Wednesday, March 7, 2012

This Week at the Library (7 March)

I recently finished Superfreakonomics and A Brief History of Thought, neither of which generated enough mental chatter to merit a full review. Suffice it to say, Superfreakonomics is simply an addition in the same vein as Freakonomics: the authors use economic principles like incentives to understand issues not normally considered matters of economics. The result is that the reader is entertained with unexpected answers to odd questions (Why are prostitutes like shopping mall Santas?) while accidentally learning about economics. For instance, in the section on global warming solutions, the author explains the concept of externalities -- consequences of our actions that other people end up paying for (or benefiting from). For instance, if a large shopping complex decides to set up shop on a given highway and becomes popular, traffic on that highway increases and so to does the wear and tear on the highway.The local government then has to address the consequences of the complex's setting up shop. Recently after reading the book I listened to an interview between two economists, and one mentioned the role of the government in "pricing in externalities", and so help me if I didn't understand what he meant. To follow up on my example, the government 'prices in the externality' by imposing an impact fee on the shopping complex. The fee goes to pay for the increased wear and tear on the road.  The book was thus diverting and mildly informative.

I also read a new release, Luc Ferry's A Brief History of Thought: A Philosophical Guide to Living, which sounded wildly attractive to a philosophically-inclined guy like myself. Ferry holds a PhD in philosophy and is concerned with the fact that philosophy has become an irrelevant subject of academia instead of a way of understanding and responding to the world, but I don't know that his book will do much to change that. It starts out badly, with Ferry introducing philosophy as a way of obtaining salvation without God. Although Ferry professes no religious worldview, his stance seems rooted in a religious worldview, biased in favor of itself.  Not all religions are concerned with death, and certainly not all of them seek to unite people with their loved ones after death the way Ferry generalizes that they do. I'm stunned that someone with a doctorate in philosophy would reduce it to something so trivial.  He uses Stoicism to demonstrate how expansive and cohesive philosophical worldviews used to be, and while not not a practicioner of Stoicism he nontheless admires it. Later chapters address why in the west, religion prevailed over philosophy only to lose ground to it again in the Enlightenment. Again, Ferry's conclusion is simple: philosophy and reason didn't offer an escape from death, and Christianity did. The chapter on the rebirth of philosophy and humanism in the Enlightenment is a bit better, but I began losing interest with post modernism and by the time I'd reached his last chapter on "Post-Deconstructionism",  even I was bored with the subject. Philosophy became less about life and practice, and more about ideas and abstract understanding with seemingly little relevance to modern life. Socrates Cafe, on philosophical inquiry, and Plato's Podcasts are far superior advocates for philosophy in general, and A Guide to the Good Life: the Ancient Art of Stoic Joy on one particular philosophy's value to everyday living.

Pending Reviews: If Walls Could Talk, Lucy Worsley. I also re-read a couple of Grisham novels recently, though I'm not sure if I'll review them or not. They were A Time to Kill and Runaway Jury.

Currently Reading: The Age of Voltaire, Will Durant.

Potentials: Recently I've gotten interested in understanding finance and law, so I'm starting The Ascent of Money by Niall Ferguson and A People's History of the Supreme Court by one Peter Irons.  I've heard that Ferguson is an advocate of imperialism, so he may prove amusing.


What the conquistadors failed to understand is that money is a matter of belief, even faith; belief in the person paying us, belief in the person issuing the money he uses or the institution that honours his cheques or transfers. Money is not metal. It is trust inscribed.

p. 39, The Ascent of Money. Niall Ferguson.

1 comment:

  1. sc said: Ferry holds a PhD in philosophy and is concerned with the fact that philosophy has become an irrelevant subject of academia instead of a way of understanding and responding to the world....

    Try making that point in France! [rotflmao]