Monday, 21 October 2013

Three interesting articles

All free and all in this week's Times Literary Supplement.

(1) "When small arms are being fired, an increase in enemy casualties starts at a distance of 400 metres ... and almost quadruples at 100 metres. By the time the enemy is 20 metres away, however, “defensive fire has less effect than at 200 metres”. Fear and aversion to killing, as well as perceptual distortion, prevent a soldier fighting effectively at close quarters with the enemy". More about the psychology of war here.

(2) FP Ramsey "has some claim to be the greatest philosopher of the twentieth century". "Contemporary debates about truth, meaning, knowledge, logic and the structure of scientific theories all take off from positions first defined by Ramsey. Equally importantly, he figured out the principles governing subjective probability, and so opened the way to decision theory, game theory and much work in the foundations of economics.... An incidental theorem he proved in a logic paper initiated the branch of mathematics known as Ramsey theory, while two articles in the Economic Journal pioneered the mathematical analysis of taxation and saving."

All pretty impressive. And how about this:

"[Ramsey] was deemed the only person with enough mathematical logic and German to be trusted with the English translation of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus. In the spring term a review of Keynes’s Theory of Probability pointed the way to the concept of subjective probability. The following year he published a long article on the Tractatus for the philosophical journal Mind, and then spent a fortnight that summer in Austria discussing it with Wittgenstein himself. At this point he was still some months short of his twenty-first birthday."

He died when he was 26. Oh and his brother was Archbishop of Canterbury.

(3) This one on the Larkin-Amis friendship/correspondence, which is worth reading to the final two words.

I have no opinion on the Larkin-Amis friendship. There is no point in having an opinion: it is just one of those things that repeatedly crop up in this sort of journal, like Walter Benjamin and post-colonialism.

Anyway, some chap called Donald Davie said this about Kingsley Amis (in response to the allegation that he was a 'pornographer'): "On the contrary of course he is and always has been a very severe moralist, as one sees from his shocked repudiation of both Philip Roth and Vladimir Nabokov. On the other hand he is a master of comic caprice – a perfectly legitimate and entertaining garment for the moralist to appear in, but one that Cambridge has never been able to account for and acknowledge." The reviewer describes those two sentences as "among the most acute ever written about Amis". Perhaps. They're not bad on Cambridge too. 

"Men big enough to be worth laughing at", an Amis phrase this time, is also a good one.

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