Pat Gunn (dachte) wrote,
Pat Gunn

Greetings from Pseudo-Jersey

Having failed to do Chinese food yesterday, today I'm checking out the "other" location of Good Karma Café (one of my frequent hangouts in PHL). This is a bit weird because it's in a part of the city I normally only visit for another coffeeshop I like (Chapterhouse). I'm getting to know this area reasonably well though, and there are a lot of great-looking teahouses/coffeeshops in the area. This Good Karma is much bigger than the other one; it's one of the bigger teahouses I've ever been in, with plenty of outletage, a decent menu, and decent music at just the right level. The chairs are all fairly vanilla, but it's otherwise pretty much what I expect of a good coffeeshop. The prices are kind of high though; soup, a sandwich, and some coffee cost me $17. I am amused that by my IP address I appear to be a Comcast customer in New Jersey.

I almost feel like PHL is trying to court a reluctant me in some way. I am eager to get out of here, but I keep finding new places and new things to like about the place. I was also amused to find that I can use SEPTA to go about halfway to NYC; apparently there really are zone 5 and zone 6 areas for SEPTA regional rail, and TrentonNJ is in Zone 6. From there, I could hop another train (reasonable fare) to Penn Station in NYC. Megabus is still slightly cheaper and a bit faster though, but also more smelly. Reading from people who have done SEPTA-NJTransit, it sounds like a lot of the reason AMTRAK is so expensive is that it tries to provide luxury-airline-style service. To the extent that's true, I wish AMTRAK would cut that out. There's no reason we shouldn't have affordable and fast rail service between American cities. It should not be more efficient to take a bus.

Still very slowly rereading Aristotle's 「Nicomachean Ethics」, and I'm coming to find ancient Greek philosophy to be adorable. The phrasing there is very intentional; pretty much every Greek philosopher I've read has that same holding-language-too-tightly problem I often gripe about, and this lack of distance between their thoughts and the language in which it's expressed/structured means they easily reach conclusions through linguistic tricks. Aristotle really seems to believe there's some solidity between different concepts of "the good" and he's keen to find something that he can't knock down with a little bit of self-questioning. It's not only language he should mistrust; particular conceptualisations of his general intuitions also need to be examined in the light of other particulars. He marks "happiness" as deeply tied to his notion of the good, because we don't seek it as a step towards a greater means, and because it is sufficient to seek in life. I dispute both of these (we might want to just be happy enough to enable us to seek virtue or knowledge and thus have a subordinate version of happiness; I will in fact claim that virtue does not come in seeking happiness, but rather this unqualified quest is an ugly hedonism). The best stab I can offer at a wide variety of classic Greek thought is that neither language nor concept are first-class entities in the universe. Neither is either unitary; both compete against innumerable variants and cousins and semi-parallels. I mark as impossible the Greek dream of philosophies (or maths) reaching the level of truth and touching the true. All of them must be pragmatic, handmade, not-provable-at-their-roots, and fallable. And yet useful.

All that said, I think the Greeks often had great ideas about how the social practice of philosophy should work.

I think one of the things I would like to impress on American political discourse is an obligation to be civilised. That is a pretty heavy word in my philosophy; the practice of millenia of civilisation, with some effort paid to the concerns and existing solutions that we've known so far. A deep historical context, combined with a notion of what we are as a species, and structured empathy for each other. There are times when we cannot be civilised, and times when the notion that if we individually or society are bad enough that people will dissolve the rules/obligations between us and act in direct self-interest. Also, the notion that the partial or total end of society is not something to be celebrated; it's a last resort if our back is placed against the wall. I believe we should try to build a notion of being civilised, and that we should prize being civilised. and we should be wary of things (like radical individualism, or excessive anger, or other parts of instinct) that are anathema to civilisation.


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