While I’m experimenting with sincerity in the bath, it’s worth trying to say something sincerely nice about a thinker whose influence I spend a lot of time lambasting: Aristotle, the first to truly betray Plato, the one true Judas of the Socratic tradition.
First and foremost, after spending enough time talking to @benedict, amongst other things, I’ve come to the opinion that betrayal is an integral part of a well functioning intellectual ecosystem. There are many examples of betrayals and counter betrayals through the tradition.
The abstract logic of evolution through determination becomes computationally concrete in the form not simply of anti-thetical theories but systematic rivalries with various degrees of institutional structure, from competing individuals to warring research programs and beyond.
The commitments articulated by one generation display abstract promises and concrete failures, and often the only way for the next to have fidelity to the one is to rebel against the other, to return to an earlier fork in the road and take the path not travelled.
This is the history of rationalism and empiricism in the ‘Western’ philosophical tradition, less two modern tendencies synthesised by Kant than two perennial rebellions changing places with each temporary synthesis. I’m on team Plato, for the moment, but it wasn’t always thus.
I was influenced by Popper’s critical rationalism early on, but this inferential fallibilism is obviously indebted to the experiential skepticism of Hume, not to mention several centuries of productive epistemological warfare encoded in the (academic) structure of the sciences.
I was won over to team (superior) empiricism by Deleuze’s audacious anti-Heideggerian metaphysical project, but the slow realisation that his inversion of Platonism was better seen as a Platonist retort to Aristotle eventually brought me back into the (logico-mathematical) fold.
I’ve recently been explicitly tracing the history of Platonic counter-revolutions to Aristotelianism and the role of mathematics therein, but I’m here not to talk about these, but why anyone might want to be an Aristotelian in the first place. What will to betrayal lies herein?
Here are 5 solid points in Aristotle’s favour: 1) he systematises philosophical/scientific knowledge, 2) he formalises logic, 3) he stands up for becoming, 4) he stands up for sensibility, and 5) he grounds ethics/politics in concrete questions of individual/collective life.
1. There is a reason Aristotle's writings produced an audible sonic boom when they hit Europe after reimportation from the Islamic world. Here was a guy who wrote the handbook to the whole of reality and the human condition to boot. The systematicity is staggeringly impressive.
2. The reinforced skeleton of this system is the formalisation of propositions, syllogisms, terms, and categories. I often complain that these aren't taught to students, because much pre-C20 philosophy makes far more sense when you realise *everyone* was taught them.
3. This gives him the tools to take Plato's fairly dismissive treatment of the world of becoming to task, not simply performing the first inversion of Platonism (from secondary to primary substance), but articulating the project of physics in terms of temporality and persistence.
4. This goes hand in hand with a sophisticated epistemology of explanation that explicitly thematises the distinction between reality and appearance, disarticulating Plato's appeal to abstract universals, and providing an account of thought/sensation as situated in becoming.
5. Aristotle provides an account of the good life which, though it's as Socratic as Plato in privileging the auto-examined life, remains committed to a certain pragmatism: one must learn to live first, before one can learn to reflect on it, and then maybe realise this wisdom.
1-5 contain many storied biases, from logical limitations and normative naturalism to manifest metaphysics and literal slavery, but I think there's a worthy legacy there for some. I'll resist them tooth and nail, but no doubt be made a better thinker for it.
If there's one aspect of Aristotle's legacy I find most inspiring it is the thoroughly institutional nature of his betrayal. Given my many critiques of the current state of the Academy, I am constantly tempted to put on my boots and walk away, seeking some new Lyceum.
But even if I don't give into this temptation to exit the Academy, I can't resist the wanderlust it invokes: the peripatetic drive to walk from place to place, talking to whoever I find, learning from their experiences as much as my own. Socratic solidarity on the move. 🖖

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More from @deontologistics

22 Feb
Here's a final thought for this evening. I often give a hard time to Marxists talking about the 'contradictions' inherent in capitalism, usually because this is methodology turned metaphysical bombast. But there are concrete absurdities around us that bear the weight of history.
Much like Lakatosian research programs, societies accrue anomalies/exceptions that can be handled in more or less progressive ways. Ad hoc solutions beget ad hoc solutions, and the result is ramifying technical debt: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technical…
These accrued debts to future generations can persist long enough that they seem like pillars of the world, rather than failures of administration. There are many such debts in the post-industrial West, addicted as we are to avoiding infrastructural investment of every kind.
Read 33 tweets
22 Feb
Funny story: I once bumped into a professional AI Ethicist queueing for a Russian visa in London. I told him I had objections to utilitarianism and he looked at me like he'd found a Flat Earther. Such people like utilitarianism because it's about automating ethics, not autonomy.
Here are the serious ethical questions regarding AI:

1) How do we deploy these systems in social institutions without simply diffusing responsibility, e.g., encoding explicit prejudice, laundering implicit bias, or automating brute incompetence? (deontologistics.co/2019/11/04/tfe…)
2) How do we integrate these systems into our own cognitive architecture in ways that enhance our autonomy, rather than diminishing it, e.g., imaginative prostheses, cognitive extensions, exo-selves?()
Read 9 tweets
21 Feb
Time for another a Pete’s controversial aesthetic opinions tweeted from the bath. Here’s an important fork in the aesthetic road encapsulate by a choice between two things: which is better, Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath. For me, it’s Sabbath every time.
To qualify, I only really count the Ozzy era here. I don’t care all that much for the Dio era, or that much for Ozzy’s solo work. But those first four albums are the real origin of heavy metal, stoner rock, and much else besides, and their aesthetic experimentation is glorious.
Most people I know think I’m mad. But I’d even go so far as to say that out of the two, Sabbath are the better blues band, because they’re clearly still in the era where rock was defining itself through its rearticulation of blues.
Read 16 tweets
20 Feb
If you're really serious about talking about the problem of 'cancel culture', rather than either spewing talking points or denying that the term refers to anything, then the first step is to acknowledge that the relevant social dynamics are hardly a new thing.
The piece that I always return to is Jo Freeman's essay 'Trashing: The Dark Side of Sisterhood' (jofreeman.com/joreen/trashin…), and the example that always saddens me the most is Shulamith Firestone (newyorker.com/magazine/2013/…).
The most extreme historical example that is often brought up by the opponents of 'cancel culture', which should always be born in mind precisely because of its extremity, is the Red Guards and the Cultural Revolution in Mao's China (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_…).
Read 10 tweets
20 Feb
My morning thought. I think what's most incompatible about the way I think and the journal article format as a means of capturing and validating thought is that I have a completely different sense of the relation between tentativeness, rigor, and informatic compression.
The characteristic Pete thought is: wait a minute, this whole area is dominated by an assumption that no one seems to be questioning, and I've got two options to express that: i) outline the logic of the issue in a quick and compressed way, ii) write a small book with references.
The discipline seems to want something in between these poles every single time, and this makes me extremely anxious because I feel (with good reason) like any partially referential engagement with the issue will get instantly torpedoed by anyone outside its referential remit.
Read 14 tweets
19 Feb
Here's another dose of philosophical-political sole searching for the morning. People often tell me to apply for things: jobs, postdocs, competitions, blind submissions of various kinds, and my default answer these days is 'no' unless there's a very compelling case for it. Why?
It seems like a perfectly reasonable request. I also thoroughly believe in my mother's maxim that 'shy bairns get no sweets', i.e., that one has to go out and ask for things, because they won't just come to you. However, most bairns don't have to fill out sweet application forms.
I spent 6 years applying for everything in sight, both in the philosophy world, and in the regular world, just trying to find part time work to get by on. I even tried setting myself up on sites like Upwork to get editing gigs, because this is one thing I have experience in.
Read 62 tweets

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