Donald Davidson is dead

by Chris Bertram on August 31, 2003

Donald Davidson, one of the foremost philosophers of mind and language of recent decades, died yesterday in Berkeley. Davidson was the author of many papers that defined the terms of subsequent debate, such as “Actions, Reasons and Causes” and “How is Weakness of the Will Possible?” The last couple of years have seen a succession of philosophical giant die (Lewis, Rawls, Nozick, Williams) and it is sad to see Davidson joining their number. An account of his life and importance can be found at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. I’ll add links to obituaries to this post as they become available. (News via Brian Leiter’s site). Obituaries: New York Times, UC Berkeley News, Guardian, The Times, Daily Californian, Independent.

Funding Basic Research

by Kieran Healy on August 31, 2003

My gradual progress through the multi-volume Latham and Matthews transcription of The Diary of Samuel Pepys continues. Here we are on February 1st 1664:

bq. Thence to White-Hall, where in the Dukes chamber the King came and stayed an hour or two, laughing at Sir W. Petty, who was there about his boat, and at Gresham College in general … Gresham College he mightily laughed at for spending its time only in weighing of ayre, and doing nothing else since they sat.

William Petty was a fascinating character who is remembered variously as a pioneer in demography and political economy, the man responsible for the first really good map of Ireland and, as we see him here, the designer of a novel “double-bottomed boat” (i.e., a catamaran). Pepys’ editors — who have a great line in dry commentary — chime in with a footnote:

bq. The gibe was of course untrue, and in any case this laughable weighing of air did in fact lead (by way of Newcomen’s steam-engine in Anne’s reign) to the development of steam power. Cf. the similar complaint of a pamphleteer in 1680: “We prize our selves in fruitless Curiosities; we turn our lice and Fleas into Bulls and Pigs by our Magnifying-glasses; we are searching for the World in the Moon with our Telescopes; we send to weigh the Air on the top of Teneriffe … which are voted ingenuities, whilst the Notions of Trade are turned into Ridicule or much out of fashion”.

We also learn that the French Ambassador, “in a despatch to Louis XIV of 25 January/4 February, referred to Petty’s double-bottomed ship as ‘la plus ridicule et inutile machine que l’esprit de l’homme puisse concevoir.'”

Get a Lifestyle

by Kieran Healy on August 31, 2003

In Newspaper Land, Summer is the season of fake lifestyle trends. There’s nothing like a bit of pop sociology to fill the feature pages on those long, hot days. The New York Times has been doing quite well on this front recently. A couple of months ago it was telling us about metrosexuals, the allegedly new breed of straight male who uses Neutrogena products and so on. They also had a story about the rise of the thirtieth birthday party. Today we read about rejuveniles, who are grown-ups with “busy lives with adult responsibilities, respectable jobs and children of their own” but who nevertheless like to play with children’s toys, sing children’s songs and generally make well-functioning adults and children alike feel rather uncomfortable. Here’s the pitch:

bq. From childless fans of kiddie music to the grown-up readers of “Harry Potter,” inner children are having fun all over. Whether they are buying cars marketed to consumers half their age, dressing in baby-doll fashions or bonding over games like Twister and kickball, a new breed of quasi adult is co-opting the culture of children as never before.

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