Archive for March, 2011

Formal Cause (Metaphysics book Zeta: 17, and book Eta)

March 28, 2011 Leave a comment

We took a couple of weeks off from doing this because I was on Spring Break, but it really isn’t a break in Graduate school.

Perhaps the most interesting idea that came out of the group of Philosophers known as “The Pre-Socratics” (they lived before Socrates) was that of Democritus and lesser known Leucippus. the two postulated that only two things existed: matter and void. This is a stark break from my other favorite of this group, Parmenides, who said that void cannot exist because that would mean that what is not, is and this would be impossible. Yet the “Atomists” as they are called, broke away from the dominating theory of monism (that the world is full and singular) saying that the void did exist, it had to, and that within the void were small unbreakable particles (“atomon” in Greek) that joined together to create larger objects based on shape, arrangement, and position. What’s even more important is that these two are essentially correct, all matter is made up of particles. It is only through a lack of realization that we call atoms “atoms” even though there exist even smaller and more elementary particles. Yet the labelling doesn’t matter so much as the implication of it. Today we discuss labelling, formal cause, and Aristotle’s possible addition to the theory of Democritus which has the implication that the “master of those who know” (according to Italian Poet Dante Alligheri) agreed with him.

Formal Cause

We are continuing on into the nature of substance, but instead of discussing the ‘what’ of substance in the familiar method we are getting a bit more of the ‘why’ substance is, at all. Substance is beginning to take a particular role in Aristotle’s thought as being not only the underlying of all things but also the cause of a thing being in the first place.[1] In order to continue on this road Aristotle must first establish the existence of substance, which he has done successfully throughout book Zeta of the Metaphysics, for only once this is done that we are able then to ask “why” something is rather than is not.[2]

            If we assume that Aristotle is correct with the existence of substance we can then move toward the existence of objects, and why they exist. Simple objects, being self-evident are not worth Aristotle’s time nor effort,[3] while compound objects present more of a challenge. Compound objects are those objects that are made up of two or more elements, but then also something else. That something else is what Aristotle labels “cause,” the cause brings the two elements together as being one thing. If the cause were a thing inside the compound object we would be left with an infinite regression where AB=A + B +(c)+… with C being the mysterious other object. Therefore cause-itself is actually the “+” in the above example.[4] I’m skeptical of this claim as it doesn’t seem to come from anywhere. Why must we assume that a compound object, such as a “red metal triangle” has something in it other than the three elements that need to tie it together?

            The “+” for the A and B is a misplaced term, because even simple objects need to be explained as coming into being. As has been said earlier simple objects are those that do not need to be explained as existing but they do need to be explained as coming to being if we are to understand the substance of any thing.[5] This is further illustrated in another one of Aristotle’s appeals to the definition mongers with the example of the house. If we define a house by its material we are only explaining a potential house, if we do so by its cause (i.e. the building) we are defining it as an actual house, but a combination of the two gives us the substance of the house for it is this that combines both the matter and the form.[6] The house, as a compound object, clearly illustrates the need for a coming-into-being but in simple things it seems that we still need the explanation, for how does a triangle come into being? Unless it is that simple objects are only intelligible and have no matter.[7]

            Aristotle also goes into a discussion of Democritus’ three kinds of differences as being insufficient. Given Democritus’ theory that all things are composed of small unbreakable particles (atomon) the underlying composition of all things would be the same, they are different in one or more of the following: shape, position, or order.[8] Aristotle wishes to add more to this, seemingly accepting Democritus’ theory, mode of composition, position, time, place, and “others by the affections proper to sensible things” e.g. hardness and softness; density or rarity.[9]

            While these additions are appropriate to differences in things they do not appear to be essential differences but rather accidental differences. Furthermore none of the additions are independent but they are all relative. Hardness, for example, is only construed with regard to another object that is softer than the first as in the Mohs scale of mineral hardness. Place and time are also relative to subjective influences and if changed in an object do not necessarily alter the object but possibly only alter a label we place on the object. Aristotle’s use of meals is apropos for this: I can eat the same thing in the morning as at the evening but only because of time do I label it differently. The label is merely a convention but I do not believe it to be an essential difference. Coyotes and Dingos are closely related but do we consider their chief difference in species to be where they live or by the Democritean order of their parts? It must be the latter rather than the former.

[1] 1041b6-7

[2] 1041a14-16

[3] 1041b9-11

[4] 1041b19-32

[5] 1043a3

[6] 1043a14-21

[7] 1044b5-15

[8] 1042b12-14

[9] 1042b14-24

Categories: philosophy

No Fly Zone

March 23, 2011 Leave a comment

Time for me to get back on the blogging horse after a week of Spring Break. I’ve already talked about the Japanese nuclear crisis so it seems that there is only one major world even left to talk about: the UN No Fly Zone over Libya. Notice how this is a UN No Fly Zone, and not simply one imposed by one country over another. The world body looked at the situation and said, “he needs to stop doing this,” and so imposed upon autocrat a situation wherein he can’t continue doing this. I know that the right wing gets all in a tiffy whenever the UN does anything, although I’m not sure why* so when the president authorized the US to do what people like McCain were asking him to do I suppose their objections were completely based around the fact that the UN is officially the leader of this party. It can’t be something as petty as “I’m against it because the president is for it” right?

That’s what I don’t understand, why are they against it? I remember before the presidential election that one of the bigger criticisms was that Obama wasn’t the person you wanted making that decision because he wouldn’t make that decision, but he made just that decision.

Even though the right seems to be opposed to something that a week ago they wanted, that doesn’t infuriate me as much as the left does right now. I wonder what it would take for the Democrats to support their party’s president the way that the GOP always did with Bush.

–I’m going to note here that my support of this action is in no way hypocritical against some claim I made against Bush back in 2003. I didn’t have a blog then but I actually supported the ousting of Saddam Hussein, although my reason was different than the WMD threat.–

First off, the president does not need Congressional approval to use military force. Legally speaking we never fought a war in Korea or Vietnam. The president can use the military underneath the war powers act without such approval. Quick what do conflicts in Lebanon , Bosnia, Panama, Kosovo, Macedonia have in common? Answer: Involvement with US forces and no prior Congressional approval. Not to say that the President doesn’t have to submit reports to Congress, and has only 60 days to do the work. But, and this is a biggie, because this is a UN mission our membership allows the president to do things like this as the War Powers Act doesn’t allow the government to violate treaties. That’s the wall Bush would have run into had he not had Congressional Approval in 2003.

Secondly, for those claiming why Libya and not Yemen or Bahrain. I’ll give you an answer, although it should be really obvious: in the latter two countries guns are being used against protesters, in Liby: tanks and air strikes. Hence, no fly zone, as opposed to invade the country and kill their leader.

Which by the way the United States does not legally do: assassination. Typically the justification and I’ll paraphrase General Colin Powell regarding is that you don’t target the leader but you do target command and control as well as the places of that leadership.** I believe that only Reagan actually tried to kill Gaddaffi, and before that I think was the laughable attempts to kill Castro.

If the Right wants to call the Left hypocrites because they called Bush’s 2003 illegal what they have to remember is that this isn’t like 2003, it’s more like 1991. UN approval, Coalition of support, and the pleas of the actual people of the country for that support. Does anyone think that the removal of Gaddafi would be a bad thing?

Gaddafi is in his own trap here as well. If his people support him as much as he says they do then a no-fly zone shouldn’t be a problem because there is no one to bomb. Although all of those mercenaries who signed on to fight the revolution are probably reconsidering their job now…which is always why you never outsource a job. That however is for another entry, and possibly dissertation chapter.

*I have my suspicions and I will list them here: crackpot base made up of conspiracy theorists like Bachman and Beck, lingering anger over not giving approval to invade Iraq, and/or not acceding to the idea that exceptionalism only applies to the United States.

**After the 1991 war Powell remarked that the US never tried to kill Saddam Hussein, they just put a bomb everywhere he was supposed to be.

Categories: current events

Voting Ends, Now the Next Step From Here (The Twilight Walkthrough)

March 21, 2011 Leave a comment

The voting has ended, which is odd because I don’t remember actually choosing to have a date where the voting ends. It must be a default setting or something. Anyway the winner is “book two I hear it gets much worse.” Which is funny because it’s almost like my readers want me to suffer or something. In fact that was the overwhelming majority taking in 76% of the vote, with stop and do the movie each taking 11%. Which if you do the math means that there is a 1% margin of error or the total votes.

So the blog and this Dantean journey will continue. For me the next step is going to be the finding of the book, for free, since I don’t feel like paying for it. Hopefully the public library will have it and the librarian won’t be the judging type as a 32 year old man checks out a book targeted towards teenage girls. Usually they don’t seem to mind whatever I check out only that I bring them back on time, which is an oddly difficult thing for me to do even though I have email notifications and the library is only a couple of blocks away.

I will also do the movie for the first book at some point. Initially I was going to scrap the idea going along with the voting but it’s on Showtime’s airing cycle and I watched five minutes of it noticing a couple of things that the movie corrected from the book although I’m not exactly thrilled at having to look at Robert Pattison for two hours (is he supposed to be hot?).

The only trouble is that I don’t have an idea of when I will begin. The temptation is to wait until I have at least two of my final papers done for school since those are infinitely more important than this and directly affect my future while this is a fun diversion.

As it stands I will be taking a month off from doing this, see where I stand in my classes and then, hopefully, begin anew. Since my paperback copy of Twilight contains the first chapter of the next book it won’t be too much trouble to begin writing but I want to have a seamless transfer and not make people wait for updates if finding a free copy of the book is any difficulty. It is also possible that I may break down and buy it electronically for my Nook, if that’s the case the page numbers will probably be different but I will make the attempt to be as precise as possible with where I am. This is important because it also factors into my school work as I am getting more and more books in the EPub format and there needs to be a standardized way of citation for academic papers.

So we retire from this for a month. I’ll talk to you again in April.

On Nuclear Power

March 15, 2011 Leave a comment

Given the recent events in Japan, what with their earthquake and all, some people are beginning to proclaim that the era of nuclear power is dead. Germany has shut down its 17 nuclear power plants for safety checks in response to the Japanese problem right now. The true issue with nuclear power is where to store the waste material, so far though nuclear power is pretty safe.

The worst nuclear accident in history is obviously Chernobyl, in which 30 lives were lost during the accident or immediately after wards. The town of Pripyat was rendered inhospitable to human life and totaling about 57 deaths due to acute radiation poisoning. This was from a faulty design of the reactor. Add up the number of people that have died from mining coal in 25 years and I’ll bet a dollar to one of Homer Simpson’s donuts that you reach more than 50 in half of that. What’s the second biggest nuclear disaster in history?

Three Mile Island which didn’t even have the decency to take a human life with respect to the amount of fear it generated.

Now the news has jumped on the radiation cloud of death that is proceeding across the Pacific, with everyone wondering whether or not it could reach the US. Which shouldn’t exactly be a problem since the USS Ronald Regan already passed through it and nobody on board died of radiation sickness or turned into a member of the Fantastic Four…unless they have.

The thing to remember is this: it took an earthquake of category 9 to damage these reactors. Quakes that powerful are extremely rare (although areas within the so-called Ring of Fire are prone to Earthquakes). The scale goes to 10, although a 10 would be a literal planet killer. The damage to the reactors, while certainly serious, isn’t the same as the hype surrounding it. It would take a serious politician to stand up and begin to say that while it’s worth our concern it isn’t worth the panic. Yet the problem is that the public hears the word nuclear and thinks bomb. Or they think of Homer Simpson asleep at the switch, but even Homer has a dog next to him that knows how to pull the lever.

Just a little clicking around the internet for ten minutes contradicted everything that I was being led to believe by MSNBC and Fox News (The headlines at CNN were about Libya when I checked it last).

The End (The Twilight Walkthrough Pg. 1-498)

March 14, 2011 Leave a comment

And we’re done.

It’s hard to recap this entire book given that I’ve so thoroughly looked at it, but rendering a final judgment is something that seems compulsory at this point. I just can’t leave it at that last post. So what is left to say? I offer my opinions on the story, the writing, and the characters now that we have seen everything that they have to offer in this book.

Story: honestly, there isn’t much of a story here. Especially when you consider the sheer size of the book. Almost five hundred pages and most of it is about a girl who comes to a strange new town and tries to find her place. Rather, tries to achieve the place that she thinks she deserves–but more about that later. The actual conflict is not about James and the three new vampires, it’s about a the relationship between two people who are different. That’s not much, but since most stories are about either a person coming into town or someone leaving town we have seen many variations done well. Concerning strictly the plot, we are left with something that is mediocre. If we further consider the target audience for the story, we are left with something that is a bit above average. Although that may be inaccurate as this is one of the few stories that I have read with this particular demographic in mind (the other was the Alchemist, although that concerned boys as well).

Writing: Stephanie Meyer has written a book. She’s a first time novelist and now a hugely successful one at that. Is her praise deserved? Well, she struck a chord and for that she is to be commended. How many laptops in the world have someone’s first draft of a novel that will never see the light of day? Probably too many, or too few depending on your point of view on such things. Although the story is rather trite, Meyer can write. She takes the time to do settings, and she does them really well. Her descriptions of places is easily the best writing in the book. From the tidal pools at the beach in the beginning to the forests I could see in my mind’s eye where I was supposed to be. What she seems to lack is the ability to make likable characters, or fit in characters with particular problems and situations.

The vampire mythology developed here is an oddity, but it’s not abhorrent. We can ignore what the nerds complain about because vampires aren’t real, and even if they were this is still a story. The sparkling is lame, but worse than that it’s unnecessary. It only serves to add a level of inconvenience which is pretty much ignored throughout the whole story anyway. The saliva though is problematic for the story because Bella has ingested enough of it that she should already be a vampire, unless Edward has perfected some method of dry kissing, which would be a whole other metaphor that I don’t want to explore here. 

Characters: She has high school all wrong, missing the caste system and making everyone a bit too nice with the exception of some people who are mean to the new girl but their attitude as well as their persons are vanished from existence as soon as they are introduced. The cause of this is more of a mystery to me than anything else. I treated this subject ad nauseum a couple of times in the beginning of the project but it bears a light repeating here. She wants to treat Bella as the introverted ugly duckling, but then quickly makes every guy in the school want her (according to Edward’s ESP). This contradiction isn’t helping identification with the main character, either she is or she isn’t attractive. Initially I thought I understood her personality type with her “too-cool-for-school” demeanor but it just never fit with her actions.

One of the biggest problems is just that: motivations don’t fit actions. And not in the accidental fashion where a person intends the right thing and ends up doing the wrong thing. I mean that the actions any person takes in the book doesn’t seem to follow from what they wish to accomplish. Bella agrees to do many things that she plainly tells us she doesn’t want to do, like the trip to Port Angeles. She doesn’t want to go to the dance but then she goes dress shopping? Sure one might reply that she went to be with Jessica and Angela but after a stop in one store she ditches them to find a book store. It just doesn’t make sense. Although given that Bella is practically a sociopath it probably does.

The internet is abound with cries of how creepy Edward is, and he is given that he’s over a hundred years old and likes to hang out with high school girls, but the relative lack of attacks on Bella is strange to me.* She forms no attachment to any person that she can’t use for her own gain. No one that she interacts with is important, but only a step toward the goal of having that boyfriend Edward. The girl has no friends and it’s not because of the traits that she thinks it to be, it’s because she doesn’t see other people as being important. Toward the end of the book, Alice, is probably the closest thing she has remaining to a friend and Bella never confides in her or talks to her about anything other than how she could be closer to Edward, or become a vampire.

The only person she regularly talks to, instead of at, is Edward. Yet all they talk about is how much they like each other, which is funny given his superiority complex and her willingness to be completely subservient to him. They are bad people who have a bad relationship and this is truly the worst feature of the book. Now, there are other bad people and other bad relationships in fiction. But the worst ones are supposed to be bad, it’s done on purpose. Iago and Emilia are a bad couple and immoral people but they are villains held up for contempt. You aren’t supposed to sit through the play Othello and think, wow I would love to date Iago. Yet in this movie no matter how controlling and creepy Edward gets, or how desperate and subservient Bella becomes you are supposed to like them together. Ladies, your worth isn’t measured by whom you marry, in fact, you don’t have to get married if you don’t want to. This book teaches otherwise, the final message is that everything is disposable and transitory until you get that man that you want. After that, he’s in charge so don’t even worry about making decisions or having friends.

The only likable characters in this story are the ones we see so little of: Mike, Jacob, and Alice. Mike because I want to see how long he will pine after Bella before realizing that she’s simply not worth it, Jacob for much the same reason, and Alice because she can see the future but somehow isn’t bored by the present. The trouble is that the more we see of any one character the less we will like them so I guess this is the best we are going to do.

Finally, hating this book just isn’t worth it. It’s a bad book, but it’s not that bad. I don’t commend Meyer but I also don’t condemn her either she’s written a rather long novel here and for that she ought to be at least envied. Perhaps it gets better in the future. She just really needs to work on making Bella stronger and more compassionate, Edward less controlling and creepy, and not ruin those few side people.

Thanks for reading, it’s been…something. 

*Google search for “Bella Swan Bad Role Model” yields about 33,000 hits. “Edward Cullen Bad Role Model” yields 580,000

On The Short Paper

March 13, 2011 Leave a comment

When I have to explain what graduate school grades are based on, my answer is usually the same as from class to class it doesn’t vary that much. The answer is, one long paper and a presentation. The follow up question is typically similar as well, “how long is that paper?” To which I respond, “about 15-20 pages.” Most people that I am speaking to balk at that answer. Writing that much about one subject is not in a non-graduate student’s normal experience. It seems alot, but in reality writing that much isn’t that difficult when you break the paper down.

An introduction and conclusion for the paper should eat up around 5 pages. So in reality the body of the paper is to be at least a minimum of ten. With enough research making this minimum isn’t that difficult, it’s attrition. You just throw as much as you can into the paper, tie it nicely together, make sure that it is both sensible and on topic (which the latter is probably the hardest aspect for me), then ride that wave into the conclusion. You also must resist the temptation to think that what you are writing is new and profound. Ideally it will be both of these things, but trying to force it can make the paper come off as pretentious and unreadable. For instance in my Aristotle class there is very little that can be written that will be new. People have been writing about Aristotle for longer than they have been writing about Christianity so the wide variety of work on Aristotle covers just about everything that can be thought of.

In “Introduction to Ontology” the assignments are unique. In addition to quizzes, we have two papers due. One, that is due in around a week is the short paper. With a page requirement of 3-5. Initially this seemed like a relief. I can write 3 pages in less than an hour, with research we’re looking at a short afternoon. The difficulty though, is not in making the length it’s in keeping to the length. Whereas 15 pages is attrition, 3 pages is about precision. The former can sustain some segues, it can absorb a slight deviation from the subject, and most importantly you have the space to address counter-arguments to the paper. In a three page paper none of these luxuries are possible.

Typically I will come across writing that is counter to what I am trying to say, throw up a quick paragraph or two illustrating the counter-argument and then follow that up with a response to the counter. In the three pager without the space necessary to do this I run into a problem. Either I can just stick to the topic, ignore the objection hoping that it won’t occur to the grader or I can tersely address it hoping that what I leave out won’t be deemed essential. It’s the choice between having the paper look like it missed something important, or it looking like it incompetently addressed it.

That’s just my anxiety in writing the paper. I’ve met the length, I have the sources, and the topic is thoroughly squashed, but it just feels incomplete. Perhaps it is just because I’m not used to writing something so short that isn’t a presentation or a weekly response paper. All I do know is that the first draft is terrible and needs a serious re-write. I guess that is what Spring Break is for.

Categories: School

Isn’t that Fair?

March 9, 2011 Leave a comment

The false outrage surrounding the firing of Juan Williams from Fox News, over anti-Islam comments while identifying himself as an NPR contributor, centered around one thing: that NPR was some sort of bastion of liberal view points that undermined the “real” America. Despite the fact that NPR is basically the only place you can go to for actual news, as opposed to opinions masquerading as fact and pundits masquerading as reporters, the right wing demonized NPR for “stifling free speech” and firing Williams for having a sentiment that according to Fox News at the time Americans shared.

Curiously, what Fox News missed was that Williams wasn’t fired for what he said, it was what he said while identifying himself as working for NPR. Something that he had been warned about after making such comments on The View.* Well that was then, this is now.

The CEO of NPR has now resigned for making anti-Tea Party comments that were caught on camera. Isn’t this the other foot with the same shoe (or something I know I’m messing up a metaphor there)? Obviously you can’t fire a CEO, just ask Bank of America or Goldman-Sachs, but isn’t the resignation proof that NPR applies its standards without considering who exactly would find the comment offensive?

Never mind why exactly Ms. Schiller made the comment, because it’s not important that she was making it in response to a right wing “exposure” of a fake Islamic website that subsequently exposed some heroes of the Tea Party movement (which is purely about economics remember) as being xenophobic and anti-Muslim. The important point is that the resignation of the CEO is about being aware that partisanship doesn’t really belong to news reporting. I doubt this fact will get noticed as the female member of the the morning crew at Fox will act all aghast that the comments were made (I really hate her false outrage at everything, here’s a hint: no one really believes you anyway). Cutting the funding for NPR will do very little, it’s not the BBC, most of the funding comes from donations. Besides where it comes from it won’t save the government any real money, contributing almost nothing to fixing the deficit, in order to do that you would have to cut actual spending: entitlements and military, and raise taxes.

*I mention here that at least Williams has tried to stand up for teachers on Fox recently by defending them against other Fox personalities who are under the impression that teachers don’t work. Which is funny given the outrage that Fox had against Mrs. Heinz-Kerry when she claimed that First Lady (that’s a term for life right?) Laura Bush never held a job despite the double irony of her being an heiress and Mrs. Bush having been a teacher.

Categories: current events, politics