Tuesday, November 20, 2007

critique of pure reason.

it's snowing. i'm trying to read kant. it's difficult.
this is a poem by jane hirschfeld about it, sort of:

'Like one man milking a billy goat
another holding a sieve beneath it,'
Kant wrote, quoting an unnamed ancient.
It takes a moment to notice the sieve doesn’t matter.
In her nineties, a woman begins to sleepwalk.
One morning finding pudding and a washed pot,
another the opened drawers of her late husband’s dresser.
After a while, anything becomes familiar,
though the Yiddish jokes of Auschwitz
stumbled and failed outside the barbed wire.
Perimeter is not meaning, but it changes meaning,
as wit increases distance and compassion erodes it.
Let reason flow like water around a stone, the stone remains.
A dog catching a tennis ball lobbed into darkness
holds her breath silent, to keep the descent in her ears.
The goat stands patient for two millennia,
watching without judgment from behind his strange eyes.

jane hirschfeld
critique of pure reason

Friday, November 16, 2007


a complicated day, but it ended with a very fun party.
this is me with my favorite snail ever.

Monday, November 12, 2007

val(you), too.

it's been my experience that a person's best talents and worst flaws are often impossible for me to untangle, and the more extraordinary the person, the more true i've found it to be: her innovativeness and her inconsistency, his generosity and his imprudence, her wit and her cruelty . our greatest virtues and vices ultimately the same quality, played out in different circumstances, or maybe distinct qualities underwritten by some common or undisentagleable set of motives. it makes everything complicated, takes us in circles-- we break who we try to fix, or we come to be repulsed by just what initially attracted us.

some of the most brilliant philosophers have argued (are still arguing) that values must be like thoughts, not like feelings- beliefs, not desires- because we can value all sorts of things that we may fail to pursue or realize. i value equality, for example, even as i half-consciously participate in systems that generate inequality. i may value discression highly, but fail to behave discreetly, or make no effort to behave discreetly at all. the examples are practically infinite-- if we were always motivated to behave in strict accordance with our values, it would be a very different world. feelings, on the other hand, are the sorts of things that make a difference in the world-- they necessarily motivate our behavior in a host of ways, ranging from hardly discernable to painfully obvious [or, at least, those things we call "feelings" are our experience of certain brain processes-- the sorts of brain processes that move us around in the world]- not sometimes, but always. so if feelings provide motives, and we can be unmotivated to pursue what we value, then values can't be feelings. that's the general idea.

despite the arguments of some of the most brilliant philosophers, i think that values are like feelings. i don't think that you can value what you don't desire, what you are unmotivated to pursue. but as long as the best and the worst of us remain so shatteringly difficult to tease apart there'll be a clash of motives- of values- that result in some motives being thwarted. we may behave cruelly or imprudently or inconsistently even as we value kindness, prudence and integrity, and not just because we lack the time or resources to improve, but because while we are motivated to pursue those virtues, we are more strongly motivated to preserve ourselves-- and not merely out of some perverse attachment to our vices (although that is a common enough motive), but in an effort to preserve what is best or most satisfying in ourselves.