Month: July 2014

Bertrand Russell : In Praise of Idleness

Bertrand Russell’s essay In Praise of Idleness was a surprisingly quick and easy read. It fitted in perfectly with several other things I’d read recently, and it was as obvious that Russell had read Proudhon as that Bob Black had read this essay. Basically this reads like a very condensed and simplified version of The Abolition of Work, which surprised me: I’d have expected an aristocratic English philosopher writing in 1932 to use more words and more complex ideas to make his point than an American anarchist writing in 1981, but it was exactly the opposite. Russell’s essay is amazingly sharp and to the point, almost as if he’d absorbed all of Black’s ideas, distilled the most essential elements and expressed them using as few words as possible – as if he’d taken a book and turned it into a poem. (more…)

Will Self : The Quantity Theory of Insanity

Will Self’s collection of short stories ‘The Quantity Theory of Insanity’ was not only his first book but also the first thing of his that I ever read, way back in 1998. I’d always intending re-reading it, but had lent the book to a friend at some stage and never got it back. I was glad I’d bought it again and renewed my acquaintance, even if, after reading so much more of Self’s work, I perhaps wasn’t quite as enthusiastic as I had been the first time. His writing style is brilliant, and in those days still lacking the deliberate search for obscure words which makes some of his later work a lot less readable. But the best thing about this book is the ideas, and the ease with which he can make the most weird and surreal possibilities so plausible. He creates his own world, and it’s a very special one. It was interesting to see how themes and even characters which were elaborated on in later works make their first appearance here. I also very much like the way London is always present, almost as another character in the stories, and so vividly and accurately portrayed – although not in a way which would make me want to ever live there again!



author Will Self
title The Quantity Theory of Insanity
first published 1991
language English
read 30/06/2014 – 10/07/2014

Sandra LaFave : Thinking Critically About the “Subjective/Objective” Distinction

Sandra LaFave is a lecturer in philosophy at the West Valley College in Saratoga, California, and this essay has obviously been written as an educational tool, i.e. it is aimed at her students (and perhaps her potential students, or philosophy students generally) rather than at fellow professional philosophers. The ‘”Subjective/Objective” Distinction’ is something in which I’ve been interested for a very long time, and about which (I’m rapidly drawing to the conclusion) I have some ideas which are unusual, perhaps radical, and (it’s just possible) maybe even slightly original, so I was very interested to read what a professional philosophy instructor had to say about it. What I was expecting from a document like this was a review of what philosophers had said on the subject through the ages, rather than her own personal opinion, but I actually got much more of the latter. Right from the start, Ms. LaFave makes it very obvious what she thinks on the subject:

The words “subjective” and ” objective” cause lots of confusion. Their misuse is responsible for subjectivism in ethics. Ethical subjectivism is the view that moral judgements are nothing but statements or expressions of personal opinion or feeling and thus that moral judgements cannot be supported or refuted by reason. Careless use of the terms “subjective” and “objective” also leads to odd views in metaphysics, e.g., the denial of material reality (idealism); and odd views in epistemology, e.g., the claim that all statements are equally warranted. In other words, if you’re careless about how you handle the concepts of subjectivity and objectivity, you can end up saying there’s no such thing as morality, reality, or truth!

What she’s really saying here is that such things as morality, reality, and truth obviously do exist, and that a philosophical viewpoint which implies otherwise must therefore be the result of confusion, carelessness and misuse of language. And I thought philosophy was about keeping an open mind and not jumping to conclusions! (more…)