Tweets of the Week: 26 March- 1 April 2023

Cranky Federalist reminds us of the Golden Rule:

Mind of Marisa tells a sad story:

Alice from Queens links to an old piece by Matt Bruenig (who is not the son of Matt Groening, very confusing):

Rabbi Ari Lamm reads the Bible in Hebrew, as for example in this thread about the Serpent in the Garden:

Abby Denton shares an insight into the worldview of English speakers:

Monica Hesse measures the passing of the years:

A courtroom exchange:

Tweets of the Week: 19-25 March 2023

These have been in my Bookmarks for a while.

Classics-themed tweets:

  1. Legonium shares Sasha Trubetskoy’s Metro-style map of Roman roads:

2. Cristina Procaccino shows us how a native speaker might teach first conjugation Latin verbs:

3. Bret Devereaux’ T/O of the Roman Republic:

Religion-themed tweets:

4. “Manifestly Lutheran” defends infant baptism:

5. Jack Chick lays some truth on you:

6. And asks the tough questions:

Politics-themed tweets:

7. My prediction about the 2020 US presidential campaign:

8. Josh Fruhlinger’s prediction about the 2024 US presidential campaign:

Miscellaneous tweets:

9. A map of Superman’s hometown, Metropolis:

10. Richard Nixon telling you that it’s just plain poppycock:

11. Paul A. Jones tells us what a “trinonym” is:

12. Something that makes Audrey Farnsworth happy come Halloween:

13. Matthew Goldin on the divide between straights and gays:

14. She was trying to say “contestant”:

15. Fabrizio Gilardi shares a study that calls into question the idea that anonymity is a driver of toxicity in online debates:

Tweets of the Week: 12 March 23

2. “Crazyism” in philosophy:

3. Sam Haselby on the good cop/ bad cop routine that underlies the pseudo-leftism of America’s elites:

Most people are familiar with the bad cop / good cop routine from cinema or television. America’s elite neoliberal institutions rely on it too, recognize and promote both professional types.

Think of it this way: the dogmatic neoclassical economists (in Larry Summers’s words if there is more inequality it is because people are getting more what they deserve) are the bad cops of elite neoliberalism. They frame you and beat you up, so to speak. But then their…

…colleagues come into the holding cell and say, look I want to abolish the police, return the land to the indigenous, and provide reparations. None of this is going to happen. They are the good cops of elite neoliberalism. The legitimacy and power of the system relies on both.

Another way to think of it is the bad cops have helped secure material resources of historic abundance, the good cops come in and provide the moral resources which to try to balance out the bad cop’s depredations have to be pushed to a grandiosity, a meta-historical scale.

Originally tweeted by Sam Haselby (@samhaselby) on March 17, 2023.

4. Orson Welles moaning “Mwahhh, the French”:

5. Fr Reginald Foster was a better teacher than he pretended to be:

6. Tom Holland on Saint Paul:

Here’s @holland_tom on St Paul: “You are kind of hearing him thinking aloud as he wrestles with the implications of the fact that Christ suffered this. And everything that he’s writing is an attempt to say – how this could be?

“It’s upended his expectations of God’s plan so radically that he can never arrive at, I think, a stable sense of exactly what it means. Although Paul absolutely recognizes that the fact that Jesus was crucified lies at the heart of everything that Jesus’ mission is

“and therefore how he relates to God’s plan, what is happening, the very character of the world, the very character of God, the very nature of God’s relationship to humanity – Everything has been upended by this.

“So the cross is absolutely at the heart of everything that Paul’s writing about. But at the same time, there is kind of an embarrassment about it because it is the most shocking thing imaginable, which is kind of the point.”

Originally tweeted by Susannah Black Roberts, Niece Appreciator (@suzania) on March 18, 2023.

7. Carolina Eyck plays the “Queen of the Night” aria:

8. Adult reading as a reward for adulthood:

Who among the people depicted below is still alive?

Panther Red

For some time now I’ve kept typing into Google variations on this question: “Which of the people represented on the cover of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band are still alive?” Lots of sites identify the people, but nowhere does it seem that there is a list of who’s alive and who’s dead. So I decided to take a few minutes on Wikipedia and make up such a list myself.


Larry Bell

Dion diMucci

Bob Dylan

Paul McCartney*

Ringo Starr

Dead (date of death in parentheses)

Bobby Breen (19 September 2016)

Shirley Temple Black (10 February 2014)

Tony Curtis (29 September 2010)

Richard Merkin (5 September 2009)

Karlheinz Stockhausen (5 December 2007)

Marlon Brando (1 July 2004)

Albert Stubbins (28 December 2002)

George Harrison (29 November 2001)

Huntz Hall (30 January 1999)

William S. Burroughs (2 August 1997)

Terry Southern (29 October 1995)

Marlene Dietrich (6 May 1992)

View original post 272 more words

The totalitarian mind vs. lexical register

Earlier today I posted a thread on Twitter in response to this tweet by Katherine Apostolacus


My response was eight tweets long, so I’ll present it here as ordinary text:

I sometimes think that there’s a totalitarian streak inherent in modernity that makes us uncomfortable with the whole concept of lexical register. Our rulers want us to behave as if there is no great gulf separating us from them, as if we all make up one big team.

The ability to alternate between formal and informal registers undermines this pretense. Formal registers do so by putting distinctions of status in the foreground. Informal registers do it by creating a space for subordinated groups to develop their own ways of speaking, thus demonstrating that they are not assimilated to the one big team. And of course when members of one group switch to an informal register rich in expressions specific to their group, they also signal to members of other groups that the conversation is no longer meant to include them and they put them at a disadvantage if they try to butt in.

Other alternations also challenge any group trying to represent its way of talking as the only way. Archaic registers remind us of a time before our rulers assumed their powers and suggest that events which took place then are still consequential now. Totalitarian leaders don’t like to be reminded of anything they can’t control, and therefore hate the whole idea of an unavoidably relevant past.

Technical registers may enforce the power of the members of the ruling elite who are proficient in them, but even as they have that effect they also make it clear, first, that expertise is in itself a source of power distinct from the hierarchy of the elite, and, second, there is an order of things which the people at the top of the system cannot alter to fit into the categories with which they are at home. 

How long ago was Christmas Day 2021?

  1. Christmas Day 2021 was about a month ago, so we’re as far from that Christmas as it was from the Russian anti-satellite test that endangered the International Space Station.
  2. In its turn, that test is now about as far in the past as the US withdrawal from Afghanistan was when it took place.
  3. That withdrawal is now as far in the past as the container ship Ever Given getting stuck in the Suez canal was when it happened.
  4. The Ever Given incident is halfway in time between the present and the SpaceX Dragon 2 launch in May 2020.
  5. The SpaceX Dragon 2 launch is halfway between the present and Canada’s legalization of cannabis in October 2018.
  6. Canada’s legalization of cannabis is halfway back to July 2015, when New Horizons flew by Pluto.
  7. The New Horizons flyby is halfway back to early 2009, when Barack Obama became US President.
  8. Mr O’s inauguration is halfway back to early 1996, when Muppet Treasure Island was playing in theaters.
  9. The release of Muppet Treasure Island is halfway back to the summer of 1969, when Apollo 11 landed on the Moon.
  10. Apollo 11 is halfway back to 1916, when a million people died for absolutely nothing in the battle of the Somme.
  11. The battle of the Somme is halfway back to 1811, when the battle of Tippecanoe spelled doom for Native Americans in what would become the state of Indiana.
  12. The battle of Tippecanoe is halfway back to 1600, when they killed Giordano Bruno for having opinions.
  13. The killing of Giordano Bruno is halfway back to 1178, when five monks in Canterbury saw the meteor strike that formed the crater on the Moon that is named Giordano Bruno.
  14. The formation of the Giordano Bruno crater is halfway back to 334, when Constantine the Great was nearing the end of his time as emperor of the Romans.
  15. Constantine’s reign is halfway back to 600 BCE, when the city of Milan was founded.
  16. The founding of Milan is halfway back to the origins of the Assyrian civilization.
  17. The origins of the Assyrian civilization are halfway back to the Younger Dryas cooling event.
  18. The Younger Dryas is halfway back to the founding of the oldest permanent human settlement yet found, a group of huts where the town of Dolní Věstonice now stands in the Czech Republic.
  19. The settlement at Dolní Věstonice is halway back to the beginning of the Upper Paleolithic Age.
  20. The beginning of the Upper Paleolithic Age is halfway back to the building of the earliest surviving stone structures on Earth, which stand near Wadi Haifa in southern Egypt.
  21. The building of the Wadi Haifa structures is halfway back to the first evidence of humans in Europe (circa 210,000 years ago.)
  22. The oldest evidence for humans in Europe is halfway back to the likely date of the first bears.
  23. The first bears are halfway back to the beginning of the Cryogenian Ice Age (circa 850,000 years ago.)
  24. The beginning of the Cryogenian Ice Age is halfway back to the earliest stone tools crafted by hominins.
  25. The first stone tools crafted by hominins are halfway back to the first human ancestors who ate grasses and sedges.
  26. The first human ancestors who ate grasses and sedges are halfway back to the last common ancestors of humans and the other great apes (circa 7,000,000 years ago.)
  27. The last common ancestors of humans and the other great apes are halfway back to the Middle Miocene Climate Transition.
  28. The Middle Miocene Climate Transition is halfway back to the comet strike in the Sahara that produced all that black glass.
  29. The comet strike in the Sahara is halfway back to the Paleocene/ Eocene Thermal Maximum (circa 56,000,000 years ago.)
  30. The Paleocene/ Eocene Thermal Maximum is halfway back to the extinction of Pelorosaurus (circa 112,000,000 years ago.)
  31. The extinction of Pelorosaurus is halfway back to time of the common ancestors of mammals, the mammaliaformes.
  32. The mammaliaformes appeared halfway between the present and the Late Ordovician Event, a mass extinction that wiped out about 85% of all marine species (450,000,000 years ago.)
  33. The Late Ordovician Event is about halfway back to the appearance of the first multicellular life on Earth (circa 900,000,000 years ago.)
  34. The appearance of the first multicellular life on Earth is about halfway back to the appearance of the first eukaryotes on Earth.
  35. The appearance of the first eukaryotes on Earth is about halfway back to the formation of the oldest fossils yet found on Earth (circa 3,500,000,000 years ago.)
  36. The oldest fossils yet found date back about halfway to the formation of Arcturus (circa 6,900,000,000 years ago.)
  37. Multiply 6,900,000,000 by two, and you get 13,800,000,000. So the formation of Arcturus dates back halfway between the present and the Big Bang. Now you know how long ago Christmas really was.

Our old links page for comics

Most of the links below worked when I tried them this afternoon, and several lead to sites that are still updating.


(This page most recently updated 20 January 2019)


  1. Bad Reporter, what the front page of the newspaper might as well look like
  2. Basic Instructions, “Your all-inclusive guide to a life well-lived”
  3. Black Cat and Star Pilot, interesting comics that look like they are from the American southwest
  4. Blondie, which may be over 80 years old, but is still fascinating to look at
  5. Bug Martini, “random nonsense five days a week”
  6. Chainsawsuit, by the prolific Kris Straub
  7. The City, John Backderf (aka “Derf”) expresses his frustration with the US political scene
  8. Cul de Sac, a strip following in the tradition of Peanuts, by imagining children as less-inhibited adults
  9. DailyKos comics section, including Tom TomorrowSlowpoke, and others who express frustration with the US political scene
  10. The Dark Side of the Horse, which is sometimes over Acilius’ head
  11. Deep Dark Fears, by Fran Krause
  12. Diesel Sweeties, by Richard Stevens III (alias “R. Stevens”)
  13. Dinosaur ComicsT. Rex ‘n’ friends have a series of bull sessions
  14. Doghouse Diaries, no dogs in sight
  15. Existential Comics, “a philosophy comic about the inevitable anguish of living a brief life in an absurd world. Also jokes.”
  16. Foxtrot, updates Sundays
  17. Garfield Minus Garfield, which makes us wonder how they keep “Garfield” from being funny; Arbuckle does the same thing;  the Square Root of Minus Garfield tries a little too hard
  18. “Too Much Coffee Man,” a.k.a. How to Be Happy, by Shannon Wheeler
  19. Imagine This, quietly brilliant gag-a-day strip
  20. Indexed, Jessica Hagy uses charts and graphs to analyze some really important relationships
  21. Junior Scientist Power Hour, by Abby Howard
  22. The K Chronicles, cartoonist Keith Knight (who also does The Knight Life)
  23. Lunar Baboon, a guy who wants you to know he’s a cool dad
  24. Medium Large, cats, comics, and other things that ought to be sharp
  25. Monty doesn’t really stand out as a black-and-white strip in a daily newspaper, but look at it in color and you’ll be a fan
  26. Mutts,  Patrick McDonnell reimagines Krazy Kat and Ignatz in a gentler light, with Ignatz transformed from mouse to dog
  27. Mythtickle, in which Justin Thompson goes places Asterix never quite got round to
  28. Nancy, which has gone to surprising places
  29. The Oatmeal, achingly beautiful stories about dogs mixed in with other stuff
  30. Oglaf, weekly strip that is to sex what xkcd is to math
  31. Please Listen to Me, about how things change when you change your perspective
  32. Raghead the Fiendly Neighbourhood Terrorist, a creation of Biswapriya Purkayastha, who denies that he is “a nice person in any sense of the word”
  33. Retail, which shows that a serial strip can be drawn in the style of a gag-a-day strip and still work
  34. Robbie and Bobby, “about the indestructible friendship of a robot and his boy”
  35. Sarah’s Scribbles, Sarah C. Andersen lays it on the line Wednesdays and Saturdays
  36. Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, the world of some grumpy grad student
  37. Scenes from a Multiverse, remarkably mild
  38. Super-Team Family, covers of imaginary comic books, in which established characters are teamed in unlikely ways
  39. Ted Rall is a US political cartoonist who opposes both the Republicans and Democrats, just because of their shared habit of murdering defenseless people.  Picky, picky.
  40. Three Word Phrase, Ryan Pequin’s gag-a-day webcomic
  41. Tom the Dancing Bug, Ruben Bolling expresses his frustration with the US political scene (he also does Super-Fun-Pak Comix, which is great)
  42. Two Party Opera, where dead and not yet dead US presidents hang out
  43. Unshelved, a strip by librarians, about librarians, for librarians.  If you’re a non-librarian and you read it, you’re a voyeur.
  44. Wondermark, looks like 1896, reads like 1996
  45. xkcd, stick figures who enjoy math; and what-if, in which similar figures stand by watching helplessly as physics is used to answer hypothetical questions
  46. Zen Pencils, by Gavin Aung Than, who calls it “a website where inspirational quotes from famous people are adapted into cartoons”

Less Frequently Updated

  1. Sarah E. Laing’s “Let Me Be Frank“; she used to do “Forty Four Ways of Looking at an Apple” also
  2. Lead Paint Comics, by Mike Cornnell and Dana Wulfekotte (it seems that Mike Cornnell’s name actually does have two “n”s in it)
  3. Lucy Knisley moves around a lot, this link worked last time we updated this page (here’s her tumblr)
  4. Marlo Meekins, not for the squeamish
  5. Occupy Comics Shazam, doesn’t include Shazam or the Mighty Isis, but is worth reading anyway
  6. Outnumbered, by Tom Bancroft
  7. Poorly Drawn Lines, by Reza Farazmand
  8. Spiked Math, complex reasoning, simple hilarity
  9. Unwinder’s Tall Comics, a web comic about people who try to entertain themselves without using the web
  10. With Fetus, by D. Murphy and Emily Ansara Baines, who say “It’s About Abortion!”  An interesting strip, but the art is terrible.

News and Comment

An alphabetical list

  1. Cartoon Research, compiled and edited by Jerry Beck
  2. Christ, Coffee, and Comics, Greek Orthodox priest Niko Bekris explores the theological depths hidden in stories about Superman
  3. Comic Book News Service, “a comic book community where fans find reviews, news, special features, and a column for every day of the week”
  4. Comics Curmudgeon, Josh Fruhlinger reads the funny papers
  5. Comics Reporter, “Tom Spurgeon’s Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary”
  6. Escher Girls, what the comics think a woman is
  7. Fleen, “home of the webcomics Action News Team”
  8. God and Comics, a podcast in which three Episcopal priests demonstrate that, no matter how erudite and accomplished you are, if you’re a grown man talking about why he likes Batman, you’ll start to sound like a stoner
  9. A Good Cartoon, was funny at first, but seems to be heading down a bit of an angry political rabbit hole right now
  10. I Love Ya But You’re Strange and other things by Brian Cronin (the revealer of legends)
  11. Language Log’s “Linguistics in the Comics” section
  12. Shitty New Yorker Cartoon Captions, in which the shittiness of the captions illustrates the shittiness of the cartoons
  13. Stripper’s Guide, revisits newspaper strips and comic panels of days gone by
  14. Team Cul-de-Sac

Archives and Graphic Novels

An alphabetical list

  1. The Bad Chemicals, “a sad and silly comic” by some guy named Brent
  2. Carbon Dating, “a comic strip about science, pseudoscience, and geeky relationships”
  3. Captain Confederacy, which imagines what the world might be like if the Confederacy had won the US Civil War, and superheroes were real, and the ruling elite of the Confederacy manipulated those superheroes into perpetuating white supremacy.  You know, the obvious questions everyone asks when they study the history of the 1860s.  It’s kind of like its contemporary The Watchmen, only with a focus on mass media as a regressive force in race relations.
  4. The Comic Torah, Aaron Freeman and Sharon Rosenzweig reimagine “the (very!) Good Book”
  5. Comics With Problems, comics that address themselves to social problems, but which themselves represent other social problems
  6. DAR: A Super Girly Top Secret Comic Diary, by Erika Moen
  7. Dead Philosophers in Heaven, which would make Lucian proud
  8. Dykes to Watch Out For archive, selections from Alison Bechdel’s great strip
  9. Hark! A Vagrant!”  Canadian Kate Beaton’s “comic about failure”
  10. Ignore Hitler, a title that would have been good advice to voters in the Weimar Republic, a comic that appeals to some people, for some reason
  11. Tony Millionaire’s Maakies, which picks up where the Katzenjammer Kids may someday leave off
  12. Planet of Hats, a Star Trek Recap Comic
  13. Request Comics, which somebody must have asked for
  14. Thinkin’ Lincoln, heads of famous historical figures are associated with improbable remarks
  15. Troubletown, Lloyd Dangle expressed his frustration with the US political scene
  16. “White Boy,” later known as “The Adventures of White Boy in Skull Valley,” later still as “Skull Valley,” was a newspaper strip that artist Garrett Price drew for a few years in the 1930s.  This site has scans of a couple of strips, along with a biographical note about Price; this site has a larger selection of strips;  a 2005 special issue of Comics Journal featuring the first 32 “White Boy” strips is available to Comics Journal subscribers here.
  17. Working at the Death Star, what all those guys in the background probably did on days when R2D2 and his friends weren’t around

Each country should sponsor its own international athletic festival

Here’s a comment I posted elsewhere:

I’ve always thought that each country ought to sponsor an international athletic festival focusing on sports with which it has a particular association. The Olympics could be the Greek one, held in Elis every four years and featuring events from the ancient Olympics as well as sports popular in Greece now.

In the case of a sport that is big only in the host country, as kabaddi is in India, that host country could field one team, the rest of the world could combine to form another team, and they could square off. Not only would that be a big event in the host country, but there would always be a chance the sport would catch on someplace else.

If a sport is big in two countries, you’d have national teams from those countries and a rest-of-the-world team against them. So in Canada’s international games, you could have two Canadian curling teams taking on one Scottish team and one rest-of-the world team.

In the case of sports that are big in a great many countries, you could have a great many teams. Again, it would be good to have a rest-of-the-world team in each sport collecting talented players from countries that couldn’t compete on their own. And in individual sports, people could compete as individuals, with less of the nationalistic display that permeates the Olympics. Each festival would be a showcase for its host country, so the guests would honor their own countries simply by demonstrating that they were taught how to behave appropriately when abroad.

Some tweets looking back on Russiagate

This afternoon, I saw a tweet by Matt Simonton. Prof Simonton expressed dismay at “some left circles” in which the view prevails that “‘Russiagate’ was a total hoax.” To which I responded in a thread of twelve tweets:*

1/12 We have laws regulating contacts between foreign powers and public officials, and the Trumps were as careless about those laws as about so many others. That's bad, not only because the laws are necessary, but also because violating them exposes policymakers to blackmail.

2/n So it was certainly legitimate to investigate the activities of Russians, both state actors and others, in connection with the 2016 presidential campaign. On the other hand, those who call Russiagate a hoax are not entirely wrong, for five reasons.

3/12 First, millions of admirers of the Democratic party and its currently entrenched leadership hid behind the wildest conspiracy theories rather than face the fact that their idols could not keep even Donald Trump from becoming president.

4/12 As long as they insisted on doing that, the party could neither reform itself or even allow a routine circulation of personnel in its elite ranks.

5/12 Second, Russia's attempts at meddling in the 2016 election were miniscule compared with the influence several other foreign powers, among them Saudi Arabia and the People's Republic of China,

6/n openly exercise over the US political process, and no one seems interested in investigating them.

7/12 Indeed, Russiagaters usually responded to this point simply by shouting denials that there could be any comparison between Russia and any other country.

8/12 That brings us to the third problem with Russiagate, that the USA wields tremendous influence in every corner of the world, so that people outside it really ought to have a means of influencing our politics.

9/12 The point of the regulations which Trump and his minions so cavalierly disregarded is to allow the people to choose what form of that influence will take, not to exclude it altogether.

10/12 Fourth, Trump's administration was relentlessly anti-Russian in practice, consistently choosing the most hostile available policy option at every turn.

11/12 Fifth, emphasis on Russiagate put the opposition to Trump at the mercy of the FBI, the CIA, and other such bureaucracies, leaving us with the dismal spectacle of the ostensible left clamoring for everyone to sing unending hymns of praise to the spies and secret police.

12/12 The sum total of these five problems was to make Russiagate a thoroughgoing anti-politics, as much so as any of its congeners on the far right.

Originally tweeted by Acilius (@losthunderlads) on July 15, 2021.

In his response, the professor did not disagree with any of these points, but reiterated his belief that it was rational for Vladimir Putin to prefer a Trump presidency to a Hillary Clinton one. I agreed with him there.

*Professor S protects his tweets, so I’ve tried not to reproduce them here.

Philosophy and Progress

The other day, Chris Daly of the University of Manchester published a piece at Aeon under the headline “Why Doesn’t Philosophy Progress from Debate to Consensus?

Professor Daly first discusses Thomas Kuhn’s challenge to the idea that science makes progress, limiting himself to the qualified response that, whatever the limits of science, it certainly seems to have produced a great deal more consensus among its devotees than has philosophy. I do wish Professor Daly had gone into greater depth on this point. After all, even the most restrictive definition of philosophy would have to include Plato and a more or less continuous line of thinkers from Plato’s day to ours. That gives you an enterprise that was ongoing for over two thousand years before anyone had heard of the idea of progress. It seems likely that philosophy will persist for thousands of years after that idea is forgotten, unless the human race manages to liquidate itself in the meantime. Kuhn’s model, in fact, would seem to warrant a hope that science, like philosophy, will be compatible with an understanding that all that happens over time is that you get more of some things and less of others, and in any given era the set of things that are decreasing and the set of things that are increasing will both include a mix of good and bad. On Kuhn’s account, neither science nor philosophy is dependent on a belief that history goes in a specific direction and that that direction is a desirable one.

Professor Daly goes on to list five answers traditionally given to his question:

  1. “Challenge the pessimism” by giving examples of philosophical problems that have been solved. The example which Professor Daly gives, and about which he expresses reservation, is Noam Chomsky’s claim that Newton solved the mind-body problem by positing the Force of Gravity. For Descartes, two things could not interact with each other unless they had a point of contact, and they could not have a point of contact unless they were composed of the same substance. Since mind and body seem to be different in substance, he could not explain how they could interact. By describing gravity, Chomsky argues, Newton showed that objects could interact without contact. This not only sweeps aside the proposition that bodies cannot interact without contact, but shows that there are no bodies at all in Descartes’ sense. It thereby dissolves the problem.

    Professor Daly objects that this argument only defeats Descartes’ definition of body. Physical entities do in fact exist, and mental phenomena do in fact seem to be radically different from them. So there is still a mind-body problem, even if it is not logically equivalent to the problem Descartes described.

    I would also object that Chomsky’s proposal ignores the history of the question. Whether there can be interactions among entities that are made of such different stuff that they cannot touch each other was precisely the issue when the Stoics and Epicureans argued with each other about whether humans, who are made of atoms and are therefore mortal, and gods, who are immortal and must therefore be made of something altogether different from atomic matter, can affect each other. Against the Epicurean claim that a collection of atoms could never come into contact with whatever the gods would be made of, the Stoics appealed to the laws of nature as a medium through which gods and mortals could influence each other without contact. Newton’s triumph over figures like Descartes and Spinoza repeated a battle won sixteen centuries before by Posidonius and his associates.

    If I were to give an example of a problem that philosophers had managed to solve, I would probably mention Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem. That some mathematicians nowadays claim that side of Gödel’s work as exclusively their own, insisting that it is separate from the philosophy of mathematics, points to another reason why it often seems that the problems of philosophy are all insoluble- solve one, and people in other fields try to make off with it.

2. Dismiss the issue, and indeed the whole of philosophy, by claiming that “philosophical problems aren’t real problems.” This one doesn’t give Professor Daly much trouble. If the problems were just word-play, it would be as easy to make them go away as it is to solve a crossword puzzle, yet none of the people who make that claim has managed to accomplish such a solution.

3. Claim that “philosophical problems are just much harder than science problems” and therefore take more time to solve. He’s unimpressed by this one, and deals with it in a couple of short sentences.

4. Claim that the classic problems of philosophy resist solution because solving them requires us to do things to which our brains are not suited. Professor Daly calls this an “interesting piece of speculation,” and notes that the limits of human understanding are in fact a topic of empirical research. But he also finds it rather too convenient to say that solving philosophical problems is beyond our ken while “everything else we do in philosophy… is open to us.”

5. Daly’s own position is somewhere to be found in his description of the final option, so I will quote it in its entirety:

The fifth diagnosis, the one I think explains the most, doesn’t single out any one factor to explain philosophy’s lack of progress. Instead, it takes this to be the interaction effect of a cluster of things. As we saw in the case of intuitions, there’s controversy not only about the theories that philosophers devise but also about many of the methods or kinds of data that they appeal to in support of their theories. Also, philosophical problems have ‘entangled’ natures: proposed solutions to one problem require contentious assumptions about other live problems. For example, there’s a problem in saying what morality is about – what it is for actions or people to be morally good or bad. But this problem is not compartmentalised. Accompanying this problem about the nature of morality, there’s a problem about why we should accept some moral views rather than others. And, as we’ve seen, there’s also a problem about why anyone should care about morality. So, we have a nest of problems here: a definitional problem (what is morality?), an epistemological problem (how can we tell what’s moral?), and a motivational problem (why does morality matter?). Solutions to these problems will make assumptions about reality and our minds that raise fresh problems of their own, and so the issues ramify.

I’m a bit leery of Professor Daly’s emphasis on ethical theory- I am inclined to think that ethics is acceptable only as a subfield of epistemology. Lose sight of what humans can know and how they can be said to know it, and you quickly drift into the realms of theodicy.