Showing posts from 2022

On a geography lesson, determination, and a giant sycamore tree (series: notes to myself)

I must have been eight or nine years old, for I had just finished my third (or was it fourth?) grade (terza o quarta elementare). It was the usual, long summer in Guarcino, the small village between Rome and Naples, where I spent all my childhood holidays. Soon we would have returned to Rome, the school would have restarted, and I would have failed all the geography tests. Again. I had no memory. Never did and never will. Yet the teacher kept quizzing me about the names of the regions of Italy, the names of the cities in the regions and of the main rivers, and their length, the names of the highest mountains in the Alps and the Apennine... There was no reasoning, no logical inference, nothing to understand, criticise, or debate. I remember her asking me about the “orography” of the Val d’Aosta region. The word in Italian is very similar: “orografia”. I had no recollection. So I started talking about the importance of “oro” in Val d’Aosta (“oro” means gold in Italian). She kindly and ge

On a tear off calendar (series: notes to myself)

We live as if we added time to our existence. Days pile up, like read books. Age increases, like memories. Years accumulate, like old photographs yellowing in an album. The journey accrues special moments, like points in some loyalty card. Not knowing the end, we consider only the beginning, and we start counting from there. Like using a digital calendar that has as many days as you need, our time as boundless as the natural numbers, plus one being the rule. But I remember that in our old house, in the small village, in the countryside, when celebrating the end of the year, we used to get a daily, tear off calendar. It was a free gift from a local shop. Days did not pile up, you tore them off, once a day, every day, until only the 31st of December was left, a lonely square of white paper, the date written in red, large and bold, deprived of all its dead siblings, already thrown into the dustbin. Going back to that house months later, you had to cut off a whole block, months were gone,

On being immortal (series: notes to myself)

I grew up with two conceptions of immortality in my mind. It took me a while to realise that they shaped my behaviours and my choices. My identity. Neither turned out to be credible. But both were useful, for they taught me a lesson. As a Catholic, I was brought up believing in a dream. I was immortal. Not backwards, for I was born. But forward, because I would not die. Actually, this is not the dream, for it may be the worst of all nightmares. It is the second part that turned it into the best deal ever. I was taught, since I can remember, that if I behaved decently and repent about the rest, I was going to live a life of heavenly bliss forever, and ultimately resurrect, just the way I was (or even better), and join all the people I had ever loved and indeed billions more.  As a kid, I worried, not deeply yet frequently, about eternal damnation, the nasty side of being immortal. Speak of side effects! Better be annihilated, I calculated, than suffer horribly forever. And sometimes I a

On the expression "to know better" (series: notes to myself)

There are people who think they know better, and those who know better than to convince them that they don't. I now belong to the second group, but I regularly meet many members of the first: confident, opinionated, patronising. I know them well. For I was one of them. Their beliefs are not improvable, because they are perfect in their views and unfixable in mine. They don't simply know what the case is. They know better than anyone else what the case really is. And they will tell you, even if you don't ask. Assuming you are not too obtuse, life teaches you the hard way to enrol in the other group, of those who should have known better and now know better than to engage. Mistake after mistake - even if you re-arrange facts with a Herculean effort, even if you resist the pressure of mounting evidence, no matter how self-self-preserving your attitude is (yes, it is the self-preserving nature of the self) - sooner or later should teach you some humbleness. Hammer it home, you

Call for expressions of interest

The Centre for Digital Ethics invites expressions of interest (EOI) from early career researchers, with a relevant Master or PhD degree, who would like to develop projects in the field of the Governance, Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications (GELSI) of digital innovation. The EOI should include three documents (all in English): 1. a letter (ca. 500 words), including relevant details about personal motivation, relevant skills, experience, and a link to a Google Scholar profile if available; 2. a short CV, including a list of publications, if any; and 3. a short (ca. 1,000 words) outline of the proposed research project about the GELSI of digital innovation, indicating: topic, methodology, deliverable, and timeline. Deadline: 7 November 2022. Please send your complete EOI to CEDE Segreteria Amministrativa by email (also in English) to:

Breve guida a come valutare i programmi elettorali in 4 passi

NB correzioni fattuali benvenute nei commenti sottostanti. Possono sembrare tutti uguali in superficie. Se si controllano i programmi elettorali dei partiti o delle coalizioni che chiedono di essere votati alle prossime elezioni in Italia uno sarebbe perdonato se non riuscisse, leggendo ciascuno di essi individualmente, a identificare il partito o il gruppo che lo ha formulato. Si potrebbe commentare, in modo cinicamente Leibniziano, che sia un triste caso di identità degli indiscernibili. Tuttavia, ci sono alcune caratteristiche che, nel migliore dei mondi possibili (sì ancora Leibniz) fanno la differenza e permettono una valutazione comparativa. I 4 documenti che si possono prendere in esame in modo esemplificativo hanno lunghezze molto diverse e se si guarda al numero di battute o parole la differenza è ancora più macroscopica. In ordine di lunghezza del formato pdf abbiamo: a) M5S: 13 pp.  b) Per l'Italia (centro-destra): 17 pp. c) PD: 37 pp. d) Azione - Italia Viva - Calenda

On Heraclitus and the secret nature of adverbs (series: notes to myself)

I used to teach my students to write without adverbs. If you state that “the car is red” you may be right or wrong, but adding “certainly” does not make your statement any more convincing or correct.  Philosophers love their “arguablys” almost as much as lawyers love their “allegedlys” and criminals their “hypotheticallys”. But truths and falsehoods, fallacies and deductions, reasonings and explanations require no “ly”. Philosophers should not cover their backs, like lawyers and criminals, when writing. Adverbs, I taught my students, should go. Years later, I still tell them to be wary of adverbs, for they make reasoning lazy, as if an “ostensibly” here and an “undoubtedly” there could replace evidence, arguments, proofs, actual information, a good inference or a causal explanation of why things may or may not be this or that way. And yet… and yet … I recently realised that adverbs have a secret nature that I should have seen before. We usually think in terms of things and properties

On collecting quotations (series: notes to myself)

Newton.  Phrases that roundly capture juicy thoughts. Nothing to add, nothing to subtract, impeccable syntax, perfect semantics. Tiny shiny shells, to be collected "like a boy playing on the seashore", in a file of memorabilia. I save quotations from the waves of forgetfulness, before time grinds them into the sand relentlessly filling my mind. Locke.  The collector of quotations is fastidious. One's own quotations are not those to be found in cheap lists or memorised by everyone. No. For the collector, they must have the purity and uniqueness of an unknown gem dug up by himself. The effort in finding them, then extracting and saving them, is part of their value. For the quotations are semantic capital that the collector "removes out of the state that nature hath provided, and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property". They are his quotations of someone else. The double possession ma

On Pascal and the door of a Church (series: notes to myself)

We live in a tiny village. Green fields and trees anywhere you look, apart from the local Church and its graveyard, our quiet neighbourhood.  The other day I went to visit it. I had been planning to meditate inside it, surrounded by symbols, evidence of other people's faith, of their beliefs in transcendence and supernaturalism. A step on Pascal's road, I had thought. Only, in my case, to the re-acquisition of faith, not its acquisition or protection. Keep trying and you will believe, apparently. Well, it turns out to be way more difficult in practice than when you read it in a book. It feels like wanting to believe that the world is different from what it screams to be: messy, accidental, random, chaotic, godless, so pervasively and bottomlessly historical.  I thought I could get inside, in the silent space of the navel of the Church, spend a moment reflecting, and maybe record some thoughts, like I'm doing now. While walking to the Church, I even wondered whether some loc

"Notes to myself" available on Amazon

"Notes to myself" are now available as a little book on Amazon: - ebook free for kindle unlimited or  £2.50, lowest rounded price allowed by Amazon - paperback on Amazon:   $4, lowest, rounded prize allowed by Amazon MANY THANKS to everyone who sent suggestions and notes of encouragement.  I hope it won't disappoint you.

On the importance of lacking the courage (series: notes to myself)

Courage is a virtue. Everybody knows this. It’s one of the four classic ones. It's used as an example in any ethics class, often in some old-fashioned way. You know, like philosophers always talking about horses as if they were the most obvious objects in the world.  In the good old days (kind of), courage referred to your attitude in battle. And not in any battle, but one in which you engaged with the enemy in hand-to-hand combat, with weapons the size of a broom. After all, our founding father, Socrates, served in the Athenian army as hoplite and distinguished himself during the Peloponnesian war. Not your average prof in some academic ivory tower. Plato was taught by the equivalent of a decorated marine, who died for his beliefs. Aristotle argued that courage is in between rashness and cowardice. It seems something good, always to be praised. You want to be courageous, if not in battle, at least in everyday life, at least in upholding your beliefs, defending your actions, taking

Il sapore della felicità condivisa

Il 19 marzo del 1850, Charlotte Brönte scrive una lettera a William Smith Williams, l’editore presso Smith Elder che per primo aveva riconosciuto in lei una straordinaria scrittrice. Williams le ha inviato alcuni libri da leggere, e lei, nel ringraziarlo, usa una frase divenuta famosa e che oggi troviamo citata ovunque: “la felicità non condivisa può a malapena essere chiamata felicità. Non ha sapore/gusto.” (Happiness quite unshared can scarcely be called happiness—it has no taste). Per le persone misantrope e asociali, o anche semplicemente un po’ solitarie, che ritengono che la solitudine sia l’unica felicità (beata solitudo, sola beatitudo), l’affermazione sembra del tutto errata. Eppure, è difficile non riconoscere che esiste un tipo di felicità che richiede la sua condivisione per essere goduta a pieno e non restare incompleta. Non si tratta della felicità intesa come contentezza. Come si sa, questa fa riferimento allo stare bene con se stessi e con la propria vita, in pace con l

On not finding the right words (series: notes to myself)

The most I can do is write. And I'm not even sure I'm good at it.  Words seem to be missing all the time. I guess it's me, unable to find them. But sometimes I suspect it's their fault. They are good at hiding, staying away even when I'm tired to chase them. Or they run away, everywhere, even when corralled judiciously, like scared sheep. I wish I had a tireless shepherd dog to help me. Words are mismatched all the time. Like a jar full of nuts and bolts. Too tight, too big, too large, too small... and when they almost fit, forcing them will only strip them. So with gentle patience, as if you were not in a hurry, as if time were not an enemy of semantics, you must find the few that go together, the growling sound of the shooked jar echoing in your mind. Hoping that care and tenacity may deliver the occasional bingo. Words slide all the time. Mischievous like slime you can collect but cannot catch. Misleadingly flexible, actually amorphous, generic words that cover a