Tuesday, May 21, 2024


We stayed Friday night at a hotel near Harrisburg. On Saturday morning, I went downstairs before 7:00, for I was thoroughly awake. After a small breakfast, I wanted to read. I found that there was no public area out of earshot of a television. At one point, I had the notion of trying the fitness center; but a man was working out and watching the TV while he did so. I did manage to read from a chair that seemed to be at the optimal distance between televisions, such that words could hardly be distinguished from either. 

 I suppose that the chain has made a study of its clients' preferences, and has found that the television-everywhere group outnumbers those who wish to avoid it. If so, I wish the hotel would make a gesture toward accommodating the minority.

Friday, May 17, 2024


 Some time back, I handed off a pile of technical magazines to a co-worker. This week she went through them, tearing out the stories she wanted to read, and putting the rest in recycling. Tearing out the articles of interest would not have occurred to me, but seemed practical.

She then brought me the front covers of the magazines, thinking that since they had my name and address on them I might want to shred them. I said that people still publish phone books, and that my name, address, and phone number appear in those. This had not occurred to her.

Given her age (somewhere in her thirties), she may never have paid for a land line, and so may never have appeared in the White Pages. When I first showed up in the local White Pages, maybe forty years ago, it did not feel like a breach of privacy, it felt as if I were getting somewhere in the world. Of course, the means of automatically collating information have greatly increased in power and fallen in price by then. But my name, address, and phone number are the least of the information that is now easily found on the internet.

Saturday, May 11, 2024

Which Poem?

 Today's Washington Post sports section carries an article about a young man from Maine who is likely to be the first picked in the 2025 NBA draft. About the middle of the article, I noticed the sentence

His local high school, Nokomis Regional High, shares its name with a Native American character in a Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem.

This I thought and think annoyingly coy. Was it Nokomis that carried the lanterns into the Old North Church tower to signal Paul Revere? Was Nokomis the caretaker at the Jewish cemetery at Newport?

Given that Nokomis appears first in the legends of the Ojibway, a nation that flourished far west of Maine, and that the legends were adapted by Longfellow for his poem Hiawatha, it is fair to suppose that "shares its name with" should be "takes its name from".

Friday, May 10, 2024

Kant in the Newspaper

 The May 2 print edition of the New York Times carried an article with the headline "Vision of a World Liberated by Reason", and devoted to the 300th anniversary of Immanuel Kant's birth. The article was published on-line on the anniversary, April 22, with the title "Why the World Still Needs Immanuel Kant". I suppose that ten days' delay counts for little on a scale of three centuries .

The need for Kant is a mediated one. My neighbors are in general well educated and many of them are widely read. But I suspect that if I were to go door to door claiming that I had misplaced my copy of The Critique of Practical Reason and asking to borrow the household's, I would have sore knuckles before I got the book. Yet his influence does persist. The Times this week carried a review of book considering John Rawls's A Concept of Justice: and Rawls drew heavily on Kant.

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Oh, That Aristotle

 A while ago, I noticed in Alasdair MacIntyre's Whose Justice? Whose Rationality? an unfavorable reference to Saul Kripke's Naming and Necessity, concerning the implications of the name "Aristotle". I don't think that MacIntyre was quite fair to Kripke, who argued against (I believe) Russell's theory of definite descriptions. I jotted a question mark in the margin, kept on reading, and spent a couple of weeks not thinking about Aristotle.

Last week, though, I picked up Translations from the Philosophical Writings of Gottlob Frege, intervening reading having made me curious about Frege's argument that the reference of a sentence is a truth value. Along the way, in the famous essay "On Sense and Reference", a couple of pages in I encountered a footnote on the sense of such a name as "Aristotle". 

It is easy to forget, but Aristotle, Hesperus (or the evening star), Phosphorus (or the morning star), as cases for such arguments do go back to Frege.

The essay appeared in 1892, Naming and Necessity in 1972, Whose Justice? Which Rationality? in 1988.

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Appliance Jack

 The other Sunday, we found our freezer and refrigerator not working, and scrambled to locate and obtain small substitutes. They served until the repairman diagnosed and replaced a failed fan, then sat in our hall through the week.

Our two-wheel dolly had served well enough in getting the appliances into the house, but we weren't sure about its stability down the stairs to the outside, then to the basement. I announced that what we needed was an appliance jack, a two wheel dolly with a strap to secure an appliance--a refrigerator, a washer, or so on--and that our local hardware store probably rented them. I called up, and after the man in the rental department told me that I needed a dolly, we seemed to agree on what I needed, and he said they had it.

They did not. They had regular dollies just like ours. They did have a "Rachet Tie-Down", which sold for a few cents less than the price quoted for rental, and which worked nicely.

I wondered, though, whether "appliance jack" was a term used only by the company I worked for years ago, or something I dreamed up. A web search turned up many more actual jacks--items for lifting something--but about one image in ten was the item I had in mind. My brother thinks that the more common term may be "appliance dolly".

Friday, April 5, 2024

One of the Dozen Best

 In Brief Encounters: Notes from a Philosopher's Diary, Anthony Kenny writes of Peter Geach as "one of the dozen best British philosophers of the twentieth century." This may be so, but it made me wonder whether I could name a dozen British philosophers of the twentieth century, of any quality. Counting only those who wrote their major works in the last century, and leaving out edge cases--if we count Wittgenstein as British, must we then count Whitehead as American?--I just about could, though I hadn't necessarily read their works. I came up with

  1. G.E.M. (Elizabeth) Anscombe (two books)
  2. J.L. Austin (two books)
  3. A.J. Ayer (one book)
  4. Philippa Foot (two books)
  5. Peter Geach (no books, though much of a volume of Frege he helped to edit)
  6. Stuart Hampshire (two books)
  7. R.M. Hare (no books)
  8. Anthony Kenny (philosophically, just the judgments in Brief Encounters)
  9. Alasdair MacIntyre (one book)
  10. Mary Midgley (one book)
  11. Iris Murdoch (one book of philosophy)
  12. Bertrand Russell (some of Essays in Analysis)
  13. Gilbert Ryle (one book) 
  14. R.L. Strawson (some of a collection of essays he edited)

I did not pay that much attention to British philosophy when I was younger, but now I can't come close to that number for any other combination of country and century.