Filozofia ?

This autumn, our youngest daughter went to university to read philosophy. Some of the family were not entirely sure that this choice of subject was a good idea: what, they asked, would a philosophy degree do to help her earn a living? I, however, defended her decision — not that it would have mattered if I hadn’t, as she is a determined young woman — on the grounds that philosophy not only teaches practical skills — to think, argue and write well, for example — but that it is a good thing to study for its own sake. Philosophy is the cornerstone of high culture, or so I have believed ever since I discovered its pleasures at school in the dialogues of Plato and the aphorisms of Nietzsche. No educated person ought to be entirely ignorant of philosophy, any more than of science or mathematics, literature or the arts. How are we to make sense of the world, of other people, or of ourselves, without the tools with which the great philosophers have provided us? Above all, though, philosophy can be fun. Where would we be without Ockham’s Razor or Zeno’s Arrow, the Principle of Sufficient Reason or the Categorical Imperative, the Veil of Ignorance or the Liar’s Paradox? To philosophise is not only to learn how to die, but also how to live life to the full.

That, at least, is what I told my family and myself. But is it really true? There are at least three things wrong with the way philosophy is practised and taught at our universities today. The first (“Objection 1”) is that so much philosophy now takes the form of specialised, highly technical and often quite recondite commentary on other philosophers’ work. This is hardly a novel phenomenon: in the 16th century Montaigne already complained of such learned obscurity: “There is more business in interpreting interpretations than in interpreting things, and more books on books than on any other subject: all we do is gloss each other.” Even if the Scholastics had debated how many angels could dance on a pin-head, which in fact they never did, they could never have competed with the pointy-headed pointlessness of many present-day philosophical debates.

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Body and Soul By Noga Arikha

Conceived in pleasure and begotten in pain, the human animal is born naked like all other beasts. Much of the history of ideas about our condition is devoted to puzzling out the contrasts between the brutish constraints of our embodiment and our seemingly disembodied capacity to think, which projects us into abstract realms, away from our mortal, fragile, messy bodies. It is not enough that we can create mathematics, music, physics, and writing, in which bodily needs are silenced and sometimes transcended; we must also wonder about this very capacity. We are animals at once conscious, aware of finitude, and locked into corruptible flesh. 

The word flesh conjures the potency of sexual desire and the bitterness of decrepitude and finitude, the one limiting the other, in the eternal dance of Eros and Thanatos. Flesh is what Titian’s luminous, erotic nudes celebrate, but also what Lucian Freud’s thick paint unforgivingly depicts as garish. It is the miraculously transformed marble of the Greco-Romans, Michelangelo, Bernini, and Rodin. It is at the center of the aestheticized and grotesque sexuality of Edo-era Japanese prints and of the nightmare visions of contemporary horror movies. It is the sensuous mass of fat and muscle painted by Rubens, but also the carcasses lovingly depicted by Chardin. Flesh conjures skin both as smooth cover behind which entrails hide and as those actual entrails, desirable as food for carnivores, for flesh is also meat.


The Oxford English Dictionary’s Surf Consultant By Nick Paumgarten

A luxury of peace and prosperity: Last year, editors at the Oxford English Dictionary, in the midst of a long march toward a third edition, set out to add an entry on “tandem surfing.” (“The practice of two people riding a single surfboard at the same time.”) They were seeking an earlier citation; the best they had was from 1961, in the Los Angeles Times. A researcher contacted a surf museum in San Clemente, California, and eventually wound up in touch with an autodidact in Seattle named Matt Warshaw.

Warshaw is the world’s leading surfing scholar, the Linnaeus of the lineup. Over the years, he has assembled a research library, in his home, of hundreds of books, thousands of periodicals, and some three hundred and fifty movies, and created a database: logged, indexed, searchable. From all this, and from his own experience as a California beach rat, middling pro surfer, and surfing writer, he composed the idiosyncratic yet authoritative “Encyclopedia of Surfing,” which was published, to wide acclaim, in 2003. “I decided to rule this domain that no one gives a shit about,” he said the other day. In the past half-dozen years, he’s been transferring the encyclopedia’s fifteen hundred-odd entries to the Web, and adding many new ones, along with a wealth of photographs and videos. He has likened this migration to Dorothy’s arrival in Oz.

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The Problem With Science Writing By Trevor Quirk

Want to hear a seamy insider secret from the science communication industry? The border between journalism and public relations has more turnstiles than Grand Central. Professionals move with relative ease, and little stigma, between newspapers, websites, and magazines and what would otherwise be called propaganda centers—university communication departments, government agencies, corporate PR arms, military research branches, and so on. So it should come as no surprise that the outputs from these two domains are sometimes hard to tell apart. Informing the public about science can become nearly indistinguishable from efforts to promote it.

Think about it. For every article singing the praises of new science, how often do you see one that is critical? Not often. Unless you’re talking about eugenics or fission bombs, a new scientific result or technology is almost always treated as an unequivocally good thing.