F.M. Cornford on Plato’s vision of justice

F.M. Cornford passed away in 1943, but he is such a marvelous writer that he’s well worth reading yet. I just finished off his Before and After Socrates, which are a series of lectures he read at Oxford. There isn’t much there for a specialist in early philosophy, but it’s an awfully friendly introduction to the important innovations in thought that in occurred in Greece in the 6th and 5th century, and the quality of the prose should put many of us moderns to shame:

“When we speak of Justice as an ‘ideal’, we also mean that it may never yet have been completely embodied in many man or in any system of institutions. It is not a mere ‘idea’ in the sense of a thought or notion in our minds; for the notions in our minds are confused and conflicting. They are only dim and inadequate apprehensions of what Justice is in itself. Justice itself is not a thought, but an eternal object of thought.”

(p. 61).

“You kids made us good” …Philip Roth remembers a favorite teacher

Philip Roth’s loving tribute to a teacher is available via Audible. He discusses the process with the Paris Review:

Philip Roth Reads “In Memory of a Friend, Teacher and Mentor”:

In those days we had a lot of good teachers. There were a couple of bad ones—boring. But by and large they were inspiring. Bob and I were talking about the time I was in high school. He said, You kids made us good.

(Via The Paris Review)

Paul Romer’s Alternative Narratives about Chinese Urbanization

Paul Romer does a much better job than I could of discussing the NYT piece on Chinese urbanization. Here’s my favorite quote:

Alternative Narratives about Chinese Urbanization | Urbanization Project:

The narrative about forced migration — with its charged language about “top down” approaches (not once but twice,) its reference to the “disastrous Maoist campaign to industrialize overnight” — has an obvious emotional appeal for a popular audience that is comfortable with narratives about good guys and bad guys.

The alternative narrative — one about governments all over the world that are trying to cope with the billions of people who want to move to urban opportunity — better captures the deepest and most important undercurrent in the global economy the we and our children will face.

(Via urbanizationproject.org)

What is the moral case for public transit?

I have to write a section for a handbook on environmental ethics (the update for this very good volume here),  and the editors have asked me for a section on transit.  I’ve been a bit of a loudmouth over the years about the sloppy environmental assertions made around transit–that is, planners usually start their justifications for transit or TOD with some no-brainer “It saves the environment” talk at the beginning of their articles, with the unstated “and, therefore, we must do it” to follow. Which is fine as long as you are talking to other planners and not fine if you are taking to a TEA party type for whom knee-jerk appeals to saving the environmental sound like fingers on a chalkboard.  Since it’s an environmental ethics handbook, I will have to start with consequentialist arguments about the environment and see what we can do with them.

Then there are the rights to the city arguments. Basic good arguments.  Where will they go? Those are hard for me because of the standard rights claims and counter-claims.

I’m starting the outline today.   You tell me.

Onora O’neill’s breathtaking talent

I am often suspicious of academ-o-stars, but I had one of those moments where I was skimming through a collection writings looking for things for my planning theory and ethics class in a book called A Companion to Ethics, when my eye stopped on the section on ‘Kantian ethics.’ Oh-ho, thinks I, McFly. These entries are about 2500 to 3,000 words. How is anybody going to distill Kant into that many words?

I start reading. My breath is taken away. Kant is by far the most difficult thinker I teach other than Habermas and Rawls, and I feel such a natural affinity for Rawls that he doesn’t count.

I look to see who wrote this tiny little masterpiece: Onora O’Neill. Hoo Boy. How wonderful.

Arguing with Stewie to illustrate an important point about guns and material culture

So I have been encountering this meme on Facebook:

ImageWell, I guess he told us.

One of my favorite rejoinders comes from Eddie Izzard:

The difference in these perspectives is important to planning and urban design; one perspective places human agency and choice at the center of the negative social consequences. The latter recognizes that the human capacity to develop tools and the resulting material culture changes human agency in important ways. It can magnify or alter that choice. If you drink too much, you will be a drunk, but having seven liquor stores stocked with $3 bottles of T-bird within stumbling distance changes the opportunities you have to  act on your agency. Pencils, print, and other tools have changed human society and individual lives, just like computers have.  People with pencils misspell words, indeed, and some of it is their fault, but the fact they are writing and literate at all has something to do with the mass availability of pencils as material good.

My peace-loving, easy-going husband routinely shocks me when we are watching a movie by telling me that the guns or the halberds or the long-bows or whatever weapon employed are anachronisms.  “How can you possibly know this?” I ask. “I’m a military history guy.” He says. “Just about every new weapon changes war. You can’t understand war unless you understand technology.”

And yet one reason I tend to get grumpy with our New Urbanist friends is that many assume that design will ‘make’ people do things. It will make them walk, make them socialize, make them have more incidental contact with strangers (thus making them more cosmopolitan).   It’s better to suggest that design can make the opportunity for people to do things, and some people, when the opportunity manifests, will walk more, socialize, and perhaps become more cosmopolitan.

Just like some, when given access to guns, will do nothing with them, and other people will.