Back in the 90s there was a controversy, now happily long settled (and so perhaps unfamiliar to many of my younger readers), about “letterbox” versus “pan-and-scan” video formats. See, most movies by then were widescreen (and this had been so for decades), but television screens were still 4×3, which had been the dominant aspect ratio for theatrical movies when commercial television first became widespread – which meant that movies with a wider aspect ratio (which soon became the majority), when shown on television, either had to leave out whatever was happening at one or both sides if the screen, or else shift back and forth between them (the latter option being the origin of “pan and scan”), even if the original scene had been intended to be static. You can see how this mismatch between theatrical and televisual aspect ratios would ruin, for example, scenes like these three from Lawrence of Arabia,North by Northwest, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, all of which could show one of the main characters in a scene only by completely eliminating another.
I’m currently involved (along with some other members of the POT blog) in an online reading group on Lisa Tessman’s book Burdened Virtues, and while there’s a lot in the book that I admire, I want to grump here a bit about some of the things that Tessman says in ch. 3, which is where we currently are in the book. (The main focus of the book is on how to understand what Aristotelean-style virtue ethicists see, and what Tessman rather forlornly longs to see, as a harmonious and mutually reinforcing relationship between virtue and well-being, in the context of oppressive social structures that impose often devastating costs on those who attempt the sorts of resistance to oppression that virtue seems to require. That’s an interesting and important topic, but – be warned – I say virtually nothing about it in the present post.)
Despite the occasional perfunctory acknowledgment (e.g. at p. 62, n. 15) that views on which morality and flourishing can come apart were “quite thinkable within the ancient Greek context,” Tessman nevertheless persists in treating ancient and modern views as divided by some deep conceptual gap; hence she contrasts the “contemporary meaning of the word happiness” with the “ancient Greek understanding of … eudaimonia or flourishing” (p. 57), as though conceptions of eudaimonia centered on wealth or subjective pleasure or the amoral pursuit of power were alien to the ancient Greek context. But in fact the virtue-centered conception of eudaimonia common among philosophers in the broadly Socratic lineage (e.g. Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics) seems by no means to have been automatically congenial to Greeks generally; indeed in Plato’s dialogues Socrates’ interlocutors often react with puzzlement or disbelief or even mockery to his insistence that morality and self-interest cannot come apart.
Today would have been my mother’s 96th birthday. (She died at 91.)
The other day, while indulging in my usual frustration over how my college students are so often ignorant of so many things that I was familiar with well before high school, it occurred to me that a substantial portion of those things were material I learned not in school or even through my own reading, but from my mother – not in any didactic setting, but informally. For example, I first learned about Versailles and Pompeii through my mother’s recollections of her own school projects on those topics; the mnemonic “SPA” (to recall the chronological order of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle) she likewise recalled from her school days.
I’m puzzled by a feature of much of the scholarly discussion of the Epicurean swerve. So many of the discussants seem to be assuming that there must be a swerve corresponding to each human free action. I don’t see why. If indeterministic swerves occur, then every atomic motion – not just the times when the atom swerves, but also the times when it doesn’t – is going to be an instance of indeterministic motion. And I take it that it’s the causally undetermined nature of the atomic motions underlying our actions that’s crucial to Epicurus’s account, not their specifically being swerves. (And this seems to me to be true regardless of what stance one takes on the much-debated questions as to the precise nature of the relationship between human actions and underlying atomic motions and how the indeterminacy of the latter serves to guarantee the freedom of the former.)
Every time (or nearly every) that a new artistic style or movement emerges (in literature, think e.g. of romanticism or naturalism or modernism; in painting, think of impressionism or cubism or abstraction), it’s accompanied by two narratives.
One narrative comes from defenders of the Older Art. The burden of this narrative is that the Newer Art is not merely inferior, but pernicious – that it represents a betrayal of the very principles of art itself. Think of the hostile reviews of the first Impressionist Exhibition in Paris (such as “Wallpaper in its early stages is much more finished than that”); or the singers who refused to learn Wagner’s operas because they were “unsingable”; or the Vienna Musikverein’s initially rejecting Schönberg’s Verklärte Nacht because it used “nonexistent” chords; or the literal violence that broke out in the theatre at the first production of Victor Hugo’s play Hernani for its violation of the rules of classicism.
Continuing the San Diego bookstores series, I chat with Jack Ran of the Groundwork Book Collective, a radical left-wing bookstore on the campus of UCSD. Topics include running a bookstore as an egalitarian collective; participating in wildcat strikes; surviving arson attacks; the dynamics of anarchist/Marxist cooperation; conflicts with the university administration; what campus leftists owe to Donald Trump; and the joys of reading Proudhon, Kevin Carson, and Shawn Wilbur.
If I seem a little sleepy during the video, it’s because I’d gotten very little sleep the night before. I blame capitalism.
In my latest Agoric Café video, I chat with economist Bruce L. Benson about polycentric mercantile law in medieval Europe and among the Plains Indians; whether private law can work outside of small homogeneous communities; causation vs. correlation in the gun control debate; the perils of scissors-and-paste history; the abolition of criminal law; the incentival perversities of the reservation system; the inevitability of the state; and what intellectual debt he owes to the u.s. military.
What do Good Morning America, the Australian Outback, Mary Poppins, David Friedman, Lawrence of Arabia, and a balloon voyage to a lost colony of Vikings at the North Pole have in common? Get the answers in this video, as I take you on a journey BEYOND YOUR IMAGINATION!!!
The next best thing to giving a libertarian talk in Prague is giving a libertarian talk to Prague. Although if Aristotle is right about the locus of causal action being in the recipient rather than the agent, perhaps this counts as a talk in Prague after all.