Sunday, August 30, 2020

Red Hair, Relation, Extension

 In forty-odd years of looking into works of philosophy now and then, I don't remember to have encountered any remarks on red hair. Then yesterday, in Note B, "Relation and Quality" in the appendix to F.H.  Bradley's Appearance and Reality, I encountered

Two men with red hair for example, it may be urged, are either not related at all by their sameness, or when related by it are not altered, and the relation therefore is quite external. Now if I suggest that possibly all the red-haired men in a place might be ordered to be collected and destroyed, I shall be answered, I presume, that their red hair does not affect them directly, and though I think this answer unsatisfactory, I will pass on.

Beginning on the facing page, the case of the red-haired men, and their relation or not, gets another three paragraphs, amounting to more than a page.

This afternoon I took up The Structure of Appearance by Nelson Goodman, a work published a half century after Bradley's and in a wholly different tradition. On page 4, Goodman discusses the notion of extensional identity:

 We do not require that the definiendum and the definiens agree with respect to all cases that 'might have been' as well as to all cases that actually are. For example, if all and only those residents of Wilmington in 1947 that weigh between 175 and 180 pounds have red hair, then "red-haired 1947 resident of Wilmington" and "1947 resident of Wilmington weighing between 175 and 180 pounds" may be joined in a a constructional definition (assuming, of course, that all terms in the expression taken as definiens have been previously introduced into the system).

I can see that I will have to be on the watch for red-haired men when I read philosophy.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Independent Bookstore Day

Both Powell's and The Strand inform me that today is Independent Bookstore Day. I prefer independent bookstores, and usually buy from them, but don't think I had ever heard of this day.

The way to celebrate Independent Bookstore Day would be to buy a book or books from one or more such bookstores. This I'm usually happy to do. However, a book purchased from an independent used bookstore (Common Crow Books, of Pittsburgh) via Alibris arrived on Thursday and will take a couple of weeks to get through. The next purchase may be mid-September.

Powell's has also declared its independence in another sense, stating that it will no longer sell through Amazon. Given all that has come out about Amazon's business practices, this makes perfect sense to me. I hope that it will not harm Powell's revenues.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Working from Home

 Since the third week of March, I have worked from the dining room table. I have told a few persons that with computers it doesn't matter that much whether one is three yards from a computer or three miles. For the most part, that is the case.

A couple of weeks ago, though, the network connection at the house dropped for several hours. I was able to use a "personal hot-spot" from my phone and continue to work. On the other hand, our chief network administrator lost his home connection later in the week, and found it harder to work.

And one needs electricity. The power in our neighborhood is much more reliable than it was when we moved in. Then an outage of minutes to hours was not unusual; now power cuts out just long enough to reset the clocks and the cable modem. But in the case of a power loss extending to hours, such as we had from Hurricane Sandy, I could work only until my phone and my PC ran out of battery. Back then it was possible to imagine relocating to a city outside of the storm zone. But now one might be suspected to be fleeing quarantine as much as network failure.


Monday, August 10, 2020


 When first I read the Meno and The Anabasis, the identity of Socrates's interlocutor in the first and the mercenary general in the latter escaped me. However, this summer I reread the Meno , and this time paid attention to the editor's foreword, where Meno's subsequent adventures and death are mentioned.

Having done so, I took a look at The Anabasis. The picture of Meno that Plato paints is not especially flattering, somewhere around the average for Socrates's second bananas. The picture that Xenophon paints is considerably nastier:

As to Menon the Thessalian, the mainspring of his action was obvious; what he sought after insatiably was wealth. Rule he sought after only as a stepping-stone to larger spoils. Honours and high estate he craved for simply that he might extend the area of his gains; and if he studied to be on friendly terms with the powerful, it was in order that he might commit wrong with impunity. The shortest road to the achievement of his desires lay, he thought, through false swearing, lying, and cheating; for in his vocabulary simplicity and truth were synonyms of folly. Natural affection he clearly entertained for nobody. If he called a man his friend it might be looked upon as certain that he was bent on ensnaring him. Laughter at an enemy he considered out of place, but his whole conversation turned upon the ridicule of his associates. In like manner, the possessions of his foes were secure from his designs, since it was no easy task, he thought, to steal from people on their guard; but it was his particular good fortune to have discovered how easy it is to rob a friend in the midst of his security. If it were a perjured person or a wrongdoer, he dreaded him as well armed and intrenched; but the honourable and the truth-loving he tried to practise on, regarding them as weaklings devoid of manhood. And as other men pride themselves on piety and truth and righteousness, so Menon prided himself on a capacity for fraud, on the fabrication of lies, on the mockery and scorn of friends. The man who was not a rogue he ever looked upon as only half educated. Did he aspire to the first place in another man's friendship, he set about his object by slandering those who stood nearest to him in affection. He contrived to secure the obedience of his solders by making himself an accomplice in their misdeeds, and the fluency with which he vaunted his own capacity and readiness for enormous guilt was a sufficient title to be honoured and courted by them. Or if any one stood aloof from him, he set it down as a meritorious act of kindness on his part that during their intercourse he had not robbed him of existence.

In the Meno (70e), Meno suggests that being good includes

 ... having what it takes to handle your city's affairs, and, in doing so, to help out your friends and hurt your enemies (while making sure they don't do the same to you)...

Xenophon says of Cyrus that

The prayer has been attributed to him, "God grant I may live along enough to recompense my friends and requite my foes with a strong arm."

Cyrus might well have lived long enough to recompense Meno, but he died of a head wound at Cunaxa. Meno seems to have intrigued with Artaxerxes's agents. Whether for this reason or not, he was not immediately beheaded with the rest of the Greek leaders at Canae; for his pains he got another year of life and maltreatment.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Back to the Park

 On the fourth Sunday of March, we concluded that Rock Creek Park was not a good place to run. The closing of sports leagues, museums, movies, etc. had made Beach Drive even fuller than it usually is on weekends. We had hoped to find room for social distance, but we found crowds for jostling.

Today we went back for another look, figuring that many households leave Washington in August. There were many fewer persons on Beach Drive, but there were still plenty. Few, walking, running, or bicycling wore masks. (I did not wear a mask except on the way down, for wearing it while exercising fogs my glasses.) Still, there was usually room enough to pass or be passed at reasonable distance. It was good to be able to run up Ross Drive from near the police station to equitation ring again. Will we go back tomorrow? I don't know.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

CSIRO and the Golden Age

Among the features of the renewed Golden Age predicted in Virgil's fourth eclogue is pre-dyed wool: the sheep will grow it colored, apparently by managing their diets. Now the Commonwealth Industrial and Scientific Research Organization (CSIRO), Australia's national research organization, has discovered how to grow colored cotton. (No, cotton is not wool; but white must be much the best color for a sheep in an Australian summer.) Will CSIRO show how to produce honey from oaks next?

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Controlling Events

Happening to browse in Peter Green's Alexander to Actium, in the chapter "The Road to Sellasia", I noticed
[Cleomenes] pressured Argos into accepting a garrison and an alliance; he captured Corinth and seemed all too likely to capture the Acrocorinth as well. When he demanded its surrender from Aratus (it still had an Achaean garrison), Aratus replied, and afterwards recorded the reply in his Memoirs, that he "did not control events, but rather was controlled by them," a response that Cleomenes regarded as frivolous, and that angered him into further aggression, this time against Aratus's own home town of Sicyon.
 In the end note, Green refers to Plutarch's lives of Aratus and Cleomenes.

On April 4, 1864, Abraham Lincoln wrote to Albert Hodges a letter concerning the course of his policy toward emancipation, and including the sentences
In telling this tale I attempt no compliment to my own sagacity. I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me.
Had Lincoln encountered Aratus's statement in Plutarch? Apparently he secured and read a copy of Plutarch's Lives after a campaign biography stated that he had read it. (The author made his statement on the grounds that "almost every boy in the West in the early days did read Plutarch"--but did they read all of Plutarch's lives or just the lives of the biggest names?) If in fact Aratus was in the back of his mind, I must say that Lincoln improved on him.