April 23, 2011


me: Logic and the Classics


  "A good book is the precious life-
   blood of a master-spirit"


1. An admirable Roman Catholic priest / logician: J.M. Bocheński
2. Two excellent sites about The Classics: Livius and LaiusCurtis

Yesterday's piece about relativism and perspectivism - as is usual with me - did require my readers (that is you ) to do their own thinking, and made several points implicitly, one of which is that in fact it has become for the majority of the English (and other Western Europeans) a lot less difficult to live a somewhat tolerable life than a mere 150 or more years ago in the same country, simply compared with the situation for 'the working class' then and since the 1960ies (*), and another point was that comparing things is a proper way of relativizing, whereas relativism (as in: "there is no truth of the matter: everything depends on personal interest") is self-refuting. (**)

Today's piece is about two things I like a lot and read a lot in and about, although both subjects are certainly not for all or for most, and I also have some useful links in both fields, in case you are interested. The first item is also personal and I only know it since yesterday.

1. An admirable Roman Catholic priest / logician: J.M. Bocheński

The title of this section is meant to be a little sarcastic or ironic, though also quite true: I have no truck with Roman Catholicism and was blessed with an atheist education, and always found especially Roman Catholicism particularly odd, because of the ways its priests and nuns dressed, which seemed to me quite theatrical from when I was a small boy. ("Mother, why does that man wear skirts?") (***)

Since then I have read a lot, including St. Augustine and St. Thomas - both very bright men - and also Scholastics, notably Duns Scotus and Ockham - again both very bright men - but I read the first two mostly because I was interested what had moved so many intelligent men through the ages to become Catholic or remain it, while I read the second two mostly because of my interests in philosophy and logic.

The reason I started reading Ockham have a lot to do with my interests in human reasoning and logic, that I have had since I was 15, and decided I really was most interested in human reasoning, and more specifically because I read the Polish Dominican frater Bocheński, notably Prcis de logique mathmatique and Formale Logik (and the first also had at least a German translation, whereas the second has been translated as A history of formal logic) both of which struck me as especially clear, fair, sensible and informed.

The same holds for Bocheński's books on philosophy that I read, such as Die zeitgenssischen Denkmethoden (i.e. Contemporary Methods of Thought, which don't think has been translated to English from the original German) and even Logik der Religion, that is quite clear and sensible, and in fact mostly concerned with authority.

Again, Bocheński, who was a Pole, and whose chosen subject seems to have been logic in all its forms, was set to work on Soviet philosophy by his Church in the fifties, which he also summarized and treated admirably, from a rational point of view, at least, if not from the Soviet perspective. (See e.g. "Der sowjetrussische dialektische Materialismus (Diamat)", if you are interested - I was, because I have a communist background, which I had thought myself out of between 19 and 20, indeed for logical reasons, in fact not helped by Bocheński's books, that I then did not know of, but by the Dutch mathematician, logician and philosopher Evert Willem Beth's "Natuurphilosophie")

All of this I knew since the 1970ies, but I knew little else about the man, there being no internet and me having no easy access to a university library, though I was curious, since I found frater Bocheński to be a most sensible, intelligent, informed, clear and non-prejudiced writer, which is not what I would expect from the knowledge that he was a Dominican.

Yesterday, I found there was considerably more to Bochenski than I knew, which I learned through Peter Simon's site, who wrote a fine book on mereology, called "Parts". (Mereology is the science of parts and wholes, and an alternative approach to logic and mathematics first formalized by the Polish logician and philosopher Lesniewski, but closer to natural language than standard mathematical logic, and for that reason also quite useful in elucidating the Scholastic logicians, who in fact are - for the right kind of mind - very interesting because they were very clever and subtle, but did not have formal mathematical methods. If you are interested in mereology try the underlined links to the Stanford Encyclopedia, which is a fine article by Varzi.)

It is here:

On that site you find more interesting stuff relating to logic and philosophy, especially Polish philosophy and logic, that were quite special, as was mathematics, from ca. 1900-1939, after which nearly everything was destroyed by Nazism, e.g. A Golden Age, about that era in Poland.

Here one can learn about Bocheński that he was quite tall (well over 6 feet, like I am); loved driving very fast cars on the German Autobahne and piloting small planes; was a real individual character; fought in WW II; and also, in view of the fact that the Dominican order has decided to keep his personal stuff secret the coming decades, that he may have had relations with women.

So... I was really pleased to learn all of that, because I like individual characters, and I always admired Bocheński, and also because it turns out that many eminent mathematical and logical men were individual characters - De Morgan, Boole and Peirce are other examples. (I may write about later, given sufficient energy.)

2. Two excellent sites about The Classics: Livius and LaiusCurtis

The term "classics" is used in various senses. Here are two in which I use them.

One perfectly good one is for the best writing in any subject that has been done and handed down to posterity through the ages, for which I refer you to my Some Favourite Books & Authors (now slightly over a year old) and Basisbibliotheek: Everyman's Library (Dutch, 3 years ago), as Everyman's Library (<-Wikipedia) is a truly excellent selection of the classics in many fields.

The other sense in which I use "classics" is for the Greek and Latin authors, who were indeed quite amazing if you come to grips with them, which you may do without Greek or Latin, since they have been admirably translated in the Loeb Classicaal Library, and many also in Penguin Classics.

It is with the second sense I am now concerned, and here are two excellent sites dedicated to the subject(s):

The first is by a Dutch historian, Jona Lendering, though it is mostly in English, and contains many interesting articles, that give a lot of background (say: On Livius, Ceasar, Alexander the Great and many more subjects).

The second is by an American, Bill Thayer, and has many - and I quote and link

Greek and Latin Texts 45 complete works or authors from Antiquity:

that all have gotten a very careful html-version by Mr Thayer, who often used the best editions - of which the copyright has passed - for that purpose, and typed them all by hand, and then proofread that work, with some help. Here is one example:

both in Latin and in English, and something you should read if you are at all interested in the Romans.

There is a lot more on Thayer's website, also about other subjects, such as American history, and I like it a lot, though mostly for the classic texts.

Have fun, if you are at all interested in logic or the classics!


(*) I was born in 1950, and in Holland the governmentally limited distribution of commodities, imposed because of WW II, was soon over, but in England it lasted well into the 1950ies. In any case, I wrote "since the 1960ies" because also in my own impression in the early sixties things started to improve rapidly, as could be seen by the amount of cars in the street, and by common destinations for holidays. Besides, The Sixties (<- Wikipedia) started ca. 1963 for real, and lots of things got a lot more lively and less restrained, and indeed I recall the 1950ies - which I do quite well, in filmic detail also, for I have that sort of memory - as a grey and bleak decade, not personally, but culturally and economically.

(**) Maybe I should explain this, seeing I am also talking about logic in this Nederlog: If one states things, using statements, such as "Look, this is a bomb - and I'll throw it at you if don't believe me", one conveys information that may be so (because the speaker does hold a bomb and does intend to throw at disbelievers) or not (because he lies or has been misled or is plain crazy, say). Indeed, that it the commonsensical point of using statements: To inform or mislead others. Therefore, someone who tells you "There is no truth - there are only text and social constructs with interests", as the postmoderns do, for example, is in fact saying something like "It is true that this is not true" - which if true is false, therefore is false.

(***) The "admirable" in my section's title - which I certainly mean - also refers obliquely to what I do not think admirable at all, and seems to me a very good reason to leave the Catholic Church, whatever your beliefs about the deity: The sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests of small children, that recently was shown to have happened in many countries, and to have been kept secret for decades, at least, by the Holy Mother Church. That is a really despicable abuse of human beings and of trust, since these men pretended to be God's servants on earth.

P.S. Corrections, if any are necessary, have to be made later.

As to ME/CFS (that I prefer to call ME):

1. Anthony Komaroff

Ten discoveries about the biology of CFS (pdf)

3. Hillary Johnson

The Why

4. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf)
5. Eleanor Stein

Clinical Guidelines for Psychiatrists (pdf)

6. William Clifford The Ethics of Belief
7. Paul Lutus

Is Psychology a Science?

8. Malcolm Hooper Magical Medicine (pdf)

Short descriptions:

1. Ten reasons why ME/CFS is a real disease by a professor of medicine of Harvard.
2. Long essay by a professor emeritus of medical chemistry about maltreatment of ME.
3. Explanation of what's happening around ME by an investigative journalist.
4. Report to Canadian Government on ME, by many medical experts.
5. Advice to psychiatrist by a psychiatrist who understands ME is an organic disease
6. English mathematical genius on one's responsibilities in the matter of one's beliefs:
   "it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence".
7. A space- and computer-scientist takes a look at psychology.
8. Malcolm Hooper puts things together status 2010.

    "Ah me! alas, pain, pain ever, forever!

No change, no pause, no hope! Yet I endure.
I ask the Earth, have not the mountains felt?
I ask yon Heaven, the all-beholding Sun,
Has it not seen? The Sea, in storm or calm,
Heaven's ever-changing Shadow, spread below,
Have its deaf waves not heard my agony?
Ah me! alas, pain, pain ever, forever!
     - (Shelley, "Prometheus Unbound") 

    "It was from this time that I developed my way of judging the Chinese by dividing them into two kinds: one humane and one not. "
     - (Jung Chang)


See also: ME -Documentation and ME - Resources

Maarten Maartensz (M.A. psy, B.A. phi)

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