November 6, 2012

Update Philosophical Dictionary - I and J and K and L and M

1.   Update Philosophical Dictionary - I and J and K and L and M
PS. My eye problems


This is about an update for the letters I - M inclusive in my Philosophical Dictionary. It also explains some about its making and future.

1. Update Philosophical Dictionary

In the second half of 2011 and the first third of 2012 I have made textual updates to quite a few lemmas in my Philosophical Dictionary, in an editor that I had tweaked wrongly, with the consequence that the items I updated appear with very large or very small fonts, and often both.

This does not look nice. Earlier I had returned the lemmas in the letters A - H inclusive to what they should look like, at least, and today I did so for the letter I, the letter J, the letter K, the letter L and the letter M.

Since I have been doing this now since the last four days, let me explain a little.

I started
my Philosophical Dictionary in July 2004, mostly for three reasons, apart from my bad health and the lack of help with that since I got ill on 1.1.1979, that I here take for granted (and that you'll find explained, to some extent, in Nederlog and in ME Resources and in ME in Amsterdam):
  • Being a philosopher I thought and think it a very good idea if everybody who has or pretends to a serious interest in philosophy compiles a Philosophical Dictionary, that will enable readers to see quickly what its writer thinks, and with what senses he uses his terms. (Those who did not do so - which comprises virtually everybody writing about philosophy - have not faced the duty of being at least clear about their own thinking and terminology.)
  • Lacking the health to do better, in terms of writing book length expostions of my philosophical views and ideas, I thought and think a Philosophical Dictionary is the best way to provide at least an indication what I do think about many philosophical subjects, and indeed also with what meanings I use key terms. (But it should be remarked that it often does not render more than a very small portion of what I think and wrote about a subject.)
  • It gave me an opportunity to articulate my own views on many topics, rather  than take them mostly for granted tacitly, as happens in the case of almost any philosopher you may read.
The general plan at its start - given my bad health - was to simply start and see how far I could get, knowing from the start that my health was bad, but also knowing from the start that I could do this - if at all - piecewise, and if and when I could, felt like it, and had found the energy to do it.

Also, from the start the plan was to first write out a Philosophical Dictionary, with between 500 and 1500 terms, and to do so initially from the top of my head, namely with what is in my memory about such terms and topics that I write about, rather than what I could find in my library of paper books, and only when I had more or less finished that, to go over the result, and update it with the help of what there is in my large philosophical library of paper books.

This general plan is still in place, but with at least three differences:
  1. As it happened, there are at the time of this writing nearly 630 terms in the dictionary, of which I added the first half in 2004 and the rest between 2005 and 2012:

    It seems a safe bet that there will probably not be more than around 1000 terms in all in
    my Philosophical Dictionary, also because I have since July 2009 fast internet, that showed me (much better than I could see with slow internet) that there are at least two other Philosophical Dictionaries / Encyclopedias - Internet and Stanford, respectively - that are at least useful, if not as good as the Paul Edwards Ed. "Encyclopedia of Philosophy".

  2. I think that currently - being 62 and having problems with my health and with my eyes - I should aim at trying to get something finished, that is, a first finished version of the initial project, that then gets updated with the help of my paper philosophical library and what is on the internet.

    However, this really depends on my health, and I make no promiseses, except that (1) I will try to finish the first version in the course of the next few years and (2) I will probably - if and when I can - write out some entries in a longer and more thorough form, and with the help of some other resources than what is in my memory.

  3. I do have a - somewhat vague - plan of splitting the current Philosophical Dictionary, that is bi-lingual but mostly English, into two dictionaries: An English and a Dutch one, which, as things stand, requires my first finishing an English version, and then use that for a Dutch one. (Qualification: As under 2.)
As I said in the beginning of this section, I found in the Spring of 2012 that I had in fact been destroying the format of my Philosophical Dictionary by my having adopted improper settings in the html-editor I use for it, that introduced large sized fonts at places where small sized fonts were required to keep things properly formatted.

Also, I failed to see that myself, having tweaked browsers likewise - which turned out to have made a visual mess of
my Philosophical Dictionary, with many entries with fonts that were too large or too small. This I have been aware of since around May 2012, but that was also the time that the problems with my eyes started, that made using a computer screen virtually impossible for several months.

Since this recently got a bit better, and since I also found some ways to - partially - work around the problems I have with computer screens, and especially with the standard white background for text, I have been trying, since October 25 last, to get
my Philosophical Dictionary back to how it looked until May 2011, that is, properly formatted and easily readable.

I hope to be able to continue with this until I have restored it to what it looked like between 2004 and 2011, if only because on my site I have many links to it, and because it does give fairly to very clear expositions of how I use key terms in philosophy and related matters, and of what I think about a number of important issues.

Finally, as long as I am busy with that, I provide in this log of what I have been doing some
examples of what you can find in my Philosophical Dictionary.

And as it happens, today that results in a NB-file that is over 130 Kb - but then I think what is in it is well worth reading, and illustrates why I wrote
my Philosophical Dictionary and also why those who are being paid for keeping an academic chair in philosophy warm should have written a philosophical dictionary themselves, to account for their usage of words, and as outline to the framework of their ideas.

I: The person who speaks, writes, thinks.

This is a rather grammatical definition of a psychological term, and the reason is that in fact one's I is a theory one's brain (or mind) manufactured about its conscious experiences.

Ideology: System of ideas that normally is a simplification of some political philosophy or some religion, that consists of ideas about what reality is (metaphysics) and ideals about what reality and human beings should be like (ethics).

Ideologies - if perhaps very simple and partial, as those that are meant to keep together the employees of a firm - are the basis of almost any human group, since these only can come to be and continue to exist in a coordinated fashion if the members of the group share assumptions, values and ends about what is and should be, and what the group is for or against.

Most ideologies are either plainly totalitarian or are at least experienced and practiced as if they are - as anybody can see by observing party conferences, soccer hooligans, and public statements of priests, politicians and clergy.

Ignorance: Lack of knowledge.

This is a very powerful force for human good and evil, and the main relevant difference seems to be whether one's ignorance is conscious and honestly admitted or else unconscious or denied.

If one knows one does not know, or knows one does not know everything there is to know about something, or knows that one does not know certainly and definitely and with full precision, one can use his knowledge of one's ignorance to get more and better knowledge.

If one does not know one does not know, or does not wish to know one does not know, or pretends to know where one only believes, one's ignorance is easily dressed up as faith or ideology, and is often used as a political or religious power to produce more ignorance that is dressed up as faith or ideology.

And notice that one may quite certainly know that one is ignorant about something, or indeed carefully ignore the relevant evidence and believe one knows something because one does not know and chooses to neglect, dismiss or avoid whatever is known about it.

"It ain't what a man don't know that makes him a fool, but what he does know that ain't so."
   (Josh Billings)

By contrast, recognized and admitted ignorance about something is a positive source of and reason for finding positive knowledge about it, if one can, and not to believe blindly or wishfully as long as one doesn't have such knowledge (probably).

And man may be an animal that desires to know, according to Aristotle, but most men - quite possibly all - actively desire not to know certain kinds of things, especially such as they disapprove of or disagree with.

Invariance: Lack of variety; constancy: The principle that some things, properties and relations do not change with time, and remain the same as long as they last.

It is hard to deny that there is some sort of invariance in nature and in our experience (and indeed someone who denies there is any invariance insists on the invariance of the lack of invariance!), but it is difficult to pin it down both in general and in particular cases without making mistakes.

1. Invariance in general: There are several principles of invariance that deserve serious consideration. First, there is Newton's

A. First law of motion: 'Every body continues in its state of rest, or uniform motion in a right line, unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed upon it.'

This may be supplemented by a similar principle that Newton included in his Rules of Reasoning in the 2nd edition of his Principia, which is very similar to Ockham's Razor:

B. Rule I of Reasoning : We are to admit no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances.

Similarly there is Newton's third rule, in which 'admit neither intensification nor remission of degrees' indeed also may be read as 'are invariant' or 'are unchanging' or 'are constant':

C. Rule III of Reasoning : The qualities of bodies, which admit neither intensification nor remission of degrees, and which are found to belong to all bodies within the reach of our experiments, are to be esteemed the universal qualities of all bodies whatsoever.

Then there is the following principle

D. The principle of sufficient reason: Nothing happens without a reason.

which was ably and interestingly considered by Leibniz and Schopenhauer, but has the set-back that it does not allow for real chance.

It is interesting to note, also with respect to both Newton's First Law and First Rule above, that Needham found that the Chinese arrived much earlier at a similar principle:

E. Chinese law of motion: "The cessation of motion is due to the opposing force... If there is no opposing force ... the motion will never stop. This is as true as that an ox is not a horse."

This dates from the third or fourth century BC, i.e. almost 2000 years before Newton, and is quoted from p. 161 of Robert Temple's "The genius of China" that summarizes and popularizes Needham's volumes on science and civilization in China.

Considering these principles of invariance, some of which concern motion (A and E), some happenings (D), some causes (B), and some explanations (C), we may propose a general principle:

Principle of Invariance: Nothing that exists changes without reason - but things may come into being that have no reason (and happen by chance) and certain things may have happened and may happen always, without any reason or cause.

Thus, this concerns changes of existing entities, but it allows for chance and indeed allows that something that changes may have as a reason for some of its changes that it is subject to chance (of a certain kind, with a certain probability distribution).

It is also important to note that what is invariant may be local and temporal. This as discussed by Poincaré for natural laws and is briefly considered below for living things and societies.

2. Invariance in particular: There are many instances of particular kinds of invariance, that may be called invariants, from human faces and characters, to natural species, natural kinds, and natural laws, and thus these particular instances of particular invariants may have different kinds of reasons and explanations, that may or may not be known.

As Santayana said: "Repetition is the only form of permanence that nature can achieve" - but then that is reason we may know nature, for a reality where everything changes unpredictably no human mind can understand.

Note though that as suggested above, the sort of invariance proposed also covers invariant probability distributions:

One may not know whether a particular item in a random set will belong to a certain subset of the set, but one may have excellent reasons to believe that this kind of change does conform to a certain probability distribution, with a definite probability to happen, that one may know well enough to rely and confidently bet on.

And indeed, framed in these terms, what science tries to establish are first and foremost nature's invariants of all kinds, and next to its invariants, or included in these as a special case, its invariant probability distributions, that represent chance events of definite kinds.

3. Chance and invariance: As formulated, chance, supposing that it exists, is also subject to invariance, in that if chance events exist, as seems very probable given quantum mechanics, that works in practice and is well-supported experimentally, and cannot do without chance events, these chance events will have some particular probability distribution, that will invariantly characterize it, unless this too is subject to change.

4. Invariance, exhaustion and death: It is also interesting to note that - it would seem that - living things invariantly die, though they may last a long time, and that as long as they live they have certain invariant characteristics, and more generally that there are things, kinds and processes that last for some time, but not forever.

Indeed, it may well be that the invariant characteristics of living things are the cause of their death: Once produced these characteristics are not maintained by a living organism, but are subject to random damage from the environment, that in the end destroys them, as securely as a stone is hollowed by an incessant sequence of drops of water that falls on it.

Similarly, and more simply, there are quite a few cases of processes that exhaust themselves, and that while they exist seem to conform to Newton's Third Rule of Reasoning (principle C above) and thus to allow the simple induction that they may be invariant for ever, which nevertheless is not so.

Two simple and physically well-understood examples are the bending of a metal wire (one may bend and unbend it many times, but eventually it will break) and the elasticity of rubber (it remains elastic a long time, but grows brittle and hardens with age).

It would seem that there are more complicated processes of this kind, both for living organisms, and for complex kinds of things like civilizations and cultures that also tend to grow, flower, decline and perish, though so far no one has explained these well, even though there are fine descriptions, like Gibbon's 'The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'.
Irrelevance: What makes no difference to, has no bearing or influence on, is independent of something else is said to be irrelevant to it; independent, in the probabilistic sense.

This is an important concept, if only because in practice and in theory we in fact hold many things and events to be irrelevant to our present practice or theory, while we may be quite mistaken in our - often tacit - beliefs about irrelevance.

Note that an important part of most methodologies in the empirical sciences is to control whatever is known to be relevant to the conditions and outcomes of the experiment: One wants to avoid experimental outcomes that do not in fact depend on a hypothetical explanation but on some other ("interfering") factor.

There are more subtle definitions of irrelevance and independence in personal probability.

Jargon: Technical terms; terms of art; terms of trade - words that are widely known and used only in limited circles of people who specialize in a science, art or trade.

1. When one talks or writes of things that are not widely known and that may have all manner of uncommon or special features, it may help a lot to introduce new special terms (or use old terms with specially given new meanings).

However, jargon also is often used to given oneself airs, to obscure or obfuscate, or just carelessly, and anyway has the property that when it is not addressed to the specialists for whose ends it exists that it makes for unnecessarily difficult prose.

In short: Jargon should be avoided, except in circles where it really belongs to the terms of the trade. Speak plainly, or don't speak at all!

2. There is, alas, a rather large amount of philosophical jargon - for which reason one may fondly imagine that a few gifted persons may have some use for the Philosophical Dictionary that contains this lemma.

Judgment: Decision that something - usually an idea or statement - is true or false, or probable or improbable, or good or bad.

The reason to distinguish judgments is that there are - it seems - choices that something is true, probable or good, or any of its opposites, that differ from non-judgements that something is red, or sweet, or painful, that seem to be just given and unavoidable given one's sensations, and either need no judgement at all, or are judgments only in a weak and attenuated sense.

The reason there are judgments is precisely because what is judged is neither simple nor directly given or accessible in sensation, but requires comparison along several dimensions; weighing evidence; balancing desires, beliefs and knowledge; consulting diverse sources, both in oneself, in others and in books; and needs reference, for a sound decision (one that will probably turn out to have been correct later, and then often in the sense that one has not grievously erred through passion or prejudice), to what one has learned.

And indeed, skillful knowledge is recognized by sound judgment - decisions that such and such is true (or not), or a good option (or not), that later turn out to be mostly correct, and that either cannot be made at all by less skillful men, or are much less often correct when judged by less skillful men.

Also, it is noteworthy that much skilled judgment is required and involved in distinguishing one's own and each other's imaginations, fantasies and fictions, from real, possible or probable fact or desirable end.

Scientific knowledge: Beliefs produced by scientific methods, that are not known to be false, that explain some facts for which no better scientific explanations are known, that are supported by evidence, and that are capable of producing technology.

Especially the last feature of scientific knowledge is characteristic for it:

Whatever is a matter of mere faith only works, if at all, for believers in the faith, and is never of a technological kind, i.e. a human artefact that works whatever one's beliefs about how to produce it.

Real science produces real technology that works irrespective of faith; faith produces illusions that only hold for the believers in them.

Note that "scientific methods" covers both the specific methodology of some science or sciences, that may be quite sophisticated, and may involve scientific instruments (microscopes, thermometers a.s.o.), and also covers mathematics, logic, probability theory and statistics, and indeed also knowledge of jargon and of dictionary meanings of terms.

Natural language: Set of symbols that can be combined into statements, questions and stories, to convey information and represent anything whatsoever that can be thought about, experienced or imagined.

There are other definitions of natural language, but one essential point about it is that it is a distinctively human gift, and is - together with mathematics, that is also at least conveyed and expressed by language - what makes human beings different from other animals. Almost everything that makes human beings specifically human rests on the skill of natural language, that any healthy neonate can pick up in a few years by being exposed to speakers of the language.

And there are several thousands of human languages, any of which can be picked up in a few years by young human children, and any of which, one it is understood, can be used to translate almost anything that can be said in any other human natural language.

Three things that far less often remarked than they should in the context of natural language are the following, all of which are of considerable epistemological and philosophical importance.

1. It takes a considerable amount of learning, talent, aptitude, skill and knowledge to learn a natural language and to use it well, in an everyday sense, and indeed this is one strong argument against many kinds of skepticism: However often one claims, with a would-be wise face, that one knows that one knows nothing, one needs to know language to claim it - and this, apart from whatever else one may or may not know, involves a great amount of knowledge and a skill that is beyond non-human animals, that seem to be unable to properly understand the idea of a symbol. And almost everything a human being may be that makes him or her human involves that linguistic knowledge, that is indeed real knowledge: True belief about how certain speech sounds are used and what meanings, intents and uses these sounds have in the community the language is spoken.

2. It takes a lot of give and take and thinking about what other people may have in mind when they say something to really understand a natural language, and indeed it seems to involve almost necessarily what I call personalism: The philosophical assumption that other human beings have experiences - beliefs, desires, feelings - like one has oneself, and that one can understand others by assuming they are and feel and desire and believe much like one does oneself. That is: Natural language and its learning involve a theory of mind that involves attributing a theory of mind to other speakers of the natural language one uses (or tries to learn), and therewith assumes other persons as existing. This is of some philosophical importance, since in actual fact the experiences of other persons are not given to one at all. (See: Qualia, Other minds)

3. There is much about natural language that is not fully understood, notably such as are related to meaning and representing and to propositional attitudes. In any case: Human beings are the linguistic animal par excellence, and owe nearly all they are and can be to their ability to communicate and think with the help of language.

Levenslessen: Epigrammatische samenvattingen van realistische dus enigszins cynische regels hoe maatschappelijk te (over)leven - "how to make friends, gain influence and be a real and popular phoney".

1. t recept voor maatschappelijk geluk, welstand en status: " let op uw zeggen, meer dan op uw doen, en het zal u wèlgaan ". (Multatuli, 374)

Doe wat je wilt - bedrieg je buren, veracht de dominee, schop je vrouw, trap je medemensen ... maar doe het altijd met een uitgestreken braaf en fatsoenlijk gezicht, uit naam van de waan van de dag, met keurige kleren en zonder ooit uitgesproken kritiek te leveren op wie ook van enig aanzien "en het zal u wèlgaan in den winkel". Zó is het en zo is het altijd geweest, en dit zal pas veranderen als de menselijke doorsnee intelligenter is dan ze tot nu was. Tot dan zal de leugen de basis van het maatschappelijke zijn.

2. Chesterfield's bronzen regel: "If you want to be pleased, please!"

3. Boeddha's diagnose: "Stupidity and egoism are the roots of all vice."

4. Ovidius' dictum: "Video meliora proboque, deteriora sequor" = "Ik zie het betere en stem doe dat het beter is, maar doe het slechtere" - omdat het lekkerder, veiliger, normaler, beter betalend, of populairder is.

5. Voltaire's constatering: "If we believe in absurdities, we shall commit atrocities". Dit is een fraaie 18e-eeuwse samenvatting en verklaring van de veel van de menselijke geschiedenis.

6. Lord Action's conclusie: "All power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely. All great men are bad." (Aldus luidt de samenvatting van de lessen der geschiedenis van de Engelse geschiedkundige Lord Acton, uit 1895. Met "grote mannen" bedoelde hij niet Newton, Shakespeare of Euler, maar politieke leiders en religieuze voorgangers.)

7. Latijnse wijsheid: "Mundus vult decipi" - de mensen willen bedrogen worden, en het meeste denken van de doorsnee is wensdenken. Vandaar dat willen, net zoals de grote meerderheid hun meningen afschermt tegen kritiek in plaats van ze zelf zorgvuldig te proberen te testen en zo mogelijk weerleggen.

8. Maartensz' vaststellingen: "De grootste gruwelen worden verricht uit naam van de hoogste idealen" en "Waar publiek wordt gesproken, wordt publiek gelogen."

9. Swift's uitroep (hoogst onpopulair onder de grote democratische meerderheid der laagbegaafden, waarachtig gelovigen en fanaten van allerlei slag): "Most men are as fit to think as they are fit to fly".

10. Maartensz' verbeterde receptuur voor social geluk en populariteit: "If in Rome do as the Romans do - if amongst cannibals, do as the cannibals do".

11. Maartensz' morele samenvatting van morele normen: "In terms of their very own publicly maintained moral norms nearly all men are bad nearly all of the time." Zie 4 en 9, voor een verklaring. Anders gezegd: "Er zijn heel weinig morele helden, en heel veel morele huichelaars."

12. Zekere kennis: Er is zekere kennis, namelijk wat je weet dat je niet weet, en dit is in veel opzichten zowel de zekerste als de nuttigste kennis. Wijsheid of verstandigheid zonder zekere kennis omtrent de eigen onwetendeid in relevante opzichten is onmogelijk. De vermeende kennis van de meerderheid is overwegend bijgeloof of volgen van autoriteiten.

13. Chamfort's samenvatting van de moraal "Enjoy and give pleasure, without doing harm to yourself or to anyone else - that, I think, is the whole of morality."   (Chamfort),

14. Hazlitt's menselijke kwalifiicatie: "If mankind had wished for what is right, they might have had it long ago. The theory is plain enough; but they are prone to mischief, 'to every good work reprobate.'"
   -- Hazlitt

15. Maartensz' numerieke uitleg: 0One way of understanding society - any human society anywhere, of sufficient size, say 10 or a 100 or more not specially selected persons - is that the good : the bad : the stupid = 1 : 9 : 90. Alternatively expressed but to the same effect: the intelligent : unintelligent = 1 : 9 and the unegoistic : egoistic = 1 : 9, and intelligence and egoism are independent.

Note that part of my meaning is that the bad is normally the harm that is done actively or  passively to others because of egoism, indifference or malevolence, and that it is for the most part due, in everyday human practice, to indifference, convenience, or conformism:

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."
   -- Edmund Burke

With this understanding, viz. that it is normally a lot easier to leave the good one sees one should do, on one's own principles, undone - because leaving it undone is very often easier, more convenient, better paid, or more normal or correct.

Putting it all in a table with percentages (while remembering that intelligence and moral courage are probably for the largest part determined by innate factors, and non posse nemo obligatur):

intelligent good 1
intelligent not good 9
not intelligent good 9
not intelligent not good 81
all   100

That is one important part of the reason why Hazlitt was right and so much of human society so often is in such a mes

Liberalism: Political orientation concerned with maintaining freedom.

There are many kinds of liberalism (some are called libertarianism), and many styles and priorities in furthering it. The name originates in the early 19th Century, when it started to be used for some Englishmen who opposed Conservatism.

It is difficult to define liberals and liberalism precisely, especially if one wants to make the definition apply to liberalism in different European countries, like England, Holland, France and Germany, while the term is used rather differently in the United States. But three kinds of ideas may be distinguished that have historically fallen under the label 'liberal':

1. Political liberalism: The notion that the state should remain small and relatively powerless, and the individuals in states should be mostly free to organize themselves, free to say and write as they please, and that these freedoms should be protected by the laws, and by courts and judges who are independent of the government.

2. Economic liberalism: The notion that trade should be free, and should happen in free markets, without state interference, such as the fixing of prices by the state, or the maintenance of tariffs and import or export laws or taxes by states.

3. Pluralism: The notion that a civilization and culture benefit by a plurality of beliefs, faiths, political orientations, and kinds of men, who all deserve legal protection to believe, preach and do as they please, in so far as they do this legally.

I will say something about each of these, but start with noting two things:

First, there is and has been an enormous amount of cant and posturing involving the term 'freedom'. This is understandable in as much as almost all men desire to be free to think and do as they please, but it should be noted that given that desire the main problem is how to maintain a society where the strong, the powerful or the majority is not free to repress, persecute or murder the weak, the powerless or the minorities. Thus, 'freedom' is easy to praise, easy to abuse, easy to misconstrue, and difficult to use responsibly, and difficult to practice in any case where different individuals or groups with different or opposing interests are concerned.

Second, the above three notions historically connected with 'liberalism' are not usually equally strong in political parties that call themselves 'liberal', and may also be part of the ideals of other political orientations. Thus, political liberalism as defined is also a tenet of anarchism, though this is often also, and in addition, some kind of socialism or a revolutionary movement, which more classical liberals often have been opposed to.

1. Political liberalism:

That the state should be small and individual freedoms large, and that the powers of the state fundamentally are at variance with the freedoms of the individuals subjected to it, are all ideals and ideas I agree with it.

The same holds for the notion that the individuals in states should be mostly free to organize themselves, free to say and write as they please, and that these freedoms should be protected by the laws, and by courts and judges who are independent of the government - though it is obvious that here there are and will be many problems, in that most will be mostly free in a society only if all are not free to do certain things they might like to, and will be punished for doing so, namely for committing murder, theft, fraud, exploitation etc.

Thus while the ideal of political liberalism is fairly obvious and easy to subscribe to from an interest in one's personal freedom to do and think and say as one pleases, it comes with many problems and some paradoxes about how it is best practiced in society, and how it may be ascertained that most are mostly free, without the strong, the bold or the evil abusing these freedoms to take them from the others.

It also should be noted that there are additional arguments that support the principle of political liberalism, besides the fact that most human beings seem to desire to be able to do as they please.

One is that there is in very many cases, including those of political ideals and religious faiths, no one who can intellectually prove to the satisfaction of most that his ideas and values are the true and right ones (see fallibilism).

A related notion is that there is very strong support for the notion that most good ideas and values are worked out only over the course of many generations, and require a considerable freedom of discussion.

Another is that it seems that the freedoms of most to mostly do as they please seem in practice best served and practised by all checking and controlling the tendencies of all to aggrandize their own powers, and by taking care that no individual, no group, and no faith can achieve the power over all.

And yet another and important one is at once paradoxical and true: While all men desire to do as they please, and there is no limit to their desires, and while all men desire power over others in order to do as they please, and satisfy their desires, and be protected from those who desire likewise or whom they have hurt or harmed or repressed, and while there is no good reason to believer or assume that the majority of men is noble, good, rational or honest, or willing or able to protect or even to perceive, feel or understand the interests of others like his own, the best defense each individual has against the evil that men may do to men, and often will do to men if they think they can profit by it and not be punished for it, lies in the limitation of the powers of the state, of institutions, and of wilful, fanatic or blind majorities. Again, the only feasible way to do so is by independent courts; by public rights; by fair and public trials; and by systems of carefully reasoned and maintained checks and balances of the powers of each group, institution and individual, so that none can achieve power over all, and all have some power against each.

2. Economic liberalism:

This kind of liberalism tends to be popular among traders, dealers, industrialists, and most others who hope to profit from making or selling commodities in a market, and it often takes extreme forms, in which any restriction on practices that have turned out to be profitable are rejected as 'illiberal', 'restrictive', 'unfree', 'intolerant' and the like. The catch-words and slogans here have been 'laissez-faire' and 'laissez-aller', as if unrestricted profit-making would or could benefit all or most, and even those from whom the profits were earned, or those who were 'freely' sold into slavery for profit. ("They would do it to us if we wouldn't do it first to them" - always a nice motivation in politics and economics for those who want to serve their own interests.)

It seems to me that the case of economic liberalism is like that for political liberalism, but with a number of restrictions concerning monopolies, oligopolies, exploitation, robbery, fraud, slavery and colonialism, all of which also have been defended or practiced under the guise of 'liberalism' and/or 'free markets'.

In brief: Rather a lot can be said in praise of economic liberalism and men's private initiative to better their own lot by trading and production of commodities, but all economic liberalism seems to need some effective legal bounds and restrictions so as not to turn into abuse of the weak by the strong, or the poor by the unscrupolous rich.

Besides, there also is a fallacy involved in quite a few kinds of economic liberalism that plead for 'free markets': There are no free markets without state protection and legal rules, not within states, and not between states. Each and every free market either was maintained by the state or by a city, or else existed only because and in the times of a relative balance of power between states or cities. And most of the rhetoric of 'laissez-faire' and 'laissez-aller' is no more than dishonest cant.

3. Pluralism:

Pluralism as defined is a kind of political liberalism, but more so, with special attention to the protection and furthering of different groups, faiths, interests, and kinds of human beings in one society or city.

It seems fundamentally a good idea for those who desire a high civilization, in as much as high civilizations tend to be pluralistic ones, and not those in which there is only one kind of permissible faith, and only one kind (race, ethnic group, religious faith, political ideology) of men, for while these may be strong and stable states, they are also usually poor, except perhaps for the ruling élite, and not highly civilized.

The problem with pluralism is that most human beings, especially in times of crisis or poverty, tend to be rather totalitarian and in favour of their own group and kind of men, at the cost of different groups with different backgrounds, for which reason pluralistic societies, while often richer and more interesting, also often are less stable than non-pluralistic ones.

By and large, the writer of this Philosophical Dictionary is a liberal, and then notably a liberal of the classical kind: The 19th Century English philosopher John Stuart Mill seems to be much more sensible on liberty and liberalism than most who have called themselves 'liberals' in the 20th Century. He is not a member of or believer in any modern political party or movement.

Also, besides Mill, those interested in politics or reforms should read Machiavelli and Mosca, since either or both may cure them from quite a few illusions. (Especially Machiavelli's 'The Discourses'.)

Logical Terms: Terms that are used for reasoning that may occur in statements about any kind of subject-matter, and that are supposed to come with rules or axioms that specify their valid and proper use.

What are the logical terms is not a matter of universal agreement, not even for a specific natural language. But it is useful to have the notion, to add a further characteristic and to provide a list.

The further characteristic is that logical terms are often supposed to be syncategorematic i.e. to have no meaning on their own, but only in combination with terms that have meaning. Whether this is generally so is doubtful, e.g. if 'class' or 'set' is a logical term, but it is useful in reminding that at least many terms that have been deemed logical are syncategorematic.

Here is a list of logical terms, or at least of terms that have been widely regarded as logical and occurred as such in logical texts:

true, false
, possible, contingent
, contradiction

, follows, entails, antecedent, consequence, premiss, conclusion

, and, or, implies, if and only if

equals, such that

predicate, relation, tuple

every, some, no

part, element

set, subset, class, collection, structure

inference, proof, hypothesis, assumption, axiom, rule of inference

As I indicated, there is no universal agreement on what are and are not logical terms but a minimal set on which there is wide agreement concerns the terms that are commonly used in propositional and predicate logic, which is a subset of the one given above

not, and, or, implies, if and only if

equals, such that

every, some, no

The simplest set of basic logical terms that is widely accepted as such seems to be this:

not, and, or

, entails

which may be simplified again to four by using the Sheffer-stroke. (Note that entailment is implication styled as inference: We need a writing or asserting rule in order to write proofs and arguments.)

This minimal set is suffficient for first-order logic, and may also be used for second-order logic. (Set theory or mereology require another primitive each, namely respectively element or part.)

All logic books give rules of reasoning, or rules of inference and axioms, to lay down how to validly reason with statements involving these terms.

Love:  A strongly felt desire for the well-being of someone (else), based on admiration, related to friendship, and between the sexes often inspired by lust (or hormones).

It is difficult to define personal love adequately, and difficult to distinguish it from lust, friendship, liking, admiration or taking pleasure, although all or most of these are or may be involved in personal love, and some necessarily so. Also, it would seem to me that real love is considerably more rare than it is believed to be; that it is often confused with lust, liking, friendship or admiration; and that the best, clearest and least controversial example of it is between parents and children.

For those who read French and some Latin, here is a relevant passage from Comte-Sponville with the opinions of some saints:

"Les scolastiques distinguaient l'amour de concupiscence ou de convoitise (amor concupiscentiae) de l'amour de bienveillance ou, dit aussi saint Thomas (amor benevolentiae sive amicitae)."

From St. Thomas's Summa Theologica in French translation, also with reference to Aristotle:

"Aimer, ce sera vouloir pour quelqu'un ce qu'on croit lui être un bien, au égard à son intérêt et non au nôtre, et le fait de se rendre capable en puissance de réaliser ce bien"

Especially the last part is relevant as a criterion. Here is a final saintly opinion from the same text, this time from St. Francois de Sales:

"On partage l'amour en deux espèces, dont l'une est appelée amour de bienveillance, et l'autre, amour de convoitise. L'amour de convoitise est celui par lequel nous aimons quelque  chose pour le profit que nous en prétendons; l'amour de bienveillance est celui par lequel nous aimons quelque chose pour le bien d'icelle, car qu'est-ce autre chose avoir l'amour de bienveillance envers une personne que de lui vouloir du bien?"

I much doubt whether these saintly men ever felt real adult love for an adult woman, since evidently more is involved than benevolence, though it is true that wishing her well is an important part of it.

In any case, and speaking from my own experience of love by a man for a woman: There certainly is involved the feeling that the beloved person is in some quite miraculous way extra-ordinarily special, and in that way for oneself quite different from other women one may admire for their beauty or like for their sexual appeal.

Also - one reason to quote these saints of the Church, who should not at all have felt this way - the only credible approximation to the divine I know from personal experience came to me in the shape of young women. And again unlike the saints of the Church, I have enough experience of sex, and lust, and love, all related to women, to know clearly and definitely that the three are quite different, even though it is possible they come together in one personal object. But it is also true, and the reason I quoted the saintly definitions, that the best mark of true love is genuine benevolence as expressed by personal acts: If you do not truly wish her well, and desire her well-being, and are not willing to do a lot for that, you do not  love her.

Malevolence: Wishing someone ill, possibly backed up by deeds.

Human beings certainly feel malevolent to some, and benevolent to others, and both can be inferred from their words and acts. Often these feelings are not rational, and in case of malevolence often due to lack of familiarity, hormones, groupthinking or prejudice, but this does not mean these feelings may not be strong.

Indeed, judged by human history - "History is little else but the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind" : Gibbon - the forces that dispose human being to malevolence seem on average stronger than those that move them to benevolence. One reason for this seems to be that most atrocities are committed by men who are not happy, and human life and human society offers many reasons to become unhappy, and few not to.

To those who believe that this diagnosis is too pessimistic, it may be granted that it is hard to speak both with confidence and rationality about such quantities as "the sum of human (un)happiness", and also that much misery has been caused by indifference - since it is so easy to bear the pain of someone else.

In any case, it is merely a mark of stupidity to deny or turn a blind eye to the great capacity for malevolence that inheres in humans, and to the fact that there is much misery in any human life, and little pure joy or happiness, and that what keeps most men's lifes tolerable are hopes, dreams and illusions.

And so far, the three main source of human misery, namely human stupidity, human malevolence, and human totalitarianism have not found effective remedies, though the last 25 centuries of human history give many reasons to support the notion that if intelligence or happiness or both could be doubled, by a simple pill without physical side-effects, addiction etc., human history might become very different.

Map: Representation of some features and relations in some territory; in mathematics: function with specified domain and range. A.k.a. mapping.

The ideas of a map and the closely related mapping are very fundamental, and are somehow involved in much or all of human cognition and understanding - which after all is based on the making of mental maps or models of things.

The first definition that is given is from the use of "map" in cartography and the second from mathematics, but both are related, and mappings can be seen as mathematical abstractions from maps.

1. maps: It is important to understand that one of the important points of maps (that also applies to mappings) is that they leave out - abstract from, do not depict - many things that are in the territory (or set) it represents. More generally, the following points about maps are important:

·       the map is usually not the territory (even if it is part of it) 

·       the map does usually not represent all of the territory but only certain kinds of things occurring in the territory, in certain kinds of relations

·       the map usually contains legenda and other instructions to interpret it

·       the map usually contains a lot of what is effectively interpunction

·       maps are on carriers (paper, screen, rock, sand)

·      the map embodies one of several different possible ways of representing the things it does

·      the map usually is partial, incomplete and dated - and

·      having a map is usually better than having no map at all to understand the territory the map is about (supposing the map represents some truth)

·      maps may represent non-existing territories and include guesses and declarations to the effect "this is uncharted territory"

It may be well to add some brief comments and explanations to these points

Maps and territories: In the case of paper maps, the general point of having a map is that it charts aspects of some territory (which can be seen as a set of things with properties in relations, but that is not relevant in the present context).

Thus, generally a map only represents certain aspects of the territory it charts, and usually contains helpful material on the map to assist a user to relate it properly to what it charts.

And maps may be partially mistaken or may be outdated and still be helpful to find one's way around the territory it charts, while it also is often helpful if the map explicitly shows what is guessed or unknown in it.

2. mappings: In mathematics, the usage of the terms "map" and "function" is not precisely regulated, but one useful way to relate them and keep them apart is to stipulate that a function is a set of pairs of which each first member is paired to just one second member, and a map is a function of which also the sets from which the first and second members are selected are specified. (These sets are known respectively as domain and range, or source and target. See: Function.)

Note that for both functions and maps the rule or rules by which the first members in the pairs in the functions and maps need not be known or, if it is known, need not be explicitly given. Of course, if such a rule is known it may be very useful and all that may need to be listed to describe the function or map.

Here are some useful notations and definitions, that presume to some extent standard set theory. It is assumed that the relations, functions and maps spoken of are binary or two-termed (which is no principal restriction, since a relation involving n terms can be seen as pair of n-1 terms and the n-term). In what follows "e" = "is a member of":

A relation R is a set of pairs.
A function f is a relation such that
   (x)(y)(z)((x,y) e f & (x,z) e f --> y=z).
A map m is a function f such that
   (EA)(EB)(x)(y)((x,y) e f --> xeA & yeB).
That m is a map from A to B is also written as:
   "m : A |-> B" which is in words: "m maps A to B".

There are several ways in which such mappings can hold, and I state some with the usual wordings:

m is a partial map of A to B:
    m : A |-> B and not all xeA are mapped to some yeB.
m is a full map of A to B:
    m is a map of A to B and not partial.
m is a map of A into B:
   m : A |-> B and not all yeB are mapped to some xeA.
m is a map of A onto B:
   m : A |-> B and not into. 

One reason to have partial maps (and functions: the same terminology given for maps holds for functions) is that there may well be exceptional cases for some items in A. Thus, if m maps numbers to numbers using 1/n the case n=0 must be excluded.

Meaning: What a term, statement, symbol, gesture or sign refers to or represents.

This is a very important notion, and not easy to explain well. Two good explanations in book form are Ogden & Richard's "The meaning of meaning" and Lyons' "Semantics".

One important ambiguity about the term "meaning" should be noticed to start with, since it vitiated quite a lot of analytical philosophy. It is this: By the meaning of a term of statement, such as "elephant", one may refer to either some of the ideas or concepts people may have about elephants, such as mental pictures or criterions by which to recognize elephants, or some real elephant(s). The same goes for statements, like "I saw an elephant in the zoo".

A way of keeping these apart is to write "elephant" for the term, 'elephant' for the idea or concept, and elephant - without quotation marks of any kind - for the thing one calls by the term "elephant" and may remember by the idea 'elephant'.

Unless I say so explicitly, in general I will use the term "meaning" to refer to ideas or concepts one may have, rather than the entities one's ideas or concepts represent in some reality, if only because often one does not know whether there really is something as one means by the term, and because one must be able to understand the meaning of a term or statement before one can sensibly make up one's mind whether one believes it to represent anything real (in the sense of "real" one uses).

Minimal metaphysics: Two assumptions that together embody the metaphysics of common sense, say, namely: Personalism: There are other persons than you yourself who feel, think, believe and desire along similar lines as you do, and Realism: there is one reality in which all persons live and die.

The interesting fact is that both personalism and realism involve assumptions, and have been denied.

Someone who rejects the notion that there are other human beings who feel, think, believe and desire along similar lines as you do - being a member of the same species as you are, and like you born out of a woman and reared and educated by humans, with the sort of body and the sort of needs you have - if not stark raving mad or a none to bright philosophy undergraduate, are called solipsists (from 'solo ipse' = 'only I myself' (exist, feel my exquisite feelings and think my incomparably deep thoughts, and everybody else is my illusion, dream or projection)).

Even so, it is quite interesting philosophically, logically and psychologically that almost every human being is convinced that other human beings - that, apart from ESP, one only knows as a body, without experiencing the other's experiences, feelings or ideas - do have capacities to feel, experience, sense, believe, reason, desire etc.

Also, there are some deep problems here: See Qualia and Other minds.

Someone who rejects the notion of realism either is a kind of idealist (here in the sense: a believer that all of reality is mental, like experience) or else  - more likely these days - a postmodernist: Someone who, in the end because of the pleasures of wishful thinking, wishes to maintain everybody is as confused, partial, biased, prejudiced and ignorant as she is, for this is what postmodernists (often feminists) believe and proclaim: All of reality is just a text, a tale told by the ghost of Foucault, and everything (other than the postmodernist's own bank-balance) is 'relative', 'interpretation' etc.

Indeed, the major difficulty with relativists and postmodernists, apart from the fact that they tend to be unintelligent and prejudiced, is precisely that there is just one single world in which all of humankind must try to fit itself peacefully with their different ideas of how to explain the reality they are all part of.

It should also be mentioned that in fact most ordinary men practice versions of personalism and realism that are socially restricted:

They act as if and believe there are persons like them, but predominantly or only in the groups they themselves belong to, and they act as if and believe there is an independent reality, but predominantly or only as described by the ideology current in their society or religion, and with whatever mythology this also may assume. Both tendencies, which are quite pronounced in most ordinary men, are due to a combination of social safety, lack of intelligence and totalitarian tendencies.

Other minds: That there are other minds - such as you who are reading this, if you are not the writer of this text - is one of the most basic philosophical assumptions human beings make.

That it is a philosophical assumption can be seen from two philosophical theses that deny it: Solipsism is the thesis that all there is is oneself, and the brain in the vat thesis is that one is (or may be) in fact no more than some experiment of some higher intelligence(s) that maintain one's brain (or a copy of it, for example in a supercomputer) and feed it information to find out how it behaves. (Then there may be these higher intelligences, but all one thinks, including what one believes about other minds, may be a - manufactured, manipulated - illusion.)

Obviously, while either thesis is logically possible in that neither claim is a contradiction, to believe this seriously means that one runs a considerable risk of being declared insane. And although this risk should not frighten the serious philosopher, either thesis is pretty mad because there is not a shred of evidence for it, just as there is not a shred of evidence for an unlimited amount of similar mere logical possibilities, such as that one is nothing but a dream of creatures living somewhere in Alpha Centauri.

Much more interesting are the following two points involved in there being other minds.

A. What is it like to be another?: Although presumably all sane human beings believe there are and have been other human beings, with experiences, feelings, beliefs, desires, fears and hopes much like them, it also is a fact that all experience any human being has is private - no one can feel another's feelings, make another's choices, think another's thoughts, go through another's joys or pains except imaginatively. (Apart from ESP, for which there is hardly good evidence.)

Note this also includes the seeing of colors, the tastes of food, the pleasures of sex a.s.o., for which there is quite a lot of evidence that people react similarly, but not much reason to believe these reactions are identical for two different persons, and considerable evidence this is not so even in simple cases like the seeing of colors.

For some are colorblind, wholly or partially, and even those who are not do not make all the same distinctions in the same ways when seeing the same colored surface. Thus, what one person may see and classify as a blueish green another may see and classify as a greenish blue.

There is a lot of evidence that different human beings - regardless of race, sex, age, apart from illness and insanity - react similarly to many kinds of things in many kinds of circumstances, and this evidence is both direct and indirect. The indirect evidence is medical and biological: Internal organs are much the same, and indeed exchangeable (hearts, kidneys, livers); reactions to poisons and viruses are generally the same; human DNA is very similar from human to human a.s.o.

There are also many similarities with other animals, especially mammals and apes, but also more differences, and indeed it seems highly likely that the minds animals have, in so far as they have them, are species specific: If one has differently built or placed eyes (birds, insects), presumably one sees in a somewhat different way and may be tuned to different wavelengths. Hence even if all species live in one and the same world, their experiences of it differ systematically, dependent on their kind and the sense-organs and brains of their kind

B. Having a theory of mind: Human beings are educated to a large extent on the basis of the assumption that other human beings are much like them, and have feelings and sensations and ideas much like them, which make it possible to understand and interact with others based on the assumption that others feel and think similarly to oneself.

The idea that another human being is in many ways much like oneself, including in feelings and ideas, even though these are private and not directly accessible to others, is for humans older than toddlers much mediated by language and more  specifically by propositional attitudes.

Recently, evidence has been found that some other animals, including apes, in spite of the lack of language, do attribute some kind of mentality - experiences, feelings, intentions - to other animals of the same kind. Indeed, this may be inferred from the fact of playing together, which requires that one ascribes a certain kind of motive to each other.

Thus other animals, especially those that are social and play together, presumably have some sort of theory of mind, in that they seem to attribute to each other at least some emotions, intentions and experiences in certain conditions. What this is like is difficult to say with any confidence for non-humans, for reasons explained in the previous section, and due to the fact that so much of what humans think about themselves and others is tied up with language.

Features of moral norms: There are at least 9 features involved in very many moral judgments people make in fact that should be mentioned and should be reckoned with and indeed accounted for, since they make  moral judgments rather different from most non-moral judgments, and also tricky and difficult in quite a number of respects.

Here is a list of these nine features, with some brief comments:

1. Hypocrisy: Wherever there are moral norms in a society, there will be hypocrisy: Many of the supposed adherents of a moral code, which they defend by word of mouth and occasional public action when this is neither dangerous nor onpopular, do not in fact adhere at all or for the most part to the codes they pretend to adhere to. They merely act as if because doing so profits them or because not doing so would hurt them, and lie while falsely pretending to practise moral norms they know that they do not practise.

2. Lies: Wherever there are moral norms in a society, there will be lies, and not only because of hypocrisy but to mislead people. Already Plato discussed seriously the possibility and desirability for the political leaders of the type of society he preferred to lie to and mislead the ordinary people by pleasing myths, deceitful terms etc. Most succesful politicians since have been succesful liars, though it should be added this may, at times, have been motivated honorably.

3. Fraudulence: Very often the moral norms in a society are defended and maintained by people who are fraudulent and know themselves to be frauds. Three well-known examples of the types of men and fraudulence I have in mind are the Borgia-pope Alexander VI and the socialist humanists Stalin and Mao. But indeed there are and have been far more of such men and women, and it would seem that no well-known political party or religion is without its leading frauds, who to a large extent preach what they do not practice nor believe in to acquire power or influence over those they mislead or deceive. (See e.g. Machiavelli, Mandeville and De la Boétie.)

4. Bias: Wherever there are moral norms in a society, there will be bias: In normal cases the vast majority of both the proponents and the opponents of given moral norms or judgments will have a biased view of the evidence, and indeed of what should count as evidence, while the vast majority of those contending about popular moral issues tend to be only informed about such evidence as they believe would strengthen their own point of view or weaken the case of their opponents.

5. Prejudice: Wherever there are moral norms in a society, there will be prejudice: Not only will most proponents and opponents of contentious moral issue be biased, they will also be prejudiced, in that they hold points of view and censure points of view not on the basis of relevant knowledge and objective evidence, but on the basis of whether the supposed knowledge or evidence conforms to or weakens the ethical or other assumptions they already have.

6. Propaganda: Wherever there are moral norms in a society, there will be propaganda: The moral norms will be defended and popularized by means that the popularizers know are slanted, biased, partial, prejudiced, improperly informed, or simply misleading, false or lies.

7. Wishful thinking: Wherever there are moral norms in a society, there will be a lot of wishful thinking about what these moral norms would produce if only all or most men believed or practised them, and also usually a lot of wishful thinking about how bad, inferior, stupid or otherwise reprehensible the opponents (or non-comformers) are. Likewise:

8. Chauvinism: Wherever there are moral norms in a society, there will be chauvinism, for moral norms are meant to serve and express the interests, norms, values, practices and ends of a certain society or group, and this tend to be combined with much that may sound more noble, moral and honorific than "Us is Good, Them is Bad", but which does not amount to much more than this.

9. Conformism
: Wherever there are moral norms in a society, there will be conformism: Many persons, rather than oppose what they disagree with or question what they don't see the rational point of, will conform rather than oppose or publicly disagree, simply because this is easier, more profitable, socially more popular, or indeed because they know that opposition or disagreement with the norms they conform to will be punished by the authorities. (The main difference between a conformer and a hypocrite is that the hypocrite lies in addition to being a conformer, and for the most part knows he lies, and knows he does so for some advantage to himself or his group. And it should be noted that there may be very good reasons in a totalitarian society or religion for people to conform.)

It seems to me these 9 features are quite important in the rational discussion of actual moral discourse, and it also seems to me they are not often taken seriously to the extent they deserve to be taken seriously.

After all, the yield of these 9 features is that very much about moral discourse and moral acting is neither what it seems nor what it is claimed to be nor what people pretend it is:

Much of moral discourse and moral acting is play-acting, role-playing, acting as if, external conformism, hypocrisy, and based on prejudice while furthered with propaganda. And it seems this aspect of morals has not often been seriously dealt with, though there are some examples of texts which do, if not in the context of a philosophical or logical discussion of moral discourse. I refer to E. Goffman's "The Presentation of Self in Ordinary Life" and to E. Berne's "Games People Play" and also to Machiavelli's "The Prince", which is quite clear and outspoken about this, and which is on my site with my own extensive notes and comments.

And I say something about a few of the above features and the reason why they exist in my "Fundamental Principles of Invalid Reasoning". Also, there is on my site an interesting moral poem about the role and importance of moral vice in ordinary life to ordinary people: Mandeville's "Fable of the Bees".

And that were just a few bits from my Philosophical Dictionary.


Maarten Maartensz

P.S. My eye problems

I'll leave the  text on my eye problems for the moment as a P.S., to clarify why I use such colors as I do, and why I have, for the time being, mostly stopped editing my site.
Version October 15, 2012: My eye problems are the reason this page has the colors it does have: It is very difficult to look at white and light backgrounds with such eyes as I presently have. See also: Why are the colors as they are?

The diagnosis is keratoconjunctivitis sicca (possibly as a part of Sjoegren's syndrome). It is less than it was, for months, but not as I should like it to be.

The present settings of NOTEBOOK aka NB seem the best compromise between what my eyes can handle, and what most readers like to see.

And they have been changed repeatedly, as have the links below to change the background (but not the color of the text box).

As of October 13, 2012, the standard setting for the text box is white text on a darkslategrey background while the standard background is maroon.

Version October 28, 2012: Black text on #339999.
Version November 8, 2012: Changed background to picture. (Background colors work no more.) I may changes this again, depending on my eyes. I may even return to Nederlog!
Version November 10, 2012: Black text on #CCCCFF, changed background picture.

[*] In fact, most of what is read in Nederlog is written in Dutch and - as far as I can see - most of that got selected because I wrote about something my readers are interested in, which means, as is indeed true, that quite a lot of old Nederlogs are being read daily.
[**] Probably it will not be a constant background, but it is a nice view and a nice memory for me, and indeed I do intend to write some more about Dovre and Norway, and in such contexts it will probably reappear.

                  PS: Any necessary corrections have to be made later.