Strange to know nothing, never to be sure
Of what is right, or true, or real
But forced to qualify: Or so I feel
Or: Well, it does seem so,
Someone must know.

Strange to be ignorant of the way things work
Their skill at finding what they need,
Their sense of shape, and punctual spread of seed
And willingness to change
Yes, it is strange

Even to wear such knowledge---for our flesh
surrounds us with its own decisions---
and yet spend all our lives on imprecisions,
that when we start to die
have no idea why.

Philip Larkin

Let us concentrate on one example; the cat is on the mat.
[F]act, (or truth) and rationality are interdependent notions. A fact is something that it is rational to believe, or, more precisely, the notion of a fact (or a true statement) is an idealization of the notion of a statement that it is rational to believe. [...] [B]eing rational involves having criteria of relevance as well as criteria of rational acceptability, and ... all of our values are involved in our criteria of relevance. The decision that a picture of the world is true (or true by our present lights, or "as true as anything is") and answers the relevant questions (as well as we are able to answer them) rests on and reveals our total system of value commitments. A being with no values would have no facts either. The way in which criteria of relevance involves values, at least indirectly, may be seen by examining the simplest statement. Take the sentence 'The cat is on the mat.' If someone actually makes this judgment in a particular context, then he employs conceptual resources—the notions 'cat,' 'on,' and 'mat'—which are provided by a particular culture, and whose presence and ubiquity reveal something about the interests and values of that culture, and of almost every culture. We have the category 'cat' because we regard the division of the world into animals and non-animals as significant, and we are further interested in what species a given animal belongs to. It is relevant that there is a cat on the mat and not just a thing. We have the category 'mat' because we regard the division of inanimate things into artifacts and non-artifacts as significant, and we are further interested in the purpose and nature a particular artifact has. It is relevant that it is a mat that the cat is on and just something. We have the category 'on' because we are interested in spatial relations. Notice what we have: we took the most banal statement imaginable, 'the cat is on the mat,' and we found that the presuppositions which make this statement a relevant one in certain contexts include the significance of the categories animate/inanimate, purpose, and space. To a mind with no disposition to regard these as relevant categories, 'the cat is on the mat' would be as irrational as 'the number of hexagonal objects in this room is 76' would be, uttered in the middle of a tête-à-tête between young lovers. Not only do very general facts about our value system show themselves in our categories (artifacts, species name, term for a spatial relation) but, our more specific values (for example, sensitivity and compassion), also show up in the use we make of specific classificatory words ('considerate,' 'selfish'). To repeat, our criteria of relevance rest on and reveal our whole system of values.

Hilary Putnam , Reason, Truth, and History (Cambridge University Press, 1981):

Philosophy is also vision. Its task is to offer an all-comprehensive outlook on the universe. Everyone has some vision incorporated in his inherited language, in his practice, and in the customs and outlook of his day... The true philosopher is not content with accepting that inherited vision. He must forge a new one in order to do justice to what we have learned in art and science, politics and philosophy.

Carl Weiss, "Wood in Aesthetics and Art"

You are burning all the bridges behind yourself,
in the biggest rain yet.


Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream

Wallace Stevens

Straw men burn so much brighter than flesh and blood.

Jonah Goldberg

I'm so tired of knowing that I know nothing

Sad Socrates — @SadSocrates (6-12-18)

In his John Locke lectures, Hilary Putnam argues "that certain human abilities — language speaking is the paradigm example — may not be theoretically explicable in isolation," apart from a full model of "human functional organization," which "may well be unintelligible to humans when stated in any detail."

Noam Chomsky — "The Uses of Language"

They tried to get me to hate white people,
but someone would always come along & spoil it.

Thelonious Monk — (Monk's Advice, 1960)

We were among the last of the Utopians . . . who believe in a continuing moral progress by virtue of which the human race already consists of reliable, rational, decent people, influenced by truth and objective standards, who can safely be released from outward restraints of convention and traditional standards and inflexible rules of conduct, and left, from now onwards, to their own sensible devices, pure motives and reliable intuitions of the good . . . We were not aware that civilization was a thin and precarious crust erected by the personality and the will of a very few, and only maintained by rules and conventions skillfully put across and guilefully preserved. We lacked reverence, as [D.H.} Lawrence . . . used to say—for everything and everyone. It did not occur to us to respect the extraordinary accomplishments of our predecessors in the ordering of life (as it now appears to me to have been) or the elaborate framework they had devised to protect this order. Plato said in his Laws that one of the best of a set of good laws would be a law forbidding any young man to enquire which of them are right or wrong, though an old man remarking any defect in the laws might communicate this observation to a ruler or to an equal in years when no young man was present. That was a dictum in which we should have been able to discover any point or significance whatever. As cause and consequence of our general state of mind we completely misunderstood human nature, including our own. The rationality we attributed to it led to a superficiality, not only of judgment, but also of feeling . . . I still suffer incurably from attributing an unreal rationality to other people's feelings and behaviour (and doubtlessly my own too). There is one small but extraordinarily silly manifestation of this absurd idea of what is 'normal', namely an impulse to protest—to write a letter to The Times, call a meeting in the Guildhall, subscribe to some fund when my presuppositions as to what is 'normal' are not fulfilled. I behave as if there really existed some authority or standard to which I can successfully appeal if I shout loud enough—perhaps it is some hereditary vestige if a belief in the efficacy of prayer.

— John Maynard Keynes, 'My Early Beliefs ' (written in 1938)

If the devout Christian is right, then committed Hindus and Jews and Buddhists and atheists are wrong. When so many groups disagree, the majority must be mistaken. And if the majority is misguided on just this one topic, then almost everyone must be mistaken on some issues of great importance. This is a hard lesson to learn, because it is paradoxical to accept one's own folly. You cannot at the same time believe something and recognize that you are a mug to believe it. If you sincerely judge that it is raining outside, you cannot at the same time be convinced that you are mistaken in your belief.

— Tim Maudlin, 'The Defeat of Reason' Boston Review 6/1/2018

Next, 'real' is what we may call a trouser-word. It is usually thought, and I dare say usually rightly thought, that what one might call the affirmative use of a term is basic-that, to understand 'x', we need to know what it is to be x, or to be an x, and that knowing this apprises us of what it is not to be x, not to be an . But with 'real' ... it is the negative use that wears the trousers. That is, a definite sense attaches to the assertion that something is real, a real such-and-such, only in the light of a specific way in which it might be, or might have been, not real. 'A real duck' differs from the simple 'a duck' only in that it is used to exclude various ways of being not a real duck-but a dummy, a toy, a picture, a decoy, &c.; and moreover I don't know just how to take the assertion that it's a real duck unless I know just what, on that particular occasion, the speaker has it in mind to exclude. This, of course, is why the attempt to find a characteristic common to all things that are or could be called 'real' is doomed to failure; the function of 'real' is not to contribute positively to the characterization of anything, but to exclude possible ways of being not real-and these ways are both numerous for particular kinds of things, and liable to be quite different for things of different kinds. It is this identity of general function combined with immense diversity in specific applications which gives to the word 'real' the, at first sight, baffling feature of having neither one single 'meaning', nor yet ambiguity, a number of different meanings.

— J.L. Austin, Sense and Sensibilia 70-71 (1962)

Art makes the sight of life bearable by laying over it the veil of unclear thinking.

— Friedrich Nietzsche, Human All Too Human 151

Writing about robots and AI carries this moral risk: the unpredictability of future developments gives plenty of scope for the disclosure of the author's personal fantasies and fears.

— John Tasioulas @JTasioulas

I believe that a scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy.

— Richard Feynman

... how empty and ghostly is a life lived for a long while in absolute solitude. Free me from my fellows, let me alone to work out the salvation of my own glorious self, and surely (so I may fancy) I shall now for the first time show who I am. No, not so; on the contrary I merely show in such a case who I am not. I am no longer friend, brother, companion, co-worker, servant, citizen, father, son; I exist for nobody; and ere-long,... I discover that I am nobody.

— Josiah Royce, Lectures on Hegel