Archive for ‘Quotes’

From ‘New Year Letter’ by W.H. Auden (1940)

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014


Art in intention is mimesis
But, realised, the resemblance ceases;
Art is not life and can not be
A midwife to society,
For Art is a fait accompli.

What they should do or how or when
Life-order comes to living men
It cannot say, for it presents
Already living experience
Through a convention that creates
Autonomous completed states.

Though their particulars are those
That each particular artist knows,
Unique events that once took place
Within a unique time and space,
In the new field they occupy,
The unique serves to typify,
Becomes, though still particular,
An algebraic formula,
An abstract model of events
Derived from past experiments,
And each life must itself decide
To  what and how it be applied




Trapped in a medium’s artifice,
To charity, delight, increase.
Now large, magnificent and calm,
Your changeless presence disarm
The  sullen generations, still
The fright and fidget of the will,
And to the growing and the weak
Your final transformation speak,
Saying to dreaming ‘I am deed,’
To striving ‘Courage. I succeed,’
To mourning ‘I remain. Forgive,’
And to becoming ‘I am. Live’





English poet, playwright, critic, and librettist W(ystan) H(ugh) Auden exerted a major influence on the poetry of the twentieth century. Auden grew up in Birmingham, England and was known for his extraordinary intellect and wit. His first book, Poems, was published in 1930 with the help of T.S. Eliot. Just before World War II broke out, Auden emigrated to the United States where he met the poet Chester Kallman who became his lifelong lover.

Much of his poetry is concerned with moral issues and evidences a strong political, social, and psychological context. While the teachings of Marx and Freud weighed heavily in his early work, they later gave way to religious and spiritual influences.

Some critics have called Auden an “antiromantic”—a poet of analytical clarity who sought for order, for universal patterns of human existence. Auden’s poetry is considered versatile and inventive, ranging from the tersely epigrammatic to book-length verse, and incorporating a vast range of scientific knowledge.

John G. Blair (author of The Poetic Art of W.H. Auden), however, have cautioned against reading Auden’s personal sentiments into his poetry: “In none of his poems can one feel sure that the speaker is Auden himself. In the course of his career he has demonstrated impressive facility in speaking through any sort of dramatic persona; accordingly, the choice of an intimate, personal tone does not imply the direct self-expression of the poet.”

The Age of Anxiety: A Baroque Eclogue won the Pulitzer Prize in 1948. It features four characters of disparate backgrounds who meet in a New York City bar during World War II and is written in the heavily alliterative style of Old English literature. The poem explores the attempts of the protagonists to comprehend themselves and the world in which they live.

Kierkegaard’s Repetitions

Saturday, May 31st, 2014


Notes on Appearance and Reality

Saturday, May 31st, 2014


Gabriele Taylor, on Love

Saturday, May 31st, 2014


Thoreau’s Walden: Self Reliance and Transcendentalism

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014

The Importance of Self-Reliance

Four years before Thoreau embarked on his Walden project, his great teacher and role model Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote an enormously influential essay entitled “Self-Reliance.” It can be seen as a statement of the philosophical ideals that Thoreau’s experiment is meant to put into practice. Certainly self-reliance is economic and social in Walden Pond: it is the principle that in matters of financial and interpersonal relations, independence is more valuable than neediness. Thus Thoreau dwells on the contentment of his solitude, on his finding entertainment in the laugh of the loon and the march of the ants rather than in balls, marketplaces, or salons. He does not disdain human companionship; in fact he values it highly when it comes on his own terms, as when his philosopher or poet friends come to call. He simply refuses to need human society. Similarly, in economic affairs he is almost obsessed with the idea that he can support himself through his own labor, producing more than he consumes, and working to produce a profit. Thoreau does not simply report on the results of his accounting, but gives us a detailed list of expenditures and income. How much money he spent on salt from 1845 to 1847 may seem trivial, but for him it is not. Rather it is proof that, when everything is added up, he is a giver rather than a taker in the economic game of life.

As Emerson’s essay details, self-reliance can be spiritual as well as economic, and Thoreau follows Emerson in exploring the higher dimensions of individualism. In Transcendentalist thought the self is the absolute center of reality; everything external is an emanation of the self that takes its reality from our inner selves. Self-reliance thus refers not just to paying one’s own bills, but also more philosophically to the way the natural world and humankind rely on the self to exist. This duality explains the connection between Thoreau the accountant and Thoreau the poet, and shows why the man who is so interested in pinching pennies is the same man who exults lyrically over a partridge or a winter sky. They are both products of self-reliance, since the economizing that allows Thoreau to live on Walden Pond also allows him to feel one with nature, to feel as though it is part of his own soul.


Social norms and the inevitable drive towards stabilization

Monday, May 12th, 2014

Even though shared intentionality does not presuppose any kind of social norms, there is always and inevitably a drive towards normative stabilization involved in any kind of social activity. Let us consider an example. Imagine you and me regularly meeting for a walk on Sunday afternoons. At first, we just happened to run into each other, we discovered that we had individually together planned to walk the same way, and so it came that we took our walk .
Without there being any kind of agreement between us, the same happened again on the following Sunday. We met at the same time at the same place. Nevertheless, there was still no social normativity involved in our shared intentional activity at that point. No one felt obliged to come again on the next Sunday, or on any of the following Sundays, and no one felt entitled to an explanation from the part of the other if the other did not show up. There was no social normativity involved in our shared intentional activity whatsoever.
Yet on the third or fourth Sunday at the latest depending on circumstances such as the cultural environment and the personality of the participants the situation will have started to change. Under normal circumstances, I will feel obliged to tell you other if I know that I cannot do my part to our shared Sunday afternoon walk, and I will feel entitled to an explanation if all of a sudden, you do not show up at the usual place and time.
Now the shared intentional activity socially normative practice.

The clou of this whole story is the following: Social normativity arises out of shared intentionality. Social normativity does not originally come from some reciprocal ascription of obligations and entitlements, but simply from shared intentionality.

From some old notes
(no original source has been recorded)

A.J. Jones on Rudolph Eucken : A philosophy of life

Saturday, May 10th, 2014

It may be stated generally that when there is no logical fallacy, a correct conclusion may be arrived at, provided, too—and herein lies the difficulty—provided that the premises are also true.
Perhaps it comes as a shock to the reader who has always insisted upon a clear intellectual understanding and a rigid reasoning upon all things, to find within what narrow limits, after all, the intellect itself has to work—it can do little more than make more or less certain generalisations concerning the world of experience, and then to argue from these, or from definitions that it itself has framed. Of course some of the ancient philosophers did try through a course of rigid reasoning to solve the great problems, and for a long time it was customary to expect that all philosophers should proceed in the same way.
Life itself is far greater than intellect, and to live is a far more important thing than to know. The great things are life and action; knowledge is ultimately useful in so far as it contributes to the development of life and the perfection of action.
Pragmatists contend that the test of truth is its value for life—if the fact obtained is the most useful and helpful for life, then it is the true one.
The position Eucken adopts is that of Activism. In common with pragmatism it makes truth a matter of life and action rather than of mere intellect, and considers fruitfulness for action a characteristic of truth. He differs from the pragmatic position in that he contends that truth is something deeper than mere human decision, that truth is truth, not merely because it is useful, that reality is independent of our experience of it, and that truth is gained intuitively through a life of action.
It is the spiritual that frees the individual from the slavery of the sense world—from his selfishness and superficial interests—that teaches him to care less for the things of the flesh, and far more for the beautiful, the good, and the true, and that enables him to pursue high aims regardless of the fact that they may entail suffering and loss in other directions. This, then, is the “High” in the world; the natural life is the “Low.”

Read full version here:

D. Star on science and the philosophy of despair

Sunday, May 4th, 2014

(…) but if action is impossible, the mood remains.
And here arises the despair of the highly educated.

The purpose of knowledge is action. But to refuse action is to secure time for the acquisition of more knowledge. It is written in the very structure of the brain that each impression of the senses must bring with it the impulse to act. To resist this impulse is in turn to destroy it and to substitute a dull soul-ache in its place. “Much study is a weariness of the flesh, and the experience of all the ages brings only despair if it cannot be wrought into life. This lack of balance between knowledge and achievement is the main element in a form of ineffectiveness which with various others has been uncritically called Degeneration. As the common pleasures which arise from active life become impossible or distasteful, the desire for more intense and novel joys comes in, and with the goading of the thirst for these comes ever deeper discouragement.

At the best, the tendency of large knowledge, not vitalized by practical experience, is to spend itself in cynical criticism, in futile efforts to tear down without feeling the higher obligation to build up. For it is the essence of this form of Pessimism to feel that there is nothing on earth worth the trouble of building. The real is only a “sneering comment” on the ideal, and man’s life is too short to make any action worth while.

One of the few things that we may know in life is this, that it is impossible for man to know anything absolutely. The power of reasoning is a mere “by-product in the process of Evolution.” It is but an instrument to help out the confusion of the senses, and it is conditioned by the accuracy of the sense-perceptions with which it deals. There is no appeal from experience to reason, for reason is powerless to act save on the facts of human experience.

Read full text here : David Star – The Philosophy of Despair (Project Gutenberg, 2003)

Sartre: Freedom and Morality – A rough sketch

Saturday, April 5th, 2014

One convinces himself, in some sense, that he is bound to act by external circumstance, in order to escape the anguish of freedom. Sartre says that man is condemned to be free: whether he adopts an ‘objective’ moral system to do this choosing for him, or follows only his pragmatic concerns, he cannot help but be aware that they are not – fundamentally – part of him. Moreover, as possible intentional objects of one’s consciousness, one is fundamentally not part of oneself, but rather exactly what one, as consciousness, defines oneself in opposition to; along with everything else one could be conscious of.

Fundamentally, Sartre believes mankind cannot escape responsibility by adopting an external moral system, as the adoption of such is in itself a choice that we endorse, implicitly or explicitly, for which we must take full responsibility. Sartre argues that one cannot escape this responsibility, as each attempt to part one’s self from the freedom of choice is in itself a demonstration of choice, and choice is dependent on a person’s wills and desires.

As a human, one cannot claim his actions are determined by external forces; this is the core statement of existentialism. One is ‘condemned’ to this eternal freedom; human beings exist before the definition of human identity exists. One cannot define oneself as a thing in the world, as one has the freedom to be otherwise. One is not “a philosopher”, as at some point one must/will cease the activities that define the self as “a philosopher”. Any role that one might adopt does not define one as there is an eventual end to one’s adoption of the role; i.e. other roles will be assigned to us, “a chef”, “a mother”. The self is not constant, it cannot be a thing in the world. Though one cannot assign a positive value to definitions that may apply to oneself, one remains able to say what one is not. For example, an adult human male may not be a man, but he is certainly not a woman. Therefore, one is defined by what one is not.

This inner anguish over moral uncertainty is a central underlying theme in existentialism, as the anguish demonstrates a personal feeling of responsibility over the choices one makes throughout life. Without an emphasis on personal choice, one may make use of an external moral system as a tool to moralize otherwise immoral acts, leading to negation of the self. According to existentialism, dedicated professionals of their respective moral codes – priests interpreting sacred scriptures, lawyers interpreting the Constitution, doctors interpreting the Hippocratic oath – should, instead of divesting the self of responsibility in the discharge of one’s duties, be aware of one’s own significance in the process. This recognition involves the questioning of the morality of all choices, taking responsibility for the consequences of one’s own choice and therefore; a constant reappraisal of one’s own and others’ ever-changing humanity. One must not exercise bad faith by denying the self’s freedom of choice and accountability. Taking on the burden of personal accountability in all situations is an intimidating proposition – by pointing out the freedom of the individual, Sartre seeks to demonstrate that the social roles and moral systems we adopt protect us from being morally accountable for our actions.

From: unreferenced source

Irresponsibility and Innocence

Friday, March 14th, 2014

Man’s complete lack of responsibility, for his behaviour and for his nature, is the bitterest drop which the man of knowledge must swallow, if he had been in the habit of seeing responsibility and duty as humanity’s claim to nobility.

Good actions are sublimated evil actions; evil actions are good actions become coarse and stupid. The individual’s only demand, for self-enjoyment (along with the fear of losing it), is satisfied in all circumstances: man may act as he can, that is, as he must, whether in deeds of vanity, revenge, pleasure, usefulness, malice, cunning, or in deeds of sacrifice, pity, knowledge.
His powers of judgment determine where a man will let this demand for self-enjoyment take him.

Nietzsche F. (1878) Human All Too Human, pp.74,75 #107