Topics are arranged alphabetically in the INDEX.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Women and Academic Philosophy

Does Philosophy have a woman problem? Is academic philosophy a "safe space" for women?

Philosopher Christina Hoff Sommers's YouTube video address issues of diversity in the academy and presents arguments and data relevant to many academic fields.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Bring Back Philosophy for American High School Students!

Philosophy should be taught in American High Schools. It is a required subject in many European countries for this age group, and rightly so. It develops critical thinking skills, helps students develop a moral operating system, and allows for the integration of knowledge that only metaphysical conversation can do. Of course, all metaphysical conversation became verboten when John Dewey's adulterated pragmatism was ushered onto the American educational scene.

A recent article posted at reminds us that Philosophy was once an important part of the Amercan curriculum. Here is an excerpt:

In the U.S., it’s commonly believed that philosophy is too complex for high school students.

But in the history of the West, that’s actually a fairly recent notion, and not one universally held.

In ancient Greece, the specialized study of philosophy at a school like the famed Platonic Academy would not begin until about the age of 18. However, students in secondary school would learn logic and undertake a detailed study of poets like Homer and Hesiod with heavy philosophical tendencies in their works.

In the Middle Ages, students at Oxford would enter at the age of 14 or 15 and would begin a course of studies in the trivium – grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic – the latter of which included philosophy and, according to Robert Rait, “was the real interest of the medieval student.”

Read it all here.

Related reading: Schools Discovering the Value of PhilosophyPhilosophy for Primary Students?; Why I Teach Philosophy in Primary School by Giacomo Esposito; Teach Philosophy in Primary Schools; The Benefits of Philosophical Studies; Philosophy: The Most Impractical Practical Tool; Philosophy Education in France; Popularity of Philosophy in Germany

Monday, May 30, 2016

Yahya ibn Adi

Abū Zakarīyā’ Yaḥyá ibn ʿAdī (John, father of Zachary, son of Adi) known as Yahya ibn Adi (893–974) was a Syriac Jacobite Christian philosopher, theologian and translator working in Arabic.

Peter Adamson, professor of philosophy at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munichhas contributed a fascinating blog post at the APA Website. Here are some excerpts:
Who was Yahya ibn Adi? He’s not a household name now, but in his own day he had great renown as the foremost Aristotelian philosopher in the capital of the Islamic empire, Baghdad. This is a sign of the ecumenical nature of intellectual life in the period. Ibn Adi was a Christian, who studied with and taught other Christian philosophers, associated with the famous Muslim thinker al-Farabi, and engaged in an epistolary exchange on philosophical topics with a Jewish scholar.
Thanks to Ibn Adi and his colleagues, tenth century Baghdad rivalled fifth century Alexandria, thirteenth century Paris, and twentieth century Oxford when it comes to Aristotelian scholarship.

Read it all here

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Sun and the Sacred

"But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves." Malachi 4:2

Alice C. Linsley

This is the third in a series on time measurement through the ages. The first essay examines the development and use of the clepsydra, a water clock. This was widely used during the Holocene Wet Period and into late Antiquity. As the climate of the ancient world began to dry out, the clepsammia (sand-glass) came into wider use.

The oldest known device used to measure time involved the Sun. Early humans in Africa tracked the hours of the day by watching the shadow cast by boulders, stacked stones, and sticks. The populations living along the Great Rift Valley and in the Blombos Mountains of Southern Africa used this method millions of years ago. This also was a practice of the Australian Aborigines as early at 10,000 year ago. The sundial is based on this same method of observation.

Sun pictograph in Vinča culture (6th-5th millennia BC)

As the Sun was in the heavens, its movement was of special interest to archaic Man. The Sun was the subject of theological consideration and became the emblem of the Creator. This is why solar imagery pervades many cultures long before the Axial Age.

The sky was very important to archaic peoples and anything that came from the sky was regarded as sacred. This included rays of sunlight and meteroritic iron beads. These were perceived as the Creator's semen/seeds giving life to "mother" Earth.

Obviously, the Creator was perceived as male/father and the source of fertility. It was believed that the divinely appointed ruler would be conceived in his mother's womb by the overshadowing of the Sun. This belief was widely held among the archaic rulers in the Nile Valley, in India, in Mesopotamia, and in Southern Europe. Sargon claimed such a miraculous conception, and according to Luke's Gospel, the Virgin Mary conceived by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit.

Hathor conceived Horus by divine overshadowing of the Sun, the emblem of Re.

The horns are a pictograph used to designate an appointed ruler among the Biblical Habiru who were devotees of Re, Horus and Hathor. This is why the Y appears in  many Hebrew names: Yaqtan (Joktan); Yishmael (Ishmael); Yishbak; Yitzak (Isaac); Yacob (Jacob); Yosef (Joseph); Yetro (Jethro); Yeshai (Jesse) and Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus). Many horned altars and horned sacred vessels have been found by archaeologists.

It is little wonder that the Sun's movement was used to measure time. The word dial is derived from the Latin word for day, which is dies. Sundials calculate the hour of the day based on the length of the shadow. Just as the Sun does not change its course, so the Good God does not change. This is expressed in James 1:17 - "Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow."

Among archaic peoples the sacred temporal center was high noon, when there is no shadow. The sacred spatial center was the high place or mountain top, between heaven and earth. The most auspicious time and place to commune with God would be high noon on the mountain top. No wonder there are countless stories of divine encounters of this type: Abraham, Moses, Elijah also Zarathustra on the mountain top addressing the Sun.

The sundial was likely developed by early Nilotic priest-astronomers.
Egyptian obelisk
The Egyptian t-shaped sundial was comprised of a crossbar and a vertical stick. Five sections were marked on the stick to measure the passage of five hours. In the morning, the stick was placed facing east, and in the afternoon, the stick was placed facing west.

Solar eclipses, such as the one that happen on February 5, 3109 BC, were noted by the priest-astronomers at Nekhen. This was an eclipse of long duration (as Nekhen is closer to the equator) and it appears that it began around mid-day. It would have remained dark for several hours. Consider the quandary of the priest-astronomers: when should the stick be moved? Consider the implications for their theology: the sun was the emblem of the Creator Ra and his son Horus. Why were they witholding the light?

Consider the testimonies of Mark and Matthew who report that darkness came over the whole land from noon until 3:00 pm at the time of Christ's crucifixion.

Later the Egyptians and the Babylonians erected large stone obelisks to form the gnomon of a sundial. The obelisks were used also to calculate the longest and shortest day of the year. These ancient obelisks were inscribed with the ruler's various titles and words of praise for both the ruler and the deity he served. Horus was the guardian of the ancient Kushite and Egyptian rulers from as early as 4000 BC. The kings were regarded as the earthly representatives of the Ruler of the universe, the “sons” of God. The earliest known moral code is associated with the law giver Menes who united the peoples of the Upper and Lower Nile shortly after the total solar eclipse of 3109 BC.

A six-sided obelisk has been found in Judah at a 10,000 year shrine settlement in the Judean Shfela. The obelisk is oriented to the rising sun. The architects of the shrine tracked the solar arc. The majority of ancient and prehistoric sacred sites align to meridian cardinal directions and the solar arc.

Isaiah 38:8 speaks of the sundial of King Ahaz in Jerusalem. This is a remarkable account of the going back of the shadow on the dial of Ahaz at the time of Hezekiah's recovery from his illness as foretold by Isaiah. "Behold, I will cause the shadow on the steps, which is gone down on the dial of Ahaz with the sun, to return backward ten steps. So the sun returned ten steps on the dial whereon it was gone down."
The Good God, Etruscan image, c. 520 BC
The Etruscan deity Ixion was crucified on a solar wheel.

Aspects of the ancient solar symbolism are found in the Bible, throughout the territories of the R1b rulers such as the Hittites, the Luwian, and the Etruscans. The religious significance of the sun is evident also in historical texts. The Bible designates Abraham as Habiru or Hebrew. The Habiru were a caste of priests who served in the ancient sun temples and shrines, called O-piru. Here the O is a solar pictograph. Psalm 92:2 describes the Lord as “a sun and a shield.”

The Victory Tablet of Amenhotep III describes Horus as “The Good God, Golden [Horus], Shining in the chariot, like the rising of the sun; great in strength, strong in might…” (J.H. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Part Two, p. 854).

 Related reading: Better a Philosopher Than an Orator; The Sun and Celestial HorsesMonuments of the Ancient Kushites; Solar Symbolism of the Proto-Gospel; Ancient African Astronomers; Ancient Wisdom, Science, and Technology; The Urheimat of the Canaanite Y; The Ra-Horus-Hathor Narrative; A Tent for the Sun; The Sun and Moon in Genesis; Gain a Heart of Wisdom

Friday, May 13, 2016

Gain a Heart of Wisdom

Joan Violet Robinson said, "Time is a device to prevent everything from happening at once." To this, someone later quipped, "Space is a device to prevent everything from happening in Cambridge."

Alice C. Linsley

The clepsammia or sand-glass is an interval timer that depends on the particle flow of sand. Its older counterpart was the clepsydra (Time Thief) which depended on water flow. According to the American Institute of New York, the clepsammia was invented at Alexandria about 150 BC. However, the Greeks were using the sand clock as early as 300 BC. 

The sand-glass appears to have come into wide use after much of the ancient world became drier. Earlier, the clepsydra or water-clock was much more common, but there were difficulties with the water flow in the colder climates. Caesar was much aggrieved when he invaded Gaul and found that the water in his clepsydra had frozen.

There are difficulties with the sand-glass also. If moisture penetrated the seal on the glass, the sand clumps. To prevent this, powdered eggshell or lead dust were sometimes added. The problem of moisture was largely overcome by the nineteenth century when glassblowers fused the two bulbs together at the joint, making them airtight.

Sand-glasses generally were used to measure an hour. They were called horologes, from the Greek words hōra, "hour" and legein, "to gather." 

In ancient philosophy the term horos referred to the boundaries of an area, or a landmark, or a term. It is likely a reference to the deity Horus who was said to be the fixer of time, current, tides, winds and boundaries. The English words hour, horizon and horoscope share this root. Today the word horoscope connotes astrology, but the original meaning was "observer" [skopos] of the hour. The Indo-European root for year is yeHr-, another reference to Horus. The association of Horus with the horizon is seen in the word Har-ma-khet, meaning "Horus of the Horizon." 

The sand-filled hourglass became popular as a personal time device for European nobility in the thirteenth century. Charlemagne (742-814) possessed a 12-hour sand-glass. These timers were used in the kitchens of wealthy households to judge cooking times. Thomas de Stetsham, a ship clerk in the service of King Edward III (1312-1377) ordered 16 sand-filled hourglasses. The sand-glass was used to time the length of the watches on ships. 
The hourglass served to time the length of sermons in churches. The device installed in the Royal Chapel in London measured a period of eighteen minutes, the time ordered by Queen Victoria, who apparently did not appreciate long-winded clerics.

Doubtless the hourglass resting near the pulpit served as a congregational reminder of the passage of time and our mortality. Wisdom begins with this humbling truth, as Psalm 90:12 reminds us: "Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom."