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I’m slowly making my way through Malebranche’s magnum opus, The Search After Truth – so far its a super fun text. Malebranche spends a lot of time in the first two major sections on criticising his contemporaries for their lack of clear thinking. This quote is just a small sample – but there are many many others in the first two books of this text. Not long after this passage, he moves on to criticising some prior thinkers: Tertullian, Seneca, and Montaigne. He’s particularly strong worded about Montaigne, of whom he says that “He worked hard to give himself the air of a gentleman, but he did not work to give himself a precise mind, or at least he did not succeed in doing so.” Malebranche is by no means an exception in his harsh words about other thinkers. We see this happen today as well – with some prominent philosophers having a reputation for just how mean they are about others. Personally, I think this sort of adversarial attitude hurts us more than helps.
This week went by quickly, but your morning will go by even quicker if you have a browse of this sweet reading material.
In case you missed it, I posted about Freud psychoanalysing Descartes.
Other great things to read:
Julie Sedivy on whether mind-wandering is bad for you at Nautilus // A neat collection of cool homes at the Atlantic // Jaz Hee-jeong Choi on how we can adapt society to loneliness at the Conversation // Richard Marshall reviews Mitchell Merback’s Perfection’s Therapy at 3:AM Magazine // A very cool interview with Peter Adamson on the APA Blog // Henry David Thoreau’s Walden as a computer game //
A little while ago I wrote on this blog about Descartes’ Olympica dreams. The three dreams he had one night in 1619. The then 23 year old philosopher reported nightmares and dreams which made him decide to become a philosopher. In my previous post I remarked that Freud supposedly interpreted these dreams in a letter, but that the library holding my university’s copy of the Collected Psychological Works of Freud was being renovated, and I had no easy way to access them. Well.. when I went to get vol.21, which contains the letter in question, it wasn’t on the shelf, and it seems that it indeed has been lost or worse! Perhaps some Jungian villain decided to abscond with the tome. I don’t know.
Thankfully a friend was able to deliver the Freud’s letter to Maxime Leroy to me, and so I’m able to relay to you his interpretation of Descartes’ dreams.
Freud begins his letter by saying that usually he’d be reluctant to discuss or analyse dreams when the dreamer is unavailable to comment. This, according to him, is particularly true of historical figures. Presumably, not just because we are unable to confirm with them details that might link them to the real world, but because the real world as they knew no longer exists. With Descartes, however, Freud is happy to report the task is easier than expected. He describes the dreams like so:
Our philosopher’s dreams are what are known as ‘dreams from above’ (Träume von oben). That is to say, they are formulations of ideas which could have been created just as well in a waking state as during the state of sleep, and which have derived their content only in certain parts from mental states at a comparatively deep level. That is why these dreams offer for the most part a content which has an abstract, poetic or symbolic form.
Being “dreams from above”, Freud says, the dreams are a mystery to us, the interpreters, but to the dreamer they are easily decipherable because they are close to our waking thoughts already. And thus,
The philosopher interprets them himself and, in accordance with all the rules for the interpretation of dreams, we must accept his explanation, but it should be added that we have no path open to us which will take us any further.
I think Freud sheds a bit of light on the young Descartes. The idea of becoming a philosopher must always have been close to his thoughts. His education clearly steered him towards a life of contemplation.
Source: Freud’s letter to Maxime Leroy, reprinted in The Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, vol 21
I attended the (wonderful) Australasian Association of Philosophy conference at Monash last week. Just about every time I get together with philosophers, as soon as someone hears that I wrote my thesis on Kant they bring up the pretty neat fact that Kant had some rules by which one should organise their dinner parties.
I thought I’d share.
A very good write up is to be found at Siris, so I’ll let you hit that up.
If you’d like to see the deeper philosophical import of these parties, this article by Alix Cohen looks promising.