I have been developing my theory that Aristotle’s categories fits the order of characters and events of Wonderland and The Looking-Glass. In the process, I realized that The Hunting of the Snark has ten characters with no individual names but whose jobs start with B, and that each could fit with Aristotle’s ten categories, types of being, as well. If Carroll used Aristotle’s categories to plot out Alice’s adventures, it is not unlikely that the Snark works like a logic puzzle. In his Game of Logic, Carroll similarly listed buns, babies, beetles and battledores (an early badminton racket) as examples of things, also known as beings. In Carroll’s introduction he says his work shows he is incapable of nonsense, and this brief but instructive poem includes precise arithmetic truth and natural history, both which apply to Aristotle’s categories.
Edward Guiliano pointed out that the Bellman looks like Father Time and carries a school bell for lessons. The best candidates for each of Aristotle’s categories are: the Bellman is time, the Boots is place, the Maker of Bonnets and Hoods is position, birth and death, the Barrister who dreams of the pig’s trial is relations, the Broker who values the goods is quality, the Billiard-Maker who chalks his own nose is action, the Banker is state, the Beaver who knits lace is passion, the Butcher who carves things up, dresses formally for the fight and teaches the Beaver addition is quantity, and the Baker who leaves everything on the beach, wears many layers, bakes brides cake, doesn’t lie, forgets his specific name and fades away, vanishing without a trace in the end is substance.
Tiffany once rigorously speculated that she thinks we’re alone now, and that there doesn’t seem to be anyone around. Kierkegaard said God has left us wonderfully and horribly free, and we are continuously faced with the individuality of untethered existential freedom. Both agree that there doesn’t seem to be anyone around, but Kierkegaard accepts the role faith plays in the projection of all desire, belief and action in an undefined, changing world, while Tiffany remains staunchly agnostic, refusing to say whether or not there seems to be someone around, or whether or not we individuals can achieve either faith or certainty in any way that brings us collective closure.
What does it all mean?
Can everything mean something in particular? What do walruses mean?
What does this pondering walrus mean to you right now? What will this walrus mean to you in twenty years? If your children’s children discover this secret meaning a century from now, would they approve?
Do walruses typically need approval? Why do you? Does it have anything to do with asking about what things mean?
What does it all mean?
The Tang dynasty Zen master Mazu (709 – 788), famed for shouting, striking his students and giving them strange, uncommon answers to questions, one said:
When you make a fist with your hand,
your fist is nothing but the hand.
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
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.
I have enjoyed this bit from Mel Brooks’ History of the World since I was a little kid.
So good, but “Grrrrrrrr…”
In 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.
The Journal of the Philosophical Society of England just posted an article I wrote for them about Wittgenstein and the work of Lewis Carroll, one of my favorite subjects. Here is the link:
I 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.
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.
I decided to walk the rest of the way up Calton Hill, which had beautiful views of the city.
As I rounded the hill, I spotted a cemetery that I had missed, tucked away down the hill.
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!
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.
Here is a map showing the site of the grave:
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.