Poetry and Philosophy

Stuff

Came across this thought in one of Straton’s fragments (#12):

It behooves us to be cautious when particularly taken with any philosopher’s claims, and to consider whether our reaction is due to the logic of his claim or due to the poetry of his words. A beautifully-phrased sentence is an accomplishment in oratory, not philosophy, and the pleasure we take from it should not be mistaken for truth.

The philosopher must be like the architect: to write well is important, but not more important than building an edifice that will not collapse. Some philosophers construct dwellings that seem pleasant to the eye, but are traps for the unwary.

No wonder other philosophers didn’t like him!

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The Talos Principle in action

Stuff

Stumbled across this on Wikipedia, thought it was funny enough to be worth sharing:

Jones was born in Virginia in 1797 and came to Union County, Kentucky in 1804. As a young man he amassed a considerable fortune as a land speculator, and after his fiancée broke off their engagement he moved to Indiana where he developed an interest in religion. He joined the United Brethren and later the Methodists, before donating 5,000 valuable acres of land east of Illinois to the Shakers. He was baptised as a Mormon by a preacher he encountered, but rejected the religion after not receiving the promised gift of tongues.[1]

Jones later encountered a “strange genius” by the name of McDaniel who preached that “man by faith can live forever”. Jones and McDaniel planned a “capital city of the world” on the site where Columbus, Kentucky later stood, a city without graveyards where members of the “live-forever” faith would reside. The pair headed east to recruit converts, but McDaniel died after being taken ill in Ohio. Jones was “very much embarrassed” at having to preach at the funeral of his “live-forever” partner. With the death of McDaniel the plans for their city were abandoned and Jones moved into politics, continuing to believe that he himself was immortal.[1]

Jones formed the “High Moral” political party in an attempt to spread his ideas. He ran repeatedly for Congress in several districts, including Paducah, Kentucky, and went on to run for President, and for Governor of Kentucky.[1] These campaigns never succeeded in getting even a fraction of the vote.

Despite this, he was not overly mocked, and was considered a harmless curiosity.[1] He was allowed to speak to large crowds, who cheered him on as he made his claims, and politicians humored his competition.

Jones caught pneumonia in 1868, and refused medical aid due to his belief that his sickness was moral at its base. He died on August 30, 1868.

It’s also kind of sad, to be honest. But truth is truth: no matter what we claim, we are made of perishable materials.

Review: The Talos Principle (Penguin Books)

Reviews

The Talos Principle

So I found this dodgy old Penguin Books version of The Talos Principle in a bookshop the other day and thought I’d puke up some thoughts. (Sorry, I just saw David Cameron on the telly and I feel sick. It’s not Penguin’s fault.)

It’s not a bad collection, I’ll give them that. It has all the texts except the most recent still-not-entirely-confirmed ones from Oxyrhynchus (which is fine), an excellent translation, good annotations, and a couple of fairly decent essays on Straton.

I would have preferred a better introduction, one that really gave readers a clear idea of Straton’s place in the history of philosophy, especially his influence on modern materialist thinkers both of the Left and the Right. He may be mostly forgotten, but his influence does linger in unexpected corners.

(I also think it would’ve made more sense to call this The Complete Works or something like that, but I guess going with the best-known title is reasonable enough.)

All in all, I was much happier with this edition than the last one I found, which contained an introduction by the notorious imbecile Prof. J. Schofield, whose work on Straton is the philosophical equivalent of Robert Service’s attempts to re-assassinate Trotsky. Quibbles aside, this version should allow a regular reader to get a good idea of why Straton is such a fascinating writer. Recommended.

Oh, Marcus! You and your meditations…

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Reading the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius is an exercise in frustration, if only because about 50% of them are so bloody good while the other half just screams for a mind like Straton’s to take apart all the ungrounded assumptions.

Now, to be fair, Straton also occasionally seems to assume the existence of gods, though with the Ancient Greeks it’s always hard to tell whether they mean gods literally or metaphorically, and the evidence in Straton’s case points towards a thinking that’s closer to Einstein’s idea of God than to regular theism.

But Marcus Aurelius, man, he just takes all of ethics for granted! When he’s talking about materialism he can be brilliant, even chilling, especially when he’s talking about his own place in history, how transient everything is – a fact we can confirm just by looking up Roman history in Wikipedia – and sometimes he’ll drop fantastic lines like this:

Nothing has such power to broaden the mind as the ability to investigate systematically and truly all that comes under thy observation in life.

But then he doesn’t observe his own advice! He makes broad generalizations about what is natural and what is good without ever providing some sort of logic to back this up. (Appeals to what is “natural” generally get my hackles up, since the concept is utterly vague. We’re the products of nature, are we not natural? Is not everything we do natural?)

And there’s a, well, a kind of Buddhist oh-well-just-think-about-your-own-virtue kind of attitude to a lot of it, a concern with the self rather than with society, which lends itself perfectly to upholding the status quo. Marcus Aurelius was an emperor, after all, and his “blameless character and temperate way of life” (Herodotus) didn’t exactly contribute to the future of Roman civilization.

Still highly recommended reading, of course. I’m just bitching, as one does.

Hello world

Stuff

This blog is just going to be an outlet for various thoughts related to the materialist philosopher Straton of Stageira (not the other Strato of Lampsacus or Straton of Sardis) and whatever else comes to mind, mostly as a way to vent the frustration that builds up when you study philosophy and literature, the two least useful and most calcified subject matters the university system has to offer.

But at least it’s not economics!