Feb. 29th, 2016

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Currently at Havelock: -8.3. High today: 1.8. At one point that I noticed yesterday it was eighteen degrees warmer at Pearson than at Havelock, and the difference between the warmest and coldest EC stations in Ontario was 43 degrees (which is the kind of thing where you want to break out the Fahrenheit, which gives you a difference of 77 degrees (which reminds me that I recently replaced the non-programmable thermostat the furnace guy put in (and which only spoke Fahrenheit) with a programmable one (which speaks Celsius), and that I have been meaning to say how surprisingly easy that was to do. [1] If you think that you would like replace your thermostat with a programmable one but don't think you can do it yourself, trust me, you can. (The main thing you need to know about this is that if you have the kind of heating system most houses have, then your thermostat operates on far lower than ordinary household voltage and as far as I can tell you can't possibly electrocute yourself, even if you're not sure whether you've cut the power to the thermostat. (However, for legal liability reasons I should probably note that I am not an electrician (but then again I am also not a lawyer) and don't really know what I'm talking about, although I may have nothing but true beliefs, of which more anon.) However, having read up a bit on programmable thermostats after installing mine, I'm inclined to go a little easier on the world for not standardly installing them for you, since it turns out that in real world use they don't really save energy and in some circumstances appear to actually increase energy use (and so the EPA quit promoting them through Energy Star in 2009 or something), because people don't use them properly. (But you will, just like I will! (Ho ho ho. (Well, but if you're reading this, then you can also read this, which might at least help beat down some faulty intuitions. (Funny thing about that article: the leaky beach ball analogy (i.e., you gotta pump a hell of a lot more to keep it inflated all the time than you do to inflate it only when you need it inflated (even though if you only inflate it when you need it inflated you'll spend a lot more time inflating at one go than if you keep it inflated all the time, which is the thing that really pumps those faulty intuitions: when the furnace first comes on in the morning, it seems like it's on forever), and the more it's inflated the more you gotta pump to inflate it more) is great, but of course it doesn't prove anything because as a proof it begs the question, which is whether heating a house is analogous in the appropriate way to inflating a beach ball. [2] (Which, luckily, it is. (More or less.))))))

So, since I was talking about courage, and Plato, I thought I should re-read the dialogue of Plato's that's specifically about courage, namely the Laches (rather than just going back to the Republic like I generally want to do). This is a sketchier sketch than I would like because after this re-reading I've probably only read the Laches twice in my life. But anyway, here we go for a start.

Nicias says that courage consists in knowing what is to be dreaded and what is to be dared. (Not that it consists in doing what is to be dared and not doing what is to be dreaded: typically of what are supposed to be the early dialogues, knowing that something is to be done is supposed to be sufficient to motivate you to do it. If you don't do something, then you don't really know that it's what's to be done. (This is not explicit in the Laches. It's taken up explicitly in the Meno (supposedly an early-middle dialogue), which discusses a definition of virtue holding it to be knowing what the good is and having the power and desire to do it. Ironically, the Meno is the prime source for the "early-Platonic" doctrine that to know the good is to do it (insofar as the Meno is the first and probably only dialogue in which you'll have it pointed out to you as an undergrad (and then you'll learn that Plato jettisons it in favour of the "tri-partite theory of the soul" in the Republic (in which reason can know what's good but be powerless to act on it unless thumos is on its side (or whatever)))), but it is the one that successfully defines virtue and then shows (by apparently arguing for it) what the "early-Platonic" assumption is that prevents virtue from being defined successfully. Thinking goes wrong when it loses touch with what thinking thinks about and thinks that thinking has all the answers to thinking's questions.) Socrates says that what is to be dreaded are future evils and what is to be dared are future goods. But to have knowledge of future goods and evils is the same thing as to have knowledge of goods and evils generally, because there is not a distinct class of future goods and evils. Hence to have knowledge of future goods and evils is to be virtuous generally and not courageous particularly (on the stated assumption that courage is a part and not the whole of virtue).

What is wrong with Socrates's criticism of Nicias's definition is obvious. (Or at least it's simple. It's always easy to get carried away with the argument and miss what should be obvious.) It rests on a category error: Nicias refers to knowledge of what particular things are to be dreaded or dared; Socrates refers to knowledge of what kinds of things are to be dreaded or dared. Ironically, before Socrates launches his criticism, Laches says that on Nicias's definition it is the seers who are courageous, since they are the ones who know about the future; this is supposed to make Nicias's definition out to be absurd because the idea that the particular people who are supposed to be seers are courageous is absurd. But Laches, despite himself, is half right. Seers are people who know particular things about the future. Virtuous people are people who know what is good. Virtuous seers would know what particular things in the future are good and to be dared, and what particular things in the future are bad and to be dreaded--to be courageous is to be a virtuous seer, or, in other words, to be a virtuous person who is good at predicting. This is, actually, a good definition of courage, if you adopt the Meno's definition of virtue as knowing the good and having the power and desire to do it. The Socrates of some other ("later") dialogue (like the Republic, or the Meno) would object that seers' "knowledge" of the future is not genuine knowledge because it is knowledge of particulars, whereas genuine knowledge is knowledge of universals. Then again, as Socrates says in the Meno, true belief about how to get where you want to go gets you there just as well as genuine knowledge does. However, true belief is unreliable; we can never be sure when we've got it--at best we might be able to confirm that we had it, when we've gotten where we wanted to go, but then it's time to go somewhere else (since particulars are unique (and as Aristotle makes explicit, there is no knowledge of anything that is unique!); the road that took us to Larissa this time may or may not be the road that takes us to Larissa next time)--and since we believe it without good reason there is no good reason for us not to believe something else, which we might as well do. On the whole, then, it looks like we may have a good definition of courage, and also the beginning of an account of why opinions may differ, without possibility of deciding between them by argument, about who is genuinely courageous.

[1] I have also been meaning to maybe say that I should be keeping some sort of Fifty Soups list. This week's soup is beet and rutabaga, and is delicious. My last soup was, I don't really know what it was, but I learned from it that you should definitely not put the barley in with everything else and leave it to cook it in the slow cooker for eight hours, at least not if you're using a substantial amount of barley and would like some recognizable barley in your soup and also would like your soup not to be slimy, and it was slimy.

[2] "I recognize that argument by analogy is the weakest form of argument if it can even be counted as a legitimate form of rational argument at all. But it is one of the most common forms of commentary used in biblical interpretation. That is not because of the strength of its reasoning, but because of the often brilliant insights provided by great leaps of the imagination which happen to resonate with reality." (Howard Adelman)
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