Who Was Constantin Brunner?

Constantin Brunner was a German Jewish Philosopher. He was born in 1862 as Leo Wertheimer in Altona, a village close to Hamburg in Northern Germany. Brunner was the son of a prominent German Jewish family and his grandfather (Akiba Wertheimer) had been chief rabbi of Schleswig-Holstein.

He was brought up in line with traditional orthodox Jewish practices and completed his studies in Cologne, at the Jewish Teacher’s College. When the young Constantin had turned twenty years of age, he abandoned his traditional religious background to study other religions in pursuit of the “perfect religion”.

He wasn’t looking for rituals and dogmas, things he later on described as “superstitious”, but he rather explored the philosophical essence of both Christian and Jewish religions. In his view, these essentials involve not the relation of man to some transcendent being but the capacity of man for spiritual reflection. In other words, man’s consciousness to be able to connect to the Absolute. Continue reading “Who Was Constantin Brunner?”

The Life of Constantin Brunner

In the period 1850-1900, quite a few important philosophers and their works came to the surface in the countries where the German language was spoken. Some of the most important names of those days are Hermann Cohen (born 1842), Fritz Mauthner (1849), Paul Natorp (1854), Georg Simmel (1858), Edmund Husserl (1859), Max Weber (1864), Ernst Cassirer (1874), Max Scheler  1874), Martin Buber (1878), and Martin Heidegger (1889). Very interesting is the video (in German, though) from Yehudi Menuhin about Constantin Brunner:

Constantin Brunner was born in 1862 as Leo Wertheimer in a village named Altona in the neighborhood of the Northern German city of Hamburg. Brunner belongs to the lesser-known philosophers of that time but he was definitely among the greatest thinkers and philosophers of those days.

It was a peculiar time for Europe, especially for the German states that were united at that time in 1871, into one single Germany, a glorious and stunning achievement. This time frame, in retrospect, has all the characteristics of a sort of German “Golden Age” but it eventually led to self-destruction and the two most terrible tragedies and catastrophes of human history that we’ve seen, WW I and WW II.

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2024 – A Smart Odyssey

A cold and gray dawn in the suburban neighborhood I live in. On my way to work, I spot the carefully placed digital billboard announcing that “85% of the people living here didn’t sleep well” and therefore concluding with “please drive overly careful today”. Count me in, not that I didn’t sleep well but some smart-ass cracked my home network and made my refrigerator pretend that there is still enough coffee to go another week. There wasn’t. Piggybacking on my wifi to launch a distributed denial-of-service attack against the local administration for whatever reason is one thing, but messing with my coffee supply means war. 

This is pretty much how a morning in a 2024 smart city could look like.

Sounds familiar? No? It will soon. Cloud, big data, smart cities, we connect everything and capacitate it to do so many things which make life more comfortable. What we don’t do is to capacitate those who use and develop the clouds, big data sensors, and smart city services. During times when companies and states will fight for access to water, secure their borders against refugees and continue ignoring the world’s pollution why would a refrigerator that doesn’t automatically order coffee as it is supposed to matter?

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Inequality and Violence

I have reviewed numerous studies on inequality with various foci. I looked at how inequality is connected to violence at the individual level, for example. Braithwaite published a prominent study arguing that inequality is connected to crime, including violent crime here. Also, of course, Wilkinson and Pickett’s prominent publication The Spirit Level is of importance here as it shows that inequality is connected to violence in societies, more unequal countries have more cases of murders and deaths from violence, for example.

Secondly, I looked at the evidence for other forms of violence at the state level. Here we have to think in particular about revolutions, civil wars, and terrorism. All of these three forms of violence have been connected in the literature to inequality in their causation. The connection between inequality and revolutions is the most established one, the arguments for inequality causing revolutions go back to Tocqueville and Marx. And empirical research has found support for the claim that inequality precedes revolutions.

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Christian Moral Hypocrisy

As some of the nastiest people I know are also the most conspicuously pious, I do not subscribe to the view that religion is the guardian of morals. Indeed, the Church can often be a magnet for the petty and mean-spirited, the spiteful and sadistic, the resentful and the bigoted. This is not a novel claim. It was something the young Nietzsche noticed when he surveyed the congregation in his father’s Lutheran church: the foul stench of moral hypocrisy.

Of course, moral hypocrisy, or inconsistency between our actions and the moral values we espouse, is not an exclusively Christian phenomenon. But the common view that Christians are perhaps more susceptible than most to this particular vice is in fact supported by many empirical data. For example, statistics from the Federal Bureau of Prisons (1997) indicate that criminality in the United States correlates with levels of religious conviction, with Catholics comprising 39% of prison inmates but only 12% of the general population.

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Hermann Rorschach and the Inkblot Test

What do you see?

The Swiss psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach (1884-1922) believed that your answer to this question reveals a great deal about who you are and how you experience the world. Some psychologists use this test to examine a person’s personality characteristics and emotional functioning, some organizations include the Rorschach inkblot test as a part of the standardized tests.

The test he designed at the beginning of the 20th century can be seen as an early instance of a starting transformation regarding society and psychology’s perception of genius.

It is suggested that this transformation occurred in the following two ways: firstly, there was a move from the pathologization, and secondly, genius began to become a desired and demanded personality trait.

The Rorschachʼs study, which he published under the title Psychodiagnostics, is in this sense ambiguous. On the one hand, his work helps to define various forms of intelligence and originality. On the other hand, it strictly distinguishes between good and bad forms of originality. Thus, genius appears in his study to be a well-identifiable trait. However, it could also continue to be an indication of mental illness.

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The Non-Existence of God (Contrast of Causation)

Since Quine, the following ontological principle has seen much popularity: we should accept as existing only those entities which are postulated in the best explanation of what we accept to be the case. It follows that we have good reason to believe that x exists if and only if x has some explanatory power: only those entities the postulation of which is necessary for explaining something should be believed to exist. I will argue that appeal to God is always explanatorily impotent.

For us to be justified in accepting the existence of God, the postulation of God must have some explanatory significance. A common argument for the non-existence of God is that there is nothing the (best) explanation of which requires the postulation of God. This was Laplace’s line when he told Napoleon that he did not believe in God because he had ‘no need for that hypothesis.’

It has often been assumed that a canonical explanandum consists of a single event or fact. More recently, however, Peter Lipton has claimed that a canonical explanandum is a ‘contrastive phenomenon’: a pair consisting in a fact and a foil. A fully specified explanatory statement does not take the form ‘p explains why q’, but rather the form ‘p explains why rather than r’. In its minimal form, an explanatory statement would be ‘p explains why rather than ~q’.

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Increasing Insecurity in an Insecure Globalizing World

In 2008, the extent of financial markets was spectacularly illustrated to the electorates of advanced Western nations as fears over a breakdown in liquidity in financial markets, or Credit Crisis, exploded into a financial crisis of global proportions. In response to the crisis, governments launched unprecedented schemes of financial assistance to bail-out private sector institutions in financial markets.

The United States government bailed out the mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; Britain nationalized Bradford & Bingley and injected £37 billion into the Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds TSB, in effect partly nationalizing them. According to the National Audit Office, at its peak, the UK taxpayers provided a bail-out to private-sector banking institutions of £1.162 trillion.

Furthermore, this insecurity, indeed volatility, in global financial markets, was transmitted into the real economies and helped plunge the global economy into turmoil. Almost every country in the United Nations was affected, resulting in most of Europe, Canada, and the United States all suffering from negative GDP growth in 2009 and slipping into recessions. This post will consider the reactions of policymakers to the global financial crisis, illustrating that the sources of insecurity in financial markets and domestic economies that precipitated the crisis are still evident in the global economy today. Another crisis could be just around the corner.

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Putin’s New Balance of Global Power

While the West seeks to contain and tame Russian power in Ukraine without resorting to overt military force, Vladimir Putin continues his quest to restore and expand Russian influence not just in old Europe but globally. Hence his visit to Latin America this week and his diplomacy with old Soviet allies such as Fidel Castro in Cuba but more intriguingly with ‘new’ friends in Brazil and in Argentina. Putin has also become the first Russian leader to visit Nicaragua.

His travels are somewhat novel for a leader from the Kremlin. Latin America is remote from Russia and for many years this geostrategic distance challenged any Soviet ambitions for closer ties on the continent. So too did the dominance of the United States over the countries to its south. Take also a look at his interesting 2018 BBC documentary:

During the Cold War, Washington projected power and influence over much of the continent and the Kremlin did not have the economic or political capital to challenge this dominance. This led in the Kremlin to a so-called geographic ‘fatalism’ about Latin America as a continent literally beyond Soviet reach. This mood of exclusion was underlined by the failure of Marxism/Leninism to take a grip in any country apart from, for a period, Guatemala.

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The Desire Behind the Use of Drones

Often, we see ourselves as noble warriors and our enemies as despicable tyrants. We see war as a surgical scalpel and not a bloodstained sword. In so doing we misdescribe ourselves as we misdescribe the instruments of death (Michael Ignatieff).

Ignatieff’s argument is compelling. By using the term misdescribe he suggests that when ‘we’ (America, Britain, NATO, ‘the West’) conduct warfare in a manner which is dominated by our technological superiority, a disconnect between ‘reality’ and ‘desire’ appears.

Of course, realities and desires are often not akin (especially at a time of war). Take for example the conflicting perceptions of drone use. It is commonplace to suggest that in reality, drone strikes are a “scourge targeting innocent civilians”. When juxtaposed with President Obama’s desire for them to be part of a “just” war, a war that’s waged proportionally it is clear to see where such differences in perception lie.

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