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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019); AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021); and HOW WE BECAME POST-LIBERAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOLERATION (2024).

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Off to talk about hammers, knives, motor-cars, novels, sunsets, people, and actions

What counts as a "good" one in each of the above cases?


Alex said...

For sunsets, it depends on the people you are with.

As for the motor-cars, just don't mention Holdens and you should be ok.

Robert N Stephenson said...

Good cars - oh dear here we run into a mess of messes.

Aston Martin is good in so many way but actually a crap care to run.

Prius -- environmentally sound to run - but man, its pullution footprint if you want to junk it is enormous.

Ferarri -- good if you want to look like a dick.

Mazeratti -- okay it is a cool vehicle, but repair bills are more than your house.

Mercedes Benz, BMW, Audi -- okay, they at least work more than not, so that is gooderer than most of the above.

Come to think about it, a good knife would be easier to find -- oh, maybe not:

do you want to puncture a lung or a kidney?

That Guy Montag said...

Good Novels

Raymond Feist - Magician: let's not pretend we're getting into the realms of high art here, but it's hard to beat a good heroic fantasy.

Italo Calvino - If On a Winter's Night a Traveller: A revelation when I first read it. It's the only time I feel unashamed for calling something Postmodern for the genuinely insane decision to write a novel in the second person. Also a really good reason to learn Italian because as much as I generally love William Weaver's prose, I suspect there are some more subtleties to tease out in the original Italian. That kind of raises a question about a good translation though doesn't it.

Ray Bradbury - Fahrenheit 451: I read this at a particularly low point in my life but this book provoked an almost religious response in me. The idea that books could matter enough for people to sacrifice themselves to preserving them in a very real sense restored my faith in humanity. I've moved house several times since and left a lot of books behind but this one's staying with me.

I hope no one objects to me cutting to the chase a bit and suggesting that the meaning of good seems to change quite a bit depending what we're looking at.

March Hare said...

It's subjective and situation dependent, which is the point you were trying to get across I suppose.

Russell Blackford said...

It's certainly situation-dependent. It may be ultimately subjective. But examples such as the motor-car show how it's not just arbitary. You may prefer a car with high performance and classy styling (whatever "classy" means here) while I prefer one with excellent reliability and impressive fuel consumption. There may be no truth of the matter as to who is "right" here. Yet, these are not merely arbitrary criteria.

March Hare said...

I respectfully disagree, the qualities of a car that make it good are contradictory and therefore you cannot have a perfect car.

Some people like an antique car, some new, some like tinkering with the engine when something goes wrong, some want total reliability, some want speed, some efficiency, etc. Some, or even most, of these could be combined in one car but not all.

Without even the principle of an ultimate good car being possible the selection and weighting of the various qualities is individual and therefore arbitrary (at least one meaning of the word anyway - Based on or subject to individual judgment or preference).

This is not to say we cannot compare two cars and say which is best - if we took ALL the possible criteria for a good car and car A scored higher than B in at least one metric and not lower on any then we can objectively say A is better than B.

What a long way of saying - define arbitrary.

Russell Blackford said...

No, "arbitrary" would mean that it's just as rational in real situations to choose a car that has lousy performance, lousy fuel consumption, lousy styling, lousy safety, and so on. Of course, you may want an antique car to tinker with, and that can be explained, but even then you'd be able to give reasons for choosing one rather than another.

Of course, your reasons for choosing one car over another do have an element of individual selection of subjectivity. But I didn't deny that in the comment you responded to - in fact it's one of the things that I said. But the point is that that isn't what we usually mean by "arbitrary". Even though there's this subjective element, you could still give perfectly rational reasons why you chose this car rather than that car, reasons that other people can understand and see the sense in (even if they would have made a different decision, given their needs, purposes, etc.).

The point is that "strictly objective" and "just arbitrary" (by my definition, but I don't think it's an unfamiliar or obscure one) are not our only options. That point is often missed, and I think it's an important one. If someone says that a choice I made was "arbitrary" meaning only that there was a subjective element involved I'm going to shrug and say, "So what?" If it's meant as a criticism, it has to mean something much stronger than that.

Rupert said...

You need two really. Something sporty like a WRX for fun. Something like a Kluger for comfort and capacity.

But for real fun, you can't go past a bike. Exoticar performance for 5% of the price.

Kirth Gersen said...

I'm imagining a language, like German only more so, that lacks vague fluff words like "good." Instead, it would have "utile," "ethical," and "astheticallypleasing," and the speaker would therefore be forced to specify which one is intended.