International Society for Philosophers

International Society for Philosophers

Wisdom begins with wonder

PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS                   ISSN 2043-0728


Issue No. 223
27th June 2018


Special List Manager's Issue

I. Call for articles and editors

II. Pathways becomes mobile friendly

III. New 'Philosophy Pathways' blog

IV. 'The Unwriteable' by Geoffrey Klempner

V. 'Metaphysics as Poetry' by Geoffrey Klempner



As there was no Editor booked for this issue, I am taking the opportunity to catch up on some news, and also to send out a call for more editors and articles.

I have been hard at work, trying to make the Pathways web pages presentable for the 21st century. (One visitor commented recently that he 'quite liked' the site, but the pages were 'so 90s'.) The main problem, which I was aware of but hadn't summoned up the nerve to do anything about it, is that our pages were almost impossible to read on a mobile device.

What I didn't realize, until an advisor in a Sheffield Google pop-up shop showed me, was how bad the site looked on a high-resolution screen: a narrow column down the middle of the screen with tiny writing. 'Why can't the viewer just click Command-Plus?' I asked, naively. 'Most people don't know how to do that,' was her laconic reply.

I'll explain below what we've done. Because there were hundreds of pages and literally millions of words requiring re-coding, it is virtually impossible to systematically proof read for errors. I have selected pages at random and they look OK. So I am hoping that if you notice something that doesn't look right, you will send me a quick email to let me know.

Also included in this issue is news about our new 'Philosophy Pathways' blog. I am hoping that volunteers will come forward to write blog posts (preferably around 600-800 words), but meanwhile I have started the ball rolling.

For this issue, I have also reproduced a couple of my blog posts.

(c) Geoffrey Klempner 2018




The Philosophy Pathways e-journal has had an amazing run of seventeen years. The first issue was sent out on 8 January 2001, coincidentally just a week before the launch of Wikipedia.

In the beginning, we were just a newsletter serving a small but exclusive group of philosophy enthusiasts — mainly students taking the Six Pathways to Philosophy (https:---). The first articles appeared later that year.

Right up until the end of 2012, I was Editor of the journal as well as List Manager. After giving the matter much thought, I decided to move over and create a pool of Pathways Editors. Issue 179, 23rd October 2013 edited by Erwin Laya was the first issue to go out under the new system. Since then, the pool of Editors has been steadily growing.

There are currently 24 Pathways Editors listed on the journal home page: Mike Adams, Deji Adesoye, Eric DeJardin, Terence Edward, Paul Fagan, Hubertus Fremerey, Eric George, Richard Grego, Jaan S. Islam, Martin Jenkins, Peter Jones, Sharon Kaye, Daoud Khashaba, Erwin Laya, Max Malikow, Pieter Meurs, Grigoriy Nikitin, Christopher Norris, Nicole Note, Georgios Pentzaropoulos, Donovan Roebert, Matthew Sims, Craig Skinner, and Timothy E. Taylor.

Unlike Wikipedia, each Pathways Editor has full autonomy to create his/ her own issue without interference from, or subsequent revision by other Editors.

A notable name from this list is the philosopher and literary critic Christopher Norris, who produced Issue number 186, 1st June 2014, including two of his long philosophical poems.

As illustrated by the case of Christopher Norris, one of the unique features of our system is that Editors can include their own work. This is justified by the fact that although I no longer actively select articles for publication, everything that appears on these pages has to pass my read through — although calling me 'Chief Editor' is possibly over-stating the case.

Periodically, I send out an email to the Editors, inviting them to 'book' issues up to three or four months ahead. However, looking at our article submissions folder, I felt this time that there was not enough real choice.

Articles submitted remain in the folder until selected by an Editor or withdrawn by the author (another feature of our system). The downside is that the proportion of articles that are unlikely ever to be selected increases. At the present time, I would describe the submissions folder despite its bulk as lookiing 'a little thin'.

The long and short of it is that we need more high quality articles, and we also need more editors, if Philosophy Pathways is to continue going out on a monthly basis. I am especially keen to hear from philosophy graduate students, and also philosophy undergraduates in their final year looking to go on to graduate work.

Until then, issues will continue to go out — but only when we have material that meets the high standards that you have come to expect from Philosophy Pathways.

(c) Geoffrey Klempner 2018




As the proud owner of a 2004 Nokia 9300 — a grey brick-like object that opens up into a mini laptop — I've never been tempted to get an iPhone or Android device. I need keys to type with, not images on a screen that you press with your thumbs. If I was stranded somewhere, I could happily write a 5000 word article or even a novel on my Nokia. Or at least that's what I tell people. (Not that I've ever actually tried.)

However, the fact is that nearly everyone these days has smartphone. The number of people who use their phones rather than a laptop or desktop computer to access the internet has soared. That's one very good reason for making the pages on the Pathways site mobile friendly.

Easier said than done, as I discovered. Over the last year or so, I've made a few false starts, tried online 'mobile conversion' services (which were hopeless). Then, finally, I hit upon the answer that was waiting all along: instead of updating the code, what the site needed was some good old-fashioned basic HTML, from a time when web sites were simple and stretched or shrunk like elastic when you resized the window.

I refined the conversion process into a series of logical steps, each involving 'search-and-replace' through many pages at a time. For the Philosophy Pathways e-journal pages, twenty-seven separate steps were required. There were one or two finesses required, like adding the meta-tag: meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width, initial-scale=1" to let mobile phones know that it's OK to squeeze the page to fit.

(Instead of smartphones, they should be called 'stupidphones' if they don't have the good sense to do that without being told, shouldn't they?)

The final task was to submit pages to Google's own Mobile-Friendly Test (https:---).

And here is the result:


There's slight clipping of the text, but that's acceptable. If you look at the Pathways pages on a desktop or laptop, I think you'll agree that the appearance is simpler, cleaner but not unrefined. At least, it looks good on my screen. If it doesn't on yours — do let me know. (Send a screenshot, if possible.)

Not all the pages have been updated. Some were kept for historical interest as examples of how the Pathways site looked at different stages of its evolution. If you're feeling nostalgic, there are four examples displayed on the 'Choose your entry page' (https:---) from 1999, 2008, 2011 and 2012.

(These pages will not display on your mobile, so don't even try.)

This is an on-going process. No doubt, there will be further refinements.

— Next up will be the pages at

(c) Geoffrey Klempner 2018




As some visitors have noticed, the Pathways url no longer takes you to the Pathways to Philosophy home page, but displays two large 'thumbnail' links — side by side on a desktop computer or laptop, or one above the other on a mobile.

The first link goes to the Pathways home page, the second goes to the new Philosophy Pathways Blog.

My idea was very simple: I have been blogging since 1999 with 'Glass House Philosopher' (http:---). But this was always something I did for myself, secondary to the Pathways project. From now on, for all intents and purposes, this blog IS Pathways.

For Pathways students, there will be no change. Pathways units will be downloaded and essays submitted and moderated as before.

What is it that we do? It is time that we let the world know.

For the cover image, I used a black and white photograph taken in 1974 from an Oslo hotel window, from the same roll of Tri-X as the famous 'Pathways Window'. I converted the black and white image to colour with some computer magic.

In the process, I discovered something I somehow missed four decades ago: that the hotel was located slap bang opposite the U.S. Embassy. In the picture, you can clearly see the U.S. flag, as well as multiple radio aerials on the roof.

It is an uncanny feeling, being taken back to a scene that you never even 'saw' even though it was right in front of you. All I noticed at the time — or, at least, remember noticing — were the fluffy white clouds racing across the Northern sky.

There's a moral to be drawn here. In philosophy, you are constantly going back to look at things again, and each time they look different. You see more, with luck you get to see a little bit further or deeper than you did before.

(c) Geoffrey Klempner 2018




WHEN you have philosophized for all you are worth, when every thought path seems to lead to the same idiotic conundrum, then all that is left is the writing: writing about philosophy, the act of philosophizing, about writing, about 'writing about philosophy', 'writing about writing', etc. etc.
     Reflection is good, reflexivity is a danger and sometimes a curse. Ourobouros — the image of a snake eating its own tail.
     What is writing? A philosophical question.
     Don't say 'words on a page' because that would include shopping lists, dictionaries, court transcripts, etc.
     Writing is just what writers do. For the writer, writing is the normal state, like breathing. In that case, failing to write — the exception rather than the rule — is the thing we have to try to understand.
     There's a scene early on in the 1998 movie 'Croupier' where would-be author Jack Manfred, following the advice of his successful publisher friend, is trying to write a soccer novel. Trying, and failing.
     Jack is attempting to write the unwriteable. That's the point the script writer is making in this witty scene. Jack ponders various possible titles for a novel about the beautiful game with 'lots of sex, big money transfers, etc.' — an idea so preposterously cliched that no author who was not brain dead would even attempt it. But poor Jack is desperate for success, willing to consider any proposal.
     This is the moment when Jack sees clearly, and perhaps for the first time, that in order to write he must have an idea that is writeable. We, the audience, get our first glimpse of the kind of writer Jack is. He's not a hack, and never could be.
     Jack takes a job at a London casino and finds his topic: his life as a croupier. (By the end of the movie, he has learned 'the truth about himself, that he was a one book writer, a one time winner who had quit while he was ahead.')
     In academic philosophy today, hack writing has become an industry. Publishers want something that sells, and, eager to please, would be authors scramble for the bait. So we have endless numbers of books philosophizing about pop culture, or dumbed down for Philosophy 101 reading lists. — Good luck to you, if you can squeeze yourself into that mould.
     To find out whether an idea is writeable, try writing it and see what happens. Maybe you think that you would just know, without making the attempt, that Jack's would-be soccer novel is unwriteable. Bully for you. But what that supposed knowledge actually consists in, is an inner rehearsal, where you imagine what it would be like to write on that topic and recoil in horror at the thought.
     Then again, what is unwriteable for Jack might yet be writeable by someone of different skills or sensibilities. What is, or is not a cliche is in the eye of the critic or writer.
     All a hack writer needs is a recipe.
     There's always irony to fall back on, if you can't see any other way to do it. (Irony has had a bad press recently. It has to be subtle, to be any good. And then people don't get it.)
     Philosophy is a different case.
     In philosophy, you have to write, there is no alternative. If all you can write is rubbish, if you hate very word you put down on the page, then that shows something about your state of mind, no less than if your writing is perfect, and every word a jewel.
     In philosophy, there are no dead ends. Do you think you've discovered an insoluble conundrum? Are you sure? Then prove it. Can't you see your way ahead? are you lost in a fog? Then feel your way. Forget what others would think of this, or who might be reading your words. This is for you, and only for you.
     For the philosopher, nothing is unwriteable.

(c) Geoffrey Klempner 2018




ANOTHER blank page...
     No two blank pages are the same, you should know that. Because your situation — sitting here, today, not yesterday, not last week — is different. Not just different, unique. You have never been here before.
     'Travelling through time at one hour per hour.' (Thank you, Craig, for that thought.) We are all time travellers.
     'The meaning of life is one's attitude towards time.' — If there can be many attitudes towards time, then life has many meanings. Q.E.D.
     The topic for the day is metaphysics. Possible? Impossible? What is metaphysics, anyway? What is it after?
     Here's what we know:
     In metaphysics, there can be no indubitable 'axioms', no 'necessary principles'. Descartes' geometrical method is a fraud. You only get out what you put in. The solution? Reductio ad absurdum, the logician's old standby. All assumptions are discharged, because your conclusion is essentially negative.
     And there's the rub: If metaphysics is a series of negatives then it has no positive content. Obviously. The notion of 'metaphysical knowledge', if not empty, is irredeemably banal. A series of signs planted along the road: 'Don't go there... don't go there... don't go there.'
     Banal 'knowledge' is still knowledge. But can we even claim that?
     According to the Ancient Greek sceptic Pyrrho, for every argument there is an equally compelling counter-argument. This isn't a priori claim, just a testable observation about what actually happens when philosophers get together and argue over a point. (You can verify this by paying a visit to any philosophy seminar.) So you can't even 'prove' a negative without someone raising an objection.
     The classic empiricists (Locke, or Hume, for example) dismissed metaphysics as logomachy. We are just bandying words about whose meaning is not associated with any discernible 'idea'. If no 'idea' is expressed then the negation of a metaphysical claim has no more meaning than the original claim.
     Wittgenstein in the Tractatus added a new twist: the only meaningful propositions are those that have truth conditions, and truth conditions necessarily relate to the existence or non-existence of contingent states of affairs. This applies equally to a proposition or its negation. So no room for metaphysics there.
     Finally, the most famous (or infamous) objection: the Verification Principle.
     Coming out of the Vienna Circle, the notion that to be meaningful a proposition must be 'empirically verifiable' is the most dubious of all the objections, but not on that account the least worrying. You don't have to assert the verification principle (which, according to some, would be a 'metaphysical' claim) but just shrug: if a metaphysical claim does not impinge in any way on experience, then how can it possibly make a difference to the world as we experience it?
     So, metaphysics is impossible. Or, even granting that it may be possible, it is only possible in some bastardized, truncated form. You're trying to square the circle.
     However, all these objections are based on the assumption that there is some 'Question' that metaphysics seeks to answer.
     What if the real topic is the questioner?
     Now the axis of the investigation has been turned through 180 degrees. We are not looking out onto the world. We are looking at a mirror: know thyself.
     The answer is in here, maybe not in the way that Plato meant (the soul is 'akin to the Forms', he says in the Phaedo) but in some way, yet to be determined.
     And this is why we write. Because, through writing, what is inside emerges into the world, takes form, becomes real.
     The Verificationists (Ayer, Carnap etc.) said that metaphysics should be seen as a form of poetry. Maybe they were right, after all. Poetry speaks to the universal conditions of human sensibility. Which implies that there is a third class of propositions, neither 'contingent' nor 'necessary', whose function is purely to express.
     Exactly what metaphysical propositions 'express' is something we have yet to determine. (It would be a logical fallacy to deduce from the propositions, 'poetry expresses', 'metaphysics expresses' that metaphysics is poetry.)

(c) Geoffrey Klempner 2018


© Geoffrey Klempner 2002–2020