Artha: India: Philosophy


Richard Marshall interviews Jonardon Ganeri in 3:AM Magazine [h/t: Yogesh Chandrani]:

3:AM: Your new book, due out this year, ‘Identity as Reasoned Choice: A South Asian Perspective’ foregrounds multi-cultural, multi-religious and multi-racial characteristics of identity in the contemporary world. You argue that identity is a matter of reasoned choice and draw on a theory retrieved from India. You discuss the role of consensus, of what you call an ‘adaptive model according to which exemplary cases provide local standards of evaluation’, the importance of dissent, historical conceptions of identity and reason from within Indian philosophy and finally how past cultures of reasoning and identity-formation may be used in a contemporary setting. Can you say something about this project?

JG: I want to move away from the notion that there is any one answer to the question of who one is, by which I mean the idea that there are fixed determiners of one’s individual identity, the sort of person one takes oneself to be, the values one endorses, the character that one has. That idea is especially dangerous in a new age of religious intolerance, when, for example, immigration officials engage in racial profiling and make inferences about a person’s values from the clothes they wear.

So I took seriously a thought in the work of Amartya Sen, Akeel Bilgrami, and others that reason goes “all the way down” as it were, meaning that there are always reasoned choices to be made about the weight someone attaches to each of the various sources of value and identity everyone has available to them. Religion is one of the most powerful sources of identity, and I see no difficulty in someone choosing to found their sense of self in their religious faith, as long as they recognise that this is a choice, and that other choices can be equally legitimate.

But I wanted to take this thought a step further, and to ask how, in the ideal conversation envisaged by a deliberative democracy, individuals can call on their various identities in making collective decisions or agreeing on common goods. My idea is that cultural inheritances supply what I called “resources of reason”, normative ways of thinking, and I think that it is important to see that each such such way of thinking provides its own techniques for acknowledging the rights and legitimacies of other ways of thinking.

So someone can come to the table as, for instance, a Jew or a Muslim, and still with a full range of ways of understanding the demands of public reason and of the deliberative practices and values of the other participants in the conversation. Drawing on my own field of expertise, I try to show how this works in the case of Indian intellectual cultures in particular, but I think exactly the same is true for East Asian, African or western sources of significance.

More here.


ArgonautsTyler Curtis at The Quarterly Conversation:

Such is the thread that runs so exquisitely through The Argonauts, poet and critic Maggie Nelson’s memoir, for lack of a more comprehensive term. At once a meditation on queerness, language, and family, and in part a spiritual follow-up to the melancholic Bluets, Nelson’s book traverses the gap between theory and the lived experience that it so often abstracts into oblivion. She traces her relationship with artist Harry Dodge, and memories pass through critical-philosophical cogitation. We often find Nelson and Dodge in conversation, or sharing passages from Wittgenstein or Barthes, and the two spar on the function of names and categories, assimilation and resistance in X-Men, and Nelson’s neglecting the queer part of her life in her writing until now, which is effectively the starting point of this project.

Once we name something, is it irreversibly changed? Can words “do more than nominate”? At one point Nelson recalls the fervor for and against Proposition 8 in California (which made same-sex marriage illegal), and her and Dodge’s frantic journey from courthouse to courthouse to get married once it becomes clear that the ballot proposition would likely pass. But how adequate is the term “same-sex marriage,” anyway? And how many queer folk actually “think of their desire’s main feature as being ‘same-sex’”? What really makes a family unit? And what exactly are the so-called defenders of traditional marriage reallylamenting?

more here.

John Lennon imagined in ‘Beatlebone’ (or is he really?)

La-ca-jc-kevin-barry-20151129-002David L. Ulin at the LA Times:

In 1967, John Lennon bought a small island off the west coast of Ireland called Dorinish. It wasn't much of an island, just a pasture and some rocks, which, Kevin Barry tells us in his second novel, “Beatlebone,” “were harvested for ballast by the local fishing fleet.” Although Lennon wanted to establish a utopian community on Dorinish (in the early 1970s, he invited a group to start a commune on the land), he visited the island just twice.

The story is intriguing, not least because it's rare to come upon a lesser-known narrative about the Beatles — and yet the unexpected turn of Barry's novel, which imagines a 1978 trip by Lennon to Dorinish, is that it isn't really about the singer at all.Sure, there are identifying traces: This Lennon lives at the Dakota and he longs to “work again and breathe again and write again, and not be locked to the … past — that he might play again — not locked to the past — that he can write again — not locked to the past and its same old song.” But he is also tormented in ways that may have less to do with Lennon than with Barry himself.

more here.

A Life of Gore Vidal

MCGRATH-master675Charles McGrath at The New York Times:

Easily the best, most entertaining book about Gore Vidal is his 1995 memoir “Palimpsest.” But with the possible exception of “In Bed With Gore Vidal,” Tim Teeman’s 2013 tell-all, “Palimpsest” is also the least reliable of the Vidal books. Vidal was a tireless self-mythologizer, and as his title suggests, that book is a layering of rememberings, re-rememberings and mis-rememberings. In his new, much sounder biography, “Empire of Self,” Jay Parini suggests that even the account of Vidal’s idyllic romance with his high school friend Jimmie Trimble, one of the touchstones of “Palimpsest” — the story of a love so perfect and unearthly that it could never be duplicated — was most likely a fabrication.

Parini was close enough to Vidal to know when not to take him at his word. An English professor at Middlebury College, he met Vidal while on sabbatical in Italy in the mid-80s, and somewhat improbably — Parini is modest, earnest, scholarly and straight, none of which could be said about Vidal — the two became friends. “It would be fair to say, in a crude way, that I was looking for a father, and he seemed in search of a son,” Parini writes, not adding that, as so often happens, the son wound up taking care of the father to a certain extent and putting up with more than he had bargained for.

more here.

The Science of Choice in Addiction

Sally Satel in The Atlantic:

In December 1966, Leroy Powell of Austin, Texas, was convicted of public intoxication and fined $20 in a municipal court. Powell appealed his conviction to Travis County court, where his lawyer argued that he suffered from “the disease of chronic alcoholism.” Powell’s public display of inebriation therefore was “not of his own volition,” his lawyer argued, making the fine a form of cruel and unusual punishment. A psychiatrist concurred, testifying that Powell was “powerless not to drink.”

Then Powell took the stand. On the morning of his trial, his lawyer handed him a drink, presumably to stave off morning tremors. The prosecutor asked him about that drink:

Q: You took that one [drink] at eight o’clock [a.m.] because you wanted to drink?…And you knew that if you drank it, you could keep on drinking and get drunk?

A: Well, I was supposed to be here on trial, and I didn’t take but that one drink.

Q: You knew you had to be here this afternoon, but this morning

you took one drink and then you knew that you couldn’t afford

to drink anymore and come to court; is that right?

A: Yes, sir, that’s right.

The judge let stand Powell’s conviction for public intoxication.

Two years later, the Supreme Court affirmed the constitutionality of punishment for public intoxication, rejecting the idea “that chronic alcoholics … suffer from such an irresistible compulsion to drink and to get drunk in public that they are utterly unable to control their performance.”

Now, fast-forward almost half a century to the laboratory of Carl Hart, a neuroscientist at Columbia University, who has been showing that cocaine and methamphetamine addicts have a lot in common with Powell. When Hart’s subjects are given a good enough reason to refuse drugs—in this case, cash—they do so too.

More here.

Splitting the Difference: Two books confront the challenges of growing up black in America

Gene Seymour in Bookforum:

Cover00Fine. Let’s start with “Negro,” or, if one prefers, “negro.” Even with this word’s present-day, often lower-case status, there are African Americans for whom “Negro” is a trigger word for outrage or affront. Some want the word excised altogether—which, at least to this African American, displays amnesia toward (or, worse, disrespect for) our collective history. Between the years 1900 and 1970 (give or take), “Negro” defined a people in transition through two world wars, a cultural renaissance, and a social and political movement that changed everything around it. Those who defined themselves as “Negro” flew airplanes to battle fascism, made their own movies, established baseball franchises, and used their hard-won education in law, the arts, and science to pull their people ahead with them, transforming a nation that otherwise refused to see them as they were, when it chose to see them at all. Where that other “N-word” demeaned and distorted (and still does, no matter who uses it), “Negro” dignified and elevated. After the ’60s had run their course, Negroes collectively agreed to shift to “black” because the other was no longer considered sufficient, or useful. It was outdated, perhaps. But an insult? Our grandparents and great-grandparents might beg to differ, no matter what they chose to call themselves.

I am, in short, riding the same train as Margo Jefferson, who may be even more bullish on the matter than I am, certainly more lyrical: “I still find ‘Negro’ a word of wonders, glorious and terrible. . . . A tonal-language word whose meaning shifts as setting and context shift, as history twists, lurches, advances, and stagnates. As capital letters appear to enhance its dignity; as other nomenclatures arise to challenge its primacy.”

More here.

The Complete Works of Primo Levi

Edward Mendelson in The New York Times:

MendPrimo Levi studied chemistry at Turin and worked as a chemist until, at 24, he joined the Italian “partisans” resisting the Nazi occupation of northern Italy in 1943. He was arrested by Italian Fascists and turned over to the Germans, who sent him to Auschwitz — he called it the Lager, the German word for a concentration camp — where he survived partly by luck, partly because he was put to work in a synthetic-rubber factory that used prisoners as slave labor. Returning to Italy, he wrote his memoir of Auschwitz, “If This Is a Man” (1947), and worked 30 years for a paint factory while writing stories, poems, memoirs, essays, a novel and “The Periodic Table” (1975), his idiosyncratic autobiography in which each chapter was named for a chemical element and some chapters were short stories.

Levi earned world fame for the quiet, undramatic lucidity of “If This Is a Man” and for the strangely moving blend of scientific fact and quicksilver fantasy in “The Periodic Table.” In the United States his work was published haphazardly, with some books retitled for marketing purposes (“If This Is a Man” became “Survival in Auschwitz”), some printed in incomplete translations, some never translated at all. “The Complete Works of Primo Levi,” expertly edited by Ann Goldstein — and the product of six years of negotiations to bring together the translation rights — includes everything Levi published, in new or revised translations. Twenty-eight years after his death, these three handsome volumes bring into focus the breadth and coherence of his genius, and make unexpectedly clear how deeply his work as a chemist shaped his unsettling work as a moralist and his unique vision of psychology and history.

More here.

Saturday Poem

The Patience of Ordinary Things

It is a kind of love, is it not?
How the cup holds the tea,
How the chair stands sturdy and foursquare,
How the floor receives the bottoms of shoes
Or toes. How soles of feet know
Where they’re supposed to be.
I’ve been thinking about the patience
Of ordinary things, how clothes
Wait respectfully in closets
And soap dries quietly in the dish,
And towels drink the wet
From the skin of the back.
And the lovely repetition of stairs.
And what is more generous than a window?

by Pat Schneider
from Another River: New and Selected Poems
2005, Amherst Writers and Artists Press
posted in Anchor Magazine, 11/18/15

The art and beauty of general relativity

Margaret Wertheim in The Conversation:

ScreenHunter_1518 Nov. 27 19.23One hundred years ago this month, an obscure German physicist named Albert Einstein presented to the Prussian Academy of Science his General Theory of Relativity. Nothing prior had prepared scientists for such a radical re-envisioning of the foundations of reality.

Encoded in a set of neat compact equations was the idea that our universe is constructed from a sort of magical mesh, now known as “spacetime”. According to the theory, the structure of this mesh would be revealed in the bending of light around distant stars.

To everyone at the time, this seemed implausible, for physicists had long known that light travels in straight lines. Yet in 1919 observations of a solar eclipse revealed that on a cosmic scale light does bend, and overnight Einstein became a superstar.

Einstein is said to have reacted nonchalantly to the news that his theory had been verified. When asked how he’d have reacted if it hadn’t been, he replied: “I would have felt sorry for the dear Lord. The theory is correct.”

What made him so secure in this judgement was the extreme elegance of his equations: how could something so beautiful not be right?

More here.

Pakistan’s political Islamists tried to kill me

Raza Rumi in Aeon:

ScreenHunter_1517 Nov. 27 18.55A few months earlier, I had moved to Pakistan’s second largest news channel – Express News – to host a current affairs show. Ten days before, as I left the Express Television Studios, a group of armed men on motorbikes attacked my car. I escaped more than a dozen bullets fired at my car.

When we turned off the busy Ferozepur Road onto the quieter Masood Farooqi Road leading to my home, they were waiting in a dark corner. I heard the tremors of a submachine gun. The flash of the bullets triggered my survival instinct. I leapt forward, huddling on the car’s floor. Later, I saw the bullet hole in its window: it would have been a precise shot had I not got down on the floor. Mustafa, my 25‑year‑old driver, together with a sturdy guard, sat in the front seats. The guard screamed: ‘Hamla ho gaya!’ (‘We have been attacked!’)

More here.

How the Islamic State Was Won

James Harkin in Harper's:

ImageIn the summer of 2012, as the initial demonstrations against Bashar al-Assad gave way to armed conflict between government and rebel troops, the Syrian army began pounding parts of its biggest cities with missiles and barrel bombs. The aim was to wipe out the regime’s armed opponents, but the result was to destroy the country’s social fabric and displace whole communities — leaving millions of Syrians with little to lose. Groups like the Nusra Front took control of towns across the north, and foreign jihadis flooded into Syria to join the fight. I’d seen them myself when I went to Aleppo in the spring of 2013. On the way into the city we were surrounded by countless shiny SUVs with tinted windows and black Islamist flags hanging off the back. At one point, as we waited in a traffic jam, a North African jihadi on the back of a truck fixed me with a stare and waved at me to put my camera down.

Now Nusra’s biggest rival for power in the north is the Islamic State — even though, until February 2014, ISIL was, like Nusra, an affiliate of Al Qaeda. But the marriage had always been uncomfortable. ISIL sprang from Al Qaeda in Iraq, which was led by a Jordanian named Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Zarqawi had angered Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda’s leadership by slaughtering Shias in Iraq. After Zarqawi’s death in a U.S. air strike in 2006, the group went into decline until a man named Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi took over, in 2010. Baghdadi started as a low-level street fighter during the American occupation of Iraq and is reported to have done some time in a U.S. Army prison. It was his decision to move the group into Syria’s stateless rebel areas in 2013 that changed its fortunes radically — and pushed its differences with Al Qaeda into the open. Al Qaeda’s aim had been to build a terror organization powerful enough to take the battle to its enemies in the West, but ISIL saw its mission as more religiously purist and more constructive — to improve the piety of Sunni Muslims and build a government around them. After ISIL began competing with the Nusra Front in Syria, Al Qaeda declared it was severing ties with the former.

More here.

Cubans exemplify sustainable living—whether they want to or not

HarpersWeb-Postcard-WorkersParadise-622Chris Lewis at Harper's Magazine:

In Cuba today, population growth is stable, malnutrition is low, higher education is free, and most tropical diseases have been eradicated. Cubans can expect to live seventy-nine years, slightly outliving Americans. No other country in the world has achieved such longevity while at the same time polluting so little. The average Cuban has a 4.7-acre ecological footprint, the total amount of land area needed to grow the food they eat, produce the goods they use, and absorb the carbon they emit. For humans to avoid depleting the earth’s ecological resources, we would all have to live on about 4 acres each, according to the environmental nonprofit Global Footprint Network. As of 2011, Costa Ricans each used 5.4 acres, Norwegians almost 12, Americans nearly 17.

Cuba owes this ecologically lean development to strong social programs, a dedicated cadre of conservationists, and, despite revolutionary leaders’ grand visions, a chronically erratic economy. “Cuba hasn’t been able to develop like it has wanted to. Cuba has wanted to increase its level of consumption—and now wants to even more, in fact—but it hasn’t been able to,” said Isbel Díaz Torres, head of the Havana-based environmental activist group Guardabosques. “It hasn’t known how. It has chosen bad international allies to do it on many occasions. And so that has brought us to the place we are now with low consumption, but it’s not because of a policy of ‘we’re going to consume less to have less environmental impact.’ In fact, the policy has always been the opposite.”

more here.

walter benjamin and technology

Jahromi_loc_imgNeima Jahromi at The Nation:

In 1916, the young Benjamin praised Cervantes’s method—“only by becoming humor can language become critique”—and would render similar scenes on the radio. In one of his most popular broadcasts, “What the Germans Were Reading While Their Classical Authors Were Writing,” he notes that 18th-century Germans discussed mountains of second-rate literature in the same breath as the works then being composed by their great masters. After an academic claims that newspapers belong in the hands of even the least-educated people, a pastor named Grunelius remarks, “I am better placed than anyone to survey the appalling epidemic of reading to which our public has fallen prey…. The bourgeois girl who belongs in the kitchen is reading her Schiller and Goethe in the hallway.”

Benjamin took up the idea again late in his life, albeit with a much more somber tone. Among a collection of fragments under the title “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” he argues that any cultural historian who studies the landmark artistic achievements of the past must see that “they owe their existence not only to the efforts of the great minds and talents who have created them, but also to the anonymous toil of their contemporaries.”

more here.

Aldous Huxley versus the Mesomorphs

P18_Melechi_1195228hAntonio Melechi at the Times Literary Supplement:

Whatever his shortcomings as a novelist of character and dramatic action, there was certainly no denying the staggering panorama of ideas that Huxley, a self-styled professor of nothing-in-particular, could navigate in his fiction and essays. From the history of scissors to Chinese ceramics, Vedic scripture to medieval gastronomy, his reach was telescopic. But Southern California, his adopted home, ushered him towards a new role. Frustrated by his moderate success as a Hollywood scriptwriter, Huxley found sustenance in a diet of mysticism and mescaline, hypnosis and dianetics. Writing for Esquire and the Saturday Evening Post, lecturing to ever-more crowded auditoriums, Huxley took the question of human potential writ large as his intellectual lodestar. What non-revolutionary measures could the godless society pursue to expand the heart and mind? How could co-operation and collectivism replace the urge to control and dominate?

To answer these and other questions, Huxley plundered psychology, psychiatry, neuroscience, anthropology, psychopharmacology and evolutionary biology. According to his own definition, he was now a “pontifex”, a bridge between science and the general world, a kind of freelance human engineer. But like the hapless Theodor Gumbrich, the inventor of the world’s first pneumatic trousers, from Antic Hay (1923), Huxley’s rapport with new scientific research and technology was sometimes seriously misjudged.

more here.

Sweet and sour green beans for Thanksgiving!

Dear Reader,

As you may already be aware, I have recently published a cookbook of South Asian food for beginners. I don't have any turkey recipes in the book but I thought I would share with you a recipe for a vegetarian side dish (one of my favorites from the book) as a way of thanking you, on this day of gratitude, for being a 3 Quarks Daily reader.

Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at 3QD!

In this recipe, you can skip the fennel seeds, kalonji (nigella), and methi (fenugreek) seeds if you don't have them. It will still be very good, even if a little less authentically South Asian (the difference those ingredients make is subtle). You'll be surprised at just how good this is, I say with confidence! (Or you may register complaints in the comments!) You can just double (or even triple) the amounts of everything if you have a lot of guests coming. Do try it:


  • 4 fluid ounces (120 milliliters) oil
  • 1 teaspoon yellow or black mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 Tablespoon fennel seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon kalonji (nigella)
  • 1/4 teaspoon methi (fenugreek) seeds (optional), they add a certain depth but are not necessary
  • 1 large onion (12 ounces or 350 grams), chopped finely
  • 5 medium sized cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 16 ounces (450 grams) green beans, ends trimmed off and then cut into 1 inch (2.5 centimeter) lengths
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 6 fluid ounces (180 milliliters) of water
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 limes' worth of juice (60 milliliters).


  • Heat the oil in a large frying pan (or a large pot) on high heat for two minutes.
  • Put in the mustard seeds, cumin seeds, fennel seeds, kalonji, and methi seeds (optional), and fry for 1 minute.
  • Add the onion and fry for 2 minutes, stirring frequently.
  • Add the garlic and fry for 1 minute, stirring frequently.
  • Add the cayenne pepper and turmeric and mix well.
  • Add the water, green beans, sugar, and salt, and turn heat down to medium-high (7 on a scale of 1 to 10), stir well once or twice, then cover and cook for 10 minutes.
  • Uncover and turn heat to high and cook while stirring for 3 more minutes, or until most of the water is evaporated.
  • Turn heat off and add the ground black pepper and lime juice, and mix well.
  • Taste and add salt and lime juice if needed.
  • DONE.

This recipe makes about four servings as a side dish. Oh, and there is much more information about the cookbook here:

Sean Carroll: This year we give thanks for an area of mathematics that has become completely indispensable to modern theoretical physics

Sean Carroll at his own blog, Preposterous Universe:

ScreenHunter_1516 Nov. 26 20.20Now, the thing everyone has been giving thanks for over the last few days is Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, which by some measures was introduced to the world exactly one hundred years ago yesterday. But we don’t want to be everybody, and besides we’re a day late. So it makes sense to honor the epochal advance in mathematics that directly enabled Einstein’s epochal advance in our understanding of spacetime.

Highly popularized accounts of the history of non-Euclidean geometry often give short shrift to Riemann, for reasons I don’t quite understand. You know the basic story: Euclid showed that geometry could be axiomatized on the basis of a few simple postulates, but one of them (the infamous Fifth Postulate) seemed just a bit less natural than the others. That’s the parallel postulate, which has been employed by generations of high-school geometry teachers to torture their students by challenging them to “prove” it. (Mine did, anyway.)

It can’t be proved, and indeed it’s not even necessarily true. In the ordinary flat geometry of a tabletop, initially parallel lines remain parallel forever, and Euclidean geometry is the name of the game. But we can imagine surfaces on which initially parallel lines diverge, such as a saddle, or ones on which they begin to come together, such as a sphere. In those contexts it is appropriate to replace the parallel postulate with something else, and we end up with non-Euclidean geometry.

More here.