Sunday, December 4, 2011

Hans Blumenberg, Paradigms for a Metaphorology: Chapter 8, "Terminologization of a Metaphor: From 'Versimilitude' to Probability'"

Blumenberg now considers the phenomenon of transition from a metaphor to a concept. He focuses on a transition where both the original metaphor and the succeeding concept use the same German word, Wahrscheinlichkeit. The literal meaning of the word (which is incorporated in the old metaphorical usage) is the resemblance of truth. In modern usage it has come to mean probability.

Plato's eikos -- likelihood or what looks like being true -- from the Phaedrus and Timaeus -- taken up by 'truthlikeness' in Aristotle's Rhetoric -- translated as verisimile by Cicero. A reliance on such a concept in a Platonic tradition isn't as odd as it first appears, which is to say that the distance from Platonism to Skepticism isn't that great. The heightened demands for truth to be transcendent in the later Plato makes it ever more difficult to come to grips with it, to the point where in the Timaeus Plato admits eikos as a sufficient guide. In the Critias, Plato contrasts the certainty and exactness which characterizes our everyday activities with the faintness of our knowledge of the transcendent. (82-83)

In Academic Skepticism, the probable is held up specifically as a guide in practical human concerns, without being seen as evidence of theoretical truth. Cicero associates the probable with verisimilitude, the appearance of truth, but the actual closeness to truth implied is only given weight pragmatically. (83-84)

In Epicureanism, by contrast, the appearance of truth is granted to all manner of theoretical explanations of celestial phenomena, but this serves only to neutralize the claims of all the contending theories, thus securing man's peace of mind. (84)

For Lactantius, verisimile is seen only negatively, as the false appearance of truth which misleads men. In this, he is reclaiming the Stoic view of probability that Cicero had left aside -- that what is merely probable should not be assented to, and that instead judgment should be suspended. (85-86)

Augustine revives the metaphorical content of verisimile in arguing against the Academic tradition. He contends that it is impossible to make sense of verisimile without first having possession of the truth itself -- for how can one know if something resembles the truth without knowing the truth it refers to? (86-87)

Late medieval theology again severs the true from what seems to be true. With the growing theological insistence on the transcendent nature of truth, a new skeptical tendency affirmed faith even while conceding its apparent absurdity. In so doing, it reversed the Platonic assessment (from the Critias) of the relationship between knowledge of the divine and worldly -- now knowledge of the divine is held to be certain while knowledge of nature is held to be merely probable. This separation of faith and the appearance of truth provided autonomous space for speculation about the probable -- at least up to a point. Thus, the Church's response to Copernican and Galilean doctrines depended on its willingness (ultimately rejected) to tolerate probable claims which conflicted with revealed truth. (88-89)

Blumenberg links the development of mathematical probability with a desire to give an account for the world without reference to teleology or theology. Chance could only provide a rational alternative to these forbidden premises if it could be made predictable and quantifiable -- a labor taken up first and foremost by Pascal. Blumenberg notes that Leibniz endorsed the study of probability as a legitimate science, but cast doubt on its usefulness for addressing religious questions. Here, Blumenberg detects a residue of the metaphorical meaning of verisimilitude, for Leibniz's objection is that religious mysteries have the appearance of being false even when they are true, so an argument from probability cannot successfully confirm their truth. (where the seeming false captures the metaphorical content of the term) (89-91)

Mendelssohn adopts the Wolffian notion of probability as incomplete truth (I think the significance of this is that it puts probability on a continuum with truth), and he holds that probability applies to judgments about the past as well as the future. He objects to the idea that there are some probabilities about which it is impossible even for God to have knowledge that goes further than the probability (which some saw as a requirement of free will). (92-94)

Mendelssohn's defence of Copernican theory represents a benchmark in the transition from metaphorical to logical verisimilitude. His argument on behalf of Copernicanism is probabilistic: it reduces the number of independent factors needed to explain the movements of the heavenly bodies, and thus the reliance on an apparent coincidence of separate causes; reducing the number of required coincidences makes the explanation more probable. (94-95)

Maupertuis and Diderot object to the consequence of seeing probability as an incomplete truth. Truth cannot be established from probability -- in particular, for Maupertuis, the existence of a designer for the solar system cannot be deduced from the improbability of a close coincidence between the plane of the planetary orbits. With Diderot, the point is amplified by bringing together probability with a new metaphysical background assumption of infinite time. Given infinite time, the universe has unlimited chances for anything to occur, so no outcome is truly improbable. The explanatory function of a divine creator is thus replaced by chance. but since the creator had already become arbitrary and capricious in the development of Christian theology, this was a gain rather than a loss for a feeling of security about the world. Chance at least has its own laws. (95-97)

Blumenberg briefly considers how the the term verisimilitude had been transferred from classical to modern aesthetics. Classical aesthetics based on mimesis put a higher value on verisimilitude than truth in art. It was more important for a work of art to resemble an unrealized ideal rather than faithfully portray an existing object. Lessing (the modern example to whom Blumenberg restricts himself) also puts higher value on verisimilitude than faithful representation of reality in art. He conceives of verisimilitude in art as an ability to appeal to our inner sense of probability, to persuade us of its reality. (97-98)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Hans Blumenberg, Paradigms for a Metaphorology: Chapter 7, "Myth and Metaphorics"

77: "[M]etaphorology -- as a subbranch of conceptual history, and like the latter itself considered as a whole -- must always be an auxiliary discipline to philosophy as it seeks to understand itself from its history and to bring that history into living presence. Our typology of metaphor histories must accordingly endeavor to distinguish and work through particular aspects ... of philosophy's historical self-understanding. In the process, it is above all the transitions that will allow the specificity of each metaphor and its expressive forms to appear in sharper focus."

Blumenberg explores the transition from myth to metaphorics in Plato and his followers. Myth in Plato, like absolute metaphors, is not simply a preliminary and inadequate form of reason: it circumscribes and provides answers to those aporias which resist reduction to reason but are necessary to deal with in order for the argument to proceed.

78: "In myth, too, questions are kept alive that refuse to yield to theoretical answers without thereby becoming obsolete. The difference between myth and 'absolute metaphor' would here be a purely genetic one: myth bears the sanction of its primordial, unfathomable origin, its divine or inspirative ordination, whereas metaphor can present itself as a figment of the imagination, needing only to disclose a possibility of understanding in order for it to establish its credentials."

The myth of final judgment in the Gorgias functions as a postulate which the philosopher is compelled to assent to in order to risk his life on behalf of truth. It is turned to when the hopes of proving that justice will ultimately be done are exhausted.

The myth of the cave from the Republic draws on a background tradition of cave mythology. Its fundamental image is a movement from darkness to light. There are already intimations of this theme in the Prometheus myth of the Protagoras and the cosmological myth of the Phaedo. Blumenberg sees more to the use of this myth by Plato and his successors, however, than anchoring the fundamental narrative of the self-liberation of human reason. Plato's elaboration of the myth allows him to use it as a model which explains, for example, how the Sophist is possible.

According to Blumenberg, the myth of the cave has become an absolute metaphor with the Neoplatonists, Gnostics, and Church fathers. Porphyry (the stand-in Neoplatonist here) -- the cosmos as a cave separated from a transcendent reality which is not reachable by learning alone. Gnostics and church fathers -- salvation irrupting into existence like light into a cave.

Plato's myth of the demiurge in the Timaeus amounts to a constructive model explaining how the world is generated given certain premises. Blumenberg likens it to Descartes' hypothetical cosmogonic model in the Principles. The Church fathers claimed this myth derived from Genesis. This created a problem of assimilating the different consequences of the metaphor of creation by hand in the myth of the demiurge (which is fundamentally constructive and attempts to explain everything) and creation by mouth, which is to say by command, in Genesis (which seeks submission and attempts to explain nothing).

background metaphor - metaphor that implicitly anchors use of terminology
absolute metaphor - metaphor that provides a way of bracketing or provisionally answering otherwise unresolvable questions

Monday, November 28, 2011

Hans Blumenberg, Paradigms for a Metaphorology: Chapter 6, "Organic and Mechanical Background Metaphorics"

Background metaphorics - background of images that makes it possible to reconstruct and understand seemingly non-metaphorical (and even purely theoretical) statements.

The language of imaginative horizons here is reminiscent of Heidegger and Gadamer.

62-63: "Metaphorics can also be in play where exclusively terminological propositions appear, but where these cannot be understood in their higher-order semantic unity without taking into account the guiding idea from which they are induced and 'read off'. Statements referring to data of observation presuppose that what is intended can, in each case, be brought to mind only within the parameters of a descriptive typology: the reports that will one day be transmitted to us by the first voyagers to the moon may well require us to engage in a more thorough study of American or Russian geography if we are to grasp the selective typicality of these reports, corresponding to the eyewitnesses' (anticipated) background. Faced with an artificial structure of speculative statements, the interpretation will only 'dawn' on us once we have succeeded in entering into the author's imaginative horizon and reconstructing his 'translation'. What preserves genuine thinkers from the crabbed scholasticism of their imitators and successors is that they keep their 'systems' in vital orientation, whereas academic routine uproots concepts and suspends them in idiosyncratic atomism. In undertaking an interpretive reconstruction, we will succeed in reviving such translations, which we propose to call 'background metaphorics', only within the parameters of a certain typology, and this is most likely to occur where a prior decision between opposed types of metaphors -- between organic and mechanical guiding ideas, for example -- has been made. It is not just language that thinks ahead of us and 'backs us up', as it were, in our view of the world; we are determined even more compellingly by the supply of images available for selection and the images we select, which 'channel' what can offer itself for experience in the first place."

Blumenberg argues that the contrast between mechanical and organic metaphors is itself not fixed, but emerges in the post-classical world. The classical machina has a broader meaning than the modern machine, referring to all sorts of contrivances and tricks. Lucretius' machina mundi does not yet have the connotation of automatism that would come with later clockwork metaphors, it merely contrasts the world as contrived or artful in contrast to the Stoic metaphysics of providence. The distinctive use of machine as a concept opposed organism arrives with the French Enlightenment. Blumenberg thinks that this emergence is more than coincidental, given how it serves the materialistic program of Enlightenment thought. (63-64)

For Plato, the universe was both constructed and living. It had to be conceived of as alive because it was understood to move itself, and ability to move oneself was the criterion of life. Mechanical models, like Archimedes' sphere, were seen by classical authors like as inferior imitations which merely demonstrated the rationality which must exist to a superior degree in the original. In Lactantius we see a Christian recasting of the interpretive function of Archimedes sphere: now it shows that the universe can be in motion after an initial impetus without requiring any animation. There is a clear theological interest behind this: reducing the world to a mere mechanism leaves God alone in transcendence. (64-66)

Nicolaus of Cusa characteristically saw Archimedes' model as a projection of the human mind, an invention created in place of divine creativity rather than an imitation of the universe. While an Aristotelian view of technology as mimetic lent itself to organic metaphors, Cusanus' opens a way to distinctively mechanical metaphors. (67)

Descartes abjures the project of understanding what the world or organisms are in themselves. Instead, he proposes to understand them externally, by transferring our knowledge of mechanical devices as hypothetical stand-ins. Having made the metaphorical substitution of machine for world or organism, however, Descartes is also able to substitute a pragmatic view of the aims of inquiry for a theoretical one: since there is a surplus of possible mechanical constructions which could be made to stand in for any natural entity, the choice between them is made on the ground of what works best (and if the model works better than its natural counterpart, then it a truer example of the original function than what is in nature). (68-70)

Blumenberg contrasts the book of nature and clockwork universe metaphors. The output of the clock -- the actual display of time -- is not significant in the use of the metaphor; what matters is its predictable functioning. For the book of nature, on the other hand, the informative content is critical; what is significant in the metaphor is that there is a message that could be communicated. (71)

The clockwork metaphor emphasizes God's initial creative act at the expense of God's continuing involvement in the world. (71-72)

With the book of nature, man remains external to the metaphor, as the intended reader. Human beings are among the things brought under the clock metaphor, however, in the works of Voltaire and Vauvenargues. The French moralists typically indentified the passions with the internal working of the clock, and reason as the display (in a way that hoped to gain assent and accomplish their aims) of those hidden instincts and passions. (72-73)

In The Crisis of the European Sciences, Husserl metaphorizes the scientific enterprise itself as a mechanism, and metaphorizes the implicit goal of the enterprise as an ideal textbook which puts together all of its achievements in a coherent whole. (75-76)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Roy Jenkins, Gladstone: Chapters 9 and 10, "The Chancellor Who Made the Job" and "The Decline and Fall of the Aberdeen Coalition"

Although it is not a focus of the narrative, the fluidity of British government coalitions of the mid-19th century is striking (and key to the politics of the era, of course). Both the Whig and Conservative tendencies were coalitions more than parties, riven with factions and dissident wings. The Conservatives had Gladstone and the other Peelites who opposed protective tariffs. The Whigs had Palmerston and his like-minded band of foreign-policy adventurists.

When Russell's Whig government collapsed after a falling out with Palmerston early in 1852, the Earl of Derby formed a generally undistinguished Conservative government with tacit support of the Peelites. Disraeli became leader of the Commons as Chancellor of the Exchequer. After a summer election, Disraeli presented a budget which lifted trade barriers but tried to compensate those who would lose from it. Gladstone effectively (although perhaps a bit tendentiously) savaged it, in the process demonstrating his deep command of the budget and bringing down the Conservative government. Lord Aberdeen was called upon to form a new Whig-Peelite coalition government with Gladstone at the Exchequer.

Gladstone's triumphant budget of 1853 secured his place among the first rank of British politicians. He carried it through against considerable initial opposition within the cabinet itself, especially from the two rival aspirants to the chancellorship, Wood and Graham. His budget speech's success derived in part from his mastery of budget history, but even more from his determination to reconstruct government finance in a more rational manner. In a step devised to increase prosperity, he reduced customs duties. He made up for the lost revenue by extending income tax for seven years and also applying to somewhat lower incomes and to Ireland. Since the income tax was unpopular, and Gladstone himself was on record opposing it, the trick was to make this extension palatable. He accomplished this by extending the tax in a way as to put Britain on a path to doing away with it, by setting it at a gradually declining rate (at the end of which it would be expected that greater prosperity would bring in sufficient revenues without it, though from what sources is not clear to me, anyway).

Crimean War -- although he initial supported it, Gladstone could not sustain enthusiasm for war (which was a reversion to more typical form for him). The damage to the Aberdeen coalition was done, however, and the government did not survive the war.

Oxford reform bill -- another subject on which Gladstone changed his mind, for he had opposed the original commission of a report on reform. Gladstone was unusually willing to change his opinions, but not necessarily willing to be seen as having changed. Gladstone constructed and carried the legislation through parliament in 1864 almost unaided. Opened up Oxford to Dissenters (Gladstone himself opposed including this in the bill while supporting it in principle). Replaced government by the heads of colleges by an elected board. Permitted the opening of private halls at the university in order to provide opportunities for less wealthy students to matriculate (without transgressing the independence of the existing colleges). The bad feeling at Oxford about his role in reform ultimately led to his election defeat of 1865.

Civil service reform -- This was an issue that Gladstone (like Oxford reformer Benjamin Jowett) saw as linked to opening the university to talents. Inspired by Wood's Indian civil service reform bill, Gladstone commissioned a report from Sir Charles Trevelyan and Sir Stafford Northcote on opening the civil service to competition. He was unable to make headway on legislation, however, since he had the support of the Peelites but not most of the Whigs. Jenkins thinks that Gladstone missed an opportunity by failing to make a deal to support Russell's electoral reform bill in exchange for Russell's backing for civil service reform -- particularly since Gladstone came around to Russell's position on electoral reform before too long in any case.

The Aberdeen government was finally brought down by disagreement over how aggressively to pursue the Crimean War in January, 1855. In the vain hope of forming a renewed government under Aberdeen, Gladstone refused to accept the chancellorship under any of the possible Whig alternatives to Palmerston as prime minister. This all but handed the job to Palmerston, who Gladstone really didn't want, since it removed a principal virtue of any alternative leadership to his. Then Gladstone ended up accepting the chancellorship under Palmerston after all, only to resign it three weeks later, in conjunction with the resignation of two other Peelite ministers, because of his distaste for the direction of Palmerston's government. It took years for Gladstone's political reputation to recover from the damage done by this incident.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Richard Neustadt, Presidential Power: Chapter 8, "The Sixties Come Next"

The key traits of an effective president are expertise in understanding presidential power, a desire to have power, and the grace to deal with the failures and frustrations in attempting to use that power. To get the first requires many years of political experience (although that alone doesn't necessarily suffice), which is why the presidency is no place for amateurs.

The American political system works best when the president is adept and vigorous in pursuing power. In the first place, other actors are depend upon the president to provide initiatives for them to support or oppose. But there is also a correlation between preserving presidential power and pursuing viable public policy. A president's contacts and the pressures he is subjected to give an unmatched insight into the conflicting demands that constrain policy. His efforts to navigate those pressures in a way that does not compromise his power, if done with expertise, tend to lead him to policies that (1) are forward looking, (2) are acceptable to all the stakeholders, and (3) are well timed.

The Sixties seem unlikely to throw up the kind of productive crises that FDR had to work with in the 1930s and 1940s -- the Depression and the Second World War. These crises increased the influence of the president within the political system without destroying it altogether. Neustadt contends that the potential destructiveness of war has priced it out of the market for productive crises. (I think that this understates the usefulness of limited wars for presidential influence.) The president will still face a discontinuity of constituencies with Congress even in the unlikely case of having partisan colleagues in control. Key sources of political conflict Neustadt projects for the Sixties (1) the size and scope of public spending, (2) the influence of the agricultural sector, (3) the influence of labor, and (4) racial integration. All of these will have disparate impacts on local constituencies, which means the president will need to rely on ad hoc Congressional coalitions for support.

Neustadt concludes by (implausibly) contending that the American system is not unique after all -- that other nations face a similar predicament of a single leader who must deal with disparate constituencies (even in parliamentary systems).

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Roy Jenkins, Gladstone: Chapters 7 and 8, "Ladies of the Night" and "The Tremendous Projectile"

After much foreshadowing of Gladstone's sexual vices, they turn out to have been disappointingly tame. His so-called pornographic tastes amounted to little more than a fondness for suggestive passages in classical and modern literature. He got a thrill out of mingling with prostitutes for the supposed purpose of reforming them, but there was no actual sexual consummation. In any case, Gladstone was plagued with guilt about these things in the mid-century years, and even tried to overcome his habits by flogging himself.

Gladstone's opposition to Palmerston's blockade of Greece (in response to claims arising from the Don Pacifico affair) reflected a cautious internationalism that united All branches of Tory opposition. His contribution to the parliamentary debate in 1850 was significant and effective, but the opposition motion was defeated with most of the Radicals joining the Whigs.

Gladstone next became much involved during a visit to Naples with the battle to free the Neapolitan political prisoner Baron Poerio, though his eagerness for British pressure in this case cut against the principles he enunciated during the Don Pacifico incident. He issued two pamphlets to make his case against the Neapolitan government. These made Gladstone's name among liberals in Europe, although they did discomfit the conservative leader, Lord Aberdeen.

Late in 1850, in response to the Pope's decision to authorize naming Catholic bishops in England, the Whig government cynically introduced the Ecclesiastical Titles Bill. The bill made accepting such titles from a Pope a crime -- a measure at variance with traditional Whig support for religious liberty. Gladstone, in another sign of his turn away from theological absolutism towards liberalism, opposed the bill. Gladstone produced another massive, learned oration, but again in vain. The measure passed comfortably, although Gladstone's opposition does not seem to have done him much harm even in his theologically conservative Oxford constituency.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Roy Jenkins, Gladstone: Chapters 5 and 6, "Orator, Zealot, and Debtor" and "Mid-Century Frenzy"

Gladstone as orator: the passion, force, and conviction of the delivery was more remarkable than the text -- his arguments were often obscure.

Gladstone suffered a number of personal setbacks in the 1840s. His sister Helen converted to Catholicism in 1842 (bringing out his typical rigid censoriousness on matters of religion). She then succumbed to a deepening opium addition and fled to Germany, where he went to retrieve her back to the family in 1845 (although she took three more years to finally subdue the habit). That same year his religious ally John Henry Newman also became a Catholic. (Jenkins notes Newman's similarities to Gladstone: he was a religious pessimist, an effective, though more delicate, orator, and a resilient public figure.) In 1847, the Hawarden estate's finances were brought low by the failure of his brother-in-law Stephen Glynne's mining and ironworks project at Oak Farm. The Glynne family (including Gladstone) were forced into several years of heroic economy to save the estate.

Peel's decision to take on the issue of Corn Law repeal in 1845 made Gladstone's Newark seat untenable and cost the Conservative party a rupture that was not healed for decades. Gladstone had to resign the seat when he was called into the cabinet, and could not hope for re-election because the local notable who controlled the seat supported protection. (I think this aptly illustrates how British parties of the time were loose, decentralized coalitions rather than true modern parties.)

Gladstone was without another seat until he won election from Oxford in 1847. Since Oxford dons and many Oxford graduates (particularly the clergy) took religious disputes very seriously, this had the effect of deepening Gladstone's entanglement in such issues. It did not cause Gladstone to back down from his increasingly pronounced liberal views on the relation between church and state, however, as he spoke fervently the next year against the exclusion of the Jewish banker Baron Lionel de Rothschild from Parliament.

In 1849, Gladstone spent several weeks in Italy on a characteristically quixotic and futile mission to retrieve Lady Lincoln, who had absconded with her lover.

1850 bought more sorrow for Gladstone with the death of his daughter Jessy. His religious inclinations and affiliations were tested as well when the the Gorham judgment checked the independence of the Church of England. This decision precipitated the conversion of several of his religious allies to Catholicism within the next year.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Hans Blumenberg, Paradigms for a Metaphorology: Ch 5, "Terra Incognita and 'Incomplete Universe' as Metaphors of the Modern Relationship to the World"

Blumenberg explores how the terra incognita and unfinished universe metaphors shape the modern attitude towards the world. Terra incognita (along with its metaphorical substitutes America and even Africa) refers back to the discovery of unknown and even unsuspected geography early in the modern age and the subsequent exploration of previously uncharted continents. Taking this as the metaphorical model of knowledge meant being prepared to see every advance of knowledge as just a preliminary to making a much greater discovery. This expectation encouraged a disposition to expect and labor for new knowledge, and brought along with it a positive reappraisal of the new and novel, of curiosity, of infinity, and of imagination.

The metaphor of the incomplete universe suggested not only that the world was still evolving, but that it had no fixed end -- so that human beings were free to shape it. The classical conception of the cosmos, with its assumption that all change amounted to the completion of already established forms, proved particularly resilient. Cartesian cosmogony remained wedded to a fixed teleology, which saw the world as it already existed as its end state. Even Kant's conception of a universe in an unending process of change doesn't quite shake free from earlier cosmological ideas -- the worlds in his universe still have a fixed pattern of development and decay, and man plays no active part in it.

Friedrich Schlegel first gives the incomplete universe a pragmatic turn -- an incomplete universe means that life is not futile, that there are tasks for humans to accomplish. Schlegel's insistence on organic metaphor for the incomplete world actually suggests greater resistance to human action than a purely mechanical interpretation.

Schlegel also puts forth the metaphor of "almighty man" as an aggregated force that brings order to the incomplete universe. This raises the question of how the fragmentary forces of individuals are integrated into the task of completing the universe. Modern thought throws up two concepts which answer this question, method and collective. Method is a way of unifying generations of human beings into a single subject of knowledge. Collective is a way of conceptualizing the aggregate of labor that is ready to be deployed to reshape an unfinished world -- and thus, in communist thought, it provides the background assumption of a force that needs an unfinished world to be created by revolution, which liberates society from stasis, in order to be put to use.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Hans Blumenberg, Paradigms for a Metaphorology: Chapter 4, "Metaphorics of the 'Naked' Truth"

Blumenberg follows up on another metaphor used by Lactantius: the nakedness of truth.

This metaphor brings up the issue of the appropriateness of the truth for human beings, who after all are the creatures who have adopted clothing to conceal nakedness. Blumenberg cites Werfel and Kierkegaard expressing distaste for the barbarity of the passion for unconcealed truth.

Augustine and Rousseau use the image of the nakedness of the soul before God (and also, for Rousseau, before his fellow men) to describe a confession of the truth of one's life. Rousseau also uses nakedness as metonym for the natural state of man before his distortion by society, and grounds his political critique on conceptually stripping away humanity's accumulated cultural and technical heritage. Stripping off the disguises of society becomes a common trope of modern political rebels, deployed in turn by bourgeois French revolutionaries and by Marx.

Pascal, responding to Montaigne, takes issue with this kind of critique. For Pascal, the whole point of institutions is that they are made. They are imaginative constructs, and our recognition of and respect for the garb and other conventions of office, rather than reason, is what makes them work.

Another issue that really only comes to foreground due to metaphors is the relationship between truth and happiness. While the Skeptics had deployed many arguments casting doubt on our ability to find truth, and thus the desirability of pursuing it, they had nothing to say about whether it could ever provide fulfillment even if were attained. The Christian tradition of Biblical exegesis, however, had to confront a text in which truth was often conveyed in images. This was seen by Thomas among other medieval thinkers as a form of protection from having to confront unmediated truth.

There was scant support in the Aristotelian tradition for the use of intermediary images to grasp truth, however, and the most faithful (Averroistic) adherents of that tradition were strident advocates for the nakedness of truth, that is, for the idea that truth should be presented without literary adornment. This striving for a pure truth (Blumenberg calls it a will to truth) disturbed humanists who upheld the value of richer figurative expression of truth, which they captured with in the concept of sapientia (wisdom).

In Pico Della Mirandola's letter to Ermolao Barbaro, the Averroist is depicted as desiring to hide the truth from the uninitiated by making it plain and unattractive. But the modern reception of truth as science made any exclusive access to truth untenable, although the expectation of a plain style of presentation remained. Blumenberg cites Bacon and Lessing to show that the naked, undisguised truth was now apprehended as shared, public truth. Lessing, in addition, insists that all truth is equally valuable; it is the formal property of being true that matters, not practical significance, because what matters is that all truth contributes to an overall state of enlightenment.

The development of historical consciousness undermined the assumption behind the naked truth metaphor. Winckelmann first sees historical "disguises" of truth not as superficial decoration but as constitutive of the way truth appears to us. Husserl's appreciation of Galileo's theories as not the naked truth, but a "well-fitting garb of ideas" shows a kind of adaptation of the metaphor to this new perception.

A new skepticism emerges in modern times about the power of truth to provide happiness. One way this plays out is in Lessing's thesis that satisfaction comes in the pursuit of truth rather than in its actual uncovering. Rousseau's contrasting take is that the concealed truth (metaphorically hidden at the bottom of a well) is best left undisturbed, that even pursuit of it is more like to lead to error and unhappiness than satisfaction. We see a culmination of the consequences of this skepticism for the metaphor of naked truth in Kierkegaard, who sees shared, external (and thus metaphorically naked) truth as unable to provide the satisfaction which can only be obtained through truth which provides internal meaning.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Roy Jenkins, Gladstone: Chapters 3 and 4, "A Clumsy Suitor" and "Peel's Apprentice"

Gladstone rose quickly under the mentorship of the tragedy-struck future prime minister, Lord Aberdeen, becoming a cabinet minister for the first time at just 33.

After a brief spell in power in the minority Tory government of 1835, Gladstone was without office until 1841. He spent most of the intervening years seeking a wife and stirring up religious controversy.

Gladstone spent a couple of years in vigorous and heavy-handed pursuit of two young women of rank who showed no interest in him: first Caroline Farquhar (the sister of an Eton schoolmate) and then Lady Frances Douglas. In time, he came around to wooing Catherine Glynne, the sister of another Eton schoolmate, Sir Stephen Glynne. Gladstone had become used to staying at the Glynne family's Welsh estate at Hawarden for some years, and had become fast friends with the whole family, before he hit upon this more fortunate course. He proposed while on vacation with the Glynnes in Rome just a few days into the new year in 1839, and she finally accepted half a year later in London. Gladstone made Hawarden his primary home for the duration of his life.

In the meantime, Gladstone published his first book, The State in its Relations with the Church, an extremist polemic against religious toleration (with the ironic assistance of several future Catholic converts) and spoke in parliament against renewal of the government grant to the Catholic Irish seminary of Maynooth. Such lapses in judgment put Gladstone on the wrong side of the Tory leadership, including his new mentor William Peel.

In April ,1840, Gladstone delivered his first foreign policy speech to parliament. He spoke in opposition to the Palmerston government's war against China (the Opium War). This was an early sign of Gladstone's tense relationship with Palmerston, whom Gladstone never got on with (seeing him in particular as too decadent) even though he was later to become his political ally.

When Peel became prime minister at the head of a new Conservative majority in 1841, Gladstone ended up with a less prestigious post than he had hoped, the vice-presidency of the Board of Trade. He nevertheless threw himself into his work with energy and intelligence and became a sometimes inconveniently eager advocate of free trade as a result. (He had also had responsibility for railroad regulation, appropriately for an avid if critical early railroad traveller.) He became full minister of the Board in 1843, but soon made characteristically fussy difficulties over increased government support for the Maynooth seminary. Gladstone felt obliged to resign his cabinet post over the issue because of his earlier vocal opposition to support, even though he had changed his mind and would in fact vote for bill when it came up.

Gladstone seemed strangely unmoved by Peel's death in 1850. Jenkins argues that Gladstone may have found Peel uncomfortably close in background and age, and that in light of this he found the space for his own career was limited by Peel's presence.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Hans Blumenberg, Paradigms for a Metaphorology: Chapter 3, "A Terminological and Methodological Cross Section of the Idea of Truth"

In this chapter Blumenberg takes a break from tracing truth metaphors through time. He notes that this approach presupposes that each chosen appearance of the metaphor has been properly understood in its contemporary conceptual context. He proposes to provide such an accounting for a truth metaphor in one instance -- to show that a "cross section" can be provided at an arbitrary point along a given temporal "longitudinal section." He chooses Lactantius as suitably mediocre thinker to investigate -- one who represents the ideas of his age but poses no threat to overturn them.

Lactantius constrains the effect of the metaphor of the force of truth (vis veritas) with a second metaphor: the truth as God's property, which he has the right to reveal or conceal. In consequence, in the introductory passage to his "Divinae institutiones," Lactantius holds that men are not able to grasp truth simply by their own efforts, and that the pagan philosophers thus failed to find it. The evidentness of truth only makes itself felt when, in an act of grace, God chooses to reveal it. Among other things, the status of truth as a secret of God (arcanum dei) preserves the proper distance between man and God.

Lactantius does not strictly maintain this view strictly throughout his work. He finds all sorts of "advances" of revelation to the pagan philosophers. Since he conceives of truth as homogeneous -- that is, since he has no place for truths which are only accessible through faith -- this means that in principle all of the truth was accessible to the ancient philosophers. This means he has to account for their failure to find it, and he uses a number of metaphors for this purpose. He depicts the pagan philosophers as looking in the wrong direction, because God had not shown them the right one: truth is "above" but they looked for it "below." Or he describes their encounter with truth in terms of of perception, particularly of touch or smell, which lack real certainty. The key point, for Lactantius, is that they lacked the criterion to verify the truths they had. So he is able to hold that truth was widely dispersed -- all sects had at least some part of it -- but was never recognized as a whole because men lacked the capacity to distinguish truth from falsehood. Revelation provided the criterion by which truth could be recognized and integrated.

Another way Lactantius depicts the philosophers as leading up to Christianity is by treating falsehood as a kind of world in its own right and the apprehension of falsehood as a separate matter from discerning truth. Then the pagan philosophers can be conceded to have done the easier task -- recognizing what is false -- without being able to find truth. This trope depends upon a reversal of classical predicates: now the false is evident and the true is hidden. Truth compels men with its essential force only when God releases it from concealment.

Lactantius struggles, without real success, to account for the role of rhetoric when truth is supposed to have the power to convince all on its own. His own experience may lead him to feel the power of rhetoric, but his commitment to the compelling force of truth on its own leaves no place for rhetorical assistance.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Roy Jenkins, Gladstone, Forenote to the American Edition and Chapters 1 and 2, "A Liverpool Gentleman?" and "A Grand Tour Ending at Newark"

Among the reasons I picked up this book was a desire to get a better feel for England in the 19th century, and Jenkins goes some ways towards supplying that in his context-setting Forenote.

He begins with some observations that are common enough. Though Gladstone's 1809 birth came in the midst of the Napoleonic Wars, that conflict did not consume the attention of the British government and hardly disturbed the daily life of the upper classes. The rural gentry had prospered from the enclosures and technical advances in agriculture of the previous decades. The wars, by restricting the supply of grain from abroad, only increased that prosperity. When the end of the wars promised to renew grain supplies from abroad, they were cut back by the passage of Corn Law of 1815. Poorer Britons, however, suffered from all these changes, and did not begin to see an improvement in living standards until the second half of the century. In the meantime, government policy until the twenties was strictly repressive.

More novel are his observations on the state of transportation in early 19th century Britain. Improved roads and lighter carriages increased the speed of overland travel to as much as 15 miles per hour -- making possible regular coach line transit from London to Bath in 8 hours and to Liverpool in 20. While this made all of England easily accessible to the upper classes, however, travel to Ireland remained difficult. So Britons from ruling circles -- even those with Irish estates -- rarely went there, and this kept the concerns of Ireland remote.

Just as telling are his comments about how Gladstone was out of step with the brash, boisterous British nationalism of the late 19th century. It was a spirit borne of insecurity, unlike the more subdued but confident national assertion of middle of the century that was Gladstone's true temporal home.

The first two chapters provide more such revelations. The most surprising, for me, was the apparent commonness not just of corrupt election practices (which I had assumed), nor even of appeals of election results for corrupt practices (which I wasn't aware of), but of the success of such appeals (which implies not just judicial independence, but respect for the judiciary and its decisions). His father had two elections appealed, one successfully. His oldest brother Tom was also removed once by appeal, and was once successfully installed by appeal as well.

Early on I also got an impression of how and compact and interconnected the leading circles of British life must have been in the 19th century. Not only is Gladstone surrounded by future men of consequence at Eton and Oxford, but even chance connections like defeated political opponents and future husbands of unsuccessfully wooed brides can turn out to be important figures.

Other notable points: Narrow classicism of the Eton curriculum. Public schools' indifference until the late 19th century to inculcating a standard south England upper class accent. Prime importance of religion in mid-19th century British intellectual life (to say nothing of Gladstone's personal outlook) -- something I have missed by knowing British intellectual life of this period mainly as the Mills, Bentham, and Darwin. The pre-eminence (especially politically) of Christ Church college at Oxford.

Gladstone himself came from a very prosperous Liverpool merchant family. (Jenkins's rough and ready 50-to-1 translation of the family fortune puts it at 25 million pounds in contemporary terms). He had astounding drive and energy, physically and mentally. His upbringing was decidedly low church, although at Oxford he was affiliated with a high church cum Anglo-Catholic circle and this tendency continued to attract him (although he always remained theologically opposed to the Catholic Church itself). He believed firmly in the unity of European civilization, and learned modern languages with typical doggedness to make good on that belief in practice. He began his career on the political right but moved left over time. He first attracted attention for his anti-reform oratory while at Oxford, and he was first elected to parliament as a member from Newark in 1833.

Monday, May 2, 2011

On a telling blindness to the history of philosophy

I will briefly break from the normal programming on this blog to make an observation about Matthew Yglesias's recent posts on Kant, Christianity, and ethics. Yglesias believes it is a commonly accepted view that moral rules should not demand more than can realistically be expected of human conduct, and he thinks this view is a residue of Christianity transmitted through Kant.

Leaving aside whether this an accurate assessment of common contemporary belief or of Kant (I would say the first is mostly correct and the second is off the mark), I am struck by his lack of historical perspective. He assumes that, but for the existence of Christianity, ethics would never have been disturbed from a pure path of finding abstract rules which we are morally required to follow no matter how difficult this may be in practice. I struggle to see how this seemingly ad hoc potted history can be reconciled with the thought of Aristotle, a really-existing pre-Christian philosopher. Aristotle didn't propound an ethics based on abstract principles. but he certainly anchored his account of good human conduct on behavior that he saw as being realistically achievable.

This is why I wouldn't really recommend pursuing a philosophy degree at Harvard.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Richard Neustadt, Presidential Power: Chapter 7, "Men in Office"

There are a few key things a president needs to protect his power. The first is intelligence, especially details of process and policy. Without these, he will not understand the stakes of any choice for his futures choices.

Beyond this, he needs time to see and make decisions. The modern presidency beset by deadlines; to have the chance to preserve his ability to make choices a president needs to get ahead of them, to give himself a buffer. Setting personal deadlines ahead of the one's imposed by necessity is one way to create such a buffer.

Roosevelt fostered competition to gather intelligence and expose the decisions he had to make.
Eisenhower used his staff to shield himself from conflicts of information and perspective.

qualities that enabled Roosevelt help himself to grasp the power stakes in his decisions:
institutional understanding, enjoyment of political power, ambition. confidence

Eisenhower lacked all of these. His Army career did not train him for the methods of political power. He disliked political gamesmanship. He sought national unity rather than any substantive goals. His self-confidence depended upon his self-image as a statesman who stayed above the fray, and thus failed to help him assess the power stakes in his choices.

Eisenhower's focus was usually too broad to give effective direction to his use of power. When he did take personal interest in policy details, however, as in his balanced-budget crusade during his last two years, he tended to lose track of any broader aims.

Truman was open to information from many sources and was eager to make decisions. He was accessible and read documents avidly, but he focused on immediate decisions and their circumstances rather than trying to put together disparate information into a larger context. By temperament he was a judge rather than a chief of intelligence.

Truman sense of power was shaped by his experience -- and sometimes his lack of it. As a former Senator and a party organization man, he placed a value on the prerogatives of Congress and loyalty to subordinates which tended to obscure for him how these restricted his own influence (although he learned largely to dispense with the former). Having never headed a bureaucracy, he had little feel for how his initiatives could be obstructed.

Never having had the ambition or expectation of being president, Truman was unusually sensitive to the difference between the office and its holder. Truman's sense of confidence was tied to being able to see himself perform the role of president, which he saw as initiating and deciding. Since so much was wrapped up for him in playing the role of president, however, he was reluctant to upstage or interfere with subordinates lest he appear to be letting personal preferences get in the way of policy, and this, as was the case with MacArthur, could hinder his sense for power.

Truman had a strong convictions about what to do as president -- he saw himself as the heir and protector of the New Deal and internationalism and the mid-century Democratic coalition. He saw it as his duty to sustain the legacy. While the focus this gave him was sometimes effective, it often led him to strong fixed positions whether or not this put him in the best situation to influence policy.

Overall assessment: Truman and, especially, FDR made effective use of presidential power; Eisenhower, because he was a political amateur, did not.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

C.L.R. James, Beyond a Boundary: Chapter 2, "Against the Current"

30-31, on the primordial struggle of his youth:
We know nothing, nothing at all, of the results of what we do to children. My father had given me a bat and ball, I had learnt to play and at eighteen was a good cricketer. What a fiction! In reality my life up to ten had laid the powder for a war that lasted without respite for eight years, and intermittently for some time afterwards -- a war between English Puritanism, English literature and cricket, and the realism of West Indian life. On one side was my father, my mother (no mean pair), my two aunts and my grandmother, my uncle and his wife, all the family friends (which included a number of headmasters from all over the island), some eight or nine Englishmen who taught at the Queen's Royal College, all graduates of Oxford or Cambridge, the Director of Education and the Board of Education, which directed the educational system of the whole island. On the other side was me, just ten years old when it began.
They had on their side parental, scholastic, governmental,and many other kinds of authority and, less tangible but perhaps more powerful, the prevailing sentiment that, in as much as the coloured people on the island, and in fact all over the world, had such limited opportunities, it was my duty, my moral and religious duty, to make the best use of the opportunities which all these good people and the Trinidad Government had provided for me. I had nothing to start with but my pile of clippings about W. G. Grace and Ranjitsinhji, my Vanity Fair and my Puritan instincts, though as yet these were undeveloped. I fought and won.
This was the battleground. The Trinidad Government offered yearly free exhibitions from the elementary schools of the islands to either of the two secondary schools, the government Queen's Royal College and the Catholic college, St. Mary's. The number today is over four hundred, but in those days it was only four. Through this narrow gate boys, poor and bright, could get a secondary education and in the end a Cambridge Senior Certificate, a useful passport to a good job. There were even more glittering prizes. Every year the two schools competed for three island scholarships worth £600 each. With one of these a boy could study law or medicine and return to the island with a profession and therefore independence. There were at that time few other roads to independence for a black man who started without means. The higher posts in the government, in engineering and other scientific professions were monopolized by white people, and, as practically all big business was also in their hands, the coloured people were, as a rule, limited to the lower posts. Thus law and medicine were the only ways out. Lawyers and doctors made large fees and enjoyed great social prestige. The final achievement was when the Governor nominated one of these coloured men to the Legislative Council to represent the people. To what degree he represented them should not distract us here. We must keep our eye on the course: exhibition, scholarship, profession, wealth, Legislative Council and the title of Honourable. Whenever someone brought it off the local people were very proud of him.
That was the course marked out for me.

Exhibition winner at nine and island schoolboy essay contest runner-up soon after, James seemed destined for the hallowed path to the Legislative Council. He had the ability to do it. But he didn't try. He was pulled away by cricket and English literature. But while cricket was a distraction, it also helped instill the Puritan, public school ethic in him.

I had been brought up in the public school code.
It came doctrinally from the masters, who for two generations, from the foundation of the school, had been Oxford and Cambridge men. The striking thing is that inside the classrooms the code had little success...
But as soon as we stepped on to the cricket or football field, more particularly the cricket field, all was changed. We were a motley crew... Yet rapidly we learned to obey the umpire's decision without question, however irrational it was. We learned to play with the team, which meant subordinating your personal inclinations, and even interests, to the good of the whole. We kept a stiff upper lip in that we did not complain about ill-fortune. We did not denounce failures, but 'Well tried' or 'Hard luck' came easily to our lips. We were generous to opponents and congratulated them on victories, even when we knew they did not deserve it. We lived in two worlds. Inside the classrooms the heterogeneous jumble of Trinidad was battered and jostled and shaken down into some sort of order. On the playing field we did what ought to be done.

The school was an artificial oasis from national agitation and racial struggle. Mr. Burslem, the selfless, decent headmaster, represented Britain at its best. The other teachers also behaved fairly and generously, regardless of the color of their pupils, at least to a very great degree. But an education that took Britain as the source and measure of all values, knowledge, accomplishment was ultimately stunting nevertheless. In any case, James found that in Trinidad outside the school, race still mattered a great deal. James was refused admission to merchants' contingent of soldiers to fight in the Great War because of his color. The school, however, where the masters were all outraged at the slight he had suffered, sheltered him from any mental trauma from the incident.

On the artificiality of his school friendships across social and racial divides, 40-41:
My great friend was U__. He was a rather frail boy and somewhat lacking in physical confidence, but he was a left-hander. I took him under my wing. I fielded second slip to him to feeble batsmen and took catches that I never afterwards equalled. I went out to extra-cover for hitting batsmen. Caught James, bowled U__ was a regular feature of the score-sheet in our school matches. That can be a close bond, and we spent countless hours together. But there came a day when U__ left, while I remained behind. Faithful to his promise, he came back to the school to see me. He came before six o'clock to see me playing on the field and then to walk with me the mile and a half to the railway station. He told me about his new life, and I gave him some news of the school. But after the first effusion there was an awkwardness between us. The conversation would stop and we would have to search to begin it again. He came another day to see me to the station and this time it was worse. We had nothing to say to each other, our social circles were too different, and he never came again. He went to Europe to study medicine and years afterwards, when we were grown men, I met him once or twice. We greeted each other warmly, but I was always embarrassed and I think he was too. There was a guilty feeling that something had gone wrong with us. Something had. The school-tie can be transplanted, but except on annual sporting occasions the old school-tie cannot be. It is a bond of school only on the surface. The link is between family and friends, between members of the class or caste.

On bowling, 44:
The ultimate greatness of a bowler is in his head. He has a series of methods of attack at this command, but where he pitches any ball and the ball following, where he delivers one and from where he delivers another, where he quickens the pace and where he slows it down, this is the result of a psychological sensitivity and response to a particular batsman at a particular time on a particular wicket at a particular stage in the game. To watch cricket critically you have to be in good form, you must have had a lot of practice, you must have played it. There were times in our club cricket at home, or when I went round English cricket grounds reporting the matches of the Lancashire team, or when I watched all the Test matches through the season of 1938, these were times when I could sense the course of an over from the way the batsman stood waiting between balls. If you know him well you could see when he was bothered. When Jim Laker writes that he bowled Don Bradman an over and knew that he had beaten him with every ball he is talking about bowling at its highest. In the rout of the Australians in 1956 the decisive factor was not Laker's off-spin. It was that he had them on the run and kept them there.

On batting, 45-46:
Quite early I learnt that, far more than with bowling, a batsman's innings is played more in his head than on the pitch. I have believed this from the days of Wallen until George Headley told me with passion that the ball he feared most was the the loose ball which came after he had been tied down for two or three overs. 'You went at it greedily and made a stupid stroke,' he said over and again. Nor is it the response of any individual. There is a zeitgeist of cricket. A particular generation of cricketers thinks in a certain way and only a change in society, not legislation, will change the prevailing style. More of that to come. First Wallen.
Wallen was a slow left-hander who came into the first eleven one year, opened the bowling, and had an incredible series of analyses, six for 11, eight for 17 and figures of the kind. When we talked about cricket to the girls at the High School even they would tell us: "Cricket! Wallen is the man.' but to the rest of us in the first eleven Wallen was a push-over. We had hit him all over the place for years and we continued to hit him. Our nets were open and at practice the earnest Wallen would place his field and we would drive him through the covers and as soon as he pitched short hook him round. We would go out to him and hit him from the off-stump to square-leg. The more wickets he took in competition matches, the more we hit him. Wallen complained that, contrary to practice, in matches he had a new ball, and undoubtedly he did dip in a bit while the shine was on. I was the secretary and manoeuvered to take a new ball out for practice and saw that Wallen had it just as I went in to bat. I hit him harder than ever. the climax came in the house match when Chinasing (Chinese, not Indian) and I put on 100 for the first wicket against the demon bowler, and that is a lot of runs on a matting wicket. I was a little more cautious (I didn't want him to get me out because I lived at the time in the same town as him, Arima, and we were good friends). But Chinasing drove him continuously. Came Saturday and, sure as day, Chinasing and I stood in the slips and saw Wallen mow down the opposite side.
A great military authority of the eighteenth century stood on a height one day watching his master napoleon carry out one of his audacious manoeuvers and was heard to say that he wished he had charge of the opposing army for but one half-hour. But if he had he would not have had the nerve to guess what Napoleon was doing and take the steps that seemed so easy. So it is with batting. Over and over again in every class of cricket one sees someone walking out with 'What a colossal ass I have been!' written all over him. I haven't the slightest doubt that if an unknown Wallen had played for any of the outside teams he would have got us out and taken his 7 for 15 as usual. David Buchanan, one of the destructive slow bowlers of his day, coached at Rugby and held no terrors for the boys there, who hit him about fearlessly. A great deal of cricket, and big cricket too, is wrapped up in that parcel. Sir Brian de Bois Guilbert, you remember, was slain not by the lance of Ivanhoe but by the 'violence of his own contending passions'.

Monday, February 21, 2011

C.L.R. James, Beyond a Boundary: Chapter 1, "The Window"

Childhood. Books on top of the wardrobe and watching cricket through the bedroom window. Landmark experiences: watching the dissolute Matthew Bondman bat and seeing Arthur Jones' cut shot caught at deep point. Puritan spirit of the family sustained by a fear of sinking into impoverished degradation. Family influences. Both grandfathers self-made immigrants from other islands. Convent raised mother, who absorbed puritanism and an indiscriminate love of reading novels. Schoolteacher father, who knew enough of the world to know what was worth reading. Cricket articles from magazines. Vanity Fair (from the age of eight). Bible stories and the the Bible.

James is at his best sketching pen portraits of members of the extended family who peopled his childhood, like Cousin Cudjoe, his aunt Judith, and his maternal grandfather Josh Rudder. James's vivid short profiles not only bring these personalities to life but also illustrate the larger struggles of black West Indians against racism and poverty.

19: "When I did spend time with my parents my father told me about cricket and his own prowess. But now I was older and my interest became tinged with skepticism, chiefly because my mother often interrupted to say that whenever she went to see him play he was always caught in the long field for very little."

28: "Me and my clippings and magazines on W.G. Grace, Victor Trumper and Ranjitsinhji, and my Vanity Fair and my puritanical view of the world. I look back at the little eccentric and would like to have listened to him, nod affirmatively and pat him on the shoulder. A British intellectual long before I was ten, already an alien in my own environment among my own people, even my own family. Somehow from around me I had selected and fastened on to the things that made a whole. As will soon appear, to that little boy I owe a debt of gratitude."

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Hans Blumenberg, Paradigms for a Metaphorology: Chapter 2, "Metaphorics of Truth and Pragmatics of Knowledge"

Blumenberg starts by thematizing the truth value of absolute metaphors. This truth, Blumenberg claims, is pragmatic: absolute metaphors have historically provided a guiding or orienting function with respect to the world as a whole.

Blumenberg suggests that absolute metaphors can no longer perform this function adequately in an era like ours which is conscious of them, and that their function has been increasingly taken up instead by art.

14: "Absolute metaphors 'answer' the supposedly naive, in principle unanswerable questions whose relevance lies quite simply in the fact that they cannot be brushed aside, since we do not pose them ourselves but find them already posed in the ground of our existence."

14: "[W]e ask once again about the relevance of absolute metaphors, their historical truth. This truth is pragmatic in a very broad sense. By providing a point of orientation, the content of absolute metaphors determines a particular attitude or conduct [Verhalten]; they give structure to a world, representing the nonexperienceable, nonapprehensible totality of the real. To the historically trained eye, they therefore indicate the fundamental certainties, conjectures, and judgments in relation to which the attitudes and expectations, actions and inactions, longings and disappointments, interests and indifferences, of an epoch are regulated."

Cosmos is an answer to the question of what the world as a whole is that has proved enormously durable.

Blumenberg's turns to the metaphor of the mightiness of truth to see what a pragmatic approach to its meaning can uncover. He notes first that the power which is attributed to truth is related to an expectation that it is easy to find. He goes on to note that historically the metaphor emerged in the context of a concern with salvation. It is a characteristic first of all of Hellenistic thought and its therapeutic deployment of truth. Blumenberg argues that this new attitude toward the function of truth is the key to the divergence of Classical and Hellenistic thought. Where truth was the goal and consummation of human existence for Classical philosophy, it becomes a corrective in Hellenistic philosophy. Where Classical philosophy had an expansive agenda for truth , Hellenistic philosophy seeks to create a protected sanctuary for those truths which are necessary for salvation. Although Blumenberg does not make this explicit, the classical idea that truth reveals itself does not seem far off from the ease of finding truth implied by the mightiness of truth. The key change is that perspicuous truth is no longer assumed to be universal, but instead is understood to be restricted to a small set of truths.

Patristic thought takes up this economy of truth, and puts out of bounds as unnatural any inquiry which leads neither to salvation or any practical application. These restrictions on theoretical curiosity lent an air of the forbidden and unnatural to the pursuit of new research. With truth robbed of its naturalness, an explicit consciousness of method involved in acquiring truth comes to the fore.

With Francis Bacon, we get the metaphor of the world as a tribunal where the truth is found out and the association of the concepts of truth and labor.

Aristotelean pure reality -> Medieval pure activity -> world possesses truth because of God's creation -> modern conception of the truth as a product of human effort, and the concomitant valorization of the artificial in art and research.

Blumenberg traces the metaphor of knowledge as work in Descartes, d'Alembert, and Montesquieu. Among the consequences of the metaphor is the valorization of the machines and methods used for investigation. Blumenberg claims this drove development of apparatus and technique ahead even of the actual demands for them -- in a sense, new tools and methods created their own demand for use.

Goethe's attempt to revive the Classical harmony of man and nature involves a commitment to truth as open and self-revealing.

(An epilogue from LTG describing the Classical view: "Truth is there and you just have to look at it.")

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Hans Blumenberg, Paradigms for a Metaphorology: Chapter 1, "Metaphorics of the 'Mighty' Truth"

Blumenberg begins by noting the thinness of the conceptual history of truth, which he relates to the parsimony of its definition within the Western philosophical tradition. He suggests that the metaphors associated with the concept of truth are contrastingly rich and supple. He notes that the metaphor of light is most closely associated with the concept of truth, and then he claims that this metaphor must be seen in relation to the unstated but foundational questions regarding the status of truth. 7: "The metaphorics of light cannot be translated back into concepts; analysis seeks to disclose the questions to which answers are sought and risked, questions of a presystematic nature whose intentional fullness 'provoked' the metaphors, as it were." (This insistence that there is a dialogical, question-answer underpinning to concepts reminds me of Blumenberg's approach to historical systems of thought in The Legitimacy of the Modern Age). Some of these "naive" questions regarding truth: how much truth can we have? how easy is it to get? how much is it good for us to have? 7: "These are all questions that barely a philosophical school has attempted to answer with systematic means; we nonetheless maintain that everywhere in the language of philosophy, indications can be found that answers to these questions have always already been given in a subterranean stratum of thought, answers that, although they may not be contained in the systems in propositional form, have never ceased to pervade, tincture, and structure them."

Blumenberg contrasts the metaphors of truth that forces itself on one to the metaphors of truth that must be forced to reveal itself. The former is characteristic of ancient thought up to the time of Aristotle, and is associated with metaphors of light, openness, and transparency. The latter is associated with the Stoics and their doctrine of cataleptic presentation -- an argument which presents evidence so overwhelming that the hearer is compelled to assent (with the presumption being that one would be wary of granting assent). This is associated with the metaphor of imprinting.

The classical metaphorics of powerful, self-activating truth was taken up later in patristic thought and scholasticism. It survives even into the modern era, but more often in a subsidiary function. The force of truth is an assumption, for instance, of Vico's theory of error, but his focus is on the linguistic means by which human beings resist that force. For Hume, there is a skeptical reversal, in which whatever idea compels us most strongly is what we call true (although his view is made palatable by a rather benign teleology of nature).

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Hans Blumenberg, Paradigms for a Metaphorology: Introduction

The Cartesian goal for philosophy -- obtaining truth that is both perspicuous and expressed in unambiguous concepts -- implies the twin redundancy of figurative language and the history of concepts. There is no longer a use for them in a system of thought whose concepts provide a complete and definitive account of the world. But the superfluity of metaphor had been a premise of philosophy from Plato onward. Philosophy has seen metaphor as an a mere adjunct, as a tool used to make an argument more persuasive without changing its content, so that, in principle, a metaphor could be replaced by explicit argument. Blumenberg posits the existence of (and will seek evidence for) metaphors that cannot be replaced in this way, because they provide a foundation for philosophical language. He calls these absolute metaphors. He sees them as akin to the symbols of the ideas of reason in Kant's Critique of Judgment. He notes that calling these metaphors absolute does not mean that they are fixed and their functions cannot be replaced by other metaphors; it only signifies that they cannot be reduced to concepts. This fungibility of absolute metaphors means that they can have a history, and that this history underlies the history of concepts.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Richard Neustadt, Presidential Power: Chapter 6, "Two Matters of Choice"

Since presidential power depends on the president's ability to make choices, preserving that power means not getting boxed in by previous choices. (This is not Neustadt's metaphor, but I think it is apt.) Neustadt analyzes two presidential choices that went bad in this way: Eisenhower's decision to allow his own Treasury Secretary, George Humphrey, to speak against the budget plan of 1957 and Truman's acceptance of complete conquest of the North as a war aim of the Korean War in the fall on 1950. Eisenhower's decision robbed him of bargaining power because his own budget couldn't be taken seriously as a starting point. Truman's decision undermined his ability to persuade the public that a lesser war aim -- cease fire on a defensible line -- was acceptable.

Neustadt contends that the burden of seeing the stakes of presidential choices for his future power falls on the president alone. The way that his power could be restricted later by his choice may not be obvious from the situation, and his advisers will be of no help because they will see things only from the perspective of their expertise. I think Neustadt overstates this. First, at least some of every president's advisers are not policy specialists, and hence not prone towards blindness to consequences outside a narrow domain of expertise. Second, a president's lost leeway for action on any issue will affect the interests policy specialists in that area, so they would have some reason to be aware of the stakes of decisions for presidential power.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain: "Research" and "The Dance of Death"

The onset of winter -- all thoughts on Christmas even six seeks out (a freeness with time that Hans has not quite accustomed himself to yet) -- Hans gains temperature, perhaps because of the exertions of his reading -- how little serious reading is done at the sanatorium, and how time is frittered away -- late nights, reading about the mysteries of life and matter -- an interest in the body which has a barely sublimated sexual context.

I am increasingly left with the impression that Hans is not as dull a lad as the narrator had made out in the beginning.

Christmas season -- Hans proposes to break the embargo on talking about and seeing death and dying -- the idea is met with hostility at dinner -- Hans proceeds with his project, pulling Joachim in his train -- first paying respects to the deceased gentleman rider (who Hans had heard coughing his first day) -- from there Hans makes it his mission to visit the dying -- his motives were not strictly charitable; for he also meant to fight for taking a serious and dignified attitude toward suffering, death,and the pursuit of the cure, much against the prevailing atmosphere -- Popoff's seizure at dinner , and the alarmingly rapid (for Hans) return to normal routine after it -- Leila Gerngross -- Fritz Rotbein, the businessman -- the silly Frau Zimmermann ("Overfilled") -- Settembrini's objection -- Tous-les-deux's son Lauro, who made a show of defying death -- Anton Karlowitz Ferge, the Russo-German insurance man who went through pleura-shock and three-colored fainting; a great storyteller --Frau Mallinckrodt, the spurned adulteress, who like the other women saw Hans' visits through the lens of courtship -- Karen Karstedt, an impecunious girl under Behrens' care who stayed in cheap lodgings in the village -- Hans and Joachim take Karen out for excursions to see the winter sports and the movie theater -- Frau Stoehr insinuates, with some justice, that Hans' attentions to Karen are a sublimation of his desires for Frau Chauchat --In February, Hans and Joachim take Karen, who is near her end, to see the graveyard

Friday, January 14, 2011

Richard Neustadt, Presidential Power: Chapter 5, "Public Prestige"

Public prestige means the judgment of insiders about how the public will react to their own reactions to the president. Public figures count on members of the larger public to accomplish many thing they care about. The politicians, in particular, care about getting elected. So they care about how the public will assess their interaction with the president.

Prestige isn't as simple as a raw measure of popularity. Much of the public is usually inattentive, so the esteem in which they hold the president has little consequence. The president's prestige will also vary in different constituencies, and even in regard to different issues.

The president's prestige also affects him more immediately, because he often wants things directly from members of the public, whether votes for himself and his allies or private actions that further his policies (for example, union members' cooperation with Truman's seizure of the steel mills).

Like his professional reputation, a president's public prestige does not guarantee that he will get his way, but it can gain him leeway.

A president's personality comprises a large, but mostly static component of his prestige. The more variable element to his prestige comes from changes in the public image of the presidency, which is to say changes in what the public wants the president to be. These changes are driven by events that affect members of the public, especially negatively, like economic trouble, military conflict, and social unrest. Since presidents have limited influence on such happenings, their prestige depends on their success in managing the hopes of the public. They must teach the public to see their role in a favorable light. But this instruction takes place under four constraints: (1) the public is chronically inattentive, (2) when they are attentive, it is in the context of pressing events not likely to be of the president's choosing, (3) deeds will influence public perception more than words, and (4) how the public understands the president will be influenced by the context of what he has previously done and said. In other words, both events and his own record will compete with the president's attempts to shape public perceptions.

A president's choices of action affect his bargaining power, his professional reputation, and his prestige. Since so much depends upon his choices, a key question is how a president husbands and preserves his latitude to make choices.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain: "Whims of Mercurius", "Encyclopaedic", "Humaniora"

A stretch of brilliant, warm weather begins a few days into October. Hans' infatuation with Madame Chauchat continues. He avoids looking at or judging her defects, physical and moral, and even tries his hand at simulating some of them, such as slouching and slamming doors. One day, Hans conspicuously gets up from dinner and adjusts the curtains to stop a ray of sun from vexing her, and is rewarded with a look and a smile. But Hans' isn't always so secure in Madame Chacuchat's affections. On another day, he converses with Joachim within her earshot in order to draw her attention, even dragging Hermine Kleefeld into the conversation, but she only gives him a glance that he interprets as one of scorn. Despondent, his temperature drops. Three days later, he overtakes Madame Chauchat on the morning walk and they exchange friendly greetings. His gloom lifts, and so does his temperature.

229-230: "We have as much right as the next person to our private thoughts about the story we are relating; and we would here hazard the surmise that young Hans Castorp would never have overstepped so far the limits originally fixed for his stay if to his simple soul there might have been vouchsafed, out of the depth of his time, any reasonably satisfying explanation of the meaning and purpose of man's life."

Hans' passion becomes evident to everyone at the sanatorium. Hans, in fact, does a great deal to advertise it. One day, he even holds forth on the peculiarities of Madame Chauchat's face to a small audience of fellow patients on the veranda. Hans begins to look forward to the Sunday afternoon wait for letters in front of the porter's lodge because of the excuse it provides him to be close to Madame Chauchat. One Sunday, Settembrini pulls Hans away from the gathering into a side room, ostensibly to announce his participation in the production of an encyclopedia of human suffering. (One might wonder who would read such a thing!) In fact, Settembrini's purpose is to urge Hans to return home from the corrupting influence of the sanatorium -- a suggestion that Hans resists.

On another day, Hans and Joachim are sitting in the veranda garden after dinner when Hofrat Behrens strolls by, and Hans wrangles an invitation to look at his paintings. Hans takes particular note of the portrait of Madame Chauchat -- he even removes it from the wall and carries it about Hofrat Behrens' house during their visit. Hans and Behrens converse at length about the human body: flesh, blood, lymph, its composition (mostly water), its life and death (both processes of oxidation). But the Hofrat becomes downcast and the visit ends when Hans questions the necessity of continuity of form, which for the Hofrat is the distinction between life and death.

Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain: "Soup-Everlasting", "Sudden Enlightenment", "Freedom"

An authorial aside at the onset of the recounting of Hans Castorp's bed-rest establishes that henceforth the treatment of time will be telescoped, that much more time will be compressed into a shorter space of narrative. Hans' regular sick-bed regime is described. It is noted that the division of his his days into an unchanging pattern makes them seem shorter, but also makes it seem as if time is not passing at all. Joachim urges Hans to write a letter alerting his relations to the extension of his stay. Hans has some trouble bringing himself to write, but puts himself to it when his three weeks are up and the issue can no longer be avoided. Hans reveals as as little as possible, suggesting that he has been only briefly detained by a bad cold. This becomes part of a pattern of uncovering his true state only gradually, as we learn when he discloses, a week and a half later in a conversation with Settembrini, that he has he has written a second latter attributing further delay to mere suspicion about the condition of his chest. Castorp reveals to Settembrini his increasing alienation from his accustomed bourgeois society as a result of the perspective brought on by illness. Settembrini, alarmed anew, resumes his chiding. He first relates skeptical anecdotes about the diagnoses and cures of the doctors, and then launches a frontal assault on Hans' view that death and disease provide distance from and perspective on ordinary life. At the end of three weeks, Behrens releases Hans from bed rest, but only after he has been reminded -- he seems to have lost track of how long Hans has been confined.

A week later, Hans goes in for his first x-ray. In the meantime, he receives more intelligence about Madame Chauchat. His tablemate, Miss Robinson the schoolmistress, informs him that Madame Chauchat receives a Russian visitor who stays in town, and also that she is sitting for a portrait by Hofrat Behrens. This news distresses Hans, and causes his temperature to spike. He also observes that Madame Chauchat has another admirer at the sanatorium, a young man from Mannheim. Madame Chauchat ignores this other admirer. On the day of the appointment, Madame Chauchat comes in for her x-ray after Hans and Joachim and converses with Joachim in the waiting room. Hans speculates about whether she speaks to Joachim instead of him out of delicacy about their silent flirtation. Joachim appears to have perceived the goings-on between them, and seems uneasy with Madame Chauchat. Hans looks at the insides of Joachim in the x-ray room, at also looks at the skeleton of his own hand.

Some time later -- it must be a few days, for we learn that October is almost upon them -- Hans converses with Settembrini. After first mocking the put-upon pose of some of the young inhabitants of the sanatorium -- he contends that they are in fact enjoying their luxuriant irresponsibility -- Settembrini concludes with a cutting remark about Russians ("Parthians and Scythians"). An annoyed Hans concludes that Settembrini, too, has noticed his commerce with Madame Chauchat. Immediately after the discussion, Hans writes his third letter home, this time revealing that he must be expected to stay for at least the whole winter, and requesting supplies and money to cover his expenses. As he writes, his sense of dread about informing his relations evaporates, and a sense of satisfaction with his self-assertion comes over him.