I propose to say no more on the subject of recent allegations. I wanted to avoid it from the beginning, for many reasons. But public accusations were made and I had to say something or else be supposed to have nothing to say.
A fascinating tournament overall, despite the absence of Andy Murray. Phenomenal semi-final between Nadal and Djokovic. Today's final had Nadal in top form and Ferrer finally in a final. Nothing much Ferrer could do against the Nadal hurricane. He just played amazingly well (I like his new slice). He gave his usual modest speech, with his raised eyebrow, and his brave English. Uplifting.
Now I have to go and play myself.
Maxim: if you can be misunderstood you will be. My talk of "the genius project" was (of course) tongue-in-cheek. I am not a genius. I am not sure the concept makes much sense in philosophy. Nor was I trying to make the student into a genius. The idea was to try to encourage intellectual quality and originality. Irony, remember. I conceived the "genius project" as an experiment: try out various ideas and see what works. A mundane part of it was to reserve a part of each day, preferably the early morning, for thinking through one's own ideas without reliance on texts of any kind. Another part was insistently asking the question: "Is this really true?" about some contemporary canard. I see nothing sinister or weird in this.
Epater les bourgeois
My cultural heroes are: Oscar Wilde, Bertrand Russell, Vladimir Nabokov, Jean-Paul Sartre, Philip Larkin, Kingsley and Martin Amis, Peter Cook, John Lennon, and Larry David (among many others). What they all have in common is the quality captured by the French phrase “epater les bourgeois”, which the OED defines as “shock people regarded as conventional or complacent”. We might paraphrase this in a number of ways: taunt the prudish and prim, ridicule the conventional and boring, outrage the pious and conformist. The cultural tradition that falls under this description sees itself as in favor of art, freedom, creativity, spontaneity, playfulness, life, and experience; it casts itself as standing against stifling social norms and dull conformity. It is given to provocation, controversy, and shock tactics. Accordingly, it is often pilloried and persecuted, and of course misunderstood. It does not see itself as against morality as such, but it does view conventional pieties with a beady and skeptical eye. It is on the lookout for hypocrisy, dogma, intolerance, suppression, and sheer dullness of spirit. These to me are admirable values that I try to bring into my own life. I am particularly fond of provocative irony, which has got me into trouble on more than one occasion (especially in irony-deficient America). I am often amazed that people fail to see the irony in this or that utterance of mine.
I trust readers will see the relevance of these remarks to current events.
I have been pleased (but not surprised) to receive a lot of support from women. They seem to grasp the whole situation with greater clarity than many men out there. Why? I suspect it is partly because they understand the varieties of human relationships better than men; they appreciate the subtleties and nuances of different kinds of affection between people. They have greater emotional and imaginative range than (many? most?) men. The male mind tends to be crude (in several senses) and dichotomous. Also, I get the sense that they think in less stereotyped ways about interactions between people. Hypothesis: women have a better “theory of mind” than men (speaking statistically). Then too, many men simply project their own attitudes and motivations onto others—this is what they would do in such-and-such a situation. Thus they suspect the worst, sans evidence. In any case, I have been impressed and moved by the good sense and decency of many of the women with whom I have been in contact.
I have never once reached for the phrase “complete fool” to describe a woman, but with respect to men I find myself using it quite frequently.
This digit is a fine upstanding member of the manual community, with many beneficial uses, though it must be admitted that some dubious employment has been made of it. The Order has attempted to discourage such employment, and certainly we do not allow it among our membership. In any case, no prospective member of the Cult should be put off by any regrettable misuses of the fingers indulged in by those with little respect for our manual heritage. Devotees of the hand I salute you!
People say travel broadens the mind. But this is not quite accurate: the experiences one has while traveling do the broadening, not the mere displacement of one's body through space. But then it is the mental aspect that constitutes the benefit. And presumably this has to do with the richness and novelty of the experiences and thoughts that physical travel occasions. But couldn't one have just such beneficial experiences and thoughts without physically moving? Couldn't the mental adventure of travel be duplicated by staying put and adventuring mentally. It is said Kant never traveled from his home time of Konigsberg, but in fact he traveled very widely--in his own mind. Kant was a world traveler! Intellectual stimulation, or aesthetic experience, or moral refelction (and living), are all forms of mental travel. The dull-minded traveler learns little from hurtling through space, but the stationary thinker whose mind is free can learn an enormous amount. What broadens the mind is mind travel.
Reading Martin Amis's perceptive essay on Anthony Burgess's Clockwork Orange in today's New York Times made me wonder about the influence of that novel on my novel Bad Patches. Alex is a gleefully evil character who narrates his own depravity in unforgettable prose. My antihero Dave also narrates the less spectacular story of his merely poor character--in what I hope is pungently memorable prose. But Alex is no purebred yob: he is a passionate devotee of classical music, which works its way into his violent acts. The uneasy relationship between art and morality is disturbingly probed. Similarly my Dave is a visual artist, from whom we might expect loftier things--he is not just an outright selfish prick. Also Alex and Dave traffic in dark and dangerous humor, which also highlights the even more uneasy relationship between morality and humor. Was I writing another version of Clockwork Orange without being aware of it (Cockwork Blue)?
Human intelligence--including complex language, advanced tool use, and elaborate social organization--is clearly among the most powerful adaptations ever to evolve on planet earth. So why is it unique to the human species? One would think that such a powerful set of traits would be extremely useful to almost any species, yet no others have evolved these traits. Why? In other words, why have evolved brains always been so small compared to ours? Why, say, have our primate relatives not evolved our level of intelligence? Suggestions welcome.
On reflection, I may have been a bit hard on you yesterday. I realize we have something in common: we are both "athletic" legends. You performed the "double double" by winning those four races in successive Games. I have performed the "double triple" in the intellectual Olympic games. Yes Usain, my friend, you are not the greatest of all time--I am. What am I talking about, you ask. Well, in 2011 I performed the triple, by publishing three books more or less simultaneously (for full documentation see the Oxford University Press catalogue). But in 2012 I have performed another triple--with three books finished and in the works. So, Usain, you need to match that to catch me. I am surely the greatest philosophical sprinter of all time! (Admittedly, two of my events involved books already semi-completed, so I didn't run from scratch, but technically I ran within the rules.) You still have the relay but that's just an anthology, not all your own work. So I hope you acknowldge your second-place status in future. (And no, I will not run the 400 meters.)
I was as thrilled as anyone to see Usain Bolt resoundingly win the 100 and 200 meters events. But is all the crowing and self-adulation really necessary? Why does he have keep calling himself a "legend" and the "greatest ever"? We all saw him do it. Since when did modesty become so passe? I much preferred the demeanor of David Rudisha who was also astounding in the 400 meters. There seems to be some strange insecurity in Bolt, and maybe a hint of paranoia. Congratulations, Usain--but cut the big-headed crap, please!
The Manifesto is a tongue-in-cheek parody with a serious message. It is connected to work I am doing on the role of the hand in human evolution. This has been explored by paleoanthropologists but not by philosophers. Specifically, what is the role of the hand in the origin of language? Can we give a gradualist account of this by examining the hand as it evolved in early human history? Tool use plays an important part.
The Cult is for those who have been struck by the hand and see in it a proper object of wonder.
The Prehensionist Manifesto
(This document states the main tenets of the Cult of the Hand. All members of the cult are expected to conform to these principles. Formally, the cult is referred to as the Gripparian Order.)
We seek to promote greater hand consciousness
We advocate manual cultivation, arboreal therapy, and brachiation training
We believe in prehension science and are strict evolutionists
We preach hand reverence
We encourage hand intimacy, but not hand promiscuity
We are in the grip of the grip
We deplore hand neglect and hand repression
We thank nature for the gift of the hand
The thumb and forefinger are objects of special reverence
Our prophets are Charles Darwin, Charles Bell, and John Napier
We foster hand virtue
We think the hand is a thing of beauty
All hands are created equal
We contemplate the hand every day
We never take our hands for granted
We observe the hands of others
We prefer writing to speaking
We support an active hand life-style
All fingers are important
Hand communication is encouraged
We practice special secret hand greetings
We think the hand jive was cool
We leave casts of our hands after death
We worry about the decline of the hand in the modern world
We view tools as extensions of the hand
We classify species according to their prehensive profile
We regard the brain as secondary to the hand
We have intense hand discussions
We teach our children hand anatomy
We believe that pointing is profound
Hand exercise is mandatory
We do everything to avoid cold, numb hands
We believe that a flexible hand is a flexible mind
We regard the intellect as an extension of the hand
We tolerate pan-prehensionists but this is not official doctrine
We admire gibbons greatly
We sing praises to the hand
We favor eating with the hands
We esteem the feet because they are the platform of the hands
The muscles of the forearm are fascinating to us
We believe that anatomy is destiny
We regard the body as essentially prehensile
We regard speech as a fall from grace
We reserve a special compassion for those who have lost their hands
We are entranced by trees
We abhor “glad-handing”
We find hand holding extremely romantic
For us the hand has a halo around it
We view the mouth with some suspicion
We see nature as the Great Chain of Prehensive Being
We feel the foot is misunderstood
We collect hand trivia
We admire hand erudition
We disapprove of hand exhibitionism
Our central metaphor is the grip
At wedding ceremonies we say, “You may now hold the bride’s hand”
We have private hand gripping sessions
Shaking hands is taken very seriously
We feel a kinship with apes
Kissing the hand is permitted but not encouraged
Calling someone “handy” is a great compliment
We see no distinction of status between the power grip and the precision grip
We think philosophers have wrongly ignored the hand
In the beginning was the hand-deed
We despise the phrase “hand job”
We believe that capitalism has led to proletarian hand alienation
We think it is bad manners to grab things
We have long arguments about hand etiquette
We regard the hand as corruptible but not corrupt
We are ambivalent about gloves
We are a secular organization but we applaud hand worship in moderation
We support hand pride initiatives, but deplore hand vanity
We feel that musicians are basically good but at risk of hand abuse
We accept that man is nothing without his opposable thumb
We oppose hand oversimplification
We give out hand achievement prizes, especially to children
We invest in hand education
We believe the hand is more trustworthy than the tongue
We climb trees at weekends
We regard fingerprinting as an invasion of privacy
We are continually astonished by the hand
We do not permit hand plastic surgery, except for medical reasons
We are working to create a hand museum and university
One of our highest honors is to be designated a “Keeper of the Hand”
We wash our hands in a spirit of holiness
Violence with the hand leads to immediate expulsion from the Order
Anyone wishing to become a member must pass a simple test in pointing and gripping
We approve of prehensional meditation but it is not mandatory
We believe mind and body are united in the hand
We are a not-for-profit organization dedicated to improving hand wellbeing globally
We do not favor one hand over the other
We believe that 10 is a special number
We are critical of thumb idolatry, though we understand it
We give our children names like Palm and Index and Grippa
We call Sunday Thumbday
We reject the term “pinkie”, preferring “precious”
We treat the back of the hand with the same respect as the front, though it has no name
We have an annual hand poetry prize
We repudiate all hand superstitions
We maintain that the hand is epistemologically fundamental
We love the words “squeeze” and “grasp”
We stage brachiation contests
“I grasp, therefore I am”
Some of us refrain from applause because it is a form of hand slapping
We are working on improving hand nomenclature
We engage in hand sensitivity training, sometimes involving animals
We are suspicious of conventional notions of hand beauty, such as slender fingers
We have convened a special commission to consider boxing and other martial arts
We envisage a hand utopia
We are ambivalent about card tricks
We feel that everyone should work on his or her power grip, no matter how elevated
We memorize hand figures of speech
We conduct remedial hand appreciation workshops for those who need them
Our official icon is a picture of the thumb-index circle
We dream of the platonic form of the hand
We are very careful with kitchen knives
We think Michelangelo was onto something in the Sistine Chapel
We are interested in hand anthropology but believe in hand universals
We have doctors dedicated only to hand ailments
We have special hand holidays and celebrations
We regard ourselves as the only sane cult in the world
We are impressed by the hand theme in the life of Jesus of Nazareth
For us divinity exists only at the tip of the arms
We esteem all forms of prehension but we reserve a special place for the manual kind
In the hand we glimpse the infinite
We believe we were created in the image of the hand
We reject the notion of an immaterial hand
Man is a manual animal, a res manipulans, a digital soul
But we also know that we must trim our nails
(Membership of the cult is open to all, as long as the above precepts are adhered to. No exceptions permitted. Good gripping!)
I just finished a student textbook on philosophy of language, based on my regular lectures. It goes through the classic articles by Frege, Russell, Tarski, Davidson, Kaplan, etc, giving detailed expositions, with close attention to the text. I have found that other introductions to philosophy of language have not been satisfactory, either because they are too superficial or because they are too technical for the average undergraduate. I wonder what other people think: do they know of any current texts that explain philosophy of language adequately to students?
What can I say that is provocative enought to kickstart this blog? I know: Wimbledon! It is is going to be fascinating, no doubt about that. I think Sharapova will win the women's. On the men's side, I think Federer will either go out early or win. I'm predicting Djokovic vs. Murray in the final (neck way out there). Djokovic wins. But more important than any of that I think we will see some of the best tennis games ever played. There's something in the air there this year. As for myself, I have the new Babolat Aeropro, as used by Nadeal, so there'll be no stopping me. Provocative enough?
I just heard (from Tom Hurka) that Bernard Suits' brilliant book The Grasshopper was turned down by several academic publishes before being taken up by Toronto University Press. One wonders what level of blindness and mediocrity could lead p[eople to make such a decision. It seems that any degree of real originality will meet with rejection by those with editorial power. Lately I've found myself complaining about this a lot. A review of my recent book Truth By Analysis contrives to ignore the core of my book, which is very indebted to Suits, preferring to grind ideological axes about conceptual analysis and the supposed merits of "experimental philosophy". So he is still being neglected by dimwits and ideologues. Depressing. All I can do is recommend the book enthusiastically to anyone with a functioning brain and an open mind.
Here is a link to my new book, recently published on Amazon Kindle, and now available in print: Bad Patches.
I wrote the novel Bad Patches back in the mid-eighties on a typewriter. I made some attempts to publish it but no takers. It sat around for almost 20 years. Meanwhile the internet came along and with it ebooks. Recently I had it put into electronic form and then I revised it. To my surprise I discovered it is possible to publish such books oneself through Amazon. So I decided to do that. The service is actually free and the book goes on one's author page. It can be dowloaded to Kindle or a computer and it can be bought in paperback form. The price is very low. So no need to go via traditional publishers. The only issue is publicity--people need to be told it exists. I'm very interested to see if it finds any readers, and what they think. A commercial publisher has to make a big financial investment to put out a book, so it needs a substantial audience. But a book like mine is unlikely to appeal to a wide audience and might be enjoyed by only a few hundred people. In self-publishing the book I can reach that precious few hundred. This is quite a fascinating experiment in book publication. Let me know what you think. (You can also read the first couple of chapters for free.)
I'm wondering if I should revive this blog. Is anyone interested in my doing so?
This is to announce that I just published a novel, Bad Patches, on Amazon. It can be bought and dowloaded on Kindle and Mac computers for $3.99. I'm interested to see how this mode of publication will work.