free will and determinism

Etienne Vermeersch : Provençaalse gesprekken

Etienne Vermeersch’s ‘Provençaalse gesprekken’ was een van de meest inspirerende boeken dat ik sinds een tijd had gelezen. Niet dat ik het altijd eens was met meneer Vermeersch, maar de delen waar ik zijn mening niet deelde waren minstens net zo inspirerend als die waarover ik het volledig met hem eens was. Hij heeft mij dus vaak aan het denken gezet… (more…)

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Samuel Butler : Erewhon

After reading the back cover and introduction of Samuel Butler’s Erewhon I found myself wondering why I’d ever bought the book, but in the end it proved to be unexpectedly interesting. This is nothing if not an unusual work. It’s generally described as something between utopian fiction such as Thomas More’s Utopia or Aldous Huxley’s Island, and satirical works such as Gulliver’s Travels. I’d say it’s much nearer to the latter and also contains elements of dystopian literature. Unlike More or Huxley, Butler rarely presents any aspect of Erewhonian life as being unmitigatedly good, i.e. as something which he thinks the Europeans ought to adopt. Like Swift, he uses the book as a vehicle for his personal opinions on various subjects, and specifically to criticise what he doesn’t like about his own society, but he isn’t the least bit consistent in the manner in which he goes about this… (more…)

Mel Thompson : Understand Philosophy

This book in the ‘Teach Yourself’ series was certainly worth reading, and I did learn a thing or two from it, but my final impression was still one of slight disappointment. I was probably hoping for too much. So far I’d picked up most of my general information on Western philosophy haphazardly, indirectly and via-via, from the background information offered by people writing on related or much more specialised subjects. I’d read a rather difficult book on the philosophy of time (Craig Bourne’s A Future for Presentism), a book on logic, and over the last four decades countless books on Eastern philosophy, meditation, astrology, psychology, politics, etc., etc., etc., written by or about people as diverse as Aldous Huxley, Colin Wilson, George Gurdjieff, Carl Gustav Jung and the Dalai Lama, to mention just a very few examples. You can’t read all that (plus a wide range of literature and literary criticism) without picking up a fair bit of information about people like Plato, Kant and Marx, and in more recent years I’d read countless Wikipedia articles on most of the better known Western philosophers and their ideas. And last but not least I’d read Sophie’s World twice! I’m pretty certain, however, that this was the first general textbook I’ve ever read on the subject, the first book written for adults which claimed (in its very title!) to enable me to ‘Understand Philosophy’, and for some reason I seem to have made the unconscious assumption that this book was going to change my life… (more…)

David Harvey : The Enigma of Capital and the Crises of Capitalism

The Cambridge Online Dictionary defines ‘enigma’ as “something that is mysterious and seems impossible to understand completely”, and that definitely applies to capitalism. David Harvey is very conscious of the urgent necessity of making it less mysterious, and of the fact that this mystery, this opacity, far from being unavoidable, is deliberately maintained and promoted by those whose interests lie in keeping things mysterious:

Unravelling the enigma of capital, rendering transparent what political power always wants to keep opaque, is crucial to any revolutionary strategy. (p.241,7)

He goes a long way towards unravelling this enigma, even if not quite as far as I’d (perhaps overoptimistically) hoped. When trying to understand anything complex it’s important to look at it from a higher level, to step back and see things in perspective, to see the general principles which are so easily obscured by the many practical details – and this is especially difficult when the person trying to understand the system finds himself sitting in the middle of it, as is the case with any attempt to understand the existing economic system. If you’re in the middle of a wood, you can’t see the wood for the trees… (more…)