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December 24, 2016

[Notes from 2008.] Reading Susan Sontag’s Against Interpretation, and Other Essays. It’s wonderful to think that the publication (in 1966) of a book full of critical essays like this could have been seen as an important cultural event. What a different time that was from the present! Norman Mailer said that the Sixties were the only time he had ever felt like a human being.

The ti...

November 20, 2016

[From 2008.] Reading Oliver Sacks’s Awakenings, which is about his experiences with post-encephalitic, Parkinsonian patients. It’s a good book, full of good thoughts and superb writing. Sacks emphasizes, as against his colleagues, that Parkinson’s disease is an existential rather than a purely neurological illness. It affects the whole being and not just the body; it is holistic...

July 16, 2016

Over the years I've taken copious notes on various topics of philosophy. In case anyone is interested, I'll link to several sets of such notes here. First, here are reflections on Roger Scruton's history of modern philosophy, with more extended thoughts on Wittgenstein's famous "private-language argument." 

Second, I wrote notes on George Novack's Marxist history and critique of p...

May 31, 2016

[Old notes.] Reading The Problems of Philosophy (1912) by Bertrand Russell. I’m inclined to agree with most of it. (In a lot of ways I’m basically a Cartesian. That’s supposed to be incompatible or in tension with being a Marxist, but I’ve never understood why. Sure, Descartes tended to emphasize the individual and Marx the collective, but I see no logical inconsistencies between...

January 22, 2016

[Excerpt from this book.] There are delights and dangers in adopting a broad perspective on oneself and one’s society. Looking at the “big picture” can either electrify or paralyze one’s will. The latter possibility is obvious, given, for example, the big-picturesque horrors of global warming and capitalist global pollution. Oceanic garbage patches the size of continents, slums t...

December 13, 2015

[From an email.] Jerry Coyne does not impressme [in this talk], although at least he seems less irrational and annoying than Daniel Dennett. Surely he's right to be an incompatibilist on the issue of free will vs. determinism, since the idea of self-control (free will) manifestly contradicts the idea that one's acts are determined by factors outside one's control, such as environ...

November 8, 2015

[Some notes I took a while ago. They may be kind of obvious, but I think it’s interesting to adopt something like Hegel’s perspective on himself and on other modern thinkers, and to use this to explain why they’ve resonated so much.]

Descartes had world-historical significance insofar as he was the most perfect manifestation of modernity’s impulse to reject the past and begin anew...

September 10, 2015

From Peter Marin: “Kant called the realm of [human] connection the kingdom of ends. Erich Gutkind’s name for it was the absolute collective. My own term for the same thing is the human harvest—by which I mean the webs of connection in which all human goods are clearly the results of a collective labor that morally binds us irrevocably to distant others. Even the words we use, the...

July 30, 2015

It’s a cliché but it’s worth repeating: one cause of modern loneliness is the attitude of treating people as means to an end, namely happiness. “If a person doesn’t entertain me or stimulate me,” people implicitly think, “I’ll end my relationship with him.” Relationships have become conditional on stimulation and the achievement of satisfaction. But what’s needed is commitment. Y...

June 22, 2015

(This is the sequel to the blog post "From the Greeks to the Enlightenment." From my book Finding Our Compass.) 

Nietzsche ridiculed the Socratic equation “reason = virtue = happiness,” calling it “weird” and decadent, but in fact one can consider Nietzsche’s ridicule itself to be weird and decadent. It is of a piece with his inability to see the value of the altruistic Christian...

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