Wednesday, August 25, 2010


I'm trying to find a snappy way of distinguishing between the following cases, both of which involve someone enjoying something unexpectedly.

1.  Anne comes home to find her friends have arranged a surprise party.  She really enjoys it.

2. Bob knows he is going to a friend's party that evening; he does not think he will enjoy it.  But he goes nevertheless and ends up having a really enjoyable time.

(And we might even add 3. Charlie spends the day agonising about a friend's party he has to go to that evening.  His afternoon is ruined in dreading the thought of it.  Be he goes, out of duty, and ends up having a really enjoyable time.)

The pleasures that Anne and Bob enjoy at their respective parties can both be called, I think, 'unexpected' or 'surprise' pleasures.  I want a pair of labels that will clearly and concisely distinguish them. 

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

You’ll like this

I've been going back to a piece I'm trying to write about character and consistency in the Philebus. Along the way, I've been wondering about what you might call Protagorean hedonism, namely the idea that all pleasures are true – true in the same sense that Socrates wants to argue that some pleasures and false – and from there back to the Theaetetus. At Theaetetus 178d8–e6, Socrates argues that a cook is a better predictor than a dinner guest of whether a meal will be pleasant:

Or suppose a dinner is being prepared. Even the guest who is going to eat it, if he has no knowledge of cooking, will not be able to pronounce so authoritative a verdict as the professional cook on how nice it is going to be (περὶ τῆς ἐσομένης ἡδονῆς). I say 'going to be', because we had better not at this stage press our point as regards what is now pleasant to any individual, or what has been in the past. Our question for the moment is, whether the individual himself is the best judge, for himself, of what is going to seem and be for him in the future.
Trans. M. J. Levett rev. M. F. Burnyeat

We might find this peculiar since, after all, de gustibus nil disputandum. I am not inclined to think that if I dislike a meal at a restaurant I should defer to the chef's opinion that it is in fact delicious. But Socrates is clearly less reticent in affirming that matters of gastronomic pleasure are analogous to matters of health, for example, in being the province of a kind of expertise. An uneducated palate might well not take pleasure in something it should. The other important point is that Socrates is not considering cases in which a chef will tell a diner that what he thinks is not pleasure is in fact pleasant. Rather, the point is about predicting what will be pleasant. Here perhaps this is not such a peculiar thought. After all, famous chefs regularly produce dishes which an inexpert diner will predict are not pleasant (e.g. snail porridge) but which are in fact very nice. The chef's command of taste combinations allows him to produce surprisingly delicious new dishes. Still, we might reasonably insist that not all diners are the same and what one persons may enjoy another will not. So chefs might need to know something about their clientele and personal preferences. 

All the same Socrates' cautious restriction to talk about future pleasure does not show that he is at all committed to the thought that when it comes to the estimation of present pleasure each person is an authoritative and incorrigible guide. Not only is it clear from other discussions that Socrates has a tendency to think that people are often badly mistaken about their current state of pleasure or pain, but it is evident that the restriction to future pleasure in this case is merely for argumentative convenience at this point in his exploration of Protagoras' view. Even granted that restriction, Socrates and Theaetetus are inclined to think that an individual is not necessarily the best judge of what will be pleasant to him. Insofar as such a person can be mistaken (e.g. by believing on Monday that he will not like snail porridge but finding it pleasant on Tuesday), then this will offer a useful example of a false belief to add to the mounting case against Protagoras' assertion that 'main is the measure'. 

It seems to me that the Philebus adds to this analysis the idea that rather than a belief on Monday that such-and-such will or will not be pleasant, we might instead talk about a pleasure or pain on Monday in anticipation of a supposed pleasure or pain on Tuesday. If I am pained on Monday by the imagined experience of eating snail porridge on Tuesday but then enjoy the snail porridge on Tuesday, then Monday's was a false pain.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Chelmsford 123

Attention Virgin media customers in the UK!  You can now watch all of Chelsmford 123, the 1988-90 comedy set in Roman Britain on TV Choice on demand.  You can also watch it on Channel 4 On Demand and via Your Tube (just search for the title).  That means you can enjoy gems like this first episode which includes the first scene all in Latin.

Here's a clip from another episode:

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Jobs for philosophy graduates

What can you do after studying philosophy at Cambridge?  Well, if you can't start a punk-surf band like this, you can do excellent work like this.  Carlene read Philosophy at Fitzwilliam College and I am pleased to say that I supervised her for her work in ancient philosophy. 


I'm just back from a holiday en famille at Center Parcs, near Thetford.  I was a bit apprehensive before we went because I had the idea it might be either a slightly up-market Butlins or else full of Fit Family types running from badminton lesson to quad-biking in their sports kit.  But in fact it was very nice.  We didn't do much running or biking or jumping, but we did a lot of swimming in the excellent pools (with slides and a raging rapids river...) and we did a lot of eating at the restaurants on site.  (Sure, you can cater for yourselves but we couldn't be @rsed, to be honest.)  The weather was mostly OK but even if it's bucketing down it's quite fun.  I decided on balance not to do the Cable Water Skiing just because it might have put to shame some of the obvious beginners who were having a go and (let's be frank) no one needs to see me in a wet suit.

I reckon it's a good family holiday, free from hassles about driving about the British countryside as we have done for the last few years, negotiating annoying car parks and over-priced 'attractions' (Yes, Wookey Hole, I mean you.)

We will probably feel sufficient academic guilt to want to go away someone at Easter (the kids want to see Pompeii...) but for now I feel quite rested.  Or at least, I did until I picked up the post and email when we got back.  (That's another thing: reception on Orange at the Elveden Center Parcs is patchy at best so you really can't reply to much.)

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Eulogy magazine

Here's an interesting new magazine: Eulogy.  It discusses mortality, loss, funerals, mourning and celebrating the deceased.  Sounds like a perfectly good idea to me.  After all, there are all manner of magazines dealing with getting married or having a baby or buying a pram or choosing a house.  So why not one about something we are all going to do?  True, the dead are not the best demographic for marketing, so I suppose the editors are pitching more at the prospective dead.  But there are a lot of those around.  And don't you want to find out about a company that will press someone's ashes into a vinyl record?  Of course you do.  So here they are.