Monday, December 31, 2007

Reading Montaigne is not only discovering a man and his humanistic ideas. It is also discovering an era.

When one reads Montaigne’s Essays, one thing that strikes is the modernity of the ideas and statements written down in the book. Of course, there are exceptions like his observations about women, but generally Montaigne gives many ideas and rules of life that are still applicable today and that can be used as guides in life. For understanding what Montaigne writes and for reading the Essays with pleasure, one does not need to know much about the man and the time he lived in. But what is the Battle of Dreux? Why was there so much violence around him in those days and why was his castle besieged? Who were Henri II, La Boétie, and many other persons he met? Why does he write so much about religion? Why are his Essays full of examples and quotations from classical antiquity? And so on. Many questions can be asked when reading the book, but, as said, the Essays can be read well and with pleasure without asking them and, in case one does, it is not necessary to answer them in order to enjoy the book. However, the author and his work can be understood better, if one does not only ask questions like these and if the reading does not only makes curious about such themes but if one really tries to answer them by diving mentally into the life and time of Montaigne. Then one does not only receive a better understanding of Montaigne’s Essays and what he is writing about his environment and himself (and aren’t the Essays a comment on and an explication of his life?), but one goes also into a period of history that was essential for the way the following ages developed. And the more one becomes involved in the time that Montaigne was living in, the more curious one becomes, and the more one wants to know about it. How amazing this age was! Therefore, I dare to say that reading Montaigne’s Essays is not only discovering a man and his humanistic ideas; it is also discovering an era.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Peace and politicians

Peace is not something that one must leave to politicians. In my blog last week, I criticized those politicians that show themselves satisfied with the result of the environment conference on Bali. Of course, it is so that many politicians would like to take more radical measures than those proposed in the rather vague document accepted at the end of the conference. But it is a fact that it wouldn’t have even come so far (and one can doubt whether the word "far" is the right word in this context) if there had not been much pressure from the base, from the grass roots, on the politicians. Without this pressure, maybe no declaration would have been accepted at all. Happily, many people are more radical in the measures to be taken in order to solve the environment problem.
It is the same for peace (and is there so much difference between peace problems and environment problems? It was not without reason that Al Gore received the Nobel Peace Prize). I do not want to say that everybody is peaceful (and isn’t it so that politicians belong also to this "everybody"?), but in her or his heart everybody wants peace. Nobody wants war, and everybody want to do his or her best for it. Why don’t politicians understand this?

Monday, December 17, 2007

Praising yourself until the end

The delegates of the climate conference applaus for themselves and the world continues going down.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Proportionality of means

One can discuss about the usefulness of sending Western soldiers to Afghanistan, but if the Dutch government says that building up the country is very important, why are they going to spend then about thousand million euros for the Dutch army in Afghanistan in the years to come and only some tens of million euros for building up the country

Monday, December 03, 2007

Resistance to oppression

"If the essence of totalitarianism is its attempted penetration of the innermost recesses of life, then resistance can begin in those same recesses – in a private conversation, in a letter, in disobedience of a regulation at work, even in the invisible realms of a person’s thoughts". (Schell, The unconquerable world, Penguin Books, p. 199)
Nonviolent resistance is not only mass demonstrations, strikes, open protests, and the like as practised by Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and others and as theoretically developped by Gene Sharp. Nonviolent resistance is also living your own way of life, doing what you want to do in the way you want to do it: doing things not because the regime or the dictator prescribes them, but because you think that it is the right way of doing. It is what Havel called "living in truth". These (the open protests and "living in truth") are the two main ways of nonviolent resistance. The first means resistance on the political level, the second on the level of daily life. Both are important and both have to be applied according to the circumstances. Sometimes open resistance is better, sometimes hidden resistance is better, and sometimes both can be applied at the same time.

Monday, November 26, 2007

On judging persons

A person has to be judged by his or her individual qualities. Even if I do not like the group he or she belongs to, even if I do not like 99,99% of the members of the group this person belongs to, it is quite possible that I do like this individual person if I happen to meet him or her.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Personal identity (21)

Why do people (for example Huntington) so often identify civilization with religion? Isn’t there more in the world that makes a civilization a civilization? But as the Thomas-theorem says: "If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences". So, once civilization is identified with religion people behave as if civilization can be identified with religion. That’s the danger of doing this, of narrowing a broad concept to one dimension.
Amartya Sen expressed the same, when he wrote: "... the social world constitutes differences by the mere fact of designing them. Even when a categorization is arbitrary or capricious, once they are articulated and recognized in terms of dividing lines, the groups thus classified acquire derivative relevance" (Sen, Identity and violence, p.27).

Monday, November 12, 2007

Personal identity (20)

What does it mean that civilizations clash? Does it mean that ideas clash and that the bearers of these ideas are watching what is happening? Isn’t it so that only people can clash, so that we must mean with the clash of civilizations the clash of people? But how can this be right if a member of one civilization (say civilization A) is befriended with a person of an "opposite" civilization (say civilization B) while another member of A is clashing (fighting?) with a member of B? How can civilizations clash and not clash at the same time?

How can we say that a person belongs to civilization A and another person to civilization B, if they are alike on most traits with the exception of those traits that make the person a representative of civilization A or of civilization B?

Does all this mean that civilizations do not exist? Does the fact that each man is unique undermines the idea that civilizations exist?

Vide Samuel Huntington, The clash of civilizations and the remaking of world order and Amartya Sen, Identity and violence, who attacks the idea that civilizations clash.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Dangerous ideas

On an airport, they can scan your material luggage but not your dangerous thoughts. That is why the authorities think that every passenger is a possible criminal and that they want to collect your private data.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Personal identity (19)

If I am teletransported to another planet, as for example Parfit proposes, do I take then my social identity with me or only my personal identity? Can we say that Haile Gebrselassie is the world record holder on the marathon on a planet where the gravitiation is only 10% of what it is on earth and where it is impossible to run a marathon?
And what if I switch bodies, an example also often used in the personal identity discussion in the analytical philosophy of action, (for example by Williams) ? Do I get then the social identity belonging to the other body or do I keep my original social identity? Is Haile Gebrselassie still the world record holder on the marathon if he switches body with Paul Tergat? Who is then the real world record holder: the person with the mind of Haile Gebrselassie or the person with the body of Haile Gebrselassie? Who is then the real Gebrselassie, who is then the real Tergat?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Personal identity (18)

Does a social identity exist? Is there a difference between a person’s social identity and his or her personal identity in the sense that I have used it above? What does Princess Máxima of the Netherlands mean when she says that there is no Dutch identity? Does it mean that I cannot be Dutch despite the fact that I have a Dutch passport, that I have been born in the Netherlands, that I have always lived here and that my ancestors lived in the Netherlands? What do I mean, when I support her despite these facts (and I do support her) and when I say that there are many Dutch identities, that a Dutch identity is multiple, and when I wonder whether there exists any Dutch identity at all? What do I mean when I consider myself Dutch despite this multiplicity of Dutchness? What does Mr. Lubbers, former Prime Minister of the Netherlands, mean, if he says that a Dutch identity does exist? What is this Dutch identity?

Monday, October 08, 2007

On non-violent resistance

Two theses on non-violent resistance: 1) Successful non-violent resistance is neither only "underground" (in the sense that people try to live their private lives as they want to live it, ignoring as much as possible the repression by the state) nor only "La Boétiean" (in the sense that people resist the repression openly, for example by means of demonstrations). Both ways to oppose a repressive regime supply each other and need each other. 2) There are two kinds of power: coercive power and co-operative power (see Schell). Non-violent resistance implies a clash between both kinds of power. It is the task of a theory of non-violent resistance to elaborate and explain what happens here and to relate it to the levels of resistance.
For a defense of these theses see (in Dutch).

Monday, October 01, 2007

About thinking and writing

I do not write what I think, but I think what I write. Every philosopher knows. As Montaigne has said: "Le premier traict produict le second". When I do not write what I think, my thinking starts to move in a circle and I do not come forward. I know what I know only by writing.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Our mind is not only in our head

Our mind is not only in our head. Many philosophers defend this idea. It is supported by the discoveries of palaeontology and archaeology. Most animals are constructed that way that they have a direct relation with the surrounding nature for their survival. They just look for what they need and they take it. However, man has an instrumental relation to nature. Of course, if a man walks through the woods and fields, he or she can pick berries or mushrooms and eat them. But what man usually does is not directly taking what he or she needs, but man looks for instruments for taking, making and producing what he or she needs and with these instruments man takes, makes and produces the things needed. Agriculture, building houses, industry, searching for amusement, it all happens in this way. What palaeontology and archaeology have shown is that the development of man is the development of this intellectual capacity in relation to the possibility to make gradually more complicated instruments. Brain and mind developed together with the capacity to make more complicated celts and the capacity to make more complicated other instruments. As a result, the capacity of man is partly the capacity invested by men in such instruments. On the other hand, the capacity to build and use instruments as an extension of the body has become part of the genetic equipment of men. In this way, man has become dependent on instruments and the essence of man has become fundamentally related to what is in the man made instruments. That is what the sciences of human development have shown and that is why we can say that the mind of man is also in the instrumental world around him or her. The clearest example of this is texts, especially books, and the capacity of writing.

Monday, September 17, 2007

About ethical standards

Ethical standards need sometimes to be breached in order not to lose their meaning. A standard that is never breached is not a standard but a way of life. An ethical standard is a norm that one wants to follow. A way of life is something one does and which is natural for the person that lives that way of life. It is the personal stream on which life floats from birth until death. Of course, this does not mean that one cannot change his or her way of life. A ship that follows a stream can be steered into another direction. Nor does it mean that the ethical standard needs to be breached now and then by the person who wants to live by it. It can also be maintained as a standard because another person breaches it.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Something new ?

Really new things are seldom made. Almost everything one does is repetition and rearrangement of the past, or of things that have already been said or done by other people. I have written this in 1976. What has changed? Of course, much has changed, but does it really matter? Doesn’t the world turn around in a circle, the past coming back again and again in a certain way?
Read for example Camus’ L’homme révolté, and you’ll see that nothing has changed in terrorism. Only the names and words have changed, not the motivation and arguments, not the contents, not the methods.
But I just said "Almost everything one does is repetition". Does this mean that there are exceptions? Maybe the world is moving in a upward spiral, but one often does not have the impression that this is really so.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Personal identity (17)

If the psychological continuity criterion is right, what sense does it have then to have passport control at national borders? What sense does it have then to take an identity card with you? For such a document identifies the body but not the person. What is then the sense of taking finger prints? Maybe they can prove that the body did the murder but not that the person in the body did. If a person wants to enter a country illegally, rather than passing the border with a false passport it is safer for him or her to pass the border in another body with the passport belonging to this body.

Monday, August 20, 2007

On war

"...there are wounds that cannot heal. Therefore, let they no longer inflict such wounds and the problem will not happen again. That is a solution, but my colleagues are too proud to propose this solution to the world and the world is too much off the rails to listen to it"
Georges Duhamel in Civilisation 1914-1917.
And since Duhamel wrote these words, the world is still off the rails. Will it ever be on the rails?

Monday, August 13, 2007

Personal identity (16)

Is there a difference between forward continuity and backward continuity? Cf. the examples in "Personal identity (14)".

Monday, August 06, 2007

Personal identity (15)

What is the difference between division and separation?

Monday, July 30, 2007

Personal identity (14)

Why shouldn’t we speak of continuity in case an entity has been split? Does continuity stops when a thing splits? Suppose a country is split into two separate countries (like the Czech Republic and Slovakia). Looking from the present to the past there is continuity back till the time that the original country was founded or came into being. So, looking backwards there is a continuity from the Czech Republic in 2007 back to the foundation of Czechoslovakia in 1918. But can we say that there is a continuity from Czechoslovakia to the Czech Republic? If we say no, how about Spain, if the Bask country would separate and would become an independent country? Then we should still say that there is a continuity of Spain from the times far back in history before the date of independence of the Bask state. If we say yes, how about my body and my toe? Is it important that my toe is only a little part of my body that we say that there is a physical continuity of my body from my birth on (at least)? But how big (in percentage of the combined mass of body and toe) must my toe be that we deny that there is a physical continuity of my body?
Etc. It looks like the problem of the
ship of Theseus.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Personal identity (13)

How can it be that we have pain in a toe that we do not have any longer? I mean phantom pain. Does that show that the psychological continuity criterion of meaning is correct and that it is not true that psychological identity has both psychological aspects and physical aspects (see my "Can a person break a world record?")? For despite the discontinuity of my body (or a part of it), my psyche continues as before. My body has split but my psyche shows a historical continuity.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

“Live as if each day can be the last day of your life”

Live as if each day can be the last day of your life, Nietzsche says. Well, I like running a lot, in that way that I like to train each day and that I do train each day. I like especially to train as hard as possible. Therefore, if today would be the last day of my life, I would train as hard as possible. However, my experience says that it is quite possible that after today there will be another day. From experience I also know that if I train really as hard as possible today, I cannot train tomorrow. When I was young, I could train a bit then at least, but now I am older I cannot do it any longer. If I would train as hard as I could, I could not do one step tomorrow. But okay, Nietzsche was a wise man and on the last day of your life the best you can do is follow the advice of a wise man. Therefore, this day, now that I have read his advice, I train as hard as possible.
Now it is tomorrow, because I survived yesterday. Today I want to live again as if it would be the last day of my life. On the last day of my life, I want to train as hard as possible. But I cannot train at all! How stupid Nietzsche’s advice is in the light of my experiences.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Personal identity (12)

Pain in a toe might be like a red traffic light. The traffic light does not know that it is red, but we give a meaning to its being red. It is a state that has a meaning for our brain but not for the traffic light. Does that mean that we are the brain? If so, how about the toe? If it does not belong to us, to whom does it belong then? If it does belong to us, why does it not know then that it has pain? Does the toe belong to somebody?

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The actuality of Michel de Montaigne

Si me semble-il, à le dire franchement, qu’il y a grand amour de soy et presomption, d’estimer ses opinions jusque-là que, pour les establir, il faille renverser une paix publique, et introduire tant de maux inevitables et une si horrible corruption de meurs que les guerres civiles apportent, et les mutations d'estat, en chose de tel pois; et les introduire en son pays propre.

Michel de Montaigne, dans De la Coustume et de ne Changer Aisément une Loy Receue

Monday, July 02, 2007

Violent video games

The idea: to shoot a man and it is just a game. No wonder that a society that tolerates this is so violent. And for those who do not believe how dangerous violent video games are, see for example the research by Brad J.Bushman and other investigators.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Montaigne’s library

Visit the place where Michel de Montaigne wrote his famous Essays.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Freedom of the will

Recent investigations have shown that a person first acts and then has a will to act: the will for an action comes a fraction of a second after the action concerned starts. Does this mean that there is no freedom of the will? That the action causes the will to do this action? No, for the essence of the freedom of the will is not simply that I am free to do now what I want to do now, but freedom of the will means that I am free to make plans for the future and that I can execute them when the time for doing them arrives. That I can plan an action long, if necessary months or years, before it will take place and that I can adopt it to the circumstances. Free will is a long term phenomenon that has nothing to do with momentaneous causation. If that would not be so, a falling tree that suddenly blocks my road would be a clear falsification of the existence of a freedom of the will. Maybe there is no free will, but then it is for other reasons.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Personal identity (11)

What Gallagher shows in his How the body shapes the mind is that it is impossible to separate the mental part from a person’s bodily part, which makes that a brain transplant is impossible in any way, be it that the brain as such is transplanted or be it that only the mental contents of the brain is transplanted, teletransported or what you want to do with it. It puts the personal identity discussion in a new light. One implication is that personal identity cannot be reduced to any form of psychological continuity, that there is no psychological criterion of personal identity and that the psychological approach of personal identity fails. However, also a pure bodily criterion will not do. What Gallagher makes clear is that a person is an integrated whole of mind and body. Now he should have to write a book How the mind shapes the body.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Personal identity (10)

Or am I laughing, because my body moves? Like that I get the feeling that I smile when I make a smiling face? Then my body understands the joke before I understand the joke.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Personal identity (9)

If my body does not understand the joke, why is it then moving when I am laughing? For isn’t it so that it is moving, because I am laughing?

Monday, June 04, 2007

Personal identity (8)

My body moves when I am laughing, but does it understand the joke?

Monday, May 28, 2007

Trip to Montaigne

The trip to Southern France that my wife and I made would become quite philosophical. We went to Sarlat, where Étienne de La Boétie had lived, we were in Descartes, the birthplace of the philosopher who has given his name to this town, and between both visits we were in the Château de Montaigne.
When we arrived at the gate just before ten o’clock, it was still closed. After ten minutes waiting we still couldn’t go in. we decided to call. Just then a young lady in a car came with the key. We walked through a long lane to the reception and bought tickets. Another young lady accompanied us to the famous Tour de Montaigne and opened the door for us. We were the only visitors.
To the left a staircase went up. To the right we saw the chapel where Montaigne used to attend Mass. We entered it. It was a small room with an altar in a niche. Only a few chairs in front of it. The ceiling blue with stars, like heaven.
The stones of the staircase were worn out. We reached Montaigne’s sleeping room on the first floor. The bed and the other furniture were not original. The room had an extension, where Montaigne could sit and listen to the Mass on the ground floor.
The study on the second floor looked larger than the sleeping room. However, that was not possible, for the study was exactly above the sleeping room. So, it is here that Montaigne has written his famous essays! Walking up and down the floor, taking a book from one of the bookcases, reading it, developing his thoughts. The library of 1.000 books – many of them he got from his friend Étienne de La Boétie – is not here anymore. After Montaigne’s death, his daughter has sold them. Only a few have been found back.
At the left, there is a writing table with a chair, facing the middle of the room. Also this furniture is not original. All round wooden horse saddles from Montaigne’s time on stands, a model of the castle, a statue of the philosopher. In the wall, the holes where the bookcases had been fixed can still be seen. On the beams of the ceiling, Montaigne had painted Greek and Latin inscriptions.
To the right of the staircase, a doorway leads to a little room with a heath. In winter, Montaigne stayed here. On the walls paintings with pictures from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. They are a bit worn off but still visible. There is also a text saying that Montaigne resigned from his office as a councillor at the parliament of Bordeaux, because he found it annoying and because he wanted to lead a quiet life until his death. But Montaigne was only 37 years old! Times have changed.
We went back to the court of the castle and walked to the terrace outside of the walls, enjoying the view from the top of the hill. Far away we saw the castle of Montaigne’s younger brother.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Personal identity (7)

Can I laugh if my body doesn’t laugh?

Monday, May 21, 2007

Personal identity (6)

To Parfit: Can I catch the ball if the person who I am is only psychologically (and not necessarily physically) continuous with the person who I was?

Friday, May 11, 2007

Personal identity (5)

Do I catch the ball or do my arms catch the ball?

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Personal identity (4)

If my body passes the line first and breaks a world record, why is it then that I am honoured for it? Or is it that my body is honoured for it? But if that is so, what do I have to do with it?

Monday, May 07, 2007

Personal identity (3)

Can I break a world record, if it is my body that passes the line?

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Personal identity (2)

When I stumble, and I hurt my toe, is the pain then in my toe or in my brain?

Monday, April 30, 2007

Personal identity (1)

When "I" stumble, is it then I who stumbles or is it my body that stumbles?

Monday, April 23, 2007

On the origins of totalitarianism

Hannah Arendt wrote in The origins of totalitarianism (Harvest Book, Harcourt, San Diego etc. 1976, p.440):

"These camps correspond in many respects to the concentration camps at the beginning of totalitarian rule; they were used for ‘suspects’ whose offenses could not be proved and who could not be sentenced on ordinary process of law".

And a few pages hereafter:

"The first essential step on the road to total domination is to kill the juridical person in man. This was done, on the one hand, by putting certain categories of people outside the protection of the law and forcing at the same time, through the instrument of denationalization, the nontotalitarian world into recognition of lawlessness; it was done, on the other hand, by placing the concentration camp outside the normal penal system, and by selecting its inmates outside the juridical procedure in which a definite crime entails a predictable penalty"

(ibid. p. 447).
My first thought, when reading these passages was not that it was about the concentration camps in South Africa during the Boer War (where the first concentration camps in the world were established) in the first quotation, or about the concentration camps in Nazi-Germany and the former Soviet Union in the second quotation, but my first thought was: Guantanamo! That is something to think about. Is "Guantanamo" the first step to totalitarianism? Attacking crime is not simply a matter of catching criminals, but it is also, and most of all, a matter of defending one’s own values. And what is certain anyway is that Guantanamo is not the latter, defending one’s own values, whichever way you look at it.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Reason and cause

A reason is not a cause but the way something functions as a cause.

Monday, April 09, 2007

The real revolution is in the head, not in the street

In his The unconquerable world, Jonathan Schell defends the idea that in fact a revolution has already taken place at the moment the violence starts. Be it in the American Revolution, or in the French Revolution, or in the Russian Revolution, and so on, all violence used is not more than the finishing touch of the change that has already taken place in the heads of the people who rise in revolt. In one word, and that is my interpretation, violent revolution is superfluous. How nice would it be if also the governments opposed would realize that. Happily, many governments do. After the Spring in Prague, all revolutions in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union have been nonviolent, and not only there dictators have been overthrown in a nonviolent way. "Living in truth" (Vaclav Havel), freedom within your mind, Schweik methods are in the long run stronger than any dictatorship would wish. How these mechanisms work is well shown by Roland Bleiker in his Popular dissent, human agency and global politics. It is a pity that he has done this by playing down the importance of a "La Boétian" approach of opposition and that he has no eye for the organisational aspects of a nonviolent revolution that is "La Boétian" (cf. Gene Sharp).

Monday, April 02, 2007

Un art moyen ?

Just the idea: A photo of me in front of the Eiffel Tower with Bourdieu’s Un art moyen in my hand. So sorry that you cannot read the title of the book then...

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

“The same purpose can be reached by different means”- Montaigne

In his first essay, with the title "The same purpose can be reached by different means", Montaigne shows with the help of examples mainly derived from classic texts (as always) how army commanders are saved or pardoned for different reasons. It may be because they showed bravery or perseverance, or it may be because they begged for mercy. Or they aren’t pardoned. Man is fickle and it is difficult to say how he will react when confronted with a certain circumstance. In his "The place of scepticism in the philosophy of Montaigne", Foglia draws the conclusion that this article by Montaigne "rejects both the project of a science of man and of a science of action". However, this is true only, if one thinks that a science of man or a science of action must be constructed the way a natural science is: as a science with strict laws and hypotheses derived from these laws. But why would that be so? What Montaigne’s article supports is the idea that a science of man or a science of action cannot be nomological but that it must be interpretative. In an interpretative science of man or action, it is not social laws that explain what men do but his or her reasons and motives tell us why a man did what he or she did. It is just that what Montaigne does, looking for reasons and motives, when he tries to explain Alexander’s actions.