• Eseitch
    7
    Synopsis
    Human names can be used as another universal language which, in contrast to mathematics which describes nature, can serve to describe history. I made a little effort to put the idea into practice, and the fruit is published here.

    1. The Universality of Names
    Were there a call for justice, a simple question, "But what is justice in the first place?" would cause a moment of awkward silence after which people would spend an eternity trying to agree on a single definition, or they could just go home after agreeing that they could not agree. But if someone said, "Let's talk about Abraham Lincoln," people would not have much trouble at least in identifying the man. When engaging with the ties between words and what they mean, we see one end of a cord fastened to the word "justice" and the other end disappearing into the darkness beyond a great distance, but when we see the cord tied to the word "Abraham Lincoln", we find the other end of the cord directly fastened to one specific historical figure, so we can be sure about, when we use the word "Abraham Lincoln", what it means, unlike when we use such vague and intricate words as "justice", "love", "liberty" or "ideal president".
    Moreover, this tie between one specific name and one specific person does not get lost in translation. The meaning of the word "liberty" that appears in the speeches of John F. Kennedy and that of the word "Freiheit" that appears in Mein Kampf may differ in a way, but when the word "Abraham Lincoln" is uttered, it always indicates the exact same person regardless of the race, age or nationality of the speaker.

    2. Shared Knowledge
    The word "Abraham Lincoln" means one specific historical figure, that is right. But what is this one specific historical figure? It is Abraham Lincoln. It is, then, no different from saying that Abraham Lincoln means Abraham Lincoln. It gets stuck in tautology without explaining anything.
    But that is not how names work. In fact, when someone suggests talking about Abraham Lincoln, we can even casually guess that he wants to start a discussion about the American Civil War. The information the name of a person conveys includes the person's birth, race, nationality, face, preferred ideas, role in history, historical reputation and much more: when a famous name is mentioned, we respond in the context of our shared knowledge about it. When Gödel wrote, for example, to his friend that he would follow Leibniz rather than Spinoza, it would not have made any sense had the friend known nothing about both philosophers; he mentioned Leibniz as a representative of the teleological cosmology and Spinoza as that of the mechanical cosmology, assuming his friend's learning.
    The shared knowledge about a name, therefore, comprises the facts about the person behind the name. But when employing the term "facts", we must be careful to define it. If someone claimed that Lincoln was the greatest president of the US, it should be just his opinion, not a fact. But if someone said, "Many people and historians have been considering Abraham Lincoln to be one of the greatest presidents of the US," now it could be a fact, because he was just referring to the existence of a good reputation of Lincoln. And remember Gödel's mention of Leibniz and Spinoza, in which the thoughts of two philosophers were treated as shared knowledge; we do not know which cosmology will eventually prevail, but we can at least be sure that Leibniz thought that teleology was indispensable while Spinoza thought that his pantheism was logically intact. In this case, we are treating other people's thoughts as palpable facts.
    When some facts about a person are widely shared, people's judgements about these facts become themselves other facts which can be incorporated into shared knowledge, and in the context of shared knowledge, known names work as the symbols of what the persons behind the names represent.

    3. Categorisation (Tagging)
    Since people came to, if partly, appreciate Kant's First Critique, it has been acknowledged that the truth does not actually come out of the well as a naked woman but rather as an invisible man: to recognise him, we need to wrap him in a sheet, so that we could see a man-shaped sheet moving to and fro even if the body itself were invisible.
    Likewise, when we recognise a man, we recognise only the tags our consciousness attaches to him, not the man himself; that we share some facts about a man means that we agree to attach the same tags to the same man. And when one tag is attached to many people, it becomes a category.
    Bearing that in mind, remember Thomas Carlyle's famous claim that the history of the world is but the biography of great men. Apart from his blameable indifference towards great women, what does it suggest? If there were incredible polymaths who have read and understood all the biographies of all great men and women, could a list of the names of great men and women be the purest form of describing history? I can imagine a historian pointing at the name of Julius II with a suggestive grin beside another historian who in turn points at the name of Felice della Rovere while gracefully nodding as if he were saying, "I know, I know," but the exchange of such a grin and a nod cannot lead to one unified view on the history of the world unless they share not only historical facts but also the same historical interpretations. Considering that there is already a large number of great men and women, and the number is only to grow hereafter, it seems the biography of great men and women is getting even more lengthy, and therefore the history of the world is going to be even more difficult to grasp.
    But what if history were nothing but the repetition of the same story played by different actors? Reading through thick biographies of thousands of actors to deeply understand each one's life and personality sounds burdensome, but if we were only to know who played Macbeth and who played Macduff, it would be much easier.
    What is crucial for us to share history in the same way, if adopting the idea, is to see the names of great men and women through the same categories, as if we shared biscuit cutters of the same shape and made biscuits of any flavour in the same shape.
    And, as mentioned in the synopsis, I made my little attempt at such categorisation and am curious to know if the result of my attempt, the list, could make sense to other people since it perfectly makes sense to me.
    If it appears to be indecipherable, please skip unknown names and try looking up familiar ones - your favourite philosophers, favourite composers, etc.

    P.S.
    I wanted to make the list comprehensive as much as I could, but many important names are still missing due to my shallow knowledge. And there could still be errors in categorisation. I will make some corrections later.
  • TheMadFool
    4.4k
    I find this interesting that you associate people with concepts. Indeed we could say that justice is hard to define but we seem to know, intuitively, that Abraham Lincoln stands for justice. I wonder if we could do that with every great person in history. Does Jesus remind you of love? Does Hitler remind you of evil? Could we then find the essence of concepts by looking at people associated with them? I don't know. Sounds interesting.

    Perhaps there's something like a working definition of concepts like doctors have a working diagnosis of a condition. An ad interim definition/diagnosis that is assumed and treated as if it were the real issue/disease.
  • Judaka
    441

    What do you mean by universal language? One where everyone understands exactly what you mean? There are no universal languages like that, the devil is always in the detail.

    Ending slavery and the American civil war, that's what Lincoln is famous for and what he represents. He represents "justice" because he ended an "injustice" of slavery. Uncontentious, yes but contextualised by a lack of context, we assume the obvious which are the aforementioned reasons for his fame. Lincoln is the human face of an idea, the image transcends the man. He isn't a symbol of justice, he is a symbol of a man standing up for justice and that justice is characterised by the injustice of slavery. If he has other views about justice, they don't matter here.

    How is saying "chattel slavery is wrong' contentious? How is saying slavery is unjust contentious? What increased clarity do you think bringing up Lincoln is adding here? Lincoln symbolises these things and symbols don't require people to speak English. If you're saying that symbols are a universal language because anyone can recognise them regardless of what language they speak - there's some truth to that but you could have just said that. I don't think anyone would disagree beyond the obvious "well you need to know who Lincoln is but yeah".

    Bringing up "justice is hard to define" is a red herring. That's got nothing to do with anything here. Justice is still hard to define even if we knock off chattel slavery as being universally wrong.

    Just like what a swastika does for Nazism as a universally recognised symbol. Any universality exists because of a lack of contentiousness in the idea that things like genocide and anti-semitism etc are wrong which an individual could likely and effectively articulate.

    Again with your categorisation idea, the devil is in the detail.

    This is "bringing up names of great people" is true only if you disregard the need for any specificity and this wouldn't apply for all the names of great people just those known for less than two reasons and at best it serves to introduce a topic without getting into the discussion.

    There is no "unified view", just a complete facade facilitated by ignorance of the differences that would be exposed by going deeper. I don't really want to go into more, I don't have anything constructive to say other than that this idea lacks nuance and I don't think you've had a real go at trying your best to understand how it could be wrong.
  • Nils Loc
    485
    And, as mentioned in the synopsis, I made my little attempt at such categorisation and am curious to know if the result of my attempt, the list, could make sense to other people since it perfectly makes sense to me.Eseitch

    Could you explain a bit more about your categorization (typology) in your link. What are the details of the method (algorithm) by which you assign a name under (i)Angel (ii)Demon (iii)Great in a grouping of 3. Are the grouped names refuting major points? Are they voices in a dialogue? Does the Great tag represent a synthesis or mediation of content associated with the preceding 2 names?
  • Eseitch
    7


    Thank you for kind words. Thank you for replying.
    I actually respect Kant a lot, so I believe we will never see the essence of concepts as we see the blue sky. However, I think we can, even though we don't have definitions, discern inclinations by means of comparison. For example, if I showed a turquoise stone to people and asked them whether it was blue or green, their answers would divide, but if I showed a turquoise and a ruby and asked which was bluer, I think everyone would answer in the same way. Definitions are nowhere to be found, but hints and guesses are everywhere.

    And if you have missed the link in the synopsis, which is supposed to lead you to the list, I ask you to consider clicking on it. I tried to write something like an epic poem consisting of human names.
  • Eseitch
    7


    Thank you for replying.

    What do you mean by universal language? One where everyone understands exactly what you mean? There are no universal languages like that, the devil is always in the detail. — Judaka

    Certainly, I did not mean that the name of Lincoln could always evoke the same feeling. Names sound differently in different ears. The name of George Washington sounds differently in the ears of Native Americans.
    What I meant is that the name of Abraham Lincoln always indicates one particular person that is Abraham Lincoln. We have different opinions about him. We have different historical views. But at least we can talk about the exact same person. The universality of names relies on the uniqueness of each person. When I say, "This desk I'm using right now," you don't know what it is; when I say, "Justice is beautiful," I myself am not sure what I'm talking about; when I say, "Abraham Lincoln," we both know at least who he is. That is the universality of names, and there are limits in this universality.

    He isn't a symbol of justice, he is a symbol of a man standing up for justice and that justice is characterised by the injustice of slavery. — Judaka

    You are right. I agree with you. I really did not mean that he was the ultimate incarnation of political justice. I suppose I wrote badly.

    Bringing up "justice is hard to define" is a red herring. That's got nothing to do with anything here. Justice is still hard to define even if we knock off chattel slavery as being universally wrong. — Judaka

    Again, I'm not disagreeing with you. I definitely did not mean that we should see some heroic act as the definition of justice. What I wanted to say is that we can see people, though we cannot see justice itself.
    For example, if there were two brothers equally loved by their parents, and one of them grew into a serial killer while the other ended up as a war hero who somehow saved the lives of his fellow soldiers by sacrificing his own, I believe most people would agree that the latter as a human being was more moral than the former, even though no one could define morality itself. That's the point. I wanted to find a philosophical equivalent to 2 + 2 = 4, forgetting about the definition of justice and quantum physics for a little while.

    I don't have anything constructive to say other than that this idea lacks nuance and I don't think you've had a real go at trying your best to understand how it could be wrong. — Judaka

    The idea has already produced a result, and there is a link in the synopsis. If you look at the list, you will find that not only General Lee and Stonewall Jackson but even Jefferson Davis is tagged as an angel there.
    The devil may well be in the detail. But where is the angel? The angel is on the surface, hiding nowhere.
  • Eseitch
    7


    Thank you very much for taking a look at the list. Your queries are appropriate, and I really appreciate that you perceived that the categorisation was based upon some method rather than my personal preference. I try to explain.

    First, I would like to talk about my views on Wittgenstein, one of the key philosophers for the list along with Husserl and Kant.
    To put it simply, I took the later Wittgenstein seriously. The general opinion is that he was a serious thinker at first, but as years passed, he was somewhat softened with age and became naïve. My personal opinion differs: in his younger days, he believed that he could prove what he could not speak of by his actions; the proposition 6.43 suggests that he dreamt a happy world in which people, while keeping silent about the unspeakable, acted with goodwill, a world where the unspeakable was constantly proven by moral actions. Wittgenstein was a bit of a romantic at first.
    But I believe the later Wittgenstein saw hypocrisy in his early thoughts, that is to say, he did not feel it so moral, when there were real grieving people who had lost their dear family members in the war, to tend gardens alone while muttering, "Why can't they understand?" He thought initially that he could be a stoic in his silence while the whole world was indulging in nonsense, but in the end it was he who was indulging in his silence while the whole world was suffering nonsense. The gist of the later Wittgenstein's thoughts is that we have to reconcile the human mind and the world of facts by expressing the truth, contrary to his early thoughts, by some form of language. Obviously, the later Wittgenstein did not succeed, but I thought his self-criticism was reasonable.
    Returning to the list, I emphasise that it is, though constructed by language, silent. The list is supposed to indicate the unspeakable with silent words.

    What are the details of the method (algorithm) by which you assign a name under (i)Angel (ii)Demon (iii)Great in a grouping of 3. Are the grouped names refuting major points? Are they voices in a dialogue? — Nils Loc

    Some names were already grouped when I started making the list. Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael have always been regarded as "the three great painters of the Renaissance"; Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles as "the three great Greek tragedians"; similar things can be said about Plato, Socrates and Aristotle, or Voltaire, Rousseau and Montesquieu. Each group often represents some sort of movement of a particular time and a region, so each of a trio is supposed to reflect the same movement, philosophical or artistic, in each different way. I collected those trios and compared them one with the others to see if there was a pattern.
    One simplistic explanation may be that I related the Angel tag to idealism and stoicism; the Demon tag to nihilism, hedonism and dogmatism; the Great tag to pragmatism and materialism - or realism in general, though it is too simplistic and will be misleading, given some big exceptions. But I thought Baudelaire and Poe being tagged as demons could be self-explanatory.

    Does the Great tag represent a synthesis or mediation of content associated with the preceding 2 names? — Nils Loc

    Yes, many names with the Great tag, such as Epicurus, Pierre Charron and Corneille, can be seen as representing a synthesis or mediation of preceding two, though I'm absolutely not a Hegelian. You poked the right spot.
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