Combining Philosophers

All the ideas for Roger Fry, Jonathan Tallant and John Gray

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31 ideas

1. Philosophy / D. Nature of Philosophy / 7. Despair over Philosophy
Human knowledge may not produce well-being; the examined life may not be worth living [Gray]
     Full Idea: Human knowledge is one thing, human well-being another. There is no predetermined harmony between the two. The examined life may not be worth living.
     From: John Gray (Straw Dogs [2002], 1.9)
     A reaction: John Gray has set himself up as the Eeyore of modern times, but this point may obviously be correct. Presumably Socrates meant that the examined life was better even if the result was less 'well-being'. Even Gray doesn't want a lobotomy.
1. Philosophy / E. Nature of Metaphysics / 1. Nature of Metaphysics
Metaphysics is a quest for truthmakers [Tallant]
     Full Idea: In this book I will treat metaphysics as a quest for truthmakers.
     From: Jonathan Tallant (Metaphysics: an introduction [2011], 01)
     A reaction: I find this appealing, though obviously you have to say what sort of truthmakers generate 'metaphysical' truths, as opposed to physics or biology. I take it that would involve truthmakers that had a high level of generality, idealisation and abstraction.
2. Reason / D. Definition / 12. Paraphrase
Maybe number statements can be paraphrased into quantifications plus identities [Tallant]
     Full Idea: One strategy is whenever we are presented with a sentence that might appear to entail the existence of numbers, all that we have to do is paraphrase it using a quantified logic, plus identity.
     From: Jonathan Tallant (Metaphysics: an introduction [2011], 03.5)
     A reaction: This nominalist strategy seems fine for manageable numbers, but gets in trouble with numbers too big to count (e.g. grains of sand in the world) , or genuine infinities.
3. Truth / B. Truthmakers / 3. Truthmaker Maximalism
Maybe only 'positive' truths need truth-makers [Tallant]
     Full Idea: We might say that those truths that do not need truth-makers are those that are negative. Those that do need truth-makers are those that are positive.
     From: Jonathan Tallant (Metaphysics: an introduction [2011], 10.8)
     A reaction: If you deny the existence of something, there is always an implicit domain for the denial, such as 'on the table', or 'in this building', or 'in the cosmos'. So why can't that domain be the truthmaker for a negative existential?
3. Truth / B. Truthmakers / 5. What Makes Truths / a. What makes truths
A truthmaker is the minimal portion of reality that will do the job [Tallant]
     Full Idea: A 'minimal' truth-maker is the 'smallest' portion of reality required to make a given proposition true.
     From: Jonathan Tallant (Metaphysics: an introduction [2011], 01.2)
     A reaction: A nice suggestion. This seems to make Ockham's Razor an integral part of the theory of truth-makers. I would apply the same principle to explanations. An Ockhamist explanation is what explains the puzzling thing - and nothing else.
3. Truth / B. Truthmakers / 12. Rejecting Truthmakers
What is the truthmaker for a possible new power? [Tallant]
     Full Idea: What power will make true 'there could be a power that does not in fact exist'?
     From: Jonathan Tallant (Metaphysics: an introduction [2011], 04.13)
     A reaction: Nice question. We can't know whether it is true that a new power could exist, so we can't expect an actual truthmaker for it. Though we might predict new powers (such as for a new transuranic element), on the basis of the known ones.
8. Modes of Existence / B. Properties / 13. Tropes / a. Nature of tropes
The wisdom of Plato and of Socrates are not the same property [Tallant]
     Full Idea: It is not the case that Plato's wisdom = Socrates's wisdom. Platonic-wisdom and Socratic-wisdom are not the same property.
     From: Jonathan Tallant (Metaphysics: an introduction [2011], 05.4)
     A reaction: This seems reasonable in the case of wisdom, but not so clear in the case of indistinguishable properties of redness or squareness or mass. Nevertheless it gives nice support for trope theory.
9. Objects / B. Unity of Objects / 2. Substance / d. Substance defined
Substance must have two properties: individuation, and property-bearing [Tallant]
     Full Idea: It appears that substance has essential properties: it is of the essence of substance that it individuates, and it is of the essence of substance that it bears properties.
     From: Jonathan Tallant (Metaphysics: an introduction [2011], 06.2)
     A reaction: The point being that substances are not 'bear', because they have a role to perform, and a complete blank can't fulfil a role. We can't take substance, though, seriously in ontology. It is just a label for distinct individuals.
13. Knowledge Criteria / C. External Justification / 9. Naturalised Epistemology
Knowledge does not need minds or nervous systems; it is found in all living things [Gray]
     Full Idea: Knowledge does not need minds, or even nervous systems. It is found in all living things.
     From: John Gray (Straw Dogs [2002], 2.10)
     A reaction: I consider it a misnomer to call such things 'knowledge', for which I have much higher standards. Gray is talking about 'information'. Knowledge needs reasons, and possibility of error, not just anticipatory behaviour.
16. Persons / C. Self-Awareness / 3. Limits of Introspection
Most of us are too close to our own motives to understand them [Fry]
     Full Idea: The motives we actually experience are too close to us to enable us to feel them clearly. They are in a sense unintelligible.
     From: Roger Fry (An Essay in Aesthetics [1909], p.30)
     A reaction: Fry is defending the role of art in clarifying and highlighting such things, but I am not convinced by his claim. We can grasp most of our motives with a little introspection, and those we can't grasp are probably too subtle for art as well.
16. Persons / F. Free Will / 5. Against Free Will
The will hardly ever does anything; most of our life just happens to us [Gray]
     Full Idea: We think our actions express our decisions, but in nearly all of our life, willing decides nothing. We cannot wake up or fall asleep, remember or forget our dreams, summon or banish our thoughts, by deciding to do so.
     From: John Gray (Straw Dogs [2002], 2.12)
     A reaction: Gray's point does not rule out occasional total control over mental life, but his point is important. The traditional picture is of a life controlled, so the will is seen as at the centre of a person, but it just isn't the case.
19. Language / D. Propositions / 2. Abstract Propositions / a. Propositions as sense
Are propositions all the thoughts and sentences that are possible? [Tallant]
     Full Idea: One might be tempted to the view that there are as many different propositions as there are thoughts that could be thought and sentences that could be uttered.
     From: Jonathan Tallant (Metaphysics: an introduction [2011], 04.5.3)
     A reaction: A fairly orthodox view I take to be crazy. I think it is a view designed for logic, rather than for how the world is. Why tie propositions to what can be thought, and then introduce unthought propositions? Why no unthinkable propositions?
21. Aesthetics / A. Aesthetic Experience / 2. Aesthetic Attitude
Imaginative life requires no action, so new kinds of perception and values emerge in art [Fry]
     Full Idea: In the imaginative life no action is necessary, so the whole consciousness may be focused upon the perceptive and the emotional aspects of the experience. Hence we get a different set of values, and a different kind of perception
     From: Roger Fry (An Essay in Aesthetics [1909], p.24)
     A reaction: Good. A huge range of human activities are like scientific experiments, where you draw on our evolved faculties, but put them in controlled conditions, where the less convenient and stressful parts are absent. War and sport. Real and theatrical tragedy.
Everyone reveals an aesthetic attitude, looking at something which only exists to be seen [Fry]
     Full Idea: It is only when an object exists for no other purpose than to be seen that we really look at it, …and then even the most normal person adopts to some extent the artistic attitude of pure vision abstracted from necessity.
     From: Roger Fry (An Essay in Aesthetics [1909], p.29)
     A reaction: A painter of still life looks at things which exist for other purposes, with just the attitude which Fry attributes to the viewers of the paintings. We can encourage a child to look at a flower with just this attitude.
21. Aesthetics / A. Aesthetic Experience / 4. Beauty
'Beauty' can either mean sensuous charm, or the aesthetic approval of art (which may be ugly) [Fry]
     Full Idea: There is an apparent contradiction between two distinct uses of the word 'beauty', one for that which has sensuous charm, and one for the aesthetic approval of works of imaginative art where the objects presented to us are often of extreme ugliness.
     From: Roger Fry (An Essay in Aesthetics [1909], p.33)
     A reaction: The gouging of eyes in 'King Lear' was always the big problem case for aesthetics, just as nowadays it is Marcel Duchamp's wretched 'Fountain'.
21. Aesthetics / A. Aesthetic Experience / 6. The Sublime
In life we neglect 'cosmic emotion', but it matters, and art brings it to the fore [Fry]
     Full Idea: Those feelings unhappily named cosmic emotion find almost no place in life, but, since they seem to belong to certain very deep springs of our nature, do become of great importance in the arts.
     From: Roger Fry (An Essay in Aesthetics [1909], p.31)
     A reaction: Focus on the sublime was big in the romantic era, but Fry still sees its importance, and I don't think it ever goes away. Art styles which scorn the sublime are failing to perform their social duty, say I.
21. Aesthetics / B. Nature of Art / 2. Art as Form
Art needs a mixture of order and variety in its sensations [Fry]
     Full Idea: The first quality that we demand in our [artistic] sensations will be order, without which our sensations will be troubled and perplexed, and the other will be variety, without which they will not be fully stimulated.
     From: Roger Fry (An Essay in Aesthetics [1909], p.32)
     A reaction: He makes good claims, but gives unconvincing reasons for them. Some of us rather like 'troubled and perplexed' sensations. And a very narrow range of sensations could still be highly stimulated. Is Fry a good aesthetician but a modest philosopher?
21. Aesthetics / B. Nature of Art / 3. Art as Imitation
If graphic arts only aim at imitation, their works are only trivial ingenious toys [Fry]
     Full Idea: If imitation is the sole purpose of the graphic arts, it is surprising that the works of such arts are ever looked upon as more than curiosities, or ingenious toys, and are ever taken seriously by grown-up people.
     From: Roger Fry (An Essay in Aesthetics [1909], p.23)
     A reaction: But then you might say that same about fine wines. A mere nice taste is hardly worthy of grown ups, and yet lots of grown ups feeling quite passionately about it. What about Fabergé eggs?
Popular opinion favours realism, yet most people never look closely at anything! [Fry]
     Full Idea: Ordinary people have almost no idea of what things really look like, so that the one standard that popular criticism applies to painting (whether it is like nature or not) is the one which most people are prevented frm applying properly.
     From: Roger Fry (An Essay in Aesthetics [1909], p.29)
     A reaction: A nice remark, though there is a streak of Bloomsbury artistic snobbery running through Fry. Ordinary people recognise photographic realism, so they can study things closely either in the reality or the picture, should they so choose.
21. Aesthetics / C. Artistic Issues / 1. Artistic Intentions
When viewing art, rather than flowers, we are aware of purpose, and sympathy with its creator [Fry]
     Full Idea: In our reaction to a work of art (rather than a flower) there is the consciousness of purpose, of a peculiar relation of sympathy with the man who made this thing in order to arouse precisely the sensations we experience.
     From: Roger Fry (An Essay in Aesthetics [1909], p.33)
     A reaction: I think this is entirely right. I like the mention of 'sympathy' as well as 'purpose'.
21. Aesthetics / C. Artistic Issues / 4. Emotion in Art
In the cinema the emotions are weaker, but much clearer than in ordinary life [Fry]
     Full Idea: One notices in the visions of the cinematograph that whatever emotions are aroused by them, though they are likely to be weaker than those of ordinary life, are presented more clearly to the conscious.
     From: Roger Fry (An Essay in Aesthetics [1909], p.25)
     A reaction: Fry had probably only seen very simple melodramas, but the general idea that artistic emotions are weaker than real life, but much clearer, is quite plausible.
21. Aesthetics / C. Artistic Issues / 7. Art and Morality
For pure moralists art must promote right action, and not just be harmless [Fry]
     Full Idea: To the pure moralist, accepting nothing but ethical values, to be justified, the life of the imagination must be shown not only not to hinder but actually to forward right action, otherwise it is not only useless but, by absorbing energies, harmful.
     From: Roger Fry (An Essay in Aesthetics [1909], p.26)
     A reaction: I think this is the sort of attitude you find in Samuel Johnson. Puritans even reject light music, which seems pleasantly harmless to the rest of us. 'Absorbing energies' doesn't sound much of an objection, and may not be the actual objection.
25. Social Practice / A. Freedoms / 5. Freedom of lifestyle
Nowadays we identify the free life with the good life [Gray]
     Full Idea: We do not value freedom more than people did in earlier times, but we have identified the good life with the chosen life.
     From: John Gray (Straw Dogs [2002], 3.13)
     A reaction: Interesting. This is Enlightenment liberalism gradually filtering down into common consciousness, especially via the hegemony of American culture. I sympathise the Gray; don't get me wrong, but I think freedom is overrated.
27. Natural Reality / G. Biology / 4. Ecology
Over forty percent of the Earth's living tissue is human [Gray]
     Full Idea: Humans co-opt over forty per cent of the Earth's living tissue.
     From: John Gray (Straw Dogs [2002], 4.15)
     A reaction: If you add our domestic animals, I understand that the figure goes up to 95 per cent! I take this to be virtually the only significant ecological fact - population, population, population. Why are there so many cars? So many carbon footprints?
28. God / C. Attitudes to God / 5. Atheism
Free atheism should start by questioning its faith in humanity [Gray]
     Full Idea: A free-thinking atheism would begin by questioning the prevailing faith in humanity. But there is little prospect of contemporary atheists giving up their reverence for this phantom.
     From: John Gray (Seven Types of Atheism [2018], Conc)
     A reaction: He seems to be referring to 'humanism', which I take to be quite different from atheism. I take it as obvious that simple atheism is entirely neutral on the question of whether we should have 'faith' in humanity (which presumably mean optimism).
29. Religion / A. Polytheistic Religion / 4. Dualist Religion
Gnosticism has a supreme creator God, giving way to a possibly hostile Demiurge [Gray]
     Full Idea: Gnostic traditions envisage a supreme God that created the universe and then withdrew into itself, leaving the world to be ruled by a lesser god, or Demiurge, which might be indifferent or hostile to mankind.
     From: John Gray (Seven Types of Atheism [2018], Intro)
     A reaction: It doesn't seem to solve any problems, given that the first God is 'supreme', and is therefore responsible for the introduction and actions of the later Demiurge.
29. Religion / B. Monotheistic Religion / 2. Judaism
Judaism only became monotheistic around 550 BCE [Gray]
     Full Idea: It was only sometime around the sixth century BC, during the period when the Israelites returned to Jerusalem, that the idea that there is only one God emerged in Jewish religion.
     From: John Gray (Seven Types of Atheism [2018], Intro)
     A reaction: There seems to be a parallel move among the Greeks to elevate Zeus to special status.
29. Religion / B. Monotheistic Religion / 4. Christianity / a. Christianity
Christians introduced the idea that a religion needs a creed [Gray]
     Full Idea: The notion that religions are creeds - lists of propositions or doctrines that everyone must accept or reject - emerged only with Christianity.
     From: John Gray (Seven Types of Atheism [2018], Intro)
     A reaction: With a creed comes the possibility of heresy. I''m not happy with children being taught to recite something which begins 'I believe…', but which they have never thought about and barely understand.
Without Christianity we lose the idea that human history has a meaning [Gray]
     Full Idea: For Christians, it is because they occur in history that the lives of humans have a meaning that the lives of other animals do not. ..If we truly leave Christianity behind, we must give up the idea that human history has a meaning.
     From: John Gray (Straw Dogs [2002], 2.3)
     A reaction: Interesting. Compare the dispute between 'whig' and 'tory' historians, the former of whom believe that history is going somewhere.
What was our original sin, and how could Christ's suffering redeem it? [Gray]
     Full Idea: No one can say what was humankind's original sin, and no one understands how the suffering of Christ can redeem it.
     From: John Gray (Straw Dogs [2002], 4.1)
     A reaction: This nicely articulates a problem that has half bothered me, but I have never put into words. I always assumed Eve committed the sin, and Adam cops the blame for not controlling his woman. Dying for our sins has always puzzled me.
29. Religion / C. Spiritual Disciplines / 3. Buddhism
Buddhism has no divinity or souls, and the aim is to lose the illusion of a self [Gray]
     Full Idea: Buddhism says nothing of any divine mind and rejects any idea of the soul. The world consists of processes and events. The human sense of self is an illusion; freedom is found in ridding oneself of this illusion.
     From: John Gray (Seven Types of Atheism [2018], Intro)
     A reaction: I'm not clear why shaking off the illusion of a self is a superior state. Freedom to do what? Presumably nothing at all, since there is no self to desire anything.