Ordinary Philosophy’s 4th Anniversary

At Monticello, VA, with my Dad, John Cools, in 2015 for my history of ideas series following Thomas Jefferson in America

I published my first post for Ordinary Philosophy four years ago today, on April 23rd, 2013. Thank you, dear readers and listeners, for your kind attention, your encouragement, your corrections, your patience as I learn with and from you, and your hospitality and financial support (you know who you are!) for all of my traveling philosophy / history of ideas series.

Ordinary Philosophy has been one of the most satisfying projects of my life, and I look forward to continuing to share my love of philosophy, history, ideas, and travel for many more years to come, whatever form this will take.

I’m thrilled to share the news with you that I’ll be resuming my formal education at the University of Edinburgh this fall. What an adventure this will be! I’ll be living and studying in the center of the Scottish Enlightenment and the city of David Hume. He brought me here three years ago when I followed his life and ideas for my first history of ideas travel series. I’ll take this opportunity continue my Hume series as well. Though my studies will demand a great deal of my energy and attention, I dearly hope I’ll be able to devote more time to share more with you here at Ordinary Philosophy, not less, as I once again pour the bulk of my time, energy, and love into the world of ideas.

Yours, as ever, Amy Cools

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

Selfie in the beautiful Rose Room of the New York Public Library, 2016 Amy Cools

In the beautiful Rose Room of the New York Public Library. Thank you, friends, for supporting my New York projects too! Ahhh, what a town…

Happy Birthday, Audre Lorde!

Audre Lorde, 1980

Audre Lorde, 1980

Poet and civil rights activist Audre Lorde was born on February 18, 1934. In remembrance of this powerful and eloquent woman on her birthday, I’ll share the bio I found at the Poetry Foundation:

‘A self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” Audre Lorde dedicated both her life and her creative talent to confronting and addressing the injustices of racism, sexism, and homophobia. Her poetry, and “indeed all of her writing,” according to contributor Joan Martin in Black Women Writers (1950-1980): A Critical Evaluation, “rings with passion, sincerity, perception, and depth of feeling.” Concerned with modern society’s tendency to categorize groups of people, Lorde fought the marginalization of such categories as “lesbian” and “black woman,” thereby empowering her readers to react to the prejudice in their own lives. While the widespread critical acclaim bestowed upon Lorde for dealing with lesbian topics made her a target of those opposed to her radical agenda, she continued, undaunted, to express her individuality, refusing to be silenced. As she told interviewer Charles H. Rowell in Callaloo: “My sexuality is part and parcel of who I am, and my poetry comes from the intersection of me and my worlds… [White, arch-conservative senator] Jesse Helms’s objection to my work is not about obscenity…or even about sex. It is about revolution and change.” Fighting a battle with cancer that she documented in her highly acclaimed Cancer Journals (1980), Lorde died of the illness in 1992…. Read more about Audre Lorde and her poetry here

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

Scotticisms

There’s this great little addendum to an edition of Hume’s Political Discourses, a first edition printed in Edinburgh by R. Fleming in 1752, called Scotticisms, that I came across in my research.

It ‘translates’ and compares phrases in Scotch to their corresponding phrases in English (English spoken in London and by academics, I suppose). David Hume was among the Scottish authors of his time who tried to make his writing more accessible to a wider British and European audience, who often had difficulty understanding Scotch. So he made of habit of using the English phrases and/or including a glossary like this one.

Interestingly, there’s a surprising number of cases where the Scotch phrases are the same as we use in the US today, while the English version has died out. Makes sense, I guess, since we have had such a large Scotch-Irish population throughout our history, but I would have thought the English influence would have been even more pervasive at the time, through governance, literature and commerce. Overall, more of the English versions persisted here, but not many more, and those seem to be the more common phrases or single words. Of course, being that this list is from so long ago, even more of the phrases in both have fallen out of use entirely, at least in the US.

Here are some examples, with the Scotch first, and the English second

 – conform to / conformable to
– friends and acquaintances / friends and acquaintance
– incarcerate / imprison
– tear to pieces / tear in pieces
– in the long run / at long run
– out of hand / presently
– a park / an enclosure
– ’tis a question if / ’tis a question whether (of course we say ‘it’s’ instead of ‘ ’tis’ )
– nothing else / no other thing
– there, where / thither, whither
– compete / enter into competition
– a chimney / a grate
– deduce / deduct

There are some cases where I wish we kept the Scotch version, more fun, though we use the English, or something closer to it

 – notour / notorious
– to be difficulted / to be puzzled
– dubiety / doubtfulness
– superplus / surplus
– yesternight / last night
– to extinguish an obligation / to cancel an obligation
– to condescend upon / to specify (is this indicative of pride to easily wounded, where even to give details is offensive?)
– butter and bread / bread and butter (different priorities, I suppose!)

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, entirely supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

New Year’s Day, a Resolution, and Writing as ‘Stepping Back’

For some reason, my eyes flew open a little before 8 am this morning, even though I didn’t go to bed ’til 2. I was at a house party with good friends, and spent a good deal of it by the fire pit in the backyard, and my hair smells deliciously like smoke. Bryan’s still sleeping, the house is quiet, and I’m here on the sofa with my coffee, obeying the first of my New Year’s resolutions on my list: to write at least 500 words a day.

I love the New Year holiday, and as I rediscovered when I returned to college a three (or so) years ago, I love writing. So this is an excellent way to start the year!

I feel that I can express myself so much better, sometimes, through writing, even better than with my artwork, and I’m always trying to find a way to communicate better with people. I’m a social person, who needs the feel the love and companionship of others in order to feel happy and satisfied. In fact, I’m very needy in this way. (Funnily enough, even more so than Bryan, who’s perfectly happy and comfortable spending a lot of time alone; he’s very self-possessed. But in social situations, Bryan’s the one who’s most at ease, who can find a way to connect with everyone, so funny and entertaining in conversation, and everyone loves him!) But I’m also very shy, and within the last couple of years, I’ve let many of the good habits I built up in my early 20’s fall away. When I was a child and into my teens, I was extremely shy and awkward, and had few friends, since the strange circumstances of my upbringing kept me somewhat isolated. But when I went to junior college, I enjoyed the company of so many new people and craved it constantly, so I learned how to be social and agreeable, mostly by listening and asking a lot of questions (this was not mere politeness, I was really interested! People are especially fascinating when you’ve spent most of your life rarely getting to know anyone outside of your own family). But in the last couple of years, I’ve become much more introverted in my habits, and have discovered, to my dismay, that there are so many people I care about that I haven’t really talked to at all, or in depth, in a long time. I even find myself retreating into myself when the people I actually want to talk to are right there in the room with me! That will change, I am determined.

So many of my introverted habits, I think, come from trying to figure out who I am and why, and how to be the kind of person I want to be, the kind of person worthy of respect, admiration even. I’ve been immersed in the past couple of years one of those existential crises that fall upon so many in their thirties, when one suddenly finds that they are well on their way through adulthood and there’s just not longer an ocean of time left. While these crises are inevitable and provide a valuable opportunity to take stock, it’s also important not to let them go on too long, since they can lead to that internal, doubt-driven wheel-spinning that impedes action. It’s a time to get it together and pick some goals to pursue and things to excel at, but then the time comes where you need to just get out there and actually do something about it.

Writing is an excellent tool to that end, and a way to really get to know one’s self, what one’s core values are, what are the best uses of one’s time and energy. It’s reflection and action all at once. I often feel that I really don’t know myself that well in many ways, and suspect that, through writing, I’ll be able to discover more. I think it’s often hard to understand oneself, to know certain things about one’s own personality and motivations, because it’s so hard to judge one’s own actions objectively, to see patterns in behavior, to get the ‘big picture’ view. One’s just just too close of an observer, too immersed in the instincts and emotions of the moment, to really ‘get’ why one’s doing, or thinking, or saying, whatever it is, at the time. I think writing is a process very like the ‘stepping back’ I do when creating an artwork or a piece of craft: I take a moment, or a few, to take some steps back from the work, to look at the overall effect, and to see how everything is hanging together, what needs to be changed, and what is working well.

When I write down what I’m thinking, I can get that big-picture view in a way that I rarely can otherwise, except perhaps in depthy conversation. Yet, writing is very like good, depthy conversation, because you’re calling on yourself to explain and describe something to an audience, and you’re conscious of other minds and how they may be perceiving what you have to say. And, you’re calling to mind the things other people have written or said concerning whatever it is you’re writing about. So writing also helps me to figure out what I really think and believe about things out there in the world.

That’s because, through writing, you can put together all those elements to craft a bigger picture, a more complete story, as opposed to just experiencing the daily stream of reactions to what’s going on out there. These reactions are important in themselves, the emotional responses, the internal arguments, the stockpiling of information about the world. But when you write, as when you converse, you’re putting it all together for yourself as well as for the person you’re talking to. What writing has over conversation is that you can go back and look over what you’re saying, and revise it, and perfect it much more thoroughly, and it’s not subject to lapses of memory. You become accountable to the ideas you expressed before, much like politicians are now accountable for those things they do and those words they spout off, since everything’s recorded these days. The more you write, and share what you write, you become more accountable to yourself, and to your readers. It places you firmly on a path of regular self-discipline, and self-improvement, as you strive to improve the quality and cohesiveness of your ideas. This ‘stepping-back’ process can do for your mind what it can do for the things you create: it shows you what’s missing, what you need to do in order to complete a more perfect, more beautiful, more unified whole.

So on this New Year’s morning, I affirm my resolution to be a better writer, and, through that, a better thinker and a better person. And I thank you, dear reader, for participating in this endeavor with me.

 

Sources, Influences, Shout-Outs, and all that Good Stuff

As I write these essays for publication in my own blog, I find that it’s liberating not to have to cite my sources in the same formal, painstaking way I would have to if I were writing a student paper or a formal scholarly work. I know that every single thought I have (and this is true not only for myself, but every thinker out there) is almost entirely possible because of other thinkers that came before me, and those who share their thoughts every single day. In this way, it’s actually impossible to really cite all my sources and properly thank all who influence and inspire me, so developing and writing down my thoughts without the added effort of laboriously disentangling those sources which I can consciously identify and those which I can’t remember helps this whole process flow much more freely.

But I also feel a sense of great indebtedness to all those thinkers out there who make the world such a fascinating place. I get to learn and think because, collectively, the human race is so generous when it comes to sharing their thoughts, purposefully altruistic (think Thomas Jefferson: “He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me”or otherwise. This great pool of human consciousness, the sum of human thought up to now, in fact, is central to my own concept of transcendence, that ‘mystical’ state of reaching for and belonging to something larger and greater than myself (a topic for another essay that I’ve been plotting for some time). When I’m in the throes of figuring something out, I’m often conscious of the fact that that so many parts of the puzzle have already been worked out by others, and I’ve only gotten to where I’m at because of them. While I’ll continue to link to and quote sources as I write, I probably won’t be thorough about it in this informal setting, so this list serves as a catch-all to what I’ve missed.

So here’s my informal, unscholarly list of my sources and influences, of shout-outs to all of you wonderfully curious, intelligent, creative, witty, and thoughtful creatures out there without whom I couldn’t think much of anything at all, let along write about it. This will be an open-ended blog post, and I’ll add to it as I’m inspired, but it’s in no way exhaustive. It can’t be, because, like everyone, most of the things I ‘know’ I don’t know how I know, because I don’t remember who I learned it from.

In no particular order:

– All human beings who have contributed to the sum of human knowledge and creative thought
– My dad, John Cools, for patiently answering my endless questions throughout childhood and beyond
– My husband Bryan, my lover, best friend, and constant conversational partner
– John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (excerpts)
Randy Newman
– John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, The Subjection of Woman, and excerpts from Utilitarianism and other works
– John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Two Treatises of Government (well, the second one) and excerpts from other works
– Ernestine Rose: feminist, atheist, socialist, Polish, Jew, human rights crusader, incredible in every way
– Montaigne, Essays
– My uncle, Timothy Harrod, for his willingness to regularly engage in honest, no-holds-barred, but respectful and friendly debate (he was my confirmation sponsor – you Catholics know what that is – and he’s been kindly trying to re-convert me and save my soul for years)
– My uncle Mark Cools, for similar reasons, while letting me stay at his house for free when I attended college
The philosophy department and other instructors at Sacramento State University, especially Gregory Mayes, Lynne Fox, Thomas Pyne, Bradley Dowden, Russell DiSilvestro, and Clifford Anderson
– David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, excerpts from various other works

– Daniel Dennett, Breaking the SpellIntuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking, lectures, interviews, and essays
– Susan Jacoby: Freethinkers and The Age of American Unreason

– Eric Gerlach
– Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, lectures and essays
– Michael Sandel, Justice and What Money Can’t Buy
Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind
– Elizabeth Cady Stanton, fierce feminist and freethinker

– Clay Jenkinson, scholar and podcaster of the Thomas Jefferson Hour
– The various authors of the Bible
Shakespeare
– Leonard Cohen
– Flannery O’Connor, The Complete Stories
– Robert Ingersoll, 44 Lectures
M. Somerset Maugham, Of Human Bondage and The Moon and Sixpence
– Carol Tavris, Mistakes Were Made But Not By Me, interviews and lectures
– Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and countless other stories, essays, and quotes
– Neil DeGrasse Tyson, essays, interviews, and lectures
– Bertrand Russell, History of Philosophy and various other works
– Townes Van Zandt
– Gabriel Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude 
– The wonderful student heathens at Sac State
– Cervantes, Don Quixote
Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great, debates, lectures, and interviews
– Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel
Jennifer Michael Hecht, Doubt: A History, interviews 
– Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species and The Descent of Man (excerpts; one day I intend to read them all the way through)
– Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor’s Tale, interviews, lectures, and essays
– My friend Tracy Runyon, with whom I’ve had so many depthy and exciting discussions