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Fr. 955

December 2, 2019

Looking at descriptions of London from the 17th to 20th centuries, I was struck by the thought that a city is a high-dimension object in relation to which each person’s account is but a lower-level projection. If Samuel Pepys sees disease, William Wordsworth rapturous beauty, Emily Brontë new forms of life, Jack London rampant materialism, Virginia Woolf the thinning out of existence and Bill Bryson uniformity, it is because London is all these things to greater or lesser measure. Each is attuned to a different dimension of one and the same complex object of which each accesses only a part. The importance is in juxtaposing those parts, not willy nilly, but with purpose, in order to make some more adequate, directed picture emerge.


November 29, 2019

fat flakes pelt the man
slush seeps up through shoes
the cold works its way in
limbs seize up, heart slows
and mind fritters away last
moments forever feverish

Fr. 954

November 28, 2019

There are a number of questions still swirling about the dissertation. In no particular, I find myself wonder the following.

Does the individual standpoint displace public reason? Is it net plus-deliberative? (In the end, it seems a matter of shifting bias and complexity from one phase to the next. Perhaps there would be some interest in building in bias and complexity in both earlier and later phases.)

Are there things which Rawls can do which Stout cannot? And vice versa? (It seems likely that Rawls is better equipped to set up fair play institutions.)

Is Stout more concerned with psychology and self-knowledge or legislation and government? (There is certainly a paucity of information about the latter relative to the former.)

Whom does the representative party represent and how fully? Can the representative party represent himself or does this appear as gross misconduct? (Both Rawls and Stout seem inclined to view this as infringing on the value of reciprocity.)

Is Stout’s democratic traditionalism the only possible instantiation of democratic traditionalism? And how does his Emersonian version relate to others? (It seems likely that one might take other democratic exemplars who were equally concerned with the evolution of social norms under democratic life, supposing that one might find them.)

Whom do Stout and Rawls oppose in the end? (It is not so much one another as one might think.)

Travelogue L9

November 27, 2019

The next day saw me back at work. As always, my attention began to wander after several hours’ continuous listening. More than once, I caught myself following the fissures and flakes plaguing the ceiling’s painted figures. With some effort, I managed bring my gaze back to the speaker and returned to listless note-taking. Thankfully, the proceedings were near their end, and the group reconvened for a wine reception a floor below.

Although the walk to the reception room was memorable for its marble stair and niches with classical statues, the reception room made a still more lasting impression. A pair of tall wooden doors opened onto a suite of rooms, the walls of which had been painted to mimic Acadian grove and Roman park. Between faux poplars I could make out a far-off rotunda. Passing through the doors opposite brought me into an idyll of dappled light and distant pools. The underwood’s boughs hid bodies and limbs.


The suite’s final room – or at least the last of those I saw – continued the wooded motif but gave up its secret if one was fortunate enough. For one wall held a door leading to the garden behind the university building. Some colleagues milled around the entrance. More daring, others ventured with a bottle of prosecco to a circle of benches farther out. Rather than hunker down with the prosecco-drinkers, I headed for the far end and the narrow path which I could just make out between overgrown shrubs. A few meters on, I emerged from the muddy footpath into open ground, sodden underfoot, bound by dry-stone walls to either side. I could only admire the commitment and vision which builders and gardeners, painters and drafters had observed in making seamless the transition from garden to suite, from interior into exterior.

Fr. 953

November 26, 2019

Does something like Shklar’s freedom from cruelty and fear fit into all this as a grounded but non-instrumental value? There are a few directions in which one might pursue this thought. Is freedom from cruelty and free the presence of a good (value) or the absence of a bad (disvalue)? There seems nothing strictly necessary to the effect that the absence of a bad (disvalue) is constitutive of a good (value). As to its non-instrumentality, such freedom need not play the role of a tool which enables us to pursue other goods. Certainly, it may be of instrumental value for someone who wishes to make use of that freedom to pursue certain projects, but such value is agent-relative or context-sensitive, so it is not necessarily so. Concerning its groundedness, there are several ways of fleshing this out: avoiding violation of one’s desires, the absence of various forms of disutility, exercising positive control over one’s life. All in all, there is more room for thought on the matter.

Fr. 952

November 25, 2019

When it is a matter of asking what the value of political community is, most political theorists tend to distinguish between instrumental and intrinsic accounts. Either political community is valuable because it is an efficient tool for securing other goods that we desire or it is valuable because it is itself a good that we desire. Yet this picture turns out to be deceptively simple. Might it not be the case that political community is valuable because it forms and makes up the goods that we desire? This plausible tack would be neither instrumental nor intrinsic but constitutive. Similarly, one might question the notion of intrinsic. Should we not distinguish between intrinsic goods which are ungrounded (whose value does not depend on some explanatory/causal feature of the world) and goods which are grounded (whose value depends on such a feature)? This brings us into proximity with Korsgaard’s (1983) picture which distinguishes between extrinsic/intrinsic and instrumental/final values. Finally, it may prove to be the case that only certain of the above distinctions should interest us from a political point of view. For example, if the relevant distinction is that between instrumental and non-instrumental values, then we may have reason to appeal to grounded but non-instrumental values when justifying a particular picture of political society.

Travelogue L8

November 22, 2019

Down the hall from the Archiginnasio’s anatomy room was found a conference hall, home to the odd mishmash of old wainscoting, painted coats-of-arms and sleek seats for visitors. Along one wall ran shelves containing older editions, organized by subject though no longer in circulation. I leaned in to inspect before two volumes of Euler’s Algebra, a work of which I remember next to nothing.


Though I tried to summon from memory the rules to Eulerian paths and circuits – no vertices odd in degree, I could only begin to imagine how the mathematician had arrived at a proof demonstrating such. Perhaps he had simply set foot on the seven bridges of Königsberg, its streets and isles, with such repetition that he no longer needed to feel the paving stones beneath his boots to calculate the degree of each vertex. Inward movement sufficed for outward proof.

Following the shelving to its end in one corner of the room, I found a door opening onto a series of rooms structurally similar to that in which I stood but lined with stacks, not stools. An iron gate barred the way. I leaned as far forward as I dared against bars and stretched out an arm to take a photograph, to capture the memory in my extended mind. The memory’s symmetry and depth was marred only by fissures in the tiles, cracks which ran out of sight beneath the stacks and into the corners. I caught myself wondering whether the fissures contained a Eulerian path that I might also come to know inside and out.