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Sunday, April 29, 2018

Kepler and Modern Cosmology

Johannes Kepler has said, “I have cleared the Augean stables of astronomy of cycles and spirals, and left behind me only a single cartful of dung.” What he is describing as a cartful of dung is the non-uniform motion in non-circular orbits of the planets which could only be justified and explained by using arguments derived not from geometry, but from physics. His was the first serious attempt to explain the mechanism of the solar system in terms of physical forces, and it resulted in the formerly separate fields of physics and astronomy coming together.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

On The Hellenistic Philosophical Schools

In The Therapy of Desire: Theory and Practice in Hellenistic Ethics, Martha C. Nussbaum, says that unlike modern philosophy which is in most cases detached and academic, the Hellenistic philosophical schools in Greece and Rome—Epicureans, Skeptics, and Stoics—were devoted to addressing the  critical problems of human life. Here’s an excerpt from her book:
They [The Hellenistic philosophical schools] saw the philoso­pher as a compassionate physician whose arts could heal many pervasive types of human suffering. They practiced philosophy not as a detached intellectual technique dedicated to the display of cleverness but as an im­mersed and worldly art of grappling with human misery. They focused their attention, in consequence, on issues of daily and urgent human significance-the fear of death, love and sexuality, anger and aggression­ issues that are sometimes avoided as embarrassingly messy and personal by the more detached varieties of philosophy. They confronted these issues as they arose in ordinary human lives, with a keen attention to the vicissi­tudes of those lives, and to what would be necessary and sufficient to make them better. 
Nussbaum points out that the Epicureans, Skeptics, and Stoics have enjoyed far greater influence than Aristotle and Plato. Even the founders of USA were heavily influenced by Stoic and Epicurean ethical thought.
Twentieth-century philosophy, in both Europe and North America, has, until very recently, made less use of Hellenistic ethics than almost any other philosophical culture in the West since the fourth century B. C. E. Not only late antique and most varieties ofChristian thought, but also the writings of modern writers as diverse as Descartes, Spinoza, Kant, Adam Smith, Hume, Rousseau, the Founding Fathers of the United States, Nietzsche, and Marx, owe in every case a considerable debt to the writings of Stoics, Epicureans, and/or Skeptics, and frequently far more than to the writings of Aristotle and Plato. Especially where philosophical conceptions of emo­tion are concerned, ignoring the Hellenistic period means ignoring not only the best material in the Western tradition, but also the central influ­ence on later philosophical developments. 
The Hellenistic period covers the period of history between the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and the conquest of the last Hellenistic kingdom by Rome in 31 BC in the Battle of Actium. As Aristotle died a year after Alexander, Hellenistic philosophy is often regarded as post-Aristotelian philosophy. But in The Therapy of Desire, Nussbaum takes Aristotle as the starting point of Hellenistic philosophy and uses Aristotelian ethics as a benchmark.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Epicurus on Philosophy and Pleasure

Epicurus held that philosophy is vital for achieving health of one’s soul. In his Letter to Menoeceus, he writes:
Let no one be slow to seek wisdom when he is young nor weary in the search thereof when he is grown old. For no age is too early or too late for the health of the soul. And to say that the season for studying philosophy has not yet come, or that it is past and gone, is like saying that the season for happiness is not yet or that it is now no more. Therefore, both old and young ought to seek wisdom, the former in order that, as age comes over him, he may be young in good things because of the grace of what has been, and the latter in order that, while he is young, he may at the same time be old, because he has no fear of the things which are to come. So we must exercise ourselves in the things which bring happiness, since, if that be present, we have everything, and, if that be absent, all our actions are directed toward attaining it. 
Here’s a paragraph from the letter in which Epicurus is explaining his view of pleasure:
When we say, then, that pleasure is the end and aim, we do not mean the pleasures of the prodigal or the pleasures of sensuality, as we are understood to do by some through ignorance, prejudice, or willful misrepresentation. By pleasure we mean the absence of pain in the body and of trouble in the soul. It is not an unbroken succession of drinking-bouts and of merrymaking, not sexual love, not the enjoyment of the fish and other delicacies of a luxurious table, which produce a pleasant life; it is sober reasoning, searching out the grounds of every choice and avoidance, and banishing those beliefs through which the greatest disturbances take possession of the soul. Of all this the d is prudence. For this reason prudence is a more precious thing even than the other virtues, for ad a life of pleasure which is not also a life of prudence, honor, and justice; nor lead a life of prudence, honor, and justice, which is not also a life of pleasure. For the virtues have grown into one with a pleasant life, and a pleasant life is inseparable from them.