, but I’ll begin first with what’s in reach and … Continue reading

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Brainwashing, the Red Scare, and the Turing Test

I just came across this brilliant lecture, “Imitation Games: Conspiratorial Sciences and Intelligent Machines,” given recently by Simon Schaffer. I’ve noted Schaffer’s work before on early automata. Here he extends his interest in our fascination with automata to post-WWII paranoia. … Continue reading

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Hypatia of Alexandria: or, a primer on platonic love

Plato, as we know, told tales of an abstract realm beyond the senses, a realm beyond the dim and dark cave we call “the world.” It was a realm of forms, first glimpsed through the discipline of mathematics, and more … Continue reading

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