Tag Archives: Philosophy

It’s All In The Game: Eco, Fascism & Wittgenstein

umberto-eco

In Umberto Eco’s piece on fascism for the New York Review of Books, he uses Wittgenstein’s idea of family resemblance and example of games to understand the “structured confusion” of fascism:

The notion of fascism is not unlike Wittgenstein’s notion of a game. A game can be either competitive or not, it can require some special skill or none, it can or cannot involve money. Games are different activities that display only some “family resemblance,” as Wittgenstein put it. Consider the following sequence:

1 2 3 4

abc bcd cde def

wittgenstein

Suppose there is a series of political groups in which group one is characterized by the features abc, group two by the features bcd, and so on. Group two is similar to group one since they have two features in common; for the same reasons three is similar to two and four is similar to three. Notice that three is also similar to one (they have in common the feature c). The most curious case is presented by four, obviously similar to three and two, but with no feature in common with one. However, owing to the uninterrupted series of decreasing similarities between one and four, there remains, by a sort of illusory transitivity, a family resemblance between four and one.

This is a point that can be made about fascism, apples, cats, philosophers, or anything else in our world.  I typically use apples to explain this idea of Wittgenstein, and was pleasantly surprised to find Eco using it to understand fascism, as I am teaching Wittgenstein for Intro Philosophy this week, and fascism for Social & Political Philosophy next semester.

Magritte’s Son of Man & Object Concealing Subject

Magritte's Son of ManIn discussing Buddhism and the subjectivity of perspective, one of my students mentioned Magritte’s Son of Man, the famous painting of an apple concealing a man’s face.  The apple, an object we desire, conceals the subject, the idea that lies behind this painting.  Reality appears to us as simply there, bare and objective, which conceals that our reality is also our own individual perspective, which we learn through investigation and reflection.  Much of human experience and the history of philosophy across the globe is concerned with either separating the objective from the subjective or describing how the two are intertwined.  One couldn’t ask for a more perfect illustration than Magritte’s painting, whose title suggests that this has been the simple problem in the faces of all the descendants of Adam and Eve ever since the apple.

Finding Hume’s Grave in Edinburgh

HumeI had the good fortune of traveling to Edinburgh, Scotland recently, and while I was there I decided to track down the grave of one of my favorite modern European philosophers, David Hume.  I learned that his grave was located on Calton Hill, near the end of the Royal Mile and Scottish Parliament.  Even so, I had a bit of an adventure trying to find it.  At first, I thought it was somewhere in the Canongate Church graveyard, but failing to find it there I wandered down the rest of the Royal Mile to the cemetery that I could see was on the side of Calton Hill.  I saw a circular tower that was a possible candidate.

Hume Grave A

Yet as I walked up through the cemetery I found that Hume’s grave was not there, though there is a stunning view of Arthur’s Seat, an outcrop of rock that shot out of the side of a volcano long ago.

Hume Grave B

I decided to walk the rest of the way up Calton Hill, which had beautiful views of the city.

Hume Grave G

As I rounded the hill, I spotted a cemetery that I had missed, tucked away down the hill.

Hume Grave H

I ran down the hill and the stairs to Princes Street, and found the gate to the Old Calton Cemetery.  I was greeted by a plaque that told me it was here!

Hume Grave I

Hume Grave J

There, next to a monument to Abraham Lincoln and the Scottish soldiers who lost their lives in the American Civil War, was Hume’s mausoleum.

Hume Grave L

Here is a map showing the site of the grave:

Hume's Grave Map

The next morning, I decided to walk back to the grave and hill before I left Edinburgh on my travels.  As I walked back up the Royal Mile from North Bridge, I found that some drunken Saturday night reveler had placed a cone atop Hume’s skeptical head.  I would like to think he would have appreciated the joke.

Hume Statue Edinburgh Cone on Head