Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Constitutional Law Case Book Reviews

Law and Politics Book Review has this useful article by Prof. Jerry Goldman (Political Science, Northwestern). A quick scan through my bookshelves revealed the 7th edition of Barker, et al.; 4th edition of Rossum and Tarr (volume 1 only); and 1st edition of Otis and Scheb. Fxs

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Prometheus's Second Greatest Gift to Mankind

We all know that fire is Prometheus's greatest gift to mankind, but what about his second greatest gift? I was in the mood for some Aeschylus, my third favorite playwright (Shakespeare and Goethe being the first and second respectively), and I think I have found the answer within the pages of Prometheus Bound. The following passage is immediately after Prometheus told a chorus of ocean nymphs the story about how he helped Zeus during his war with the Titans and how Zeus still punished him afterwards for helping mankind:

=start of quote=

CHORUS He hath a heart
Of iron, hewn out of unfeeling rock
Is he, Prometheus, whom thy sufferings
Rouse not to wrath. Would I had ne'er beheld them,
For verily the sight hath wrung my heart.

PROMETHEUS Yea, to my friends a woeful sight am I.

CHORUS Hast not more boldly in aught else transgressed?

PROMETHEUS I took from man expectancy of death.

CHORUS What medicine found'st thou for this malady?

PROMETHEUS I planted blind hope in the heart of him.

CHORUS A mighty boon thou gavest there to man.

PROMETHEUS Moreover, I conferred the gift of fire.

CHORUS And have frail mortals now the flame-bright fire?

PROMETHEUS Yea, and shall master many arts thereby.

=end of quote=

A mighty boon indeed. Is this "blind hope," perchance, any different than the one found inside Pandora's box? Fxs

Monday, August 29, 2005

Rethinking the Crusades

Another interesting article - several years older - in First Things about the Crusades, this time by Prof. Jonathan Riley-Smith (Ecclesiastical History, Cambridge) who was recently being unfairly harsh towards that fairly excellent movie Kingdom of Heaven. Fxs

Crusaders and Historians

A nice article by Prof. Thomas Madden (History, Saint Louis), himself an expert on the Fourth Crusade and author of Enrico Dandolo and the Rise of Venice. Enrico Dandolo is, of course, the blind but crafty and ambitious Duke of Venice who played the central role in the eventual sack of Constantinople by the crusaders which in turn precipitated the short-lived Latin Empire. Fxs

Saturday, August 27, 2005

A Companion to Philosophy in the Middle Ages

Ah, more than two and a half years have passed and this vade mecum is now in paperback and a hundred bucks cheaper. Time to get me a copy. Fxs

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

"The Noblest and Most Lovable of the Great Philosophers" Ponders

"I have often wondered, that persons who make a boast of professing the Christian religion, namely, love, joy, peace, temperance, and charity to all men, should quarrel with such rancorous animosity, and display daily towards one another such bitter hatred, that this, rather than the virtues they claim, is the readiest criterion of their faith."

- Preface to Tractatus Theologico-Politicus (Elwes translation).

And some three hundred and fifty years later it is often still the case. Fxs

Sunday, August 21, 2005

On Substantive Due Process in Dred Scott and Kelo

Interesting post by Prof. Balkin (Law, Yale) over at Balkinization. Prof. Graber (Government and Law, Maryland) has a follow-up post. Fxs

Saturday, August 20, 2005

On the Merit of Amateur Historians

History News Network has an interesting article by David Greenberg on different types of writing about history.

I must add, however, that in my case narrative works by amateurs have often provided me with stimulating starting points upon which I developed further interests that I may not have otherwise discovered in works by professionals. Thus Barbara Tuchman's A Distant Mirror fueled my interest in the history of Hundred Years' War in ways that Jonathan Sumption's Trial by Battle or Trial by Fire would not have done had I read his work first instead of Tuchman's. Although now that I have had a considerable degree of familiarity with the subject, I would certainly find Sumption's works much more illuminating at my level compared to Tuchman's.

And Peter Irons's A People's History of the Supreme Court definitely beats any introductory constitutional law textbook out there merely by being a work that more or less tells as much as an introductory textbook does on the subject and that is yet at the same time not boring.

And what could be a better book to make someone fall in love with philosophy than Will Durant's The Story of Philosophy? If I were to introduce Spinoza to someone and hoping that she will find an interest in his philosophical works, it would not be Ethics or Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, nor would it be the works of Nadler, Garrett, or Rocca that I would first make her read; but rather, it would be the 50-page introductory chapter on Spinoza in The Story of Philosophy. Not only that Durant does such an excellent job telling the philosopher's life story in such a limited space, he also explains Spinoza's philosophical system to an unfamiliar audience in such a way that I feel no expert on Spinoza would have been able to do. (Nadler does a fairly good job of explaining Spinoza's basic philosophical system in his Spinoza: A Life, yet it is some 400 pages long and full of rich background details which an uninitiated reader looking only for the most basic and short introduction would probably not appreciate.)

So yes, I may now find the works of Tuchman, Irons, or Durant to be wanting if I re-read them again. But they were nonetheless important stepping stones for me in reaching higher ground. Fxs

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Philosophy and the Masses

Thanks to Prof. Weatherson (Philosophy, Cornell) for this amusing thread.

On a more sober note, one wonders how much grasp should we expect laypeople to possess on philosophical concepts - rather than definitions which usually prove a more difficult task to give. The less hopeless mass might answer Plato, Nietzsche, or existentialism when asked to explain what philosophy is, but how much understanding of philosophy is needed before one can identify Plato, Nietzsche, or existentialism as such? How much qualification is required before a layman's identification of something as philosophy can be taken as a justified claim? That the term philosophy itself is such a vague and broad one certainly does no help in attempting to measure what already seems impossible to determine, but perhaps the more difficult task is to place the ever so subtle point at which a layman may arrive to recognize - even in just a blink of a moment - that thing that philosophers (used to) call wisdom that makes a philosophy a philosophy. Perhaps it is time to read The Allegory of the Cave once again. Fxs

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Thus Spake Schopenhauer

=start of quote=

That Time works great changes, and that all things are in their nature fleeting--these are truths that should never be forgotten. Hence, in whatever case you may be, it is well to picture to yourself the opposite: in prosperity, to be mindful of misfortune; in friendship, of enmity; in good weather, of days when the sky is overcast; in love, of hatred; in moments of trust, to imagine the betrayal that will make you regret your confidence; and so, too, when you are in evil plight, to have a lively sense of happier times--what a lasting source of true worldly wisdom were there! We should then always reflect, and not be so very easily deceived; because, in general, we should anticipate the very changes that the years will bring.

Perhaps in no form of knowledge is personal experience so indispensable as in learning to see that all things are unstable and transitory in this world. There is nothing that, in its own place and for the time it lasts, is not a product of necessity, and therefore capable of being fully justified; and it is this fact that makes circumstances of every year, every month, even of every day, seem as though they might maintain their right to last to all eternity. But we know that this can never be the case, and that in a world where all is fleeting, change alone endures. He is a prudent man who is not only undeceived by apparent stability, but is able to forecast the lines upon which movement will take place...

=end of quote=

- Counsels and Maxims Chapter IV, Section 49 (Saunders translation).