Suggested readings, #129

Here it is, a rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

The hidden connection between academic relativists and science denial. Since the 1960s, relativism about natural science has been a major trend in parts of the social sciences. Proponents of social constructivism, the strong program, deconstructionism, and postmodernism describe results from natural science as power-based social constructions rather than the currently best knowledge about the natural world. Critics have accused them of contributing to the onslaught of corporate and politicized science denial that has accelerated in the past three decades. … (Skeptical Inquirer)

The symbolic politics of Judith Butler are all very well, but sometimes reality interjects. The philosopher Judith Butler is infamously difficult to understand. Among Butler’s long list of academic awards, one stands out as rather less enviable: first prize in a 1998 bad-writing contest run by the journal Philosophy and Literature (I would quote the offending sentence, but doing so would use up most of my word count). … (New Statesman)

Another side to Socrates. We all know the story. Socrates has been told by the oracle that he is wisest of men, but he considers that he himself knows nothing. Puzzled, he takes to cross-examining his fellow Athenians about their beliefs, and time and again finds that they will not bear examination. As a result, he is indicted on trumped-up charges of impiety and corrupting the young. After a trial in which he eloquently defends his behaviour, he is condemned to death. A martyr to freedom of expression, and a shocking example of democracy suppressing dissent. Surely there is more to the story than that? Indeed there is. … (3QuarksDaily)

Antirealism and the analytic-continental split. While both vitriolic ignorance and baneful neglect are unfortunate, the lack of cross-engagement is understandable. It takes a tremendous amount of work to grasp the context needed to follow conversations that have been going on for 150-200 years. This also explains why philosophers who do try to engage often find it inscrutable, leading at times to wholesale dismissal. However, difficult is not the same as impossible, and a tradition of mostly failures should not discourage us from continuing to try. The divorce has done harm to the profession, leaving legions of rich arguments unargued, countless lessons unlearned. The independent development of the two makes conversing more difficult but also more valuable, as each tradition has developed sophisticated ideas and intellectual tools wholly missing in the other. … (IAI News)

Gamer beware, ultra-realistic VR is a philosophical minefield for humanity. Virtual reality has come on leaps and bounds over the past few years. Whether we’re talking about the capabilities of the VR tech itself, its price, or the VR games now available to us, there’s no question that virtual reality has improved. While the Valve Index is still pricey, there are plenty of great budget options now available. The Oculus Quest 2 can be bought for a humble $300, and it’s a damn good headset by all technical standards. But, as with all new technological innovations, there have been bumps along the road. For instance, while the Quest 2 is fantastic in terms of price-performance, it requires full Facebook integration to use, which has raised questions about the ethics of business practices which strongarm the user into a social media-sphere, and all the privacy concerns that this raises. And when it comes to the tech itself, there are still a number of issues to be worked out, such as the tracking of the HP Reverb G2. … (PC Gamer)

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Massimo is the K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York. He blogs at and He is the author of How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life.

47 thoughts on “Suggested readings, #129”

  1. Very bad article about Judith Butler, which just regurgitates Nussbaum from 1999. Butler has changed a lot in the preceding 22 years (as most of us have). Also, Butler’s writing style has become much more accessible since then (why bring that up again?). Besides, in the interview (full version here: the interviewer brings up the Wi Spa incident in a general question, Butler does not refer to it in their answer. It would surprise me if they would be in favour of people behaving like that in a spa (but as they don’t mention it, that is speculation on my part). To say that the personel at the spa are using Butler’s theories to motivate their defence of the person’s right to choose section in the spa is also quite a stretch, that cannot be derived from Gender Trouble or later work. What Butler does mention in the interview is the different protests and violence that happened after, and the unholy alliances that has been formed e.g. between some TERFs and the Proud Boys. Here, the piece twists Butler’s words, when it claims that “Butler accepted the premise, suggesting that “trans-exclusionary feminists [‘Terfs’]” had allied with the right, forming “one of the dominant strains of fascism in our time”.” What Butler says is : “The anti-gender ideology is one of the dominant strains of fascism in our times. So the Terfs will not be part of the contemporary struggle against fascism […]”. This is very different.


  2. The Wii Spa incident is interesting in general besides the issue of Butler’s stance on sex and on other issues. Like Massimo (I believe, via Twitter), I too differentiate sex and gender. But on the whole issue of transgender vs. transsexual, I don’t cite right-wingers for support. Sometimes the enemy of my enemy is not my friend. Occasionally, they may be just a partial ally, or they may also be my enemy, battling a common enemy but from an entirely different angle. That said, per ToT, I reject “TERF” as denotatively pejorative.


    Ahh, good old friend Paul, with details of the Euthyphro discussion and citing Izzy Stone. Good piece on that part. And, yes, having read selections from the Republic in Greek, I can personally testify to the nuance of Attic writing of the Hellenic era, especially on things like the use of adverbial particles!

    That said, I disagree with Paul’s conclusion. (I strongly suspect you agree, Massimo.)

    Without referencing any gods, and to put it into modern democratic terms, he was tried and convicted of treason. And rightfully so.


    1. Up to a point, Gadfly. We agree that the issue was his opposition to democracy (artisans showing their unwisdom by presuming to have political opinions; a tannery no place for Anytus to be rearing his son), but although we do not have the full indictment I could see no reference to any allegation of treasonable activity in either Plato’s or Xenophon’s account, or any hint of involvement in the 401 BCE coup attempt

      Liked by 2 people

    2. JB also differentiate between sex and gender, and does not deny that sex is biological. However, the importance we endow different aspects of our biological body is not itself biological. We could give the significance we give to sex to some other differential quality of our bodies, such as handedness, height, foot-type etc. Have separate bathrooms for tall and short people. Or give babies born with “Greek feet” little green hats, have foot-type reveal parties, associate nurturing properties with “Egyptian feet”. Then we could have a debate whether gender is biological, or if merely foot-type is. In that sense, the significance we ascribe sex as a differentiating quality between people, and how we connect it with gender is a construct. (And of course there is a pletora of gray-area cases in the biological sex as well, but that is besides the point, if adjacent to it.)

      Massimo says on twitter that bad philosophy leads to bad politics, and this is true. This is what Nussbaum were calling out JB for in the 90’s, but that has nothing to do with biological nature of sex. Rather, JB was looking for agency during the 90’s, following the tradition of Nietzsche, Freud/Lacan, Foucault, Althusser, etc. They ended up looking for agency exactly where ther is none (or very little), in subjectivity (like looking for the desert in the ocean), ending up with a politics based on making parody of social constructs in order to challenge them. However, JB’s idea of agency, and politics has evolved a lot in the couple of decades since. Just read “The Force of Non-Violence” (I recommend it, it is a clear and easy read. I also recomend the two (!) reviews in LARB, one which is praising it for what it contains and one which scathingly critices it for what it omits). Personally, I always enjoy reading JB, it can be frustrating, I often take issue and disagree with what is said, but I also find it quite intellectually rewarding.


    3. Tot, the last time I read Butler they did deny that sex is biological. But I’ll have to double check the reference. As for statements like: “the importance we endow different aspects of our biological body is not itself biological,” is obviously true. Emphasis on obviously, no?


    4. No, I don’t think it is obviously true. And I don’t know where you read that, since I have read them repeatedly claim that on the spectrum between biological and social, sex is towards the biological end and gender towards the social. It is hard to claim that sex is purely biological, since it contains a bunch of assumptions on how we define sex (genitals, chromosoms, not having a uterous etc.) and whatever definition we embrace will always have exceptions that does not conform neatly to a sex.


    5. ToT,

      as I said, I’ll need to check my reference, it was some time ago. But no, genitals, chromosomes, and so forth are not assumptions, except in the trivial sense that we use human language to describe these features of the world. We know exactly what the biological functions of genitals and chromosomes are, there is no room at all for social reinterpretation unless one wishes to throw the science out the window.

      Liked by 1 person

    6. That is a strange statement, of course we know the functions, that does not mean that the definitions we use for sex are set in stone. There are many cases of assigned women, with female genitals, who have XY chromosomes. So with one sex definition they are women, with another they are men. That was a big deal in athletics recently. There are also many people who have inconclusive genitals at birth who get operated into usual male genitals.


    7. I am perfectly aware of the exceptions. But that’s what they are. And they can be described objectively again in terms of biology. If they have functional reproductive structures of one kind they are female, if not male. And there are additional hybrid categories. “Men” and “women,” by contrast, are not biological concepts, they refer to gender. And there yes, we enter the realm of social construction.


    8. This is also what JB says, so you are in agreement. If you read them say something else they have subsequently changed their views…


  3. I’m not sure why the author considers the connection between relativism/post modernism/social constructivism and science denial to be “hidden?” Isn’t this the most obvious of connections? Isn’t this the primary purpose of R/PM/SC; to present whatever view of the world suits one’s purposes (even if those purposes be noble) rather than one that is tied to objective facts?

    Of course, the author only seems to use examples of how the right denies science, which is ironic since the left is the perspective from which R/PM/SC emerged and came to dominate, starting in philosophy departments, spreading to literature, social sciences, and now even the hard sciences (math is racist as we all know now, and 2+2 does not necessarily equal 4, according to thought leaders on the left who are unfortunately rarely called out by more sensible old-school liberals). Both sides of the political spectrum use the tool of science when it suits them, and ignore it when it doesn’t, but the left is way out in front of the right in this game.

    I think this is obvious from the fact that the left strives for *political* correctness over and above *actual* correctness. As I’ve often said, the only reason we need the qualifier *politically* here is to differentiate those things that are actually correct from those that the mob (which now consists of a cabal of Big Tech, Wall Street, Academia, the Federal bureaucracy, the mainstream media, the security state, and, dare I say it, The DNC) wants revealed.

    I guess it is a step in the right direction when academics start to at least realize that R/PM/SC leads to science denial; but they would have a lot more credibility if they could clean up their own positions before pointing the finger outwardly.


    1. Montana, Sven has actually done research showing that the majority of science denialism comes from the Right, not the Left. Though of course there are exceptions. And yes, it is rather ironic that it is the Right, usually so deontological and absolutist, who uses the tools of social constructionism for its own goals. Then again, the current Right is an unprincipled group of power hungry people, so it makes sense.


    2. To follow on Massimo, despite some stereotypes, even before COVID, the majority of antivaxxerism was on the libertarian-right side of the spectrum. (Sidebar: Many Europeans who call themselves “libertarian” are agog when they realize what it represents in America.)

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Paul, I’ll admit to reading between the lines. And, also, I had been coming to my conclusions on Socrates even before reading Izzy Stone, which I have done!

    And, I’m far from alone. While noting that “treason” was not a charge then, a Cambridge professor of classics suggests that Socrates did do something like that, under terms of Athenian democracy, and that basically he DID deserve it.

    I agree. To fill in some of those lines, the “corruption of the youth” wasn’t moral corruption in the Judeo-Christian sense of “sin,” let us remember. It was, as Britain has not a written constitution, let’s call it “constitutional corruption.” And, of course, we know Socrates’ connection of long term with Alcibiades, even after their pederastic connection would have been over. In all this, I think it’s reasonable to presume that Socrates had a chance to repudiate both the first and second coups, or at a minimum, to offer his advanced age as a reason for not fleeing Athens during either coup, unlike many supporters of the democracy.

    As for other, related matters? I think Massimo knows that I think Aristophanes’ description of Socrates as a “Sophist,” while not fully right, was more right than wrong, and that I think Sophists get somewhat a bad rap and for similar reasons to Socrates getting “spin-polished.”

    I also refer to Robin Waterfield’s book, here at the Wiki link, which argues that Socrates saw himself as akin to a redeemer or scapegoat for the sins of Athens. An interesting interpretation:

    And, if true, would have infuriated the jury even more.

    So, no, I’ll remain unconvinced. No crime in my book.


    1. I don’t know in what way Socrates might have regarded the trial as illegitimate, given his skillful cross-examination of Meletus, who is clearly out of his depth, on the charge of impiety. The idea of a scapegoat is plausible. I don’t know enough about how the Athenians regarded their gods to comment on Cartledge’s view that they feared Socrates had aroused the gods’ anger, although on my reading, as I say, his inner daimon was indeed what your link calls “a dark, supernatural influence inaccessible to conventional believers and practitioners”. It is also clear that Socrates sought his own death, and that his Apology was designed, not to avoid it (on the contrary), but to show that it was unjust. On that I think we are all agreed.

      If we think that another coup attempt was still seen as a real possibility (following Stone, I didn’t), then one could indeed argue that Athens was faced with what I have seen referred to as Popper’s Dilemma; how much freedom of speech should a democracy allow to those who seek to undermine it? That would be very close to your own view. And as I have since learnt, Stone misleads when he says that Sparta collapsed after the Peloponnesian War; it would stil be dominant for more than a decade after the date of the trial. But we don’t really know the case for the prosecution. Wikipedia on The Trial of Socrates mentions a version of this case as set out by Polycrates, based on Socrates’ activities before 403 BCE, but that seems implausible since as Stone points out it all such activities had been pardoned in Athens’ own reconciliation process, and without better contemporary information I don’t see how we can resolve these uncertainties.


  5. I’m going to drop a bit more, which follows up in part on ideas in Waterfield’s book and some other study of Socrates.

    To the degree Athenian democracy was “crumbling,” or whatever term one uses, that wasn’t all the structural fault of the democracy or of leading Athenians after the death of Pericles. Waterfield’s book apparently makes that case to a degree.

    Also, per Christian Maier’s “Athens” and my review of it, and one reason it didn’t get a fifth star (loved his bio of Julius Caesar), contra Socrates (or what “Luke” has Paul say at Mars Hill) maybe Athens didn’t always welcome new gods. Witness Republican Rome and Cybele. Anyway, Maier does tackle in depth the issues Athens faced for 50 years before Socrates’ death.

    Finally, back to my earlier comment, and Waterfield’s observations.

    In essence, Socrates pretty clearly was exhibiting the attitude that the entire trial was illegitimate. And, Athenian law is not modern Anglo-Saxon law, just like Athenian democracy is not today’s. But, in the US (maybe in the UK, as well, Paul?) a lawyer would point to this and say “Goes to character, your honor,” and the judge would surely allow it as circumstantial evidence.

    Finally, note to Paul, which Massimo already knows: My moniker trades on Socrates the legend (as I see it) as much as Socrates the reality.

    The funny thing in all of this is that Socrates’ family (parents) were not in the top class of citizens. Maybe we’d call him a “social climber” today? Well, Aristophanes might, were he still alive.


    1. I believe that the prosecution is not allowed to bring character evidence in a UK court. If it does so, that is grounds for appeal. I well understand your moniker. And you have indeed stung me into a position of Socratic doubt about my own conclusions.

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  6. Socratic,

    *nobody* “desires the death penalty. Period. As for “treason,” especially in ancient Athens that was very much in the eyes of the beholder, and people were changing their minds all the time, often about the very same individual, about what did or did not count for working for or against the state.

    There is no good reason that there was a pederastic connection between Socrates and Alcibiades. And as Xenophon points out, teachers are hardly responsible for their students going off and doing bad things. Some students are receptive, others are not, sometimes hopelessly so.

    Not fleeing Athens during the reign of the tyrants early counts as treason or even support for the regime. First, because otherwise most of the inhabitants of Athens should be equally charged. Second because we know Socrates refused to enact orders from the tyrants, which could have cost him his life. Third, because the tyrants tried to suppress Socrates speech, evidently not considering him a friend.

    There is no reason whatsoever to think that Aristophanes’ description of Socrates was right. He presents him both as a Sophist and as a natural philosopher, which is a contradiction. It’s just as likely that Aristophanes had political motives of his own, or simply that he had little idea what Socrates was trying to do in the first place.

    Yes, Socrates was acting as if the trial was illegitimate. Or, better, a demonstration of what happens when democracy is just mob rule (and the mob is manipulated by populists). And he was absolutely right, as we still experience today (see January 6th).

    And to call Socrates a social climber, of any sort, is pretty bizarre, in my book.


    how was the daimon a “dark” force? Why not take the more charitable interpretation that this was simply a metaphor for Socrates’ conscience?

    That Socrates sought his own death is not a secret, nor a revelation of modern scholarship. It’s right there in Xenophon.


    1. The phrase “dark force” came from Gadfly’s link, which I was quoting. I had always assumed that the daemon was Socrates’ conscience or inner light, until I read what Xenophon’s Apology has him say, which I quoted in a footnote:

      “I speak of a divinity, and in using that designation I claim to speak at once more exactly and more reverentially than they do who [using divination] ascribe the power of the gods to birds. And that I am not lying against the Godhead I have this as a proof: although I have reported to numbers of friends the counsels of heaven, I have never at any time been shown to be a deceiver or deceived [tumult in court].”

      This must surely mean special access through the daemon to those heavenly counsels.

      That Socrates sought his death has never been in doubt. In Plato’s Apology, he sets out to ensure his own conviction, while claiming that this conviction was based on nothing more than his teachings, and how they undermined pretensions. Here again, I think we all agree. But as Stone shows, they undermined a great deal more than that. The missing context is the case for the prosecution, which we do not know, and which I now suspect may have been motivated by rational concerns over the return of Sparta-backed oligarchy. That suspicion is the reason for my now moving slightly in favour of the Athenians. But anything more is speculation.


    2. Paul,

      well, the Stoics also constantly talked about god here and god there, and yet most scholars seem to think those utterances were nothing more than a concession to popular piety. So it isn’t as straightforward to interpret what Socrates meant. But even if he did mean that he had a special connection of some sort, (a) there is still no reason to call it “dark” (yes, you were quoting), and (b) plenty of people claimed the same, for instance anyone that engaged in divination. And many of those people were ordinary citizens, not priests. So no impiety should have been necessarily inferred.

      As for the prosecution case, as you note, it is entirely missing, so why speculate uncharitably, as Stone does? Indeed, what evidence is there that Socrates was working to get the Spartans back in control?


    3. I’m certainly not suggesting that Socrates was working to restore Sparta-backed tyranny. Stone’s accusation, as I understand it, is that his doctrine was corrosive of democracy, and this I think he establishes. Moreover, the examples of Alcibiades and above all Critias would underscore that these were not abstract discussions, and Gadfly may be correct in arguing that Socratic teachings could be seen as a real danger to the polis.

      Liked by 1 person

    4. Paul,

      yes, Socrates’ teaching were dangerous, but not to the polis, only to certain ways of conducting business, and to certain politicians. Yes, we can focus on Alcibiades and Critias. Or we could focus on Plato and Xenophon and see that Socrates also had students who turned out to do good things.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. ToT, this is from the peer reviewed Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

    “Judith Butler critiques the sex/gender distinction on two grounds. She critiques gender realism with her normativity argument (1999 [original 1990], chapter 1); she also holds that the sex/gender distinction is unintelligible.”

    The sex/gender distinction is unintelligible? The entry continues:

    “Butler holds that distinguishing biological sex from social gender is unintelligible. For her, both are socially constructed:

    If the immutable character of sex is contested, perhaps this construct called ‘sex’ is as culturally constructed as gender; indeed, perhaps it was always already gender, with the consequence that the distinction between sex and gender turns out to be no distinction at all. (Butler 1999, 10–11)”

    The full entry is here:

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The quote from Butler’s gender trouble is:
      “If the immutable character of sex is contested, perhaps this construct called ‘sex’ is as culturally constructed as gender; indeed, perhaps it was always already gender, with the consequence that the distinction between sex and gender turns out to be no distinction at all. (Butler 1999, 10–11)”
      Here, the word “if” is doing the heavy lifting.

      We know that our description of reality does not perfectly represent reality (the whole piece on analytic/continental divide was built on this point). This is also the case for our biological description of sex. Our dual description of sex describes the biology of most people most of the time. For those most people, whatever residual construct there may be in the definition of sex, does not matter as their bodies conform neatly with our notions of sex and there is a clear distinction between sex and gender. However, for those bodies that do not neatly conform to the definition, that neat distinction is no longer very meaningful. These people are not sex-less, they are assigned a sex at birth, but their very biology is not conforming to their assigned sex. Butler’s claim (which becomes clearer over time), is that there is a spectrum between biology and performativity/social construction. For most people most of the time, the distribution of ‘sex’ is neatly distributed on one side of the spectrum, and ‘gender’ on the other, for some (there are many people who fall into this category) the experience is vastly different with a clear overlap between the two distribution. We have seen so many cases in the last decades of people who are assigned female at birth, identify as female, have female genitals, etc. find themselves good at sports, become female athletes only to later fail a sex-test by some sports committee as they have XY chromosomes. Or naturally too high levels of testosterone, making them definitional male by the sports committee. To these individuals, the distinction between sex and gender becomes nonsensical. While for most of us most of the time it makes perfect sense. To dismiss this as abnormalities is not helping anyone, and to me rings as bad philosophy. These are real cases and real people.


    2. ToT, sorry but Butler sounds very much postmodernist here, in the bad sense of the word. First off, this sentence:

      “If the immutable character of sex is contested, perhaps this construct called ‘sex’ is as culturally constructed as gender”

      Makes no sense at all to me, even grammatically. Who’s contesting what? And how does this make sex “as culturally constructed” as gender? It doesn’t sound at all like a nuanced view about a spectrum, it sounds like a drastic statement meant to grab attention.

      Second, the people you refer to, as I said before, are “anomalies” in the strictly scientific sense of the term. Meaning that they are rare case outside the norm. This description isn’t meant to be helpful or not helpful. It’s meant to be descriptively accurate. Which it is.

      A far better way to describe the cases you are talking about is to say that sex is biologically indeterminate, in which case it becomes a personal decision of the parents, obviously influenced by society. But that would sound too nuanced and insufficiently attention grabbing for Butler.


    3. Calling a person an anomaly, no matter how a technical a term it may be, and then claiming to just state facts comes across irresponsible at best. What kind of philosophy is that?

      Anyway, I don’t think the disagreement on this issue is as great between you and Butler as it may seem, when it comes down to different ways of formulating the same thing in one way or another.

      The rest of your comments is mostly name-calling, so maybe that indicates that we are approaching the end of this exchange…


  8. We can say without immediate reservations that Plato “turned out to do good things” only because by 375 BCE, when it was written, Sparta was already in retreat and there was no real danger of The Republic emerging from the Academy.

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    1. Paul, there again we face the danger of being uncharitable. First, there is no reason to believe that the Republic was meant as a political program. Second, I was referring to Plato not having been involved in politics at all until late in his life, when he tried to guide to different rulers of Syracuse (and almost lost his life in the process).

      Also, no reference to Xenophon? And who knows how many others Socrates influenced who did not turn out to be wannabe tyrants.


    2. Touche’. I passed on Xenophon because of my ignorance. He seems to me, in the passage I refer to, to have sympathised with Socrates’ disdain for Anytus’ trade, was himself exiled from Athens, and allied himself with Sparta, who supported Cyrus the Younger. On the other hand, that was after the Peloponnesian war, and intertwined Persian and Greek politics were getting much too complex for my schoolboy “Athens good, Sparta bad” approach.

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    3. Paul, you can also count Thucydides as yet another Athenian who came to be at odds with his home city and became more sympathetic to the Spartans. It’s a long list…

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    1. No, Butler is saying that they are both social constructs. Which is not the case in any sensible understanding of biology or social constructs. But it sounds provocative and gets people’s attention.


    2. That is your guesses on her psychological motivations for doing philosophy. My guess is the opposite but what does it matter? And I have during this exchange seen you also formulate sex as social construct in a way which I guess was sensible to you, so there is certainly a sensible way to understand sex as partly social construct (no-one is claiming that it is completely so in general). But now we are just repeating ourselves…

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Ohh, the tables are turned … Massimo is playing “presentism” on me! That said, I, like you, reject the death penalty. And, to be specific, my “deserved” was only about him being found guilty. That said, Socrates could have taken the exile. And, had he not been so smug in being not a gadfly, but a goad (God to Saul on the Damascus Road: “Why do you kick against the goads?”), he might have gotten a lesser exile, let’s say, only having to move 50 miles outside the city itself for 5 years.

    Thanks, Paul, for the reminder that Anglo-American law sometimes has an Anglo half and an American half.

    Oh, NOT Thucydides the historian who was ostracized. Another Athenian. Meier covers that. Here’s another reference:

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m now confused. There is Thucydides son of Melias, rival of Pericles, ostracised in 442 BCE for 10 years. And there’s the more famous Thucydides the general and historian,of whom a classicist told me that he is regarded as trustworthy because of his evenhanded account of events he was himself involved in, banished for 2 years after being blamed for the Spartan capture of Amphipolis. (Wikipedia says little is known of his lfe, but that he went to live in Thrace, with which he may have had family connections).

      I’m not sure why Massimo says that he came to favour Sparta, but that’s just my own lack of knowledge

      Liked by 1 person

  10. ToT, if you insist in interpreting “anomaly” in a vicious fashion that is your business. But calling me irresponsible and ask what kind of philosophy that is doesn’t seem to be the kind of attitude that furthers discourse.

    I have explained, multiple times, exactly what I mean by that word. So why imputing nefarious meaning to it that it very clearly does not have?


    1. Maybe I should clarify my disagreement. My impression (I may be wrong) is that you do not quite understand the purpose of queer philosophy (of which Butler is a part). Being queer means by definition to not conform to some norm, being an ‘anomaly’ in your words (I guess you strictly restrict that term to biological norms). For a queer philosopher that is the starting point, but you seem to treat it as the endpoint of your philosophy (hence the flippant question). If you are a biologically queer person (which for many can be a struggle), which kind of philosophy about queerness would you guess speaks to you (assuming that we believe that philosophy matters to our lives in a personal way and not merely provides us with precise definitions)? Continental philosophy asks the question what it means to be a human being in our world and society, and the branch of queer philosophy makes this question more nuanced since it forces us to not only consider most people most of the time, but what it means to be a queer and a human being. Now, that is why I find it a questionably reductive philosophical standpoint to define people as ‘anomalies’ and then be done with the question. But that is my opinion and we may disagree on this, which is a good thing.


  11. Paul, both Thucydides fell out of favor with Athens, but I don’t think the historian was ostracized. Didn’t mean to imply he had no problems with the Athenian democracy, just that (as far as I know) not actually ostracized.

    On Athenian democracy, it had factions on issues besides its relationship to Sparta, and Pericles had been the glue at least partially papering over these.

    Perhaps a good way to see this is note, as Meier does in his book, that Pericles was a populist of some sort, but NOT in a modern Western democracy sense, not a BoJo, let alone a Trump. Rather (though Meier doesn’t make the explicit comparison), a Marius-type populist. Athens had no single Sulla uniting against Marius, and unlike Rome, where it was pretty much one issue — Senatorial refusal to share powers, extending back more than 50 years to the rise of the Gracchi and their murders — Athens had no rallying point or rallying person against Pericles while he was alive.

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    1. I think ostracism had fallen out of use by the time of the later Thucydides. He was, however, banished.

      Incidentally, the procedure for ostracism presupposed the ability to write the intended victim’s name, suggesting very widespread literacy among the citizens

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  12. Thanks both Paul and Massimo for some very good intellectual discussion. As a small-town community newspaper editor, I don’t always get a lot of it. (Paul, I currently live in Gainesville, north of Denton.)

    On a tangentially related matter, I’m about 35-40 percent through Drinkwater’s Nero book. Would give an easy 5 stars on his discussion of the Principate and imperial administration in the whole latter half of the Julio-Claudian dynasty and about 4.5 on Nero himself. (I think he may push the revisionist envelope a small bit.)

    On the famous Tacitus passage (likely dependent in some way on Suetonius) on a certain CHREStos (not ChrisTOS, it’s a Greek itacism) and the Fire of Rome? He and I will agree to disagree. Per all of this, from the itacism, through both authors likely understanding very little of Christianity (and projecting rumors onto their knowledge), and not a lot about Judaism, and that Christos was a title, not a name, and the likelihood that Xns were only 1/10 of a percent of Rome’s population at the time but Jews were, say 3-5 percent, and Josephus and Acts both discussing Messianic pretenders, and Claudius having booted the Jews from Rome? I say Tacitus was writing about Jewish Messianic disturbances; Drinkwater still thinks they were Christians.

    The CHREStos means “the munificent” or something like that. Per Suetonius, freedmen sometimes took it as a new name, perhaps referring to their former masters. It was sometimes an epithet for Apollo, too, which may explain Constantine appearing to fuse imagery (and maybe thoughts about) Jesus with Apollo and/or Sol Invictus.

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  13. ToT, I know what queer philosophy is about, I simply don’t share that approach. And as a scientist I’d like to stick as close as possible to an empirically informed understanding of reality.

    From that perspective, the individuals we are talking about are “anomalies.” But this implies absolutely *nothing* about how such individuals should be treated. In that regard my philosophy is that everyone should be treated the same regardless of sex, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion (or lack thereof), political creed (unless one is a fascist), and so forth.

    As for Butler’s motivations, of course both of us can only speculate, and such speculation isn’t really very useful, so I withdraw my earlier comment in this regard.

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  14. Good for you when you are doing science. But here I thought that we were discussing philosophy. Of course sticking as close as possible to empirical reality is important in philosophy too, but surely not the endpoint (often this is the starting point). Sure, it is easy to say that everyone should be treated the same (and very easy to agree with), but the philosphy happens in the nitty gritty of how people are not treated the same (which is also an imperically informed understanding of reality), for what reasons, how and why we are falling short of these ideals, how inequalities are manifesting in society etc. And this philosophising will also inform politics and activism aimed at changing these conditions.

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    1. ToT, I strive to keep my science and my philosophy close together, precisely to avoid the sort of empirically questionable statements that Butler sometimes make. I believe one is bound to do bad philosophy if one begins with bad science, or ignores science altogether.

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