Tag Archives: empiricism

Language, Truth, and Logic

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Language, Truth, and Logic [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by A J (Alfred Jules) Ayer. (See also 2nd edition.)

Ayer Language Truth and Logic

“But it must be understood from the outset that we are not concerned to vindicate any one set of philosophers at the expense of any other, but simply to settle certain questions which have played a part in the history of philosophy out of all proportion to their difficulty or their importance.” (134)

Language, Truth and Logic is a brief and charmingly audacious effort to retire metaphysics and its related issues. Ayer is a mid-20th-century exponent of the Anglo-American analytical tradition in philosophy (including the work of Bertrand Russell and others) which seeks to reduce the discipline to applications of logic. His arguments are sympathetic to the earlier empiricists and positivists, but show more sophistication in pointing out and sometimes surmounting their shortfalls. I am most in accord with his “emotive theory of values” as a method of dispensing with the philosophical concern over ethics. 

Ayers’ professed opposition to “schools” in philosophical discourse reminds me of the ultra-Protestant Plymouth Brethren “coming out of sect” in 19th-century England: they paradoxically insist on a narrowing of their field while claiming to transcend distinctions within it.

The 1946 introduction to the second edition consists of Ayers reconsidering and fine-tuning many of the details in the body of the text. Accordingly, I saved it to read until finishing the original eight chapters. In retrospect, however, because of the intricacies of the arguments, a reader would be better advised to read the 1946 remarks in sequence after each individual chapter.

Although mystics (and magicians, to a lesser degree) are unlikely to find this book easy or pleasant, it would be an invaluable supplement to their intellectual diets. After passing through this crucible, they might proceed to the more congenial offerings of a thinker like Gregory Bateson.

The Shortest Shadow

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Shortest Shadow: Nietzsche’s Philosophy of the Two by Alenka Zupančič, part of the Short Circuits series from The MIT Press:

Alenka Zupančič's The Shortest Shadow

This book is a Lacanian psychoanalytic study of certain issues and themes in Nietzsche’s work. Author Zupančič is primarily concerned to offer a reading in which Nietzsche’s writing upholds and advances a Lacanian idea (I think? I have not read Lacan) of “the Real as the minimal difference of the same,” which is her interpretation of the figure of “the shortest shadow” among Nietzsche’s important “noon” tropes. According to Zupančič, this notion is the crux of a “philosophy of the two” to escape the sort of complementarity which reduces itself to unity.

I came to this book with a very different reading of “the shortest shadow,” and while Zupančič did not persuade me that hers was better, I did enjoy the book. The general gist is antimetaphysical without becoming a rationalist empiricism or materialist positivism — a feature of Nietzsche’s own work, to be sure. It is demanding, though; I found that even the least fatigue on my part could reduce the writing here to gobbledygook. There was more of value for me in the first half of the book than the second, although that was perhaps a function of my limits as a reader.

Zupančič appends an essay “On Love as Comedy,” which treats some of the same issues, without any direct references to Nietzsche. It had been written as a separate project. Somewhat disorientingly in the context of a volume on Nietzsche, its definition of the comedic genre does not relate to classical or even Shakespearean sources. Instead, the exemplars are the Marx Brothers and Charlie Chaplin. And yet references to tragedy are still to Aeschylus, following Lacan.

I might read other volumes in this series edited by Slavoj Zizek — of which The Shortest Shadow is the second. But the experience of this one suggests that I could benefit from a little “remedial” reading in Lacan before I do. [via]


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Solomon’s Secret Arts

Solomon’s Secret Arts: The Occult in the Age of Enlightenment by Paul Kléber Monod, from Yale University Press, is a recent release that may be of interest [HT Arts & Letters Daily, also].

Paul Kléber Monod's Solomon's Secret Arts from Yale University Press


“The late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries are known as the Age of Enlightenment, a time of science and reason. But in this illuminating book, Paul Monod reveals the surprising extent to which Newton, Boyle, Locke, and other giants of rational thought and empiricism also embraced the spiritual, the magical, and the occult.

Although public acceptance of occult and magical practices waxed and waned during this period they survived underground, experiencing a considerable revival in the mid-eighteenth century with the rise of new antiestablishment religious denominations. The occult spilled over into politics with the radicalism of the French Revolution and into literature in early Romanticism. Even when official disapproval was at its strongest, the evidence points to a growing audience for occult publications as well as to subversive popular enthusiasm. Ultimately, finds Monod, the occult was not discarded in favor of ‘reason’ but was incorporated into new forms of learning. In that sense, the occult is part of the modern world, not simply a relic of an unenlightened past, and is still with us today.”