Lewis Carroll Explains the Caucus Race

If you’re unsure what, exactly, a caucus race is. Lewis Carroll gives as good an answer as any in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland:

First it marked out a race-course, in a sort of circle, (‘the exact shape doesn’t matter,’ it said,) and then all the party were placed along the course, here and there. There was no ‘One, two, three, and away,’ but they began running when they liked, and left off when they liked, so that it was not easy to know when the race was over. However, when they had been running half an hour or so, and were quite dry again, the Dodo suddenly called out ‘The race is over!’ and they all crowded round it, panting, and asking, ‘But who has won?’

This question the Dodo could not answer without a great deal of thought, and it sat for a long time with one finger pressed upon its forehead (the position in which you usually see Shakespeare, in the pictures of him), while the rest waited in silence. At last the Dodo said, ‘everybody has won, and all must have prizes.’

There you have it. A bunch of people running about with no direction, a tremendous amount of energy is expended, nothing is accomplished, and everyone feels good about themselves.

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Nobody is an Active Man

In a delightful passage in Essay Six “Of Judgement” from the Essays on the Intellectual Powers, Thomas Reid makes an observation that shows he was also a father in addition to being a Philosopher. He has argued against David Hume’s notion that we cannot know cause and effect relationships, and in this passage he observes that no one could possibly accept Hume in the practical, every-day living of ordinary life:

In great families, there are so many bad things done by a certain personage, called Nobody, that it is proverbial that there is a Nobody about every house who does a great deal of mischief; and even where there is the exactest inspection and government, many events will happen of which no other author can be found; so that, if we trust merely to experience in this matter, Nobody will be found to be a very active person, and to have no inconsiderable share in the management of experience. But whatever countenance this system may have from experience, it is too shocking to common sense to impose upon the most ignorant. A child knows that, when his top, or any of his playthings, are taken away, it must be done by somebody. Perhaps it would not be difficult to persuade him that it was done by some invisible being, but that it should be done by Nobody he cannot believe…

I have a similar problem with Nobody leaving trash on my classroom floor.

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On Talkativeness

Philosophy finds talkativeness a disease very difficult and hard to cure. For its remedy, conversation, requires hearers: but talkative people hear nobody, for they are ever prating. And the first evil this inability to keep silence produces is an inability to listen. It is a self-chosen deafness of people who, I take it, blame nature for giving us one tongue and two ears.

Plutarch, Moralia, Book VX

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John Dewey Predicts the Rise of Pop Music

Dewey didn’t get everything wrong:

Only persons who have been spoiled in early life like things always soft; persons of vigor who prefer to live and who are not contented with subsisting find the too easy repulsive. The difficult becomes objectionable only when instead of challenging energy it overwhelms and blocks it. Some esthetic products have an immediate vogue; they are the “best sellers” of their day. They are “easy” and thus make a quick appeal; their popularity calls out imitators, and they set the fashion in plays or novels or songs for a time. But their very ready assimilation into experience exhausts them quickly; no new stimulus is derived from them. They have their day–and only a day.

John Dewey, Art as Experience (1934), 173-174

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Everything Important In Life Is Unknown

The best conceivable education, the education at which college-bound students should aim, comes from studying the greatest literary, scientific, philosophical, political, artistic, and musical works known to mankind, because their authors have the most to teach. Of all who have left records behind, they have understood most profoundly that we have much to learn, that the wonders of learning are exhilarating though its challenges are humbling, and that “everything important in life is unknown.”

Christopher B. Nelson, “Advice to the College-Bound”

Socrates Prophecies the Internet

You [Theuth] who are the father of letters, from a paternal love of your own children have been led to attribute to them a quality which they cannot have; for this discovery of yours [writing] will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.

~Plato, Phaedrus, 275

Of course, Socrates was speaking of the invention of writing, but is there any more apt description of the Internet Age?

The Misery of the Scholar

How many poor scholars have lost their wits or become dizzards, neglecting all worldly affairs and their own health, being and well-being, to gain knowledge for which, after all their pains, in the world’s esteem they are accounted ridiculous and silly fools, idiots, asses and (as oft they are) rejected, contemned, derided, doting, and mad! . . . Because they cannot ride a horse, which every clown can do; salute and court a gentlewoman, carve at table, cringe and make congees, which every common swasher can do, they are laughed to scorn, and accounted silly fools by our gallants. Yea, many times, such is their misery, they deserve it: a mere scholar, a mere ass.

~Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy, 303.

 

Koninck_Salomon-ZZZ-An_Old_ScholarAn Old Scholar, Salomon Koninck (1609-1656)

 

 

Does God Laugh?

Stephen Masty has a great article up over at the Imaginative Conservative, “Does God Have a Sense of Humor?”

In addition to Masty’s thoughts, I would add these two great quotes from Thomas Aquinas & G. K. Chesterton:

Jokes and plays are words and gestures that are not instructive but merely seek to give lively pleasure.  We should enjoy them.  They are governed by the virtue of witty gaiety…which we call pleasantness.  A ready-witted man is quick with repartee and turns speech and action to light relief…It is against reason to be burdensome to others, showing no amusement and acting as a wet blanket.  Those without a sense of fun, who never say anything ridiculous, and are cantankerous with those who do, these are vicious, and are called grumpy and rude. (Summa Theologica, II-II Q148)

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Seriousness is not a virtue. It would be a heresy, but a much more sensible heresy, to say that seriousness is a vice, It is really a natural trend or lapse into taking one’s self gravely, because it is the easiest thing to do. It is much easier to write a good Times leading article than a good joke in Punch. For solemnity flows out of men naturally, but laughter is a leap. It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light. Satan fell by the force of gravity. (Orthodoxy)

Pity the Beautiful

Pity the Beautiful
BY DANA GIOIA

Pity the beautiful,
the dolls, and the dishes,
the babes with big daddies
granting their wishes.

Pity the pretty boys,
the hunks, and Apollos,
the golden lads whom
success always follows.

The hotties, the knock-outs,
the tens out of ten,
the drop-dead gorgeous,
the great leading men.

Pity the faded,
the bloated, the blowsy,
the paunchy Adonis
whose luck’s gone lousy.

Pity the gods,
no longer divine.
Pity the night
the stars lose their shine.

The Copulation of Reason and Eloquence

Just as eloquence, unenlightened by reason, is rash and blind, so wisdom, without the power of expression, is feeble and maimed. Speechless wisdom may sometimes increase one’s personal satisfaction, but it rarely and only slightly contributes to the welfare of human society. Reason, the mother, nurse, and guardian of knowledge, as well as of virtue, frequently conceives from speech, and by this same means bears more abundant and richer fruit. Reason would remain utterly barren, or at least would fail to yield a plenteous harvest, if the faculty of speech did not bring to light its feeble conceptions, and communicate the perceptions of the prudent exercise of the human mind. Indeed, it is this delightful and fruitful copulation of reason and speech which has given birth to so many outstanding cities, has made friends and allies of so many kingdoms, and has unified and knit together in bonds of love so many peoples.

~John of Salisbury, The Metalogicon, Book I. Chapter 1.

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