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Monday, August 03, 2015

A thing


Sir Frederick Pollock was an interesting cove. From Wikipedia

Sir Frederick Pollock, 3rd Baronet PC was an English jurist best known for his History of English Law before the Time of Edward I, written with F.W. Maitland, and his lifelong correspondence with US Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. He was a Cambridge Apostle...

...Together with his younger brother Walter Herries Pollock, he participated in the first English revival of historical fencing, originated by Alfred Hutton and his colleagues Egerton Castle, Captain Carl Thimm, Colonel Cyril Matthey, Captain Percy Rolt, Captain Ernest George Stenson Cooke, Captain Frank Herbert Whittow.

A man from a vanished era. 

Sir Frederick also found time to write book on the seventeenth century philosopher Baruch Spinoza. As one would expect, the book is thorough, erudite and much of it based on Pollock's personal perusal of original Latin texts rather than translations which he tended to distrust. The result is a formidable yet quite readable book with a number of interesting observations such as:-

A thing is a group of phenomena which persists. Herein is its individuality, its title to be counted apart from the surrounding medium.
Sir Frederick Pollock – Spinoza, His Life and Philosophy (1880)

This is Pollock’s modern take on an idea of Spinoza’s. Strict materialism doesn’t work because as Pollock says, a thing must have persistence to be counted as a thing. It must be a group of phenomena which persists. Otherwise it is no thing – nothing. If we take the material universe and try to purify it of all that is not material, if we try to shake out all the abstractions, then we run into difficulties.

The most ephemeral fundamental particle must have persistence to count as real, even if it only exists for a zillionth of a second. Otherwise it is merely theoretical and not quite real. In this sense, persistence seems to be as fundamental as physical reality without itself being physically real.

One could see it as one aspect of the problem of being both an observer and part of what is observed. We have to use abstractions, but we are part of the universe so the abstractions are too. We are in the universe and the universe is in us and we cannot stand to one side because there is nowhere to stand.


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James Higham said...

An important work, historical fencing. There's the evolution in stumps, chamfered or not, the development of the box corral fence and so much more. A very great man.

A K Haart said...

James - all ruined by the invention of barbed wire.