Synaesthesia--see Beetoven's Fifth

One of the most famous and glorious pieces of music ever!

Where is music? In the physical sounds? In the Platonic forms? In the structures in created by the sounds? 

This video helps us go beyond the sensual music...

This seems to me to be important for epistemology and metaphysics students. The empiricists say that what we perceive gives us true knowledge. But the experience of listening to (perceiving) music seems to raise a question: where is the music? Is it in the score we see here--the visual representation? If all we heard were the sounds without the structure, what then?

Does a musician hear more music than someone who does not know music theory?

Taoist Cosmology

At the center, Yin and Yang. These dichotomous energies (dark, light; centripetal, centrifugal; in, out) swirl endlessly, generating our ouniverse. Each is becoming the other. Note the solid and broken lines. These are used in “throwing the changes,” a form of divination as found in the I Ching. You used yarrow sticks and the patterns showed the state of things and thus could give advice.


Reaching for the stars

The Red Wheelbarrow

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

Take a look at the William Carlos Williams when young. Intensity and Idealism come to my mind. And so his famous "The Red Wheelbarrow." IAt first, the poem seems fixed in empirical reality; the image the poem presents is precise and clear. It is much like Haiku. And there is no commentary.  But the opening line requires us to wonder what it is that depends upon the red wheelbarrow and the chickens and the rain in just this particular arrangement. The poem thus requires us to go in thought beyond the material realm to another realm of being.

I have read that the poem was written as the auther, a pediatrician, was attending a young girl sick sick in her bed with fever. He was looking out her window as he waited to see if the fever would break and this is what he saw.


Hugging in School

A Middle School in New Jersey had a kerfuffle about a directive from
the Principal that students took as, "No hugging in school." In an
attempt to clarify, the principal sent out a voice message saying that
no student would be suspended for hugging, but that hugging can
sometimes be inappropriate and the school wishes to discourage
inappropriate behavior. Besides, school is for academics.

That got me thinking. I don't recall any hugging at St. Agnes in
Arlington, and certainly not in St. Joseph's in Somerville when I went
to these schools. A nun might smile at you now and then, and any
hugging of an actual girl would have to be done in private. A brother
might refrain from bopping you one or scowling and there were no girls
in the school so that settled that. And yes, these schools do produce
students who earn generally superior scores and college admissions in
similar neighborhoods with similar student populations.

Gloria Allred’s Prank Demolished

 The headline blared that “The Gloria Allred Wants Rush Arrested”


“In a letter dated March 8, Allred, writing on behalf of the Women’s Equal Rights Legal Defense and Education Fund, requested that Palm Beach County State Attorney Michael McAuliffe probe whether the conservative radio personality had violated Section 836.04 of the Florida Statutes by calling Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke the two derogatory words.

The statute stipulates that anyone who “speaks of and concerning any woman, married or unmarried, falsely and maliciously imputing to her a want of chastity” is guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree. Allred explained that the statute recently came to her attention as having never been repealed, and that it could very well apply to Limbaugh’s remarks as his show is broadcast from West Palm Beach.”

 In the actual letter, attorney Allred alleges that since Limbaugh called Ms. Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute” he is in violation of the ordinance and the State Attorney should spend tax-payer funds investigating the possibility of crime here.

 Leave asside the irony that Allred wishes to protect Fluke’s right to testify (about her sex life in public in a bid to win a subsidy) by means of completely obliterating Limbaugh’s free-speech rights. That merely speaks to Allred's hypocricy on the topic of civil rights. 

More fun, though is to see her argument itself is devastated and left in shambles by the clever commentor named Thinly Veiled Anonymity posting at PJ Media:

“The imputation of a want of chastity must be false, by the terms of the statute.

Said unmarried woman has testified in front of Congress, by obvious and direct implication, that her chastity is a fiction.”

Some lawyers make irrefutable arguments. Others just grandstand their way up.

Religious insurance

The US Department of Health and Human Services (what is a human
service? what is not a human service? no wonder the federal budget
expands like any balloon and faces the same fate) has issued a policy
that, after a one year grace period, all employers, including
religious groups, must offer their employees health insurance and that
health insurance must cover contraception, abortificants, and
sterilization services or pay a fine. The Catholic Bishops have
declared that they cannot and will not comply with the new regulation.
From their point of view, they are being asked to do something they
deeply consider tantamount to murder. And goes against God's Law.
William Blackstone, the great English jurist upon whose thinking much
early American law was based, maintains in his treatise that any law
that goes against God's is no law at all. Thus, there is the
possibility of civil disobedience: the principled refusal to obey a
law on the ground's that it is negated by higher law.

The Obama administration will argue that this is a matter of employee
rights. Just because you work in a Catholic hospital is no reason you
should not get the insurance that the government mandates for all.
Reproductive services cost money, and these workers should have these
benefits like anyone else.

Some might argue that "contraceptive services" do not belong in ALL
insurance policies. Health insurance is there to cover things that
happen to me over which I have no control. I do not need insurance
against pregnancy if I am male. I do not need fire insurance on a
vacant lot. A celibate does not need insurance against STD. So why is
the government mandating what goes into the mix in the first place?
In a free market, I would be able to find insurance for me, and I
would not have to subsidize others. But the issue under discussion
assumes that the government can mandate for other employers. Assuming
that, can it mandate for churches? (The Supreme Court will soon take
up the question of whether the federal government has constitutional
authority to mandate the purchase of insurance by all citizens under
penalty of fine.)

The Supreme Court recently decided 9-0 that religious organizations
are exempt from federal employment laws when it comes to hiring and
firing within their ministeries. The Obama administration argued that
a church as employer had no more rights than any other employer. ("One
Law for the Lion and the Ox is Oppression"--William Blake). The court
was dumbfounded by this claim, since it amounted to the claim that the
government, and not the church could decide whom a church should hire.
But if the First Amendment means anything at all, it means precisely
that the church must be left alone.

The current policy raises the question, how far does the First
Amendment ("Congress shall make no law regarding an establishment of
religion") go in exempting churches from federal law and regulation.
The court has already said there can be no meddling in the selection
of ministers, teachers, etc. But what about a maintenance worker at
Notre Dame or a receptionist at St. Hilda's Hospital? They are not
involved in sacred duties.

Clearly there are some bright lines. No church should be allowed to
inflict harm on third parties. Religion does not exempt us from
providing appropriate medical care for our children, including blood
transfusions. But an adult is totally free to refuse medical treatment
for religious, or any, reasons.

Many think the new policy will be reversed. The Bishops are not going
to back down. The issue raises passions on both sides. But not just
pro-lifers will oppose it. Those who worry about the ever expanding
reach of the federal government will see the policy as a power grab.
(Already, Rand Paul has written against the new policy from a
libertarian stance. But whether it is or is not, the Supreme Court
will soon have to decide the issue.

What Does a Philosopher Look Like? | Talking Philosophy

What Does a Philosopher Look Like?

From issue 55 of The Philosopher’s Magazine, this is Cynthia Freeland’s essay on Steve Pyke’s collection of photographs, Philosophers.  The table of contents for issue 55 is here. Issue 56 is now available at good bookstores everywhere–table of contents here. 

What does a philosopher look like? The label calls to mind a classical bust of a man with noble brow, beard, and blank inward-seeing eyes. His high forehead conveys deep wisdom, like those super-smart aliens on the original Star Trek with their big-brained bald heads. In art history, philosopher portraits range from the impish-looking Descartes (possibly) painted by Frans Hals to Holbein’s Erasmus, sensitive hands carefully crafting a letter. Or there is the moustachioed Nietzsche painted posthumously by Edward Munch, gazing across a blustery Expressionist landscape. In the twentieth century we acquired iconic images of philosophers through photographs – Bertrand Russell (angular head, white hair, pipe), Jean-Paul Sartre (wall-eyed, thick lips gripping a cigarette), and Ludwig Wittgenstein (handsome and aristocratic). Women philosophers too entered our consciousness, from Simone de Beauvoir with her elegant chignon to the Afro-crowned activist Angela Davis.

But they say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

The Sick Man and the Fireman, a Fable by Robert Louis Stevenson, 1901


            There was once a sick man in a burning house, to whom
there entered a fireman.
            "Do not save me," said the sick man. "Save those who are strong."
            "Will you kindly tell me why?" inquired the fireman, for
he was a civil fellow.
            "Nothing could possibly be fairer," said the sick man.
"The strong should be preferred in all cases, because they are of more
service in the world."
            The fireman pondered a while, for he was a man of some
philosophy. "Granted," said he at last, as a part of the roof fell in,
"but for the sake of conversation, what would you lay down as the
proper service of the strong?"
            "Nothing can possibly be easier," returned the sick man,
"the proper service of the strong is to help the weak."
            Again the fireman reflected, for there was nothing hasty
about this excellent creature. "I could forgive you being sick," he
said at last, as a portion of the wall fell out, "but I cannot bear
your being such a fool." And with that he heaved up his fireman's axe,
for he was eminently just, and clove the sick man to the bed.

By Charity or by Right?

A complex society like ours will always have people who need help meeting life's necessities.  Widows and Orphans, for example.  The handicapped, like people with ADHD.  In one model, Winthrop's model, a decent society (in his case, a Christian society) will take care of the needy as a matter of charity, which means love (L, caritas) and arises in us through the example of Christ. In such a society, those who prosper will thank God for their prosperity and be sure to share with the less fortunate.  The State's role is to take up the slack and provide bare necessities if all else fails.  From the point of view of the recipient, hardly yet a "client," this system has several drawbacks.  For one, the charity may be bountiful or not, but it is not guaranteed.  For another, some of the givers might lord it over the receivers. A person facing hard luck might be made to feel like a moocher or beggar.

The modern, secular state solves the problem by declaring that certain needs provide citizens with natural rights to have them met.  Basic needs like food, housing, education, health, one knows where the list ends....are to be met by the government as a matter of right.  That means that the government will use its coercive powers to get the necessary funds from those able to pay taxes to redistribute to the needy.  From the point of view of the recipient, this system has some advantages.  It is guaranteed.  Your life does not depend on the whims of others.  And since it never was a gift, there is no need for gratitude.  You need tip your hat to no one.

But is the modern system an improvement?  Or does it erode the virtues necessary for a republic or democracy to endure?  Take the case of gratitude.   Where once the receiver of largess owed and felt a debt of gratitude (else why does gratitude exist?) he or she now feels no gratitude, since whatever is received is received by right.  (Never mind asking whence this right.)  I am entitled to my salary because I earn it and have an agreement with my employer about what I will provide and what I will receive.  Since I try to do a good job, I feel am entitled to the money.  It becomes my property and I enjoy full property rights in it. I feel virtuous about my salary.  It is mine. If, however, I slacked off a lot and short-changed the job, I would not be able to feel the same way.

When one thinks about how some snobs looked upon and treated the poor and the working poor, one must conclude that the modern approach is a great improvement.  It attempts to confer dignity and to introduce order and coherence. As Isaiah Berlin had it, the Constitution lists only negative freedoms (what the government may NOT do to you) but we can conceive positive freedoms (the right to do or have something). European socialist societies moved to meed more and more of these positive freedoms by government action, but now that the money is drying up, and we see a slow down and reversa in Europe. Here, the argument runs, we are moving ever closer to the failed models of Eurpope, the PIGS nations (Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain--all in deep, deep financial trouble).

The down side of the modern as opposed to the tradition way is that it gnaws into private charity. (President Obama would like to delete the tax deductions for charitable giving in the Federal Tax Code, thus effectively reducing what is done privately and increasing what is done by government officials when it comes to good works.) It is a truism that no free society can endure where the people are not virtuous.  Any republic assumes the virtue of its citizens. Policy which reduces this public virtue is suicidal. 

But it is not clear if current policy does reduce virtue.  I am still puzzling.  But I do remember that Plato pointed out that in a democracy (not a republic) "teachers fear their pupils."  Seems to have come true.  And not that long ago even a good New York liberal like Daniel Patrick Moynihan knew that (to paraphrase from memory) "welfare destroys the recipients." (But he always voted to increase it.)

It's a hard one.

A Fable from Robert Louis Stevenson


Once upon a time the devil stayed at an inn, where no one knew him, for they were people whose education had been neglected. He was bent on mischief, and for a time kept everybody by the ears. But at last the innkeeper set a watch upon the devil and took him in the fact.

The innkeeper got a rope's end.

"Now I am going to thrash you," said the innkeeper.

"You have no right to be angry with me," said the devil. "I am only the devil, and it is my nature to do wrong."

"Is that so?" asked the innkeeper.

"Fact, I assure you," said the devil.

"You really cannot help doing ill?" asked the innkeeper.

"Not in the smallest," said the devil; "it would be useless cruelty to thrash a thing like me."

"It would indeed," said the innkeeper.

And he made a noose and hanged the devil.

"There!" said the innkeeper.