Maquina Lectora

Notes of a curious mind

Category: Philosophy (Page 2 of 2)

I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world

I was very young when I first read The Stranger. It was my first attempt on Albert Camus and I did know nothing about existentialism. I, nevertheless, become captivated by Camus, perhaps because of the strangeness of Meursault, the hero in the novel, his inability to express emotions, his extreme individualism, and his refusal to conform to social norms, characteristics that harmonised nicely with my adolescent sensitivities, alienation and quests for identity.

Today, I have outgrown individualism, at least the kind of individualism that Hayek describes as ‘false individualism’ which is the product of “an exaggerated belief in the powers of individual reason”. Alienation, on the other hand, is still here.

Meursault, a Frenchman in Algiers, lives an isolated life focused in the present. His plans, his idea of the future, barely extend to the end of the day. He is neither unhappy nor happy, he does not feel that life has any meaning and frankly, he does not much bother about it. He is existentially indifferent. Meursault is psychologically detached from other people, even from his own mother, the only family he has. On the announcement of the death of his mother, he shows scarcely a flicker of an emotional response. ‘It occurred to me that anyway one more Sunday was over, that Maman was buried now, that I was going back to work, and that, really, nothing had changed.

He asserts that life is absurd, a series of contingencies with no purpose or meaning. ‘I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world,’ he says. Almost accidentally, he commits an unpremeditated crime, he kills a young Arab. His crime is an act of free will and he assumes full responsibility for this but he does not experience guilt, remorse or shame. He shows the usual indifference and strangeness; he cares about practically nothing.

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Why Liberty: Your Life, Your Choices, Your Future

This is an anthology of essays about why Liberty is important and what it means to be a libertarian (liberal in Europe). The essays, which can be read individually, are written by young people, almost all of them are active in Students For Liberty, a dynamic libertarian international movement, and Tom G. Palmer, Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute, and also the editor. In general, it explores the idea of libertarianism in a context of a general sense; it does not go into great depth, but covers enough to give a basic understanding of the concepts involved.

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The small red book of a "complicated communist".

Slavoj Žižek is unique in that he successfully challenges many of the founding assumptions of today’s left-liberal academy, including the elevation of difference or otherness to ends in themselves, and the pervasive skepticism towards any context-transcendent notions of truth or the good.

His work is idiosyncratic, provocative, discontent. The British literary theorist, Terry Eagleton, described him as the “most formidably brilliant” recent theorist to have emerged from Continental Europe.

It was inevitable that we will discuss about Žižek during my short stay in Ljubljana. And bring back  – a gift  – a small red book, Žižek’s essay “Living in the End of Times“, written especially for Slovenia’s appearance at EXPO 2010, which I read it during my flight back  to the U.K.  The essay is an introduction to his homonymous book.

“Our struggle is not against actual corrupt individuals but against those in power in general; against their authority, against the global order and the ideological mystification which sustains it”, says Žižek.

About the paradox which resides in the retroactive appearance of probability

An event is thus experienced first as impossible but not real (the prospect of a forthcoming catastrophy which however probable we know it is, we do not believe it will effectively occur and thus dismiss it as impossible), and then as real  but no longer impossible (once the catastrophy occurs, it is “renormalized”, perceived as part of the normal run of things, as always – already having been possible). The gap which makes these paradoxes possible is the one between knowledge and belief: we know the (ecological)  catastrophy is possible, probable even, yet we do not believe it will really happen.”

If we are to confront the threat of a catastrophy, Žižek says, we have to introduce a new notion of time. The future is causally produced by our actions in the past, while the way we act is determined by our anticipation of the future and our reaction to this anticipation.  Dupuy proposes to confront the catastrophy

.. we should first perceive it as our fate, as unavoidable, and then, projecting ourselves into it,adopting its standpoint, we should retroactively insert into its past (the past of the future) counterfactual possibilities.

It is a parodoxical formula: we have to accept that, at the level of possibilities, our future is doomed, the catastrophy will take place, it is our destiny – and then, on the background of this acceptance, we should mobilize ourselves to perform the act which will change  destiny itself and thereby insert new possibility into the past. Destiny and free action go hand by hand, Žižek argues.

Freedom is at its most radical the freedom to change one’s Destiny.

The Missing Shade of Blue or the dangers and the delights of philosophy

It was the title that made me pick up this book off the shelf in the library. The Missing Shade of Blue refers to David Hume’s thesis, or rather objection to his thesis, that simple ideas are derived from corresponding simple impressions. But Hume also argues that under certain conditions it seems possible that an idea can emerge without being caused by an impession.  We can imagine a purple horse without having seen one. As he describes in the ‘missing shade of blue’ thought experiment

Suppose, therefore, a person to have enjoyed his sight for thirty years, and to have become perfectly acquainted with colours of all kinds except one particular shade of blue, for instance, which it never has been his fortune to meet with. Let all the different shades of that colour, except that single one, be placed before him, descending gradually from the deepest to the lightest; it is plain that he will perceive a blank, where that shade is wanting, and will be sensible that there is a greater distance in that place between the contiguous colours than in any other. Now I ask, whether it be possible for him, from his own imagination, to supply this deficiency, and raise up to himself the idea of that particular shade, though it had never been conveyed to him by his senses? I believe there are few but will be of opinion that he can: and this may serve as a proof that the simple ideas are not always, in every instance, derived from the correspondent impressions; though this instance is so singular, that it is scarcely worth our observing, and does not merit that for it alone we should alter our general maxim.*

Jennie Erdal’s book , “The Missing Shade of Blue. A philosophical mystery”   refers to our ability to make sense of something that we have not experienced. Happiness, perhaps!

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