Criticism "Parachute," Issue , Able to think and read, he wrote one major work, Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy, and began another. Prison was meant to scare Russell out of his pacifism. Instead, it threatened him with the most productive stimulant of the 20th Century — absolute boredom.
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In this earlier companion work to his book on Fear which I reviewed in Philosophy Now Issue 84 , the Norwegian academic Lars Svendsen brings together observations from philosophy, literature, theology and popular culture in a playful but learned work on boredom, first published in English in , now reprinted. Philosophical truths are about what is true generally, not just what happens to be true for me at a moment in time.
Murdoch also thought that philosophy — or at least moral philosophy — should be concerned with values such as the good and the beautiful. Furthermore, to say that most people find something boring, and to give evidence for this, is to assert a proposition of a social science.
However, to say not merely that I or others are bored, but that the world is boring, is to assert a philosophical, metaphysical proposition. Instead, when talking in philosophical terms, he concentrates on thinkers who implausibly hold boredom to be embedded in reality as a metaphysical fact. In short, this book is good psychology but bad philosophy. It tells truths about temperament but falsehoods about metaphysics. Varieties of Boredom Svendsen outlines various kinds of boredom, but his principal distinction is threefold, between situative boredom; sloth or acedia; and existential boredom.
Situative boredom arises from something specific to a situation, where for example we are compelled to remain in a waiting room for an important appointment.
It is the situation which generates the boredom. That is, it is produced partly by our own natural restlessness and urge to activity, and partly by our circumstances. That there is such a thing as situative boredom may be granted. We have all suffered from it from time to time. However, on closer examination, situative boredom proves to be elusive.
When fretting in the waiting room we may be suffering from frustration or apprehension about the appointment ahead, so there may be an element of stress in our experience. Furthermore, boredom is not the same as loneliness, even though we are likely to be situatively bored in the absence of distractions. Perhaps then situative boredom can be defined negatively, as the absence of a state of being entertained; but this makes people sound shallow.
As a further attempt to define situative boredom, perhaps we can say it arises when the ever-active mind does not have something congenial, interesting or absorbing to latch onto. Such boredom is short-lived. As soon as the doctor calls our name or we pick up a magazine, boredom disappears. It passes just as our other moods do. It is, of course, as worthy of study as anything else, but to call that study a philosophy is to misuse the term.
Emotional Philosophy Svendsen incorrectly says that emotions and moods have received little attention in philosophy. The ancient philosophers, the Renaissance humanists, and the seventeenth century Rationalists were all deeply interested in psychology. Although Svendsen neglects the work of the early moderns, he includes acedia in his typology of boredom. Acedia, as identified by the Early Fathers of the church, is akin to depression and sloth — the latter being one of the seven deadly sins.
Acedia is boredom as vice; but Svendsen goes no further than agreeing that acedia as identified by medieval theologians has serious consequences for society. He does not want to say outright that sloth is wrong in an ethical sense, because he does not think the philosopher has a role in such judgements. Another traditional view is that there is a connection between such vice and illness.
Thus melancholy, also akin to acedia, was seen as an illness caused by a physical upset in the body. The ancients and the Rationalists were concerned with the ethical as much as with the physiological aspects of the emotions, so their psychology could truly be said to embrace philosophy.
For Svendsen, on the other hand, boredom is not a vice or an affliction, or even just experiential phenomenological , a matter of philosophical knowledge. Boredom is not wrong or an illness like melancholy, but merely a state of mind: indeed, in the case of existential boredom, it is an heroic state of mind. Ballard and Samuel Beckett.
Ancient and early modern philosophers either ignored the question of the meaning of life or answered it in naturalistic or religious terms. They would mostly have condemned as futile attempts to give life meaning independent of nature or God. But the existentialists had the conviction that life has no meaning beyond what we give it; and that the lack of objective meaning opens up the possibility of profound boredom.
Svendsen approvingly quotes Hilary Putnam saying there is no distinction between what may really exist in the world and what we merely project onto it — nonsense recently demolished by Simon Blackburn in his book, Truth. Svendsen cannot see that such childish propositions, to be found throughout Heidegger, simply confuse how the subject feels with how the world is objectively.
Phenomenology, the study of the experience of the individual, no doubt produces some interesting insights. The question is a good one, but that there is no definitive answer one way or another proves that phenomenology cannot elicit universal truths, but only illuminate personal experience. However, it can show the richness of our inner experiences, so that even a mood as apparently mundane as boredom proves on inspection to be a complex thing in which we are constantly switching from living the experience to perceiving it.
Moods are multi-layered, and often, if not always, ambivalent; and phenomenology may show that boredom manifests a fleeting change of mental gear. As with Heidegger, Svendsen confuses what one feels with the way the world is — temperament with truth. Svendsen says that we are as equally justified in holding the object itself to be boring as we are in claiming that the object is boring for me. The writer who says something so illogical has forgotten the elementary difference between the universal and the particular.
For example, I happen to find stamp-collections boring, but I know of at least one professional philosopher who is a fanatical philatelist and good at tongue-twisters. Svendsen confuses philosophy, which attempts to develop general truths about the world, with psychology or phenomenology, which shows how the world may be for individuals without saying how the world must be for all of us.
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In this earlier companion work to his book on Fear which I reviewed in Philosophy Now Issue 84 , the Norwegian academic Lars Svendsen brings together observations from philosophy, literature, theology and popular culture in a playful but learned work on boredom, first published in English in , now reprinted. Philosophical truths are about what is true generally, not just what happens to be true for me at a moment in time. Murdoch also thought that philosophy — or at least moral philosophy — should be concerned with values such as the good and the beautiful. Furthermore, to say that most people find something boring, and to give evidence for this, is to assert a proposition of a social science. However, to say not merely that I or others are bored, but that the world is boring, is to assert a philosophical, metaphysical proposition. Instead, when talking in philosophical terms, he concentrates on thinkers who implausibly hold boredom to be embedded in reality as a metaphysical fact. In short, this book is good psychology but bad philosophy.
A Philosophy of Boredom
Svendsen argues that boredom is significant because it involves a loss of personal meaning. Boredom is a modern condition, though there were similar historical states the acedie of monks. With the advent of Romanticism, man began to see himself as an individual. Shortly afterwards, boredom is also linked with nihilism, which converge in the death of God.
A Philosophy of Boredom Quotes
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