Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Some So Marginal That Are They Mine?

Over the last few days, I read through Chapters IX and X, "The Meaning of Self" and "The Reality of Self" of F.E.Bradley's Appearance and Reality, which make a case against the self's claim to be part of reality, not appearance. I found myself thinking of Poem 15 in J.V. Cunningham's sequence "To What Strangers, What Welcome":
Identity that spectator
Of what he calls himself, that net
And aggregate of energies
In transient combination--some
So marginal are they mine? Or is
There mine? I sit in the last warmth
Of a New England fall, and I?
A premise of identity
Where the lost hurries to be lost,
Both in its best interests
And in the interests of life.
Did Cunningham read Bradley? I'll leave that to the scholars.

Monday, July 20, 2020

At All Events There is Change

The second-last paragraph in the Introduction to F. H. Bradley's Appearance and Reality runs
(c) And that is why, lastly, existing philosophies cannot answer the purpose. For whether there is progress or not, at all events there is change; and the changed minds of each generation will require a difference in what has to satisfy their intellect. Hence there seems as much reason for new philosophy as there is for new poetry. In each case the fresh production is usually much inferior to something already in existence; and yet it answers a purpose if it appeals more personally to the reader. What is really worse may serve better to promote, in certain respects and in a certain generation, the exercise of our best functions. And that is why, so long as we alter, we shall always want, and shall always have, new metaphysics.
 I first read of Bradley in T.S. Eliot's Collected Essays. In "The Perfect Critic", collected in The Sacred Wood but not in Collected Essays, Eliot seemed to take a cool view of personal appeal as a factor in judging writers or philosophers.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Even Though He Be the Great King

The last dialogue considered in John Sallis's Being and Logos is The Sophist, which earlier in the month I read through for the first time in years. Some parts of it I had quite forgotten, including the binary search after the sophist that leads it off. Others were familiar, for example the section beginning at 229C
STR. I at any rate think I do see one large and grievous kind of ignorance, separate from the rest, and as weighty as all the other parts put together.
TH. What is it?
STR. Thinking that one knows a thing when one does not know it. Through this, I believe, all the mistakes of the mind are caused in all of us.
And the section beginning at 230B in which the stranger explains the method of removing this ignorance:
STR.  They question a man about the things about which he thinks he is talking sense when he is talking nonsense; then they easily discover that his opinions are like those of men who wander, and their discussions they collect those opinions and compare them with one another, and by the comparison they show that they contradict one another about the same things. But those who see this grow angry with themselves and gentle toward others, and this is the way in which they are freed from their high and obstinate opinions about themselves. The process of freeing them, moreover, affords the greatest pleasure to the listeners and the most lasting benefit to him who is subjected to it....
 For all these reasons, Theatetus, we must assert that cross-questioning is the greatest and most efficacious of all purifications, and that he who is not cross-questioned, even though he be the Great King, has not been purified of the greatest taints, and is therefore uneducated and deformed in those things in which he who is to be truly happy ought to be most pure and beautiful.
To judge by Socrates's account in The Apology, cross-questioning did not invariably make the patients gentle toward others, at least not toward Socrates. The pleasure given to the listeners, though, he does speak of.

(Quoted from the Loeb Classical Library, translation by H.N. Fowler.)

Friday, July 17, 2020


Last Saturday morning my plans were interrupted when I noticed an email saying that a certain system was down. After some work, I was able to infer the cause of the failure and to work around it in part. The name server used on our internal network was not accessible, nor were some other systems, suggesting the failure of a VMWare host. By editing files on a couple of servers, so that they resolved names locally rather than through a query, I was able to get a couple of outward-facing systems working again. With the help of another techie, I identified the host that was not working, establishing that it was not connecting to the network. He restarted it, and presently we were back in business.

Today I heard from a co-worker that a system was down. I switched to that tab in my browser and confirmed that in fact it was running. Knowing that, it took only a few minutes to infer that Cloudflare,which manages DNS for our organization as for much of the internet, was not answering queries. I told the co-worker that connecting to work over VPN would allow the use of our internal nameserver, and so access to the system. But within half an hour, Cloudflare was answering queries again.

DNS, the domain name service, is what turns symbolic names such as www.stanford.edu into the numeric addresses that computers use. Everyone on the internet depends on it, relatively few know of it, vanishingly few think of it when it is working properly. But when it does not work, many things fail. The best comparison I can think of for those not engaged with it is GPS: imagine what would happen to travelers, Uber drivers, or others traveling in unfamiliar areas who supposed they could count on GPS and suddenly discovered they could not.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Like Beasts of the Field or Forest

On July 5, 1814, Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to John Adams, including
Having more leisure there than here for my reading, I amused myself with reading seriously Plato's republic. I am wrong however in calling it amusement, for it was the heaviest task-work I ever went through. I had occasionally before taken up some of his other works, but scarcely ever had patience to go through a whole dialogue. While wading thro' the whimsies, the puerilities, and unintelligible jargon of this work, I laid it down often to ask myself how it could have been that the world should have so long consented to give reputation to such nonsense as this? How the soi-disant Christian world indeed should have done it is a piece of historical curiosity. But  how could the Roman good sense do it? And particularly how could Cicero bestow such eulogies on Plato? Altho' Cicero did not wield the dense logic of Demosthenes, yet he was able, learned, laborious, practised in the world, and honest...
  It is fortunate for us that Platonic republicanism has not obtained the same favor as Platonic Christianity; or we should now have been all living, men, women and children, pell mell together, like beasts of the field or forest.
 Adams's reply, on July 16, was no more favorable:
I am very glad you have seriously read Plato: and still more rejoiced to find that your reflections upon him so perfectly harmonize with mine. Some thirty Years ago I took upon me the severe task of going through all his works. With the help of two Latin translations, and one English and one French Translation and comparing some of the most remarkable passages with the Greek, I laboured through the tedious toil. My disappointment was very great, my Astonishment was greater, and my disgust was shocking. Two Things only did I learn from him, 1. that Franklins Ideas of exempting Husbandmen and Mariners etc. from the depredations of War were borrowed from him. 2. That Sneezing is a cure for the Hickups. Accordingly I have cured myself and all my Friends of that provoking disorder, for thirty Years with a Pinch of Snuff.
  Some Parts of some of his Dialogues are entertaining, like the Writings of Rousseau: but his Laws and his Republick from which I expected most, disappointed me most. I could scarcely exclude the suspicion that he intended the latter  as a bitter Satyre upon all Republican Government, as Xenophon undoubtedly designed by his Essay on Democracy, to ridicule that species of Republick.
Being and Logos: The Way of Platonic Dialogue by John Sallis considers The Republic among other dialogues. In the course of reading it, I have re-read or read the dialogues considered, most recently The Republic. I can see how little it would have appealed to men of the Enlightenment. Of course Sallis belongs to a school that considers that Plato was playing a much deeper, often comic game in his dialogues. But I don't suppose that either Jefferson or Adams would have cared for a sentence such as
This circumstance is of utmost importance for understanding properly what is said in The Republic about dialectic; it is especially important as a warning against making too much of this discussion, and on the other hand, against taking it too seriously.