1. On "Xanthippic Dialogues"
Yesterday I reproduced President Obama's
inauguration speech with my comments, and today I found that
some of the links I gave - President
Obama's speech + my comments and President
Obama's Address to Congress
- were garbled with whole sections that were links that shouldn't
have been there.
Today I repaired this, and I am sorry, but it was not my intention, and
I never did this consciously, but on Linux, which I still prefer over
MS Windows, there just are no good WYSIWYG html-editors, which is what
I need for my site. (I say it as it is, because that is the truth. And
if I am to blame, I am willing to take the blame, but not if 90% of my
text, after I wrote it, got turned into links, paragraph, after
paragraph, after paragraph: I did not do it, nor want it, and
it is a shame there is no good
WYSIWYG html-editor on Linux. )
Today, there's just a brief bit on philosophy, that also may interest
non-philosophers. (And yes, I am a bit better than the last few days.)
1. On "Xanthippic
I have read a
lot of 20th century philosophy, but I can't recommend most of it to
people without a serious interest in philosophy: Most is not well
written, most is quite pretentious, and most is plain wrong, mistaken,
biased or misleading.
There are exceptions, such as Bertrand Russell,
who can be read both for pleasure and for intellectual profit - History
of Western Philosophy, Problems of
Philosophy, Human Knowledge: Its Scope and Limits - and
there are some others, such as A.J. Ayer, but they
really are exceptions.
The reason for this is, in part at least, a combination of lack of real
talent combined with academic pretentiousness - as one can find for
oneself by reading Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Burke, Berkeley, Hobbes,
Montaigne or Plato, for these men could really write, and did not prosaically walk on stilts, so as to increase their
apparent stature, in the manner of George Steiner, Jacques Derrida,
Martin Heidegger and many others, also including many analytic
I mentioned Plato, who is a great writer, at least in Benjamin Jowett's
rendering, though not an easy one, nor one whom I agree with - but
intellectual (dis)agreement is not relevant to literary (de)merit.
And this leads to my present subject, which is a book by Roger Scruton, "Xanthippic Dialogues", which is
something like a triple satire: Of Plato's dialogues, of 20th century
philosophy, and of Greek scholarship.
It was first published 20 years ago, in 1993, but I just recently read
it, and I liked it, and will briefly try to explain why.
To start with Roger
Scruton. He is a British philosopher, who specialized in
aesthetics, and who seems best known for being a conservative.
As it happens, I never was much interested in the philosophy of
aesthetics, and I am not a conservative. 
Also, I have several times tried to read some of his books - Sexual
Desire is one - and got bored, but I also agree with him on several
topics, such as this, quoted from the Wikipedia article on him linked
He defined post-modernism as the
claim that there are no grounds for truth, objectivity, and meaning,
and therefore conflicts between views are nothing more than contests of
power, and argued that, while the West is required to judge other
cultures in their own terms, Western culture is adversely judged as
ethnocentric and racist. He wrote: "The very reasoning which sets out
to destroy the ideas of objective truth and absolute value imposes
political correctness as absolutely binding, and cultural relativism as
As judged by the
Wikipedia entry, I know relatively little about Scruton, although I was
some 25 years ago first attended on him, by people who had read my columns, who accused me that I was "a conservative like" him - which
I then quickly established I wasn't.
As I am explaining why I liked his Xanthippic Dialogues: It is
certainly not because I am especially favourably impressed by or indeed
knowledgeable about Roger Scruton, for I am neither the one nor the
other, though we seem to agree more than not on post-modernism.
Next, Plato's Dialogues. I have read these, for the most part, in
Jowett's translation, which I liked a lot. Some of it is hard going,
and rather a lot of it, especially in The Republic, but also
elsewhere, is nonsense, but it remains interesting because much of it
is very clever debate, rather than learned scholarly expositions, and
it is very clever debate about fundamental questions - of what it is to
know, to be human, what there is, what is good, and what is a good
It is indeed the quality and the topics of the debates, and the style
in which these have been written, that make Plato's Dialogues
interesting and enjoyable, much rather than what they argue for.
Then 20th Century philosophy. As I said, I read a lot of it, and I
cannot recommend this to most others. Apart from the reasons I gave -
pretentious, ill written, mistaken - most
of it is blighted by having become a thoroughly academic subject,
from which most liveliness and interest has been squeezed as if it
would be incompatible with such a serious and learned subject.
Actually, the reason is that most academic
philosophers just can't do any better, and are not at all on either
the intellectual or the literary level of the great classic
philosophers, and in fact are an artificial academic species of their
own, that publishes mostly for its own academic kind only, in its own
academic journals. This has some merit, sometimes, but is not really
what real philosophy was or is about, which is the investigation and
criticism of ideas and values, and the pursuit of knowledge, much
rather than posing as or becoming a tenured, well respected scholarly
sort of person.
Finally, Greek scholarship. I remember enough from what little Greek I
learned to be able to read it from the page as if I understand it, but
much more often than not I don't, and indeed I long ago found out this
is not necessary either, as almost all of the ancient Greek texts have
been admirably translated by real specialists. (As are the Latin texts,
both - for example - in the admirable Loeb
Not much later I found that Greek scholarship is one of those fields
where there is an enormous amount of erudition and shows of
learnedness, about what is effectively a rather small field knowledge.
(The Loeb Library has a lot of volumes, but all of these are prose, and
compared with real fields like biology or physics, Greek scholarship
has a small subject, where most that was to be discovered or translated
has been discovered or translated.)
So... Scruton's "Xanthippic Dialogues" satirizes or spoofs all
of that, and does so admirably, as it also does succeed in giving at
least the flavour Plato's Dialogues (as rendered by Jowett, for the
effective non-readers of Greek like me), and it also does it quite
humorously, namely by pretending that Socrates in fact got his ideas
from his wife Xanthippe, while these ideas were misrepresented by Plato.
It makes a number of good philosophical points, also against modern
philosophers, in lively prose, as one can find with the help of the
Index (itself a piece of satire). And it is a good read, for the most
part for the same reason as Plato's Dialogues are a good read: It is
clever, witty, well written dialogue about interesting subjects.
There also is on Linux a type of tough guys, that includes women, that
insist one should not use WYSIWYG html-editors "because they produce
clunky html". I am sorry: My site is over 400 MB, mostly html, and I am
human, not a chip. The computer is meant to help make my life
easier, rather than that I should exist to write perfectly correct html
to facilitate a html-compiler. "Lo, men have become tools of their
tools", Thoreau exclaimed, long before there were modern computers. (On
that line of argument: Why not return to the goose quill, because this
enables the finest handwritten prose?)
 My reason not to be interested in the
philosophy of aesthetics is not that I am not interested in beauty, but
that there were so few texts in its philosophy that I found attractive.
And I am not a conservative
but a classical liberal,
where the adjective "classical" is really needed, because I mean it in
the sense of J.S. Mills's
Liberty", and not in any of the sense it has been used in
politics in the 20st and 21st century.
(that I prefer
to call M.E.: The "/CFS" is added to facilitate search machines) which
is a disease I have since 1.1.1979: