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Tuesday, April 19

April 19, 2016


Today we talked about Niccolo Machiavelli, the first political scientist. (Yes, even before Tupac.)

Bullet points: his best-known work was called The Prince. It can be summed up two ways: in Francis Bacon’s quote that Machiavelli wrote about men as they acted, not as they ought to act. And in the pull quote from this section: “The end justifies the means.” That means a prince doesn’t worry about how he protects his kingdom and stays in power  — as long as he does it, that’s all that matters. We also watched the SpongeBob episode “One Krabs’ Trash” to illustrate this concept.

We reviewed some quotes from The Prince, which might have come from the handbook of your local mob boss, or just about any presidential candidate this year. (Sorry, there are no exceptions.)

“If an injury has to be done to a man, it should be so severe that his vengeance need not be feared.”

“Men are driven by two principal impulses, either by love or by fear.”

“Since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved”

“Men are so simple of mind, and so much dominated by their immediate needs, that a deceitful man will always find plenty who are ready to be deceived.”

“The promise given was a necessity of the past: the word broken is a necessity of the present.”

“There is nothing more important than appearing to be religious.”

We mentioned Robert Greene’s 2000 best-seller The 48 Laws of Power, which is essentially an updated version of The Prince that became a must read for millennial hip-hop artists (and their managers and label owners). The operating principal is the same: “The end justifies the means” — even if the means are, by most people’s standards, immoral.

Of course, there’s the nagging historical question about whether Machiavelli actually meant what he wrote, or whether the whole book was meant tongue-in-cheek. But there’s no denying that lots of people, from businessmen to politicians to rappers, believed every word (even if they didn’t actually read the book) and acted like it.

Here’s a recap of where we are, historically — and what the Renaissance meant, philosophically:

Even before technology allowed people like Galileo the opportunity to explore the heavens, a great deal of damage had been done to the authority of the Christian church. That came through William of Ockham’s insistence that there were no such things as universals, and that the only way we could possibly know God was via faith. He was doing this to be, as he saw it, devout. But his insistence that we could have no knowledge at all of God’s workings paved the way for the clash between church and state that followed.

Copernicus realized that the convoluted math needed to show that the sun revolves around the Earth would get a lot easier if the Earth revolved around the sun. He waited until after his death to publish his findings, because he knew they’d be controversial. (And then he dedicated them to the Pope.) Kepler furthered the project. And then Galileo came along, about a hundred years later, with his telescope, and helped show that Copernicus was right. (Actually, the dispute between Galileo and the Church happened in large part because Galileo insisted he had proven his point, which he hadn’t, yet — and never did. He was right, of course, but he was also stubborn.)

Then came Isaac Newton, possibly the greatest scientist who ever lived. (He invented calculus when he wasn’t much older than you guys.) So all this science led us to five fundamental questions:

1. If the world can be explained by mathematical formulae and experiments, then what is the role of faith? And is free will — and by extension, morality — even possible?

2. If the Church was wrong about stuff like the sun and the Earth, couldn’t the State (that is, our rulers) be wrong as well?

3. If the Church was wrong, wasn’t Aristotle wrong as well? (This is an early example of what we call “genetic fallacy.” Throwing out Aristotle — because his work had been absorbed by the Church, via Thomas Aquinas — re-opened the mind-body question that Aristotle had basically solved 2,000 years earlier.)

4. If the Earth is just one world among many, what is man’s role in the universe?

5. If universals don’t exist, can we really know what is “good”?

That’s a lot of doubt for one historical period. But all these questions will find their way into our next group of philosophers.

No class Thursday because of the field trip. Re-read the sections on Hobbes (whom we started talking about today) and Locke.

Book History: Today, several things:

First, I handed out a review list. There will be a test in two weeks – no review day, so if you have questions, ask them when you can! Here’s the list: Book History 4.14.16 – Review List

You handed in Assignment 4 (Adopt a Letter, Part 1). We discussed these briefly.

Assignment 5 was handed out (Book History 4.19.16 – Assignment 5, Adopt a Letter Part 2) and discussed at length. To recap: use the same 2 letters you used for the previous assignment. You will be making two different prints: one on styrofoam, one on linoleum (unless you choose to substitute wood or Speedy-Cut – talk to me about this if you do want to sub) – you get to choose which letter will be used for each print type, one letter for styrofoam, one letter for linoleum. You get to design the letter yourself – you can copy something that already exists or start from scratch. This is the book with a historical rundown on fancy woodcut letters (examples take up the second half of the book): earlywoodcutinit00jennrich.

Your preliminary designs are due on Thursday. I will be talking to you about them and letting you try out some things on this day. If you’re going on the field trip, try to stop in sometime with your design so that we can chat.

Siren: Reviewed some stuff for the field trip Thursday.

Daily Prompt: Notebook check, reading, work time. Activity on Thursday.

Survey: CNF: Gave back the DeFade essays with comments. Revisions are due two weeks from today: May 3. You MUST turn in the original essay and scoresheet, or you lose 10 points right off the bat.

We tried writing endings for our name essays, and discussed more about theme. Remember: you HAVE TO HAVE SOME IDEA OF WHAT IT IS YOU WANT TO SAY. These essays are due next Tuesday.

Survey: Screenwriting: Today we read an excerpt from The Princess Bride, then you had the rest of the time to work in class on your story ideas with your partners. Your “Story Development Project Part 1” is due on Thursday. You also need to read Chapter 2 from the reading assignment for Thursday – there will be a quiz.

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