Sunday, 28 August 2011

Great War, Great Pessimism.

Welcome to another post on philosophical audio collections and lectures.  Today we hit on a lecture that talks about one of the biggest changes in European thought, culture and civilisation.  The lecture is called "The Great War and Cultural Pessimism" from the course "European Thought and Culture in the 20th Century", which is taught by Professor Lloyd Kramer.

Professor Lloyd Kramer
Every now and then when I am not looking into philosophy courses, I probably end up listening to history lectures.  The thing is that sometimes philosophical ideas drive the changes throughout history, but every so often it is the great events of the age that influence philosophical ideas.  The Great War, otherwise known as World War I certainly influenced many ideas on the western stage. 

If you manage to get hold of this course, pay some attention to this lecture, especially if you are interested in how Europeans saw themselves after the disastrous Great War.  Lloyd Kramers lecturing style keeps the listener interested from start to go, especially since lectures on the Great War can be quite difficult since many historians still research on what was to blame in leading up to the clash of European nations and what led to the decline in European power and influence.

Within this lecture Lloyd covers what the Great War was about.  We get to listen to why Britain, France and Russia (The Triple Entente) went to war again Germany, Austria and the Ottoman Empire (Triple Alliance).  There are many questions that one needs to consider before listening to the lecture.  Why did the war last so long? What were the freedoms of those who continued to sign up to the front? Even though so many died, why did many continue to go to the front? What ideas came out of the disaster of the Great War?

Professor Lloyd then moves on to the ideas of two famous people who experienced the Great War. The first is on Robert Graves who wrote the autobiography called "Good-Bye to All That", which was released around 1929.  Robert Graves book summarised what many people were thinking about the rapid changes after the great war.  The good times for the previous generation were gone and now the age of pessimism begins.  Robert Graves served as a British army officer during the battle of Loos. His book gives account of the horrors and realities of the Great War, which so many governments at the time were trying to hide within the cloak of nationalism.


Robert Graves
The next person Professor Lloyd focuses on is Oswald Spengler whose book called "The Decline of the West", which was very popular after the war.  Many Europeans were soul searching wondering if the ideals of Europe were the best to follow if it led to the disasters of the Great War. Within this book, we have Oswald explain that the west is currently in decline as with many other eras of the west.  His book mentions different cultures from the Babylonian, Chinese and 6 other cultures.  He compares them to the western view of culture and states there are patterns where decline was inevitable for the west.  Each culture goes through a season of changes from spring to winter, where winter would be the decline and fall.  

Oswald Spengler
At the end of the lecture we get to look into who benefited from the war and who suffered.  Obviously those who lost their lives from the war gained nothing and they needed a voice.  Women's rights gained some important changes as governments began to recognise the value, commitment and rights of women.  We then look at the break up of 3 empires after the war and touch on those who felt alienated from society after the war.


Monday, 22 August 2011

The Social Contract

Welcome to another post on philosophy-101 blog.  Today we have an audio introduction to The worlds 100 greatest books.  This audio package delivers an introduction to why these books are the greatest, the period the books were set in, the brief introductions about the author of the book and then the audio goes into some detail about the story.  Some books in this package are not even novels; some of the books are non-fiction.  Just like the one I hope to describe here in this blog.

There are such a vast array of books within the audio collection, that the package will not give you the whole story of each book word to word.  That would take far too long, but you will get some idea about why such the books are so famous. 

The audio package is released by intelliquest who also did the audio collection called "The world's 100 greatest people".  The reason they released such a collection on books, is because life is so short and some books can take so long to read.  One of the books called “War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy would take months to read, maybe years, however it is a very easy book to read, but here the audio collection will give you a much shorter the breakdown, summary and idea behind the book along with some symbolism.   Can you imagine trying to read and understand “Ulysses” by James Joyce? Unfortunately this collection does not cover James Joyces materials, but it does cover Shakespeare, Stendhal, Gustave Flaubert, Goethe and many more.

I recommend if you are really interested in the study of literature, please visit shmoop gamma.  With that site you get an even more detailed analysis, summary and plenty of famous quotes.  Shmoop  offers breakdowns on tougher books including “Altas Shrugged” by Ayn rand, “Ulysses”  by James Joyce and so much more literature.  Perhaps you can use the Shmoop in conjunction with the audio collection.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Well lets delve into the book I hope to discuss on the blog today.  The book is indeed quite famous or infamous depending who you are talking to.  The book is called “The Social Contract" by Jean-Jacques Rousseau.  This book is number 73 within the audio package and each section is usually 30 to 45 minutes.   Rousseau did not have an easy upbringing, his mother died after his birth and his father left him when he was aged 10.

When Rousseau was in his teens, he left for Paris because he became bored and felt trapped in his home town.  He was drawn to the bright lights of the city, working in many fields.  He found his calling in literature and philosophy, although Rousseau was skilled in many fields.  Rousseau won a competition which raised the question if the arts and sciences did society a disservice.  Rousseau submitted a paper called "Discourse on the Arts and Sciences", which argued why the arts and sciences were dangerous to society.

Rousseau took this step further by publishing his most famous book called "The social contract", which this audio collection describes in some detail.

Interestingly Rousseau is nearly the opposite of what Thomas Hobbes (another philosophy from England) explained about the state of man's nature in society.  In Hobbe's book called "leviathan".  Thomas felt that man without an established society was weak, living in fear, violent and dangerous.  Hobbes argued for a social contract where all would give up their power to the absolute ruler and that contract would hopefully bind all men to live in safety.

Thomas hobbes
Rousseau disagreed and felt that complex societies actually made men more brutal, dangerous, and living in fear and stress.  Rousseau felt that man who lived without the need society or possessions did better off, because they did not fear who would take things away from them.  All man would need was a place to sleep, eat and not be corrupted by power or knowledge.  Rousseau felt such men were "Noble savages". 

Rousseau's ideas caused friction with those who were in power at the time and Rousseau was hounded by the government and monarchy.  Rousseau was even jailed when he criticised those in power. The audio book discusses Rousseau's life, the idea behind his book and its influences.

You will not be disappointed with this collection.  That is unless you really want to read all the books on the list and there is no reason why, but to get through 100 books can take nearly a life time, and some books are not always a fun read.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Art defining man's nature and itself

Back for a new month and I have been so busy listening to audio courses over the internet, I have forgotten all about the blog.  Well I have decided to add another post today on a lovely lecture, which I have listened to for the 10th time.  This particular lecture is "lecture 5 art and the Post-War "Crisis of Meaning"".  The lecture is from the course called "Interpreting the 20th Century: The Struggle over Democracy".

Professor Pamela Radcliff
The course has been around for some time, but it’s still available off The Teaching company’s website.  It is taught by Professor Pamela Radcliff.  So then, why do I listen to this particular lecture so many times? even though there are 48 lectures in the course.  Do not get me wrong, I do listen to some of the other lectures, but this one grabs my attention for a number of reasons.  Basically I am interested how high art and culture affects and inspires society. The other reasons are that this lecture is highly informative on some of the major art movements after the turn of the war.  Within this lecture it discusses Dadaism, Surrealism and futurism art movements.

To be honest, art analysis can be difficult to understand, so the next reason why I replay this lecture is that some notes are not so easy to take in, but it’s worth the time because understanding art makes you understand the period or time the art was set.  This then lends to your cultural understanding of artist movements.

So then? What are these art movements and why were they formed?  You might have noticed that I mentioned these art movements sprung up after the Great War or World War I.  If there was high culture influencing nationalism, imperialism and man's reason to fight, then after a devastating war, there must be a counter culture.  These were some of the movements. 

The first being Dada or Dadaism.  Its main point was to state that everything means nothing, I mean everything is nonsense.  Do not try to even bother to understand or interpret dada because you will be sucked into meaningless confusion.  Dada was a criticism of the rationality that drove the great nations to war. It was an attack on colonisation and superiority over others.  Aimed at the masses, Dada hoped to push its message across that everything is meaningless.

Dadaist Art
Next we move on to another big art movement called Surrealism, which actually came out of a mix of Dadaism.  Surrealism relied heavily on producing art which seems to come out of someone’s dreams.  It looks so real, but then the art is odd, what the art defines cannot possibly exist and yet it is right before us in its representation.  No more do we have art representing the landscape, the trees or portraits, no much pictures representing religion.  We now have art representing the impossible, the imaginative the sublime.  Surrealism lent itself not only to art, but also the philosophical theories, to literature and films. If you want to look into surrealist art then Salvador Dali is a good start, but there are many others.

Gala and the Tigers, Surrealist art
Next we move onto the last of the major art movements after the Great War and this would be the futurist movement or futurism.  The main point of this movement was the look towards the future.  Futurists are sick and tired of anything old. The old art is slow, distant and boring.  Now we get art that emphasis speed, technology and most of all the future.  Pamela gives a great example of how futurists see themselves, she gives an example of a person getting into a car and driving off, but futurists see themselves moulding with the car. The see the car as something completely different, they see movement as a potential for violence. 

Unique Forms of Continuity in Space
Every so often I tend to visit the Tate modern museum and up on the top floor you will see pop art and the famous “Unique Forms of Continuity in Space" by Umberto Boccioni.  Notice that even though the art is still, it defines speed and movement. You can just imaging the human moving at great speed.

One thing to notice about these movements is that they lend themselves to the Postmodern tradition.  It can be very hard to work out what the actual paintings, sculptures or designs mean.  The representation is all over the place and that’s the way these artists like it. This is one defining feature of Postmodernism, which is a critic of modernism. Or a critic of what came before it.

If you ever get hold of this course, you will enjoy this lecture.  Pamela's lecture style isn’t too exciting, but she makes up for it in sheer detail and information, which is why I come back again and again.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

The Meaning of Death

It had to happen.  I mean although it’s not one of the biggest questions concerning philosophers, usually it is one of the answers to the meaning of life.

Death.

Yet, it’s not so simple, because as you might know within philosophy there are questions about questions and that’s when we get metaphysical.  So now the biggest question is what is the meaning of death?

Well I have two great pieces of news.  The first is there is a course on the meaning of death.  It is called "death", which is obvious for a course on death I guess. It is taught by Professor Shelly Kagan from Yale University.  The second piece of great news is that this course is FREE!  Unlike the audio book for the meaning of life which isn't really free.

Prof Shelly Kagan
The course has 23 lectures and it covers several aspects relating to the meaning of death, but be warned, some of the lectures are aimed at high level graduates, while most of the lectures are available for anyone to dive into. 

Let’s have a closer look at what this course covers?

Kagan lets us know his conclusion about death at the start of the course, if you do not like his answers, do not let it put you off the course entirely, since the course is quite an eye opener.  We all can get something from the course.

We get to look into the dualism which is mind/body problem of death, which is to state what happens after death.  Do we get to live on in another form? Do we have a soul? Does that soul die also? 

We then move on the Plato's arguments for the soul and for most of you out there, Plato believed that we can live on in another form, but are his arguments cohesive?  Do they make sense?

Next the course moves on to personal identity, I would say this part of the course is where things get little tough, because the course seems to move on to what is known as individuation theory.  What is the identify of something through space and time when it ceases to exists?  We then move on to how we can be sure if the identify of something or a person is lost? Such theories work best on mechanical objects like a car or train, which Kegan will actually use to define this difficult concept.

We then move on to the badness of death, where we get help from Leo Tolstoy (the Great Russian novelist) and some other great novelists.  What is so bad about death? How does existentialism fit into the definition of death?  This lecture I felt was a real eye opener, but at times I just cannot help trying to break or counter Kagan's logic on why he felt some arguments for the badness of death does not make sense.

The course then moves on to immortality, who on earth does not want to be immortal? I mean is death such a bad thing that one prefers to live forever instead?  Maybe this is not such a good idea as Kagan explores this subject in great detail.  I have not been through all the lectures, but mainly identify theory, badness of death and dualism.  I have also just listened to lecture 22 called “The fear of death”.

Time flows away


Fear of death

On this particular lecture, we look at the emotions.  Is it appropriate to have a fear of death?  What are the conditions for these emotions?  Here we look at the psychology of death concerning if we have anyone to blame for death.  We know death is coming, so who is to blame?  How shall we feel when death takes its icy claws and draws nearer to us? 

This lecture also takes a look at our personification of death?  If there is someone to blame, then how does this affect our emotions?  Examples of the personification of death would be god, since many people would blame god for allowing us to live and then taking our lives or placing in the condition that we have to die, this idea is explained psychologically in this lecture.

We examine pride, fear, sadness and anger. One thing about being alive is that we cannot avoid our emotions. Our emotions revel themselves to events even before we think, maybe perhaps they are ingrained deep within us, perhaps learnt from society or from our habits.  Yet when it comes to death, are our emotions rational? Are the emotions appropriate?

Some emotions like sadness or worry might make sense, but it seems fear actually might not be rational since fear does not three conditions.  I will not tell you all of the conditions, because I want you to listen to this lecture, heck! I want you to listen to the course (if you have time).  Alas time is short, so make time before death takes us, because the meaning to life can heavily lend to the meaning of death and to make sense of life, we must come to terms with death.  Within this course we shall find meaning and this is the meaning of death.

Style of course

The lectures (except the first one) are long, nearly an hour per lecture.  That’s good, because there is so much to get out of this course, but then it’s bad if you want to get a straight answer.  It is worse if you find the course might be out of your level and you still find that you do not understand the meaning of death.  

Kagan loves to use examples for his theories, which is good because some theories are difficult to get your head around.  This course looks at highly metaphysical arguments, which means beyond ideas that could be easily measured, so Kagan will try to lessen the damage by tackling tough answers from our psychological understand of death. 

Sometimes Kagan might take some time to get to a point, but its worth waiting around, because again the ideas can be pretty hard to work out.  You might have to read in between the lines.  Make sure you listen to the lectures more than once, some will not make sense and you may have to reference the lectures against other material.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Philosophy talk from Australia, back to the old style

Just been listening to a radio show based in sunny Australia.  The show is a slot on ABC radio and it looks to be still running.  This particular show is called "The Philosophers Zone" and has been running since 2005.  Their site must have over 300 dedicated philosophy subjects and guess what? They are all free for download.

Today I was listening to a 25 minute talk hosted by Alan Saunders.  The subject was about the rise of three Greek schools in the Hellenistic period.  The title of the subject is called "The Therapy of Desire - Epicureans and Stoics on the good life".

Alan Saunders
We have Alan Saunders talk to Martha Nussbaum from the University of Chicago, who seems to be a specialist of Greek philosophy.  She mentions about why these schools were founded, their philosophy and influence on later philosophers, especially in towards the Roman period.

So let’s have a brief look at these schools.



The Epicureans

The Epicureans basically looked at philosophy being used for therapy against irrationality and harmful desires.  Their view on life would be an appreciation of beauty, detachment from earthly delights and being free for fear, especially death.  We have the famous quote from Epicurus who said, "When we exist death is not, and when death exists we are not"

The Stoics

Here in this school, the Stoics wanted to spread forth the belief that our emotions can be destructive if we act upon irrationality.  Stoicism pushes forward the idea that men should be free not only from grief, but also from Joy and be steadfast not only in belief, but how we behave.  

Our emotions can obviously be destructive to others if we act irrationally from anger, but worst of all; we can eventually destroy ourselves.

The stoics stressed that each man must live according to the reason within nature.

The Cynics

The talk does not go deeply into what the cynics did, but here is a little breakdown.  Mainly what the modern age knows of the Cynics is that they are doubtful of knowledge and felt that all knowledge should be questionable.  Cynics also taught that people must live free from desires, being wealth, fame, power and even being overly concerned with our health.  Our lives must be lived through a rational agreement with nature.  You might notice some stoicism within the cynics, so their ideas did merge from the two schools.

Why did these schools form?

Well, back in the Hellenistic period, war was rife and it was hard enough to survive. Fights broke out over the simplest things due to anger, desire, fear and irrationality and it seemed the best way to counter such emotions was through rationality. 

What best way to do this then use Philosophy of course!!

With such rationality, we can cure the irrational thoughts that can lead to pain and sorrow, thus people will become peaceful and seek higher forms of living.  Notice I have mentioned peaceful rather than happier, because again being happy might be brought around by irrational thoughts.  These being lust, money, fame can all make one happy, but in the end those emotions (if unchecked) can cause stress to society.

The talk continues on the problems of these philosophies.  Sometimes the philosophies go to their extremes, where one not only detaches themselves away from the painful emotions, but eventually detaches themselves away from their loved ones, even family and friends.  I think its because death takes us all and we must learn not to become too attached to each other. Not only can death destroy our attachments, but people can be un-trust worthy, people can turn on you for the slightest of reasons, so we must hold our emotions back, keep them in check and not be so vengeful. 

The show is quite short and could only cover the ethics taught within these schools.  The schools also looked at logic, poetry, physics and the study of nature.

There are hundreds of episodes from "The Philosophers Zone".  I hope to cover many of them. Feel free to download from their site.

Friday, 15 July 2011

The Meaning of Life

Hello folks.

I have just listened to an audio book called "The Meaning of life" by Terry Eagleton.  To be fair I have not listened to the entire book as yet, but I thought I would mention it today in the blog.  Why should I mention such a book? Well come to think of it, the question "What is the meaning of life" is perhaps one of the most basic, most philosophic questions of all. 

Book Cover
I usually visited a site called Yahoo Answers to answer questions asked to budding armchair philosophers and the question that most pops up within the forum is "What is the meaning of life?".  Well this audio book, or book depending what you get hold of, will help us discover the answers to such a basic question.  Yet be warned. There are many answers to this question and although the audio book is simple in tone, the answers the book gives lead on to more difficult questions.

One might as well ponder if it was even worth asking such a question.

Take heart though, it is always good at some point to ask such a question, because the information we receive lets us ponder over life's questions, which can hopefully lead to wisdom.

Let us now take a deeper look at the first part of the audio book.  The first section is called Questions and Answers. There are other sections, but I have not listened to those yet.

As I have listened to the audiobook around several times, I decided to break down the main answers the audiobook has passed on.

We shall look at around Seven sections.

The question - What is so important about the question of the meaning of life?
The question definition - What does this question actually mean?
The history of the meaning - The questions progression throughout history
What it means to different philosophers - Different interpretations.
It’s Role - How does the question serve us?
It’s Usage - How it is used each time the question is asked?
The Answer - Well, plain and simple, the answers of the meaning of life.




The question

Let us examine briefly how this lovely audio book looks at what is so important about such a question.  The question "What is the meaning of life" actually used to be the most fundamental question asked to philosophers, considering before that, the question used to be "Why is there something, rather than nothing?".

I guess such a question could have been asked to the Greek philosopher Socrates, until he in turn started to ask questions to other people, rather than answering people's questions.  

The book shows us how such a question can twists and turn each time we ask about it, but the thing is such a  question is important, because it gives our lives meaning.  We need to sometimes stop and check if we are not wasting our time. Perhaps we just want to copy what other people are doing with their lives.

The question definition

This is perhaps the answer most philosophers of the modern age will reply to anyone who asks them such a question. Perhaps Wittgenstein turned around and answered that it is not the answer, but how the question is asked.

It might go so far to be said that you will not get a right answer if you ask an impossible question.  Most philosophers these days will look at the structure of the question or go so far to deconstruct the question (break down the hidden meaning of the question). The audio book will help us examine the questions structure

The history of the meaning

It used to be so easy in the early days; it used to be all so easy.  When someone asked such a question, the answer would be "God".  God is the meaning to all life and all our problems will be solved.  This perhaps was the earliest answer to the question one can probe.  You can replace the word "God", with other religious deities, but there is no denying that religion will often point on the responsibility of such an answer to another mysterious force.

Now throughout the ages, people who hit a life crisis, or even just began to seriously ponder to themselves, they just kept asking the question over and over again.  The answer to this question began to change as religion in the west ended up letting people down through corruption, persecution and most often unexplained answers.

(I am not saying that religion is fully at fault, but this is the history of the meaning of life problem)

So in turn people invented their own meaning, perhaps a good era would be idealism, romanticism, enlightenment and modernism, but even those ideas failed, because after the horror of world wars leading to the cold war. We are again forced to ask ourselves what is the meaning to life. 

Now fast forward to the present. It’s not so easy anymore because Postmodernism has crept in and says "We know the answer, but unfortunately there are so many standpoints, there are many answers and perhaps too many answers".  This audiobook will tell us the history of such a question.

What it means to different philosophers

There is not one type of philosopher these days.  If you are a philosopher you might end up being classed in a category of philosophers.  Perhaps you’re a Structualist, a Pragmatists, Rationalist, maybe a Postmodernist or Nilhist, maybe your not in a group of philosophies and follow a major philosopher instead.  What I am trying to say is that you will get a different answer depending on which philosopher you ask.

A nilishist will tell you that there is no meaning to the meaning of life; a deconstructor will ask you 10 questions to your 1 question.  Some philosophers will tell you to think for yourself.  Others will say that that the question has a language problem.

It’s Role

I can guess that the role of such a question is to give our lives meaning.  So the meaning of life is the value or quality that is fed back to our lives or at least what we take from it.  This would be a pragmatists way of viewing the meaning of life.

Yet, oddly enough, the answer to the meaning of life will twist and turn each stage of our lives. To make things worse, as soon as you ask such a question, For example I could ask "What is the meaning of life", then end up asking "What is the meaning of the answer to the meaning of life" or worse "what is the meaning to the question of what is the meaning of life", which is what we are defining now.

So in essence the answer will in turn lead to more questions, but we all have to start somewhere. Don't we?

The usage

One thing about asking what the meaning of life is, that it can be asked even if your not in a crisis.  It is a misconception that those who ask such a question are always depressed. You can actually ask such a question out of some life affirming value.  Perhaps some of us are not too easily satisfied.  Yet those who do not ask such questions might actually be worried the answer, which might make them depressed.

The answer

The meaning of life hopefully aims to push us into viewing the answers of life with profound thought, usually there are no single answers.  Perhaps we can view it as that there is no meaning of life, it could be that the problem is with the question and how it is asked.

It could be counted that it is the questions, not answers which are the most difficult thing.

Yet the good news is there are answers and if you get hold of this audio book, your life will bring onto itself new meaning.  Even if you have to ask new questions.

One last note: Always look on the bright side of life.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Big Brother is still Watching you

Here is a lecture I have been listening time and time again.  It’s from the audio company, which is called "The Teaching Company" and the course is called "Books that Can Change Your Life" taught by J. Rufus Fears.

Well what can I say about this particular lecture? I have watched the film starring John Hurt.  I read part of the book, listened to the play narrated by David Niven and now I get a detailed analysis of the famous book "1984". The book was written by George Orwell and in a nutshell the book was aimed at communist Russia just after the Second World War. 

Book Cover of 1984
This lecture is number 19 out of 32 lectures, I could not help skip some of the other lectures.  They are all important books and I am sure listen to them in time, but 1984 is so controversial, so terrifying and almost predicts what could happen in the future.  Well about the style of the lecture. It is always fun listening to Rufus, he never seems to talk in a one tone voice, it is almost as if he is beckoning you further with his style. Drawing you into the story of the book and what the book is about.  Rufus sometimes breaks into voice acting of the characters and does voice of Winston Smith (The main character of the book) superbly.  

You really get the feel of the terror and mystery of Big Brother, which is the dictatorship style of government Winston Smith is living under.  You see the thing is Winston Smith does not like Big Brother, I mean when he does not life Big Brother, he literary HATES Big Brother and from there we get an epic story.

I will not go into the full details of the story 1984, you can either listen to this particular lecture or get hold of the book. I also recommend that you watch the film starring John Hurt (watch trailer), which actually did come out in 1984.

George Orwell
Why did George Orwell write this book? Why did he perceive communism as evil and how does this book even relate to problems of communism? Come to think of it, how does this book change your life?

So many questions and hopefully the lecture will answer them for you. I can also try and answer a few questions myself about this book.  George Orwell was unfortunate enough to take part in the Spanish civil war of the 1930's and although he came to participate of his own willing, he had to ally himself with those who wanted to push for communist ideals in Spain while fighting against those with fascist ideologies.  

Well, George saw what the Russians under Stalin were like and he did not like this one bit.  Over the years throughout the Second World War, he could not keep what he saw bottled up and wrote the book 1984.  He foresaw what life would be like under Stalin once the war would draw to a close.

Why was this book banned?

Well Russia took the main brunt of the war against the Nazis. The British government felt that at the time such criticisms of Russia and communism was going too far and could damage relations. Yet in time Winston Church (does the name “Winston” ring a bell?) spoke out in his famous speech of "The Iron Curtain" closing down over Eastern Europe.

How can this book change your life?

To be honest, any book can change your life.  Yet this book is unrelenting on how a government can turn on its citizens.  We can almost imagine ourselves living under this style of government and come to think of it. parts of Big Brother can be implemented in the governments of today, think of surveillance eroding into your privacy.  

The big question is, would you take a stand like Winston smith? Would you try to make a change? Or would you keep your head down. Perhaps would you bow to the government and do as they tell you to, even if you know deep down it is wrong, but be so fearful of your life that you cannot afford to displease big brother.

Take some time to listen to this lovely lecture and maybe it will inspire you to think carefully about the times we are living in, but remember......

Big Brother is WATCHING YOU!!

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Knowledge Products on Nietzschie

God is Dead!

This is how the audio course Giants of Philosophy starts off on its explanation of the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. If you find the introduction of this course startling and profound Just wait till you hear the rest of the course.  The narration is done by the late great actor Charlton Heston and he does a brilliant job of it too.  Charlton keeps us interested through the course throughout.

Friedrich Nietzsche
Nietzsche was no stranger to controversy as the start of the course rightly points out.  Within the first 10 minutes we learn that the philosophies of Nietzsche was easily adapted for the Nazi's, Nietzsche hated the Jewish religions and Christianity. At times Nietzsche was extremely nationalistic, deplored morality and through it weak for the heard mentality.  Nietzsche also adored those who were strong and were honest enough to use their strength to gain power and flaunt their power. 

Nietzsche felt European civilisation was dying off due to its constant belief in Christianity and felt that Europe was becoming decadent. Nietzsche wanted the new man, the “Overman” who would not only become man, but over him, this man would not do deny the meaning of the earth, but enjoy it.  Nietzsche hated the pseudo talk of Christianity and felt many Christians could not live up to the ideals of Christianity anyway.

The course examines how Nietzsche fell in love with the philosophies of Arthur Schopenhauer and Søren Kierkegaard, but then Nietzsche disagreed with the conclusion of Schopenhauer’s view of “the will”, which Schopenhauer stated that the meaning of the earth is a cruel meaningless place, where our desires consume us and thus as we try to fight "this will", it is a losing battle and the only way we could challenge "the will" would be through artistic appreciation or through contemplation, but rationally “the will” concludes absurdity and Nihilism will reign supreme.  Nietzsche agreed the world was cruel, but felt that there was little wrong with this, we should celebrate it and we should affirm life.  Pointless Nihilism is just a form of giving up.

By the way, Nihilism is the idea that life and rationality is so meaningless, so absurd, that life becomes pointless and we ultimately will believe in nothing, perhaps this nothing will even erode belief.  We just live to eat, breed and then die.

Nietzsche also disagreed with Kierkegaard's view of throwing ourselves into a leap of faith to religion. As pointed out earlier in this course, Nietzsche despised religion and felt religion was for the weak masses, who chain the strong so that the weak could be kept safe.  Nietzsche felt religion was a lie that denied the true meaning of the earth.

The course has many voice actors narrating how Nietzsche would have talked.  There is also a narration for Bertrand Russell, which I found quite funny, because Bertrand was severely dismissive of Nietzsche and his philosophy, you can listen to Bertrand’s criticism here.

We get to listen to Nietzsche's idea of the overman, his views into morality. We also hear of Nietzsche's criticism of how philosophy was developing, where Nietzsche felt philosophy was inventing the world, not realizing the world.  The course examines and discusses Nietzsche's friends and how he fell out with some of them. How Nietzsche felt about women and Nietzsche's view on art, his admiration for Greek culture and then the course moves on to Nietzsche view on art. 

What I have mentioned so far is on the two first tapes and there is around two or three more to go.  The style of the course makes it easy for the listener to take in Nietzschian philosophy and it’s easy to listen again and again.  The break music can be a bit off putting at times though.  You will love the voice acting, its just as if Nietzsche was talking to you, trying to persuade you with his arguments.  You will not get a lesson like this from many other courses.

Why was Nietzsche so hated by some philosophers and then only to be cherished by later philosophers?

There are a mix of reasons and I hope to at least point a few out.

The reason why some hate Nietzschian philosophy.

  •  Quite a few Christians (although not all Christians) felt Nietzsche was a blasphemer, you can also imagine what the Jews think of Nietzsche.
  • Nietzsche was not too fond of women and said pretty horrible things about them, including how to treat women and how he felt they lacked rationality.
  • Others questioned Nietzsche ideas of morality.  Stating that the results led to the destructive world wars.
  • Some major philosophers dismiss Nietzsche because his philosophy did not seem to take the rigid structure philosophy can demand, some philosophers go so far to state Nietzsche as poetic, which is quite true in some regards.
  • Nietzsche's work was easily twisted for Nazi propaganda purposes, especially since Nietzsche despised Jewish religion. There is a good documentary called "Nietzsche and the Nazis" on this subject here.
  • Other philosophers felt Nietzsche was too abstract and his solution to Nihilism does not make much sense.
  • Some philosophers felt Nietzsche cure for Nihilism was worse than the disease.
  • Nietzsche’s disapproval for democracy.
  • Nietzsche’s reaffirmation of values clashes against biological values or is a poor misinterpretation of Darwinism.
  • His philosophy is aimed at the few, this being the elite and perhaps the individual at the cost of the masses. The mass and perhaps downtrodden is ignored since Nietzsche despises them.

Some reasons why Nietzsche philosophies are praised.
  • Some felt that Nietzsche gave birth to Existentialism, although he did not claim to be an existentialist himself, some felt that religion was too stifling and we get a chance to examine how man could perceive himself in the world, even if the world turns out to be cruel.
  • Some major philosophers felt that even if Nietzsche's philosophy was not so well structured, it is still easily understandable and most influential.
  • We have quite a few state that Nietzsche's work was adapted for Nazi use by Nietzsche's sister (Elisabeth Förster) and that the later version of Nietzsche's work were not his main world.  It is known that Nietzsche fell out with his sister because she married an anti-Semite.  He also fell out with the great composer Wagner because of his anti-Semitism.
  • Nietzsche would have laughed at the idea of the Germans being a great and noble culture or race. At times Nietzsche would criticise his culture as decadent. Nietzsche can easily be associated with anarchy.
  • If your the elite, power hungry or even an artist, you ll love Nietzsche.
  • If Nietzsche can influence literary greats like George Bernard Shaw, postmodern and existentialists philosophers (who are hard to please), feminist movements and psychologists, then something must be good. However we need to note that there is a battle to have Nietzsche as someone who recommends an idea, because he is a much sort after icon.
I am sure I have missed a large amount of points and there are plenty of points others can think of.

Even if you do not manage to get hold of this particular course. It is always possible to read many of Nietzsche's works.

Cover of course
The thing is that "Knowledge products" is a very old course and its highly unlikely that the knowledge products site even sells the course, but many other audio sites might sell them.

There are other courses mainly from "The Teaching Company" that cover Nietzsche in depth and I hope to revisit this famous or infamous philosophy again at some point.

Monday, 11 July 2011

The Self under Siege

We have a nice lecture today.  This one is another course from The Teaching Company series; however it can be viewed from YouTube, since I tried to find it on The Teaching company site, but nothing doing.  This course is called "The Self under Siege" taught by the late Rick Roderick.

The late Rick Roddick
The lecture I want to talk about today is lecture 2 "Heidegger And The Rejection Of Humanism".  You know of Heidegger right? I mean Martin Heidegger, the influential German philosopher whose studies into Phenomenology led to the growth of the philosophy movement called Existentialism, which is the study of being and how we tackle our existence in the world.  

Phenomenology is the study of consciousness, reflection and how we perceive things, although close to psychology its main aim is to reflect rather than be too scientific.  This has led to many criticisms of this philosophical school, but without a doubt Phenomenology has opened up many areas into the subject of being.  Jean Paul Sartre examined Heidegger ideas and produced his own theories on the subject of being, areas of psychology and AI.  Hiedegger's ideas led to the impressive Existential movement from the 1950's.

Martin Hiedegger
Jean Paul Sartre (the famous French philosophy) had read Heidegger's famous and lengthy book "Being and Time" and was impressed by its subject content, which was no easy feat, Being and Time is around 600 pages, is full of abstract words in German that have double meanings and at times can be dry.

Going back to the lecture, its style is easy on the ear.  Rick guides you quite easily through a difficult subject and tries very hard to get us to relate to Heidegger's main theories.  One of them is the problem that we are thrown into the world and must learn the rules in order to get on in the world and as soon as we are struggling to adapt we then realize not only do we suffer, but we die.  

We will be thrown out of the world. YIKES!!

Rick does not pull any punches with this lecture.  He is most critical of institutions that adhere to Heidegger's terms of rulemaking.  It is like we become lost in the world and we must do things that we do not like to do in order to continue to live.

Heidegger's life choices were not so great either; did I forget to mention he was a member of the Nazi party? Oh hum, well not so easy to wipe that slate clean, still he was a genius if not a tainted one.

Rick makes folly of those who wish to live forever and states that death will come, but although we fear death, we should embrace it.  As Rick mentions in this lecture, who wants to be a 90 year old running up a treadmill? What is the point of that? You see death gives our lives meaning, it makes us see that since our time can be short, our choices become critical.  Still, even fearing death is important, not only because it gives life meaning, but it’s what makes us human.  We are conscious that death will take us, but we must realize our being.

Heidegger moves onto some solutions on the problem of existence, he states that we need to become authentic in order to give our lives the meaning we cherish, but Rick becomes most critical of such a solution, which you will see if you view this lecture.  I will not tell you why Rick is critical of this, so please view the lecture on YouTube.  Some YouTube files actually have the whole course, so if you’re brave you can watch the other lectures Rick as produced, those being on Habermas, Sarte and the postmodern greats such as Derrida and Foucault. 

One thing I have noticed about the lecture is Rick assumes you know a fair bit about some of the philosophic ideas, but again he will get you to relate to some of the issues and pulls no punches. Rick at times may stray from the subject, he will often become humorous and make jokes. Yet in a nutshell, Rick says it as it is.

Please enjoy the lecture on Self under siege.

Lecture on John Locke

Today we have another podcast rather than course, which is good because it’s a lecture you do not have to pay for.  However this podcast lecture can be a little tough to digest, because it’s aimed at university level students, but do not let this put you off.  You can always replay the lecture again in case things to not seem too clear.

The podcast I have chosen to summarize on is called "The history of political philosophy from Plato to Rothbard" taught by David Gordon.  The lecture I am interested in today is on a major political and philosophical thinker John Locke.  John Locke was an English philosopher who published several Treatise concerning governance, epistemology (study of knowledge) and religious toleration.  His most famous writings are "An Essay Concerning Human Understanding" and "Two Treatises of Government". 

John Locke
John Locke is also known for his famous theory of the tabula rasa. This theory states that we are born with a clear blank state of mind and that we have limited or no understanding of the world, until society and developing mental capacity shapes our world.

Other theories John Locke is famous for are his political theories concerning governance.  He was controversial in his day, where we had the rule of Absolutism, which is divine ultimate rule from monarchy.  This was around the period of the English Civil War, where the king Charles the 1st wanted to raise taxes for expensive wars and if parliament questioned why he needed more money, the king would just keep dissolving parliament.  Well John Locke had much to say about this and was in some disagreement with another political philosopher Thomas Hobbes. 

John Locke felt that submitting to a divine contract to the king was giving the king far too much power.  We need to question the idea of human rights and property.  Why should the government or monarch have absolute rights to what is naturally on the earth, especially if people have worked for it? 

The lecture, which is number 5 out of 10, starts off about Thomas Hobbes idea of giving some of our rights away, but if you wish you can go onto lecture number 6 to get an in-depth understanding of Thomas Hobbes theories.  The lecture sounds a bit quiet, so you might have to turn the sound up.  David also writes stuff on the board and tends to drink some water to clear his throat, but he does lecture for a good hour and a half.  Apart from that this lecture discusses why poor Locke had to go into exile, not once but twice, because some of his Treatises were so controversial that they had upset the major rulers of the day, one being the royalists and the others belonging to the church.

The lecture then looks into the nature of substances and John Locke's theory of how our rationality is set by the mind of god.  Most of the lecture of course will look at the political theories of Locke. Especially how the law of nature can help people live together. 

We get to look at the definition of how Locke says people can claim property by mixing our labour with it, but there are criticisms from other major political philosophers, one being from Robert Nozick, who is actually covered in the first lecture.

Robert Nozick
The lecture then moves on to the problem of giving up our rights and what belongs to us.  John Locke is incredibly influential not only to the US constitution, but to other nations struggling to get out colonisation, notably those under British rule after the Second World War.

Try out this lecture one day if you’re up for political philosophy.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Supermodernism introducing postmodernism

One of the last movements of philosophy is called postmodernism.  A very difficult theory to break down, because it has been used to describe the changes in art, architecture, philosophy, religion, fashion, dance, literature, culture and feminism.  This is where a brilliant audio book can help us.  This one i believe is around 2 hours long, but unlike any other audio books out there.  The book is called "Introducing Postmodernism" by Richard Appignanesi.  

Cover of audio book
Most philosophy audio books can be dry, complex and long, but this one is dramatized, funny and breaks you in gently. Well worth a listen, especially on one of philosophy's most difficult subject. I am hoping that one day the introducing series will bring out an audio on chaos theory or quantum theory, which they actually have in book form.

The book by its title is a beginner’s guide to a very difficult subject.  Postmodernism is usually a critic about where all the modernist changes have brought us, but not only is it a reflection, its mainly aim is an eternal regress to state that things will always change.  I think through postmodern views of literature, there is no absolute truth, no big idea.  We must have a world view, rather than a dominant European view. 

We need to take note of other cultures, the minority.  If rationality was the biggest and best idea, what has it brought us to so far?  Postmodernism attacks science as the main aim for the brightest and cleanest way for improvement of society and it also seems postmodernism attacks itself.  Many of those who may champion postmodernism actually state they are not even postmodernists, while others would go so far to mention that postmodernism attacks itself.

The audio book tries to cover all areas of postmodernism. The audio book mainly covers postmodernist views on language and art, and then it goes onward to look at architecture, capitalism and music.

Most people out there will recognise postmodernism through changes in art since they are easier to see.  Also when you manage to get hold and listen to the audio book, once finished, go out and recognise what buildings are postmodern, what ones are modern and what buildings are from an earlier period.  That is another way to examine postmodern attitudes. 

Its not cheap and makes an impact, but is it postmodern?

The audio book introduces theories from Jean Baudrillard, Jean Francois Lyotard, Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault. There are many more included and you might recognise why some of these famous names were mentioned in this book.  Oddly enough most of the theorists here are French, but it might be at the time the French school of philosophy was moving away from the existential period brought on by Jean Paul Sarte and moving into structuralism.

Jacques Derrida
Jean Baudrillard

Structuralism attacked the idea of existentialism in stating that we cannot always be possible free to do what we want, by its very name, structuralism states there are structures to society, institutions and economic systems.  There are structures even to gender and power positions.  People in poverty cannot always escape their means, women cannot always redefine themselves because of how men have structured women's role.

Postmodernism thus notices these structures and begins to attack them.  It attacks the structure of the institution; this is where Michel Foucault comes in as he attacks the idea of how we separate the mad, the criminal and minority so in order to control them.  Michel attacks even knowledge itself as a power base, stating that those who have education use it only as a means to power.  Postmodernism attacks gender roles and even attacks feminists, but there are parts of postmodernist ideas that boost feminism.  Oddly enough postmodernism attacks itself.  As soon as you get close to the idea of postmodernism, it begins to change, to warp and what is now modern becomes postmodern again.

There is no main view, so where are we?
One thing to note about postmodernism is that some of its ideas seem strangely out of tune with reality, we get from Jean Baudrillard that The Gulf War of 1991 did not take place or that women as gender do not even exist because man has become so dominant that women can only define themselves as of how men define women.  Most people view such ideas as rubbish and out of touch, how can the gulf war not take place, Women do exists and the author is not dead, but one thing we have to note is that postmodernists are not only trying to convince the public about the changes in society, but they are at the same time in a battle with other philosophers and intellectuals where ideas have become so complex that at first their ideas do not seem to make sense.  Postmodernism is worth checking out, even if it is just a way to know your enemy.

Hopefully this audiobook will break things down, but the theory postmodernism is vast.  There are free postmodernist lectures on itunes, but most will cover postmodern religion, mainly Christianity which allows the theory to challenge its structure base.  Other religions are resistant to the postmodernists view e.g. The statanic Verses by Salman Rushdie, but then rightly so, because is there really a bird’s eye view of all cultures and relgion?  Perhaps no.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Dionysus requests a sacrifice for our pleasure

When delving into Nietzschean philosophy, which relates to philosophic ideas from Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche. This philosopher who looked into idea of the superman or Übermensch as the rebirth of man.  Anyway there came an interesting subject from one of his books called "Birth of Tragedy".  I did not think too much into it at the time, but then when surfing the net, I kept finding reference to Dionysus each time.  This intrigued me. 

Who was Dionysus? Why is Nietzsche so interested in him?

Well A couple of months ago. I decided to listen to a couple of lectures from the teaching company series.  One of them was called "Great Authors of the Western Literary Tradition".  There was this particular lecture, which is "lecture 14. Bacchae".  The lecture was quite difficult to get into at first, so I had to replay the thing again, but the more I listened to this lecture.  The more I realized why Nietzsche was so infatuated with Dionysus who one of the main characters of this play.  Sorry that I have not mentioned this before, but The Bacchae is a Greek tragedy written by the great playwright Euripides around 405 BC.

In short the play is about vengeance brought upon a family who disbelieves Dionysus's mother actually gave birth to him from the great god Zeus.  Dionysus is a god unlike any other, completely opposite from Apollo; his worshippers are filled with uncontrollable rage and are unstable.  Dionysus represents the god of wine and irrationality.  He is a jealous god and demands tribute, the god loves to show off his power and is vengeful.  While Apollo represents structure, control, rationality and perfection.  

Nietzsche took both these gods from the Greek myths and compared them to the society of his day.  He felt the persona of Dionysus had more to offer man of his day and hopefully in the future.  He felt that society was decadent in building up its structure in the form of Apollo.  There was room for madness, irrationality, passion.  Man was decadent in this age, man wanted perfection, but how can man be perfect?

This lecture does not centre too much on Nietzsche’s philosophy, but on Euripides idea of Dionysus.  Obviously the most striking part of the play is a horrible tragic scene towards the end of the play, but I will not spoil that for you.  It is incredibly gory.  The lecture unravels the reasons why Dionysus was needed at in the play, but it seems this play The Bacchae has set a standard of its own.  Many theatres play homage to the great play and the audience does as well, without even knowing anything about it.  Why and how?
Not only was the Bacchae influencing plays to come, it influenced culture and art.  There have been Vases that tell the story of the play and this lecture mentions the story of the vases.

Major Scene in The Bacchae
The god of Wine
If you can get hold of the course “Great Authors of the Western Literary Tradition”.  Lecture 14 is worth listening to.  The lecture is around 40 mins long and has 80 courses ranging from Beowulf, Tolstoy and Proust.

A very hefty course indeed.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

A new time....or is time running out? Fin de Siecle.

Not every good quality lecture, course or documentary needs to be paid for.  This one is called Radio Modern Europe. Anyone looking to study into the history of Europe will not waste their time with those podcasts. 


The podcasts are actually directed at their students from Bethel university, but they have noticed a large number of downloads from other listeners not based at the faculty. The reason is because these podcasts have good quality and content.

One era I am interested in was the Fin de Siecle era; this was the period around 1900.  Where there was a large array of high culture statements from within music, art and literature.  Rapid changes were taking place and it seems the new century would hopefully wipe away the decadence, but might bring fear and discontent along with it.  This would lead to something most horrible awaiting the Europeans as they began to examine and question their own culture after colonialism, the impact of industralization and nationalism.

I wanted to find out a bit more on the Fin de Siecle period after listening to "lecture 33.Decadence & Malaise—circa 1900" from the course called Foundations of Western Civilization II: A History of the Modern Western World by Robert Bucholz.  It seems the period was taken from the French perspective of what was to come. 

One thing to note about this period was The Dreyfus Affair, which was caused by anti-semitic problems that played out in France. Alfred Dreyfus was accused of selling military secrets to France's hated enemy the Germans. 

This led to Dreyfus being stripped of his military title and sent to devils island, however behind the scenes there was growing suspicion that Dreyfus was being blamed because he was a Jew and major French intellectuals began to complain and point fingers at the military and church institutions, one of the accusers was Émile Zola.  After two years of backlash the real culprit was finally caught, but a lot of damage had already been down to some French institutions being the military and religous church establishments.  Anti-Semitism was at such a height in France, that the case made up the mind of journalist Theodor Herzl who felt that there should be a Jewish state in order to avoid percussion from anti-Semites.

We also have some novels and books coming out in this period that looked at hysteria, decadence, fear and suspicion of society.  These are works from Bram Stolker, Oscar Widle and Henry James in his novel "The turn of the Shrew", which is important for its representation of fear being induced by what is real and what is not. 

The podcast mainly discusses how education, art, politics, technological changes and rights for workers and women began to spread, but it’s the style of the podcast that makes the course easily digestible.  The host talks as a radio host, we also have a news desk and guests from that particular era discussion what happened and why.

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer by Gustav Klimt
I have put this picture of the painting by Gustav Klimt, because in this era the boundaries were constantly being pushed in order to break away from the traditional.  However look more closely at the painting and you will see the young woman Adele, not just any women though, she is the new woman of the age.  Denied access to educational establishments and rights, she now tries to find learning and knowledge elsewhere. This is the age where women take a stand and here it is immortalised in this painting.

This can be shown in literature, politics and society in general, even if it was to cause upset or resentment.

The show also has a look at how classical music changed e.g Claude Debussy and how art by the impressionists made reflections of society and how the Europeans viewed themselves.

Check the podcast out when you have the chance.