Fully Satisfied Readers

Kant went searching after the truth behind a commonly held notion and found nothing. “This,” he writes “is indeed by itself a sufficient reason for writing a book.” He is serious on this point, but the humor of it is not lost on him. He has nothing concrete to say on the point, no grand revelation nor eternal law to propound, and that is remarkable in itself. Philosophy is just like that sometimes and there is nothing wrong at laughing at that fact.

Philosophy is full to over-flowing with esotericisms, contradictions, and, if viewed from the right angle, downright silliness. Yet, many approach it with great reverence. To many, philosophy is cold and serious business. For that reason, it is very refreshing to get a look at the lighter side of philosophy, and even more so when the lighter side is pointed out by a philosopher as eminent (and often dry and serious) as Immanuel Kant.

But just when one is happy to have a laugh at the “profound scholars” for “[rejecting] by a majority of votes” any course of study that is practical and reasonable, Kant makes one more quip:  “the present treatise will fully satisfy the reader; for the main part he will not understand, another part he will not believe, and the rest he will laugh at.” Suddenly, the reader can no longer be sure that the joke is not on himself.

Beer of the Week: OB Golden Lager – As the Korean beer market slowly becomes more interested in the quality of the beer rather than simply the price, the big brewers keep making moves to keep up with the beer drinking public. OB Golden Lager has an edge in the eyes of the informed beer drinker because it is made with 100% malted barley and imported German hops. Using German hops and only malt are steps in the right direction, now if only they would use more of both. Unlike Kant, OB can make no claim to leaving the consumer “fully satisfied.” Although the beer isn’t bad, it is watery and uninspired. The most notable thing about the beer is that the soda-like head dissipated in record time; I couldn’t even snap a photo before it was all gone.

Reading of the week: the Preface to Dreams of a Spirit-Seer by Immanuel Kant – Kant explains, while having a dig at philosophers in general as well as the Church (just for good measure,) why he has undertaken to write a treatise on a subject where no firm truth can be had, namely, the world of spirits.

Question of the week: Why are questions about the soul and other subjects regarding “the land of shadows” so interesting even though no definite answers can be reached? And why is it so tempting to make positive statements about such subjects?

Open for discussion

“Read not… to find talk and discourse,” writes Sir Francis Bacon in his essay Of Studies. Studying for the sake of discoursing well, Bacon reckons, is mere ornamentation. This sort of study is different in kind from studying for the sheer delight of studying, which is “in privateness and retiring.” However, this is only the case if by “discourse” Bacon means “winning arguments.” Only with such a narrow definition does his claim make sense.

Discourse is an essential part of studying. In fact, the very act of  questioning Bacon on this point is discourse. Even if it is done alone. The interaction between the author and the reader is discourse (even if it does seem like a rather one-sided conversation.) Moreover, the questioning is the most delightful part of studying. The act of questioning shows that there is active learning going on. And eventually, the reading and questioning becomes too delightful and one absolutely cannot refrain from talking about it with others. Or perhaps writing his own part of the dialogue that was started long ago.

After all, that is the point of this blog. Beer and study can both be enjoyed privately, but if one has a true passion for either, he will invariably seek to share it with others. Beer tastes better in the company of friends and through discourse, philosophy comes to life.

Beer of the Week: Willianbräu Weizen – Like so many beers that find their way to me, this one has an interesting origin. Willianbräu is apparently brewed in Belgium for an Italian “Brand Management” company. I think this is essentially a supermarket house-brand. Over all, it is pretty bland, but I could imagine sitting outside with a few good friends, drinking way to many of these on some warm sunny day. In fact, I rather like imagining that.

Reading of the week: Of Studies by Sir Francis Bacon – It comes as no surprise that Bacon, the great champion of philosophy for the sake of practical ends, advocates learning so that one can properly “weigh and consider” (which almost has to refer to “the judgment and disposition of business”) rather than for discourse or for leisure.

Question for the week: Bacon prescribes different studies for different intellectual goals. Does it seem likely that the mind is actually exercised differently by mathematics than by language studies?

Soul of Darkness

It has been observed, and often with comedic effect, that when people are depressed they seldom turn to cheerful music to brighten their mood. On the contrary, they set their iPod to ‘repeat’ and play the saddest songs they can think of. Some regard this as being sulky, nurturing a mopey disposition simply to prolong it for its own sake. Indeed, this is occasionally the result of this course of action, but it is not the original intent.

In the poem My Soul is Dark, Lord Byron looks to music to soothe his “heavy heart.” Like our modern dispirited individuals, it is not happy music to which Byron turns:  “Nor let thy notes of joy be first.” He does not need music that is contrary to his current disposition to turn him around, rather, he needs music that will lead him through his current dejection. Only after he has plumbed the depths of his internal darkness, can he finally return to the light. Until then, the repeat button will stay on and the Elliott Smith play-count will rise.

Beer of the Week: Coopers Best Extra Stout – If this beer had existed at the turn of the 18th century, the title of Byron’s poem may well have been My Soul is Dark as a Coopers Extra Stout. It is the darkest beer I have ever seen. I am not even sure that I can say that I have actually “seen” it since I am not sure that any light actually escaped it as I held my glass to the light. The head was a beautiful dark bronze. The flavor was much as one would expect from a beer so dark. The roasted malt carried the flavor, with some coffee notes and a pretty sweet finish. The mouth-feel was also great, silky smooth but not thick. All in all, Coopers Best is a really, really good beer.

Reading of the week: My Soul is Dark by George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron – In 16 lines of poetry, Lord Byron expresses beautifully the connection that the melancholy soul feels for sad music:  one’s heart must “break at once—or yield to song.”

Question of the week: Although experience seems to support the idea that embracing sadness allows people to work through it, experience also supports the idea that dwelling on negative feelings makes them stick around. (See What is an Emotion?) Is it probable that some middle-ground is the ideal?

Lies, lies, lies

The details of the assassination of Osama bin Laden have gone through a few official revisions. First Osama was in a mansion, engaging in a fire-fight and using his wife as a human shield. Slowly, as information started coming from other sources, we have learned (or we think we have learned) that the “mansion” was a house in an unimpressive part of town and had a value of about a quarter of the initial report. It also came to light that the wife was not a human shield, but was running toward the SEALs. Lastly, Osama was unarmed and it seems probable that the “fire-fight” consisted of the SEALs shooting everybody quickly and efficiently without any resistance to speak of.

H. L. Mencken claims that “lying stands on a stands on a different plane from all other moral offenses.” Unlike murder or stealing, lying is not legislated against or universally recognized as wrong. However, the presence of  lies surrounding other actions serves as an “accurate gauge of other immoral acts.” Various actions are not wrong in themselves, but when combined with lies they become immoral. So it seems that the most important question about the bin Laden assassination is not “what really happened?” The most important question is “why did they lie about what happened?”

Beer of the Week: WA Bar Dunkel – The distributor of this beer may not be a liar, but he is certainly a bit misleading (although perhaps unintentionally.) First, the name is taken from a chain of bars in Korea called WA Bar. The beer itself, however, is from Germany and is brewed by our friends at Oettinger. So the beer is brewed in Germany and repackaged in Korea (notice the Korean writing on the can.) Most interesting though is the beer itself. I don’t recall ever having a dark wheat beer. This dunkel weizen is rather good. It has some of the caramel and coffee flavor of a stout, but with the sweet, light feel of a hefewiezen. And it has a good head on its shoulders.

Reading for the Week: Damn! A Book of Calumny by H. L. Mencken, Chapter XII: On Lying – Lying is in a class of it’s own. It is unlike other sins, yet almost a necessary part of many of them. And as for Mencken, he shows his devilish wit even in this short passage when he declares that “the line between stealing and not stealing is beautifully vague.”

Question of the Week: Is lying immoral in and of itself? If so, why is lying not prohibited in civilized society?