Lust by Simon Blackburn

This is one of a series on the Seven Deadly Sins, but may differ from other books in the series, since the author defends what is supposed to be sinful. Blackburn defines “lust” as “the enthusiastic desire, the desire that infuses the body, for sexual activity and its pleasures for their own sake”.

He endorses Hobbes’s explanation of this pleasure: “LUST…is a sensual pleasure, but not only that; there is in it also a delight of the mind: for it consisteth of two appetites together, to please, and to be pleased; and the delight men take in delighting, is not sensual, but a pleasure or joy of the mind”.

Blackburn contrasts this view with that of Aristophanes: sexual desire is “the hopeless attempt to regain a total unity, a fusion of self and other”. Dryden translates Lucretius on the impossibility of attaining this goal: “They grip, they squeeze, their humid tongues they dart; As each would force their way to t’other’s heart; In vain, they only cruise about the coast; For bodies cannot pierce, nor be in bodies lost”.

On the other hand, a Hobbesian unity is attainable between sexual partners sometimes, much like musicians who create a unified performance.

This is a playful but serious book. Blackburn concludes that “lust best flourishes when it is unencumbered by bad philosophy and ideology, by falsities, by controls, by distortions, by corruptions and perversions and suspicions, which prevent its freedom of flow”. (3/22/10)

Being Good: A Short Introduction to Ethics by Simon Blackburn

It is rather short, and not as satisfying as Blackburn’s Truth. The book is divided into three parts. The first deals with seven threats to ethics, such as the Death of God, Relativism and Determinism. The second deals with some ethical ideas, such as Utilitarianism and Rights. And the third discusses possible foundations for ethics, like those offered by Kant and Rawls.

Blackburn is skeptical about providing a rational foundation for ethics, somehow “built into the order of things”, but argues that it is good enough that, as social beings, we can share an ethical framework based on sympathy for each other. This framework allows us to reason about ethics, but only within that framework.  (3/19/10)

Truth: A Guide by Simon Blackburn

This is an excellent discussion of the philosophical issues concerning truth.

Blackburn argues for a minimalist version of truth: assertions of any kind fit into the schema “‘P’ is true if and only if P”, even ethical and aesthetic assertions.

He then navigates between four philosophical views regarding truth: 1) eliminativsm (get rid of it!); 2) realism (get it right, and then talk of truth, ontology, reality, fact…); 3) quietism; and 4) constructivism (also fictionalism, pragmatism, instrumentalism, expressivism…). In the end, he supports realism of a modest sort: a realism that is comfortable saying science and most everyday beliefs are true, which is why they bring us success in our endeavors.  (2/15/10)