Dark Buddha with Hollyhocks

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Okay, let’s admit it: there’s not much to post about in the middle of this lazy, hazy, crazy summer. Congress has decided to prolong the agony on health care legislation. The cable news shows have descended further into mindlessness (did you see how they hyped the “Beer Summit”?). Summer movies (need I say more?). And I’m working on some philosophy papers that only a very few folks will ever be interested in reading. So, at least for the moment, this is the best I can do-

Dark Buddha with Hollyhocks

Buddha-With-Hollyhawks

Sotomayor Speaks!

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After all the inaccurate paraphrases and simple misrepresentations of Sotomayor’s views (I’ve heard at least 5 different paraphrases of her ‘wise Latina’ comment on news-ertainment shows, each of which set up straw women to knock down), it’s refreshing to hear the judge speak for herself – I was beginning to wonder if she had a voice at all. C-SPAN has particularly good live coverage on the web, including here.

UPDATE: Well, Senator Kyl just finished his inquisition of Judge Sotomayor concerning the “wise Latina” comment, and I must say that he gave her every opportunity to adopt the inoffensive interpretation of the philosophy behind the comment that I suggested in a previous post on this subject. She, however, did not go that route here (although she set forth a similar interpretation elsewhere), insisting instead that her comment was just an instance of rhetorical excess. Here’s the end of their exchange, although I think it’s best viewed in the context provided by the previous several minutes [I’ll post the whole thing if it becomes available – meanwhile, here’s a transcript that includes the whole exchange. To find the relevant portion, search for the phrase ‘a legal basis’]:

While I disagree with Kyl on most issues, I think his concern about Sotomayor’s remarks has a sound basis. Sotomayor might as well be honest about having been influenced, at least in her abstract academic views, by a sort of multicultural relativism that has tended to be promulgated in many humanities and social science departments over the past few decades: one that verges on being anti-white and anti-male, and not just pro-diversity. However, my own concern is mitigated by the fact that – as Sotomayor herself repeatedly stresses – there seems to be no evidence of her actually having applied those views in her judicial decisions.

A Way With Words

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I’ve found that even avid fans of public radio have often not heard one of its most educational and (I think) entertaining shows: A Way With Words, hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, examines the many quirks English. Here’s an edited list of topics covered on the last show.

Why do aviators say “roger” to indicate they’ve received a message? A pilot phones the show about that, “wilco,” and similar language.

For some golfers, the phrase “go golfing” is as maddening as a missed two-foot putt. The proper expression, they insist, is play golf. A longtime golfer wonders whether that’s true.

Quiz Guy Greg Pliska has a game called “Odd One Out,” the object of which is to guess which of four words doesn’t belong with the rest. Try this one: dove, job, polish, some.

“Yo!” Why did people ever start using the word yo! to get someone’s attention? Grant explains that in English there’s mo’ than one yo.

It’s one of the biggest grammatical bugaboos of all, the one that bedevils even the most earnest English students: “Is it lie or lay?” Martha shares a trick for remembering the difference.

How are things in your “neck of the woods“? And why heck do we say neck?

Grant explains the connection between “sauce” and “don’t sass me.”

Why do some people pronounce the word “wash” as warsh? Martha and Grant discuss the so-called “intrusive R” and why it makes people say “warsh” instead of “wash” and “Warshington” instead of “Washington.”

A Way With Words can be heard on many public radio stations (often at odd times, such as early Sunday morning), and the podcast is available on the web site linked to above, as well as on iTunes.

Bert and Ernie Strike Again

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Sorry, I couldn’t resist posting this. (Once you’ve had a good laugh or 10 with this, you need not sit through the whole thing… fast forward to the end and put yourself out of your misery).

Blame Charles. He posted it first.

Wednesday Night With Alan

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Here’s an entertaining excerpt from an Alan Watts lecture (which can be found at the start of the podcast entitled “Images of God”) in which he talks about what he thinks should be the foundation of philosophy, and takes a little dig at professional analytical philosophers like myself-

It has become extremely plausible [in our culture] that this trip between the maternity ward and the crematorium is what there is to life. And we still have going into our common sense the 19th century myth, which succeeded the ceramic myth in Western history – I call it “The Fully Automatic Model”: Man is a little germ that lives on an unimportant rock ball, that revolves about an insignificant star on the outer edges of one of the smaller galaxies. But on the other hand, if you think about that for a few minutes… I am absolutely amazed to discover myself on this rock ball, rotating around this spherical fire… it’s a very odd situation! And the more I look at things, I cannot get rid of the feeling that existence is quite weird.

You see, a philosopher is sort of intellectual yokel who gawks at things that sensible people take for granted. And sensible people say, existence, it’s nothing at all, just go on and do something. See, this is the current movement in philosophy, “logical analysis”, which says: you mustn’t think about existence, it’s a meaningless concept. Therefore, philosophy has become the discussion of trivia. No good philosopher lies awake nights, worrying about the destiny of Man, and the nature of God, and that sort of thing. Because a philosopher today is a practical fellow who comes to the university with a briefcase at 9:00 and leaves at 5:00. He “does philosophy” during the day, which is discussing whether certain sentences have meaning and if so what, and – as William Earle said in a very funny essay – he would come to work in a white coat if he thought he could get away with it.

The problem is: he’s lost his sense of wonder. Wonder is in modern philosophy something one mustn’t have… it’s like enthusiasm in 18th century England: very bad form. But you see, I don’t know what question to ask when I wonder about the universe. It isn’t a question that I’m wondering about, it’s a feeling that I have. Because I cannot formulate the question that is my wonder. The moment my mouth opens to talk about it I suddenly find I’m talking nonsense. But that should not prevent wonder from being the foundation of philosophy.

Existence is not a meaningless concept in analytic philosophy, although it is widely accepted that one studies existence by doing science, not by pontificating from the philosophical armchair. And in defense of my chosen profession, I would say that every good philosopher I’ve met would agree with Watts’ main point here: wonder is the foundation of philosophy… although it’s all too easy to forget that when one has all the responsibilities of a full-time university professor.

The feeling that existence is “weird”, as Watts puts it here, seems to me a sign that one’s emotional system is working as it should, by producing a feeling of awe in response to metaphysical conundrums that probably indicate the limitations of our own minds. There are lots of interesting philosophical questions to pursue here, but they are about those limitations, not about existence as a general category. As Wittgenstein – an analytic philosopher, albeit a unique one – put it at the end of his Tractatus: “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” It seems to me that Watts would agree wholeheartedly with that.