On Anaxagoras' Hand
It’s undeniable, though, that Anaxagoras’ position has triumphed and that we are his children. In our secular worldview, shaped by five hundred years of experimental science—whose unstoppable development is in great measure a consequence of its distancing itself from religious dogma—it is more plausible that a series of slight variations and mutations determined the specific morphology that has allowed human beings to exercise control over nature than to posit a master plan of intelligent and supernatural design that preordained our physiology to help us become the dominant species. In spite of this, anyone tempted to conclude that the matter has been settled for good should bear in mind something that Sir Thomas Browne wrote in the 1630s: ‘As though there were a metempsychosis and the soul of one man passed into another, opinions do find after certain revolutions, men and minds like those who first begat them.’ The position of Aristotle and Galen, of Vesalius and Bell, the notion that there is metaphysical purpose to everything in nature, a grand plan running its course harmoniously and inexorably, might be swimming through underground tunnels, or hibernating in the most hidden crevices of the reigning cultural paradigm, but it’s still there, alive and well, waiting for future instantiations. This should come as no surprise. Whether we are the dominant species because we have hands or we have hands in order to be the dominant species is, really, another formulation of the question about the purpose of our existence in the world. If we push it we’ll see that ultimately it pertains to our mortality, our most fundamental relationship with the world, and whether or not what we see and touch is all there is.

Pablo Maurette, "The Children of Anaxagoras," Lapham's Quarterly - laphamsquarterly.org/roundtable/children-anaxagoras. Interesting article on philosophical and religious views of the hand's relation to human being. As the author hints, there are more recent concomitant debates along the lines of Aristotle and Anaxagoras. For instance, it seems to me that their differences are transposed in Derrida’s critique of Heidegger in “Geschlecht II: Heidegger’s Hand.” In brief, the difference between Anaxagoras and Aristotle is cited by the author above in Aristotle's On the Parts of Animals as follows: “Anaxagoras says that man is the most intelligent of the animals [x] because he has hands [y], but it would be better to say that he has hands [y] because he is the most intelligent [x].” I have added the x and y symbols to better track how this might map onto Heidegger and Derrida. The key is to see how the emphasis on language in twentieth century philosophy changes the inflection of how hands are related to human intellect. For instance, Heidegger thinks that the distinctive feature of human being (Dasein) is our use of language. We might say he reiterates Aristotle's side of the argument as follows: we have hands that point and write [y] because we are human-language-animals [x]. Hence, Heidegger thinks that only human beings have hands in this sense. In contrast, for Derrida, we are human-language-animals [x] because we have hands that point and write [y]. I have intentionally oversimplified their views slightly here. In particular, Derrida thinks that language already includes an abstract capacity to signify or point beyond itself. This aspect of language results in his neologism différance. So he does not think that hands cause language-being so much as that language, following Saussure, already includes what hands do, i.e. pointing and writing. There is an abstraction in language independent of particular human beings. In my view, this makes Derrida more open and better able to apprehend technological development. There is much debate today about the degree to which Derrida remained too enamored with the legacies of Saussure (Brandom) much more Kant (Miellassoux). In any case, it seems to me that, like Anaxagoras, Derrida nonetheless ends up with a less anthropocentric view of hands better able to apprehend the possibility of 64,000 year old Neanderthal cave paintings cited in the article above as well as contemporary animals that can use sign language and tools.

On The Roots of Writing
As a writer of nonfiction, I can’t help but love writing’s roots in enumerating concrete objects and reality itself. The textual analyst part of me loves how Mesopotamian tokens were wrapped in clay envelopes after being impressed on the soft exterior – perhaps clay-wrapped tokens of meaning give rise to the notion that text is both a surface and an interior, and that that’s what leads us to talk so relentlessly (in English and other languages) about what is ‘in’ a given text. The poet in me wants to repurpose the heavy thumb of authority’s use of writing on behalf of the powerless. The linguist in me recognises the cognitive significance of the layers of writing’s invention, none of which the brain was evolved to do specifically but with which we have co-evolved. And as a partisan of text, I know its deep history won’t ever be erased.

Michael Erard - aeon.co/essays/the-roots-of-writing-lie-in-hopes-and-dreams-not-in-accounting. A very helpful summary of recent histories of writing's origins in religious and poetic human interests rather than government bureaucracy. "Over and over, what we see is that writing is more like gunpowder than like a nuclear bomb."

On Atheist Prayer
Yesterday I visited Auschwitz. I knew it wold be an intense experience, and I was also aware that I didn’t quite know how... What does it mean, then, for an atheist to pray? For this atheist, yesterday, I was deeply, emotionally connecting to the suffering of the Jewish children kept in concentration camps by Nazis, and to the Latinx children kept in detention centers by my own government. I couldn’t fully experience the suffering and grief on its own. I had to feel some kind of hopefulness in order to feel the grief. The hopefulness wasn’t rational. It had no direction. It wasn’t conceptual or articulated. It represented no path forward or strategy. But it was there, and it was deeply necessary for the experience of human connection. For me, yesterday, there was no other way... Visiting Auschwitz taught me many things yesterday, but I think this was the most important. Even if one doesn’t believe in God, or in eternal souls, or life after death—as I don’t—there is still a place for prayer. Sometimes we need to experience hopefulness even if we don’t have a good reason to. We need it in order to fully experience the suffering and tragedy that is an unfortunate fact of our lives. The alternative to a life without prayer for me is not a more “rational” one where I only believe and am motivated by the facts, for I cannot truly grasp the facts without prayer. They are too horrible to look at all on their own. And so I pray.

Lisa Miracchi, "Some Reflections on My Visit to Auschwitz - or - On the Possibility of Atheist Prayer." This is a valuable reflection on how to cope with suffering by a philosopher at University of Pennsylvania. It seems to me that it is contextualizing two issues. Firstly, whatever your beliefs, religious or otherwise, honestly facing human cruelty can overwhelm. In particular, caging children is morally horrific. The detention centers at Auschwitz are in that sense similarly appalling as more recent examples reported from United States and Australian political life. With regard to the detention centers in Nauru, United Nations officials have "demanded the Federal Government reconsider its offshore processing policy as concerns about detainees' mental health grows." In the US, Elizabeth Warren, herself a former law professor at Harvard University, recently described the United States immigration detention centers as warehouses "filled with cages. Cages for men. Cages for women. Cages for mamas with babies. Cages for girls. Cages for boys." Miracchi's essay on Auschwitz speaks to the horror many of us felt after reading Warren's eyewitness account. It is also fresh on many of our minds given the US Supreme Court's decision that also set current immigration policy in the context of WWII era US internment of Japanese people. While the court upheld a revised US travel ban, it also overturned the 1944 Korematsu vs. United States decision. Justice Roberts wrote that it "was gravely wrong the day it was decided, has been overruled in the court of history, and —to be clear—‘has no place in law under the Constitution.'" Secondly, Miracchi's essay persuasively suggests that prayer has meaning for people who hold many different beliefs. It should give pause to those that depict irreconcilable clashes between atheists and religious people. Many people seek out practices that enable hope to flourish in their lives. These are necessary for the long term work needed to find practical alleviation of suffering wherever we find it. Prayerful people in diverse democratic societies may yet find surprising new ways to build coalitions that respond to the rise of cruelty.

On Illumination
[Arendt’s] defense of the dignity of politics provides a critical standard for judging the situation many of us find ourselves in today, where the opportunity to participate, to act in concert and to engage in genuine debate with our peers is being diminished. We must resist the temptation to opt out of politics and to assume that nothing can be done in face of all the current ugliness, deception and corruption. Arendt’s lifelong project was to honestly confront and comprehend the darkness of our times, without losing sight of the possibility of transcendence, and illumination. It should be our project, too.
On Transparency
The rise of fake news has been attributed by some to the emergence of postmodern thought. Victor Davis Hanson, a scholar at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University wrote in 2017 that fake news can be ‘traced back to the campus,’ specifically to ‘academic postmodernism,’ which Hanson says, ‘derides facts and absolutes, and insists that there are only narratives and interpretations.’ That’s not quite right. The insistence on the primacy of narratives and interpretations does not involve a deriding of facts but an alternative story of their emergence. Postmodernism sets itself against the notion of facts just lying there discrete and independent, and waiting to be described. Instead it argues that fact is the achievement of argument and debate, not a pre-existing entity by whose measure argument can be assessed. Arguments come first; when they are successful, facts follow — at least for a while, until a new round of arguments replaces them with a new set of facts... This wholesale distrust of authoritative mechanisms leads to the bizarre conclusion that an assertion of fact is more credible if it lacks an institutional source. In this way of thinking, a piece of news originating in a blog maintained by a teenager in a basement in Idaho would be more reliable than a piece of news announced by the anchor of a major network. And, again, what has brought us to this sorry pass is not the writings of Derrida or Foucault or any postmodern guru but the twin mantras of more free speech and absolute transparency.

Stanley Fish, "'Transparency' Is the Mother of Fake News," The Stone, NY Times. Interesting summary of technological ideology today. Fish at least makes the case that philosophical emphases upon the deliberative context of information is not tantamount to the relativistic production of "fake news." This distinction is important to keep in mind when considering the relation between facts and opinions, as did Hannah Arendt in the 1960s context of her essay "Lying in Politics." For a recent film dramatization of those events, The Post, went some way to highlighting how a free press's standards of authorship cannot be extricated from political authority tout court. In any case, these issues are particularly important for political deliberations concerning religion, where the diversity of interlocutors can be extreme. While underdeveloped at times, pragmatist approaches to that issue provide much needed support for those interested in the persistence of democracy. Jefffrey Stout's Democracy and Tradition is a key primer to that end.

On Arguments for the Existence of God
In philosophy generally, decisive ‘knock-down’ arguments against any claim are rare. You can challenge the reasoning of an argument and say that a conclusion doesn’t follow, but the idea of definitively settling once and for all a question like whether objective morality exists seems almost unthinkable. But there seems to be a real bias against the idea that we can even discuss the possibility of God as being on the table at all.
— Charles Styles
Yes, there is a kind of double-standard here. It’s a double-standard that you find not only among New Atheist writers but even, unfortunately, among some academic philosophers. In virtually every other area of philosophy, even the most notoriously bizarre arguments and ideas are taken seriously, such as: How do I know that the table in front of me is real and not just a dream? True, there are almost no philosophers who would take seriously as a live option the idea that the world of our experience is a complete dream or hallucination. But, certainly, every philosopher would say that whether or not we think for a moment that the conclusion is plausible, we need to take seriously the arguments for that conclusion and examine them, see what might be wrong with them, and also consider how a radical sceptic may defend himself against our criticisms.
Philosophical ideas are generally treated as if they are always still on the table. They are always worthy of our consideration and discussion and maybe there’s some aspect or hidden wisdom behind the argument that we haven’t yet noticed.
— Edward Fesser

"The Best Books on Arguments for the Existence of God: Recommended by Edward Feser" - https://fivebooks.com/best-books/arguments-existence-god-edward-feser/

On Kant's Categorical Imperative
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how, in the Enlightenment, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) sought to define the difference between right and wrong by applying reason, looking at the intention behind actions rather than at consequences. He was inspired to find moral laws by natural philosophers such as Newton and Leibniz, who had used reason rather than emotion to analyse the world around them and had identified laws of nature. Kant argued that when someone was doing the right thing, that person was doing what was the universal law for everyone, a formulation that has been influential on moral philosophy ever since and is known as the Categorical Imperative. Arguably even more influential was one of his reformulations, echoed in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in which he asserted that humanity has a value of an entirely different kind from that placed on commodities. Kant argued that simply existing as a human being was valuable in itself, so that every human owed moral responsibilities to other humans and was owed responsibilities in turn.
On Truth
From time to time, not very often, it looks as though the world has given philosophy a job to do. Now is such a moment. At last, a big abstract noun – truth – is at the heart of a cultural crisis and philosophers can be called in to sort it out... In whichever guise we encounter truth, it has the curious property of being everything and nothing to do with us. To say something is true is to say that it is the case whether I want it to be so or not. Nothing can be made true by will alone. It is an all-too common nonsense to say that something is “true for me” but might not be for anyone else. At the same time, what is important about the truth is always relative to the knower. The mathematician, the scientist, the artist, the historian and the religious believer are not always concerned with the same truths or the same aspects of truth. Truth is not relative, but we relate to it in innumerable ways.

Julian Baggini, "Truth? It's not Just about the Facts" -https://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/public/post-truth-philosophers/. My current work on Hannah Arendt is addressed to these difficulties concerning a plurality of people recognizing each other's interests in public. My contention is that by focusing on the conditions of recognition some progress can be made on these matters.

On Helplines
Welcome to the Philosophy helpline. If you’re looking to write a college paper, or hope to impress your date, or see life as a featureless void empty of all hope, or our most common answer, ‘all of the above,’ you’ve come to the right place…For Descartes, please press (1,0,0). You have pressed it, therefore you will be connected to him. But who is it that is really doing the pressing? Is it possible to press the act of pressing itself? All that is certain is that you exist, that I exist, and that your call may be recorded for quality assurance purposes.
On the Perception of Time
I’m particularly drawn to the work that is done in the lab on perception of time, because I think that has the ability to make rapid advances in the coming years. For example, there are famous experiments in which people apparently make free decisions at certain moments and yet it’s found that the decision was actually made a little bit earlier, but their own perception of time and their actions within time have been sort of edited after the event. When we observe the world, what we see is an apparently consistent and smooth narrative, but actually the brain is just being bombarded with sense data from different senses and puts all this together. It integrates it and then presents a consistent narrative as it were the conscious self. And so we have this impression that we’re in charge and everything is all smoothly put together. But as a matter of fact, most of this is, is a narrative that’s recreated after the event.

"Where Did Time Come From? And Why Does It Seem to Flow?" - http://nautil.us/blog/-where-did-time-come-from-and-why-does-it-seem-to-flow. Interesting interview with a physicist on the nature of time. Of note is that his response to the question on recent advances is philosophically oriented towards the phenomenology of the perception of time. For instance, Paul Ricoeur's Time and Narrative seems particularly apropos. 

On Ricouer's Influence
Paul Ricoeur is one of those continental philosophers you have to read with a dictionary in one hand and a strong coffee in the other (‘difficult to categorise’, as one reference work gently puts it). So he’s an unlikely candidate for providing the material to halt the march of populism in Europe. Yet his most famous student Emmanuel Macron is being credited with doing just that, having secured an election victory that has calmed nerves in Brussels and Berlin after the UK’s Brexit vote. Precisely what Macron will deliver remains unclear but there’s no doubt he has been heavily influenced by Ricoeur, with whom he worked for two years before leaving academia and becoming an investment banker.

"Paul Ricouer: The Philosopher Behind Emanuel Macron" - http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/paul-ricoeur-the-philosopher-behind-emmanuel-macron-1.3094792. Interesting reflection upon Ricoeur's Ideology and Utopia, and other various connections with Macron's thought. A few years ago I'd written on this aspect of Ricoeur's work in an essay on "Utopia and the Public Sphere."

On Tautologies
A couple times a week, I hear someone remark ‘It is what it is,’ accompanied by a weary sigh. I always puzzle over the expression a little bit, thinking What else could it be? ‘It is what it is’ is a literal tautology, an apparently needless repetition intended to convey something more. Overused, it has become a cliché, reflecting a too-easy acceptance of bad situations... Likewise ‘If it’s late, it’s late’ can imply nonchalance (on the part of a student: If it’s late, it’s late. Who cares?) or reinforcement of the obligation (on the part of the professor:If it’s late it’s late, even by a minute). And if a deadline-enforcer says ‘If it’s late, it’s late,’ the response might be ‘But it’s not late late.’ Here repetition indicates that the canoncial meaning of late it intended.It’s not late late, it’s just a little late.

Edwin Battistella, "How to Use Repetition," https://blog.oup.com/2017/06/repetition-linguistics/. Relevant advice apropos end of semester essay deadlines.

On Manchester

A note of solidarity with a place I once called home. This mosaic is a much beloved city icon nestled into the corner of Afflecks on Tib and Short Street.

Many of you won’t have ever been to Manchester, but you will definitely have heard of it. It’s famous all over the world for so many wonderful things. Great football teams: Man City, Man United. It’s famous for incredible music: Oasis and Joy Division. It was the birthplace of the leader of the suffragettes. It’s the home of the inventor of the first computer. It’s a place full of comedy and curries and character.

James Corden's Message to Manchester - https://youtu.be/I2xoCFGTi6w

On Today's Library of Alexandria
When the library at Alexandria burned it was said to be an ‘international catastrophe.’ When the most significant humanities project of our time was dismantled in court, the scholars, archivists, and librarians who’d had a hand in its undoing breathed a sigh of relief, for they believed, at the time, that they had narrowly averted disaster... It was strange to me, the idea that somewhere at Google there is a database containing 25-million books and nobody is allowed to read them. It’s like that scene at the end of the first Indiana Jones movie where they put the Ark of the Covenant back on a shelf somewhere, lost in the chaos of a vast warehouse. It’s there. The books are there. People have been trying to build a library like this for ages—to do so, they’ve said, would be to erect one of the great humanitarian artifacts of all time—and here we’ve done the work to make it real and we were about to give it to the world and now, instead, it’s 50 or 60 petabytes on disk, and the only people who can see it are half a dozen engineers on the project who happen to have access because they’re the ones responsible for locking it up.
On Bayes' Probability

Interesting summary of Bayes' probability theorem. "Bayes' theorem tells us how to update our beliefs in light of new evidence, but it can't tell us how to set our prior beliefs. And, so, it's possible for some people to hold that certain things are true with one hundred percent certainty, and other people to hold those same things as true with zero percent certainty. What Bayes' theorem shows us is that in those cases there is absolutely no evidence that anyone could do to change their minds. And so as Nate Silver points out in his book The Signal and the Noise, we should probably not have debates between people with one hundred percent prior certainty and zero percent prior certainty because, well, really, they'll never convince each other of anything." - https://youtu.be/R13BD8qKeTg. Importantly, the notion of belief cited here is similar to that of Immanuel Kant's holding to be true [Fuerwahrhalten]. Andrew Chignell's essay, "Belief in Kant" is quite helpful in this regard, https://philpapers.org/rec/CHIBIK-2.