The concept of limit

In the introduction to “Anarchism” by D. Guerin, Chomsky stresses the existence of a cultural tradition going back to Rousseau (“Discourse on Inequality, 1754), Von Humboldt, “The Limits of State Action” and chiefly Immanuel Kant on the French Revolution remarking that freedom is the precondition for freedom. That stands in marked contrast to Hegel (and before that Machiavelli and the “principato nuovo”) where servitude is the precondition for freedom.
Another example of the same dichotomy is the following (in reversed order):
the Freudian lineage of “Civilization and its Discontents” says that repression of instincts is what drives society forwards, and culture, from Hammurabi Codex onwards, is but a way to constrain the instincts. On the contrary, in the preface to Wilhelm Reich, “The Imposition of Sexual Morality”, the author says that the line consisting of Morgans-Engels-Malinowski and himself asserts that society is essentially repression which must be overcome. What is the position of Chomsky on that, in particular in his debate with Foucault? See

Here a short remark of Freud is apt again: he says (in “Civilization and its Discontents”) that one of the major problems of our time is that work is mostly perceived as toil and not as self-fulfillment. That implies that the psychic contents of most people are going in a direction which is not that of their potential.

Chomsky again states that very clearly when he writes the following very perceptive words. No answer unfortunately is known. The question may well be too deep for our feeble Reason. Here is wonderful Noam, again:

“I would like to assume on the basis of fact and hope on the basis of confidence in the human species that there are innate structures of mind. If there are not, if humans are just plastic and random organisms, then they are fit subjects for shaping behavior. If humans only become as they are by random changes, then why not control that randomness by the state authority or the behaviourist technologist or anything else? Naturally I hope that it will turn out that there are intrinsic structures determining human need and fulfilment of human need”.

“What is the logical form of this?” on Sen, Gramsci, Sraffa and Wittgenstein


In a perceptive book, Ray Kurzweil, chief engineer at Google, and responsible for the Hidden Markov Model that stays behind much of today speech and text recognition software (like Siri), restates  the position of the Logical Neopositivism as the following:
Amongst all possible worlds (Leibniz anyone?), in a multiverse where most realizations have faded into oblivion because they did not (randomly) stumbled upon information structures that could be algorithmically compressed, our world is such (from an anthropic cosmological principle) because it possess a recursive structure, hence information in it is susceptible of being encoded. For reason that are probably beyond investigation (recall Kant’s Ideen der Vernunft in the Dialectic of Reason, i.e. “God, the Soul, the World”: here of course, World is the idea of Reason).

To summarize:
1) Our world is such because it has a compressibility structure (based on recursion);
2) Our neocortex has a pattern structure based on recursion and
3) Our language has a recursive structure based on recursion (see this article by Chomsky).
(This is a brilliant way to restate, in three sentences, Wittgenstein.)

Then Antonio Gramsci came along, and as the Nobel prize Amartya Sen shows in this article, the ideas of the Italian marxist fed into the speculations of the great austrian philosopher. Nature versus Nurture, except there is not Nature per se, but the neocortex structure is the outcome of social processes as well as a (darwinian) adaptation to the world as it is.

It may be interesting to investigate the structure of power deep inside a concrete language.
The Grammars vs feedback control ideas in Artificial Intelligence is a restatement of the same dicotomy:
the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus as a Cartesian meditation very close home to Noam Chomsky,
whilst the (Gramsci-inspired) Second Wittgenstein as a feedback control type of investigation.

The causality vs correlation debate really got started there. See also Gramsci Linguistic Turn

As a final aside, a set of contributions by Italian scholar LoPiparo (see this) have identified glottology (i.e. the original field of study of Gramsci) as the source of the powerful idea of hegemony.

So: hidden within language there is power.The discovery of the true nature of power (i.e. (cultural) hegemony) comes from the study of glottology. The circle closes.

On the distinction of Pure and Practical Reason, beyond Kant

“Finally, I believe that my attempt to separate the Kant of the
Critique of Pure Reason from the Kant of the Critique of Practical Reason
has a real basis in history. For bourgeois thought and civilization succeeded in
founding the sciences of nature; whereas bourgeois culture has been incapable of generating scientific knowledge of society and morality.
Of course, the natural sciences have been conditioned by the bourgeois historical context in which they have developed—a process which
raises many intricate problems of its own. But unless we are to accept dialectical materialism and its fantasies of a ‘proletarian’ biology or
physics, we must nevertheless acknowledge the validity of the sciences of nature produced by bourgeois civilization since the Renaissance. But
bourgeois discourses in the social sciences command no such validity: we obviously reject them. It is this discrepancy between the two fields
that is objectively reflected in the division within Kant’s philosophy between his epistemology and his ethics, his critique of pure and of practical reason.”

from Lucio Colletti, Interview in New Left Review

What if there was no distinction, and Kritik der praktischen Vernunft is just a province of Kritik der reinen Vernunft?
This should be read in conjunction with Edmund Wilson, Consilience, and more that anyone else, “the great design” to which (Nobel Laureate) Roger Sperry was talking about in his lecture here.
Morality can then become a province of scientific enquiry. Again Asimov Psychohistory.

Dante and Islam


I recently attended a very interesting conference by Roger Scruton, the celebrated author of (among many titles) “A short History of Modern Philosophy”.

After that, a discussion ensued where one of the points was the fact that European identity can be clearly constructed without reference to an Islamic influence.

I was then wondering how could this theory of a European identity severed off from the Islam world stand in the face of all the scholarly work that has remarked the deep internal connections (up until Fibonacci, say) between the best minds in Europe and the vast pool of brightness that the Islamic world built around the Caliphate of Cordoba from year 931A.D. onwards.

But the Arabs did not only restore for Europe the pinnacles of Greek science, whose testimony stand words as Nadir and Zenith, Algebra and Algorithm. They were also very effective in the realm of metaphors, as the Islam word gave Dante, arguably Italy’s top poet, some of the inspiration for his magnum opus, as documented in the magnificent book by the Spanish scholar Asin Palacios: Islam and the Divine Comedy (original spanish version -1919)

If one considers that when Charles the Great was barely able to write down his name the Arabs in the Iberian peninsula were translating Aristotle, one can measure which is the debt that of our civilization owns to the Muslim world.

I think this is the crux of traditionalist type arguments in the construction of European identity, not to mention Fanon’s point, that ‘the entire Third World went into the making of Europe.’

A very interesting blog post dealing with the subsequent intellectual collapse of that civilization is here.

A German dictionary

Hegel - Berlin

“In an attempt to explain Russian Bolshevism to Lady Ottoline Morrell, Bertrand Russell once remarked that, appalling though it was, it seemed the right sort of government for Russia: “If you ask yourself how Dostoevsky’s characters should be governed, you will understand”. (Isaiah Berlin, Russian Thinkers,1978).

I remember reading (long time ago) the letters that Dostoevsky sent to his brother after having been released from Siberia. He requested a German grammar and dictionary, in order to study that language. In “The Possessed” Stavrogin is said to have studied in Germany if I recall. (As an aside, that same request was made by Antonio Gramsci in jail to Tatiana as well as Francesco De Sanctis in jail -Castel Dell’Ovo- in 1850: he translated Hegel “Wissenschaft der Logik” there, but this is another story).

The reason why German Idealism influenced so much of Russia’s intellectual history has a very good explanation in Isaiah Berlin‘s “Russian Thinkers”. Hegel and Schelling (plus their followers) were the real drivers of the intellectual life of Russia  from the years 1840 till the October 1917. Here it goes.

First, Tzar Peter the Great created a society, says Berlin, where a small collection of Western educated intellectuals drove the entire government machine in a country where the biggest part of the population lived in a material and intellectual condition equal to Europe’s 13th century. That created the first structural break and led to December 1825. Russia created the word ‘intelligentzia’, at the end of the day.

Secondly, (Berlin again) French culture – the traditional home of educated Russians- was severed off by the autocracy because the Tzar realized that it was too risky to have links with the country of 1789. That drove the educated Russians to the universities where Fichte, Schelling and Hegel taught. No mystery that Ivan Karamazov speaks about the very same questions that Ludwig Feuerbach or David Strauss were debating.
See also Karl Löwith, “From Hegel to Nietzsche”.

A superb seminar on this is the one below by Massimo Cacciari (in Italian):

Theodicy 2.0

If someone is, like me, working all the time with RNGs and strives to produce MonteCarlo scenarios about events via computer simulations, he cannot help but thinking that different outcomes are due to different randomness structures (Sobol anyone?)
In view of Bostrom’s simulation argument, one cannot help but inferring that some of the troubles he may experience in life are due to the choice of the randomness generator that has been employed. Or maybe by a bug in the code of the simulation.

A better explanation of the Simulation Argument is here. This is theodicy in disguise.