In memoriam Peter Caws: philosophical aphorisms

In my father’s papers I found a letter from 1985 in which Zak van Straaten, director of the University of Cape Town Institute for Advanced Studies in Philosophy, was soliciting philosophical aphorisms for a proposed anthology. He defined what he was looking for as “a short, philosophical maxim that is able to stand on its own and expresses a truth of general importance” and said it should not be longer than 50 words. I find no evidence that the anthology ever actually came out, but my dad and/or assistants (there’s handwriting that’s not his) compiled 3 pages of submissions from his writings. Most of these sources haven’t been digitized yet, so I’ll prioritize those next.

  • A person who is at a loss for anything to do does not need moral instruction, he needs love or vitamins or psychoanalysis. – Science and the Theory of Value, 1967, p. 122
  • The function of science is the explanation of nature in its own terms; its method is that of imagination controlled by evidence. – ibid, p. 41
  • The first task of humanists in a technological age is surely to understand technology — not merely to use it, gratefully or ungratefully. – “The Humanities in a Technological Age,” in Societal Issues, Scientific Viewpoints, edited by Margaret Strom, 1987.
  • Having trivial desires made easy of attainment has encouraged an attitude toward the world in which the being of things is overlaid by their handiness, so that nothing is really an end, not even human beings themselves. – ibid
  • The humanities have a task that is independent of the age, namely to articulate the best. – ibid.
  • Although there could never be a sound defense for doing only metaphysics, there may sometimes be a defense for doing only analysis, namely at times when a great deal of unanalyzed and conflicting metaphysics has been inherited. – The Philosophy of Science: A Systematic Account, 1965, p. 6.
  • Science is about things in the world, but it is also one of the things that philosophy finds in the world. – ibid, p. 10.
  • It is easy for the privileged to overrate the idealism of the underprivileged. – “What Happened in Paris?Partisan Review 35:4, fall 1968.
  • Philosophical criticism, like charity, begins at home, and in an imperfect world there is always work to be done there. “The Case of the Athenian Stranger: Philosophy and World Citizenship”, Teaching Philosophy 8:2, April 1985.
  • The structure of subjectivity is wholly borrowed — from the structure of its body and brain, or from whatever other structures it can find its way into. The subject is a consumer of structure. This accounts for literature. – “The Ontology of Criticism”, Semiotexte, 1:3, Spring 1975.
  • The philosopher may think of himself as a thinker, but his thought will be barren if he is not also a talker or a writer. – Sartre, 1979, p. 19.
  • Philosophical systems are suspect nowadays because the most familiar notion of system stresses systematic completeness, in a effort to achieve which many philosophers have been led into extravagance if not absurdity. – “The Structure of Self-Reference,” in Philosophes critiques d’eux-memes, vol. 2, 1976.
  • The structural capacity of mind turns out to be very much greater than is ordinarily needed for survival in the natural world; this has permitted the construction over time of mythological, social, theoretical, political, literary, and other structures. – ibid.
  • If we are not to drown in our own publications [we] must break the pious association of instruction with inquiry except at the most advanced level. – “Instruction and Inquiry”, Daedalus, Fall 1974.
  • The committed revolutionary is the fundametalist of politics; his attitude towards the old regime has something in common with the preacher’s attitude toward sin: the revolution may come to seem more important as a struggle between good and evil, in which the wicked are to be punished, than as a means of liberating the oppressed. – “Reform and Revolution”, in Philosophy and Political Action, edited by V. Held, K. Nielsen, C. Parsons, 1971.
  • It is better than nothing to get a solution with the help of a machine, but the fact that we have got a solution may remove the necessity of simplifying the theory. Suppose someone had been able to offer the use of a computer to a pre-Copernican astronomer; the need for a Copernican revolution would have been removed at once. – “Science, Computers, and the Complexity of Nature”, Philosophy of Science, v. 30, 2 April 1963.
  • The possibility of literature is the most spectacular gift of language. – “Critical Innocence and Straight Reading,” in New Literary History V.XVII (Autumn 1985).
  • The measure of the philosophical authenticity of an idea is not the amount of excitement it can generate but the amount of criticism it can survive. – “What Good is Academic Philosophy,” unpublished paper.

I remember another collection of aphorisms and thoughts – not The Book of Hylas, but perhaps a precursor. I must have a version of it somewhere and I’ll put it up when I find it. I do remember teasing my father about how short some of them were – “a single word can’t be an aphorism!” A related document is the “Quotations from Ex-Chairman Caws,” a student’s transcription of things my dad said in class that he thought were funny or notable.

2022 in races

I found out I was anemic in the spring, when I got deferred for low iron while trying to give blood – and my iron levels dropped between two attempts. I had thought I was just getting slower with age, but taking iron and B12 turned that around! I started supplements at the very end of April and by October I was back to normal. So my times got better and I even set a half marathon PR.

Holyoke St. Patrick’s Road Race 10K – March 19

1:13:03, pace 11:45 (USATF-certified) – last run in 2015, 1:08:54. This race is always a mob scene; not one I’d do every year. But lots of spectators which is fun! Borderline rainy off and on. I caught part of the Mummers and the Grand Colleen’s Court. I ran with a balloon tied to my arm, now a tradition for me on this race, but I don’t think anyone called me “balloon girl” this time. I saw an adorable big dog in a huge cableknit sweater but couldn’t get a photo in time.

Read, Write, Run 5k – May 1

34:35, pace 11:08. A nice small community run at Maines Field, just a bike ride away, that I’ve run several times now (30:55 in 2019). I trailed everyone except an elderly couple who were walking, then passed a couple of young people who had given up. And I won my age category, because the field was so small! The prize was a really nice Literacy Project mug and a $25 gift certificate from Marathon Sports. I didn’t believe it when they called my name, and waited until the results were posted to absorb it.

Bridge of Flowers Classic 8K – August 13

58:28, pace 11:45 (used to be USATF certified, not sure if it is after the reboot?). Last run in 2019, 56:27. This is a very tough race because it’s usually hot and it has a crazy 13% hill. But this year they also timed the uphill mile, where my pace was 14:47 but I was 194 out of 258 instead of 215! This was a “full race reboot” where lots of things changed, including having the afterparty at the school where parking and registration happen. I loved that those of us over 21 got beer AND ice cream (it used to be ice cream only for the under-21s), but I still miss the (local) Lightlife veggie hot dogs. No bagpipes or vuvuzela, but the house near the finish line that plays “Chariots of Fire” on a loop was still going strong.

Boys & Girls Club of Greater Westfield 5k – September 10

Here’s when I started getting faster! 29:50, pace 9:36 – but a new course this year which I don’t think is certified, so it might be short. (I may have run this race before on the old course, but I’m not sure – I did a bunch of Westfield races for their 350th anniversary and they all blend together.) I really pushed myself and came in first in my age group (!!!), but it was a very small field so no division awards. On the turn I passed a runner I had noticed at the start and trailed. After she finished, she told me I’d run “a blazing race” and asked me how old I was – she was 65 so she was still first in her group and we were both happy! Food included breakfast sandwiches, a nice treat.

Superhero Run 5K – October 2

29:40 – theoretical pace 9:33 but I think the course is short. In 2018 I finished in 30:42. This is one of my favorite small races, in walking distance from our apartment – a fundraiser for the Cutchins Center that encourages costumes. I have a cheap nylon Superman cape that was a freebie from Six Flags, and weirdly I get compliments on it. They even had cider donuts, and Kelsey Flynn was the MC – no wonder I love this race!

Eversource Hartford Half Marathon – October 14

2:26:45, a PR! Pace 11:12 (USATF-certified). I did the marathon last year in 5:53:28 (finished with a minor injury, not a good race) so this was so so much better. The race is a huge event with 8K participants, and it’s very well-organized, but the scale means it’s very much a zoo for food/beer/portapotties afterwards. I earned my PR by participating in a twelve-week Bird program (perk of the race) and following Coach Shane’s workouts to the letter. Satisfactory!

Happier Valley Half Marathon – October 16

2:29:11, pace 11:23 (USATF-certified). I’ve done the 5K a couple times but last ran the half in 2018 when I was training for New York, 2:26:56. No cider donuts – I actually complained (“that’s what first drew me to this race,” not “this sucks!”) – but great food trucks after. I got my favorite, Holyoke Hummus, and the wait wasn’t even as long as it sometimes is for HH. All the best beer had run out but whatever I had was fine. I rode my bike to and from Look Park, which probably reduces my time a hair but it’s worth it.

Western Mass 10 miler – November 6

2:01:29, pace 12:08. A brand-new point to point race from UMass to the train station in Northampton – just across the street from our apartment. I ValleyBiked to Amherst so I didn’t have to take the shuttle. I probably tired my legs more than was advisable. The course felt very long. Beautiful medal and long-sleeve technical shirt, and Jonathan filmed me finishing, which was fun. Good chili after with the usual beer.

Gorge après Gorge – November 27

34:15, pace 11:01. (36:19 last year!) Not as cold as it’s been some years, and only a bit of ice. I love this race because it’s scenic, it has a wonderful community feel, and there are fire pits, a potluck, and best of all: cookie medals! (I don’t love the sugar cookie itself but I love the idea, and it doesn’t take up room on my doorknob). It’s in and out so you can see all the participants, which I’ve grown to really enjoy. The other delightful aspect is that the prizes are hand-knitted hats – all different, you pick the one you want from the table of what’s left. If I ever placed (very unlikely, lots of good runners) I’d cherish that hat!

Hot Chocolate Run 5K – December 4

31:53, pace 10:15. (33:30 last year!) This is a Northampton tradition I run every year that a) we’re in town and b) it hasn’t sold out before I remember to register. I ran with a dear friend and co-worker – we had never run together before and we were actually perfectly matched, so that was delightful. And they had fresh hot chocolate again, instead of just the packets they handed out last year. A great conclusion to the race year!