Philosophy Word of the Day – Problem of Universals

Universals are features (e.g., redness or tallness) shared by many individuals, each of which is said to instantiate or exemplify the universal. Although it began with dispute over the status of Platonic Forms, the problem of universals became a central concern during the middle ages. The metaphysical issue is whether or not these features exist independently of the particular things that have them: realists hold that they do; nominalists hold that they do not; conceptualists hold that they do so only mentally.

(via Philosophical Dictionary)

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Philosophy Word of the Day – Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980)

Sartre (1905-1980) is arguably the best known philosopher of the twentieth century. His indefatigable pursuit of philosophical reflection, literary creativity and, in the second half of his life, active political commitment gained him worldwide renown, if not an admiration. He is commonly considered the father of Existentialist philosophy, whose writings set the tone for intellectual life in the decade immediately following the Second World War. Among the many ironies that permeate his life, not the least is the immense popularity of his scandalous public lecture “Existentialism and Humanism,” delivered to an enthusiastic Parisian crowd October 28, 1945.

Though taken as a quasi manifesto for the Existentialist movement, the transcript of this lecture was the only publication that Sartre openly regretted seeing in print. And yet it continues to be the major introduction to his philosophy for the general public. One of the reasons both for its popularity and for his discomfort is the clarity with which it exhibits the major tenets of existentialist thought while revealing Sartre’s attempt to broaden its social application in response to his Communist and Catholic critics. In other words, it offers us a glimpse of Sartre’s thought “on the wing.”

(Via Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy)

The main idea of Jean-Paul Sartre is that we are, as humans, “condemned to be free.”[26] This theory relies upon his atheism, and is formed using the example of the paper-knife. Sartre says that if one considered a paper-knife, one would assume that the creator would have had a plan for it: an essence. Sartre said that human beings have no essence before their existence because, there is no Creator. Thus: “existence precedes essence”.[27] So, and just for that, the Sartrian man with his freedom will become a god, but he will remain always only a bankrupt god.

(Via Wikipedia)

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Philosophy Word of the Day – Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872)

Ludwig Feuerbach
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Ludwig Feuerbach, along with Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Marx, and Nietzsche, must be counted among those philosophical outsiders who rebelled against the academic philosophy of the 19th century and thought of themselves as reformers and prophets of a new culture. Although he began his career as an enthusiastic follower of Hegel, he emerged in the 1840s as a leader of a group of radicals called the Young Hegelians who, inspired by the revolutionary political spirit sweeping over Europe, employed the critical side of Hegel’s philosophy to undermine the reactionary alliance of philosophy, State, and Christianity in Prussia. But confronted by censorship, the police, and reprisals against them in the universities they turned against Hegel’s philosophy altogether. Expelled from the faculties for which they were trained, many of them became pamphleteers, journalists, revolutionaries, and independent scholars.

Feuerbach is best known for his criticism of Idealism and religion, especially Christianity, written in the early forties. He believed that any progress in human culture and civilization required the repudiation of both. His later writings were concerned with developing a materialistic humanism and an ethics of human solidarity. These writings have been more or less ignored until recently because most scholars have regarded him primarily as the bridge between Hegel and Marx. With the recent publication of a new critical edition of his works, however, a new generation of scholars have argued that his mature views are philosophically interesting in their own right. (Continue reading)

(Via Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

in his most important work, Das Wesen des Christentums (1841; The Essence of Christianity), Feuerbach posited the notion that man is to himself his own object of thought and religion nothing more than a consciousness of the infinite. The result of this view is the notion that God is merely the outward projection of man’s inward nature.

In the first part of his book, which strongly influenced Marx, Feuerbach analyzed the “true or anthropological essence of religion.” Discussing God’s aspects “as a being of the understanding,” “as a moral being or law,” “as love,” and others, he argued that they correspond to different needs in human nature.

In the second section he analyzed the “false or theological essence of religion,” contending that the view that God has an existence independent of human existence leads to a belief in revelation and sacraments, which are items of an undesirable religious materialism.


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Ancient History on Mp3

Ruins of Greek Theater in the colony at Taormi...
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Open Culture compiles a nice list of university lectures on ancient Greek and Roman history.

Last fall, Yale University introduced a new round of open courses that included Donald Kagan’s Introduction to Ancient Greek History. A leading figure in the field, Kagan takes students from the Greek Dark Ages, through the rise of Sparta and Athens, The Peloponnesian War, and beyond. You’ll cover more than a millennium in 24 lectures. As I’ve noted elsewhere, Yale’s courses are high touch. And what’s particularly nice is that the course can be downloaded in one of five formats (text, audio, flash video, low bandwidth quicktime video, and high bandwidth quicktime video). Simply choose the format that works for you, and you’re good to go.

When you’ve completed the arc of Greek history, you can move next to the UC Berkeley course, The Roman Empire. The course taught by Isabelle Pafford moves from Julius Caesar to Constantine (roughly 40 BC to 300 AD) in 42 lectures. And the audio comes straight from the classroom, which means that you’ll get solid information but you’ll also have to endure some extraneous talk about homework assignments and exams. (It’s free, so don’t complain.) You can download this course in one of three ways: iTunes or  streamed audio. Lastly, I should note that Pafford has taught another related course at Berkeley – The Ancient Mediterranean World (iTunesFeed - MP3s).

Once you have the big survey courses under your belt, you can switch to some more focused courses coming out of Stanford. Let’s start with Patrick Hunt’s course Hannibal (iTunes). As I’ve noted in a previous post, this podcasted course takes you inside the life and adventures of Hannibal, the great Carthaginian military tactician who maneuvered his way across the Alps and stunned Roman armies in 218 BC. The course also gives you glimpses into cutting-edge trends in modern archaeology. Because Hannibal still remains a figure of intense historical interest, it’s not surprising that this course has ranked as one of the more popular courses on iTunesU. (more)

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A Guided Tour of the Publishing Process

Literary agent Rachelle Gardner is re-running a series of posts describing the publishing process from start to finish.  It’s a great crash course in how the system works.

She starts at the beginning with the book proposal.

  • Either you or your agent submits your proposal to an editor at a publishing house.
  • It goes into the editor’s stack. At some point (could be the same week or it could be six months down the road) the editor takes a first glance. Is there a spark of interest?
  • If so, they’ll give it a careful read, and they may discuss it with another editor or two.
  • If it doesn’t capture the editor’s interest, a pass letter will be forthcoming. But if the response is positive, your proposal will go to the entire editorial team.
  • At the editorial meeting, all the editors will discuss it. Every aspect will be looked at: idea, execution, author’s platform.
  • Three possibilities can come from the editorial meeting:
    1) Pass
    2) Go back to the author for suggested revisions
    3) Accept
  • If the proposal is accepted, it then goes to the Pub Committee. This is a team of executives usually consisting of the publisher, editorial director, marketing director, sales director, sometimes even the CFO. The question is no longer “Is this a good book?” but “Can we sell this?” Other questions being considered include: Will the author’s platform help sell this book? Does it fit with our vision as a company? Does it fit with our publishing plan? Does it overlap too heavily with anything else we’ve already contracted? (continue)

Part Two is the contract stage.

Part Three is the writing and/or editing stage

See her blog for the last two stages.


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Philosophy Word of the Day – Reductionism

Reductionists are those who take one theory or phenomenon to be reducible to some other theory or phenomenon. For example, a reductionist regarding mathematics might take any given mathematical theory to be reducible to logic or set theory. Or, a reductionist about biological entities like cells might take such entities to be reducible to collections of physico-chemical entities like atoms and molecules. The type of reductionism that is currently of most interest in metaphysics and philosophy of mind involves the claim that all sciences are reducible to physics. This is usually taken to entail that all phenomena (including mental phenomena like consciousness) are identical to physical phenomena. (continue article)

(Via Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

If everything about us as humans is reducible to matter and physical laws, we seem to lose some important characteristics that we normally take for granted.  For example, that I am an “I,” some kind of persisting, conscious entity.  But there’s no way to describe an “I” in terms of physics or chemistry.  We seem to lose our personal identity on this account.

Beyond that difficulty, we also seem to be wholly determined in our behavior, since whatever we do is just one reaction in a causal chain of events determined by movements of atoms and molecules.  On a more macro level, as Richard Dawkins says, we merely dance to our genes.  But if that’s true, it appears we lose all moral accountability.  Nothing we do is either morally praiseworthy or blameworthy, since it’s strictly determined by factors outside of our control.

Those seem to me major drawbacks of reducing mind to matter.  However, these are not issues if we possess an immaterial soul that persists through time and grounds our personal identity – and survives death.

What think ye?

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13 Ideas for Stuck Bloggers

There are times when the creative well runs dry.  If you’re experiencing bloggers block, Michael Hyatt (CEO of Thomas Nelson and a prolific blogger) shares 13 helpful tips to get the ball rolling again. 

A few examples:

  •  Review a book, movie, or software program. This is a great way to share some of the resources you have found and why you liked them. It can also help your readers avoid products or experiences that were not so helpful. What are some of your favorite resources? Example: “Book Review: Same Kind of Different As Me.”
  • Comment on a powerful quote. I can’t read a book without underlining the passages that impress me. Occasionally, I go back and post the quotes that stand alone. Also, from time to time, I post the quote and that comment on why a particular quote was meaningful. Example: “Don’t Wake Up Dead.”
  • Report on an interesting conversation. I meets lots of interesting people. Some of them I meet at work; some of them I meet in my social life. Regardless, rarely a week goes by that I am not deeply stimulated by a conversation I have had. Why not blog on that? Example: “Twitter as a Leadership Tool.”
  • Provide a step-by-step explanation for how to do something. When you provide five steps to this, or four strategies for that, people gobble it up. I think all of us have a need for down-to-earth, practical help with the items that interest us. Example: “How to Update Your Facebook Status With Twitter.”
  • Answer your readers’ questions. My readers ask some of the best questions. Sometimes they email them. Sometimes they put them in the comments of an older posts. Often they just Twitter them to me. I assume that if one person has the question, so do others. By answering these you demonstrate that you are listening. Example: “How Much Times Does Twittering Really Take?


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John Grisham’s Rejections

Based on this interview several years ago, it seems John Grisham received at least 24 rejections before someone took an interest in his book A Time to Kill. Persistence is a virtue for writers.

”I sat down with my secretary and we made up two lists,” he said. “One contained the names and addresses of 30 publishing house editors; the other, 30 names and addresses of literary agents. Having already put together a package containing a query letter, book summary, and the first three chapters, I had the secretary make 10 copies of each. She was to send a copy of each to the first five editors on the first list and the same to the first five agents on the second.

“When a rejection came back with the material we had sent, she simply crossed that name off the list and immediately sent the package with a new query letter to the next one on the list. This way, we always had some going out as others were coming back. The rejection letters were filed and I would read them when I went to the office each weekend.” The first dozen publishing companies and about the same number of agents all sent their regrets. Through it all, though, Grisham said he never got depressed. “I never thought of quitting. My attitude was: ‘What the heck, let’s have some fun.’ Honestly, I believe I would’ve sent it to several hundred people before I would have even thought of giving up.” Good news came one week in April when three agents called.


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6 Steps to Writing a Non-Fiction Book

The writing blog A Book Inside lists 6 essential steps to publishing a non-fiction book.  Here are the first three.

1. Planning is the first and most important step. It means asking yourself all the tough questions about the book, from “Why am I uniquely qualified to write this book?” to “Is there a real market for it?” The most effective way to plan is by writing a book proposal, which has a dual purpose: to help you think through the book and to provide you with material you will use later in the process.

2. Writing is the nuts and bolts of producing a book, and it takes blocks of time. This is where all of your planning pays off. The chapters are the heart of the book and, of course, take the most time. They are the reason you are writing — the cake. All the rest is frosting. Begin with Chapter 1, if each chapter is going to build on the one before it, or with your favorite topic, if it doesn’t matter what order you write them. The first chapter you write will help you find your voice, pace, and style. If you submit your proposal to a publisher, the chapter you attach must provide a sample of your best writing and of the caliber of the whole book. In addition to the chapters, you will also have to write the introduction, preface, table of contents, and “back matter.”

3. Professional Assistance comprises all the people who help make a book come to life. You may not need all of them, but consider different kinds of editors, graphic designers, book reviewers, publicists, agents, and attorneys. If you self-publish, you will definitely need a graphic designer. If you prefer a conventional publisher, you will probably need an agent.

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Philosophy Word of the Day – Pascal’s Wager

Portrait of Blaise Pascal
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“Pascal’s Wager” is the name given to an argument due to Blaise Pascal for believing, or for at least taking steps to believe, in God. The name is somewhat misleading, for in a single paragraph of his Pensées, Pascal apparently presents at least three such arguments, each of which might be called a ‘wager’ — it is only the final of these that is traditionally referred to as “Pascal’s Wager”. We find in it the extraordinary confluence of several important strands of thought: the justification of theism; probability theory and decision theory, used here for almost the first time in history; pragmatism; voluntarism (the thesis that belief is a matter of the will); and the use of the concept of infinity.

(Via Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

The argument “is a suggestion . . .  that even though the existence of God cannot be determined through reason, a person should wager as though God exists, because so living has everything to gain, and nothing to lose.”

The wager is described in Pensées this way:

“If there is a God, He is infinitely incomprehensible, since, having neither parts nor limits, He has no affinity to us. We are then incapable of knowing either what He is or if He is….

…”God is, or He is not.” But to which side shall we incline? Reason can decide nothing here. There is an infinite chaos which separated us. A game is being played at the extremity of this infinite distance where heads or tails will turn up. What will you wager? According to reason, you can do neither the one thing nor the other; according to reason, you can defend neither of the propositions.

Do not, then, reprove for error those who have made a choice; for you know nothing about it. “No, but I blame them for having made, not this choice, but a choice; for again both he who chooses heads and he who chooses tails are equally at fault, they are both in the wrong. The true course is not to wager at all.”

Yes; but you must wager. It is not optional. You are embarked. Which will you choose then? Let us see. Since you must choose, let us see which interests you least. You have two things to lose, the true and the good; and two things to stake, your reason and your will, your knowledge and your happiness; and your nature has two things to shun, error and misery. Your reason is no more shocked in choosing one rather than the other, since you must of necessity choose. This is one point settled. But your happiness? Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is.

“That is very fine. Yes, I must wager; but I may perhaps wager too much.” Let us see. Since there is an equal risk of gain and of loss, if you had only to gain two lives, instead of one, you might still wager. But if there were three lives to gain, you would have to play (since you are under the necessity of playing), and you would be imprudent, when you are forced to play, not to chance your life to gain three at a game where there is an equal risk of loss and gain. But there is an eternity of life and happiness. And this being so, if there were an infinity of chances, of which one only would be for you, you would still be right in wagering one to win two, and you would act stupidly, being obliged to play, by refusing to stake one life against three at a game in which out of an infinity of chances there is one for you, if there were an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain. But there is here an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain, a chance of gain against a finite number of chances of loss, and what you stake is finite. (Pensées #233).

(Via Wikipedia)

Any thoughts on this argument?  Do you think it has merit?

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