Plato’s weekend suggestions

readingsHere it is, our regular Friday diet of suggested readings for the weekend:

Philosophers comment at two public conferences and get into trouble for their remarks.

Why on earth should anyone study philosophy? And yet, they should.

A deconstruction of the history of deconstruction (with a rather oblique and questionable defense of Derrida).

Three values of the humanities: they make for a better life, are useful for employment, can help save the world.

The unmasking of Elena Ferrante is a blow to the silly idea of cultural appropriation.

Did the Marquis de Sade anticipate contemporary office dynamics? 

22 thoughts on “Plato’s weekend suggestions

  1. Robin Herbert

    In order to defend Derrida, wouldn’t we be first obliged to devise a theory of defense? But how could we devise a theory of defense unless we could first mount a defense of theory? So the whole project of defending Derrida is defeated at the outset.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Robin Herbert

    I don’t think conference organisers should have to spologise for one of their key speakers saying that homosexuality is a disability any more than if he had said that an ostrich was a marsupial or that the value of pi was exactly three.


  3. SocraticGadfly

    On the philosophers’ conferences, I think there’s different issues. The second was explicitly a Christian philosophers’ event. For organizers and others to NOT expect a comment like that from a conservative Christian philosopher like Swinburne is kind of dumb itself. To apologize makes them look dumber yet.

    On the first, they shouldn’t have apologized for Shelby’s original comment. But, I can see an apology for his later dismissal of his interlocutor. On the third hand, this was also a specialized conference, and organizers surely knew at least something of what Shelby was about.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. SocraticGadfly

    The humanities can help save the world … per the piece, not alone. Per my thought, only within a broader left-liberal change in affairs of the world which look at some root problems of capitalism.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Thomas Jones

    I’ve already commented in the FaceBook page of Plato’s Footnote on the piece about Elena Ferrante and generally agree with Socratic’s remark/question above.

    The IHE article for a layperson like me had a gossipy tone to it that I found unappealing. But I appreciate both Robin’s and Socratic’s remarks on it.

    I enjoyed Daniel Johnson’s article and found it informative. I had never heard of Nolte, but felt Johnson spent too much time on him and it seemed to overly skew the article as a whole. A couple of reader’s comments following the article capture my thoughts:

    Jan Sand: “I find this a very odd article which seems to agree that philosophy is valuable but lays out evidence that even prominent current philosophers seem steeped in prejudice and ignorance.”

    Frank Williams: “This is not just a philosophers’ problem – a good many academic fields have the same problems.”


  6. synred

    The Sade piece is over-the-top. Dis-anal-ogous. ‘Poor old Murat’ from ‘The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade’


  7. Thomas Jones

    I’ve never read anything by Derrida, but I did watch a longish interview with him on TV years ago. I thought he managed to be both trivial and pretentious simultaneously, but I think I’m simply temperamentally unfit to appreciate Deconstruction. When I received my MA in the 70’s, it was just starting to make some headway into literary studies, but I was already all-in with the so-called New Critics and haven’t the slightest desire to pursue deconstructionist approaches to literature.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Massimo Post author


    On Ferrante: I haven’t read any of her books, but my partner has, all of them. She thinks Ferrante is both a great writer and quite accurate in her portrayal of her characters and situations. I was pretty well convinced by the article that the “unmasking” isn’t really a big deal (though it isn’t “journalism,” in my book), and that it may actually help against this nonsense of “cultural appropriation.”

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Thomas Jones

    John McCumber’s article in CHE is challenging and worth some random thoughts. First, this:

    “A person who knows some Shakespeare and Plato, or who has some acquaintance with Bach and Canaletto, will live a happier and more interesting life than someone who does not.”

    Really? My father was illiterate by today’s standards, but from a practical vantage he put his skill sets to better personal use than I have put my many years of education with heavy emphasis on the humanities. But perhaps in hindsight I only romanticize him and underestimate the advantages that came my way because of my education. Still and all, it seems to me that my father, who lived to be 97, was a happier man than I am in my 70’s. And, by my own and others’ accounts, he led an interesting–even fascinating–life.

    It seems to me almost a truism to say that individuals cease to grow both physically and intellectually at varying points in their lives and for myriad reasons. But there is truth in s McCumber’s statement, “For humanity doesn’t just exist; it has to be created, over and over again.” So perhaps, the humanities prepare us in this process by encouraging an openness, a flexibility, and a curiosity about other lives and other cultures. I never gave up on my father, and as we grew older, he opened up to my persistent questions. He was a natural born story teller, but I had to get him started. And then I could listen for hours to his oral history, filled with characters and events drawn with exquisite detail. I’m sure others here have had similar experiences.

    Liked by 4 people

  10. SocraticGadfly

    Of course, the average student isn’t getting a college major in philosophy, so … what philosophy to study? What philosophers? What issues in philosophy?

    Of course, that itself is at least a partially philosophical question.

    It’s in the set of all philosophical questions about philosophy that do not ask questions about themselves.

    I occasionally bring that set to a gentle boil in Russell’s Teapot.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. wtc48

    Thomas Jones: “But there is truth in McCumber’s statement, ‘For humanity doesn’t just exist; it has to be created, over and over again.'” That pretty well nails it, to me; I think it’s important to distinguish between our evolution as animals and the far more rapid evolution of our culture (encompassing the history and intellectual/technical activity of all peoples), which makes lifelong education, in the broadest sense, the most vitally necessary function of human society. In this sense, however the academic world divides up its material, science is just another aspect of the humanities.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. ejwinner

    I must admit that I found most of the readings this week, while interesting, rather light weight.

    Perhaps the weightiest was the history of Deconstruction in America, because that story has not been fully told. But there is no doubt that by the ’80s New Criticism had run its course, and Deconstruction offered a text-generative (i.e., publication favorable) reading methodology just as powerful, and still respectful of literature, despite its undeniable negativity. That is, the poetic text was still important, even if it now necessary to find some epistemological ‘abyss’ in it.

    It was probably the last time that poetry still mattered in the Academy. Now literature studies is simply a chase after a vanishing shadow.


  13. Thomas Jones

    wewanttruthsara, just read a bit of your link and can’t tell whether you’re spoofing with stuff like this: “It is sociopathic in its willingness to turn language on its head.” Or, “It is credulous and sycophantic towards the phallic power of the academy, even as it pretends to undermine such power; rather it wields it with the rapacious joy it pretends to oppose.”

    (Okie Dokie.)

    Liked by 1 person

  14. epweissengruber

    A suggestion for weekend reading in logic. “Logic and Rhetoric in England, 1500-1700,” by Wilbur Samuel Howell [ ] discusses a significant change in thinking during that period. What I found striking was how close Logic and Rhetoric were tied at one point, and how a turn towards the production of new knowledge took place in a humanistic discipline, and without explicit reference to contemporaneous advancements in mechanics, mathematics, astronomy, or experimentation.

    It was surprising to see how different the logical categories used during this period differ from what I took to be self-evident. No IF, AND. No opposition, negation. No is/is not. It is less about specifying a state of affairs than a “true” or “correct” procedure for bringing an audience to a reception of the truth. And not just an argument that is free from internal inconsistencies. Logic at the start of this period is more an art of systematic argumentation than a demonstrative science like mathematics. And “discovery” means the un-covering of prior wisdom or certainties rather than encounters with new phenomena or relationships or theories.

    I quote Howell at length as an an example of how to talk about the historical specificity of intellectual constructs in a jargon-free but intellectually rigorous manner. Reading writing like this is a genuine pleasure. Here is Howell on Thomas Wilson’s “Rule of Reason” (1551).

    “Invention … involves a plan for the systematic discovery of subject matter. If it be suggested at this point that the discovery of subject matter normally precedes its arrangement … the reply is that the same line of reasoning occurred to [Thomas] Wilson and the other scholastic logicians … Wilson justifies himself for placing judgment before invention by saying that you have to know how to order an argument before you seek for it, and that anyway ‘a reason is easlier found then fashioned.’ This attitude is a significant phenomenon in intellectual history. It really is a way of saying that subject matter presents fewer difficulties than organization, so far as composition is concerned. A society which takes such an attitude must be by implication a society that is satisfied with its traditional wisdom and knows where to find it. It must be a society that does not stress the virtues of an exhaustive examination of nature so much as the virtues of clarity in form. … the great shift which occurred in men’s thinking between 1500 and 1700 was in part a shift from the preponderant emphasis upon traditional wisdom to the preponderant emphasis upon new discoveries, and this shift is nowhere better illustrated than in the transition from Wilson’s belief in the relative ease of discovery to the modern belief in its relative difficulty.”

    I am still trying to figure the extent to which changes in pedagogy and in writing may have be contributory to the “great shift” prior to the discoveries of the 1600s (Descartes, Newton) and the philosophy of Locke.

    Have a good weekend.


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