Ask Theo Anything…

Hello, I am Theo Hoshen, the main character in the novel The Adventurous Young Philosopher Theo Hoshen of Toronto. Perhaps you have a question for me, or would just care to chat?

Comments

  1. Theo, do you really think this is such a good idea?

  2. Ogunsheye Agyei says:

    Theo,

    -What do you think of the charter of Quebec values ?

    Ogunsheye

    • Theo Hoshen says:

      Dear Mr. Agyei,

      I must admit that I am surprised to find you, a fictional character, taking such interest in contemporary Quebec politics. But since you ask, and despite being fictional myself, let me say that I consider the proposed charter to be deeply misguided. It is but another manifestation of “neutralism” in politics, the forlorn belief that political entities such as, in this case, the state, can and should be governed much as a game or a sport is governed, which is to say in the spirit of a neutral referee. This not only fails to take politics seriously, but it is impossible to realize without doing great damage to some very important values, those incompatible with the given neutralist paradigm. Even more dismaying (to me) is the fact that this approach was introduced into the Quebec “reasonable accommodations” context by the normally brilliant philosopher Charles Taylor; the Parti Québécois are merely running through a door which he, following John Rawls, opened.

      My friend Carl once used to be quite the “neutralist” himself, as is evident from the space allocation policy that he introduced while president of the students’ union at the University of Toronto. Not that the policy was itself wrong; only the neutralist reasoning that led him to it. I take it that you do not agree. But I digress.

      So if I may ask: what do you think of the proposed Charter?

  3. Heide Egger says:

    Bonjour Theo,

    est-ce que ton nom est inspiré par Theo Sommer, l’ancien chef en red du Zeit?

    • Theo Hoshen says:

      I am sorry but I do not read French very well. I take it that you are asking about the origins of my name. I need to check with my parents but, at the risk of appearing immodest, I would like to point out that “theo” is the ancient Greek word for “god” (θεό).

      I see that, even more directly than myself, you were also given a name that stands for “pagan”. Or was it rather that you were born on a heath? What do your parents tell you?

      • Heide Egger says:

        My name actually is a reference to my favorite German philosopher Heidegger, thus Heide Egger. You are right the name Heide means ‘heathen’, but my name fictional. As I said I, I chose it as a word play so to say…

  4. Martha_not_Mary says:

    Dear Theo,

    What luck! You are not only interested in epic battles with engineers, but also Québec politics! As you know, the Charbonneau Commission is investigating the collusion and corruption regarding public works contracts in Québec and the financing of political parties.
    I was an open secret that engineering firms in Québec got their employees to become members of leading political parties to make donations. The firms then paid their employees to cover the cost of the donations. These funds were then used to influence the awarding of construction contracts.
    The Ordre des ingénieurs du Québec is the body responsible for the ethical practice of engineering in this province. Yet, none of its leaders, nor any of its members blew the whistle. The OIQ claims that there were only a few bad apples, but the system of collusion would not have worked if not for the silence of its members. I have heard (but I have not been able to confirm) that the OIQ also lobbied the government to prevent engineers from being considered as lobbyists.
    Here are my questions:
    Are the OIQ and its members complicit in the collusion and corruption because they did not speak out or investigate until public pressure demanded it?
    WIth your ideas on whole/parts (i.e. engineering leaders not independent from politics), is it acceptable for the president of the OIQ to jump ship to run as a candidate of a political party (as their white knight fighting against corruption!) when most political parties were beneficiaries of illegal financing by members of the OIQ?
    Thanks for your insights on this matter,

    Martha_not_Mary

    • Theo Hoshen says:

      Dear Martha not Mary,

      You raise an important question. However, though I am indeed interested in Quebec politics, having never set foot in that province I hesitate to say too much. For a good phronimos (wise man) is always sensitive to context. Still, I will say that the situation you describe strikes me as indicative of engineering in general, indeed of all professions today. Because in failing to place honour at the centre of their ethics, they have lost their way. Oh, if only people read Aristotle more. Even some Russell Brand might do the trick.

  5. Political thought student says:

    Dear Theo,

    Are you a theorist ?

    Sincerely yours.

  6. Political thought student says:

    Well, I’d rather like to call myself an ‘historian of ideas’ – yes, I wish to emulate sir Isaiah Berlin – and I happen to be a defender of ‘value pluralism’. Therefore, I cannot understand your critique of the charter of Quebec values: if you are a theorist, doesn’t that make you a neutralist as well ? Or do you think you can pretend to be a ‘not-neutral’ theorist ? Or is it a ‘between the lines’ critique of Rawls, but of which your theory could be exempted ?

    Thank you for your insight,

    Sincerely.

    • Theo Hoshen says:

      There are many kinds of theorist, my friend. It is true that, among the moderns, most believe that a theory must be systematically unified and applied neutrally. But there are major exceptions, not least Hegel for whom a theory should be an organic rather than systematic unity and so for whom neutrality has little place. Moreover, this is true of all premodern theorists, including the one I revere, namely Aristotle.

      In any case, a ‘between the lines’ critique of Rawls? How can you accuse me of such a thing? There is nothing between my lines but virtue, as is clear for all to see – unless, of course, you have been blinded by the likes of Sir Isaiah. Like Homer (who legend has it was a blind bard) he stands for war rather than just politics. Why on earth would you emulate such a man?

  7. Simon F. says:

    Dear Theo,

    Given your state as a fictional character, how do you feel about your own immortality?

    But correctly answer this question, let me be more precise. You are an ambiguous entity; we can both agree on that. One on side, you breathe and think and believe and eat and read (maybe a tad too much for your own good), do you not? And on the other side, your existence depends on words and people’s imagination–they must invest themselves into the book, into you, to make you “alive”, even though we find you very much so the second we lay our eyes on those words. The novel ends, and you’re still alive, by which I infer that you’re somewhat immortal.

    But this immortality of yours, in fact, is a “potential” one. Consider the case where–or, should I say, when–all physical and digital copies of ‘Theo Hoshen’ (your house and body at the same time) are gone, and no one has read the book in a lifetime. What, then? Are you dead, are you alive? Do you evaporate in the cosmos, or do you find a comfortable place to lie down for all eternity in the collective unconscious, in suspended animation?

    Fiction and truth? A subject way too common: tons of well-meaning academics and critics have already written on it. But fiction and death? Now there’s something no one (to my quite imperfect knowledge) as ever been able to shed light on in a satisfactory manner. And could be more well-equiped to impart their wise opinion on the matter than you, Theo.

    I humbly ask that you consider my request for an answer and thus appease the struggle my mind has been overwhelmed with since postmodernity emerged with Cervantes’ magnum opus. I know it may seem daunting to tackle such a delicate subject, but I’m convinced your superior intellect and keen insight into the nature of reality shall prevail.

    Philosophically yours,

    Simon

    • Theo Hoshen says:

      Dear Simon,

      Thank you for your question. You are raising a subject about which I have had a long disagreement with my creator, Charles Blattberg. I am happy to report that, for the most part, you would side with me.

      You see, Blattberg would not agree that I am a somewhat ambiguous entity. Oh, he would go along with your claim there is a sense in which I depend upon others, but not in order to exist, since he says that I do not exist. Nevertheless, he also claims that I am in a certain sense real.

      It is a very strange distinction, I must say. But, he suggests, we have only to think of unicorns: they too do not exist, and yet they are real. For one cannot simply dismiss them (as one could, say, duocorns) since unicorns are well-anchored in people’s imaginations.

      Now it seems to me that Aristotle has (notice the present tense) a much better grasp of the question given his hylomorphism. There are forms of things that have a certain reality in that they have the potential to exist, yet they only exist, become actual, when they are not only form but also matter. When it comes to yours truly, however, while I share certain formal qualities with other actual people like yourself, the fact is that I am merely imagined and so I do not have the potential to be actualized. Hence I have neither existence nor reality.

      I think you would agree with this. Where you nevertheless seem to me to go astray is in your reference to my “potential” immortality. For are we – you, I, and Aristotle – really so different in this respect? I mean (and I am sorry to be the one to tell you this if you have not already worked it out for yourself) there will come a day when you will die. And yet, just like Aristotle and I, you could live on in people’s minds. This implies that you, too, have the potential to be “somewhat immortal.” That is why, at least in this respect, we must conclude that there is not such a great difference between fiction and nonfiction after all. Alas, this is something that Blattberg fails to grasp. You would agree, would you not?

  8. Simon F. says:

    Dear Theo,

    Following your good example, I plan to take up on reading Aristotle’s ‘Nicomachean Ethics’ in the near future. Only, being no Ancient Greek scholar, I must rely on translations — that “necessary evil”. As a diligent intellectual and student, I’m sure you must have read, or at the very least perused, some — if not many — of these in order to get a sense of the original and to establish for yourself which version best suits you, your tastes, your thought processes. As a former Comparative Literature undergraduate, I for one am very sensitive to how critical a translation is to understanding and appreciation, and there is no shortage of such literary and scientific endeavours regarding influential past authors like Plato, Homer, Cicero, Hesiod, Ovid, to name but a few.

    So, which English translation do you think is the best, or that you would recommend me, amongst the plethora of valid options? And since French is my first language (please excuse any mistakes I may have made), could you consult with Mr. Blattberg on this matter in my stead, so that I also experience the pleasure of meeting that greatest of mind in my native idiom?

    Many thanks in advance. I’ll be sure to answer your previous reply in a short time.

    Philosophically yours,

    Simon

  9. Theo Hoshen says:

    Dear Simon,

    You cannot do wrong consulting the second edition of the translation of the Nichomachean Ethics by Terence Irwin (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1999). As for a French translation, I was unable to consult Blattberg (he is not speaking to me at present because of something I said during our last argument; but no worries, he will come around – he always does). Nevertheless, I hear that you would be well-served by the one produced by Richard Bodéüs (Paris: Flammarion, 2008).

    • Simon F. says:

      Well, Theo, I can say you’ve helped me quite a bit by suggesting Irwin’s translation (which thankfully is still available here and there). I really had trouble picking out the “best” one, what with the sheer amount of them…

      Sorry for being indirectly responsible for a minute drift between your creator and yourself. It’s good, though, that you know each other well enough to see past your differences.

      Simon

  10. Simon F. says:

    Dear Theo,

    Here am I, still bothering you again…

    Your unbridled passion for Aristotle prompts me to ask if you know of General Semantics, conceptualized and founded by Alfred Korzybski. ‘Science and Sanity’, the latter’s magnum opus, purports to show how the Aristotelian logic fails to correctly work out the connection between language and reality. “The map is not the territory” is a saying that sums up one of his fundamental intuitions.

    I can’t say I’ve delved much more than past the surface into his work, which came to my attention through Van Vogt’s fantastic ‘Null-A’ trilogy (an awesome science-fiction novelistic triptych you’d be no doubt delighted to tear down into shreds), but I was just curious as to what your take on it would be, seeing as how you’re always swift to defend the noble philosopher’s ideas.

    I mean, surely some aspects of Aristotle’s thought can’t have aged as well as his ethics and politics, for example. When he lived and wrote, the sum total of knowledge left much to be desired — hell, some twenty-five centuries after, we feel almost the same despite there being labs all around the world and the satellites orbiting the Earth! And a lot of what he inquired about now falls into those domains which bear the “science” label and thus are subject to constant revision under the scrutiny of reason.

    So, in the end, time and human curiosity will have proven Aristotle maybe not wrong (in a moral sense) but mistaken (in a factual sense) on many accounts — a large portion of his total output. Not that I’m ungrateful for his immense contribution or that his accomplishments are tarnished for having being superseded: it’s just the way things are.

    Philosophically yours,

    Simon

  11. Theo Hoshen says:

    The connection between language and reality? Language is the map and reality the territory? As if these two were separate things that needed to be brought together. My God, man, even the Nazi Heidegger knew that language is the house (as in home) of Being: the challenge is not to bring the two properly together but to express reality in a way that discloses it (to continue to speak in Heideggerese). Contemporary linguistics, with its semantic rather than expressive-constitutive conception of meaning, is one big amusement park; surely a man as serious as yourself would not wish to play inside.

    As for where, in the light of modernity, Aristotle went astray, please be specific so that I may correct you.

  12. Yael Perets says:

    Dear Theo,

    What do you think of the way the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo has been covered by the media? More specifically, do you believe that it’s necessary for journalists to show examples of Charlie Hebdo cartoons portraying Islam’s prophet Muhammad?

    Just curious,

    Yael

    • Theo Hoshen says:

      Hello Yael. Nice to hear from you.

      Imagine a tribe deep in the Amazon rainforest. They wear no clothing but they do have internet (of course). One tribesman, a freelance journalist, learns of a terrible crime committed in a country far away. Apparently, some people posted an ill-gotten picture of a nude woman online and one of the woman’s sons killed them for it. The tribesman-journalist decides to publish the story, including a copy of the photo, on his website.

      Now while he may have the right to include the photo, it is not only in bad taste but it is also unnecessary (and it being unnecessary makes it in worse taste). Because though the photo is newsworthy, readers can nevertheless follow the story perfectly well without seeing it. It is enough for the journalist to point out that it is a nude photo for them to understand that the mother and her sons consider it embarrassing, even dishonourable.

      The journalist and his fellow tribesmen and women do not grasp this because they take nudism for granted. But as they have access to the internet they should know that not everyone does so. I would say the same of those journalists whose coverage of the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo has included examples of the satirical magazine’s cartoons that mockingly portray the Muslim prophet Muhammad. Somehow, they fail to understand what many Muslims mean when they complain that the cartoons are blasphemous and encourage idolatry. Indeed, since you have read the novel I am in, you will probably have gathered that I suspect the journalists of being not only theologically illiterate but also ignorant of the very idea of honour.

      In any case, you may object that when it comes to the nude photo readers get all the context they need from the description of the image – seeing it will therefore not help them understand the story any better – but this is not the case when it comes to the Charlie Hebdo cartoons.

      Here is how this objection was made in a recent editorial in Harper’s Magazine. Referring to an article published years earlier in the magazine by the cartoonist Art Spiegelman, in which he discussed the infamous Danish publication of similar cartoons, the editorial states:

      “Spiegelman’s essay included a reproduction of each cartoon with his commentary next to it. The stupidity of the most Islamophobic ones was laid bare, and subject to ridicule. By reprinting all of the cartoons, however, Spiegelman could point out that three of the twelve images were attacks not on Muhammad but on the newspaper’s motivations: one artist drew a Muslim boy who had written ‘The Jyllands-Posten journalists are a bunch of reactionary provocateurs’ in Farsi on a blackboard. Suppressing these images would have suppressed that message too.”

      Would it really? Because is not the message effectively communicated right there, using just words?

      I would pose the same questions to Jesse Brown of Canadaland. Recently, he opened his explanation for why he found it necessary to republish the Charlie Hebdo cartoons by suggesting that it is difficult “to use words to explain why you can’t use words.” He then went on to say (I am paraphrasing somewhat) that it is one thing to present a description of a horribly racist cartoon that employs exaggerated Arab features and depicts the Muslim prophet as, say, sodomizing a goat. To this one would surely respond with something like “My God! That sounds unspeakably awful. While it is certainly not a justification for murder, it is a terrible provocation.” But if you then actually witnessed the silly, juvenile drawing, how it was made with no more than a few dashed off lines that look like a Sergio Aragones Mad Magazine cartoon, well then you would wonder how anyone could possibly kill for such a thing. The words, that is, tell a very different story than do the silly little pictures. They suggest that the cartoons are full of hate when it is more true to say that they are but juvenile provocations, acts in keeping with nothing more than that timeless, puerile tradition, the one which begins by asking: “What is this thing that I am not supposed to draw?”

      Now I know that Charles, my creator, is a fan of this Jesse Brown. However, even though Charles and I often do not see eye to eye (or hear ear to ear, as he would have it) I am certain that in this matter he would agree with me. For he knows that Brown is just like that Amazonian journalist: where the Amazonian has no clue why some people would be mortified to have nude pictures of themselves published against their will, Brown has no clue about blasphemy and idolatry. As regards the latter, for example, it is irrelevant whether the cartoons are hateful or not.

      Charles also knows that Brown did a fine job of communicating how silly and juvenile the cartoons are simply by using the words “silly” and “juvenile” or by invoking Mad Magazine. It is one thing to do a critical analysis of the cartoons – that would indeed require showing them – but this is journalism not art criticism.

      Journalists who have covered this story by republishing the cartoons should thus know that what they have done is comparable to publishing the nude photos of millions and millions of peoples’ mothers for all to see, and for no good reason.

  13. Ethics Zen says:

    Dear Theo,

    I would be curious to learn what you make of the disturbing fact that an anagram for Aristotle is “Israel tot”?

    Signed,

    Ethics Zen

    • Theo Hoshen says:

      Dear Ethics Zen,

      In his remarkable book, After Virtue, Alasdair MacIntrye poses the one question that sums up our civilization’s current predicament: Nietzsche or Aristotle?

      What I find disturbing is that your name is an anagram for Nietzsche.

  14. Dear Theo,

    In the face of the current global refugee crisis, the Hungarian Prime Minister, Victor Orban, wants to preserve what he calls the “Christian character” of Europe. Is this less acceptable as a political objective than seeking to preserve the French Canadian character of Quebec?

    http://www.vox.com/2015/9/9/9290985/refugee-crisis-europe-syrian

    Best wishes, Richard

    • Theo Hoshen says:

      Dear Richard,

      It is sometimes said that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Often, this is taken to mean that people should be allowed to have guns.

      Of course, the “argument” is fallacious. Nothing logically follows from the statement as to whether people should be allowed to do something or not. People may indeed be the ultimate cause of murder, and guns or other weapons merely the proximate cause, but whether we are justified or not in banning the proximate cause of something, well that must depend on other considerations.

      Why do I bring up this expression about guns in order to answer your very interesting question, inspired, I see, by the current refugee crisis in Europe? I do so in order to introduce another expression: “Nation-states don’t kill people, people kill people.” To which I want to add some other considerations – considerations that, I believe, support the conclusion that we should ban nation-states.

      It was back in 1648, I believe, that the series of peace treaties known as “The Peace of Westphalia” were signed. Since then, many (e.g. Pierre Manent) take it for granted that “the nation-state” serves as a legitimate, indeed natural, form of political community. But it should be obvious that there is nothing natural about it, for the treaties did not have to be signed. Moreover, there is nothing legitimate about it, either.

      Here is why. As Aristotle pointed out long ago, the polis cannot be so large that citizens could not know each others’ characters (Politics VII.4). For if they do not know each other, then how could they possibly argue over their common good?

      This is why I say that national communities, and the states which encompass them, are simply too large for just politics. However they are obviously not too large for unreal claims such as that there is a “Europe” which is “Christian,” or a “Quebec” which is “francophone,” and so on. Nor are they too large for waging war, from whence come refugees. And so it is that, as regards this case, I say: eliminate the proximate cause of these injustices and you eliminate the injustices.

      Surely you agree?

      • Dear Theo:

        Your response was so good that it caused me to reflect for six weeks! Unfortunately, however, after all this reflection my views remain the same: I agree with banning guns, but not with banning nation states. This is because I believe that banning guns saves lives whereas banning nation states causes deaths. I suspect you agree with me, and Barack Obama, about the banning guns part:

        http://www.newsmax.com/Newsfront/obama-strict-gun-law/2015/11/08/id/701186/

        The banning nation states part is harder to justify, since it is harder to gather rigorous controlled evidence. Nation states govern almost everyone in the world and have done for many hundreds of years – an interesting question as to how many. So the only evidence we have about the effects of banning national states is what happens when one group of nation states messes about with the boundaries of another group of nation states. The historical record on this is not great, however, as I think you will agree – though I am open to challenge on this, not being a historian. By contrast, there is plenty of variation in gun regulations both between countries and over time, which can be used to study the effects of banning guns on mortality rates. The consensus is that banning guns – or, rather, imposing strict regulatations on their use – reduces mortality. There is also a plausible causal mechanism for why banning guns saves lives: a sizeable fraction of any given society at any given time will be mentally unstable and prone to violent impulses they are unable to control.

        So why do I think that banning nation states causes deaths? The answer lies in pre-history. According to archeologists and other clever folk who study such things, prior to the agricultural revolution humans did not live in nation states. Rather, they used to live in hunter gatherer tribes of around 150 people. However, apparently life in those societies was not a Garden of Eden style romantic idyll. It was nasty, brutish and short – with plenty of violence both within and between tribes. There is even I gather a book by a chap called Stephen Pinker about how rates of homicide and violence have generally fallen over the centuries.

        So on that admittedly somewhat flimsy evidential basis, my hypothesis is that nation states save lives. By enforcing the rule of law, they prevent us from acting on our primordial impulses towards violence. The rule of law prevents mentally unstable people from turning their violent impulses into effective homicidal acts, in exactly the same way as banning guns.

        One final point: different kinds of nation state save different numbers of lives compared with hunter gatherer tribes. In general, democratic nation states tend to be more peaceful than autocratic ones. Amartya Sen showed this, for example, in his work on famines: rulers in a democratic state are more concerned to save the lives of ordinary people who they rely on to stay in power. So, rather than banning nation states, perhaps we should instead seek to encourage them towards democracy?

        Yours ever, Richard

        • Theo Hoshen says:

          Dear Richard,

          I take it, given your concern for “rigorous controlled evidence,” that you are a social scientist. My commiserations. You apparently believe that data can be gathered about the behaviour of human beings and that correlations can be identified on the basis of which decisions can be made and actions taken. Hence your conclusion that we should ban guns but not nation-states.

          Now all this makes sense if human beings do indeed merely “behave,” that is, exhibit conduct which has a habitual, regular, automatic character because it is driven by causal mechanisms. But, as I am sure you know from your own life experience, humans also have freedom, this being why we can and do hold them responsible for their actions. Why, then, do you persist in studying them as if they do not?

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