Monday assorted links


1. To me the most compelling reason to read old philosophy is the concern for the soul and the "non-material" in them.

Philosophy post Hobbes / Machiavelli has totally discounted the soul, and focused exclusively on materialism. This has inevitably bred movements of atheism, moral relativism, where there are no real standards of good and evil, excepting a quest for equality in attainment of material riches, which is deemed desirable as an end goal.

What is a good life? What uplift the soul? What constitutes evil? These questions are completely ignored by atheistic liberal philosophy.

I think you and most people commenting on #1 did not read the article. The author is questioning why one should read the original material, as it was written by the original philosopher, rather than a textbook summary or secondary source.

Bonus trivia: if you want to read Aristotle, in the original, you should learn ancient Greek, like J.S. Mill and those 19th century philosophers did.

Ray is right about the actual article and what it is saying.

However, taking the question in 1 at face value... shrikanthk is spot on.

Correct, the question is poorly put, as the question the article is actually addressing has nothing to do with whether the philosophy is "old" or not. One could just as easily ask why read original material rather than a summary of that material, regardless of the age of the source material. This could apply to modern mathematics or biology papers just as easily as it could to philosophy. And that seems like a pretty easy question to answer - you get a much deeper and more thorough understanding of the subject when you wrestle with a full blown exposition than you would through a summary, which is bound to overlook and oversimplify the subtleties and difficulties in the subject matter being explored.

"What is a good life? What uplift the soul? What constitutes evil? These questions are completely ignored by atheistic liberal philosophy." - on the contrary I would say that these questions can only be debated if you are an atheist. If you are religious the answer is clear - it is whatever your god or your sacred text say. Maybe what your god or sacred text says could be debated, but not the question itself.

Nope. The very idea of distinguishing between virtue and vice comes from a religious impulse.

In the absence of it, everything is relative. You make up your own rules, and rationalize. Anything goes.

Science is value-free. Science is amoral. Science doesn't tell you if reading MR is a superior pastime to watching porn. Science would say the two activities are morally equivalent.

I grew up in a Christian tradition. One of our pastors had a bedbug. His sermons and prayers warned us and asked God's protection from the secular humanists?

Why? I think the answer had to be that they had just the sort of moral values the religious say they cannot, but without religion.

Dangerous stuff.


It is not true that only atheists can have these debates...

You should reread the medieval scholastics (for example the great Thomas Aquinas) who sought to integrate Greek philosophy with Christianity... Thomas in particular framed most of his works in the form of question, answer, best critiques, final response... because his writing was based on the medieval debates occurring in the great universities of the day.

Just because fundamentalists (almost always of the Protestant variety) are closed minded towards science and rationally arrived at truth, doesn’t mean that all theists (and Catholic Christians in particular) are such.

As well, for an Islamic take... see the great Avicenna or Averros on these matters.

I know of only two people who converted to Catholicism (in contrast I know dozens of people who were raised Catholic but lapsed or rejected it after childhood). Both were I think attracted to the Roman Catholic church's emphasis on inquiry and logic.

But shrinkanthk's strawman description of secular philosophy is laughable.

How is it a strawman?

Science is value free. No two opinions on that. Liberal Enlightenment philosophy celebrates science. And hence is also value free. The only values it is capable of are simple homilies like -

"Peace .....make love not war"
"Freedom...Rights of man"
"Equality - all men are equal"

These are OK, each of them is debatable in my view. But there is more to a virtuous life than equality, peace, and freedom.

What does liberalism have to say about courage? About sacrifice? About austerity? About passion? About suffering? About prudence? About temperance?

Zilch. Zero. Nada.

I think we have to be conceptually agnostic here, if we aren't going fall into the trap of Christians agreeing publicly, while less publicly, or on a different day thinking you are going to hell.

In an agnostic sense, aren't there actually a broad range of partially compatible, but tangibly incompatible ideas in strict religious interpretations of morality.

"Science is value free. No two opinions on that."
False. Science values truth over falsehoods. If you believe in the phlogiston theory of fire, then you are wrong, thermodynamics is right.

Shri, you usually leave better than average comments here but you often overreach and its obvious where your knowledge ends and your ignorance begins. A prudent man would generally stop before that point, but whatever you were taught about prudence is clearly not working.

Thermodynamics being right isn't a value. It's a fact. Science is concerned with facts yes. It values facts yes. But I am talking about values here. Not incontrovertible facts.

Is ambition a good thing? Or a not so fine thing? Does science give you an answer? No

Is it ethical to eat meat? Or not? Does Science have an answer? No

I have 30 minutes of free leisure time today evening. Should I read MR? Or should I watch porn? Does science have an answer? No

I have $10K to splurge this year end. Should I go to Thailand and have fun? Or should I go to my hometown and spend good time with my aged parents? Does Science have an answer? No.

Science is helpless in these matters. So is reason! These questions I posed are religious questions!

"This has inevitably bred movements of atheism, moral relativism, where there are no real standards of good and evil."
Well, who cares? You can worship this devil or that one. Whatever works. As long as Satan promises worldly success. You can just re-invent religion to justify the leaders power-hunger. There is no Truth. What was Truth then is not convenient anymore. So you just have to pretend there is such a thing as Hinduism (actually is just a set of disparate devil cults unrelated to the Vedas).
"Excepting a quest for equality in attainment of material riches, which is deemed desirable as an end goal."
As opposed to the quest for looting one's brothers and sisters. Let us just say it is not ascetic virtue which keeps the enslaved masses of India poor. It is their masters.

"What constitutes evil?"
Why, worshipping the real God. That is why India's fanatical Hinduist regime persecutes Christians.
Let us be blunt, left to their own devices, Eastern "civilizations" are just savage superstistions and preying on one's brothers. Eastern "civilizations" are as much civilized as they slavishly imitate the West. Which explains their inferiority complex. Satan is the imitator, the second-hand, second-rate being, the Pretender. So are his followers.
The history of civilization is the
history of the West. The history of the West is the history of the rise of reason and empathy. It is the history of morality and science themselves. Those who would like to prey on their brothers undisturbedly ressent Western civilization. The Western civilization was the ONLY one to recognize that human beings have some unalienable they can not be deprived of, no matter how convenient it could be for rulers and lords. The moral superiority of the West is overwhelming. That only makes the inferiority complex of the savage worse - has Satan deceived him? Will the constant droning about pagan virtue ever be translated in a higher moral? Well, we know the answer, don't we?

"excepting a quest for equality in attainment of material riches"
Yes, however this way of society has proven to have an unrelenting run of success. On the other hand, theocracies like Iran, and the rest of the mid-east are unmitigated disasters. If you want to be flat broke but "rich in spirit" fine. I won't stop you but me I prefer worldly success.

1. I find the question surprising, possibly because anyone raised in a church is primed for "old philosophy" from the git go.

Though I suppose I asked myself this in my youth, and my answer was that the machinery is old. Introspection on the machinery by the machinery would be done early, and why not well?

It's not like we are any smarter.

#7 - legalizing sports betting: since chess is a sport (say most people, it's still not an Olympic sport yet, sadly) then we should see more chess betting in the USA going forward. IMO this will popularize the royal game.

>chess is a sport


Chess is a sport... hahaha

When I studied philosophy at Toronto in the 70s you could specialize in the history of philosophy (e.g. Aristotle) or problems (e.g. epistemology).

'Why do people read old philosophers to learn about philosophy? '

Well, why do people still learn old math? After all, who really cares about Euclid or Pythagoras in this shiny new modern age, where our geometry textbooks are full of ... oh.

Worth a Bertrand Russel quote - 'At the age of eleven, I began Euclid, with my brother as my tutor. This was one of the great events of my life, as dazzling as first love. I had not imagined that there was anything so delicious in the world.' - Bertrand Russell (1883)

And would anyone be foolish enough to ask why do we read ancient literature? Or would Sophocles with a Go-Pro just be too silly to imagine when talking about Antigone?

You didn’t read it. His question was: why read Pythagoras in the original Greek to learn the Pythagorean theory?

That’s a good question and I’m not sure I find his answer completely satisfying. Many people read the Greeks, but not thoroughly enough to achieve the insight he suggests.

That Sophocles Go Pro reference just passed you by, didn't it? You know, riffing off the part where he was talking about the skater Aristotle.

What I was mainly responding to was this - 'If we want to learn physics we read a physics textbook. As far as I know, the story is similar in math, chemistry, engineering, economics, and business (though maybe some other subjects that I know less about are more like philosophy).'

The point about original language is certainly there, but it seemed a bit bolted on to me. At least in comparison to the whole Aristotle on a skateboard part - 'An old work of philosophy does not describe the thing you are meant to be learning about. It was created by the thing you are meant to be learning about, much like watching a video from skater-Aristotle’s GoPro. And the value proposition is that with this high resolution Aristotle’s-eye-view, you can infer the motions.' To an extent, I think this is deeply, deeply flawed perspective. We generally do not read Antigone for insight into how Sophocles wrote tragedies, after all.

We read Antigone because it describes something real that allows further insight into the human condition, at least potentially. Its age (and let us be honest, its staging is thoroughly outdated by modern standards) is not really the point.

I read the article - you are free to disagree with any and all interpretations concerning it, of course.

I may add that philosophy was something I only took a couple of classes in. But when it comes to the idea of catharsis, for example, (not learned in a philosophy class), the point was not about Aristotle per se, but his thinking in Poetics. Before this article, I would have assumed that philosophers approached Aristotle roughly the same way as someone studying Greek tragedy, That is, to understand Aristotle's ideas (many clearly wrong), and where they have led over thousands of years.

Maybe I was being too charitable in my own assumptions?

In addition to added value attained from readings in the ancient languages - Greek, Hebrew, Latin, ancient philosophy, literature, drams, and etc. should to be read with the proper context and background knowledge, i.e., not projecting 21st century sensibilities on the ancients. That would likely overcome the deficiencies in not reading texts in the ancient languages.

Read CS Lewis on the value of old books

#3 - sad signaling by economists as to their favorite book, citing (ugh) Samuelson, as expected. One person cited the excellent "The Worldly Philosophers" by Heilbroner, written for the layperson. My favorite econ book was "New Ideas from Dead Economists, written by Todd G. Buchholz, is an introduction to the history and development of modern economic thought, originally published in 1989".

Bonus trivia: ever notice how economics rarely progresses beyond the textbook level? I was surprised to see this as I learned more about economics. Basically all research, all advanced material, with maybe game theory being an exception or statistical stuff like VAR, are nothing more than attempted validations of Econ 101 principles. And when you consider money is largely neutral, prices are largely not sticky, there's little money illusion in today's information rich society, and inflation is largely not a problem (pace hyperinflation), you realize most of macro economics is essentially a fraud. Which explains why you don't get more 'advanced' over time: there's no 'there, there' in economics.

I am currently reading a very interesting econ book called: The Ponzi Factor by Tan Liu.

He argues that the stock market is basically a ponzi scheme. Profits are only generated from other stock investors and not from the company. In other words stock investors are gambling just like bettors on horse races.

Best economics book I've read for years.

Yay for Heilbroner ("The Worldly Philosophers"). He was not only a model of clear writing, he eventually proved to be capable of clear thinking when, late in life (after the fall of the USSR), he gently renounced his former Marxist orientation for ordinary western liberalism. An honest man, whose prose is a model for all who would hope to write well.

It would have been more to his credit had he not been deceived by Socialism in the first instance.

The really smart people saw through Soviet Socialism in the first instance. By the 1930's enough evidence of famines and purges had amassed for an attentive observer. And frankly, after 1956 all reasonable people should have figured it out. If you waited until post-1968 then you had really already missed the boat, but better late than never.

But to wait until 1992! Good grief, how obtuse can men be? (Plenty, of course, but the lesson here is that even 'smart' people can be catastrophically wrong on a subject they would presume to be 'informed' by).

#7b: I wonder if this will lead to more point shaving in college sports? Professional sports seems likely to have fewer problems, I'd think, just because those guys make enough legit money that the risks probably aren't worth the reward. I could be wrong, though. Enough NBA and NFL players have blown through all the money they made that near the tail end of their careers....

It will very obviously lead to more crime, but as long as it sucks more money from the poor to the government, the Dem states will trample each other in the race to enact it into law.

5. Should this have been called "Time for a little game theory.."?

This particular game makes sense when the chief executive's decision cycle really is mediated by television news. When, if you can believe it, he and Hannity talk on the phone each night.

To riff on Jay Rosen, there is no Whitehouse, not in the conventional sense.


Philosophy: a muscular exercise of throat, jaw, tongue, and brain.

A definition as apt for pre-Socratic cognitive efforts as apropos to the attainments of our beloved post-Cartesians.

As someone who has a PhD in Philosophy and teaches it to college students, I can say that I'm not enamored with forcing my students to read primary sources. I actually give them more secondary reading than primary because I can say, honestly, that all my years of being forced to read primary sources were quite wasteful. I learned, but I could've learned a lot more if it'd been a lot more reading of secondary commentaries and more straightforward explanations of these philosophers ideas and arguments. Right now, after years of education, I read those primary works I was forced to when younger, and they're so much clearer now, but that's because I've accumulated the huge amount of background knowledge necessary to make sense of them. I know this for certain because I've been spending the past couple years trying to improve my understanding of Classical Chinese philosophy, and the primary texts are so difficult for me. I really have a hard time making sense of the Zhuangzi, for example. It's because I don't have the background knowledge, and I've been working at building up that background knowledge, but not by looking at the primary texts but by reading commentary and annotation.

Hence, if you want my answer as to why philosophy professors force their students to read primary texts, I would say the main reason is tradition. That was how they were taught, so that's how they teach their students.

Generally correct. On the whole I think primary texts should be read by people in graduate school. Physics undergrads don't read Newton's _Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica_ (except maybe at a few colleges that specialize in a Great Books curriculum), anatomy students don't read Galen.

But at the other extreme, literature students do and should read Sophocles and Shakespeare.

Economics undergrads usually don't read Keynes' _General Theory_ but they're more likely to read at least some of Adam Smith's _Wealth of Nations_.

Sociology students and political philosophy students might very well read Marx; anthropology students might read Frank Boas. I don't know if biology students read Darwin but my guess is that most do not. I'm guessing that most math students don't read Euclid though they presumably learn about his axioms and proofs (at least we did in high school geometry), so that's another example of studying the canonical research -- but not actually reading it.

And yet millions (billions?) read the Bible, the Talmud, the Koran.

Look, I'm not saying people must read original sources, but I think the main subtext of the question was a sort of "but we're smarter now" framing. That comes from a more godless upbringing, and a belief in modernity.

Anyone brought up with Bible Study is not going to be surprised at Aristotle Study.

Didn't Richard Rorty once say something about how a philosopher isn't defined by what he does (seek truth), but rather by what tools he was given to seek truth with? In the case of philosophy, those tools are whatever a person can get from having read a pretty common set of old texts.

#7 - legalizing sports betting

uhh, and remind us again why betting is generally illegal in America ?

(luv those state lotteries-- government run gambling is always an angelic public good)

uhh, and remind us again why betting is generally illegal in America ?

I'd imagine it's due to a kind of Baptists and Bootleggers coalition.

I think that before an economics of Rational preference came on-line, society was much more Behavioral. Babtists, prohibitionists and more outlawed behavioral/moral "dangers."

We are going far in the opposite direction now.
Neal Stephenson, Diamond Age, predicted a new Victorianism ('Vickys') as the response.

But perhaps not quite yet.

Nevada will probably legalize cocaine to keep people coming.

Why read old philosophy?

Because Leo Strauss told me to.

#6: Mainly demonstrates the shallowness of journalists and MSM.

Here is a quote from the article: "The most deeply festering grievance is land, which in Ethiopia is all state-owned and – as one of the country’s few natural resources – a key faultline in the country’s politics."

If the state owns all the land, why does anybody need compensation? This of course is a bit tongue in cheek, but one must question a journalist that casually mentions there is no private real estate ownership, and then seamlessly jumps to discuss compensation for takings of something the possessor didn't own in the first place!!!

One would expect the state would simply slide the boundaries of land assigned to various families, to make the construction as equitable as possible.

My second beef with this journalist, and most that report on such conflicts, is the extreme laziness! I didn't see a single example comparing voluntary exchanges of land for money, and a comparison between market price, and the compensations received for similar land.

I did not find much in this article either, but I don't think I'll make the mistake of judging all journalism by it.

Possibly the simple message is that the Chinese Belt and Road initiative is not likely to be all happiness.

Not judging all journalists? Perhaps this one is slightly worse than average, but not by a lot. There is an enormous amount of innumeracy among the ranks of journalists.

You know the saying about lawyers, "It's the 90% that give all of them a bad reputation!"

It's the Grauniad. No happy stories allowed, especially if it involves poor, helpless black people without agency and white saviours.

I read the whole article trying to find out if the railway is profitable or, not. Instead, there was just a succession of general whining and sob-stories from people who felt they were owed something with no central theme.

1. But we don't have any original manuscripts of Aristotle's texts, only copies of copies of copies of copies made long after his death. The same is true of the New Testament. Yet, scholars learn Greek in order to read the copies we have in the language in which the texts were originally written. What scholars will acknowledge is that the original texts were changed, and changed many times, sometimes intentionally and sometimes not. When I see faithful Christians reading and re-reading every word in the version of the New Testament they have, I always wonder if they are even aware that what they are reading is likely very different from the original text (and, course, in a different language, English, from the original, Greek). Why study the New Testament if it differs from the original text?

It doesn't differ as much as you think from the original text. What we've learned from the Dead Sea Scrolls and other less ancient copies of the Old and New Testament, is how little the text they had thousands of years ago varies from what we have now.

The Bible displays some scribal screw ups, but readers have spotted them and worked them into their understanding over the years. Whatever you can say about the Bible, it's not an example of the game "telephone", where a phrase gets screwed up as its whispered from player to player.

Translation, of course, is another matter. The biblical translations and copious notes of Robert Alter should be of interest.

Read the comment section to see Proggers accusing Republicans of being Pro-Choicers! Hypocrisy everywhere when it comes to the two religious political parties in the U.S.A.!

3: Pretty good list, the only one that I strongly disagree with is the last one, Hamermesh choosing "Murder at the Margin". The crime solution only works if we assume that people know and use economic principles, and the book continually treats the Caribbean as a dark mysterious alien environment; someone who'd spent even a month there would've been able to offer actual insights and in-depth observations.

"The Fatal Equilibrium" is a far superior book, written by the same authors. The villain makes a mistake precisely because they do not know economic principles, and the authors are writing about an environment that they do know a lot about: tenure decisions at research universities.

#2: For the same reason that Rembrandt, Mozart, Bach, and Les Miserables remain popular. Anything that seriously approaches the Soul and the eternal is interesting. Modern art and philosophy has ignored the soul, to their continuing irrelevance.

4. Biblioburro

Good idea. Ayaan Hirsi Ali said she was inspired by Nancy Drew mysteries. Books are good.

Is Marginal Revolution superior to reading "Average is Over", "The Great Stagnation" and "Entrepreneurial Economics". Are those books superior to reading "Modern Principles 4th edition by Cowen and Tabarrok". Is that book superior to reading Cournot, Keynes, Rothbard, etc.

1. At first I considered that Tyler might be trolling us at Caplan’s behest. Why read philosophy? Why read anything for that matter? Perspective and form. From Bach to Shostakovich. From Cezanne to Picasso. From Pushkin to Tolstoy. Young artists copy the masters until a spark brings creation. Philosophy is built in a similar fashion. From Hegel to De Beauvoir.

Newton began in the theoretical toiling at Cambridge like a madman consumed with his proofs, much like an artist. If he had never cobbled together his brilliance we might have remembered him as great mathematician. From Newton to Planck to Schrodinger. Physics, chemistry and other natural sciences employ a greater level of empiricism but theory is a cornerstone. Countless theories clutter the cutting room floor and when a young scientist follows their spark they must inevitably wade through the debris towards creation.

Ultimately, the value of each of these artists is in how I incorporate their perspective to form my own. Like puzzle pieces that each of us arrange in different configurations to map our minds. Aristotle on a skateboard.

3. Why read old economics literature? From Adam Smith to Keynes. Perspective and form.

4. I am grateful for the public libraries that enabled my learning. I wish the biblioburros a larger herd, yummy scraps, and long lives.

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