Monday, May 11, 2009

P.P.S. L. Menand, Sachs

Class ends, class continues. On a strong recommendation based on my interest in Dewey, I picked up Louis Menand’s “Metaphysical Club.” In the introduction, Menand links Holmes, James, Peirce, and Dewey in their “idea about ideas”: “They all believed that ideas are not ‘out there’ waiting to be discovered, but are tools – like forks and knives and microchips – that people devise to cope with the world in which they find themselves. … They believed that ideas do not develop according to some inner logic of their own, but are entirely dependent, like germs, on their human carriers and the environment. … The belief that ideas should never become ideologies – either justifying the status quo, or dictating some transcendent imperative for renouncing it – was the essence of what they taught.”

And one more (from 61): “The lesson Holmes took from the war can be put in a sentence. It is that certitude leads to violence.”


Also caught the Earth Institute’s postdoc fellows presentations last week, in part in interest of what the Institute is all about and to have a chance to hear Jeffrey Sachs in person. On the former, very impressed – important work coming out of there, and they seem quite aware of the complexity, the messiness of what they’re delving into. Encouraging work, though I’m curious why more people weren’t in attendance. Outside of myself, who stumbled on a poster for it, it seemed like an inhouse crowd. Impressed too, with Sachs’ sharpness, pretty stunning handle on a wide range of interdisciplinary things. On the flip side, was less impressed with his communication skills, used to repeatedly and apologetically berate a group of the presenters, again, for what I assumed was a public presentation. Anyhow, I’m hoping this was an aberration and perhaps a second experience – in reading or in public appearance, will offer me a better perspective on the man and the important work that he’s making possible. – N  

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