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November 13, 2006


The Modesto Kid

Um, is this post by Belle like it says? Or as seems more likely, by John?

Herr Ziffer

Perhaps it is already included in Descartes reference to the "shape" of the wax? Descartes goes through a list of the sensible qualities of the wax: taste, smell, sight, feel, sound. What strikes me about the passage, actually, is how he has to struggle a bit in order to complete the series by rapping on the wax in order to get an audible sensation.

Alternatively, the hexagonal structure is in some sense an intelligible quality of the wax, rather than a sensuous one. He would to some degree undermine his point (or rather go straight to the conclusion) if he mentioned the mathematical character of the wax at this point in his argument.

belle waring

well, one could think that he alludes to it in saying 'the shape', since everyone knows what shape honeycombs is, but I still find it odd. your second point is good, though. and re: the sound, yes, it's a stretch. I think the room would have to be both cold and quiet to get much out of it at all.

Kip Manley

My guess is he was dealing with wax that was no longer in comb form. "Just come from the comb," he says. It would help if I knew anything first-hand about the processing of beeswax, but Wikipedia does show the stuff devoid of hexagons.

Kip Manley

(That would also explain the apparent sound quandary. A lump of wax, not a sheet of comb. But fresh from the comb, hence the noted sensual qualities. Here's where a familiarity with the household economies of Descartes' time and place would come in handy. —Perhaps, if he'd been somewhat less wealthy, he'd've gone on about rushes instead.)

belle waring

kip, all the wax inside the hive is doing stuff--holding honey or larvae or being the beehive jeffries tube. I don't think that irregular lump on the page was inside a hive in that form. I think it's just unrefined but human-collected in some way. that's potentially consistent with Descartes' lump having been like that but still being 'fresh from the comb', I guess.

Kip Manley

Yeah, I know. I meant "extracted from," in some sense, by some process which stripped it of its Jeffries tubes. Again, I'm lacking some familiarity, domestic oeconomium, etc. I mean, the Wikipedia article mentioned clarification with water, before it's used for candles, but you'd think that would strip it of many of those noted sensual qualities etc. etc.


I once graded an exam that included this question (approximately): What is Descartes certain of by the end of the 2nd meditation?

One student answered with the following list: He exists. He is a thinking thing. And a piece of wax exists.

Yes, the Archimedean point from which Descartes will base all philosophical and scientific knowledge is a piece of wax. (Of course, the right answer isn't all that less silly. But that's another story)


A lot depends on how the ball of wax is meant to be advancing the argument. Long ago I was told that Descartes meant that passage to be a direct response to defenders of the epistemology he was challenging. Not being an expert at late medieval epistemology, I feel unqualified to evaluate that claim.

It does seem, though, that the passage does a good job of undermining the idea that what one knows can be reduced to or generalized from sensory impressions.

Or maybe not. Still, it's probably my favorite part of the Meditations.


I think every post title at J&B should be a Zappa reference.

What class(es) are you teaching?

Theresa Rogers

So Philosophy truly is dead, then, when a bunch of "philosophers" take up our time with this type of discussion. Don't tell me to go take a Philosophy class, where these things would be discussed differently - I already have, many of them, for a long time, from one of the leading universities in the world.

Descartes, who irrevocably split the sacred from the secular, who divorced us from anything not recognizable to our senses, who left us in a truly nihilistic world by denying us access to any further meaning than what we can perceive by the gross bodily senses, is now revered as the "ball of wax" guy with nothing explored concerning his enormous impact on our quickly crumbling Western world. I'm not saying he is the only one responsible, but he sure was one to act as a catalyst.
Where is Philosophy in this day and age? Why won't it step up to the plate and matter the way it had for centuries? Are we all happy to let it play around in linguistics and logic forever, the forgotten matriarch of meaning? Philosophy used to be the ongoing discussion of what made life matter - now it is just an ongoing (and ongoing, and ongoing) discussion of strange points that only other "in-the-know" philosophy majors can understand. The universal search for meaning reduced to what Kant means when he says "should!" Honestly. It would make one weep, if we were still allowed to feel anything in relation to Philosophy.

Now before I get flamed, let me say the obvious - John and Belle are not the ones responsible for this mess. I just happen to be positing this on their site. John and Belle are fine, happy people, leading fine, happy lives. More power to them. I lament for them in the greater lament for Philosophy itself - as a fish can't see the water in which it swims, most philosophers out there today can't see the meaning for the frickin' words.

Sam Clark

Um, OK, I'll bite. This isn't a flame, just a question for Theresa Rogers: how are we to address the problems you mention, if not by the methods of close attention and precision that you find so dull and trivial?

Theresa Rogers

Thanks, Sam, for not flaming. The problem as I see it is the separation of intellectual meaning from personal meaning. Intellectual meaning should only be the opener to a discussion and exploration of personal meaning. Take the word "heartbreak." I can understand what it means intellectually, i.e., I understand what the word means. Which is fine. But my exploration of the word can't stop there. If I am now faced with a real, live person who is experiencing heartbreak, my intellectual understanding of the word is useless. I cannot hope to reach out to or even interact with this person by saying, "Well, you know, that 'heartbreak' sure is hard." Hopefully that person would look at me strangely and move on.

And that's how I see the current state of Philosophy. It's a bunch of people sitting around discussing the word "heartbreak" without bringing any sort of sympathy, feeling, passion, emotion or any other sort of personal meaning to it. And at that point, what *is* the point?

To me, the intellectual study of words divorced from personal experience is nothing but, as a dear friend of mine put it once, "mental masturbation." And honestly, what does that amount to?

I know the argument that there is no meaning if it's all personal meaning, but I believe there is no meaning *without* personal meaning. Give me the person who can sit next to me and say, "You've got heartbreak. I know how that feels." There's a person I want to know. There's a person who I can connect to.

The "heartbreak" discussion is comparable to the person who wants to kill me by discussing what Kant meant by the word "should" in the categorical imperative without ever *once* moving the discussion to what the impact of what Kant said might have on us, actual human beings trying to live in the world.

And that should be the job of Philosophy. Tell me how to widen my personal experience so that I can sympathize with my fellow human beings. When Socrates said, "Anyone can be angry. The trick is to be angry at the right time, in the right way, at the right person, for the right reason and in the right amount.", I like to believe he didn't mean for all of us to sit around and use linguistics and logic trying to deduce what he meant by "amount", and then stop there, congratulate ourselves and eat the chips and dip. I like to think he said these words to help people see themselves and how they relate to those around them.

We can use Philosophy as a way to deepen our understanding of ourselves and our relations to those around us. I feel that at the heart of it, that's why Philosophy has been around for so long. It has not always been as marginalized as it is now - I mean, how much more marginal can it get, without fading completely away? At a certain point, we philosophers have to ask ourselves, "Why on Earth is what we are doing relegated to the back room? We are in the business of discussing the meaning of life and the world we live in! Why is no one listening anymore?"

I suppose that's what I am doing. Asking that question - why have we sold our lease on meaning and leashed ourselves to linguistics?

So, to address these problems, we have to be willing to go *beyond* the discussion of intellectual meaning (most of which, let's face it, isn't even needed) and go to the discussion of what the *idea* means to me. So I'll use the Socrates quote as an example.

Let's say that I give my students that quote. Let's say one of them doesn't understand the words "in the right way." Fine. Let's discuss for clarification. But for god's sake, what a disservice if I make that the focus of the discussion! Discussing "in the right way" is not a discussion that can have any satisfactory conclusion unless we look at our own personal experience. Sure, if we keep it on the purely intellectual level, we could discuss "in the right way" for the rest of our lives. But what would that serve?

In order to answer the question, "What is this right way of which Socrates speaks?" let's cut to the chase and look at how we have expressed anger in our own lives. There will be obvious examples of anger handled in better and worse ways. Given that background, we can all say, "Oh, yeah, OK. I get that." and move on to discussing the point of what he said, in the sense that this quote points out to us any number of important things about living with one another in a kinder, more conscious way.

So we can only have endless, useless intellectual discussion when we don't bring in personal experience. By bringing that in, and using what we are studying to open up our own lives for examination, we can move beyond intellectual stagnation and into the realm of actually making a difference in people's lives. And isn't that the point of Philosophy?

So use "close attention and precision" as a tool, but don't get lost in it and mistake the tool for the finished project. Bring the discussion back into the realm of the relevant by exploring what the object of study means to, and *for*, you and those studying with you.

I'm writing this fast, so if you have more questions, please ask. Also, I've never been able to spell. Sorry about that.



What happened between, say, Plato and Socrates and today is the rise of science. We discovered that you can only actually accumulate knowledge by dividing the subject matter into the smallest possible chunks, and each of us working away on our chunk. Analytic philosophy works in just the same way: we philosophers spend so much time work on tiny details because it turns out that's the only way to actually make any progress. So we tend not to have much to say on the kind of questions you're interested in (at least not much that is any more profound than you can get from intelligent people in other areas). We could devote our time to big questions instead but at a cost: of transforming what you regard as mental masturbation into pretentious nonsense.

That;s very much an analytic philosopher's view (I suspect that John wouldn't agree). If you want big answers to big questions, then look elsewhere. Don't blame us for not delivering them; there are plenty of people who are called philosophers who do this work. Why should we all do it?

Theresa Rogers

Hmmm . . . good point, Neil, about "why should we all do it?"

I suppose I wish *more* did it, as opposed to *less*, and I wish that the Philosophical world was not currently awash in the analytical viewpoint.

I liked the comment about the cost: "mental masturbation" into "pretentious nonsense." That made me laugh.

I'm really curious about this comment: "we philosophers spend so much time work on tiny details because it turns out that's the only way to actually make any progress." What Philosophical progress are you talking about? Progress towards what? Not a flame - a genuine question.

As a self-professed "analytic" philosopher, do you ever feel the need for what I am talking about? Or are you happy with the
"We discovered that you can only actually accumulate knowledge by dividing the subject matter into the smallest possible chunks, and each of us working away on our chunk." look at the world? I'm very curious about you, Mr. Analytic Philosopher.


I wrote a defense of analytic philosophy - the claim that only by divide and conquer do we advance. It might equally be true that I'm just more temperamentally suited to AP, and you're more likely to find continental philosophy satisfying. Do I feel the need for what you're talking about? Not at all. I trained as a continental philosopher, and only studied AP later, for entirely pragmatic reasons. As you see, I was converted, because I did come to see the alternative as largely pretentious nonsense. As I said, maybe it's a matter of temperament. In any case, there are plenty of people in philosophy who do not share my narrow analytic blinkers. John is one (he seems to have a foot in both camps).

Progress toward what? Well, I actually think we've come to understand the mind a whole lot better in just the past decade. Beyond that, I can't comment: the price of specialisation.

roy belmont

Neil, above:
"We discovered that you can only actually accumulate knowledge by dividing the subject matter into the smallest possible chunks"
'We' there meaning the self-referring rational-positivist scientificalists, whose hubris is to demand proof for any other p.o.v. and demand it in their own currency, which is Xenic, and half-stepping. And for whom there is only their proprietary form of knowing, and consequently, inevitably, proprietary knowledge.
It's possible to think non-verbally, but for thinkers whose primary modality is verbal this can seem impossible, or peripheral, trivial.
Temple Grandin is impressive, admirable, wonderful, but her way of being in the world is not the only one.
There is, I believe without any documentation but experience, a similar though far more subtle form of, or forms of, mental difference at work in these conflicting worldviews, the one that sees the sacred as archaic and delusional, substanceless, being a kind of low-autistic high-functionality.
Which is not to say the romantic-metaphysical view is more accurate in all things, but that the rat.-pot. worldview is incomplete without it. Which I took to be some of Theresa's point generally.
Would elaborate but must tend to hives, could be a frost tonight.


Positivism about science = ignorance about science.

Herr Ziffer


I think you are basically right, actually. Descartes' division of the mind and body, and in some sense introduction of the mind-body problem (Jacob Klein used to insist that it was Descartes who transformed the very meaning of "mind") transformed the path of the western world, and there are certainly philosophers who will claim that had we gone a different path, for instance along the path opened up by Giambattista Vico's polemics against Cartesianism, the world would be different. Even Descartes' description of the mental turns it into merely some sort of mechanical process with a different material -- and so we have to struggle to even try to recapture what a non-mechanistic view of the world used to look like.

That said, I at the same time think there is something inherently suspicious about the notion that one man's philsophy can have such a widespread and subterranean effect on the history of thought. Descartes is a focal point, but he isn't really the cause of any of this, is he? The draw of the grand narrative also leads us away from the real, which may be one of the reasons that attention to minutiae (sp?) is appealing.

About which, I heard second hand about a lecture once concerning the passage where Descartes considers the people outside his window and asks how we know that they aren't merely automata (was this in the Meditations or the Discourse?). The speaker (or was it an essay author?) pointed out that in Holland at that time, windows were not thin and transparent, but rather thick and nearly opaque, so that what Descartes saw out of his window weren't distinct figures at all, but rather blobs of color moving around. Knowing this about what Descartes is describing, our conclusions about the point he is trying to make should similarly alter a bit.

Theresa Rogers

I am very much so enjoying this discussion. Thanks to all who are participating.

Neil -

Yes, I am a Continental Philosopher, and don't mind you calling that out. It's interesting to me that you switched. I went to a university that was predominantly analytical (with only a few Continentals) and I always found myself packing my schedule with the Continentals. Heidegger, Neitzsche, I love these guys. I took my Continental approach into my Analytic classes and came out with pretty interesting stuff - my views on Wittgenstein could potentially ignite a firestorm from you Analytic types. I'll divulge if asked, but not until. (There. The gauntlet is dangled provocatively.)

I am curious about Philosophy helping us understand the mind better - are you saying that Philosophy is now simply under the umbrella of science? If so, why bother, when scientists can do it so much better than us? If not, then aren't you saying that Philosophy is investigating the metaphysical, which is exactly what Analytics are supposed to be running screaming from? And if they are, then, given my own exposure to it, they seem to be doing a rather terrible job. No offense - just an observation.

Roy -

Yes, my point was that the rat. pot. (great nickname - I'm not using it derogatorily, but oh, the temptation . . . :) )worldview is incomplete without an accompanying view of what could be called the "sacred", as long as we don't try to tie the word sacred to some sort of God or other. I think the word "metaphysical" would be better - for me it includes feeling, emotion, passion, personal experience, etc. without stepping into the world of religion.

I wasn't so sure about your addition of the word "Romantic." With a nod to Sam, this is a place where we do need a bit of analytic discussion. Romantic ties to flim-flam, wispy, Stevie Nicks-dressing, unsubstantiated, unsubstantiatable stuff for me, and that's not at all what I mean when I speak of metaphysics (see prev. paragraph for what I do think it is).

Herr Ziffer -

Yes, I totally agree, it wasn't just Descartes. He just seems to have tied it all up in a neat bow. It was really the zeitgeist of the times, what with Gallileo proving we weren't the center of the universe (although some of my former professors seem to have made a life's work of disproving this particular discovery) and the Church scrambling like mad to make sense of our "demotion." Newton walks out one day and finds the law of gravity laying there in the grass where someone had left it millenia before and now all of Religion is up in arms. Descartes was just trying to smooth things out - but as with all overly-zealous placaters, his message ran away and took up its own life.

Interesting point about the glass, though. Points out why it's so important to know a bit of the background to what we're reading. It reminds me of when I used to teach Romeo and Juliet to my ninth graders - the famous scene where Juliet says, "Oh, Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?" It doesn't mean "Where are you?" It means "Why are you a Montegue? Why can't you be anyone else except the son of my father's sworn enemy?" Wherefore means why, not where. If you don't know that bit of "ancient" vocabulary, the meaning of the entire scene changes. She knows exactly who he is! Changes a lot.

Here's a question to all -

If Descartes asks how we can prove that those shapes out there are people and not automotons (remember, I can't spell) why don't we all just tell him to step outside and look, for crying out loud? Why is there this extra step of "Well, what if we couldn't go outside? What then?"

It all seems to tie into the "solipsism" idea, that we can't really prove that everything around us isn't in our own head. OK, that's a cool idea and all, but really, it either is or it isn't, and no matter which it is, what does that do to my day-to-day life? Will I stop taking showers if I decided it is all in my head? Will I stop cooking dinner and reading books and writing based upon what side of that particular fence I fall over into?

In other words, other than as a rather fun intellectual investigation, what difference does it make? No matter what you "decide", you still live your life. At least I think you do. I haven't seen any obituaries that read, "Took own life - solipsism won out."

Theresa Rogers

Oops - one more thing, Herr Ziffer - you say, "Descartes' description of the mental turns it into merely some sort of mechanical process with a different material -- and so we have to struggle to even try to recapture what a non-mechanistic view of the world used to look like."

That is such a profound statement. For every shift we have in what we "believe" the world to be, we leave behind a previous "belief." Heidegger calls them "understandings of being", but you can call them paradigms of the age or whatever.

One of my hobbies is the study of revisionist archaeology (yes, I'm the ultimate dream girl, ha ha). What tends to happen in history is some new belief springs up on the periphery, grows, then takes over, marginalizing the old belief, often at the point of a sword. The old belief eventually dies off, or is so fringe that for all intents and purposes it is gone. (Yes, this is a simplistic version, but come on, I don't want to write an entire dissertation on it and post it.)

After having studied archaeology from these new, revisionist perspectives, it occurs to me that we are losing *a* *lot* of wisdom/viewpoints/knowledge that could be of tremendous help to us. When you say, "we have to struggle to even try to recapture what a non-mechanistic view of the world used to look like", a bell tolls deep within me.

Am I, as a Continentalist, becoming marginalized? (Not by you guys - I mean the viewpoint of the Continental approach.) Are we in the midst of the switch from an approach that marries the physical and the metaphysical towards a purely physical approach? It is definitely true that, inch by inch, year by year, Descartes' shift (I know! I'm just using a linguistic short-cut! :) ) is taking a firmer and firmer hold.

What are we willing to give up to cement this shift? Are we *really* willing to eliminate the metaphysical all together in the pursuit of the idea that, as Neil puts it, "you can only actually accumulate knowledge by dividing the subject matter into the smallest possible chunks", which we must then study only with our five senses?



Philosophy - my kind - works with science. It's just false that scientists do what we do, only better. We sort out the conceptual confusions of scientists, and thus enable better science. BTW, the idea that analytic philosophy is opposed to metaphysics is decades out of date. Metaphysics is one of the liveliest areas of contemporary AP.

Theresa Rogers

Neil -

Thanks for the clarification on the role of Philosophy and science.

I'm using "metaphysics" as a specialized term, following a long line of Philosophers who create their own vocabulary in order to give the rest of us headaches. Please see my previous posting and I think you'll agree that what I'm talking about and what you're talking about are two different things.

Or maybe you have another new fascinating aspect of Analytical phil. that I am unaware of and would like to know more about.


Well, I'm not sure what you mean by metaphysical, or the sacred without god. If you mean that thought cannot be identified with logical inference, I agree. If you mean that emotions play a cognitive role, I agree. That's part of the reason why I got snarky with Roy. Philosophers of mind have spent a lot of the past 2 decades exploring why pure inference engines can't solve even simple problems. And there is convergent evidence from neuroscience: in the absence of emotional signals, agents are unable to make decisions. None of this evidence makes me want to go back and read Heidegger (BTW, I think Heidegger, like many continental philosophers, had some good ideas. If only continental philosophers had a tradition of rational discussion, he could have done something with his ideas - expressed in division 1 of Being and Time - instead of lapsing into the nonsense of everything he wrote past about 1930).

Theresa Rogers

Oh, but wait, Neil -

You say that science comes up with these conceptual confusions, and then you clear them up, but does science return your call? Is anyone over at science headquarters listening to what we're coming up with over here? Or is this a one-way share?

What is your area, anyway? I'm assuming Phil. of Mind, but maybe I'm wrong. What are you working on?


Scientists often don't need to know what they're doing! Dupre says somewhere that most competent scientists know about as much about science itself as fish know about hydrodynamics. It's only at the borders of science that philosophy is needed. But the borders are important: that's where all the real action is. Borders: the relationship between genes and behavior; between brain mechanisms and what we call the personal level and what you'd call the self; between physics and human action.

I do lots of things, not only at the borders of science and philosophy, but at the borders of philosophical disciplines. My shameful past:


And the bright future:



Oops, links don't work. Try this:

The shameful past

The bright future

Jacob T. Levy

Incredible as it may seem, they let chicks read philosophy nowadays. Confused commenters, take note.

So how does it happen that you're grading? I don't think we've heretofore heard about the random streak of masochism that would lead you to take this on for fun, or about the job to which the obligation to do so is attached. I'd guess that was the source of confusion.

belle waring

OK, fair enough. I am a tutor for John's intro phil class, as it happens, teaching two sections. thus the grading which, as you rightly point out, no one would be doing if they weren't getting paid.

roy belmont

After the honey's been squooshed out of the comb it would tend to have lost its hexagonal orthogonality somewhat mostly I bet. And yet retain that sweetness it contained.
Neil Levy-
Your wit's too brief to bridge the divide between us. Not that that was your intent.
I know what science is as an abstract thing - experiment/verification etc.; and what it is in the vernacular, application generally - technology/chemistry etc. Rational positivism informs, to the point of saturation, the non-religious side of virtually all the public discourse on science and ethics, especially as it concerns religion and moral systems. You know that, right?
I'm ignorant of a lot of the more arcane aspects of current cosmology and micro-biology, but I could spiel a pretty accurate layman's version of Daniel Dennett's idea about the mind's unanchored presence in the brain if I had to.
The bit where true believers in science-uber-alles sidestep the Mengelian side of things, a more immediately heinous aspect of the same rat.-pot.ivism I decried above, has a precise parallel in the fundamentalist refusal to cop to the great and ongoing harms done by their faith in aggregate.
"No, no," they'll say, "you don't understand. It's about love, not hate."
I'll grant you an interpretation of your quoted sentence in which you really meant a certain kind of knowing, a specialized form of knowledge, i.e. the rationalist kind - but as it's written it's specious, somewhat arrogant, and wrong.
I think from your writing here you probably don't believe there's any other way of knowing the world except through those chop-it-up and count-the-pieces methodologies. "...you can only actually accumulate knowledge by dividing the subject matter..."
Isn't that what you were saying?
Plus with all that labor going into its accumulation that kind of knowledge is all proprietary, intellectual property, owned.
There's this big rah-rah thing in the Western mind that "we" are the only ones that have ever gotten "it" right. Proof of that would be our medical arsenals, our transportation systems, our constantly extending life-spans.
The fact that "we" have now driven the world into a feedback loop of massive meteorological unpredictability at best, with consequent trauma inevitable and soon-to-come, should be tempering that kings-of-all-we-survey mentality, but, sadly, no.
Theresa says:
"Descartes, who irrevocably split the sacred from the secular, who divorced us from anything not recognizable to our senses"
and I take her to lament the absence of a heretofore central presence in our lives - the humbling recognition of a greater context which is not ours to do with as we will, but that belongs to itself and measures to its own rule.
Sacred does not mean owned - the sacred by its nature is not ownable, contemporary religionists of many stripes to the contrary.
This seems to be primary dogma in both the scientific and tradional Western religionist camps - the owning of everything.
As an illustration of what I'm irritated by:
neither you nor I nor anyone else will ever be able to prove that the universe - by which I mean not a celestial, astrophysical artifact, but the "one-truth" of the entire outer context of our living - is infinite.
No instrument or mathematical formulae will pin it. It can't be "accumulated".
Chopping things up to understand them gives a really creepy spin to the subject of understanding love.
And wasn't there some Greek guy who demonstrated the inability of half-stepping to ever really get anywhere?
Look! Over there!
That cloud of dust!
It's Xeno's Wagon Train of Stellar Exploration.
Halfway to the stars, forever.
"We" do the same in microcosm, announcing the discovery of the last and final thing down there within the shrinking geographies of the sub-atomic, followed immediately by the naming of the next barrier.
It's infinite. In all directions.
I say this with no evidentiary documentation.
No one will ever prove or refute that statement.
The sacred delivers knowledge like that whole and entire.
The dangers are superstition and blind credulity, yes, of course, but what about Mengele, what about Sidney Gottlieb? Why does religion have to answer for superstition and cult irrationality, but these monsters get to be independent contractors, with no direct affiliation to the scientific community?
There are dangers everywhere, mon frere.
This has no direct bearing on our immediate lives as we live them today right now, but one of the things we've lost - or had stolen, or have wilfully thrown away - was that other kind of knowing, and it may well have guided us through the storms ahead.
What I meant by "romantic-metaphysical" above would be this, pretty much.


I'm not sure what's amusing me more, that analytic philosophy fails to solve the worlds' problems, or that Theresa thinks that continental philosophy is in a comparatively more defendable position.

The fact that "we" have now driven the world into a feedback loop of massive meteorological unpredictability at best, with consequent trauma inevitable and soon-to-come, should be tempering that kings-of-all-we-survey mentality, but, sadly, no.

And you know that how, exactly? BTW, the idea that it we science worshippers who are uniquely responsible for environmental catastrophe is false. As Tim Flannery has shown, indigenous cultures have repeatedly destroyed their own environments. American Indians, Australian aboriginals, and most castrophically (until now) Easter Islander. If we deferred to science as we ought, we would have put in place massive changes to halt climate change. I don't think Bush is refusing to sign Kyoto because he is too rationalistic.

I agree, BTW, that there is a lot of uncritical scientism in the world. But it's based on bad science, and the cure is better science.

Theresa Rogers

Roy - "I take her to lament the absence of a heretofore central presence in our lives - the humbling recognition of a greater context which is not ours to do with as we will, but that belongs to itself and measures to its own rule."

Yes yes yes! That is a huge part of what I am talking about. In that respect, I agree with your "What I meant by 'romantic-metaphysical' above would be this, pretty much."

I believe you have a very good point about what this has led to, climate-wise, as well. It's that exact attitude that comes from the "we exist in our own world, apart from everything else" position of ratpot. To have lost our feeling of interconnectedness - well, I just don't see many things that could be worse. Only through the loss of such a connection could the preveiously-mentioned Mengele have done what he did, and could others have justified it.

As for Cala - "Theresa thinks that continental philosophy is in a comparatively more defendable position." Hmmmmmm . . . well, I've signed on as a Continentalist, so I suppose I have to rather stew in it, but I do think I might be a bit more "continental" than most, if only given my strong feelings about relevancy. In other words, I can't stand it any more when Continentals sit around discussing topics that have no relevance. To me, if what you are discussing is not going to impact your own or anyone else's life, then honestly, give it a rest. I want things that people feel passionate about because they matter to who they are as a person - not because they matter to who they are as an academic. Ugh.

Neil - Thank you for your explanation and for those links! And, by the way, I actually think they both look interesting. To be quite honest, I think the second one looks the most interesting. Neuroethics - short description? There wasn't one available on the website.


As I said in response to Roy, the evidence suggests that environmental degradation is not specific to the post-renassisance. In fact, its form seems quite universal.

Neuroethics has two branches. One is basically just bioethics, with the sciences of the mind substituted for medicine. The branch that interests me is basically applied philosophy of mind. Given what we learn from the cognitive sciences about the mind (the fact that it is composed largely of many independent mechanisms, for instance) do we need to rethink our self-conception? Do the experimental results bear on free will and self-control? On self-deception? etc.


See, my problem with Descartes was the dream stuff. See, my dreams are COMPLETELY DIFFERENT than real life. When I think I'm dreaming, and I am dreaming, I immediately shift perspectives (dreams do not handle such scrutiny) - NOTHING like real life. Sigh.


"I do not mean bodies in general--for general perceptions are apt to be somewhat more confused--but one particular body."

It is perhaps evident that Descartes has given careful consideration in choosing a specific object that could best embody the point he was trying to make. It's like you explained, "It's clear he chose the wax carefully both for its appeal to all the senses and its transformational power."

So, the crux of the question:
But do you know what the most salient feature of the comb was? That would be the distinctive, mathematically regular, hexagonal structure.
How does that not merit a place in Descartes discussion?

I am postulating that although the hexagonal shape is rather obvious and distinct, Descartes didn't attempt to "allude to it by regarding it as shape" in his meditation because its hexagonal property would relate to more complex concepts of geometry and assymetry as well. And this would spill over to the mathematical realm.
Take into account this quote from my intro phil class:
"A mystery lurks beneath the magic carpet of science, something scientists have not been telling, something too shocking to mention except in rather esoterically refined circles: that at the root of the success of twentieth-century science there lies a deeply 'religious' belief- a belief in an unseen and perfect transcendental world that controls us in an unexplained way, yet upon which we seem to exert no influence whatsoever...This enterprise has been founded upon the certainty that comes from speaking the language of science, a symbolic language that banishes ambiguity and doubt, the only language with a built-in logic which enables an intimate communion with the innermost workings of Nature to be established and underpinned by thought and action: this language is mathematics."

The hexagonal lattices of the honeycomb is perfect, assymetrical, and almost wondrous in it mathematical qualities, thus Descartes couldn't use this point because it would spill over to explaining the 'maths' in it as well, perhaps? And I'm guessing either Descartes doesn't want to detract from his point by bringing in the hexagonal shape, or that he couldn't explain well the relational 'mathematical qualities' of the hexagonal honeycomb, so its best not to use it in the wax example at all.

I'm new to philosophy, so I hope I make sense.

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