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I'm a literature student and I've become aware that Marxist theorists (Fredric Jameson, Terry Eagleton, and so on) often talk about 'dialectics' - a term, I have traced to Hegel. But I'm unclear what is meant by this or how the term has been adopted. Is there anywhere you could point me which has an overview/guide to this?

Why not try here: https://www.marxists.org/glossary/terms/d/i.htm Very crudely: dialectic describes a process whereby some social formation (e.g. a set of economic relations, a political institution, a set of religious beliefs, or even cultural forms (like the conventions of the novel)) does not quite 'work', and thus tensions arise (some kind of opposing beliefs or formations, or even a social formation that temporarily combines within itself two opposing ideas), until a resolution is reached. So, it is a way of understanding how and why change happens.

I'm finishing Augustine's Confessions. At a certain point, he argues that "shapeless" (I'm not reading an English translation; the Latin word is "informis" ("informitas" as a noun)) physical entities are possible. I didn't understand his argument and anyway can't imagine how some physical body could be shapeless. Perhaps an infinitely large or infinitely small body could be shapeless, but infinitely small things are hardly conceivable. Would you explain me how could some physical body be shapeless? Or perhaps Augustine is talking about something else I didn't get? (it's in Book XIII).

Book XIII is tricky; it is often skipped when people teach Augustine. He is trying to read the opening verses of Genesis in several ways simultaneously. First, to stress the utter dependence of all of creation upon God; second, to integrate into Christianity the basic metaphysics of Plato and Plotinus; third, as a metaphorically compressed history of the church and its organisation. So, creation occurs in two steams -- the spiritual and the corporeal (XIII.2) -- and in each stream in three phases -- original creation, conversion, and formation. The original creation is of that which is formless (shapeless as you translate it); conversion is when the first creation 'hears' the Word of God (that is, it returns to the call of its creator; this is passive for the corporeal, but active for the spiritual); formation is the result. The primary concern of Book XIII is spiritual creation; whereas corporeal creation is dealt with more fully in Book XII. The first phase of corporeal creation is unformed matter, the...

Philosophers have argued that we are not or can not know that we are a substance which remains continuous throught out time. Hume, was especially famous for making that point. What about the fear we experience in the face of certain fates? Any reasonable person would want to avoid being tortured and it would be no consolation to "know" that the person who will be tortured is not the same person as the person who dreads it. This is essentially why I can't agree with Hume. I know it doesn't sound like an argument but it still seems like a persuasive position. Have other philosophers offered that rebuttal to Hume? What could you say to refute or bolster this "argument"?

Thank you for your question. Without a doubt, if you told David Hume that 'I am going to be tortured' he would respond 'For goodness sake, run!' The question is, then: is this response incompatible with his philosophical analysis of the concept of substance? I think we need to distinguish two ways of thinking about 'substance'. The first is substance as metaphysical, as something that exists permanently, without even the possibility of change, as the 'bearer' of properties (Hume has Descartes and Leibniz particularly in mind). The second is a pragmatic sense of substance, as our sense of the identity of things (including ourselves) across time. By pragmatic, I mean that for certain purposes we think of things as basically unchanging, while for other purposes we think of things as not unchanging. For example, if I buy a new car, I consider it unchanging for the purposes of driving every day, staying the same size, staying the same shape and colour. If, however, after a year I tried to return it to the...

I saw a quote once by Nietzsche that was something like "When we try to examine the essence of a reflection in a mirror we see only the mirror, but when examining the mirror we see only the reflection." I would like to find the exact wording but have not been able to find a match with Google. Could you help me?

You are looking for aphorism 243 from Daybreak .Roughly, the mirror is the intellect, the 'things' the world. Nietzsche is making a double point. First, the neo-Kantian idea that all knowledge is mediated, including knowledge of the mediating activity itself. Second, a historical point about broad moves from certain necessary failures within natural science (investigation of things) leading inevitably to a focus on psychological science (investigation of the mirror) and because of necessary failures, back again.

I am reading Neitzsch's "Human, All Too Human", in one of his aphorisms he states that logic is optimistic. Does he mean that it would be foolishly optimistic to trust logic or in its truth? Or does he mean something else I just can't seem to understand?

Thank you for your question. I'm guessing you are referring to aphorism 6 in the first volume. You are certainly right to call Nietzsche up here -- the reference to the concept of optimism is not at all clear. In fact, it goes back to an earlier book of Nietzsche's, The Birth of Tragedy . (If you want to look, the clearest -- which isn't saying much in this case -- treatment of this idea is found in chapter 18.) There Nietzsche argues that an important change took place around the time of Socrates, and that what we now think of as science, broadly speaking, was 'invented'. What characterises this Socratic science? Well, logic, first of all, broadly understood in its Greek sense as a rational enquiry into the nature of things. But also, Nietzsche says, a certain optimism. Science only makes sense if the world CAN be understood and that, once it is understood, it can be CHANGED for the better. Science, he says, is intrinsically optimistic about its own utility. Now, here in Human, All Too...

According to Kant intuitions without concepts are blind. I'm not sure I understand this but suppose the color red is an intuition and the awareness of the color as red or a more rudimentary awareness of the color red is the the concept. Couldn't it be argued that Kant is wrong because without a rudimentary awareness of the color red there would no red at all? Or was that Kants point? It seems to me that the "concept" of red is a precondition of red as much as the intuition and that Kant seems to suppose that they are at least theoretically seperable.

It seems to me that your interpretation of Kant is spot on. By 'blind' he means that we would have eyes (or ears or noses) but cannot see (or hear or smell), unless concepts were operative. However, this 'would have' is quite hypothetical. Kant certainly does not mean to imply that there is ever mere sensory input without a concept. (There certainly may be pure concepts without any associated sensory input, or even any possible sensory input -- Kant analyses the problems that this raises in the Dialectic.) If I see a colour, I see the colour red, or lemon, or ochre. And if I don't recognise the particular colour, I still know it is a colour, so a concept is still operative. Likewise, if I hear a sound, I hear the sound of traffic, or of a violin, or of a creaking floorboard. If I don't recognise the sound, then I still know it is a sound. Nevertheless, you are right that he is asserting some kind of difference between intuition and concept. But this difference is not one that I experience. Rather,...

This quote, "It is harder to give rightly than to receive rightly" hit me in the face with awe but I have no idea what the meaning entails. I have not read Thus Spoke Zarathustra and so I do not know the context it was used in. I keep thinking about this quote because it makes me feel something...something I must hold on to. Can anyone please help me understand the breadth of this greatness? I appreciate it immensely.

You have alighted on an idea that also fascinates me. The quotation is from Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Part IV, section 8. This section is part of a series of fictionalised portraits of exceptional human types (or in some cases, individual persons). Nietzsche is interested in the philosophical significance of certain types of human being. Section 8 is in part a portrait of Jesus. The basic idea is that the the one who has something to give (wealth, assistance, knowledge, whatever) is in a position of power over the one who receives; and the gift itself can serve to reinforce and draw attention to that difference of power. In other words, gifts demean the receiver, perhaps even setting in motion a cycle of revenge. So, how is it possible to be a giver who does not exacerbate the situation of the receiver? How, for example, does the master give to the disciple without forcing the disciple to remain always only a disciple? Please see also Part I, section 22.

According to Heidegger philosophy has never really asked what we mean by "Being". According to him we ask what the essence of this or that form of being is but we never concern ourselves with being proper. Perhaps what Heidegger means or alludes to in this question is the idea that the very fact of being is in some way the very essence of being. This reminds me of Fichte's idea of the fact of consciousness rather than a principle of consciousness as the starting point of philosophy. And yet this fact of being just like the fact of consciousness is mysterious and elusive, while paradoxically present, and hence suppressed by a reductive urge within philosophy. Yet, I'm kind of skeptical about Heidegger claim of a suppression within philosophy of the question of being. It seems as if the question of being was first made problematic far further in the German tradition than Heidegger, as early as Kant, if its not something that has always been with philosophy. Kant argued very much like Heidegger, I think,...

Well, you raise a whole series of fascinating issues in your question. I'll just focus on the claim Heidegger makes, and not direct myself to either Fichte or Kant. What does Heidegger mean in claiming that the question of the meaning of Being has rarely if every been asked? I wouldn't say that he means that the question has been 'supressed' -- in the way free speech is supressed in a totalitarian regime. Rather, he means that the question has always been raised only with respect to some limited frame of reference, where that frame is determined by other philosophical commitments. A theological frame of reference understands Being only as either creator or created; the frame of reference of mathematics yields a conception of Being as substance; a technological frame of reference understands Being (including the human) only as the availability or otherwise of resources; and so forth. The other point worth making is that although the above discussion makes Heidegger sound as though he is...

When a philosopher describes his or her work as a "critique" of something, what exactly do they mean? Is there a general consensus among philosophers or are there different possibilities? I assume it means something different or more specific than what we ordinarily mean by "criticism", right? Thanks!

Indeed: the ordinary use of the term 'critique' ('criticism') means to evaluate something. So, a film critic doesn't just tell us how bad a film is, but also how good -- and thus whether certain types of viewers might wish to see it. The philosophical use of the term to analyse something so as to determine its grounds, implications or merit. Thus, a classic type of essay or examination question at University philosophy departments is to 'critically analyse' some idea or argument. Kant's use is slightly different. A critique of pure reason, of practical reason, or of judgement is not a discussion of an idea or argument, so much as of a whole 'faculty' or 'ability' of the human mind. The three faculties I just listed come from the titles of Kant's three chief critical works, but arguably at least Kant should be understood as also offering critiques of many other 'faculties' such as imagination, understanding, sensibility, or will. In effect, by a 'critique of pure reason', Kant is asking 'what is...

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