Archive for May, 2015

Immanuel Kant’s account of beauty

May 17, 2015

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We have been asked to explain Kant’s account of beauty, so here goes.

Kant starts off from the idea that the sensation of beauty is both subjective and universal.  It is subjective because it belongs to the subject (perceiver) rather than the object.  In particular, there are no rules that will make the object beautiful to us if we do not perceive it to be so.  It is universal because the statement ‘X is beautiful’ carries the implication ‘I like X and you ought to like X’.  This is different from the normal situation of liking ice-cream for instance where there is no insistence that anyone else should like it.

So how can something–a kind of pleasure–be both subjective and universal.  In Kant’s thought, pleasure is seen as springing from meeting some need (like hunger for instance).  So what need are we talking about here?  Kant suggests that it is the need for understanding.  But beauty is not about understanding as such–Kant gives the example of an innkeeper’s son in a bush imitating a nightingale, which song ceases to be beautiful once he is found out.  Instead it is the promise of understanding that beauty provides.

So that explains how the sensation of beauty can be both subjective and universal.  By analogy with hunger, there is no particular difficulty with saying that the catalogue of things that are beautiful will be different in different times and places, since what will satisfy your hunger (which is surely something real) will depend on what you are used to and what you’ve eaten recently.

Ingenious, or what?

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A 3 month Biblical Hebrew course in Israel

May 17, 2015
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Gratuitous picture of Magdala

 

We have received the following query:

I’m wondering if you could recommend a 3 month Biblical Hebrew course in Israel…I have the time from  July to Sep available this year.

My first response would be that this may be confusing the end with the means–if you want to learn Biblical Hebrew or anything else the best thing is to get on with it here and now.  Do what you can, with what you have, where you are–a sentiment famously endorsed by Theodore Roosevelt.  If you are an undergraduate doing a year abroad, then the university will try to make you learn something just by being there, but in other circumstances it’s all a bit more uncertain.

As for answering the question as posed, I suspect that if you want a particular set period the best thing would be to find a private tutor.  You could look at craigslist for instance and there is a listing of Israeli free ads sites here. Even better–post an ad yourself saying what you’re looking for.

As to actually existing courses, you could try the Biblical Language Center–Randall Buth did inform me that they would be doing courses in Israel in 2015, so you could write and ask him about that.  There is also a summer course at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.  Again if I were you I would write to the coordinator, Steven Fassberg and ask if he had any suggestions.   The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a page about English programs in Israeli universities and you can also write to them.

So my advice would be:

i)  make sure that you are clear about the what and the how in your intentions;

ii)  ask around!

About learning Ancient Greek

May 4, 2015
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That answers one question…

I have received the following query from Juan Coderch

Then, I feel curiosity about what you have done: how did you study Greek/Latin? As a university degree, or just for personal enjoyment And what books did you use, what methodologies, etc.? 

When I was a student studying Physics I took up Greek in my spare time.  I think the reasons for this were:

i)  curiosity as to what the Greek letters in maths really wanted to do;

ii)  the ‘real’ students of Russian (my first love, which I’d also studied independently while in the sixth form) could go to Russia, while I couldn’t–the same didn’t apply to Ancient Greece;

iii)  I’d got bored with doing the same kind of thing (maths, physics) all the time;

iv)  I was intrigued by the word ‘boustrophedon’, which I’d come across somewhere.

So I applied myself to the Reading Greek series, which had just come out.  After that, I spent something like 3 months sitting up at night reading the Greek text of the Iliad. And after that I stopped being a student and for a time I lived in Newcastle and honed my skills in living without apparent means of support and also went to some evening classes given by Janet Watson at the university.

Some years later my interest was rekindled when I came across a book about Heinrich Schliemann and I was struck by the idea that you could be both a practical person–in fact, a swindler on a titanic scale–and interested in Greek.  I went to some of the reading groups that City Lit used to have in the evenings, and certainly benefited from the helpful and supportive approach of Barbara Goward.  I also went to some Greek summer schools over the years and more recently I’ve been to some courses at Madingley Hall.

I’ve given some comments about teaching Ancient Greek here.  I think that I would add the following points from the learner side:

i)  the only real reason for doing it is because you can’t not do it–others will end in disappointment;

ii)  it shares the refractory nature of (for instance) physics–it never becomes easy, but with effort you can make progress and you’re all right;

iii)  it’s helpful to know something about modern linguistics and in particular phonetics;

iv)  it certainly helps if you can read/recite it so it sounds like an actual language used for communication;

iv)  I think it makes it less frightening if you start off by thinking of it as a European literature with some slightly complicated grammar–not some form of message from another star;

v)  at some stage you have to have it in your head rather than on the page, even if this can be frightening in a class;

vi)  as ever in language learning–do something every day!

About methodologies:  I have some sympathy with Lenin, who apparently said about learning foreign languages that you should first of all learn all the grammar and all the vocabulary, then worry about fripperies like idiom.  As I say elsewhere, there are good systematic reasons why Greek grammar (and words) are the way they are, and again it becomes less frightening if you know something about them.  If I was starting off knowing what I know now, I might well go for something more formal than Reading Greek, but it was fine at the time.