How to Argue With Kindness and Care: 4 Rules from Philosopher Daniel Dennett

Photo by Mathias Schindler, via Wikimedia Commons

Drawn from Aristotle and his Roman and Medieval interpreters, the “classical trivium”—a division of thought and writing into Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric—assumes at least three things: that it matters how we arrive at our ideas, it matters how we express them, and it matters how we treat the people with whom we interact, even, and especially, those with whom we disagree. The word rhetoric has taken on the connotation of empty, false, or flattering speech. But it originally meant something closer to kindness.

We might note that this pedagogy comes from a logocentric tradition, one that privileges writing over oral communication. But while it ignores physical niceties like gesture, posture, and personal space, we can still incorporate its lessons into spoken conversation—that is, if we’re interested in having constructive dialogue, in being heard, finding agreement, and learning something new. If we want to lob shots into the abyss and hear hundreds of voices echo back, well… this requires no special consideration.

The subject of sound rhetoric—with its subsets of ethical and emotional sensitivity—has been taken up by philosophers over hundreds of years, from medieval theologians to the staunchly atheist philosopher of consciousness Daniel Dennett. In his book Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking, Dennett summarizes the central rhetorical principle of charity, calling it “Rapoport’s Rules” after an elaboration by social psychologist and game theorist Anatol Rapoport.

Like their classical predecessors, these rules directly tie careful, generous listening to sound argumentation. We cannot say we have understood an argument unless we’ve actually heard its nuances, can summarize it for others, and can grant its merits and concede it strengths. Only then, writes Dennett, are we equipped to compose a “successful critical commentary” of another’s position. Dennett outlines the process in four steps:

  1. Attempt to re-express your target's position so clearly, vividly and fairly that your target says: "Thanks, I wish I'd thought of putting it that way."
  2. List any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).
  3. Mention anything you have learned from your target.
  4. Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.

Here we have a strategy that pays dividends, if undertaken in the right spirit. By showing that we understand an opponent’s positions “as well as they do,” writes Dennett, and that we can participate in a shared ethos by finding points of agreement, we have earned the respect of a “receptive audience.” Alienating people will end an argument before it even begins, when they turn their backs and walk away rather than subject themselves to obtuseness and abuse.

Additionally, making every effort to understand an opposing position will only help us better consider and present our own case, if it doesn’t succeed in changing our minds (though that danger is always there). These are remedies for better social cohesion and less shouty polarization, for deploying "the artillery of our righteousness from behind the comfortable shield of the keyboard,” as Maria Popova writes at Brain Pickings, “which is really a menace of reacting rather than responding.”

Yelling, or typing, into the void, rather than engaging in substantive, respectful discussion is also a terrible waste of our time—a distraction from much worthier pursuits. We can and should, argues Dennett, Rapoport, and philosophers over the centuries, seek out positions we disagree with. In seeking out and trying to understand their best possible versions, we stand to gain new knowledge and widen our appreciation.

As Dennett puts it, “when you want to criticize a field, a genre, a discipline, an art form… don’t waste your time and ours hooting at the crap! Go after the good stuff or leave it alone.” In “going after the good stuff,” we might find that it’s better, or at least different, than we thought, and that we're wiser for having taken the time to learn it, even if only to point out why we think it mostly wrong.

via Brain Pickings/Boing Boing

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Michel Foucault and Noam Chomsky Debate Human Nature & Power on Dutch TV (1971)

Two academic stars and heroes of anti-authoritarian leftist political thought sit down to debate human nature—nowadays such events occur more rarely than they did in the 60s and 70s, when the counterculture and anti-war movements made both Michel Foucault and Noam Chomsky famous. Now, when two thinkers of such caliber sit down together, their conversation is immediately distilled into tweeted commentary, sometimes illustrated with gifs and video clips. We get the gist and move on to the next link.

In 1971, when Foucault and Chomsky joined host Fons Elders on Dutch TV, those viewers who tuned in would have to follow the conversation for themselves—for the most part—though it aired in a partly abridged version with commentary from a Professor L.W. Nauta. “Chomsky is at the height of his linguistic-scientific mode,” notes New Inquiry, where “Foucault performs a genealogy of scientific truth itself.”

After an introduction in Dutch by Dr. Nauta, Elders welcomes his guests onstage in English as “tonight’s debaters,” two “mountain diggers, working at the opposite sides of the same mountains, with different tools, without knowing even if they are working in each other’s direction.” It’s a characterization that amuses both Chomsky and Foucault, who aren’t discovering each other’s differences so much as enacting them for the studio audience of “early-70s Dutch intelligentsia.”

The two do find some common ground, in Foucault’s critique of the dominant history of science, for example. Where they differ, they seem to be speaking different languages, and they are also literally speaking different languages. Chomsky begins in English, Foucault responds in English with apologies for his lack of fluency, then switches to French. Those of us who aren’t fluent in both languages will have to rely on the translation, as many of us do when reading Foucault as well, a situation that should give us pause before we draw conclusions about what we think he’s saying.

Still, those inclined to reject Foucault as a rejector of science should pay closer attention to him, even in translation (into English, Portuguese, and Japanese subtitles in the video above). He does not reject the notion of scientific fact, but rather, as Wittgenstein had decades earlier, points out that much of what we take as conceptual reality is no more than vague, meaningless abstraction, “peripheral” words and phrases that do “not all have the same degree of elaboration” as more precise scientific terms.

Fuzzy ideas, for example, like "human nature... do not play an ‘organizing’ role within science.” Neither “instruments of analysis” nor “descriptive either,” they “simply serve to point out some problems, or rather to point out certain fields in need of study.” They are signposts for the unknown, a “scientific shopping list,” as Professor Nauta puts it when he breaks in to helpfully explain to viewers at home what he thinks Foucault means. Nauta’s interventions are drier than the main action—apparently no one thought in 1971 to sensationalize the event.

Well, almost no one thought to sensationalize the event. Anarchist host Elders “wanted to jazz things up a bit,” writes Eugene Wolters at Critical Theory. “Aside from offering Foucault hashish for part of his payment, Elder tried repeatedly to get Foucault to wear a bright red wig.” According to the James Miller in The Passion of Michel Foucault, Elders “kept poking Foucault under the table, pointing to the red wig on his lap, and whispering, ‘put it on, put it on.”

Chomsky found the exchange less than amusing, later calling Foucault “totally amoral” and saying that he “wildly exaggerates.” These minor spectacles aside, the Chomsky-Foucault debate is less epic showdown and more two mostly parallel, only occasionally intersecting, discourses on “a wide range of topics, from science, history, and behaviorism to creativity, freedom, and the struggle for justice in the realm of politics.” If some of that discussion seems overly obscure at times, just imagine Foucault in a bright red wig, and later enjoying what he and his friends called “Chomsky hash.”

The text of their debate has been published. Read The Chomsky-Foucault Debate: On Human Nature.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

What If We’re Wrong?: An Animated Video Challenges Our Most Deeply Held Beliefs–With the Help of a Ludwig Wittgenstein Thought Experiment

Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein asked us to imagine a rope stretched around the earth at the equator (and imagine the earth as a perfect sphere). Were we to add one more yard to the rope, then stretch it out taut again, would anyone be able to notice the difference? Most of us will intuit that it couldn’t possibly be so, a yard would disappear in the immensity of the Earth’s circumference.

Some geometry and algebra show, in fact, that the rope would hover about 6 inches off the ground, becoming a hazardous tripwire spanning the globe. The video above from the Center for Public Philosophy at the University of California, Santa Cruz begins with this odd thought experiment and ends with a call to action: to apply more skepticism to our political positions.

If we can be so wrong about a problem with a mathematical proof, we’re asked, “how should an open-minded honest person regard her own certainty in areas where there are often no proofs, like politics, philosophy, ethics, or aesthetics? Maybe we should be a lot less confident in our beliefs. After all, we might be wrong more than we realize.” Maybe so. But it seems there’s some slippery use of terminology here.

In any case, the short video is not, we should point out, a representation of Wittgenstein’s thought, only a riff on his imagining a rope around the world. What did Wittgenstein himself have to say about skepticism and certainty? It's complicated. Attempting to characterize his thought in brief might be an impossible task. He can seem like a highly contradictory thinker, refuting the ideas in his first book, the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, in his posthumously published Philosophical Investigations, for example.

But perhaps it is more so the case—as A.C. Grayling writes of another posthumously published Wittgenstein collection, On Certainty—that the stages of the enigmatic thinker’s career were each “a collection of provisional notes, recording a journey not an arrival.” He had begun in the Tractatus by considering philosophy “a spurious enterprise.” Most famously, Wittgenstein wrote, “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent," sweeping away with one lofty gesture all metaphysics and abstract speculation.

In On Certainty, he appears to finally accept philosophy’s “legitimacy.” Any conflict with his earlier positions does not trouble him at all. Wittgenstein attempts to refute skepticism, returning to the image of a “world picture” that recurs again and again in his work, building his case with aphorisms like “I have a world picture. Is it true or false? Above all it is the substratum of all my enquiring and asserting.” Drawing on the foundationalism of G.E. Moore, Wittgenstein deploys rhetoric that sounds downright fundamentalist:

If I say 'we assume that the earth has existed for many years past' (or something similar), then of course it sounds strange that we should assume such a thing. But in the entire system of our language-games it belongs to the foundations. The assumption, one might say, forms the basis of action, and therefore, naturally, of thought.

Isn't the question this: 'What if you had to change your opinion even on these most fundamental things?' And to that the answer seems to me to be: 'You don't have to change. That is just what their being "fundamental" is.'

This does not sound like a person likely to ever change their mind about what one might call their “strongly-held beliefs." Wittgenstein constructs another view at the very same time. His second argument “is not comfortably consistent with—perhaps, indeed, undermines” the first. While defending certainty, he argues for “relativism… the view that truth and knowledge are not absolute or invariable, but dependent upon viewpoint, circumstances or historical conditions.”

Our thoughts about the world, or our "world-picture,” writes Wittgenstein, “might be part of a kind of mythology…. The mythology may change back into a state of flux, the river-bed of thoughts may shift.” Our beliefs change as the “language-game” changes. We put on new discursive clothing, contingent on our present circumstances. “The difficulty,” writes the philosopher, with almost a hint of sympathy, “is to realize the groundlessness of our believing.”

Neither of these positions—that we are justified in believing “fundamental,” self-evident propositions because they’re fundamental; or that we change our beliefs because of a change in relative “language-games”—fit neatly with the idea that we should try to be less certain and more open to changing our minds. Nor is any reference in Wittgenstein likely to help resolve our political disagreements.

We may find it a comfort, or a deeply unsettling proposition, that certain beliefs might be anchored more deeply than proof or skepticism can reach. Or as Wittgenstein put it: “And now if I were to say ‘It is my unshakeable conviction that etc.,’ this means in the present case too that I have not consciously arrived at the conviction by following a particular line of thought, but that it is anchored in all my questions and answers, so anchored that I cannot touch it.” Yet, perhaps it is the case that we share more of these convictions than we know.

via Aeon

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.

Critical Thinking: A Free Course

In the playlist above, Gregory Sadler presents a 24-lecture course on "Critical Thinking"--something the world could always use more of. Presented at Fayetteville State University, the course features lectures on topics like Deductive and Inductive Arguments, Fallacies, Rhetorical Devices, Appeals to Authority and much more. The textbook used (and referenced) in the course was Moore and Parker's Critical Thinking. The individual lectures are as follows:

  1. Issues, Claims, Arguments
  2. Arguments and Non-Arguments
  3. Value Judgements 
  4. Deductive and Inductive Arguments with Implicit Premises
  5. Complex Arguments, Unstated Premises
  6. Deductive and Inductive Arguments 1
  7. Deductive and Inductive Arguments 2
  8. Deductive and Inductive Arguments 3
  9. Fallacies of Composition and Division
  10. Information Sources
  11. Experts and Appeal to Authority
  12. Critical Thinking and Advertising
  13. Rhetorical Devices 1
  14. Rhetorical Devices 2
  15. Rhetorical Devices 3
  16. Fallacies 1
  17. Fallacies 2
  18. Fallacies 3
  19. Fallacies 4
  20. Fallacies 5
  21. Fallacies 6
  22. Inductive Arguments 1
  23. Inductive Arguments 2
  24. Inductive Arguments 3

Also find the complete playlist of lectures on YouTube here. Sadler's YouTube channel features other courses and a wealth of philosophy lectures.

"Critical Thinking" has been added to our list of Free Philosophy Courses, a subset of our collection, 1,300 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

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Learn Philosophy with a Wealth of Free Courses, Podcasts and YouTube Videos

Used to be, a few thousand years ago, if you wanted to learn philosophy, you’d hang out in the agora, the public space in ancient Greece whose name turned into verbs meaning both “to shop” and “to speak in public.” Politics and metaphysics mingled freely with commerce. If a Socrates-like sage took a liking to you, you might follow him around. If not, you might pay a sophist—a word meaning wise teacher before it became a term of abuse that Plato lobbed at rivals who charged for their services. Only certain people had the means and leisure for these pursuits. Nonetheless, philosophy was a public activity, not one sequestered in libraries and seminar rooms.

Even though philosophy moved indoors—to monasteries, colleges, and the libraries of aristocrats—it did not stay cooped up for long. With the modern age arrived new public squares, centered around coffeehouses where all sorts of people gathered, rubbed elbows, formed discussion groups. Philosophy may not have been the public spectacle it seemed to have been in antiquity, but neoclassical thinkers tried to recreate its character of free and open inquiry in public spaces.

Widespread literacy and publishing brought philosophy to the masses in new ways. Philosophical works trickled down in affordable editions to the intellectually curious, who might read and discuss them with like-minded laypeople. But philosophy also became a professional discipline, governed by associations, conferences, journals, and arcane vocabularies. Outside of France, philosophers rarely acted as public intellectuals addressing public issues. They were academics whose primary audiences were other academics.

The culture suffered immensely, one might argue, in the withdrawal of philosophy from public life.

The broad outline above does not pretend to be a history of philosophy, but rather a sketch of some of the ways Western culture has engaged with philosophy, treating it as a public good and resource, or a domain of specialists and an activity divorced from ordinary life. Unfortunately for us in the 21st century, dreams of a digital agora have collapsed in the dystopian surveillance schemes of social media and the toxic sludge of comments sections. But the internet has also, in a way, returned philosophy to the public square.

Philosophers can once again share knowledge freely and openly, and anyone with access can stream and download hundreds of lessons, courses, entertaining explainers, interviews, podcasts, and more. We have featured many of these resources over the years in hopes that more people will discover the art of thinking deeply and critically. Today, we gather them in a master list, below.

Learn the in-depth history of philosophy from Peter Adamson’s acclaimed series The History of Philosophy… Without Any Gaps; listen in on roundtable discussions on famous thinkers and theories with the Partially Examined Life podcast, or “repave the Agora with the rubble of the Ivory Tower!” with the accessible, comprehensive philosophy videos of Carneades. These are but a few of the many quality resources you’ll find below. Technology may never recreate the early atmosphere of public philosophy—for that you’ll need to get out and mingle. But it can deliver more philosophy than anyone has ever had before, literally right into the palms of our hands.


187 Free Philosophy Courses: In a neat, handy list, we've amassed a collection of free philosophy courses recorded at great universities. Pretty much every facet of philosophy gets covered here.


Wireless Philosophy: Learn about philosophy with professors from Yale, Stanford, Oxford, MIT, and more. 130+ animated videos introduce people to the practice of philosophy. The videos are free, entertaining, interesting and accessible to people with no background in the subject.

School of Life: This collection of 35 animated videos offers an introduction to major Western philosophers—Wittgenstein, Foucault, Camus and more. The videos were made by Alain de Botton’s School of Life.

Gregory Sadler’s Philosophy Videos: After a decade in traditional academic positions, Gregory Sadler started bringing philosophy into practice, making complex classic philosophical ideas accessible for a wide audience of professionals, students, and life-long learners. His YouTube channel includes extensive lecture series on Kierkegaard, Sartre, Hegel and more.

A History of Philosophy in 81 Video Lectures: Watch 81 video lectures tracing the history of philosophy moving from Ancient Greece to modern times. Arthur Holmes presented this influential course at Wheaton College for decades and now it's online for you.

Carneades: Repave the Agora with the rubble of the Ivory Tower!  Put your beliefs to the test!  Learn something about philosophy!  Doubt something you thought you knew before.  Find on this channel 400 videos on the subjects of philosophy and skepticism.

What the Theory?: This collection provides short introductions to theories and theoretical approaches in cultural studies and the wider humanities. Covers semiotics, phenomenology, postmodernism, marxist literary criticism, and much more.

Crash Course Philosophy:  In 46 episodes, Hank Green will teach you philosophy. This course is based on an introductory Western philosophy college level curriculum. By the end of the course, you will be able to examine topics like the self, ethics, religion, language, art, death, politics, and knowledge. And also craft arguments, apply deductive and inductive reasoning, and identify fallacies.


Partially Examined Life: Philosophy, philosophers and philosophical texts. This podcast features an informal roundtable discussion, with each episode loosely focused on a short reading that introduces at least one "big" philosophical question, concern, or idea. Recent episodes have focused on Nietzsche, Sartre and Aldous Huxley, and featured Francis Fukuyama as a guest.

Hi-Phi-Nation: Created by Barry Lam (Associate Professor of Philosophy at Vassar College), Hi-Phi Nation is a philosophy podcast "that turns stories into ideas." Consider it "the first sound and story-driven show about philosophy, bringing together narrative storytelling, investigative journalism, and soundtracking."

The History of Philosophy … Without Any Gaps: Created by Peter Adamson, Professor of Ancient and Medieval Philosophy at King's College London, this podcast features more than 300 episodes, each about 20 minutes long, covering the PreSocratics (Pythagoras, Zeno, Parmenides, etc) and then Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and much more.

Philosophy Bites: David Edmonds (Uehiro Centre, Oxford University) and Nigel Warburton (freelance philosopher/writer) interview top philosophers on a wide range of topics. Two books based on the series have been published by Oxford University Press. There are over 400 podcasts in this collection.

In Our Time: Philosophy: In Our Time is a live BBC radio discussion series exploring the history of ideas, presented by Melvyn Bragg since October 1998. It is one of BBC Radio 4's most successful discussion programmes, acknowledged to have "transformed the landscape for serious ideas at peak listening time.’"

Free Courses:

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Watch “Critical Living,” a Stop-Motion Film Inspired by the 1960s Movement That Rejected Modern Ideas About Mental Illness

Along with Michel Foucault's critique of the medical model of mental illness, the work of Scottish psychiatrist R.D. Laing and other influential theorists and critics posed a serious intellectual challenge to the psychiatric establishment. Laing’s 1960 The Divided Self: An Existential Study in Sanity and Madness theorized schizophrenia as a philosophical problem, not a biological one. Other early works like Self and Others and Knots made Laing something of a star in the 1960s and early 70s, though his star would fade once French theory began to take over the academy.

Glasgow-born Laing is described as part of the so-called “anti-psychiatry movement”—a loose collection of psychiatrists and characters like L. Ron Hubbard, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Foucault, and Erving Goffman, pioneering sociologist and author of The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. For his part, Laing did not deny the existence of mental illness, nor oppose treatment. But he questioned the biological basis of psychological disorders and opposed the prevailing chemical and electroshock cures. He was seen not as an antagonist of psychiatry but as a “critical psychiatrist," continuing a tradition begun by Freud and Jung: “the alienist or ‘head shrinker’ as public intellectual,” as Duquesne University’s Daniel Burston writes.

Like many other philosophically-minded intellectuals in his field, Laing not only offered compelling alternative theories of mental illness but also pioneered alternative therapies. He was inspired by Existentialism; the many hours he had spent “in padded cells with the men placed in his custody” while apprenticed in psychiatry in the British Army; and to a large extent by Foucault. (Laing edited the first English translation of Foucault’s Madness and Civilization.) Armed with theory and clinical experience, he co-founded the Philadelphia Association in 1965, an organization “centred on a communal approach to wellbeing,” writes Aeon, “where people who are experiencing acute mental distress live together in a Philadelphia Association house, with routine visits from therapists.”

Based not in the Pennsylvania city, but in London, the Philadelphia Association still operates—along with several similar orgs influenced by Laing’s vision of therapeutic communities. In "Critical Living," the animated stop-motion film above, filmmaker Alex Widdowson excerpts interviews with “a current house therapist, a former house resident, and the UK author and cultural historian Mike Jay, to explore the thinking behind the organization’s methodology and contextualize its legacy.” For Laing, mental illnesses, even extreme psychoses like schizophrenia, are personal struggles that can best be worked through in interpersonal settings which eliminate distinctions between doctor and patient and abolish methods Laing called “confrontational.”

Laing’s work began to be discredited in the mid-seventies, as breakthroughs in brain imaging provided neurological evidence for mainstream psychiatric theories, and as the culture changed and left his theories behind. A friend of Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, and Allen Ginsberg, and an intellectual hero to many in the counterculture, Laing began to move into stranger territory, holding workshops for “rebirthing” therapies and giving people around him reason to doubt his own grasp on reality. Burston lists a number of other reasons his experiments with “therapeutic community” largely fell into obscurity, including the significant investment of time and effort required. “We want a quick fix: something clean and cost-effective, not messy and time consuming.”

But for many, Laing’s ideas of mental illness as an existential problem—one which could be just as much a breakthrough as a breakdown—continue to resonate, as do the many political and social critiques he and his contemporaries raised. “In the system of psychiatry,” says one interviewee in the video above, “there’s a huge emphasis on goals, and on an ending. In the more in-depth therapies, they’re more sensitive to the fact that the psyche can’t be rushed, it takes time.”

via Aeon

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Discover Friedrich Nietzsche’s Curious Typewriter, the “Malling-Hansen Writing Ball” (Circa 1881)

During his final decade, Friedrich Nietzsche’s worsening constitution continued to plague the philosopher. In addition to having suffered from incapacitating indigestion, insomnia, and migraines for much of his life, the 1880s brought about a dramatic deterioration in Nietzsche’s eyesight, with a doctor noting that his “right eye could only perceive mistaken and distorted images.”

Nietzsche himself declared that writing and reading for more than twenty minutes had grown excessively painful. With his intellectual output reaching its peak during this period, the philosopher required a device that would let him write while making minimal demands on his vision.

So he sought to buy a typewriter in 1881. Although he was aware of Remington typewriters, the ailing philosopher looked for a model that would be fairly portable, allowing him to travel, when necessary, to more salubrious climates. The Malling-Hansen Writing Ball seemed to fit the bill:

In Dieter Eberwein’s free Nietzches Screibkugel e-book, the vice president of the Malling-Hansen Society explains that the writing ball was the closest thing to a 19th century laptop. The first commercially-produced typewriter, the writing ball was the 1865 creation of Danish inventor Rasmus Malling-Hansen, and was shown at the 1878 Paris Universal Exhibition to journalistic acclaim:

"In the year 1875, a quick writing apparatus, designed by Mr. L. Sholes in America, and manufactured by Mr. Remington, was introduced in London. This machine was superior to the Malling-Hansen writing apparatus; but the writing ball in its present form far excels the Remington machine. It secures greater rapidity, and its writing is clearer and more precise than that of the American instrument. The Danish apparatus has more keys, is much less complicated, built with greater precision, more solid, and much smaller and lighter than the Remington, and moreover, is cheaper."

Despite his initial excitement, Nietzsche quickly grew tired of the intricate contraption. According to Eberwein, the philosopher struggled with the device after it was damaged during a trip to Genoa; an inept mechanic trying to make the necessary repairs may have broken the writing ball even further. Still, Nietzsche typed some 60 manuscripts on his writing ball, including what may be the most poignant poetic treatment of typewriters to date:





In addition to viewing several of Nietzsche’s original typescripts at the Malling-Hansen Society website, those wanting a closer look at Nietzsche’s model can view it in the video below.

Note: This post originally appeared on our site in December 2013.

Ilia Blinderman is a Montreal-based culture and science writer. Follow him at @iliablinderman.

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