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September 2018

Fragile Dignity

The ethic of respecting human dignity is an essential part of the modern idea.  This author argues for why the concept is fragile and current under assault:

Incidents like the ones in Austria, Northern Ireland and Chicago contradict the contemporary Western dogma to treat every individual in a way that acknowledges his or her worth as a human being, regardless of their port of departure. And yet, this dogma is delicate. Not just because human dignity seems presently jeopardised by some kind of ‘Trump effect’, or even by some broader reawakening of authoritarian sympathies across the Western world. No: the very concept of human dignity is tenuous.

The Paradox of Public Service

I believe Judge Kavanaugh faces a paradox.  

If he is the noble and upstanding person that he and his supporters claim him to be, then even if innocent, he would withdraw because public service means at times making a sacrifice for the good of the Republic.  The people deserve to have trust and confidence in those who serve upon the highest court.  The nation needs people who unite us across our divisions.  

At minimum he should demand a thorough investigation and a slowing down of the process for this to occur.

Because these have not been his reactions, I am left to conclude that he puts his personal ambition ahead of the good of the Republic.  Therefore I find it difficult to believe he is the noble and and upstanding person he and his supporters claim.  He loses credibility.

There once was a time when such republican virtues as self-sacrifice instead of personal ambition were common among those who served our public.  


FlightsFlights by Olga Tokarczuk
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What an odd yet fascinating piece of fiction. It reminded me the most of Borges--an odd amalgam of short pieces with themes emerging the longer you read and a few genuine short stories included. And the tone of the pieces is different, some historical, some absurd, some suspenseful, some morbid, etc. Overall and reflection on our bodies and their movement (or lack thereof) through time and space.

I had read of Tokarczuk in a few places as the hot Polish novelist, then the book won the Man Booker International Prize. When she appeared on the longlist for the New Academy literature prize, I pre-ordered the first American edition of the book. She is clearly a great talent, and I look forward to reading more of her work.

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Rules of Debate

I'm reading an introduction into Eastern Philosophy and I appreciated what I read today of the rules of philosophical debate established by the Naiyayika school in India.  There are 3 types of debate--discussion (vada), disputation (jalpa), and destructive criticism (vitanda).  Here's an excerpt:

Vada is concerned with arriving at the truth through rational discussion. The aim is not simply to win the other party over to your view, but to work through the arguments together.  Even if agreement cannot be reached, the debate will succeed if each party comes to a good understanding of the other's position.  A successful debate is one in which both participants explain their position using the five-membered Nyaya form of argument and without breaking any of the rules of reasoning.

Wow, that sounds really good and constructive.  I wish we had more of that type of public discourse.  And I appreciated these ideas:

This framework for debate was developed to be conducive to the exchange and clarification of ideas.  The respondent is not allowed simply to contradict the proponent's thesis and advance another in its place.  Instead the thesis has to be thoroughly examined in the terms offered by the proponent.  The respondent has to put himself into the mindset of the proponent and appreciate the force of the arguments from that person's point of view.

Drifting Flowers of the Sea

Drifting Flowers of the Sea

by Sadakichi Hartmann 


Across the dunes, in the waning light,
The rising moon pours her amber rays,
Through the slumbrous air of the dim, brown night
The pungent smell of the seaweed strays—
From vast and trackless spaces
Where wind and water meet,
White flowers, that rise from the sleepless deep,
Come drifting to my feet.
They flutter the shore in a drowsy tune,
Unfurl their bloom to the lightlorn sky,
Allow a caress to the rising moon,
Then fall to slumber, and fade, and die.

White flowers, a-bloom on the vagrant deep,
Like dreams of love, rising out of sleep,
You are the songs, I dreamt but never sung,
Pale hopes my thoughts alone have known,
Vain words ne’er uttered, though on the tongue,
That winds to the sibilant seas have blown.
In you, I see the everlasting drift of years
That will endure all sorrows, smiles and tears;
For when the bell of time will ring the doom
To all the follies of the human race,
You still will rise in fugitive bloom
And garland the shores of ruined space.

Inner Voice

A fascinating article on Aeon about research into our inner voice.  This will come in handy when I start Descartes in class in a couple of weeks.

An excerpt:

The roots of the new work trace back to the 1920s and the Russian developmental psychologist Lev Vygotsky, who said the human mind was shaped by social activity and culture, beginning in childhood. The self, he hypothesised, was forged in what he called the ‘zone of proximal development’, the cognitive territory just beyond reach and impossible to tackle without some help. Children build learning partnerships with adults to master a skill in the zone, said Vygotsky, then go off on their own, speaking aloud to replace the voice of the adult, now gone from the scene. As mastery increases, this ‘self-talk’ becomes internalised and then increasingly muted until it is mostly silent – still part of the ongoing dialogue with oneself, but more intimate and no longer pronounced to the world. This voice – at first uttered aloud but finally only internal – was, from Vygotsky’s perspective, the engine of development and consciousness itself.