Monday, December 29, 2008


Reading Aristotle's logic. He treats "attributes" as real entities, just as mathematicians sometimes treat numbers as real things, much to my disdain. Thus, he talks about "essential attributes" -- those which cannot be separated from the thing while the thing remains what it is (e.g. "wet" is an essential attribute of "water" -- if it's not water, it's not water) and "accidental attributes" -- those which can be separated from the thing and yet the thing remain what it is (e.g. "black" is an accidental attribute of "dog" because a dog may be black, but may also be something other than black and still be a dog).

This strikes me as reflecting the same Realism as sometimes shows up in math -- treating "2" is a real entity, rather than merely a linguistic tool we use to describe a particular group of items in reality, or a particular concept in pure math. Or how we sometimes describe "perfection" as a real entity or attribute, rather than simply a linguistic tool we use to describe something that embodies what we wish it to be for a particular purpose.

But these attributes, like numbers, are merely artifacts of our categorization. "Brown" may be an accidental attribute of "dog," but not of "chocolate lab." The attributes have no real existence, except insofar as they are useful ways of categorizing reality in a way we can comprehend.

Does that make the labels useless? By no means. But once we start treating those labels as real, it seems to me that we get in trouble. In this case, we start arguing about whether a particular attribute is "essential" or "accidental" with respect to a particular entity. Is God "necessarily perfect" as Anselm argued? The whole discussion, unfortunately, is meaningless -- an argument over labels, and without substance.

That fundamental distinction between "reality" and "concept" makes thought so much clearer.

Concept is our way to describing reality, because without concept, we cannot relate to reality. Concepts without corresponding physical reality may be useful (e.g. "Love" describes a particular state of mind, but has no defined physical reality) -- however, they should not be treated as having reality as an entity (e.g. "God is Perfection and Perfection existsn, therefore God exists").

Sunday, December 28, 2008

True love.

"She introduced me to so many things: pasteurized milk; sheets; monotheism; presents on your birthday; preventative medicine." -- Dwight.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Class superiority

From Aristotle's Rhetoric, Book 1, Chapter 7:

"Again, if the largest member of one class surpasses the largest member of another, then the one class surpasses the other; and if one class surpasses another, then the largest member of the one surpasses the largest member of the other. Thus, if the tallest man is taller than the tallest woman, then men in general are taller than women. Conversely, if men in general are taller than women, then the tallest man is taller than the tallest woman. For the superiority of class over class is proportionate to the superiority possessed by their largest specimens."

Fascinating. We no longer use that measure for the superiority of the class. Today, we would object "You cannot overgeneralize -- you cannot say 'men are taller than women' when some women are in fact taller than some men." You can say "This particular man is taller than this woman" or "The average height of all men is taller than the average height of all women."

I wonder if this type of thinking also resulted in the sexism of the Greeks. They looked around for the "strongest, smartest, most powerful person," and they found a man (for whatever reason). Using Aristotle's reasoning, men as a class are therefore stronger, smarter, and more powerful than women. Particular cases are not seen as particularly important -- that is, that a particular women may well be stronger, smarter, and more powerful than a particular man.

The overgeneralization is then enshrined into law and thought, and women are subordinated as a class. All based on a poor syllogism.


From Aristotle's Rhetoric, Book 1, Chapter 8:

"A Democracy is a form of government under which the citizens distribute the offices of state among themselves by lot, whereas under oligarchy there is a property qualification, under aristocracy one of education. By education I mean that education which is laid down by the law; for it is those who have been loyal to the national institutions that hold office under an aristocracy. These are bound to be looked upon as "the best men," and it is from this fact that this form of government has derived its name ("the rule of the best"). Monarchy, as the word implies, is the constitution in which one man has authority over all. [1366a] There are two forms of monarchy: kingship, which is limited by prescribed conditions, and "tyranny," which is not limited by anything."

It looks like we use the word "aristocracy" in a different way than the ancients did. What we call aristocracy (rule by a few, rich people with old money and land, regardless of their educational/personal qualifications), Aristotle called oligarchy. We call call meritocracy (rule by the educated -- or "best" men), Aristotle called aristocracy.

I'm curious how that took place. Did the European oligarchs begin calling themselves "aristocrats" at this point, in an effort to legitimize their oligarchy by projecting the impression that they were not merely wealthy, but also educated, meritorious, and the best? Did the word then acquire negative connotations associated with those who used it? Was everybody else so uneducated that they accepted the label as given, rather than objecting "This is not an aristocracy! This is an oligarchy!"

Seems like (if this occurred) a similar phenomenon occurred with the term "fundamentalist." "Fundamentalist" means get back to the basics and don't get caught up in all the legalistic nonsense. But it was coopted by legalistic people, and acquired negative connotations associated with the people who used it, until now it means "legalistic" rather than "getting back to the basics." And of course the critics of "fundamentalism" simply coopt the label based on those who claim it, instead of objecting, "You are not acting like a fundamentalist -- you are acting like a Pharisee!"

I wonder how often word switches like that happen. Probably the word "liberal" too, which now describes those support government intervention rather than those who ascribe to the laissez-faire thinking of classical "liberal" thought ...

As a side note, he says that in a "democracy," the people distribute offices by lot (meaning by chance). That's very different from how we use the term democracy (the vote). Which societies were distributing offices by lot!?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Guilt and power

Suppose somebody felt that acting for the benefit of another person could only stem from guilt -- rather than a self-oriented joy at seeing someone else happy. They then have a choice: either they assume that guilt on themselves (becoming a self-sacrificial martyr), or they project that guilt onto others (becoming controlling and manipulative). Two sides of the same coin.

The result: if you offer them something out of kindness, they will turn it down, because they feel guilty. However, if they demand something out of you (citing your moral obligation to comply), they would judge you if you refused to comply.

That's how guilt destroys.

The only answer, I think, is a paradigm shift from guilt to enlightened pleasure. Enjoy receiving, because it is good. Enjoy giving, because it is fun.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Osmanli political-economic system

"Moslems alone were obliged to perform military service, and were thus alone eligible for the tenure of land. This was distributed as a reward for service and provided a source of recruitment in the form of military fiefs, free of taxes. Christians were exempt from military service, hence benefitted from no such landed rights. Instead they paid a head tax for the army's support. In the country districts this made them subservient in status to the landholding Moslems. Thus they tended to live and work in the cities and towns, where such civil disabilities were counterbalanced by economic advantage. But through voluntary conversion to Islam, the Christian became automatically an Osmlani, with his origins soon forgotten, enjoying freedom from taxation, the right to hold land, opportunities for advancement, and a share in the benefits of the Moslem ruling elite. Hence, at this stage of Ottoman history in Asia, the growing number of converts to Islam.

Feudal though it was, this Ottoman system of land tenure through military fiefs differed essentially from the feudal system in Europe, in that the landholdings were small and above all seldom hereditary. For all land was the property of the state. Thus at this stage there was to arise in the Ottoman empire no landed nobility, such as prevailed throughout Europe. The sultans retained absolute ownership of the soil they conquered. Moreover, as they continued to conquer, more holdings became available as rewards for more soldiers. Within the framework of this system Orkhan now organized, with the initial advice of his brother, Ala-ed-Din, a regular standing army under the sovereign's command, a professional military force on a permanent war footing, of a kind not to be emulated in Europe for a further two centuries."

Lord Kinross, The Ottoman Centuries, p. 33

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Inches and AUs

63,360 inches in a mile. 63,239 astronomical units in a lightyear. That's less than .2% different. What's up with that?

Saturday, December 6, 2008


A few weeks ago, I posted about my discovery that there wasn't a "dark ages," but rather a shift in the center of Christian civilization from Rome to Constantinople, where Christian civilization and scholarship thrived for another thousand years. Today, I discovered something else -- the "renaissance" was not so much a rebirth of interest in scholarship as an exodus of scholars from Constantinople in the last 50 years before it fell to the Muslims in ... coincidentally ... 1453 -- right at the beginning of the "renaissance."

Scholars who left Constantinople in the 15th Century:

Manuel Chrysoloras -Florence, Pavia, Rome, Venice, Milan
George Gemistos Plethon -Teacher of Bessarion
George of Trebizond -Venice, Florence, Rome
Theodorus Gaza -First dean of the University of Ferrara, Naples and Rome
John Argyropoulos -Universities of Florence, Rome, Padua teacher of Leonardo da Vinci
Laonicus Chalcocondyles
Demetrius Chalcondyles -Milano
Theofilos Chalcocondylis -Florence
Constantine Lascaris -University of Messina
Henry Aristippus
Michael Apostolius -Rome
Aristobulus Apostolius
Arsenius Apostolius
Demetrius Cydones
Janus Lascaris or Rhyndacenus -Rome
Maximus the Greek studied in Italy before moving to Russia
Ioannis Kottounios -Padua
Konstantinos Kallokratos
Barlaam of Seminara -Teacher of Boccacio
Marcus Musurus -University of Padua
Michael Tarchaniota Marullus -Ancona and Florence, friend and pupil of Jovianus Pontanus
Leo Allatius -Rome, librarian of the library of Vatican
Demetrios Ducas
Leozio Pilatus -Teacher of Petrarch and Boccacio
Leo Allatius, portrait in the Collegio Greco of Rome
Maximus Planudes -Rome, Venice
Leonard of Chios -Greek-born Roman-Catholic prelate
Simon Atumano -Bishop of Gerace in Calabria
Isidore of Kiev
Elia del Medigo -Venice
George Hermonymus -University of Paris, teacher of Erasmus, Reuchlin, Budaeus and Jacques Lefèvre d'Étaples
John Chrysoloras -scholar and diplomat: relative of Manuel Chrysoloras, patron of Francesco Filelfo
Andronicus Contoblacas -Basel, teacher of Johann Reuchlin
John Servopoulos -Reading, Oxford; scholar, professor
Johannes Crastonis Modena, Greek-Latin dictionary
Andronicus Callistus -Rome
Gerasimos Vlachos -Venice
George Amiroutzes -Florence, Aristotelian
Gregory Tifernas -Paris teacher of Jacques Lefèvre d'Étaples and Robert Gaguin
Nikolaos Sophianos -Rome, Venice: scholar and geographer, creator of the Totius Graeciae Descriptio
Totius Graeciae Descriptio
Zacharias Calliergi -Rome
Mathew Devaris -Rome
Antonios Eparchos -Venice, scholar and poet
Maximos Margunios -Venice
Mathaeos Kamariotis
Nikolaos Loukanis -Venice
Iakovos Trivolis-Venice
Janus Plousiadenos -Venice, hymnographer and composer

So there was no "renaissance of knowledge after a long period of religious superstition." All the smart people were living in Constantinople until the city was taken over by foreign invaders. Those scholars spread throughout Christian Europe, bringing their knowledge with them, and bringing the light of philosophy and science -- which had grown vastly during the 1000 year Christian empire -- to the dark, ignorant continent of Europe.

Just as the "Dark Ages" was merely the shift in cultural power and influence from Pagan Rome to Christianizing Constantinople, the "Renaissance" was merely the shift in cultural power and influence from Christian Constantinople to Christian Europe.