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Showing posts from July, 2012

Chauncey Wright and the Foundations of Pragmatism

I've been reading a book of the above title, published in 1963, written by Edward H. Madden.

The title is a bit odd and is perhaps intended ironically. Madden's chief point seems to be that Chauncey Wright did not in fact set the "foundations of pragmatism," that he was more of a sounding board than an inspiration for those pragmatists with whom his name is generaly linked, Peirce and James, that his own views were positivistic and utilitarian.

Further, Madden seems to be of the view that on most of the points where those who are properly called pragmatists diverged from Wright, he was right and they were wrong.

Sample passage. After quoting from an essay by Wright that was itself a reply to a book by St. George Mivart, Mivart was an early critic, as Wright was an early defender, of Darwinism. In case you were wondering why I'm using an early-hominid skull to illustrate this blog entry, now you know.

As part of the Mivart review, Wright discussed the concept…

The Analytic/Synthetic Dichotomy

In a long footnote in The Principles of Psychology, William James discussed the analytic/synthetic dichotomy.

He consigned it to a footnote because he was sick of the subject, thinking it a "waste of ink and paper." W.V.O. Quine would come to much the same conclusion, 60 years later, after much more paper and ink had been employed.

James provides us in the course of this footnote with a geometrical example of why the effort to maintain a consistently dichotomous relationship between these two sorts of statements is such a waste.

"No one will say that such analytic judgments as 'equidistant lines can nowhere meet' are pure tautologies. The predicate is a somewhat new way of conceiving as well as of naming the subject. There is something 'ampliative' in our greatest truism, our state of mind is richer after than before we have uttered them."

Now, if he had written "parallel lines can never meet" he would he stated neither a synthetic no…

Going Public

The transition from a private into a public company, the IPO, has become extraordinarily tricky for all but the few and the lucky.

Facebook and BATS have recently given us examples of what can go wrong even FOR the few and the lucky! But consider medium-sized business, of a size where going public used to be not such a big deal. It is a huge and tricky matter today.

SEC enforced decimalization and NMS had a lot to do with this, changing the dynamics of the world of trading into which an IPO plunges such a firm.

Look at the decade before those changes, the 1990s. The average annual number of IPOs was 520. Had the rate remained the same as the size of the economy grew, one would have expected that in 2011 the United States would have had 950 such offerings. In fact, it had roughly only about 1/6th of that. The average number of IPOs annually since 2000 has been only 129.

The dysfunction may, as Arnuk, Saluzzi, and a lot of other market-savvy people think, have a lot to …

"You didn't build that [alone]": Some Thoughts

I've just googled the expression "you didn't build that" and received more than 40 million hits.

Most of them surely (and all of them that I see on the first page of the list) involve the President's recent speech, and his statement two weeks ago about how successful people should recognize that they didn't get there, they didn't build their business, on their own. It is pretty clear from the context, where the phrase "on your own" appears repeatedly, what is meant.

There are efforts to create a furor over this, but the statement in itself is unexceptional. Of course you didn't get there alone. If you are a successful entrepreneur, you are perfectly aware of the fact that you are not a hermit living in a self-constructed hut in the rain forest. There aren't any customers or investors in the rain forest. Why would you try to create a business there?

You built your business in the middle of a social world, and a lot of people…

Milton quote

This is from John Milton's first reply to Salmasius, something he wrote pursuant to his duties as official propagandist for the revolutionary government of Oliver Cromwell.

Quin et ipsa ab ineunte adolescentia iis eram studiis incensus, quae me ad optima quaeque si minus facienda, at certe laudanda incitatum ferebant.

In English: "And indeed from my youth onward I have been filled with a zeal which kept urging me, if not to do great deeds myself, at least to celebrate them."

No big point here, I just like that quote. Milton was writing in Latin because that was part of his job -- as a propagandist, he sought to be read all over Europe, and large chunks of his audience could have read Latin far more readily than English.

Let this post be a neat bookend to that of a week ago, which as it happened also involved Oliver Cromwell. George Fox and John Milton may be said to reflect two very different sides of Cromwell's own personality. And the collective personality of a…

London Olympics

The Olympic Games begin in London on July 27. For the particulars, you can go here.

As regular readers of the precursor of this blog, Pragmatism Refreshed, will tell you, I have developed an interest in the career of Chinese track star Liu Xiang.

Liu won the gold for his signature event, the 110 meter hurdles, in the 2004 Olympics in Athens. He set the world record for that event at a meet in Lausanne in 2006. Sadly, he was unable to compete in the Beijing Olympics, on his "home turf" if you will, because of a chronic inflammation in his right Achilles tendon. There have been conspiracy theories about this, but I suspect the humdrum medical account is the accurate one.

At any rate, he has long since returned to competitions, and in fact he set a new world record, completing his event in just  12.87 seconds, in a competition in the US (Eugene Oregon) earlier this year.

So: how will he do in London?

We'll all find out together.

When? Round 1 of the men's 110 meter…

Bob Greene II

Greene still writes books, and he does so successfully, post-scandal.

He wrote of the illness and death of a friend of his in And You Know You Should be Glad (2006).

Publishers Weekly called this book a "dusty attic of lost Americana," because Greene uses it to re-visit the small town midWest USA milieu where he and Jack -- the fellow who is dying -- had first met (and they did so on their first day in kindergarten!) and become friends.'s customer reviews are enthusiastic. A fellow named Peter Frost gives it five stars, saying "Yes, this book is sad in places, but it leaves you with a profound feeling of ... how important it is to have friends, and what they mean to us."

It is easy to make fun of the sort of schmaltz that gets that sort of review, but pulling it off, at book length, an act that requires some variety and dramatic heft, is trickier than sophisticates imagine. Greene does have a gift.

Here he is in the book's opening passage, rem…

Bob Greene I

Yes, children, there once were widely syndicated general-interest columns.

You don't hear of them much any more. Heck, newspapers of the old sort are themselves an endangered species, and the old-style columnists (humorous like Erma Bombeck, politically analytical like Peter Lisagor, self-appointed tribunes of the working stiff like Jimmy Breslin).

Perhaps it's just that we don't need gatekeepers any more to tell us who is good at spouting opinions, analyzing public issues, or making us laugh.  Good for us.

But back when there were still syndicated columnists, one of them -- one of the most popular of them at his peak in the 1980s -- was Bob Greene.

I haven't given any thought to Bob Greene in years.  But for no good reason, I've come across some material lately about him and about the scandal in which his career ended in 2002.  Let's not discuss the scandal now. You can read about it here if you want.

But that was, as I say, in 2002, and by that time we a…

From George Fox' Journal

"During the time I was at London I had many services laid upon me, for it was a time of much suffering. I was moved to write to Oliver Cromwell, and lay before him the sufferings of Friends both in this nation and in Ireland. There was also a talk about this time of making Cromwell king; whereupon I was moved to go to him and warn him against accepting it; and of diverse dangers which, if he did not avoid them, would, I told him, bring shame and ruin upon himself and his posterity. He seemed to take well what I said to him, and thanked me; yet afterwards I was moved to write to him more fully concerning that matter."

Cromwell was not made King by name.

He did, though, take to styling himself Lord Protector, and he passed alog the title of Lord Protector to his son, so one might think the distinction between his Lordship and an earthly kingdom unpersuasive.

Surely, Fox' objection to Kingship wasn't simply that the Stuart family were the wrong folks, nor was…

The Supreme Court Term: Wrapping Up

The listing of powers granted Congress by the Constitution is clearly intended to have a limiting effect. The framers were saying, "this far and no farther."

Or else ... why bother?  If they had wanted any of the powers to serve as a blank check, they could have included only that one.  "Congress will do whatever the heck it thinks best." You only need one blank check, not a long list of them.

Thus, it is axiomatic that none of the "enumerated" powers (a traditional though odd expression -- they weren't literally numbered in the text!) is supposed to be universal in its scope.

I have always felt rather embarrassed on behalf of the Supreme Court as an institution by its decision to turn the commerce clause into the blank check power. Wheat grown on a farm, baked into bread and consumed on that very farm (and thus of course in the same state) was held in Wickard v. Filburn to be a matter of interstate commerce. You can read the decision here if you pl…

The Supreme Court Term: Sebelius at last

Now I really must say something about NFIB v. Sebelius, SCOTUS' big Obamacare decision, or you will think me a shirker.

Let's start with this datum: Chief Justice John Roberts is only the second SCOTUS Justice in the institution's history with that surname. Its a fairly common surname in English-speaking countries, so I don't know whether 2-out-of-112 is a lot or suspiciously few. Anyway, the coincidence seems worth mentioning because the previous Justice Roberts [Owen Roberts, a Hoover appointee on the court from 1930 to 1945] has gone down in history as the Justice who made the big switch, who turned the court from one with an anti-New Deal 5 Justice majority into one with a pro-New Deal 5 Justice majority by his own change of heart under political pressure in 1937.

Reference Guide

The usual accounts of that "switch in time" are sometimes too simply and broadly written, and certainly it wasn't all about Roberts. Chief Justice Hughes played a…

The Supreme Court Term, continued

This term, largely because of the bang-up way it ended, has seen the beginnings of right-wing resentment against Chief Justice John Roberts. There is even an "impeach Roberts" meme bubbling about in some quarters!

It will go nowhere, unless some extra-judicial scandal is brewing I haven't heard about, but it is an intriguing symptom.

In the Warren Court era, there were "Impeach Earl Warren" bumper stickers and billboards apenty. Never got traction.

There was also a push to impeach Justice Douglas, who was a good bit to the left of Warren by anyone's metric, and that did get a little traction.

That arose from Douglas extra-judicial activities. He wrote an artticle for "Avant Garde," a magazine published by Ralph Ginzburg, at a time when litigation concerning alleged libel by Ginzberg, litigation that had constitutional significance and would eventually reach SCOTUS, was underway in the federal courts.

The content of the actual article by …

First Sunday after Independence Day

This year, as it happens, America's Independence Day fell in mid week. This, the following Sunday, is a good time, if I judge rightly, to contemplate the grave danger in confusing religious piety with political/patriotic feelings. I'm not making a constitutional point -- let's not argue about what the phrase "establishment of religion" meant to Madison, Mason, and that old powdered-wig-wearing crowd. (If I die a martyr to the US, will I be greeted in paradise by a crowd of Virginians?)

My point, rather, is theological. I believe whole-heartedly that the universe isn't just a bunch of material/mechanical coming and going. Life is more than matter and mind is more than life and the whole of the cosmos is more than its parts -- that More is what we revere as God. Precisely because I believe this, I find it baffling and disheartening when people try to hijack spirituality for nationalism.

On this first Sunday after Independence Day, let us recall the…

Beginning a Discussion of the Supreme Court Term

Another term of the U.S. Supreme Court has come and gone. This year as in most years the court has issued a lot of decisions that are, in their own several ways, fascinating. One will be remembered in the history books as THE decision of this term, and it also plays into a number of my own web of obsessions. That would be NFIB v. Sebelius, also known as “the Obamacare decision.” But I’ll put off my own discussion of that one until next week. Today, I’ll do a round-up of five others of this term’s cases, ordered by the date of decision.
I will also leave out of discussion an important patent law decision from this term, because I have had something to say of that one here.
This leaves the following decisions as of great importance:
Filarsky v. Delia (April 17) –This is an unfortunate case in which the court gave municipal immunity to a private attorney with whom the municipality contracted for a specific investigation.

Generally speaking, municipalities and their employees have a &qu…

On Pragmatism

"Ordinary epistemology contents itself with the vague statement that the ideas must 'correspond' or 'agree' [with reality]; the pragmatist insists on being more concrete, and asks what such 'agreement' may mean in detail. He finds first that the ideas must point to or lead towards that reality and no other, and then that the pointings and leadings must yield satisfaction as their result. So far the pragmatist is hardly less abstract than the ordinary slouchy epistemologist; but as he defines himself farther, he grows more concrete."
- William James.

A slouchy epistemologist might look like this:

Link farming

I'll just offer you a few links on a common theme -- further research is of course up to you. The theme today is the news market in Australia.

In mid June, Fairfax Media announced what it called a restructuring -- a retrenchment might be a more apt term.

Gina Rinehart, a businesswoman whose fortune was made in mining, owns a large stake in Fairfax (close to 19 percent) and she wants to have a seat on the board of directors, presumably because she can help guide the company's future in a value-maximizing way. Or simply as a matter of traditional greenmail.

Either way, the Fairfax chairman isn't seeing things her way.

Fairfax media is a quite diversified company. Its chief publications are The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. Jonathan Green, a fellow who worked for The Age for 15 years, sees things this way.

The above corporate news has become intertwined with a political scandal.  Peter Slipper, the Speaker of Australia's House of Representatives, has become of lat…

Dante and mid-20th Century allusions

June 2013 correction: Most of what I wrote here holds up. But I was wrong about the reference to "The Claimant." Somehow the Roger Tichborne case had escaped me. Oops.


In my now-suspended blog I wrote several entries concerning Dorothy Sayers, and some comments she made in the introduction to her 1949 translation of Dante's Inferno. Today, while we are still quite early in the history of this blog, I'd like to stitch all those entries together. This is my best answer to the question: what did her allusions mean?

The allusions in question arose because Sayers was addressing the question of why contemporary readers need as much apparatus as she had attached in order to understand an early 14th century poet.

"Let us suppose that an Englishman were to write a contemporary Divine Comedy on Dante's model, and that in it, mixed up with a number of scriptural and mythological characters, we were to find, assigned to various circles …