Philosopher Baruch de Spinoza’s birthday today


This video, in English with Portuguese subtitles, says about itself:

Spinoza – The Apostle of Reason (Espinosa – O Apóstolo Da Razão)

An excellent and quite accurate film on Spinoza. The scenes showing Spinoza reading/writing letters is very accurate. They picked two of the funniest of his letters, especially the one on the existence of male apparitions and ghosts. Those writing to Spinoza were Albert Burgh and Hugo Boxel. I highly recommend that people read Spinoza’s letters. There is some excellent philosophy in his correspondence, and lots of laughs.

By David B. Green in Israel:

This Day in Jewish History / Europe’s first secular Jew is born

Philosopher Baruch de Spinoza was banned by the Jewish community of Amsterdam for his allegedly heretical views on God and religion.

Nov. 24, 2013 | 5:06 AM

November 24, 1632, is the day that philosopher Baruch de Spinoza was born, in the Jewish quarter of Amsterdam. The son of a family that originated in Spain before the Inquisition, and eventually settled in Holland, Spinoza was banned by the Jewish community of Amsterdam for his original and allegedly heretical views on God and religion. Although he never recanted his beliefs, he also did not convert to Christianity, and continued developing his philosophy, producing a number of works that are studied to this day. As such, he has been called Europe’s first secular – or modern – Jew.

Baruch de Spinoza (after his excommunication, he Latinized his name to Benedict de Spinoza) was the second son of Miguel, a Portuguese-born merchant, and his second wife, Hanna Debora de Espinoza, conversos who re-embraced their Judaism on their immigration to Amsterdam.

Baruch received a traditional Jewish education, but his formal studies ended when he was 17 and joined his father’s import business. It is apparently the beginning of Spinoza’s dealings with the world outside Amsterdam’s insular Jewish community that opened him up to free-thinking Christians like Frances Van den Enden, a former Jesuit who saw his own writings proscribed by the Church. Van den Enden taught Spinoza not only Latin, but also apparently exposed him to the rational thought of Descartes and to the concept of democracy.

In 1654, Miguel de Spinoza died, and Baruch began to run the family business, together with his brother Gabriel. Later, encountering debts he could not repay, he turned to the civil authorities (rather than Jewish ones) in Amsterdam to be recognized as an orphan, so as to be freed of responsibility to his father’s creditors. At the same time, he began lowering his annual contributions to the city’s Jewish community, eventually ending them altogether. These events closely corresponded to a lawsuit with his sister, Rebekah, who disputed his inheritance. Baruch won the suit, but later relinquished the family holdings to her, turned over the business to Gabriel, and took up the profession of optics. Around the same time, Spinoza was shaken by a knife attack, by someone who was apparently outraged by his public expressions of unorthodox views.

On July 27, 1656, the Jewish community of Amsterdam – its parnassim, or secular leaders, not its rabbis — issued its herem (ban) on Spinoza, whom it accused of “abominable heresies” and “monstrous acts,” and cursed “by day and … by night… when he lies down and… when he rises up.” It also forbade any other member of the community from having any contact with him.

Oddly, the writ of herem does not in any way specify Spinoza’s heresies or monstrous acts. Despite its harshness, there is evidence that Spinoza was given an opportunity to redeem himself before it was issued, but he refused the demand that he keep his thoughts to himself. Although there is no evidence that the municipal authorities had pressed the Jewish leadership to deal with Spinoza, it is clear that the Jews were a tolerated minority (they had only recently been permitted to settle in Holland) who were expected to remain true to their faith and keep contact with Christians to a minimum. Spinoza was consorting with non-Jews and discussing matters of theology openly with them.

After being banned, Spinoza left Amsterdam, and no longer lived the life of an observant Jew. Yet, he also did not adopt another religion. Although he moved several times, he spent the last years of his life in The Hague, where he pursued the profession of lens-making and devoted the rest of his time to thinking and writing. He died on February 20, 1677, probably from an illness connected to the glass dust he inhaled from his lens-grinding.

To this day, philosophers are still trying to categorize Spinoza’s teachings, to determine, for example, whether he was an atheist, or a theist or a pantheist.

Clearly, he denied the existence of a God who directly involved in history; his God was impersonal, perhaps co-equal with nature. The human soul, apparently, was not immortal. The Scriptures were written by humans, not God or his agent Moses. Since most of Spinoza’s works were published posthumously, there were likely more personal reasons behind his ostracism.

Almost immediately after he died, his writings were shipped to Amsterdam and published. And almost as quickly, they were banned throughout the Netherlands.

Slovenian philosopher Žižek on Syria


This video from England is called National Demonstration No Attack on Syria, Stop the War Coalition, London 31 08 13.

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

Syria is a pseudo-struggle

The ongoing struggle we see is a false one, lacking the kind of radical-emancipatory opposition clearly perceptible in Egypt

Slavoj Žižek

Friday 6 September 2013 13.42 BST

All that was false in the idea and practice of humanitarian interventions exploded in a condensed form apropos Syria. OK, there is a bad dictator who is (allegedly) using poisonous gas against the population of his own state – but who is opposing his regime? It seems that whatever remained of the democratic-secular resistance is now more or less drowned in the mess of fundamentalist Islamist groups supported by Turkey and Saudi Arabia, with a strong presence of al-Qaida in the shadows.

As to Bashar al-Assad, his Syria at least pretended to be a secular state, so no wonder Christian and other minorities now tend to take his side against the Sunni rebels. In short, we are dealing with an obscure conflict, vaguely resembling the Libyan revolt against Colonel Gaddafi – there are no clear political stakes, no signs of a broad emancipatory-democratic coalition, just a complex network of religious and ethnic alliances overdetermined by the influence of superpowers (US and western Europe on the one sideRussia and China on the other). In such conditions, any direct military intervention means political madness with incalculable risks – say, what if radical Islamists take over after Assad’s fall? So will the US repeat their Afghanistan mistake of arming the future al-Qaida and Taliban cadres?

Laura van Dolron, Dutch comedian


Laura van Dolron is a Dutch comedian. She calls herself a stand-up philosopher. Her last show before her present New Year’s Eve show was about French philosopher and author Jean-Paul Sartre.

This video is about Laura van Dolron’s New Year’s Eve show.

On 19 December 2012, she did a tryout show for her New Year’s Eve show.

It was in a small new theatre: Ins Blau in Leiden.

Laura van Dolron was born in 1976. Then, and earlier, every 31 December, there was a famous New Year’s Eve show by comedian Wim Kan. In the fifties, millions of Dutch people listened to it on the radio. When, in the 1970s, the show went on TV, millions watched. The theme of the show was mainly Dutch and international politics.

Audiences often expect comedians or clowns to be funny all the time, also in their private lives. Often then, there is a discrepancy between what people expect of these entertainers, and how these entertainers really are as human beings. Wim Kan in his everyday life and in his diaries was often somber.

Laura van Dolron said that, for Wim Kan, there was an extremely big discrepancy between what others expected of him, and how he really was. That is not just Wim Kan’s problem; he was an extreme example. Laura said that she herself should be careful not to become alienated from herself too much by conforming to audiences’ expectations.

Now, at the end of 2012, Laura van Dolron asks herself what has changed since 1976. In this show, she has things in common with Wim Kan. She wears white tie clothes similar to him. However, contrary to Wim Kan, she does not want to hide things which she feels bad about from her audience behind jokes.

So, a big part of Laura’s show was about relationships between men and women going wrong. Another difference with Wim Kan, Laura said. As Wim Kan loved his wife for half a century. During World War II, Kan was a prisoner in a Japanese camp. He desperately missed his wife, and wanted her back.

Iris Murdoch letters acquired


This video is called Iris Murdoch on Philosophy and Literature: Section 1.

From Kingston University in England:

Kingston University acquires revealing Iris Murdoch letters

03 September 2012

A collection of letters written by Dame Iris Murdoch, which reveals the depth of her relationship with one of her closest female friends, has been acquired by Kingston University’s Centre for Iris Murdoch Studies. The 250 letters from the 1940s to 1990s were written by Murdoch, the philosopher and distinguished post-war British novelist, to fellow philosopher Professor Philippa Foot. The pair first met in the early 1940s and subsequently had a brief affair in the late 1960s.

The purchase – made possible by a £107,000 Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) grant – represents an important addition to the London university’s Iris Murdoch archive, now thought to be the most extensive in the world. The letters provided a rare insight into Murdoch’s private life and thoughts, director of the Centre for Iris Murdoch Studies Dr Anne Rowe said. “They hold particular human interest because of the intense personal relationship between the two women who first met as undergraduates at Somerville College, Oxford,” she explained. “They went through all the ups and downs of friendship together but they remained very close for six decades and, in the final stages of Murdoch’s illness, Philippa was one of the few people apart from Murdoch’s husband with whom she could be left alone without becoming agitated.”

Murdoch and Foot’s 60-year friendship survived personal upheavals and painful emotional dilemmas. Referring to an earlier estrangement, Murdoch wrote in the late 1950s: ‘‘Losing you, and losing you in that way, was one of the worst things that ever happened to me. I hope very much that we can now recapture something. I have thought of you so much in these years and dreamed painfully of you too. I would entirely wish only to speak to you from the heart.” In 1968, the year in which their relationship became more intimate, Murdoch wrote: “Sometimes I feel I have to invent a language to talk to you in, though my heart is very full of definite things to say. You stir some very deep part of my soul. Be patient with me and don’t be angry with my peculiarities. I love you very much.”

Iris Murdoch published 26 novels between 1954 and 1995 and is recognised internationally as one of the most significant British writers of the 20th Century. The latest purchase would ensure that the letters, which also gave a first-hand insight into the social, political, philosophical and literary zeitgeist in Britain in the mid-to-late 20th Century, would stay in the United Kingdom and be made available to a global community of scholars and researchers and the wider public, Dr Rowe said. “The powerful combination of historical, intellectual, political and personal insight in the letters provides a unique opportunity to encourage members of the public to explore the significance of scholarly archives to British heritage,” she added.

Dutch philosopher says Ayaan Hirsi Ali should not have got the Beauvoir prize


Simone de Beauvoir with headscarf

From the Dutch philosophical review Filosofie Magazine:

De Beauvoir specialist unhappy with prize for Hirsi Ali

Dutch De Beauvoir specialist Karen Vintges is unhappy that Ayaan Hirsi Ali has won the Simone de Beauvoir prize.

‘Simone de Beauvoir is probably noisily turning in her grave right now. It is OK that Hirsi Ali opposes fundamentalism; however, it is not OK that she attacks all of Islam across the board. She helps to create an atmosphere in which seemingly each and every Muslim is dangerous; de Beauvoir definitely would not have wanted to have anything to do with such an atmosphere’, according to Karen Vintges, a philosopher at Amsterdam University.

The prize goes to women who, in the spirit of Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986) work for women’s rights. …

In a letter to the editors of the French review Nouvelles Questions Féministes, founded in 1981 by Simone de Beauvoir, Karen Vintges explained her objections to awarding this prize to Hirsi Ali. In a short interview, she explains her objections further. ‘The kind of feminism, established in France now, pretends that oppression of women is something still only happening in non-western cultures. Also, Ayaan Hirsi Ali stands for a kind of feminism which sees western [neo-]liberalism as the only way to liberation. For many Muslim women, this kind of views are an obstacle, rather than a help towards emancipation. De Beauvoir would have been very critical about the claims of western [neo-]liberalism of bringing freedom on a world scale. She was allergic to imperialism and colonialism. She was one of the first French intellectuals resisting the French wars in Vietnam and Algeria.’

Apologists for the Algerian war in the 1950s used to say that the war had to be waged as the enemies supposedly were ‘backward Muslims’.

She would have been much more suspicious about the way people in France and other West European countries think about headscarves of Muslim women and girls. Simone de Beauvoir would, on the contrary, have supported an inclusive feminism, giving Muslim feminists a voice from their own culture. These other voices have been around for a long time; however, you hardly hear them in the Dutch press.

Not just on this blog, there is one of various photos of Simone de Beauvoir with headscarf. Proving once again that headscarves often do not have anything to do with professing Islam; let alone with professing ‘fundamentalist’ Islam.

Feminism, imperialism, Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan: here.

Alain Badiou: here. And here.

French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir born 100 years ago


This video is called Simone de Beauvoir.

From British daily The Independent:

Still the second sex? Simone de Beauvoir centenary

She was the feminist icon who seduced her female students before passing them on to her male lover. John Lichfield reports on the magazine cover which has reignited an issue close to her heart: female equality in France.

See also here.

Betty Friedan: here. And here.

Shulamith Firestone, 1945-2012: In Memoriam: here.

Philosopher Obituary: G. A. Cohen (1941-2009): here.

Thomas Kuhn’s paradigm shift: here. And here. And here.

France: critical eighteenth century Enlightenment philosophers


Helvétius

From French daily L’Humanité:

Michel Onfray, or Philosophy in Reverse Gear

Translated Monday 21 August 2006, by Henry Crapo

France Culture, French national radio, retransmits each day talks by Michel Onfray at the Popular University of Caen (Normandie), which explore the history [of] less known parts of the discipline of Philosophy

Michel Onfray, philosopher and writer, delights us with a radiophonic pearl, for the fourth consecutive year, Monday through Friday from 19h to 20h on France Culture.

The broadcast regroups recordings of a series of talks given by Onfray at the Popular University of Caen, of which he is the founder, on the theme “The best of the pack (the ultras) of the French Enlightenment”

This assemblage of reflections is an element of a vast project designed to rehabilitate “twenty-five centuries of forgotten philosophy”, a veritable “counter-history of Philosophy”, which gathers together authors voluntarily placed in the shadows by educational texts, colloquia, and other university work.

“The history of Philosophy is written by the winners of a battle that, speaking loosely, opposed idealists and materialists.

Under Christianity, the former have held intellectual power for the last 20 centuries”, Michel Onfray tells us ….

“The best of the pack of the French Enlightenment (Les ultras des Lumières)” thus pursues a long bi-path of “alternative philosophy” in a logic of “resistance to christianism”, the idealism of which has eclipsed reality now for twenty centuries.

This is the occasion for a serious neophyte to encounter the century of the French Enlightenment from a new angle, with authors little known, like Jean Meslier, “atheistic, materialist, communist priest”, Maupertius, “inventor of French utilitarism”, or Helvétius, “radical reformer”, to each of whom Michel Onfray devotes two broadcasts, on the average.

This evening (17 August) at 19h, the philosopher invites us to “deconstruct christianism” following the work of D’Holbach, a “unstoppable atheist” for whom Religion is simply a “human forgery”.

Onfray on French presidential elections of 2007: here.

Atheism and society in the USA today: here.

Descartes and Negri: here. Negri: here.

Hardt and Negri: here.

Atheism today: Dawkins and Sam Harris.