Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

To contact me about organizing, email me at rpwolff750@gmail.com




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Monday, September 11, 2017

JIGSAW PUZZLES

Back when I was a lad, the notion of a gestalt was hot in moral philosophy.  [I associate the term with Franz Brentano.  Is that right?]  As opposed to the associationism of Hume and his followers, who viewed perceptions as agglomerations of separable atomic individual sensations, gestalt theory taught, roughly, that certain perceptual presentations made seemingly objective demands on us.  For example, it was said, when presented with a line drawing of most of a circle, with a small arc or segment omitted, one experiences a demand that the circle be completed.  This fact showed something or other about the objectivity of moral judgments [I may be misremembering this – it has been sixty years, and I was never much impressed with the argument in the first place.]

Which brings me to jigsaw puzzles.  The Continuing Care Retirement Community where Susie and I now live has six apartment buildings, each with twenty-seven apartments, and in addition several hundred little one-story dwellings rather grandly called “villas” [use and mention, as Quine pounded into our heads.]  We live in Building 5.  On the first floor of building 5 is a lobby, in the lobby is a table, and on the table at any given time is a jigsaw puzzle of between 500 and 1000 pieces.  Residents stop by the table to chat, to gossip, and, if they are so moved, to try to put a piece or two in the puzzle.  I have never done jigsaw puzzles; my tipple, as I have mentioned, is crossword puzzles.  But the damned things exercise a demand on me that would warm a gestalt theorist’s heart.  Susie seems to be similarly afflicted, and we have quickly become known in the building as relentless puzzlers.  It is not uncommon for me to say to Susie, “I am going downstairs to do the puzzle” [we live on the third floor,] and like as not she will join me.  The only other thing in the world that exercises that sort of objective pull on me is an apple pie.  I feel it to be a sin to leave an apple pie only partly eaten.

We are now in the very last throes of a 750 piece puzzle, and there is serious trouble.  We are down to seven remaining pieces, none of which fits comfortably into the remaining spaces.  Clearly, somewhere, there are some wrong pieces, but I have not yet managed to find them.  The maven of the puzzles, a woman a bit older than myself who has lived in our building for eleven years, says one must simply move on, but I return to the table again and again, trying to spot the misplaced pieces that can be swapped out for those remaining.  It just seems wrong to leave the puzzle uncompleted.


Maybe there is something to gestalt theory.

5 comments:

David Auerbach said...

1. Old joke. Macho guy brags about finishing a jigsaw puzzle. "Yep," he says, "It took me months, but I'm proud of myself. After all, it say, on the box, four years and over."

2. There was a period of about one year when I did jigsaw puzzles. My favorite were the ones based on abstract expressionist paintings. One that I seem to remember was simply a field of red with slight variations of shade and intensity.

Jerry Fresia said...

When you publish a collection of your blogs, you must include this one. Just delightful, wonderfully written, and informative.

"My tipple" - that's a first for me! Ha, I'm going to work that into a conversation today. (Might that count as a gestalt-ish demand?)

tom llewellyn said...

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (mild version). Common among academics. I feel like I must read all footnotes

David Palmeter said...

Off topic: "In special election contests last night, Democratic candidates flipped two more state legisalative seats — in Oklahoma and New Hampshire — from red to blue. That makes a total of six state legislative pickups for Democrats this year."

That's good news. Let's hope it continues.

Jim Westrich said...

I just wanted to note that while it is true that a seat flipped in NH and in an area I would casually think of as fairly Republican, it should be noted that the NH state legislature is unusually large and it has well over 400 legislators (which I am pretty sure guarantees running into a state legislator every time you are in NH). Flipping one seat is not nothing but it there is still a 50+ seat Republican majority (with a Republican governor and Senate). The bigger news is that with a body that large there is several special elections a month and the Republicans have lost 10 seats since Trump took office (although some of those were to switches to Libertarian). I had a friend who was in the NH House for many years and was an excellent representative but I never sensed he thought he had much power or influence.

The interesting thing about this particular flip is that it is more about the power of women in NH than party (they have an all female congressional delegation). The Republican who resigned said some reprehensible things about women and I suspect that the Democrat (who happens to be a well liked motorcycle enthusiast in a town that has a huge bike rally and NASCAR event every year) benefited from a lot of angry women.