Euthyphro, Euthyphro, Eu-Thy-Phro!

To be all formal for a moment and reference an actual philosopher, the estimable Socrates, who is still a guiding light despite being filtered through the ruinous window that is Plato, offered us a sterling thought experiment.

Are events or actions good because god ordains it so, or does god sanction those events or actions it deems good?

If the divine nod is given to the already good this implies a source of moral authority independent of, and perhaps prior to, god. And we do not need god to be moral agents. Unpalatable to some (and this is a factor in truth?). However, if the good is good by divine fiat then morality is reduced to the whim of a tyrant – murder can be good if such is decreed.

Elegantly, appeals to why no god would sanction murder collapse back into the first implication – independent, and perhaps prior, sources of moral authority.

So far the Athenians got. Impressive, often-cited today, yet largely ignored. Why no further? Perhaps because of the most unpalatable thought at all. We are all the source of moral authority. We are the whimsical tyrants. And we are not comfortable with the responsibility. We should not wonder why we strive to pass this buck to the invisible and unaccountable. Yet until we accept it, as long as we refuse authority, we remain the slaves of good and evil, not their rulers and adjudicators.

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A Good Head Will Get Itself Hats

Vermeer’s Hat by Timothy Brook

This book is deceptive in that it effectively bridges the difficult divide between popular and academic history – the so-called ‘grey area’.  Whilst the author is a self-confessed historian of China he uses the Dutch story to emphasise how the world was changing in the Seventeenth century.  Far from being a series of national communities, the globe was becoming a vast network of trade routes and migration paths – although consistently perilous as well as consistently utilised.

The book begins in the setting of Delft and returns to the town over and over again referring to the experiences of its most (now) renowned artists as in the title of the piece.  On initial inspection, this town seems quiet and yet bustling within its provinciality and yet as the webs are spun, the reader is drawn into the more elaborate chains of trade that fed supply and demand to Europe, the West and East Indies.  Brook cleverly ties elements of Vermeer’s works to the mobilisation of goods across the World for example the inclusion, as the title suggests, the hat worn by the protagonist in ‘The Laughing Cavalier’.  Each chapter highlights another link in the chain not just for the citizens of Delft but for those affected by the Dutch East India Company allowing the reader to picture a world of activity, expansion, exploration and innovation as well as being plagued with disaster both physically and metaphorically.

Whilst being a very digestible read, the author has a tendency to lose focus of the books’ aim and focuses instead on the Chinese angle; this is not surprising given his particular research preferences.  It is also refreshing to see works that focus on the East rather than West Indies as is often the case in works on economic histories.  Whilst I am a firm believer in the pivotal importance of a trans-national perspective, it is however possible to lose sight of how ferociously the nations at the time held on to their belief in imperial independence and identity.

This being said, this is a fascinating read which will keep your attention and will no doubt provide insight to the academic and amateur alike in their ideas about trade, economy and the global networks in the Seventeenth Century.

Diarising, Internet Style – Guest Blog by creativetoe

Here I am, succumbing to the lure of seeing one’s own words in e-print, available to millions.  What is it about blogging that is so attractive to so many?  Hey, Pepys did it, it must be ok.  Or do people hope that their musings will pan out like those of Pratchett’s Edward de Worde with his “Things Written Down” – leading to fame, fortune, and a job in a newspaper?

But what about Anne Frank?  Perhaps because she needed an outlet for her situation, her disappointments, her passions.  Although our situations were rather different, I kept a journal whilst at university for similar reasons.  I was also encouraged, throughout various arty courses I attended, to keep records of inspirational things, and include comments, but that was intended to help my artistic practice.  Perhaps my emotional musings did the same thing – helped me get the where I needed or wanted to get to.  They didn’t help me achieve anything – I didn’t get any better at my degree course, or get the relationships I was hoping for.  But as well as being a place to record things, it was an emotional outlet.  It was a personal place, not meant to be read by anyone else.  Something I could look back on – a holder of memories*.

But blogging isn’t like that.  It is diarising made public.  The things we write are intended for others to read, and possibly comment on, while we might still suffer the consequences of our writings.  But still we publish our thoughts, and to hell with the consequences.

*During the writing of this article, I re-read some of my journal – most of it is complete drivel & best remain unpublished.  Perhaps regular blogging is not for me.

Why Leibniz Should Have Stuck To Making Chocolate Biscuits

A contention is that this is the best of all possible worlds. That the sum, or apparent sum, of evil or misery is unavoidable, or even necessary, no matter what creative or immanent powers we may posit, or intentions we may attribute them.

It takes an entirely banal engagement with the world to extrude this example of humanity’s endemic commitment to bloody-minded one-upmanship in terms of how absurd and even nonsensical a proposition one can make, and hold true. It takes impressive meanness of spirit and disparagement of reason to embrace the role of apologist for god. And, wearily, it takes the greatest effort on my part still to have to point out the idiocy of theodicy.

‘Replete’ is a suitable word to encompass the plain-view multitude of miseries, evils, and injustices which, on minor reflection, we can all reel off. On further reflection, we contemplate what manner of attenuated, incompetent, apathetic, asinine, feeble power could achieve this, and this at best?

It has been said ‘if there were gods, how could I endure not to be a god, therefore there are no gods’. More to the point, if there were gods, how could we endure to mock the very concept by applying it here? Therefore…

But, at heart, this is not about the world, or possible worlds. This is not about the efficacy of any creator, or maintainer, nor about the majesty of physical laws, or the moral development of humanity. It is about contempt for human reason, and the perverse desire to prostrate ourselves before prevarication. It is taking delight in pious cataracts. It is delirious abandonment of every finely-honed survival mechanism we possess. And the sheer calumny of uttering that this is the best of all possible worlds is enough to disprove itself.

Welcome to Scientia Incognita

Over the next few weeks, the blogs will start rolling with regular slots from we two and guest bloggers providing  filler for our off days.

There are three categories at present – Ephemera, Nouveau Historie and Post Philosophy.

  • Ephemera – is miscellany, for all things nonsense
  • Nouveau History – for history-related articles
  • Post Philosophy – for articles exploring ‘why in the World?’

These pages are not an exhaustive list and all suggestions for additional categories are welcome.

If you wish to submit a blog be it 5 words or 500 words, leave a comment and we can get back to you.