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A Follow-up on Spinoza and the Zhuangzi (with help from friends)

Sufism and Taoism by Toshihiko Izutsu

I love academic Twitter! After sharing my last post on Spinoza and the Zhuangzi, I received responses from much more learned people, speculating on the possible historical connections.

So far I have only been using the Zhuangzi, and Daoism more generally, as a tool for understanding Spinoza’s philosophy. Edwin Curley once wrote that he read Spinoza through lenses ground by Moore, Russell, and Wittgenstein, just as Harold Joachim had read Spinoza through lenses ground by Hegel and Bradley. I guess I’m proposing to read Spinoza through lenses ground by Zhuangzi, although it’s hard to imagine Zhuangzi grinding lenses.

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More on Spinozist and Zhuangzist Immortality

Baruch Spinoza coloring page | Free Printable Coloring Pages | Coloring  pages, Free printable coloring pages, Printable coloring pages

I wrote before about Hao Wang’s suggestion that Spinoza’s view on immortality – or what Spinoza calls “the eternity of the mind”:

has some affinity with the views of Taoism, especially those of Zhuang Zi, who would have endorsed the thought expressed by Spinoza in the next to the last paragraph of Ethics: “Whereas the wise man is scarcely at all disturbed in spirit, but, being conscious of himself, and of God [Nature], and of things, by a certain eternal necessity, never ceases to be, but always possesses true acquiescence of his spirit”.

A Logical Journey, 109
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Katherine Hawley (1971-2021)

Katherine Hawley, St Andrews

I’ve spent the last day trying to think of ways to express my response to the death of my colleague Katherine Hawley. What I say here will be inadequate, but I feel I that I owe it to Katherine to say something, and a Tweet or Facebook post doesn’t seem quite enough.

Katherine really was the rarest sort of person. She was the most intelligent person I’ve ever met, but she had something even rarer – maybe you could call it a sort of moral genius. Her kindness was nearly beyond comprehension. She was more generous than I thought it possible to be.

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A Few Thoughts on Pensions

Defined Ambition – We Know Zero

The next dispute over the UK Universities Superannuation Scheme is in full swing (the documents for the ongoing consultation with the universities are available here). I’m not keen to involve myself in what has turned into a pretty dysfunctional conversation. But it prompted me to share a few philosophical thoughts I’ve had on pension funds.

The USS dispute is, again, over a valuation. It largely reduces to a dispute over the discount rate. The level of current contributions required to pay future pensions – pension liabilities – depends on the rate at which you discount those liabilities. The scheme’s actuary, under pressure from the regulator, benchmarks the discount rate to the yield on long-term government bonds, gilts, which remains historically low. The fund is tested for its ability to fund its pensions promises off very low-risk assets. In fact, however, it holds a portion of higher-risk ‘growth’ assets – equities that earn a higher rate. Neither the schedule nor the risk of those growth assets matches those of the pensions liabilities. The extent to which the discount rate can be set higher to take account of the growth assets depends on the strength of the covenant – members’ willingness to pay the difference if returns are worse than expected.

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