Sunday, September 25, 2011

Thor on DVD

I rented Thor on DVD last night. I'm glad to say that much of the drama, comedy and action held up well on the second viewing. However, I want to add a bit to my initial review. Despite its notable flaws, I'd originally given the film four out of five stars. Unfortunately, I can only give the DVD version three-and-a-half, and that only barely. One reason is the lack of 3D. The 2D film isn't nearly as visually enthralling and impressive, and this makes it much easier to get distracted by the film's faults. When I left the theater the first time, I was charged and ready for more. After watching it again on DVD, I didn't feel much of anything at all. On top of that, I found one more plot point to criticize.


One of the main ideas in the film is that Norse mythology is based on historical fact. In the film's world, beings from another world once interacted with earthlings. All the myths about Odin, Thor and so on are based on these historical experiences. This allows the filmmakers to bridge the so-called gap between science and mythology, and I'm all for that. But there's a gaping hole in the way they go about it, one so big I'm surprised I didn't notice it the first time around.

In the film's backstory, which is explained at the beginning of the film, the immortal gods of Asgard defeated the Frost Giants, who were threatening humanity on earth, and then returned back to Asgard for the last time. Norse mythology should only be influenced by everything that happened up until that final retreat, and not later. But this makes it impossible for the mythology on earth to have anything to do with Thor, since he was, at best, an infant when Odin defeated the Frost Giants. So how, in this fictional world, is Norse mythology supposed to have incorporated facts about the hammer-wielding Thor?

Oh well. Not a perfect film. Still a lot of fun, and with some great acting and directing. I didn't have time to watch the film again with Branagh's commentary, but I did watch the special features, which include a small handful of deleted scenes. None of them belong in the movie, but they all work as entertaining and interesting supplements.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Descartes Contra Wittgenstein, Revisited

A while back I wrote a post in which I took a Wittgensteinian line against Descartes' cogito ergo sum. I was never all that happy with parts of it, and finally got around to fixing it. I'm not going to repost it, but here's the link: Descartes Contra Wittgenstein. I took out some parts that were a bit sophomoric and added a little to give a better sense of what Descartes was on about. I wouldn't say the piece is now perfect, but it's a lot better than it was before.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Stanley v. Romano

Jason Stanley has posted part of his and Carlin Romano's recent "Philosophical Progress and Intellectual Culture" panel discussion.

There's a lot of humor and good spirit here, until Carlin Romano starts talking. Jason Stanley is a bit all over the place, but his points tie together nicely enough and are delivered with panache. I am entirely sympathetic with his presentation and point of view (except about the propositional nature of practical ability, but that's pretty irrelevant here, and I think Stanley is even a little tongue-in-cheek about it at the end). Then Romano gets up and immediately goes on the assault. His criticism of academic and analytic philosophy is incredibly arrogant and ignorant.

His most humorous error results from his lack of familiarity with Grice's notion of implicature. He quotes Stanley, who says that "asserting that p implicates knowledge that p." Romero interprets this as a ridiculous error. He thinks Stanley believes that only a person who knows that p could ever assert that p, that the mere making of an assertion implies that what is asserted is true. That's not what Stanley means at all. Stanley's point is rather that part of what is communicated in an assertion that p is that the person making the assertion knows that p. But what is communicated is not necessarily true. The making of the assertion does not in fact imply that the person knows that p. It only means that the meaning of the assertion includes a statement of knowledge. (If this isn't clear, consider: I cannot assert that p whilst simultaneously asserting that I do not know that p. For example, the sentence "It is raining, but I do not know that it is raining" is problematic.) Romano is apparently unaware of this idea, which means he can't have much knowledge of Grice and, by implication (not implicature), the philosophical tradition in which Stanley is working. As a result, he makes a ridiculous accusation against Stanley. This got some great reactions from the crowd.

What's impressive is not Romano's ignorance. You wouldn't expect anybody to get these subtle distinctions without training. But that's the point. Romano fails to recognize that he is not qualified to speak critically about Stanley's book, and yet he focuses his entire presentation on a criticism of that very book.

Romano thinks philosophical writing should be accessible for everybody. Or, if not everybody, at least for himself. He thinks he should be qualified to criticize every philosophical work. But he's not. If I were going to psychoanalyze, I'd suggest that he's insecure about his inability to understand the bulk of analytic philosophy. He expresses his frustration by criticizing academic and analytic philosophers for their inaccessible writing. As if it is their fault he can't understand them.

I wonder, would he make the same criticism for specialists in other fields, such as biology, physics, mathematics, or psychology, or does he think philosophy is such that it is not worthy of advanced specialization?

I'd like to see how the rest of the discussion played out. From what we can see here, Stanley showed a decent amount of restraint and generosity in his initial response to Romano.

UPDATE: There's a good discussion with several links to other parts of the conference at Leiter's blog.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Philosophical Progress?

Brian Leiter mentions an upcoming Symposium on Philosophical Progress to be held at Harvard next weekend. The question is, will the consumption of alcohol lead to violence?


Jason Stanley and Carlin Romano will be pitted against each other in a panel discussion entitled "Philosophical Progress and Intellectual Culture" immediately after a wine and cheese break. Stanley, it is safe to say, will come down hard on the side of progress. He stands behind decades of advanced work in linguistics and epistemology. He doesn't just stand behind it. He banks on it. Carlin Romano, on the other hand, represents the literary critic's vitriolic rejection of so-called "positivist epistemology," a phrase which presumably is meant to cover any sort of philosophy which is not literary criticism--in other words, any sort of philosophy which calls itself "philosophy" without irony.

I'm not sure you could find panelists more invested in such incommensurable approaches to philosophy. Even without alcohol, this could easily become a heated exchange. Will there be pokers on hand? Hopefully a video of the symposium will be available online.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011