Suggested Reading For Analytical Philosophers: Wordsworth’s Prelude


This modest offering stems from two provocations.  One is Richard Cocks’ piquant disquisition at The People of Shambhala, referenced here at The Orthosphere, concerning the limitations inherent in the modern school of thought that calls itself Logical Positivism or Analytical Philosophy; the other is a pedagogical necessity that befell me last week to explicate in class for the students of my “Writing about Literature” course a famous passage from William Wordsworth’s Prelude, Book I.  My title must obviously be taken cum grano salis, as logical positivists and analytical philosophers would immediately reduce Wordsworth’s  observations and arguments to their own insipid categories.  Frankly, I cannot imagine the logical positivists or analytical philosophers, or howsoever they dub themselves, making any sense whatsoever of Wordsworths verses or, for that matter, being interested in or aware of them.  Wordsworth’s fundamental assumptions must be opaque to such people.

I have written up my lecture-outline as a short essay.  I append the text on which I comment at the end of the essay.  Those sufficiently generous to feel curiosity about the essay might want to read the excerpt first.  I take for my illustration the fourth panel of The Voyage of Life (1842) by Thomas Cole, one of the founders of the Hudson Valley School.


A Brief Essay on the Adventure of the Boat at Night: It is an observation of natural philosophy that ontogeny repeats phylogeny: That is, the gestation and maturation of the individual repeat the gestation and maturation of the family, genus, or the species.  More generally speaking, everything that exists is an effect that research – or introspection – can trace back to a cause until the procedure finds its destination in a First Cause.  These facts entail any number of paradoxes, not least the poet William Wordsworth’s contention, found in his little poem “My Heart Leaps Up” (1802), that “the child is the father of the man”:


Wordsworth averred often in his prosaic self-explanations that his every line of verse belonged to one great conjectural poem such that each smaller poem was but part of a transcendent whole, which could perhaps never be completed in the poet’s lifetime.  That one Wordsworthian poem should  comment on another should come therefore as no surprise.  The few short lines, almost throwaway verse, of “My heart leaps up” indeed suggest much concerning a crucial passage from one of the early books of one of Wordsworth’s most ambitious poems – the epic-length verse-autobiography The Prelude, begun by the poet as early as 1798 but never published until after his death in 1850.  In the episode in question, Wordsworth recounts one of the adventures of his boyhood, in the Lake District of Northwest England just below the Scottish Border, the native locale where he spent his childhood and to which he returned to live later in life after the peregrinations of his young adulthood.

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More on Subscendence


It is a well-known implication of Darwinian evolutionary theory that one thousand monkeys, furnished with as many word-processing devices, and ensconced both gratis and in perpetuum in a mid-priced traveler’s hotel such as the Marriott Suites, would, by their inveterate although quite random keyboard activity, eventually produce either –

1. Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged; or –

2. The generic mission-statement of any graduate-level “studies” program at any state-supported consolation-university in North America.

I place my bet on Atlas Shrugged, but in my circle of intimate friends, to whose wisdom I defer, the majority of opinion favors the generic mission-statement.  A consolation-university, by the way, is any state-supported, doctorate-granting institution of higher education that is not, for example, Ann Arbor or Berkeley.  Let us say that Michigan State and UC Irvine are paradigms of the consolation-university.  (Not that I hold any brief for Ann Arbor or Berkeley.  My consolation-university was UCLA.)

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Sucker Punches and Conservative Intransigence

I recently had a written exchange on political divisions in my academic subfield.  My correspondent was, by the standards of the subfield, a moderate.  By the standards of the contemporary United States, center left.  By the standards of historical humanity, or even educated opinion of the past century, completely barking at the moon.  Party-line hard Left with a vengeance just about sums it up. Continue reading

A Basic Modern Error

Oswego River

Modern people say: “Everything is changing all the time.”  They apparently believe it.

A guest of The Orthosphere made this error recently in one of the threads on atheism by claiming that language “is changing all the time.”

Languages indeed change, but it appears that they change abruptly rather than gradually and that the hiatuses between such changes tend to be long. On good evidence, for example, Anglo-Saxon was a stable language for at least five hundred years and maybe as much as a thousand years. The events of 1066 AD destabilized Anglo-Saxon, which, in the course of the next hundred years, fused with Norman French to create the Anglo-Norman tongue, which reached its perfection in the works of Geoffrey Chaucer. Modern English speakers can understand very little of Anglo-Saxon, but they can grasp eighty-five or ninety per cent of Chaucer’s verse. Chaucer wrote in the Fourteenth Century, which means that English has been quite stable for some seven or eight centuries.

Similarly, Thirteenth-Century French is comprehensible, with some effort, to Modern French speakers, who, however, might well be baffled by the Latin precursor-language.

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By their fundamental cult a people understand what their society and its coordinate activities are ultimately about – what they and their doings are for, and what they are against. Thus only may they understand who they are, and who they are not; where is their source, their end, and their true home; who are their friends, or enemies, and how they ought to behave toward them.

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Ontological Integrity & the Possibility of Actuality

If reality were not coherent through and through – if, that is to say, the Many things were not integral in some One – then there could be no world. There is a world, in which every one thing is completely coordinated to every other; so reality is coherent, and integral in and as some One.

Notice that finite creatures are incapable of the infinite calculation needed to achieve an integral coordination of things. The One in and as which things are integrated must then be itself infinite. It must furthermore be eternal; for, as constituting by itself the mundane forecondition and matrix of all the items that go to make up any worlds and their temporal orders, it must be prior to all such orders, and to their constituents. Such orders then, and all the Many, supervene upon that One.

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The Liberal Cannot Stop Dancing

Long long ago, in another, an antediluvian world, way back in 2003, indeed so long ago that it was before Zippy Catholic became Zippy Catholic, he came up with the notion of the Hegelian Mambo in a comment thread over at VFR. This at least is how I recall that it happened. Zippy can correct the record, if he wishes. The basic idea is that liberal culture – composed as it is of left liberals and right liberals, of “progressives” and “conservatives” – must move always leftward: two steps left, one step right, or as Zippy put it:

Thesis step to the left,
Thesis step to the left,
Grab Antithesis on your right and step to the left,
Twirl around
cha cha cha

And step to the Left…

The rightward steps are feints only; they are accomplished via Auster’s Unprincipled Exceptions, and are entertained or undertaken only to obscure the absurdity of the two leftward steps.

The Hegelian Mambo may be understood as a repeated gyration of the liberal as he slides like a snowboarder down the Slippery Slope. It helps him keep a precarious balance, preventing his immediate crash. Thus it enables his continued steady progress toward the abyss.

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Thoughts (for Students) on Language

Unexpectedly in mid-summer vacation, my departmental chair asked me whether I could assume supervision of some courses previously taught by a faculty member who had taken retirement on short notice at the end of the spring semester. One course concerned the Anglo-Saxon and Norman roots of Modern English and in general the history of the language. The other course concerned theories of language, of which it is designed to offer a survey, more or less at the instructor’s discretion. The clientele for both courses comes largely from the current cohort of teachers-in-training in my college’s School of Education and in some part from English majors. The new assignment required me to marshal my knowledge of the two areas and quickly to devise two syllabi. In writing the syllabi, I decided to introduce each course to its enrollment in the form of an essay. There is some repetition of ideas in both introductions, but that is inevitable given that the subject-matter of the two courses necessarily overlaps. I share the results with my fellow Orthosphereans.

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