Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Triple the Fun, Part I

It's just about finals and paper time in "St. John's"-landia, which means it's time to start organizing my thoughts to write my oral final proposal and my preceptorial paper proposal. I haven't felt quite as challenged by the material in 'Politics and Society' this semester as I was with the 'Math and Natural Science' segment last semester, however, I also find that my interest was greater in the more challenging segment (thus lending credence to a long-time hypothesis that I perform better when challenged). So there are three assignments that I have to work on, which I guess I will post about in a yet-to-be-determined order. Maybe that will help get my mind going.

1) Short Paper on Hobbes' Leviathan for Tutorial

We throw around the words "political science" pretty easily these days, but it carries with it a suggestion of something more than what we usually mean by it. Leviathan is Hobbes' attempt to construct a reasoned understanding of the relationship between the nature of man and government. Reason is an essential principle for Hobbes, which is evident in the first few chapters of the treatise that discuss science rather than politics. It is by application of reason that we choose to leave the state of nature in which life is "nasty, brutish, and short" and form the commonwealth.

Our modern "liberal" minds rebel against Hobbesian government because it seems that it would fall into tyranny quite readily. For Hobbes the sovereign authority must be absolute and unquestioned. When we leave the state of nature to join together in a commonwealth we do so because we fear for our lives. Our natural state is one of war with every other person, struggling with equal strength over resources to which we all have an equal right. In this case, it seems that we are better off in ANY commonwealth than we are in the state of nature. The purpose of the commonwealth is, therefore, to protect the security of the subjects. Maintaining the commonwealth by any means seems therefore to be the essential function of the sovereign. It is through and by the authority of the subjects that the sovereign acts. The Leviathan in question is the body made up of all of the men who place their power in the hands of the sovereign.

For Hobbes, this authority is unquestionable, because the sovereign acts with the will of the subjects once he has their authority. He is empowered with the legislative, which allows him to construct law as he sees fit for the good of the commonwealth. He is the originator of all law, property, and action in the commonwealth as an agent of the subjects, and as such is unquestionable. There is no recourse against his actions or his laws, because anything he does carries the authority of the people. Thus he must act in such a way that protects his interests, as leader, and that protects the interests of the commonwealth so that the Leviathan remains strong and free of the diseases of seditious doctrines that undermine his absolute authority. The prevention of this, for Hobbes, involves educating the people on the laws of the commonwealth and, most importantly, reminding them that the original authority of those laws comes from them via the actor of the sovereign. This would show them that the absolute power of the sovereign authority is their will and is necessary to protect them from a return to the dangers of the state of nature.

Our strong reaction to this doctrine is probably something like an immediate cry of, "Tyranny!" However, as we saw in The Prince and continue to see in Leviathan, and Locke's Second Treatise on Civil Government, the ideas are not recommending a specific form of government or governor. The only qualification, it seems, that the sovereign in Hobbes' Leviathan need posess is that he be competent to understand the best interests of himself and the commonwealth and recognize the need for absolute sovereignty. He allows that the government might take one of any number of forms. The goal of Hobbes' political science seems less like a kind of guide to running a commonwealth (how to build a government) and more like a commentary on the nature of governing (what governments should be like).

Hobbes is attempting to present us with an appeal to some essential quality of governance that supercedes the question of the particulars of government. Further investigation into what this essential character is seems like it might prove fruitful and interesting.

Monday, March 16, 2009

And Now For Something Completely Different

One of the frustrating things about the modern world is its focus on specialization. To be fair, this is also one of the strengths of many businesses and organizations in the U.S. The U.S. military, for example, provides a baseline of military training to all soldiers, but then specializes them with significant additional training in their chosen field. There are few businesses where employees are cross-trained on other jobs as a matter of course. I've been thinking about all of this in my search for a new job (unlike many people, however, I still have the old one so I can afford to be a little picky). Our university system operates especially like this, with very focused majors. It is even rare for people to study multiple fields at the graduate level of education. Probably, this has a lot to do with the time it takes for such studies to bear fruit so that you can get paid.

Some of the most notable philosophers in the Western world were so-called "Rennaisance Men". Aristotle studied logic, ethics, politics, biology, and was arguably the first zoologist. Descartes attempted to reason from first principles, through the sciences, and into philosophy. Hobbes began with science and worked through religion into politics. Why did our greatest minds seek to bring together many different areas of thought? Did they see connections that we cannot?

It seems that part of being human might relate to bringing together the diverse parts of the world in ways that make sense. From an individual's perspective, all thoughts, experiences, sensations, and emotions are jumbled together. Although we try to split out the various parts of the world, perhaps it is this internal mixture that is leaking through making us want to fit such varied ideas together.

Personally, I try to remain something of a generalist. I am interested in so many different fields that I find it challenging to constrain my inquiries to one or two. While I'm sure it's impossible to be in expert in more than one, I wonder whether any of them is truly split apart from the others. I think we've shown over the course of time that many "Sciences" are interrelated, and many of the "Arts" are as well. I think we see true genius in those who can seamlessly integrate the two. By directing ourselves toward this interdisciplinary thought we may learn more than we bargained for.

Out of Order

Sometimes I want to post about real philosophy, but just don't have the energy. I think I would update this blog more if I did. It's a personal problem which, I guess, I have to deal with personally. I sometimes feel like a kid in a toy factory. I look around and I see all the amazing things this world has to offer. I want to know about it all, I want to ask so many questions about so many things, yet it feels like I would never do much living if I spent my life overawed with wonder. So, like the rest of the human race, I somehow manage to invent boredom to prevent myself from being overwhelmed by the universe.

It isn't that I think that if I knew the way things work I'd be more in tune with everyone else and with the world at large. I know that the place where I fit is unusual and odd. I don't mean that in the goatee-laden, disenfranchised way that so many others would say it either. My idiosynchratic way of thinking doesn't even fit into the place where the depressed, disenfranchised mass of artists and poets fit.

I try to make these posts about my intellectual life, rather than my emotional life. I suppose there are plenty of spaces in my experience of the world where I can express my emotions, but few where I can truly express my thoughts. It's hard to talk to people about your thoughts, because so often we find that everyone is trying to talk and noone is listening. For some, the emotional and the intellectual life become intertwined as their thoughts and feelings become linked and they are either unwilling or unable to let them diverge, even for a moment.

I'm not even sure that I express my thoughts here. Every attempt to make the thoughts and words line up together just seems to find my words lacking. They are just another expression of me, and like me they don't quite fit.

For this post at least, this blog is: Out of Order.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Momentary - Inside Caboose's Mind

I've been thinking a lot about imagination and memory. For anyone who is unaware, I'm a big fan of the machinima series Red Vs. Blue. I think the guys at Rooster Teeth who put it together have, knowingly or unknowingly, presented us with some fantastic existential insights and some wonderfully imaginative imagery that can be used in philosophic thought.

I'm not a huge fan of so-called "pop-philosophy", but I think that insights grow out of different sources for different people. The value should be in the thoughts that come out of the material, not in the material itself.

One of the really great gags introduced in Season 2 of RvB is Caboose's Mind. It's presented as a strange world in which there are copies of the characters as they appear from Caboose's point of view. The characters return several times and the Mindscape has changed based on external events. Caboose's memory of Church is killed by O'Malley in their first visit, which results in him forgetting who Church is.

What do you suppose your mindscape might be like? Do you, like Caboose, have stereotyped memories of your friends that are the way you think of them? Are your memories in some kind of framework like this that alters your recall of them?

Try calling up memories of images. Where are you seeing them? Try sounds and voices. Where are you hearing them? Try tastes and smells. Try touch. What sense perception are you employing to recreate these sensations? How long can you make them last? What are your memories like? How specific are your memories: visually, audibly, olfactory?