Quote of the Moment
"All really great things happen in slow and inconspicuous ways." Leo Tolstoy

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

iTunesU : Political Philosophy Lectures

Of absolutely no interest to anyone here I will note down some reflections from Steven B Smith's Yale Lectures on Political Philosophy. This post will be after the first of 15 lectures entitled 'What is Political Philosophy'. And you should be able to find it HERE if you have iTunes installed on your computer.


I have no problem recommending this specific video to anyone interested in Political Philosophy. It is an introduction, and like all good introductions it poses questions and broaden horizons ready for later instalments which - I assume, as I have yet to watch them - focus the student into the convolutions of thought required to tackle any specific topic.

His initial points and questions were as follows...

  • Political Philosophy frames the fundamental problems of political science.
  • The works of ancient philosophers give us the basic questions, if not contemporary answers.
  • There are no permanent answers in Political Philosophy.
  • There are no final authorities.
All pretty pedestrian stuff. The final authorities and no permanent answers comments chime with my own personal views. Those that see politics as a set of fixed positions which should be argued to death (mine, yours, your enemy's, whoever) tragically miss this fundamental truth. There are no truths, at best there are paths that could be scouted, cleared and made for a society to somewhere better.

As an introduction this lecture focused on questions. Questions that could spark brains into lively activity. For me the following list was exciting. It showed the building blocks of difference between political systems. A 101 checklist of things that could be used by an academic to - very quickly - analyse the qualities of a regime. And, I thought, any budding Fantasy author interested in building a new world with which to create adventures could use this to sketch out societies.

  • What is Justice?
  • What are the goals of a civilised society?
  • How should a citizen be educated?
  • Why should I obey the law? What limits are there to my obligation?
  • What constitutes human dignity? - Love, Virtue, Friendship, Success...?
  • What is God? Does he exist? What does this imply?
Political Philosophy touches, assaults, controls and expresses these topics. But what has been discussed didn't give anyone a clear idea where to start their study. This is given by the lecturer with another question; What is a regime?

  • Form of government?
  • How are the people governed?
  • How are government offices distributed?
  • What are the rights and responsibilities of citizens?
  • Regimes are intrinsically in opposition to alternatives?
...Hang on, hang on! This last point and the ones he follows up with brought me up short. 'Regimes are intrinsically in opposition to alternatives'. This concept is difficult and depressing if taken on face value, it expresses the idea within Political Philosophy that there will always, eternally and, indeed, there has to be conflict within politics. That, "politics is the organisation of hatreds", and as such partisanship and war is inseparable from politics. How to begin to accept this point... Well, the truth is I can't. And after making this set of statements the Lecturer then failed to follow up with any 'meat' of theory to back it up. As such it is difficult for me to respond in anything other than my gut feeling of revulsion for such a fatalistic thought. I wonder if this in some way reflects an American way of political thought?

Again, showing how good an introduction this is. I can only assume this will be touched upon at a later date.

Moving on. Regimes as a lifestyle and ethos was the next to be covered. This seemed to be summed up by two points.

  1. "The study of regime politics is a study of distinct character types that constitutive a regime body."
    Another concept I found slightly disturbing. With this you are forced to understand people as distinct groups. That it is only by separating and stereotyping, to some degree, the people that the character types are discernible and thus conceptually accessible  See the 19th and 20th Centurys for why I found this difficult. 
  2. "You cannot understand a regime until you understand what it stands for."
    Modern Britain stands for very little. Does this mean it is no longer a regime that could be understood by Political Philosophy?
How are regimes founded? Ancient custom and history YES or reflection, choice and statecraft NO? Next!

What is a statesman? Not particularly interesting to me.

The final key point made followed the classical question. Which is best? As political philosophy will bring you face to face with the full range of politics the question will always be there. Be in the revulsion felt such as my response above, or a calculated approach that aims to improve your own fortunes. Or, however you feel you should critique. It is subjective. To introduce this the lecture looked at Aristotle's 'The good human being or the good citizen'. A good citizen would be patriotic, and to do so would be an all encompassing good that might bring such a citizen into conflict with citizens of another regime. A good human being would transcend regimes being good everywhere. For Aristotle a philosopher could only be a good human being, and as such would not feel at home in any regime as there would be no regime that was best.

Philosophy will never feel at home in any regime.

A philosopher will never feel loyal to anyone or anything other than what is best.


Reading: Plato's apology to Socrates.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Library of European Civilisation

This is something of a silly project for me. I recently read a book called 'The World of Late Antiquity: AD 150 to 750' by Peter Brown which I greatly enjoyed. On the corner of this book was mentioned that this was part of a series of books called the 'Library of European Civilisation'. I did a little research to this so called 'Library' and found that there was no obvious list of other books in along side this one. I in turn contacted the publisher - Thames & Hudson - who responded with an extensive list of ISBN numbers without title or context.

This situation cannot last.

My project is to complete the list. To give context to those jumbles of numbers and to see if there is more I can learn from this 'Library of European Civilisation'. Most links are to amazon.co.uk for my own convenience and to save time, an alternative location to get many of the books would also be abebooks.com. In the end there were a few books that were not apart of the 'Library of European Civilisation', these have been included at the bottom under their correct headings.


Library of European Civilisation

0500330069 - The Ancien Regime by C.B.A. BEHRENS
0500290113 - Ancient Greek Literature in Its Living Context by H.C. Baldry
0500330271 - The Austrian Achievement, 1700-1800 by Wangermann, Ernst
0500330050 - Byzantium and Europe by Speros Vryonis
0500290067 - Civilizations of the Indus Valley and Beyond by Sir Mortimer Wheeler
0500320357 - Conservatism in Europe, 1770-1945: Traditionalism, Reaction, and Counter-Revolution by John Weiss
0500320128 - The Counter Reformation by A. G. Dickens
0500330247 - Dutch in the Seventeenth Century by K.H.D. Haley
0500280016 - Doesn't exist apparently. - Help appreciated.
0500330182 - Eastern and Western Europe in the Middle Ages by K. Bosl
0500330212 - Economic Development of Mediaeval Europe by R-.H. Bautier
050033014X - Europe in the Age of Imperialism, 1880-1914 - Heinz Gollwitzer (Author), G. Adam (Translator)
0500330166 - Europe in the Age of Louis XIV - Ragnhild Marie Hatton
050033031X - European Economic Integration, 1815-1970 by Sidney Pollard
0500330190 - European Renaissance Since 1945 - Maurice Crouzet
0500320098 - Fifteenth Century by Margaret Aston (19 Feb 1968)
0500330158 - The First European Revolution, 1776-1815 by Norman Hampson (29 Sep 1969)
0500330042 - From Sarajevo to Potsdam by A.J.P. Taylor (31 Oct 1966)
0500330301 - The Greek Experiment: Imperialism and Social Conflict, 800-400 B.C. by Robert J. Littman (28 Jan 1974)
0500330298 - Heritage of Hellenism by John Ferguson (29 Jan 1973)
0500330204 - Imperial Age of Venice  by David Chambers (23 Nov 1970)
0500330131 - Industrialization of Europe, 1780-1914 by W.O. Henderson (Apr 1969)
0500330344 - Land Question and European Society by Frank E. Huggett (28 Jul 1975)
0500330328 - Liberal Europe: Age of Bourgeois Realism, 1848-75 by W.E. Mosse (8 Jul 1974)
0500330239 - Making of Mediaeval Spain by Gabriel Jackson (Jan 1972)
050032011X - Mediaeval Papacy by Geoffrey Barraclough (28 Oct 1968)
0500330107 - Ottoman Impact on Europe by P. Coles (Jun 1968)
0500330336 - Parliaments and Estates in Europe to 1789 by A.R. Myers (8 Sep 1975)
0500330026 - Reformation and Society in Sixteenth Century Europe by A.G. Dickens (Paperback - Apr 1966)
0500330018 - The Rise Of Christian Europe by Hugh Trevor-Roper (Paperback - 24 Jan 1966)
0500330077 - Romanticism and Revolt: Europe, 1815-48 by J.L. Talmon (Jun 1967)
050033028X - Russia and Europe by R. Wittram (12 Mar 1973)
0500330263 - Science and Society in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries by Alan G. R. Smith (23 Oct 1972)
0500330085 - Soviet Achievement by John Peter Nettl (Oct 1967)
0500330174 - Twelfth Century Renaissance by Christopher Brooke (2 Mar 1970)
0500330255 - The United States and Europe: Rivals and Partners by Max Silberschmidt and J.Maxwell Brownjohn (14 Aug 1972)

Library of Great Painters

0500091331 - Constable by  John A. Walker

Library of Early Civilizations

0500290059 - Early Civilization in China by William Watson
050028010X - Early Highland Peoples of Anatolia by Seton Lloyd
050029013X - Warring States of Greece by A.R. Burn (Jan 1969)

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Quotables - Ronald Reagan

As Ronald Reagan said, ‘There’s no limit to what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit’.

This has been lifted from a post on the Spectator...

"Lansley has demonstrated the converse: it’s amazing how little you can accomplish when you try to claim credit."

I like both the quote and the comparison between the Education and Health reforms. This post is well worth reading to get some perspective on the state of governance within the UK on two very important topics.

To me it just demonstrates a failure of party politics.

Friday, 10 February 2012


As a break from my usual choices of content for this blog (yes, hard nosed intellectual politics. Ha! Ha!) Here is some Prague snow.

I love snow.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

The Incomming Total Prevalence of Advertising

Just listening to Sunday's This Week in Tech and I have come to the following conclusion.

Brian Brushwood is a Silicon Valley Idiot.

Ok, well the accusation may be a little harsh. But his assumption that a) we live in a world with a total prevalence of advertising. A world where our lives are dominated and majority driven by advertising. And that, given this, any further encroachments by advertisers on digital platforms into our lives would be a GOOD THING(!?) considering they already run our lives, they might as well do it better and with better information is so wrong.

Simply put. The more we are left alone by advertisers the better. It is through education and clear and open marketplaces that we make good life affirming purchase decisions. Not though the regulation of advertising via personal data algorithms.

Monday, 6 February 2012


I should have known that this, or something similar is already in use. My only new view is to googlify it. Nothing packaged in this way is particularly user friendly. 

Idea for recording observations in schools. 

One of the best places I find to think is in the shower. The shame and tragedy of this is that it is also one of those places where it is difficult to write down any thoughts. Couple this with my absolute lack of short - medium term memory (melodramatically speaking) then you have a recipe for many wasted ideas.

The other problem is I have a SiFi mind which does its best to focus on those thoughts that are totally impracticable for me. Anyway, enough of the navel gazing. Here is the idea.


The Problem:
Working in a reception class as an Assistant Teacher I came up with a solution to a problem. How to keep a tab on the observations of individuals within a class. This is a key aspect of the work that goes behind assessing children at this age within the English school system (I forget the title of this form of intuitive). I also think this could be expanded to senior school, with even more effect.

The Initial Thoughts:
Currently the observations are made with little sheets of paper where the observation of positive activities - they could be of achievement when reading or of a new behaviour e.g. sharing - which are collated within a folder for each child and largely forgotten about during the rest of the year. At the end of the year I believe that a report is created based on these observations showing the stage of development the child has achieved. Again this is for Reception aged children of 4 - 5 years old.

The throwaway nature of this form and process of reporting seemed a shame to me. Why waste and forget valuable bits of important information on each child by putting it in a largely unreferenced folder in some hidden part of the classroom. A quick solution to this problem could be to use a collaborative document programme such as Google Docs to allow multiple users to access and update the observations and concerns placed on there by other practitioners. In this format two things would happen. The information would be glanced at at a regular basis by those entering in the data, but also the information itself would be put into context. For example, no duplications will be made (no time wasted, acknowledgement of behaviour reinforced) and any concerns could be highlighted easily.

Further Thoughts:
This initial solution would be an improvement for me as a technologically minded individual but this would not be all that user friendly. Also it would open itself up to problems of privacy, of accidental deletion and a host of others. As such my further thoughts into the matter - whilst lathered in soap and water a touch too warm for my liking - was that there may be scope for a dedicated product of some kind.

The Solution:
The product itself would be very simple. A well designed and user friendly database system based around tags and search. Essentially a blog made by teachers and other staff members within a school that would use pre-determined 'tags'. These tags would aid search and filtering so as to allow for clear data on whatever topic or child that is of concern.

Furthermore this would aid the individual within the school with the responsibility for 'Care and Guidence' (or whatever the title) as the software would track the numbers of incidents of specific topics... Say 'drugs' or 'bullying' and allow that individual to remotely study the problem, identify the areas of the school that need attention and then follow up the solution with clear school wide data on the topic.

This is an example of a senior school use of the solution, but I can see applications as low down as my lowly age of 4-5 year olds. Here we could track phonic development and understanding, mathematical achievement, general behaviour and any topic you would wish to mention.

The only disadvantage of this would be that it would need you to go to a computer for a period of time to type your thoughts, or for the practitioner to use an expensive smartphone with app to do it on the fly. This could only be solved by the inclusion of a specifically purposed hardware device sold by this mythical company using this idea.

Anyway. I am loosing a little bit of steam. There was more, but as I mentioned the shower has a way of generating ideas whilst also washing them away. Any thoughts?