A review of Soames new history of analytic philiosophy

Alex Byrne and Ned Hall review Scott Soames tour of analytic philosophy, Philosophical Analysis in the Twentieth Century, Volume 1: The Dawn of Analysis and Volume 2: The Age of Meaning.

“As Soames observes in the introduction to the first volume, ‘Analytic philosophy is a trail of influence’: the history of analytic philosophy is the history of a continuing dialogue, in the course of which terms and distinctions crucial to philosophical debates become steadily sharper, standards of argument become steadily more exacting, and occasional imaginative breakthroughs transform the way philosophical problems are posed. Soames is a particularly appropriate historian: he has made important contributions to contemporary philosophy of language, and his own talent for clarity and rigor testifies to one important kind of progress analytic philosophy has made in the last hundred years.

Given that analytic philosophy is not distinguished by a body of received answers to philosophical questions, has it made progress of another kind?”

Sadik al-Azm on Islamism’s last gasp

The Syrian critic Sadik al-Azm, perhaps best known for the essay “Orientalism and Orientalism in Reverse“, has a thought provoking piece on “Western dominance, Islamist terror, and the Arab imagination” in the new Boston Review.

The article begins, well, with a shocking admission.

“There is a strong injunction in Arab Islamic culture against shamateh, an emotion—like schadenfreude—of taking pleasure in the suffering of others. It is forbidden when it comes to death, even the violent death of your mortal enemies. Yet it would be very hard these days to find an Arab, no matter how sober, cultured, and sophisticated, in whose heart there was not some room for shamateh at the suffering of Americans on September 11. I myself tried hard to contain, control, and hide it that day. And I knew intuitively that millions and millions of people throughout the Arab world and beyond experienced the same emotion.

I never had any doubts, either, about who perpetrated that heinous crime; our Islamists had a deep-seated vendetta against the World Trade Center since their failed attack on it in 1993. [. . .] Does my response, and the silent shamateh of the Arab world, mean that [Samuel] Huntington’s clash of civilizations has come true, and so quickly?

In the end, no. Despite current predictions of a protracted global war between the West and the Islamic world, I believe that war is over. There may be intermittent battles in the decades to come, with many innocent victims. But the number of supporters of armed Islamism is unlikely to grow, its support throughout the Arab Muslim world will likely decline, and the opposition by other Muslim groups will surely grow. 9/11 signaled the last gasp of Islamism rather than the beginnings of its global challenge.”

Susskind vs. Smolin: The Anthropic Principle

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“Recently, I received a copy of an email sent by Leonard Susskind to a group of physicists which included an attached file entitled ‘Answer to Smolin’. This was the opening salvo of an intense email exchange between Susskind and Smolin concerning Smolin’s argument that ‘the Anthropic Principle (AP) cannot yield any falsifiable predictions, and therefore cannot be a part of science’.

After reading several postings by each of the physicists, I asked each if (a) they would consider posting the comments on Edge, and (b) if they would write a new, and final ‘letter’.

Both agreed, but only after a negotiation: (1) No more than 1 letter each; (2) Neither sees the other’s letter in advance; (3) No changes after the fact. A physics shoot-out.”

That is John Brockman writing at Edge.org, the whole exchange between Susskind (photo on left) and Smolin is here.

Matt Ridley welcomes Richard Dawkins’s genetic pilgrimage, The Ancestor’s Tale

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“Evolution is both a process and a narrative; a science and a history. Richard Dawkins has made himself the foremost philosopher of the process, exploring with ruthless and surprising logic how bodies can be best understood as vehicles for the propagation of genes. But until now he has left the history to others such as Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Fortey: the grand narrative of how (some) microbes became men over three billion years. Now, in this extraordinary book, Dawkins turns chronicler.

He does so with a clever twist that avoids the perennial problem of evolutionary history-telling: how not to make it sound like an inevitable progression towards complexity and us. After all, bacteria and worms did not ‘fail’ to evolve into mammals. You could argue the opposite: that they were so good at being what they were that our ancestors had to invent a different way of living. Dawkins’s twist is to tell the story backwards, starting with us.”

More here from Matt Ridley (picture on left) in The Guardian.

The deafening sound of the seas

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“The world’s oceans are now so saturated with noise that whales and other marine mammals are dying, biologists say.

The UK’s Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society is launching a campaign, Oceans of Noise, to tackle what it says is the increasing problem of noise pollution.

It says key sources of undersea noise are the search for oil and gas, and the use of low-frequency military sonars.

The WDCS is proposing an action plan to regulate submarine noise pollution, and says a worldwide treaty may be needed.”

More here by Alex Kirby for the BBC.

Daniel Libeskind forced to marry David Childs by Larry Silverstein

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“The architect who won the competition to rebuild on New York’s Ground Zero has revealed how the process degenerated into bitter feuds and childish squabbles among rival designers – though he rejects the notion that the new plan for the site is an uninspiring compromise.

In a candid new book, Breaking Ground, Daniel Libeskind recounts what he calls his ‘forced marriage’ to David Childs, the favoured architect of the World Trade Centre site’s developer, Larry Silverstein.

He portrays Mr Childs as patronising and overbearing, and intent on eliminating as much of Mr Libeskind’s vision as possible from the eventual design…

Since winning the competition last year, Mr Libeskind, designer of the Jewish Museum in Berlin, has been fighting to preserve what he can of his original concept, which had as its centrepiece a Freedom Tower, 1,776 feet high, to represent the date of the American declaration of independence. That symbolic height has been maintained, and the tower’s cornerstone was laid in July.”

More here from The Guardian.

Candidates shall not point rotating index fingers at their own temples to imply that opponent is mentally deranged

Christopher Buckley’s very funny “Rules of Engagement” for the presidential debates, from The New Yorker.

“Candidates shall not wear helmets, padding, girdles, prosthetic devices, or “elevator”-type shoes. Per above, candidates shall not remove shoes or throw same at each other during debate. Once a debate is concluded, candidates shall be permitted to toss articles of clothing, excepting underwear, into the audience for keepsake purposes.”

The Incredible Fullness of Less

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“Very few artists thrive in a vacuum. They tend to gather in bands of like-minded individuals, many of whom are also artists. Josef and Anni Albers belonged to such a band: the Bauhaus, a legendary art school-cum-think tank that flourished in Germany between the world wars. With founders and faculty members like Walter Gropius, Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, Mies van der Rohe and Lazlo Moholy-Nagy, the Bauhaus helped establish the basic tenets of modern design and architecture.

But the Alberses were also a band of two. Their marriage was a remarkable meeting of minds, souls and sensibilities that enabled each to sustain a long and fruitful career through the most turbulent of times. Taking separate paths, they pursued identical principles by different means. Their shared credo boiled down to the Bauhaus catch phrase “Less Is More,” which they followed as devotedly in their lives as in their work.

‘Josef and Anni Albers: Designs for Living,’ an enlightening, quietly excellent show at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, almost reverberates with a sense of this devotion. It could be called the incredible fullness of less.”

More here by Roberta Smith in the New York Times.

Painting to Please the Public

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“Browsing Donald Norman’s recommended reading list, I was reminded of a funny project from several years ago in which two Russian artists created paintings driven solely by survey data. They allowed interviewees to determine style, subject matter, and two of the dominant colors even and then created the paintings that represented the most popular and least popular paintings for several countries.”

More very interesting material from kip/bot/blog.

The painting pictured on the left was the kind most favored by people in the U.S.

Fareed Zakaria on “looking inwards”

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“Here’s a quiz: over the past two years, which developing country has undertaken the most dramatic economic, political and social reforms in the world? Some hints: this country has deregulated its economy, simplified its tax code and brought its fiscal house in order, resulting in 8.2 percent growth this year and a 10 percent rise in productivity. It has passed nine packages of major reforms that have reduced the military’s influence in government, enshrined political dissent and religious pluralism, passed strict laws against torture, abolished the death penalty and given substantial rights to a long-oppressed minority. The answer is Turkey. Even if it were not a Muslim country situated in the Middle East (sort of), its performance would be stunning. And yet, thanks to events last week, its long-sought quest to become a full member of the European Union may be thwarted.”

Here is the rest of Zakaria’s column from Newsweek. And here is his website, with an archive of his writings.

September 30, 2004

The Cult of Che: more on The Motorcycle Diaries

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“The cult of Ernesto Che Guevara is an episode in the moral callousness of our time. Che was a totalitarian. He achieved nothing but disaster. Many of the early leaders of the Cuban Revolution favored a democratic or democratic-socialist direction for the new Cuba. But Che was a mainstay of the hardline pro-Soviet faction, and his faction won. Che presided over the Cuban Revolution’s first firing squads. He founded Cuba’s “labor camp” system—the system that was eventually employed to incarcerate gays, dissidents, and AIDS victims. To get himself killed, and to get a lot of other people killed, was central to Che’s imagination…

The present-day cult of Che—the T-shirts, the bars, the posters—has succeeded in obscuring this dreadful reality. And Walter Salles’ movie The Motorcycle Diaries will now take its place at the heart of this cult. It has already received a standing ovation at Robert Redford’s Sundance film festival (Redford is the executive producer of The Motorcycle Diaries) and glowing admiration in the press. Che was an enemy of freedom, and yet he has been erected into a symbol of freedom. He helped establish an unjust social system in Cuba and has been erected into a symbol of social justice. He stood for the ancient rigidities of Latin-American thought, in a Marxist-Leninist version, and he has been celebrated as a free-thinker and a rebel. And thus it is in Salles’ Motorcycle Diaries.”

More by Paul Berman here in Slate. See also Robin Varghese’s earlier post “A Road from Che Guevara to God?

The Surreal Egotist

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“Having proclaimed himself a genius while in his 20’s, Salvador Dalí went on to promote this notion with such relentless conviction that the egotist eventually overshadowed the artist. By the time he died in 1989, leaving hundreds of signed sheets of paper to spawn a fake Dalí industry, many in the art world had turned against him.

Yet Dalí never lost his popular appeal. Expelled from the Surrealist movement in 1939, he remained the best known Surrealist. And even after Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art had supplanted Surrealism, a major Dalí retrospective in Paris in 1979 still drew 800,000 visitors. Today, among 20th-century artists, his renown is probably exceeded only by Picasso’s.

Unsurprisingly, then, the centenary of his birth has spawned Dalí exhibitions across his native Catalonia and elsewhere in Spain, Europe and the United States. Of these, two traveling blockbusters stand out. Supported by the Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation, they are trying to jump-start a reassessment of his oeuvre.

‘Dalí and Mass Culture,’ which tracks his impact on today’s visual language, was shown in Barcelona this spring and Madrid this summer and will be at the Salvador Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Fla., from Oct. 1 through Jan. 30. And ‘Dalí,’ which dwells on his paintings, is at the Palazzo Grassi in Venice through Jan. 16 and will be presented at the Philadelphia Museum of Art from Feb. 16 through May 15.”

More by Alan Riding here in the New York Times.

Cures Before Cash

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“Victoria Hale is a rare breed: a drug company chief on a mission to vanquish diseases of the developing world. In 2000, disillusioned with the pharmaceutical industry, she launched America’s first non-profit drug company. She tells Michael Bond how she persuaded the industry to part with undeveloped drugs that her venture is now trying to turn into cures for some of the world’s most lethal diseases.”


Interview with Victoria Hale here in New Scientist.

Earth’s ‘hum’ springs from stormy seas

“An enigmatic humming sound made by the Earth may be caused by the planet’s stormy seas, suggests a new analysis.

Japanese seismologists first described the Earth’s humming signal in 1998. It is a deep, low-frequency rumble that is present in the ground even when there are no earthquakes happening. Dubbed the “Earth’s hum”, the signal had gone unnoticed in previous studies because it looked like noise in the data.”

More here from New Scientist.

Muslims belatedly turn a critical eye to Wahhabism

Well, better late than never, I suppose. Here, Sadik H. Kassim discusses “Wahhabism: A Critical Essay” by Hamid Algar.

“After September 11, when their utility had expired, the Wahhabists and the offshoots they produced were discarded into history’s waste bin of American allies gone bad (see Manuel Noriega, Saddam Hussein, etc.). It was now proper to write about them. Even the fashion magazine Interior Design got into the game, scoring a hit for a December 1, 2001 article making a snide reference to Wahhabism.

Despite the upsurge in the number of articles, the topic is still treated very superficially. Wahhabis are often described in clichéd terms as being the “Puritans” of the Muslim world. An analogy I have never liked. True the Puritans espoused a literal interpretation of scriptural texts; beyond that, however the similarities are minimal. The Puritans were intellectual heavyweights coupling Renaissance humanism with knowledge of scriptures and divinity. They complemented their religious readings with the Greek classics of Cicero, Virgil, Terence and Ovid. In addition to writing the first children books, they emphasized public schooling for all and founded Harvard, the first American university. For them, religion provided a stimulus and prelude for scientific thought. Among their members, they could count numerous fellows of the Royal Society of London. Most importantly, the Puritans were political and religious outcasts.

The Wahhabis certainly are not Puritans in any true sense of the word. The more apt comparison, I believe, is the evangelical Christian movement in modern times. Both the Wahhabis and the Evangelicals champion an ultra-literalist interpretation of the holy texts, casting them both at odds with the precedents set by their ancestors and with their co-religionists in modern times. Both Evangelicals and Wahhabis shun scientific/rational thought and treat the idea of a renewed interpretation of religious texts as anathema. Both groups have tremendous financial resources enabling the rapid spread of their beliefs. Most importantly, both have disproportionate access to the corridors of power—the Evangelicals and their incestuous relationship with the Bush administration, the Wahhabis and the Saudi royal family, although the latter is in a state of flux.”

Debate Drinking Game

Wonkette has this debate drinking game on her blog:

• Anyone tells that story about Bobby Kennedy turning up the thermostat before the Kennedy-Nixon debate: Take a sip of a hot toddy.
• Doris Kearns Goodwin mentions Lyndon Johnson: Pee outside.
• Someone shows a clip of Al Gore sighing: Recount your chads.
• A Republican operative compares Kerry to a classical orator: Drink an ouzo-and-hemlock cocktail.
• A Democrat operative uses the phrase “can’t run on his record”: Go to Stetson’s…

Start drinking for real after the jump.

Drink One Sip If:
Anyone says “terrorism”
Anyone says “Halliburton”
Anyone says “flip flop”
Anyone says “Saddam Hussein”
Anyone blames “the media”
Anyone mentions their own military service
Anyone says “September 11”
One candidate interrupts another candidate

Drink Two Sips If:
Bush says “cut and run”
Kerry says “W stands for wrong”
Either candidate talks past their time limit
Kerry brings up Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” moment…

More here.

Salman Rushdie takes on Patriot Act

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“Satanic Verses author Salman Rushdie has called on Congress to remove anti-terror laws which allow US officials to monitor citizens’ reading habits.

Rushdie, 56, said he was concerned by government bodies ‘noseying into what should be personal creative space’.

He presented a 180,000-name petition asking Congress to repeal portions of the Patriot Act which give access to book-buying and library records.

Campaigners argue the act, passed after 11 September, harms personal freedoms.”

More here from the BBC.

September 29, 2004

The scope and structure of the insurgency in Iraq

This lengthy assessment of the insurgency in Iraq in the Boston Review paints a depressing picture (well, “depressing” depending on if you see the insurgency as a bunch of medievally minded mafias or as a national liberation force.)

“Muqtada [al-Sadr] has managed to alienate a considerable element of his community. In fact, none of the insurgent groups, whether Sunni or Shi’i, have a nationwide legitimacy in this fragmented country; each has a message that appeals only to a specific community.

But these limits on support for the insurgents have not translated into an advantage for the coalition. In preventing the insurgency from transcending the constraints of localization, the center of gravity remains, without a doubt, the people—ordinary Iraqi citizens who crave security and law and order, and then economic activity.

The insurgency can evolve, and indeed, from the vantage point of summer 2004 appears to be evolving, into patterns of complex warfare and violence. Should this evolution continue, the prospects for American success in bringing about Iraqi security, political stability, and reconstruction will be nonexistent.”