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Monday, March 04, 2024

Seneca on anger

Statue of Seneca in Córdoba, Spain

“Their eyes blaze and sparkle, their whole face is a deep red with the blood which boils up from the bottom of their heart, their lips quiver, their teeth are set, their hair bristles and stands on end, their breath is laboured and hissing, their joints crack as they twist them about, they groan, bellow, and burst into scarcely intelligible talk, they often clap their hands together and stamp on the ground with their feet, and their whole body is highly-strung and plays those tricks which mark a distraught mind, so as to furnish an ugly and shocking picture of self-perversion and excitement.”
This is how Lucius Annaeus Seneca describes anger people in the first section of his treatise “On Anger”, which actually is a letter to his brother Novatus. For Seneca, anger is a passion that he rejects: “You cannot tell whether this vice is more execrable or more disgusting.” His treatise is about the nasty effects of this passion and about how to suppress it if not to prevent it. However, I think that there is a weak point in Seneca’s treatment of anger: He sees it only as a sudden outburst, not as a passion that can determine your behaviour during a longer time or at least be for a longer time in the background in your mind. Maybe this has to do with the fact that neither the Latin language, nor the ancient Greek language had a special word for long-term or long-lasting anger; for what we nowadays call resentment. For Seneca anger (ira in Latin) is apparently a short-term, sudden passion. Nevertheless, the Romans and certainly the Greek must have known what we call resentment today. Didn’t Homer start his Iliad with the sentence: “Goddess, sing the anger [
μῆνις; mènis] of Achilles, the son of Peleus”? But “μῆνις”, which I have translated here with “anger”, can also mean resentment, and that’s what it apparently means here, for the Iliad doesn’t just describe Achilles’s sudden outburst of anger on the Greek army leader Agamemnon but his long-term resentment against him and the effects of this resentment. Seneca must have known that and he should have realized that anger (ira) can also be a long-term passion with a different expression and different consequences.
In his approach of anger, Seneca differs from Aristotle. Aristotle rejects the destructive outburst of anger with all its nasty effects, but he sees a place for moderate anger. A tempered anger can be a force for change and growth, and it can show others where you stand and that they must reckon with you. According to Aristotle “Anybody can become angry; that is easy. But to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.” (Nicomachean Ethics
bk. 2, 1108b) Here, I have italicized what anger can make a “good”, creative anger, leading it in the right direction with positive results. I’ll not explain here how (see Psychology Today), but the essence of Aristotle’s view is that once you temper your anger, when you are furious, it can become a driving force within you. Then it can become a motivating force to help you to fix a problem, or to right a wrong, or to make that things become better. Anger shows others where you stand, and it helps to prevent that others walk over you. When you restrain yourself too much, it can give others the impression that they can do with you what they like. Of course, this doesn’t involve that you need to use strong words for expressing your anger. Most important is that your view is clear.
Aristotle shows that anger is more than a sudden fit of rage and implicitly that anger is not only a one-time passion but that it can also be long-term. Just as a long-term passion it can be a positive force. Here Gandhi comes to my mind. Once, during his stay in South Africa, Gandhi travelled first class by train. He didn’t know that this was not allowed for “non-whites”, even if they had bought a first-class ticket. Because Gandhi refused to travel third class with his first-class ticket, he was thrown off the train by the conductor. This made Gandhi so furious that the incident became the start of his lifelong struggle against injustice and oppression.
What this case shows is that it is too simple to reject anger, as Seneca does. I don’t know how Gandi felt inside, when he was kicked off the train. Maybe – following Seneca’s description of anger – his blood boiled up from the bottom of his heart. I think that he’ll have behaved himself towards the conductor. However, Gandhi kept his anger in his heart, but at the same time he turned it into a creative force, a furious but positive force that led him for life, in a controlled way. Isn’t that another, not “execrable” and not “disgusting” side of Seneca’s fury?

Thursday, February 29, 2024

Random quote
All men by nature desire to know.
Aristotle (384 BC-322 BC)

Monday, February 26, 2024

Johan Galtung (1930-2024)

A few days ago I heard that the Norwegian peace researcher Johan Vincent Galtung had died, 93 years old. Galtung was certainly the most important peace researcher of his time, and one can say that without his energy and activism the field of peace research wouldn’t have been what it is now. This would already be sufficient reason to write a blog about him, but the main reason I do is that he had a clear influence on my thinking. Before I switched from sociology to philosophy, I have done some investigations in the field of peace research. I have also been a peace activist. Then it was impossible not to come across his name and not to be impressed by his ideas. However, it was not because of this interest that I stumbled upon Galtung’s name, but I first heard of Galtung when I studied sociology, for Galtung, originally a mathematician and sociologist, had written a thick and thorough book on methodology: Theory and methods of social research. Though not prescribed by the study program, I bought the book and used it often.
However, it was because of my interest in peace and peace research that I came most in touch with Galtung’s ideas and views. In 1959 Galtung was the co-founder of the Norwegian Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), and for ten years he was its first director. In 1964 he established the Journal of Peace Research, the first peace research journal in the world and still a leading journal in its field. Maybe the best article published by Galtung there is his “Violence, Peace, and Peace Research” (1969), which contains some of his best ideas. More than 50 years later, it still is worth to be read. Having left the PRIO after ten years, Johan Galtung got many functions inside and outside the academic world. Here I’ll mention them, nor will I give a list of his most important publications. They can easily be found on the internet (see for example the Wikipedia). Instead, I want to pay attention to three important ideas developed by Galtung that have had a big impact on my thinking and on the thinking of many others.

Structural violence
Violence is seen by many as a direct physical attack by one or more persons on one or more other persons. I think this does not need much explanation. We think here of intentionally hurting, beating, killing etc. of another person or persons. Also for Galtung such deeds are violence. However, according to him there is more than this, what he calls, “direct violence”. There is also a kind of violence that cannot be ascribed to individual perpetrators but that is as hurting and killing as direct violence: structural violence. Structural violence is clearly caused by humans but cannot be ascribed to individuals. It is a consequence of the social circumstances people live in, because victims of this type of violence have no access to the necessary resources that would improve their miserable circumstances; structural violence can even kill. The reasons why people cannot use the resources they need for improving their living conditions are not natural, but others prevent them from using them or don’t give them the means they should reasonably give to the victims. Galtung calls structural violence also “social injustice”. To quote Galtung (Violence, Peace, and Peace Research, pp. 170-1):

“Resources are unevenly distributed, as when income distributions are heavily skewed, literacy/education unevenly distributed, medical services existent in some districts and for some groups only, and so on. Above all the power to decide over the distribution of resources is unevenly distributed. The situation is aggravated further if the persons low on income are also low in education, low on health, and low on power - as is frequently the case because these rank dimensions tend to be heavily correlated due to the way they are tied together in the social structure… The important point here is that if people are starving when this is objectively avoidable, then violence is committed, regardless of whether there is a clear subject-action-object relation, as during a siege yesterday or no such clear relation, as in the way world economic relations are organized today… Violence with a clear subject-object relation is manifest because it is visible as action… Violence without this relation is structural, built into structure. Thus, when one husband beats his wife there is a clear case of personal violence, but when one million husbands keep one million wives in ignorance there is structural violence. Correspondingly, in a society where life expectancy is twice as high in the upper as in the lower classes, violence is exercised even if there are no concrete actors one can point to directly attacking others, as when one person kills another.”

Negative versus positive peace
In the article just quoted, Galtung makes a distinction between negative peace and positive peace. Often we say that there is peace, if there is no fighting; if there is no war. We call it also peace, if people ignore each other, even when they live together in some way. We call it also peace when the relations between people are tense, but if there is no open fighting. Sometimes we call this “armed peace”. But is peace really merely the absence of fighting? According to Galtung we can better call such a situation “negative peace”: the absence of personal violence. Against this negative idea of peace, Galtung developed the idea of positive peace: a situation in which people collaborate with each other and support each other. We can, following Galtung (p. 183), say it this way: Negative peace is the absence of direct (personal) violence, while positive peace is the absence of structural violence. Positive peace is a situation of social justice.

Peace building
Positive peace usually doesn’t develop automatically from a situation that once was a situation of violence and then has become a situation of negative peace. We must work on it. Unjust situations must be purposefully removed; people must learn to work together and to develop positive relations of cooperation and support towards those who once were their enemies. In other words, positive peace must be built. In 1975 Galtung coined the word “peace building” for this construction of positive peace in his “
Three Approaches to Peace: Peacekeeping, Peacemaking, and Peacebuilding.” In this article, he posited that ‘peace has a structure different from, perhaps over and above, peacekeeping and ad hoc peacemaking... The mechanisms that peace is based on should be built into the structure and be present as a reservoir for the system itself to draw up... More specifically, structures must be found that remove causes of wars and offer alternatives to war in situations where wars might occur.’ These observations constitute the intellectual antecedents of today’s notion of peacebuilding: an endeavor aiming to create sustainable peace by addressing the ‘root causes’ of violent conflict and eliciting indigenous capacities for peaceful management and resolution of conflict.” (from the website)

Galtung developed important concepts and ideas for a better world, but still much must be done to get them realized. In view of what presently is happening in the world, one wonders whether even the foundations of a peace building have already been laid.

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Random quote
That which is for me through the medium of money – that for which I can pay (i.e., which money can buy) – that am I myself, the possessor of the money. The extent of the power of money is the extent of my power. Money’s properties are my – the possessor’s – properties and essential powers. Thus, what I am and am capable of is by no means determined by my individuality. I am ugly, but I can buy for myself the most beautiful of women. Therefore I am not ugly, for the effect of ugliness – its deterrent power – is nullified by money. I, according to my individual characteristics, am lame, but money furnishes me with twenty-four feet. Therefore I am not lame. I am bad, dishonest, unscrupulous, stupid; but money is honoured, and hence its possessor. Money is the supreme good, therefore its possessor is good. Money, besides, saves me the trouble of being dishonest: I am therefore presumed honest. I am brainless, but money is the real brain of all things and how then should its possessor be brainless? Besides, he can buy clever people for himself, and is he who has [In the manuscript: ‘is’. – Ed.] power over the clever not more clever than the clever? Do not I, who thanks to money am capable of all that the human heart longs for, possess all human capacities? Does not my money, therefore, transform all my incapacities into their contrary?

Karl Marx (1818-1883) Source and translation

Monday, February 12, 2024

On obstinacy

When I reread Montaigne’s 15th essay “Men are punished for being obstinate in the defence of a fort without reason” in his Essays, immediately I had to think of Hervey Allen’s Toward the Flame, which I had recently read. Toward the Flame is Allen’s account of his experiences as a soldier during the First World War. As for Montaigne’s essay, he describes there the possible fatal consequences of obstinacy in war. Already in the first sentence Montaigne summarizes what he wants to tell us: “Valour has its bounds as well as other virtues, which, once transgressed, the next step is into the territories of vice.” If one crosses the boundaries of a virtue like bravery, it easily can lead to the opposite, in this case “temerity, obstinacy, and folly.” Montaigne illustrates his view with cases of fortresses that surrendered after a hard and obstinate resistance; however, after the surrender the losers were as yet killed by the victors. In his days this was not unusual. Rather it was a “custom”, so Montaigne, “in times of war, to punish, even with death, those who are obstinate to defend a place that by the rules of war is not tenable.” Montaigne thinks that the killing is not unreasonable, since “otherwise men would be so confident upon the hope of impunity, that not a henroost [chicken coop] but would resist and seek to stop an army.” However, what is “tenable”? For “the strength or weakness of a fortress is always measured by the estimate and counterpoise of the forces that attack it … where also the greatness of the prince who is master of the field, his reputation, and the respect that is due unto him, are also put into the balance. There is danger that the balance be pressed too much in that direction.” Even more, “it may happen that a man is possessed with so great an opinion of himself and his power, that thinking it unreasonable any place should dare to shut its gates against him, he puts all to the sword where he meets with any opposition”, so kills the resisters.
Happily, this cruel custom has changed since Montaigne wrote these words, and nowadays it is at least forbidden by international law to kill a soldier who has surrendered, let alone innocent civilians, although in practice this law often is violated.
Now to Harvey Allen, a lieutenant in the 28th division of the American Army in France during the First World War. His division had been added to the Sixth French army. At the end of Toward the Flame, Allen takes part in the battle of Fismette, a little French village on the north bank of the Vesle River, opposite the somewhat bigger village of Fismes on the south bank (west of Reims). Fismette was a bridgehead, surrounded by the German army and impossible to defend, according to his American division commander, who therefore ordered his soldiers to withdraw to the south bank. However, this order was countermanded by the French commander of the Sixth French Army. So, the fierce and cruel battle continued and the Germans conquered Fismette and killed or captured almost all American soldiers there. Later the French commander apologized to the American division commander, while general Pershing, the commander of the American army, said to him: “Why did you not disobey the [French] order?” In other words, this battle of Fismette is a clear case of Montaigne’s view that “men are punished for being obstinate in the defence of a fort without reason.” The difference between Montaigne’s cases from the 16th century and before and my case from the 20th century is that now the soldiers were not punished by being killed after the battle by the victor, but they were punished “only” – if not killed in action or being wounded – by being taken captive (and released after the war).
Although these cases are all military, the negative consequences of obstinate behaviour are certainly not limited to military affairs. They are found everywhere in politics and society. Obstinate behaviour sometimes leads to success, but most of the time it leads to failure and nasty consequences. That is what we can learn from Montaigne’s essay, if we want to give it a wider, non-military, meaning. Moreover, I want to add, with obstinacy you don’t make friends but only foes in society or in your personal relations. Being too often unreasonably obstinate makes that people who should be your friends or at least should help you, turn against you. However, the problem is: What is being obstinate? Montaigne mentions the case of persons who see others as obstinate, while just they themselves are arrogant. And is not-giving-in a matter of being obstinate or a matter of seeing reasonable chances? It’s sometimes difficult to judge if we have to assess single cases, like resistance to an enemy. Who didn’t see the resistance of the Ukrainian army against the Russian invasion as obstinate and unreasonable during the first days? Western powers even advised the Ukrainian president Zelensky to flee and to form an exile government. However, the facts proved him right not to do so and to resist. Theory often collides with practice. But if everybody disagrees with you or if the facts seem to turn against you, there is reason to wonder whether your stubbornness isn’t a matter of stupidity.
And what once you have lost because of your obstinacy? Was your stubbornness really unreasonable obstinacy? Others will judge. But also here Montaigne has a warning for us, in the last sentence of his essay: “Above all a man should take heed, if he can, of falling into the hands of a judge who is an enemy and victorious.” For the winner is always right, even if he isn’t.

Thursday, February 08, 2024

Random quote
Above all a man should take heed, if he can, of falling into the hands of a judge who is an enemy and victorious.

Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592)

Monday, February 05, 2024

Changing views

Recently I visited the Teylers Museum in Haarlem, Netherlands. If you are not from the Netherlands, probably you have never heard of it, but in the Netherlands the museum is widely known. Founded in 1784, the Teylers Museum is the oldest museum of the Netherlands that still exists and one of the oldest museums in Europe. The museum is certainly worth to write about, but here I don’t want to write about the museum as such but about what this museum and museums in general say about us, about humans. For why do we make museums?
As said, the Teylers Museum is one of the oldest European museums that still exist. A few older ones are The British Museum in London (1753 / open to the public in 1759), the Amerbach Cabinet in Basel, Switzerland (1661/1671) and several museums in Vatican City. The Capitoline Museums there began in 1471 and it is the oldest still existing museum in the world. This doesn’t mean that there were no museums before 1471. The oldest museum known dates from c. 530 BC and was founded by the Babylonian princess Ennigaldi. It contained a collection of archaeological artefacts from different times and places, neatly organized and labelled, just as in modern museums. Some of the artefacts were already a thousand years old, when the museum was founded. Also ancient people studied history! However, apparently the idea that one could collect artefacts and objects and order them and show them to the public – and that’s what a museum does – was lost in some way, since the present museums date from the end of the 15th century.
I think that this has everything to do with our view on the world. Museums of the type as founded by princess Ennigaldi were unknown at the time of the ancient Greek and Romans. Collections existed, indeed, but they were either libraries or collections of art and objects brought together for religious reasons or for decorating houses, gardens and public buildings. Maybe one of the institutes that was most like a modern museum was the Mouseion (Μουσεῖον) in Alexandria in Egypt, which gave the modern museum its name. It was a building dedicated to the muses (the Greek divinities of art) used for the study of the arts, but it was also a centre for learning in general. Such Mouseia (Museums) could be found in many Greek cities. The Mouseion of Alexandria had a library that is still famous. However, a mouseion was not a museum in the modern sense, for the function of modern museums is much wider. To quote the Wikipedia: “
The purpose of modern museums is to collect, preserve, interpret, and display objects of artistic, cultural, or scientific significance for the study and education of the public.” Just the “education of the public” is one of the most important functions of modern museums, although the other purposes certainly must not be underestimated. However, with the fall of the Roman Empire in the 4th century ancient style museums disappeared.
Also the
oldest modern museum, the Capitoline Museums, was originally dedicated to the arts, like a mouseion, for it began when Pope Sixtus IV gave a group of important ancient sculptures to the people of Rome. However, two important social developments made that people (not only rich nobles like kings, dukes and counts or the church, but also wealthy citizens) began to collect all kinds of objects – curiosities – and not only pieces of art or books. These two developments were the rise of modern science since the end of the Middle Ages and the discovery of the world (“discovery” from a European perspective, but it is in Europe that the first modern museums were founded). These two developments brought people into contact with new worlds and with it with new objects; and they began to study them. So, people who could afford it began to collect “curiosities” and to present them in cabinets, and to order them and to show them to family and friends and also gradually to the public; to everybody who wanted to see their curiosities. These developments led to the rise of the modern museum. In this way The British Museum in London began with a private collection, and also the Amerbach Cabinet in Basel, and many other museums as well. Also the Teylers Museum is a case in point. Pieter Teyler van der Hulst (1702-1778), a wealthy cloth merchant and banker in Haarlem, had stipulated in his will that his collection of curiosities and part of his fortune should be used to establish a foundation for the promotion of art and science. Therefore, the executors of his will established a centre for study and education and a museum with scientific instruments, fossils, minerals, drawings and the like. The idea was revolutionary and based on the ideas of the Enlightenment. People could discover the world in the new institute without coercion by church or state. The idea was viable. For although there were already a few museums in the Netherlands, only the Teylers Museum withstood the ages. Also in other countries museums were established according to the same concept, and many still exist. This concept could only be developed, and for a part redeveloped, when and because people had got a new and broader view on the world: New worlds, new views, new institutions!

Thursday, February 01, 2024

Random quote
We become philosophers rather than aggressive ideologues by always being underway towards discovering what everything is
Graham Harman (1968-)

Monday, January 29, 2024

The procrastinator

At the end of my last blog, I told you that there are several types of procrastinators, without saying much about these types. Moreover, I didn’t tell you how to stop procrastination, but I referred you to the internet. Maybe, you doesn’t find this very satisfactory, and with right. So let me write here a little bit more about these themes.
Piers Steel mentions in his The procrastination equation three main factors that have a big impact on your motivation to perform a task or to pursue a goal: Expectancy, Value and Impulsiveness. Accordingly, he discerns three main types of procrastinators. However, how do you know which type of procrastinator you are, if you are? To this end, Steel developed two procrastination tests. The first one tells you to what extent you are a procrastinator compared to others. With the help of the second test, you can find your type. The tests are too long for this blog, but you find them resp. in chapter one and chapter two of the book. In case the first test shows that you are not a procrastinator, it is still useful to do the second test, too, for nobody is completely free from procrastination.
Steel gives his types the names of persons, but let me call them Type E (from Expectancy), Type V (from Value) and type I (from Impulsiveness). If you are a type E procrastinator, you tend to postpone tasks that actually needed to be done now, because you think that you cannot do them or that they’ll not give you the result to be expected. Maybe you find them too difficult for you, or you have done them in the past without much result. Steel mentions the case of a sales person in a call centre who has so often received a “no” when trying to sell his products that he is going to spend more time on Facebook and internet games than to give it another try. “Procrastinators of this type are typically less confident, especially about the tasks they are putting off”, so Steel.
However, maybe you are not the type that quickly gives up as such what you have planned to do, but you tend to postpone tasks that have not much value for you, even if they are important. If so, you are a type V procrastinator. Steel mentions here things like starting on your taxes or cleaning out your attic. This looks obvious, but not doing such tasks may have nasty consequences. You can be fined, if you don’t send in your tax form in time.
Maybe the most common type is the type I procrastinator. This type of procrastinator “value[s] rewards that can be realised soon far more highly than rewards that require … to wait”. Such a procrastinator is impulsive. “People who act without thinking, who are unable to keep their feelings under control, who act on impulse, are also people who procrastinate”, so Steel. Playing games or continuously checking your Facebook; searching for all kinds of odd things or videos on the internet; going out when a friend asks you, while you need to study; these are only a few examples of this type of procrastination. A type I procrastinator tends to think: The deadline of what I must do is still far away. With this in mind, this type gives in too fast to immediate impulses. The result is that s/he starts too late on the tasks to be done, with the possible effect, for instance, that they are not well done, or that deadlines are exceeded.
The types just described need not be pure. Most procrastinators are a bit of this and a bit of that. But often one type prevails, especially type I.
Once you know this, the next question is how to stop your procrastination. A little bit procrastinating need not be a problem and can be relaxing and can be fun. But many people procrastinate too much with all negative effects it can have. Steel gives many useful tips what you can do about it, but it is difficult to summarize them in a few lines or main rules. So I surfed a bit on the internet and found here on a list of measures and tips that are a good summary of Steel’s tips and suggestions. As such it is a good website for you, if you want to know more about procrastination. Here is the list of “procrastination exercises” found there (copied from the website; the layout has been adapted):

Make a to-do list: To help keep you on track, consider placing a due date next to each item.
Take baby steps: Break down the items on your list into small, manageable steps so that your tasks don’t seem so overwhelming.
Recognize the warning signs: Pay attention to any thoughts of procrastination and do your best to resist the urge. If you begin to think about procrastinating, force yourself to spend a few minutes working on your task.
Eliminate distraction: Ask yourself what pulls your attention away the most—whether it’s Instagram, Facebook updates, or the local news—and turn off those sources of distraction.
Pat yourself on the back: When you finish an item on your to-do list on time, congratulate yourself and reward yourself by indulging in something you find fun.

If you want to know more about procrastination and how to stop it, and you find Steel’s book too long to read, search then with the keyword “procrastination” on the internet and you’ll find many useful webpages. Here is my search. And maybe reading my blog was a first step to make an end to your procrastination, if it is a problem for you.


Thursday, January 25, 2024

Random quote
When people are compared to vermin, you know how things stand.
Ian Buruma (1951-)

Monday, January 22, 2024


Thirteen years ago Piers Steel published The procrastination equation, but it was only three months ago that I bought it. A clear case of procrastination? No, for only recently I heard about the book and then I bought it soon, for I thought that procrastination would be a good subject for a blog. However, it took me two months before I started to read it. Is this then a clear case of procrastination? Again the answer is no: I have always a couple of books, often more than ten, waiting to be read, and my rule is to read them more or less in the order I bought them. You know, once a book stood there fourteen years in the waiting row, and that must not happen again. Therefore I made this rule. But there are exceptions and sometimes a book gets priority, like Steel’s book. So this case is rather one of jumping the queue than a case of procrastination.
What then is procrastination? Procrastination is postponing tasks that should be done or that you like to be done by doing instead things that are less important or less urgent, or by letting distract yourself, from what you should do. You are not procrastinating when you have good reasons for postponing what you had to do or wanted to do. If you postpone writing an article, because you received an e-mail that a book you need for it will arrive later this week, this makes sense. It may save you the need to make corrections, in case the book contains important stuff. When you skip your daily run, because the rain is pouring down, it’s also okay, if you seldom cancel a workout. But when you stay at home, because you first want to check your Facebook and then it has become too dark to go out, you are procrastinating, for you could also have done it after your run.
Why do we procrastinate? In chapter two Steel mentions three main factors, based on an analysis of hundreds of cases of procrastination. They are expectancy, value and time. These factors constitute your motivation to do something (or not). Expectancy is your view whether or not you can bring your planned task to a good end or whether or not you can achieve your goal. Value means whether or not you find your task important or valuable. High scores on both – you think you can do your task and reach your goal and it is important for you – make that you’ll almost certainly do what you must or want to do. Low scores make that you tend to postpone it. So, according to Steel, using the Expected Utility Theory , we can say that

a) Motivation = Expectancy x Value

High scores on expectancy and value give high motivation and low scores give low motivation, as this formula shows.
However, that’s not all. Maybe you are very motivated, but why acting now? The deadline is yet far away, you think. And the later the task needs to be done and your goal needs to be reached, the more you are inclined to postpone working on them. Therefore formula a) must be divided by the “delay”: the time you have till the deadline. So we get:

b) Motivation = Expectancy x Value

Formula b says that your motivation will decrease the farther away in future your task or goal is. However, so Steel, there is yet a fourth factor that has a clear impact on motivation: We need also to take account of someone’s character (although Steel doesn’t use this word). Some persons want to get things now instead of later, if they can choose, even if it would be profitable to get them later. For other persons it’s not a problem to wait if it is worth it. People who tend to take what they get now instead of what they get later, tend to postpone working on goals yet far away. “Why not going out with my friends this evening; that exam will be only next month”, a student may think. But if she thinks too often so, in the end she may lack enough time for a good preparation. So the more you tend to be distracted by less important tasks or by (futile) pleasures now, the more you tend to postpone working on the more important task with a deadline still far away. Steel calls this character trait “impulsiveness”. Because it diminishes your motivation, it must be put in the denominator of the formula. Then we get:

b) Motivation = Expectancy x Value
                                Impulsiveness x Delay   

Now we are done and we have got, what Steel calls, the Procrastination Equation (see note below). In his book Steel describes also types of procrastinators. Some procrastinate because their expectancy in the task to do is usually low; others often give a low value to their tasks; again others are impulsive. And, of course, some people are a mixture of these types. Whatever type of procrastinator you are, if you are, the procrastination equation shows what the factors are you can work on in order to “deprocrastinate” yourself, and what the effects of these factors are. How to do that? Steels gives many tips or you can find them on the internet. 

For technical reasons, also a constant +1 must be added in the denominator of the formula. See the Penguin edition of Steel’s book, p. 37, and see here

Thursday, January 18, 2024

Random quote
Writing is the concrete activity that consists in constructing, on its own, blank space – the page – a text that has power over the exteriority from which it first has been isolated.
Michel de Certeau (1925-1986)

Monday, January 15, 2024

The death of Cicero

The assasination of Cicero
1819 - Rijksmuseum, Netherlands - Public Domain)

In May last year, I published a blog about the question “Is philosophy dangerous?” I wrote there that it often happened that philosophers were banned or went voluntarily into exile, because they were prosecuted for their ideas. Some were even killed for their ideas. Later I realized that I forgot to mention Cicero, whose death was violent and cruel. I decided to leave it as it was and to ignore this omission. However, recently I was reminded again of Cicero’s death, when I read about it on my history day calendar. Although actually Cicero was not murdered for his philosophical ideas but for his political affiliations, I want to make up for my negligence now, for in the end Cicero was one of the most important Roman philosophers and he is still widely read.
Today Cicero is best known for his letters and for his treatise on rhetoric. And for his speeches, of course, and then we come to the heart of why he was murdered. But let me begin from the start.
Marcus Tullius Cicero (3 January 106 BC - 7 December 43 BC) was born in the town of Arpinum (now Arpino), halfway Naples and Rome, in a rich family. He always wanted to become a politician and was supported in this by his family and his family-in-law. However, he started his career as a lawyer and became very successful and well-known, also because of his rhetorical talents. He won a case against the corrupt governor Verres of Sicily, which brought him in the centre of politics. Moreover, Cicero was very ambitious. All this stimulated his career a lot. He became a member of the Senate and in 63 BC Cicero was the first Roman consul since 30 years who had not a consul among his ancestors (every year two consuls were elected). After his consulate, Cicero got involved in all kinds of political affairs and because he was also a big spender, he got into debt. The debt was paid by the Triumvirate – one of them was Julius Caesar – that tried to overthrow the existing political structure. Caesar asked Cicero to join the Triumvirate, but he refused, since it would undermine the Senate and the existing Republic. In 60 BC Cicero fled Rome, but he returned three years later, when the political situation had changed. Cicero became again a successful lawyer and returned to the Senate, but he became again involved in political and private affairs. After Caesar’s
assassination in 44 BC – Cicero was present when it happened but wasn’t involved in it – a new Triumvirate – called the Second Triumvirate – tried to seize control of the state. This Triumvirate existed of Octavianus (the adopted son of Caesar and the later Emperor Augustus), Marcus Antonius and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus. Again Cicero took the side of the Senate against the Triumvirate but also advised the Senate to support the still young Octavianus, thinking that the Senate could easily bend Octavianus to their will. He was wrong. One of the agreements between the members of the Triumvirate was that each of them could freely execute their enemies and the others would not interfere. Cicero became on Marcus Antonius’s kill list. He tried to flee but was caught by Antonius’s soldiers. For what happened now, I can best quote Plutarchus, who described Cicero’s death:

Cicero had fled to his villa in Astura, when he had heard that he would be executed, and from there he left again in a litter, accompanied by some servants, not knowing where to go. Not long after he had left home “his assassins came to his villa, Herennius a centurion, and Popillius a tribune, who had once been prosecuted for parricide and defended by Cicero; and they had helpers. After they had broken in the door, which they found closed, Cicero was not to be seen, and the inmates said they knew not where he was. Then, we are told, a youth who had been liberally educated by Cicero …, Philologus by name, told the tribune that the litter was being carried through the wooded and shady walks towards the sea. The tribune, accordingly, taking a few helpers with him, ran round towards the exit, but Herennius hastened on the run through the walks, and Cicero, perceiving him, ordered the servants to set the litter down where they were. Then he himself, clasping his chin with his left hand, as was his wont, looked steadfastly at his slayers, his head all squalid and unkempt, and his face wasted with anxiety, so that most of those that stood by covered their faces while Herennius was slaying him. For he stretched his neck forth from the litter and was slain, being then in his sixty-fourth year. Herennius cut off his head, by Antony's command, and his hands — the hands with which he wrote the Philippics. For Cicero himself entitled his speeches against Antony ‘Philippics,’ and to this day the documents are called Philippics.”
Cicero’s remains were brought to Rome. and there Antonius ordered his head and hands to be placed on the rostrum on the Forum in order to scare the Roman population.

That’s how one of the most outstanding philosophers in history came to his end, though not for what he said as a philosopher but for what did as a politician. But does it make any difference, if a death is so cruel? A human is a human, and cruel is cruel.

Source: Information about Cicero’s death can be found in the Wikipedia and on many other websites.

Thursday, January 11, 2024

Random quote
Photography provides a quick way of apprehending something and a compact form for memorizing it. [It] is like a quotation, or a maxim or proverb.
Susan Sontag (1933-2004) 

Monday, January 08, 2024

Born today

Maybe it would be interesting to devote my blogs this year to philosophers who have been born on the day that I publish my blogs. It would be an interesting theme, but I think that soon it would become boring, not only for you but also for me. Soon, you would think: Again a biography of a philosopher? And you would stop reading them. For me, soon writing a blog would no longer be challenging. If I wouldn’t know the philosopher I wanted to write about, writing a blog would be not more than copying some biographical stuff from the Wikipedia and other relevant websites. Nevertheless, I think it is a good idea to do so now and then and to draw your attention to known and less known thinkers. So, for this blog, I googled “philosopher 8 January” and this is what I found:
- Samuel von Pufendorf (1632-1694)
- Taixu (1890-1947)
- Sterling Power Lamprecht (1890-1973)
- Carl Gustav Hempel (1905-1997)
- Jean Hyppolite (1907-1968)
Taixu, a Chinese Buddhist philosopher, and Sterling Power Lamprecht, an American philosopher, were completely unknown to me, and I’ll ignore them here. As for, Pufendorf and Hyppolite, at least I knew their names. Pufendorf was an influential German political thinker and a precursor of the Enlightenment in Germany. The French philosopher Hyppolite was a follower of Hegel and he has also written about Marx. His works have been quite influential in his time. When teaching at the Sorbonne University, Louis Althusser, Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault were among his students. However, most interesting for me is Hempel, who had a big influence on my philosophical thinking, but then just because I didn’t agree with him. When I studied sociology at the Utrecht University, Hempel had many followers. Discussing about philosophical, especially methodological, themes most of the time involved for me defending why I did not agree with him. One of the most important views of Hempel was that the basis of explanation of facts in all sciences was the so-called “covering law model”, while I thought (with others) and still think that often this model doesn’t work in the social sciences and the other human sciences. An alternative approach of social facts is the method of understanding (with a German word also called Verstehen). Influenced by the ideas of Jürgen Habermas, Karl-Otto Apel and especially Georg Henrik von Wright, later, in my PhD thesis, I developed a methodological foundation of this method of understanding, which to my mind had insufficiently been done till then.
But I don’t want to write about myself but about Hempel. Although on many points I don’t agree with his ideas, they are interesting, anyway. Hempel (a German born philosopher who in 1939 moved to the USA and stayed there for the rest of his life) belonged in the early 1930s to the Berlin Circle of logical positivists, a group associated with the famous Vienna Circle, which held that empirical verification and mathematics were the basis of all sciences and that there was there no place for subjectivity (a view that could not be maintained, in the end). Statements that could not be verified in some way were considered meaningless. The most important contribution of Hempel to the debate how to verify facts was the covering law model, also called deductive-nomological model or Hempel-Oppenheim model (since Hempel developed the model in cooperation with Paul Oppenheim).
Basically this model says that a given phenomenon is explained by deducing its description from a law or general statement like “All A are B” or “If A is the case then B happens” plus a description of the particular circumstances in which the phenomenon in question occurs. Although actually the covering law model was not new, just Hempel’s clear formulation and his idea that it applied to all sciences, including the social sciences and history, plus his fierce defence of the model made him famous.
Although formulating the covering law model is one of Hempel’s most important contributions to philosophy, it is certainly not his only contribution. Alone and with Oppenheim he wrote books and articles on mathematics and logic. In one of my blogs I paid already attention to his Raven Paradox. All this made that Hempel left a clear mark on the development of philosophy. Although today, many ideas developed by him and by other logical positivists are considered outdated, including the covering law model, nevertheless, the 8th of January is a date to remember in the history of philosophy. 

Thursday, January 04, 2024

Random quote
There is not an instant of time when some living creature is not devoured by another. Above all these numerous animal species is placed man, whose destructive hands spare no living thing; he kills to eat; he kills for clothing, he kills for adornment, he kills to attack, he kills to defend himself, he kills for instruction, he kills for amusement, he kills for the killing’s sake: a proud and terrible king, he needs everything, and nothing can withstand him.
Carlo Ginzburg (1939-)

Monday, January 01, 2024


Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967) was an English war poet, writer and soldier. During the First World War (1914-1918), he fought in the British army on the Western Front in Northern France against the Germans, who had invaded France. Sassoon wrote this poem in November 1918, around the time that the Armistice of 11 November ended this war. (click on the photo to single it out)