Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Good Quote

Since much of my life rests on two divides. On the first, it is America and Canada, and this comes only since I have resided in Canada for the last 2.5 years. The second is, of course, invoked by the imagery of my blog's title, and that is the analytic/continental Divide. I found this quote a while back and wanted to share it with you. It comes from Gary Gutting's review of Leiter's Future of Philosophy over at the NDPR. I've been wondering if Leiter's newest edited anthology by Oxford University Press is a product of Gutting's deadly accurate criticism.

I agree that there is no fruitful analytic-Continental division in terms of substantive doctrines distinctively characteristic of the two sides. But it seems to me that we can still draw a significant distinction between analytic and Continental philosophy in terms of their conceptions of experience and reason as standards of evaluation. Typically, analytic philosophy reads experience in terms of common-sense intuitions (often along with their developments and transformations in science) and understands reason in terms of formal logic. Continental philosophy, by contrast, typically sees experience as penetrating beyond the veneer of common-sense and science, and regards reason as more a matter of intellectual imagination than deductive rigor. In these terms, Continental philosophy still exists as a significant challenge to the increasing hegemony of analytic thought and, as such, deserved a hearing in this volume.

Babette E. Babich's Essay on the Analytic/Continental Divide

This essay is far-reaching and well-accomplished. It spells out methodological difficulty of the stylistic propensity of our philosophical climate with a keen eye to Heidegger and Nietzsche. Very good.

Here's the link:


Sunday, December 28, 2008

Philosophical Gourmet Report Tirade

Brian Leiter is now approaching the two year point where he uses 469 nominated evaluators to speak for a profession of 10,000 philosophy PhDs in North America, and countless numbers elsewhere. I cannot help but this is really an unfair evaluation process since it really doesn't do justice to the work or contribution of philosophers in general. I've always wondered why the current Continental Philosophy list never included the following schools:

1. Southern Illinois University Carbondale
2. Depaul University
3. Duquesne University
4. Villanova
5. University of Oregon
6. Middlesex University (in the UK)
7. Marquette University
8. University of Ottawa (Canada)
9. University of Guelph (Canada)

You can compare the 2006 - 2008 rankings on Leiter's page with the Society of Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy's website.

Good programs in Continental philosophy are specialized programs that offer chances to study texts in the original language, groups that informally study the texts of the European tradition, have foreign exchange programs with sister-universities in Europe and have more than just the typical "token" Continental in an overwhelmingly analytic department. In fact, this is upsetting since many schools proferred as places to study Continental philosophy like Cambridge, I imagine, do not have the same resources that, say, Penn-State University or New School University have to develop good solid Continental philosophers.

Don't get me wrong. There are several good recommendations on the list of the PGR's breakdown. I just don't imagine that 469 people can speak for the work done by 10,000. Instead, we should all follow the advice of the APA statement on rankings which encourages aspiring graduate students to seek out Graduate Directors of programs. Leiter's list becomes more of a developed high school popularity contest than truly representing the interests of European philosophers. Moreover, such a mainstream conception of philosophy tends to overlook really unique programs where one can study marginalized areas outside mainstream philosophy. There are some good programs in Indian philosophy at the University of New Mexico, University of Hawaii and perhaps Temple University--these schools are only taken seriously by evaluators insofar as they are good places to do Indian philosophy, but will never approach what is valued as mainstream philosophy. I think such perceptions pernicious to a discipline that is rooted in the "love of wisdom."

Friday, December 26, 2008

Julia Annas and Moral Phenomenology

In a recent article, Phenomenology of Virtue (March 2008), Julia Annas wants to know how to distinguish the content of what it is to be virtuous from what it is to be less-than virtuous. For her and myself, there must be a content to the experience of being a virtuous person. For her, this follows that virtue ethics makes claim about what type of people we ought to be, and the methodology of doing ethics in this way assumes what I also take for granted as a phenomenology--there is content in how we experience phenomena in the first-person-perspective. Both the virtue ethicist, and the phenomenologist meet on these assumptions about the subject/moral agent as an experiencer of subjective content in relation to having an experience.

In her view, she suggests Aristotle's answer that the virtuous person finds being virtuous pleasant is the solution to what the phenomenology of virtue consists. While I make no claims about her substantive proposal. Her suggestion might just be the case. She grounds her interpretation of Aristotle's answer in a very closely familiar Heideggerian way. She invokes notions of practical involvement, the exercise of being absorbed in our world through the work of social psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi's "flow experience." This proposal sounds very, very, very Heideggerian to me. Consider this part of the text that captures of the core of the view:

Defensible forms of virtue ethics, in my opinion, hold that virtues are acquired
and exercised in a way which is relevantly similar to the acquisition and
exercise of practical skills. The person learning to be brave will need to ask
herself, when faced by a situation in which someone needs to be rescued, what
would be a brave thing to do here, or what a brave person would do
here...Someone who is, as we say, truly or really brave, the mature brave
person, will respond to the other person's need for rescue without having to
work out what a brave person would do, or what would be a brave action here. not
only do we not need to suppose that such thoughts occur, we can see how they
might, in the brave person, actually inhibit the needed response (p. 24)

I'm going to think about this for a while, but I anticipate this interpretation will come close to Heidegger's construal of Dasein as "being-in."

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Ethics of Christmas: Readers make Comments

I wanted to throw this out there since, yes, I'm updating my philosophy blog on Christmas Eve. No life, I know, I know. Anyway, here's the question:

If you accept a moral prohibition on lying (as many normative theories lend themselves, I believe), then what about participating in the deception of children for Christmas?

Give a bunch of answers, as I'm curious what people's intuitions are.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Nietzsche Reading Group in Vancouver

For those that follow my blog close by...I'll be starting up a Nietzsche or Heidegger reading group. No one is thrilled at the stigma of reading Heidegger out in the open, but some of you are into the naturalist readings of Nietzsche through Brian Leiter. Many analytic philosophers have been looking to Nietzsche as a speculative naturalist. I'm thinking of focusing on this:

Nietzsche and Morality, ed. Brian Leiter

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Eleatic Impasse and the Moral Impasse

Heidegger’s seminal Being and Time announces itself amidst a Platonic aporia. The impasse is quoted from the Sophist by the Eleatic Stranger who says,

For manifestly you have long been aware of what you mean when you use the expression “being.” We, however, who used to think we understood it, have now become perplexed (BT, p. 1).

Like Heidegger, I announce my intention with a state of observed philosophical perplexity. Unlike, Heidegger my concerns haven’t been completely eschewed by philosophers as the question of the meaning of Being. Instead, moral philosophers have paid attention to what I call the basic concepts of the good, the right and the just, and their opposite privations. Yet, it is the manner of contact these moral philosophers in the tradition have articulated understanding that demands phenomenological attention.

Moral philosophers are fragmentary in their reflective efforts to produce a coherent whole of unified beliefs concerning the possibility of moral knowledge, what moral values are, what, if any, principle(s) determine what we ought to do and what are the contents of morality itself. In their efforts, moral philosophers have left a collage of various moral intuitions and beliefs that require constant investigation, and piecemeal precision. The landscape of our normative condition is scattered with various problems in normative ethics and meta-ethical domains, maybe even both.

With this condition, the possibility of a unified moral philosophy that answers wholly the previously mentioned concerns is regarded as a pipe-dream, an implausible philosophical hubris too common to mention. Alasdair MacIntyre observed this lack of morality’s unity, and the implausible aims of ethics itself as a lack of historical and metaphysical commonalities to which all of us comply. Observing this dire state of ethics, he writes:

What we possess [in terms of morality]…are the fragments of a conceptual scheme, parts which now lack those contexts from which their significance derived. We possess indeed simulacra of morality, we continue to use many of the key expressions. But we have—very largely, if not entirely—lost our comprehension, both theoretical and practical, of morality. (After Virtue, p. 2)

Now, I think it fair to say that MacIntyre is like the Eleatic Stranger. We have lost our way in moral thinking, and our culture, Western at large and the world, have either retreated to offer minimalist standards of obligation in some way, rejecting the possibility of ethics completely in nihilism or error theory, or somewhere in between these two extremes. Either we give up on the unity completely, reject the possibility of unity or lie somewhere in between. However, what is suspect in ethics is the entire spectrum of these possibilities. While to some they might be answers, they only conceal what is at issue in the poor neglect where we find ethical theorizing.

Observing these difficulties and considering them aright, moral philosophers are forced to answer some tough concerns. The very possibility of unity and objectivity in our moral thought is challenged by the fact that discourses take place within the simulacra of morality. We have lost those historical and metaphysical grounds that used to ground moral discourse in meaningful ways. There is no significance to these past historical habits of moral speech, words and concepts we employ. In effect, we are as Heidegger observed living in a time unconcerned with the most primordial of questions. For me, such a question is not about being, but about our basic conceptual tools to make sense of our moral life.

The very reason the simulacra of morality exists is the very reason I find the question of ethics so vitally important. Human beings care about morality. They cannot live without being so encumbered by morality. For we all care about how the world ought to be, even if by “ought” we do not mean good or right for all—instead, only “me.” Thus, the basic condition of human life is normative, and therefore it is likely that since morality is so intimated to what human beings are and live, then it follows that we would use our moral terms, language, speech and concepts even unknowingly in cases where there is no context or tie to the meaning in which such terms, language, speech and concepts had meaning. We unwittingly and unknowingly perpetuate the simulacra.

Given this condition of groundless morality, ethics can be labeled as being in crisis. The crisis refers to ethics and its inability to fully unify its elements into a meaningful whole. The whole can only be representative of our moral life if we understand how moral life is structure. Moreover, it is the intention of this author to prepare a way for a ground of morality. I argue that the ground of morality can only be seen if we first understand how it is that morality is lived and experienced. Once we capture how it is that we truly are in relation to morality, once our moral-being-in-the-world is elucidated, the basic structures of ethics can come into relief. Hence, a good moral theory is one that captures the phenomenological insights of moral experience and all its aspects. Henceforth, I announce this intention to construct a moral phenomenology using those insights of phenomenology to face off a crisis that much of Husserl’s phenomenology directs itself.

The question facing me, now, is whether such a phenomenological shift in ethical theorizing is an appropriate response to the concern raised herein, and the larger question is what aspects of our moral life require the employment of the phenomenological reduction?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Applications Slow

It is a slow season. Working part-time and carrying 5 tutorials as a TA are taking a toll on me. In the city of Vancouver, I can do much apparently, but one of theme that pays the best for my time is TAing. It's a rewarding job that I enjoy very much.

On the up and up, I have had a good conversation with a Graduate Director at one of my top picks. Of course, this means little unless one gets in. However, I am confident that this school is likely to admit me if I get my application there first. I don't know if I can compete heavily for Fellowships, but an Assistantship, I think, is very possible given that I have been a TA at a serious university for about 3 years on a traditional academic semester calendar.

I've got two applications done, and I don't really want to do anymore. It takes up way too much time and you wind up being time consuming.

After having spent so much time in graduate school, I realize how deficient my life is. I just want to get back to the United States, or at least put us in Ontario where we are seriously just an 8 hour ride from our parents. This whole other side to North America isn't that special. The weather is nice given that it never reaches below freezing, but that also is coupled with the fact that it rains too much.

I know this blog is supposed to be my outlet for creative philosophical energies. But every once in a while, it is good to pause and bitch. It helps my day.

Upcoming ideas for projects:

1) A Sartrean contrast view to the typical desire-satisfaction model in Anglophone philosophy departments of agency.

2) Contrasting the views of realist phenomenology over the transcendental phenomenology. I still don't know where I stand in Husserl.

3) What is Husserl's theory of the imagination given it is the source of eidetic variation?

Friday, October 31, 2008

Is War Ever Justified?

In the following post, you'll note a contradictory attitude towards war that appears in the post "Heideggarian Proclivities" or "Dove with Hawk-like Vision". I always fight myself on whether or not I think violence is necessary or morally justified. There is a mess of beliefs that I am trying to wrestle with, but honestly, it might take more reflecting than just blog-writing to get some consistency on these beliefs. As a professor of epistemology told me, "Grad school is about practicing ideas." You have to explore whole sections of the mall before you can shop in it effectively so to speak.

I am wondering whether or not such an answer can readily be provided to such a provoking question. Recently, I bought Larry May's edited anthology, War: Essays in Political Philosophy. These questions have been on my mind from some of the readings. Moreover, as the election rolls around, a reflective look of my nation's foreign policy is largely needed. Presidential elections are a good time for a fresh look at the mistakes and successes (if there are any) of our current President, George Bush.

In this post, war is the active strategy of employing violence for the achievement of some end, whether that end be political, economic or other. States justify war in any number of ways: some moral, others more prudentially. For our purposes, I assume the ethical perspective, that is, looking for moral justification as to why we fought Iraq. I argue that a lacking justification from self-defense undermines how justified we are in having ever fought the Iraq War. Consequently, since we lack moral justification for our waging a war, the longer we remain in Iraq the more complicit we are in doing the immoral thing, even though in keeping the peace we are attempting to stabilize a mess we caused.

In order to understand my argument, we need to talk about what it means to justify morally an action. To say that an action is justified morally is to say some action ought to be done for these reasons. There's an "ought" component, an evaluative reason claiming that some party ought to act or refrain from acting. Usually, a state justifies a war in the interest of preserving itself from a threat. If there is no demonstratable threat from a state, then there is no justification for going to war. In Iraq, we found no WMDs, and the threat of no WMDs fosters skepticism about the original justification for war. In so doing, the United States is now seen as acting preemptively on faulty intelligence. It can be said for these reasons that the Iraq War is morally unjustified.

Yet, this is a typical political response. I'm wondering something a bit more narrow. I'm wondering if there are reasons that "go all the way down" in justifying war. Are states ever justified in fighting a war? If you find that the content of morality is distinguishable, then are there duties to wage war? Immediately, I can think of a consequential argument for the non-existence of moral justification for war. If war hurts more people than those who fight in the war, then when a war happens more suffering is engendered by waging it. In other words, the moral cost of the war is too high to be paid, and since any reasonably educated person ought to recognize that more people suffer in wartime than in peacetime, then the promotion of peaceful ends over those favoring violence create more good in the world.

I don't know if this argument goes far enough, yet it does have some strengths. First, any waging of a war must acknowledge the fact that more suffer from wars waged than those that fight in them. This consequential argument is powerful with respect that you can see that it works for whatever your measure of the good, and many types of good--knowledge, pleasure or virtue. War forestalls cultural development, the stability needed to do science, with perhaps the exception of war related research--which is marginal by the standards of all scientific research and many other valuable activities. So, with these strengths why question the consequential argument against war? The limitations comes in the very form of consequential arguments take to justify morally right action, consequences.

Suppose we can formulate a scenario in which the cumulative goods maximized by not fighting war are outweighed by actually fighting in a war. Such an example would be hard to construe, but certainly not impossibly by any stretch of the imagination. Imagine a rogue state with a nuclear arsenal that has harbored technology that it could fight a massive war to confront the entire Western world. Perhaps, significant innovation in artificial intelligence? All the states must come together in orchestrating one decisive campaign against this rogue state (or even a collection of states) to defeat that which threatens all levels of society. On this score, I have always found consequentialism limiting in its capacity to distinguish satisfactory accounts of right and wrong. It would seem that good consequential arguments are relative to the time-slice in which they are made, and that future scenarios could always be imagined in which doing what is prohibited is better than not doing it.

A deontological argument against war preserves our backward-looking glance at our moral intuitions, and is stronger in making sense of not fighting war. Or is it? A deontological theory grounds rightness and wrongness in independent principle, or principles. These principles are grounded in our rationality, God's law or nature. Deontological approaches characterize matters of right and wrong in the language of rights. I believe a general prohibition on fighting war would turn on protecting the rights of those civilians in the field. However, this approach has a shortcoming that can be seen a mile away. Any defense of someone's rights, such as protecting the innocent from harm might rest on not waging a war to endanger the innocent, or waging a war to protecting the innocent from imminent threat. Such a principle would be grounded in a Kantian way (rationality), in the just war tradition (God's law in some instances) and nature.

The trouble in these last two approaches rests, I think, in that deontology is backward looking at our intuitions, and consequentialism is limited by its forward-looking perspective. What is needed, if there is a reason to never fight a war, is a normative theory that can preserve the large negative impact war has on those that suffer from its practice. For this is the wrongmaking property of war--the suffering it causes. I think that virtue ethics capable of giving us what we want. In brief, virtue ethics of the Neo-Aristotelian variety tries to achieve a conception of flourishing for all involved in our community by pinpointing those virtues that get us to live the flourishing life. At this stage, we are at the international level, and the question becomes the flourishing of human beings at large. The question then becomes: Does war ever lead to flourishing?

A Working Introduction to a Project of Mine

I have been focusing as of late on Heidegger's critique of presence. The critique of presence is hard to pin down for someone of analytic background since by presence Heidegger describes the relation either between the traditional subject relating to an object of experience, or the subject as related to its own awareness of itself. Analytical philosophers often have a hard time with the generality and obtuseness of Heideggerian language. However, there doesn't need to be any confusion. The two descriptions of presence are simply propensities that characterize much of the history of ontology, that is, how various philosophers have described the subject's epistemic relation with objects, and the characterization of the transcendental viewpoint of the Cartesian subject as aware of itself. According to Heidegger's thought, the overlooked propensities of presence are biased unquestioned assumptions in the history of metaphysics that require exposure.

In exposing these common interpretive assumptions, Heidegger feels justified in calling them into question, and so he should since no assumption can be left unturned in philosophy. However, what you find in Heidegger is an anti-metaphysical, or what one might call an uncritical dismissal of philosophies that violate/perpetuate a "metaphysics of presence." This assumption has formed the bedrock of European philosophy for the last century, and on its own merits paints a picture of philosophy unlike anything I would call "philosophy." In fact, it is this very dismissal I take issue with. As such, I disagree with Heidegger's conception of the subject and being-in-the-world. Instead, Husserl offers a much better picture of philosophy's capability to provide insight into the very relations Heidegger denies through his critique of presence. One guiding thought motivating this essay beyond Husserl is that if these are biases of our tradition, then the re-emergence of these biases in the history of ontology might be productive for understanding in the Gadamerian sense of "bias" rather than a historic failing on the canonized metaphysicians of Western thought since Plato.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Heideggerian Proclivities

A philosophy professor once remarked to me that philosophies are relative to a time and place. He made this remark in light of being a historian of philosophy--it was a course in political philosophy. At the time, I never thought about it, but when I explore Heidegger's writings, the theme of his Nazism always arises in me. Yet, it's not in the typical "where-is-the-Nazism-in-Heidegger's-philosophy" routine. Instead, my worry is more directed at myself. For I have a belief that can surface in odd ways, and it worries me to no end sometimes that I will end up like Heidegger.

I have an idea of America that is grandoise, reverent and special to my heart. While I do not think the United States is the best country on earth currently, I believe it very well could be. We have the resources, technology and know-how to do so much good in the world. At the turn of the 21st century, President Bill Clinton gave an interview in which he said the challenge facing America in the 21st century is how America uses its power. As an ethicist, I find myself examining political decisions about our foreign policy (in larger scope than the War on Terror). After examination, I have conluded two general beliefs:

1) The American political tradition and its values constitute the best ideal formation of government and Constitution yet known.

2) Given 1) and the fact that human beings are willing to sacrifice their lives for ideals, it follows that I tentatively approve that 1) entails my approval of policies that use violence in order to protect and enforce the benefit of 1)

Given these two beliefs, it logically follows that I approve of war as long as that war protects 1). Now, I don't know how the War on Terror in Iraq protects 1), but certainly the Taliban's unwillingness to cooperate with the force we were ready to bring upon them for sheltering our enemies has justification in light of 1). Thus, I approve of America's campaign in Afghanistan years ago, and fail to see Iraq's contemporary relevance in service of 1).

I have not mentioned reasons why I support 1), and that could be the subject of an entire post. Among some of these features of esteem, I feel that the separation of powers and prevention of tyranny of one branch of government over others to be a great innovation. Secondly, a continual living constitution protecting minorities from the tyranny of the majority is the second greatest reason. A fully defensible Bill of Rights outlines and protects freedom and equality. These ideals when universalized to excluded populations find sanctuary in the United States, as long as the rule of law and order are preserved in the United States. With all the money and resources, the United States could, if it so chose, develop the sciences in ways that no other nation could. The list is exhaustive for reasons to favor the United States over other countries.

However, the worry comes back. My love for my home country, no matter if Canada treats me well, shines through. I wish for a better America, and if the chance to revitalize the idea and create anew arose, then I would in a heartbeat go back home to usher in a new America. However, I wonder how much Heidegger is in me at the love for America. Ultimately, compatible with 1) and 2) is a belief in the righteous quest for America to spread its values and ways of life to other parts of the globe. If it is even remotely defensible that the current political organizations of states has as its best version the United States, then the role of the United States -- like Rome -- would be to make other people Roman so to speak. This is entirely defensible if America's way of doing things is the best in principle. Now, I don't think I am as naive as Heidegger, but the danger to put my loves first uncritically stands to reason. I favor violence as a means to make the world safer for the best country on earth, and when I say that out loud, I endorse it.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Leiter on Foucault

In a recent post on Leiter's blog, he shares a paper on Foucault he published on SSRN.
I wish to contest a portion of Leiter's text. Rather than specifically arguing for his assertion against Foucault's genealogical method (what I call his socio-historic analyses of various social institutions). On this apparent fatal weakness, Leiter simply asserts:
Yet it is now surely a familiar point in post-Kuhnian philosophy of science that the influence of social and historical factors might be compatible with the epistemically special standing of the sciences as long as we can show that epistemically reliable factors are still central to explaining the claims of those sciences.29 And that possibility is potentially fatal to Foucault's critique. (p. 16)
Mr. Leiter, this is a point you cannot get for free. What I feel you are missing is central to a proper understanding of Foucault, namely, that the sciences are historical activities by human agents. It is not that social and historical factors are alien, and the sciences can be seen as independently from these factors. Instead, science moves in history and culture. It is a human praxis. All that you have done is assert science's independence by philosophical name-dropping, nothing more. Surely, such independence, if won, would be fatal to Foucault's project. On this, there is no doubt. However, the burden of this independence is the very pretension Foucault resists because it is hard to deny the human agency in history and culture.

Moreover, reliability is just a substitute for independent-making feature of science Foucault is analyzing. Let us take an example. Suppose we want to criticize modern day chemistry as implicitly assuming that it is a good thing to master the forces of nature. A historical analysis of the origins of chemistry might tie chemistry to the unlocking of God's secrets in alchemy. Regardless of the reliability of, say, Avogadro's constant for calculating molar masses, the implicit norm of controlling nature is still a feature of the science. The reliability of Avogadro's constant does not negate the cultural and historical norm of controlling nature. Reliability doesn't seem to add anything.

Leiter takes issue with the suspicion Foucault's strategy casts on the special status of the human sciences. For Leiter, suspicion isn't argument, and the lack of substantive proposal is a shortcoming of the genealogical analysis of science through historical and cultural factors.

On the epistemic standing of the current human sciences, all Foucault leaves us with is a suspicion, rather than an argument. Suspicion is, as we have already argued,
epistemically important, but it needs to be supplemented with a critique of the truth of the claims at issue. p. 17
This isn't charitable at all. For Foucault, an interpretation is the argument. It is the whole genealogical aspect of exposing what is implicit through the genealogical method. Perhaps, Foucault is wrong, but meeting Foucault on the grounds of suspicious hermeneutics would, I think, involve showing why Foucault's interpretation is wrong. It seems that Leiter first accepts what Foucault's project is, but fails to meet it head on. Given his editorial supervision of a recent Continental Philosophy anthology, it is reasonable to think Leiter would know what is meant by the hermeneutics of suspicion. He should genuinely show Foucault as committed either to the wrong method completely (challenging this genealogical appropriation of one type of reading of Nietzsche), or committed to offering a different hermeneutics about science (he marginally approaches this with the comments on pedophilia towards the end, but it still remains highly underdeveloped). On the latter, he has nothing to say and on the former he merely asserts a potential fatal shortcoming without really arguing for it, as I have shown above.

Contrary to the tone of this post, I am only aggravated with Leiter. His tone of the essay ends fairly; I only question how he got there in the first place. Certainly, there are features of Foucault that need spelled out by his supporters. However, if we are to take your comments about his work seriously (as demonstrated by a decent exposition on Foucault) than the essential claims of weakness require bolstering of the same type you demand from Foucault's supporters.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Reflections on God and Freedom: A Kantian Answer to Religion and Politics

In the Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky famously declared if God is dead, “then all is permitted.” This is the most famous sentiment for both existential theorists countenancing mankind's existence as contingent and free; on the reverse, Christians underwriting religious conservatism see the liberal challenge of free-thinking atheists as undermining the possibility of a moral world order. For them, while God cannot be dead, endorsing such a view undermines a moral world order necessary for the salvation of humankind. Christians believe that this world will be the eventual fulfillment Christian prophecy, and when that prophecy comes to pass, the stronger the moral world order, the better all our chances are on being on the receiving end of God's promise for salvation. Therefore, one finds politically motivated Christians lining the partisan politics of the Republican Party on major ethical issues from abortion to the death penalty along these lines.

At the outset, I want to be clear. By freedom, I mean not just the politically-loaded term best summarized by Thomas Hobbes as the “absence of external impediments.” External impediments are contrivances of human activity, e.g. imprisonment or depriving of other rights in general. I mean the capacity of individuals to be free in relation to the order of nature itself. Thus, I am not simply talking about those conceptions of freedom of political and moral magnitude. These senses of freedom derive from a larger picture of metaphysical freedom meant here. However, it is also important to mention that this metaphysical sense of freedom is experienced morally.

Orthodox Evangelical Christians advocate that God created mankind and that he gave them free-will. They move from the concept God first to then justify freedom. Within the bounds of this freedom, God suggested a moral code, a way of living that is scripturally-based in what we ought to do. In this view, we are free to transgress against God, and the morality he commands of us. I disagree. I feel that paying attention to the relation of the concepts of God and freedom can shed some light on the overall political motives of the religious right. Ultimately, I argue the reversal of the priority in agreement with Kant. Freedom makes possible our belief in God. This has ramifications for the political story that infuses much of the Evangelical worldview. Like Islam prescribing what ought to be the case in all areas of human life, Evangelical Christians desire what ought to be the case, and such evaluative judgments are undergirded by a religious conceptual story---the concepts of God and freedom. If freedom depends on God, then God can make moral demands on us since he is also the source of the capacity to recognize those moral demands. A person may believe in God is thereby made good on this view.

Reversing the order of freedom to God implies that a person who believes in God is not made good. Instead, a good man must believe in God. In so doing, an awareness of our freedom is needed to make the decision to believe. Any knowing of God must come from our awareness of our freedom, and this is what is meant to subordinate God to the concept of freedom. Kant argues this on purely moral grounds. Our freedom to believe in God secures us from the skepticism that good deeds will have bad outcomes. For the fulfillment of our moral duties requires a belief in the fact that good deeds will have good outcomes. Otherwise, the fulfillment of our duty would severely conflict with the order of things if it is true that good deeds led to the suffering of the innocent and the victimizing of good people.

Issuing from the belief that good deeds lead to good outcomes implies another belief, the end of our short chain of concepts, namely, God. The fact that we believe that good deeds result in good outcomes implies a moral order ensured by God. The moral order is of a different world than the one observed currently. Not believing in the moral world order would admit of despair, and be contrary to our experience of life in general. Thus, Kant can be seen as advocating God qua moral being, and at the very least of the Enlightenment construal, a governor of the world order. On this account, Kant does not think these beliefs about God as a guarantor of a moral world order capable of rational demonstration. Instead, they are “postulates of practical reason.” Since they are not capable of rational proof, Kant is seen as “making room for faith” based solely practical grounds, not theoretical grounds.

As stated above, this reversal of freedom to God has political ramifications, the first being that morality is not dependent on God with respect to its content. Kant can be seen as subjugating all principles to freedom, including God. In this way, morality is a construction and agreement of practical reason, and morality is given an extension, or a lifting up by God. God guarantees the freedom of practical reason to proceed onward by elevating the contingency of human action to the absolute necessity, its categorically bindingness. If God dictated the moral law to us, then we would be no longer free beings, and this removes the capacity of religion to heteronomously impose itself as the standard of right and wrong. Thus, this reversal incapacitates the moral punditry of Evangelicals who wrongly move from the concept God to constraining the bounds of freedom. In addition, a pluralist conception of religion is possible here if the religion in question can integrate this reversal. Moreover, not transgressing the boundary of freedom provides us with a working principle to evaluate religions in a pluralistic climate.

Secondly, by keeping religion in check with reason, the charitable work of religion does with respect to morality can be gleaned as morally valuable, and the faith that engenders such morally valuable actions can be publicly endorsed. On the first, consider a recent conversation I had with a worker of humantrafficking.org. This person told me that much of the work of human-trafficked people and refugee populations in Long Island is done by Catholic Relief Services. Certainly, CRS has its own Catholic mission, but a Kantian perspective allows us to see their work as morally worthy, despite any misgivings we might have of the religious ontology that motivates moral action. In regards to the second feature, many liberals advocate a type of secularism that pits religious citizens against themselves publicly. Such citizens are told to keep their religion to themselves, and their public life is half-alienated between whom they truly are from whom they must present themselves as being. The alienation felt makes people inconsistent within their lives. Such alienation need not endure if the view of religion is kept within the bounds of reason as discussed here. In this way, religion can be made consistent with Kant's “God of freedom” without succumbing to the public alienation one receives in a purely secularized realm of public affairs.

Finally, the political order and institutions have no divine mandate of rational demonstration. Reason is not a tool of faith, nor is faith a tool for theoretical reason since Kant's anti-metaphysical commitments reign in the employment of theoretical reason to never reason beyond the boundaries of experience. Instead, the good will – practical reason – is the ultimate ground on which both the metaphysical impulse of theoretical reason and power of faith turn. For Kant, human life is the center stage of wonder and the moral law. Hence, no scientific proponent of theoretical reason, nor any faith can impose itself as an institution that deprives me of my dignity, my autonomy. I am free, and that is what matters. No matter the directon of political justification, whether liberal technocratic tyranny or conservative religious zealot, no one can override my freedom. Moreover, to act morally is to always presuppose that I act under the capacity of freedom.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

A Feminist Commitment

Here's a "Hell Yeah" shout out to Linda Alcoff and Sarah Miraglia for an excellent well put essay on why Palin is not a feminist.

Alcoff and Miraglia essay link

Friday, September 5, 2008

Google Analytics

For a while now, I have been tracking the astounding number of visits I get from people all over the world that come to my blog. I really do want interaction and if you are even not that versed in philosophy, offering up some thought-provoking comment is welcomed. Please introduce yourself. Respond to a post, and know that all thoughts are welcome in that very spirit that drove Socrates to chat it up with friends and strangers alike.


Vancouver Philosopher.
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Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Dangerous Knowledge Documentary

n my department's list of courses, PHIL 100 is our basic Knowledge and Reality, an introduction into epistemology and metaphysics. On an introductory level, this means Descartes as the often cited introduction to the modern period, and the problems of knowledge conceptually involve some logic and problems of mind inaugurated by Descartes. In this course, they also teach Godel's incompleteness theorem and Turing's "Turing Machine." I've always thought this was a subject way beyond first-year students, and is a completely unfair way to distinguish the few from the rest. Now, I've found a really good documentary on these ideas that gives them a historical context. If you want to watch it, here's the link:


My training in philosophy passes over the importance of Godel and Turing completely. These thinkers are largely mathematicians and physicists, tackling problems I haven't even been trained to encounter. What I am linking here is a documentary that brings down to a level of comprehension as far as the consequences of their ideas, not the content of their ideas. I wanted to offer some thoughts on the documentary since the very same climate that undermined what I would call the classical narratives of order find expression in Nietzsche around the same time of these thinkers. Moreover, thinkers like Marx and Freud in their own way are also developing problems that are critical of these same orders of meaning. For Marx, it is overturning an entire system of economic power, and for Freud, he overturns the idea that we are conscious deliberators in control of our lives showing that what moves human concsiousness are unconscious drives. It is mostly with Nietzsche, the death of God, that concerns me. It is a cultural event with standing significance, mapped on to the heart of what Cantor and company are facing in the documentary.

At this time, old ideas are "slipping away." The very idea of an ordered and regulated cosmos guarantees certainty not only in the realm of predictable natural events. The same guarantee applies to an ordered moral universe. Aquinas and Augustine build a view of the world that sees order applying to both nature and morality. Reason is the power and faculty that discerns the ordered principles set forth by God. Thus, moral truth is ensured by design, and human reason in its finitude is empowered to find these out or intuit them. For the most part, morality is construed as overriding and impartial. It constrains our own wants and desires as well as applying to everyone in the same way. The story of morality, even in its secular form for Nietzsche, is given in the story of the Judeo-Christian tradition. In this way, Nietzsche's critique of morality is launched by encountering the very tradition incipient with it. He does not parse morality qua Kant or morality qua utilitarianism. The same impartiality and overridingness features of morality are birthed from the dominant tradition of the West.

Two things are important now. Not only was Nietzsche an atheist, the metaphysical thesis stating God does not exist, but also he was an anti-theist arguing that belief in God is detrimental to the believer. This comes through on the moral consequence of Christianity, the heart of the attack on God is seen as coming from morality itself. To believe in God makes one at odds with oneself. Morality is often more than not a hindrance to the pursuit of excellence in us. In religion, people are made to interpret the natural impulses of life as either something to be ashamed/repressed, or as something that one becomes alienated against. This honesty and approach to natural impulses of life are sources of value for Nietzsche. Repressing these life-affirming values represses the excellence in our humanity, and this is stated for many reasons, reasons that I won't address here. The productive work of Nietzsche's criticism is to allow for the expression of our excellence. Yet, once the moral guarantor of order is taken out of the picture, nihilism is a consequence, and while Nietzsche pronounced the cultural event of the death of God, so, too, does he wish to overcome the consequent nihilism (a huge misrepresentation of the story often left untouched by his critics, including Christian seminarians).

Like others in the documentary, Nietzsche plays on the precipice. There is much debate about what constitutes a proper interpretation of Nietzsche's provocative aphoristic writing style, yet I feel compelled to draw a further analogy to the documentary about his precipice playing. The most confusing thing about Nietzsche is that his substantive project looks to invent new myths -- the Ubermenschen for instance -- at the expense of overcoming older ones (Christianity). This looks almost religious in a way, yet I think the myth invention, if it can be called that, is at least a perspective endorsed by Nietzsche. For him, truth was perspectival, relative to the discipline or the knower in question, and through mutual contact, these perspectives would dialogue with each other somehow arriving at the truth. Yet, this is never spelled out how it is done, but only expressed as a hope. Like Godel, he thought the incompleteness theorem could be overcame somehow. Nietzsche regarded nihilism as a negative feature, and would dangerously disrupt our well-being. Like many in the documentary, he stares directly into the abyss of this disorder only to find madness at the end of his life.

The purpose of this short post is to suggest that Nietzsche views the same disorder in morality. In addition, I am showing that like others, he desires a type of unity in morality unraveled by shedding older conceptions of morality called into question. This is meant to contextualize the 30 second bit about the death of God in the film, as well as to add my own two cents to the documentary. Moreover, I think this documentary should be viewed by Jonah Goldberg. A best-friend and I have anticipated this intellectually chic work entitled Liberal Fascism. I wanted to see exactly how Goldberg, as a conservative, would interpret people like Nietzsche and Foucault. Goldberg picks up that these people question the status-quo, but I think he misses how inextricably complicated the end of the 19th century is or how nuanced Nietzsche's work is. I felt this documentary actually situates the academic climate quite nicely and perhaps, the story of order slipping away from science, art, literature and philosophy is the reason why so much of what I do in Continental philosophy is filled with what one professor at a conference called "gloppiness" to me. I hope you enjoy it. I know I did.

Friday, August 22, 2008

If artist works are a product of genius, as Kant described, then an artist is someone who has the subjective genius to transcend all time with their work of art. They push past all convention to the point that they break all established rules of composition with their genius. Geniuses present works of the imagination that 'prompts much thought, but to which no determinate thought whatsoever, i.e., no [determinate] concept, can be adequate, so that no language can express it completely and allow us to grasp it’ (CJ 314). Thus, the genius transcends our experience of the world with their imagination so much that their work stands the test of time. It has no meaning since it is beyond convention. Yet, I disagree wholeheartedly with this idea.

For me, art works are of cognitive import. They say something, and in the contemporary century, art objects critique the situatedness of their artists. While some works venture to explore, most contemporary artists of good repute use their art to critique, often producing visually disturbing shock value pieces. I know as a philosopher you would hope I am not guilty of assertion, but taking on Aristotelian mimesis from Gadamer without knowing arguments beyond a defense of hermeneutics is a gap that needs more justification. I think I will continue this post and add more to it a little later.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Reflections after McIntyre

I went down to Washington State to the small town of Bellingham. There I sat with a copy of McIntyre's book After Virtue. I completed reading the prologue and preface and found some disagreement and a little agreement. In reading his thoughts, I came to the following conclusions:

Defending liberalism along traditional lines is unsatisfactory. Liberal individualism is an excessive disregard for any common moral language that ties values together since it promotes a problematic view of human beings. The atomism of liberal individualism construes human beings apart from the nurturing and social aspects of community that are needed for morality to exist. Values acquire a salience only in terms of our communal relations.

Moreover, I am having a hard time with liberal excesses of freedom without regard for the type of people we are becoming when we do what liberalism affords as a freedom and a right. Many of our reasons for approving liberal agendas anymore come from the fact that the government should not sanction or restrict a behavior. Government need only ensure through its presence and authority that such restrictions never take shape, yet liberal pundits who argue this are only the inverse of what I find objectionable in conservatives.

Like their counterparts, conservatives restrict too quickly what they view as excesses, and they promote an agenda of restrictive deficiency with respect to our social freedoms. Government only need enforce the deficiencies--there is a space to which government need never venture, preferring to promote social structures as they have always been to the point they are unmalleable and unmanageable. In this way, conservatism is never concerned with what is right as much as it is blindly committed to what benefits the existing power relations.

In both approaches to governance, there is a failure with respect to the national conversation on moral issues. As a moral philosopher, I am concerned with doing the right via what type of people we become. Unless our ultimate ends are fixed together, morality can never take shape. We can never become a better society until people realize that in order for morality to involve others, we must first start with ourselves valuing others. I agree, along with McIntyre, this is why morality has lost its efficacious power to override interests of those that choose against what is moral. In our society, we have lost what the moral ends of our society should be. They were clearer in a Greek polis.

Of course, I am less pessimistic than McIntyre about moral philosophy's independence to deliver the goods on the conversation about what moral ends the United States should strive. The self-appointed function of moral philosophers to be the voice of reason amongst a few comes off first as hubris, yet if others are not going to share the burden of reflection, then any reflective individual -- either philosopher or not -- must burden themselves with the challenge of addressing questions neglected by a national consciousness. There are moral problems that require solving and there are answers. These answers must shape public policy to promote the necessary moral ends for the improvement of the United States at large. In this, yes, you may say that I am a perfectionist, opposed to the Rawlsian procedural secularist who sees that the state should only promote public principles to which everyone may assent. Instead, I see moral matters and community integrally related to such an extent that Rawls' proceduralism purges the meaning of morality if he looks to moral agents as each separately assenting by their own reason. Such an interpretation of agency promotes the unrealistic atomism of individuals. We are more communally-centered than such a conception allows for. Thus, for these reasons, I see morality as an objective evaluation of those ends to which we direct our action, and a necessary component of moral philosophy must center not on the level of action, but instead, we must analyze where we are headed as a people. In this way, I accept more than McIntyre. I see moral philosophy as empowered and capable of answering morally true questions.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A Favorite Davidson Passage

I like this passage by Donald Davidson:

"...however feeble or faulty our attempts to relate these various basic concepts to each other, these attempts fare better and teach us more, than our efforts to produce correct and revealing definitions of basic concepts...For the most part, the concepts philosophers single out for attention, like truth, knowledge, belief, action, cause, the good and the right, are the most elementary concepts we have, without which (I am inclined to say) we would have no concepts at all. Why then should we expect to be able to reduce these concepts definitionally to other concepts that are simpler?"

Donald Davidson, "The Structure and Content of Truth," Journal of Philosophy 87 (1990), p. 267.

Saturday, July 19, 2008


It has been a while, and I have nothing really philosophical to offer the silent audience of my blog. I will tell you, however, that I have great news. I am graduating. After two years of slugging away at my MA, I have one more milestone to add to my life. I defend my professional paper in a course-based MA this coming Friday, July 25th, 2008. One more to go?

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Intuitionism External Moral Order

Darwall defined the internalist conception in which rational intuitionists accept S's acceptance of a normative proposition as true only if they are moved by its truth. This immediately implies that since I have been exploring Ross for a while that if I follow Ross, I am committed to an external moral order of normative facts to which our intuitions are directed towards. It is this independent and external moral order that moves us through intuitions. However, I am wondering if I have to accept moral facts in this way, or is there another way to cash out the explanation for what our intuitions are about? Can intuitionism be a substantive theory without the requirement of mind-independent normative facts?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Value Pluralism?

In this post, I write some beginning thoughts on pluralism. I suspect that I may come to know conclusion on the matter. Whatever the outcome, I must say how puzzled lately morality as a concept has been. Questioning how we typically believe morality to be has produced in me profound interest in criticisms of morality. From Nietzsche to Bernard Williams, I enjoy thinking through exactly how morality should be shaped given how human beings are constituted. If our concept of morality is too simple with respect to how we are constituted or that morality's structure as revealed by living in the world is incoherent with what moralists claim is “moral”, then new philosophical responses are needed. My major intuition driving, perhaps, the next few posts will detail possible orientations in considered how morality truly is. We cannot expect people to do the moral thing if our concept of morality does not mesh with how people are.

Value pluralism is a thesis not about the realism/anti-realism debate concerning values; it does not concern itself with subjectivism, objectivism or relativism even, but as to the structure or shape of values. It is opposed to value monism. When we are concerned with the shape or structure of values, we are concerned with the question: Are there a set of universally consistent values that pertain to what is moral reducible to one type of good, or are there sets of values that pertain to morality as more than one moral good? If value monism is true, then values are structured simple, and there is only one relevant moral consideration in any one given moral situation. If value pluralism is true, then morality looks quite different than the one-to-one correspondence between a value and a moral situation that is present in value monism. Why this question matters philosophically is that when we hold moral agents morallly accountable, the very assessment of their accountability shifts with what structure is true about values. The more values there are the more relevant moral considerations must be taken into account to determine accountability. Our moral evaluations follow from the structure of values.

To think it through another way, the structure of values is whether or not there is one ultimate type of value that trumps all others. Classically, utilitarian authors said it was pleasure (Bentham and Mill). They thought pleasure was the only intrinsic good. They framed moral judgments as maximizing only one type of value over all others since those goods were reducible to one type of value. By constrast, value pluralism holds that there are multiple values added to what morality is. There is not one type of morally relevant value to reduce everything else to.

In deontology, values are moral principles, and the monist would see one type of principle grounding all others. In this way, Kant can be seen as being a value monist since the categorical imperative is the sole morally relevant principle that generates the right reason (maxim) by which we all being rational agents must assent to. By constrast, W. D. Ross thinks there are multiple principles and supports a pluralism of principles.

I've recently begun to think on this debate, and I cannot see one way or the other to go. First, value pluralism reflects the complexity about moral life that is overlooked in most forms of monism. Yet, the oversimplification in monism avoids incommensurability of values. Pluralism is struck by this problem of how exactly do we decide between values if there are more than one reducible value to which all others do not refer. The values are there in the moral situation, and in some cases, it is reasonable to expect they cannot be ranked. Here, I could appeal to some form of Aristotelian phronesis or practical wisdom, as is commonly done, but that just posits a mysterious faculty to which no answer can be given. If practical wisdom enthusiasts explicate how practical wisdom decides between incommensurable values, then it could very easily cascade into a procedure for settling all incommensurability problems, which is just monism again.

At times like these, I anticipate that a phenomenological reduction on values would help immensely. Yet, my inexperience in this area causes pause for reflection. Oftentimes, it takes writing just to see where one's confusion lie, and if by writing this, I realize that I am just more puzzled than when I began. Indeed, this is the best thing about philosophy. When it leads to more questions, you at least know you are on the right track

Friday, May 9, 2008

Intuitionist Expectation of Morality

Recently, I have begun to delve into moral skepticism of Bernard Williams, and revisited the par excellence critique of morality in Nietzsche. The thought that morality shouldn't be construed as impartial for everyone's interest, universally applicable to all involved, overriding and content-specifiable has been striking a tenor with me, as of late. Particularly, I am suspicious of the content-specifiability of morality. A goal of moral theorizing is often thought that such theorizing can provide content for action-guidance. However, I am thinking this level of content-specifiability is untenable since the reason why moral principles have such wide scope follows from their generality. Generality gets you universality, and some content--yet, it cannot secure such an exactitude as to prevent moral disagreement. This is what I want to get to in this post, no matter how sloppy of an attempt I'll make.

An argument against intuitionism in ethics proceeds as follows. If everyone has access to the same self-evident intuitions, then moral knowledge would be consistent, and no disagreement of morality, nor its expression in principles would occur. Disagreement does, however, happen. Therefore, there are no self-evident moral principles or intuitions. If there were, then disagreement would never, if ever, occur.

While the disagreement objection follows from intuitionism if such a position claims certainty about a class of self-evident intuitions and principles, it is unclear that when we say that there is a moral fact of the matter in this situation, such a normative observation of a situation involves the level of certainty built into the disagreement objection. Moreover, intuitions in Ross are seen as defeasible and prima facie justified. There can be other more pressing considerations that once critical reflection is underway those considerations reveal how false our initial intuitions may be. For instance, I am a bank teller and see a dirty dingy man coming to my line. I call over the bank manager, and ask him to call over the security guard because he has a gun slightly showing above his hip. However, when the man comes over, I see a badge pressed underneath a shirt, and the police officer reveals his ending a shift requiring him to go undercover. My initial reflective judgments, intuitions so called, was wrong, and I owe him an apology for possibly embarrassing him in front of other customers.

The point is that moral knowledge is not certain as any other realm. The push for content-specifiability is a result of philosophy taking as its influence the emulation of the natural sciences in which the phenomena encountered can be quantified in explanation. A level of precision in handling objects of empirical study is available unlike the precision available to our conceptual analysis of morality. I think this is a problem, and secondly, content-specifiability is made problematic given that normative theories no longer justify the structure of values in the form of monism. Generally speaking, moral theorizing has become somewhat more sensitive to the context of morality and often construes the role of ethical principles and values in the form of a pluralism over a monism. I adopt this move as an appropriate characterization of morality.

I want to end this meandering thread on the fact that if I am accepting intuitionism in the form of W. D. Ross, then I must, like any intuitionist, give a response to the disagreement objection. In order to do this, I introduce a distinction between two levels of the moral epistemic scenario. First, our intuitions are reports of the morally relevant facts that pertain to our situation, and what centrally is at dispute with respect to the duty in a situation. I think here our intuitions gives us an understanding of what moral principles to apply. In Ross, however, one goes straight from seeing the morally relevant fact and this gets us the interpretation of the principles as it applies to the situation. I disagree. At the other end of the givenness of any moral situation, there stands the question of interpretation of applicability. The disagreement follows from interpretation of the intuitions, not simply from differing intuitions (which is still possible, I admit). Thus, I see a morally epistemic scenario as following three basic steps:

(1) Morally understanding the moral fact of the matter as it is given and pertains to the moral situation

(2) The framing of our intuitions of what is given to what pertains in the moral situation

(3) Deciding on how best to apply the framed intuitions in the moral situation.

I think (3) is a better source or culprit of disagreement more often than the difference in the content of our moral intuitions. I am not claiming that interpretation in application is the only source of disagreement. What I am claiming is that defenders of Ross never seem to consider this as a possible source of disagreement since the disagreement objection takes as its sole target our intuitions and not the interpretations of those intuitions to the particular cases in which such generality applies.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Response to Casey Interview

When someone asks whether or not there is a meaning to life, this is a misspoken way of asking whether or not there is an overall teleological aim to the universe, usually seen as grounded in a divine design of the universe. While such grandiose claims are suspect in philosophy, these questions always come back again and again to non-philosophical audience since much of our common assumptions about meanings of life are derived from religious sources. In this post, I address not these concerns so much, but rather what distortion such criticism fosters about morality.

Michael Casey is a sociologist, and Catholic who inaugurates a return to transcendent values, truth and objectivity in the classical theist spirit offered by Aquinas. His particular criticism is not so much original as devastatingly wrong in seeing that skepticism or rejection of theist-based systems of meaning collapse immediately into relativism. As such, like so many, Casey sees objectivity in morality as either absolutist, or relativistic. This is his first mistake, and as a consequence another important feature of morality in such theist-based ethics falls out. What Casey and so many others distort is the actual capability of the content of morality. The content of morality isn't as specific in terms of its action-guidance it offers as people regard it. There is a generality to morality that requires actual interpretation as to the extent such action-guidance offers to normative understanding, and it isn't so simple as God on high ordering positive and negative duties.

First, I am in agreement with classical accounts that moral judgments can be true in the moral realist sense. This is the force of moral truth. Moral truth provides a reason for thinking that morality is overriding in the way we experience being “in the grip of a norm.” Our practical reasoning and cognitive capacities through reflection have access to a set of values that are tentatively and universally relevant to our experience, but it is not through intuition that we see values as applied to concrete situations, but through interpretation. We may know moral principles through intuition, but their applicability originates in reflection and interpretation. In this way, I introduce an interpretive type of moral hermeneutics that explains why there is disagreement about morality. Just because we access to relevant intuitions doesn't mean we understand morality as specific in its content. We might encounter life situations that are so different from how our intuitions can make sense of them that a much needed moral hermeneutics is needed to make sense of those new moral situations. Moreover, it is possible through self-reflection that our moral intuitions may be false, and that through self-reflection and interpretation we could show why it is that some moral intuitions need rejected while others don't.

Secondly, our intuitions give us limited understanding, even after interpretations of those values to concrete situations. They are preliminary justifiable given no other weighty considerations come our way. In this way, our moral judgments are defeasible a priori prima facie duties. If I promise another graduate to take their tutorials because they're going to a wedding, and my wife falls ill requiring immediate medical attention, I have all the reason to see my prima facie promise made to the graduate student as less weighty than my obligations I have to my wife. This suggests a way of seeing moral demands as a comparable set of intuitions that gives us several things. First, it gets us out of the oppressive claim that befall Kantian and utilitarian accounts. Secondly, it paints a more realistic picture of how general moral knowledge is, and thirdly, this type of Rossian-based account explains why moral claims are true, as the theist wants (but is certainly unneeded for us here), without distorting the generality of moral knowledge previously mentioned, and can explain why some moral opinions are false.

Now, let's tie this up with Casey's comments. For Casey, meaninglessness amounts to a denial of a transcendent reality, and he feels that our Western culture is symptomatic of Nietzsche, Freud and Rorty's purporting of meaninglessness. Casey regards culture as a reference point to provide a common way to reflect on meaning for people at large. Further, he suggests that these thinkers see liberation in the meaninglessness in which Casey feels such optimism is unwarranted. Specifically, their denial of meaninglessness shares an insular effort to shield us from the why be moral question. We won't have any reason to be moral, or responsible for our own actions if we are not “anchored” in a transcendent reality of moral truth and purpose. On this, he says:

“It is true that when the moment for action comes, and we are immediately confronted with someone who needs our help or something which needs to be stopped, we don’t spend a lot of time philosophising. We just do it. But getting to this point doesn’t happen automatically. If we are socialised to think only of ourselves or what solves a problem in the short-term or delivers a pragmatic cheap fix, we are much less likely to help others or to stand against evil. And when helping others or opposing evil is not the one dramatic moment of heroism that we have in our imagination, but the long, slow, difficult and even dangerous work that both are most of the time in reality, you need something more than the knowledge that this is just your own personal perspective on things to keep you at it.” (italics mine)

I'm unsure of the absence of a common cultural framework gets us complete skepticism about how less likely we are to help others or oppose to stand against evil. Holding culture suspect is a Socratic virtue. More than that, cultural socialization is not the exhaustive determination about how future humans will behave. Its unclear if lacking objective moral grounds contributes to undermining our moral deliberations in such a slippery slope fashion. Is our moral agency truly undermined? I can engage in agential deliberation on my own about MY intuitions about what ought to be the case, interpret and apply them. What results is the tooth-and-nail deliberations we make, not because of culturally determined social forces, but because human beings occupy a normatively-ladened existence. In other words, culture is not the source of critical reflection. The Socratic impetus which truly gives us meaning doesn't arise from an independent metaphysics posited by reason, but a life actively questioned, even to the point that orthodoxy of culture is undermined; this is the immortal tension between faith and reason, between Socrates and his accusers for “impiety towards the gods.”

Finally, I should say that the reason for rejecting Judeo-Christian teleology of the universe amounts to a lack of success in explanatory power. The empirical sciences consistently rise to the occasion, and provide verifiable evidence in suggesting X is caused by Y much more plausibly than those points in literal exegesis on the bible where religion contradicts science. If we see this success coextensive with issues of reliability, then it is reasonable to extend our want for scientific credence to our beliefs at large. Historically, the reason why science pushes over religion is that much of what religion thought it capable of explaining no longer holds sway. Religion suggests too much. It makes the content of morality into specific rules or instances grounded in the illusion of transcendence. In here, I have tried to suggest that construing values in ways of teleology are unneeded. We can have reasonable moral epistemological descriptions of value-experience and a minimal a priori that gets us moral general truth and overridingness without the violation of Ockham's razor that always accompanies religious reasoning on moral matters.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Religion, Transcendence and Meaninglessness

 Here is an interview given by Michael Casey, a sociologist and Christian who despises Rorty, Freud and Nietzsche. In the interview, he chides modern secular notions of reason, arguing that only transcendent values can safeguard what is truly best in democracy and human rights. Here's the link: 

I am going to blog about this more, but I'll mention my intuitions. Yes, there is a limited aprioricity to moral values, but in a very minimal prima facie pro tanto like way. One doesn't need robust commitments of Christianity to secure a working and malleable ground for morality. I'll address the comments that piss me off in a later blog entry. This should be enough for now. 

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

How far does interpretation go?

So, I have just finished up one seminar paper on Gadamer, and an entire semester doing Truth and Method. In philosophical hermeneutics, one phenomenologically describes the conditions of our historically finite understanding. All understanding is interpretation. In Gadamer, there is no outside independent conditions under which rules for understanding are extra-linguistic, or transcendentally a priori. Interpretation cuts through us through and through. My question I put out to the void is simply is this accurate? Should we phenomenologically take our finite seriously and move away from transcendental standpoints or analytically move away from doing versions of epistemology that try to find out the necessary and sufficient conditions for human understanding?

Part of me is compelled, if only a product of a recent fascination with Gadamer, to take on board the fact that everything is interpretation. How far does this cut into human knowing all over the board? What motivates Gadamer is a level of phenomenological description of truth in the human sciences differs from the natural sciences. Here, you can read human sciences as we conceive of the humanities. In German, wissenshaft is simply a rationally constructed system of knowledge, and this word for science doesn't evoke simply the natural sciences. However, I do not know if this is any longer the case, at least it used to be at the time in which Gadamer published TM in 1960.

For Gadamer, the natural sciences doesn't explain everything worth knowing. There is a type of self-knowledge produced by one's engagement with a tradition that is actively and alive in one's experience of the world. For the root of tradition in Latin is to hand down that which must be understood. Literature, art, history and philosophy are disciplines that engage us actively in how we understand the world. In this way, Gadamer is very antithetical to those who practice philosophy as co-extensive with the natural sciences.

I find this view compelling since not all my fields of inquiry operate in straightforward naturalistic assumptions. In ethics, I invoke concepts I employ for normative understanding on a daily basis, especially since I TA Intro to Ethics. When I teach Kant's Formula of Humanity, I don't refer to it in non-moral terms. I partake in a tradition that I inherit. Kant's concepts, and many concepts in philosophy operate outside of naturalism--this is the impetus that pushes people to insist on an irreducible status for their field of philosophy usually.

I haven't really gone anywhere in this post. I've just circled back to why my intuitions are pointing towards accepting in whole or in part Gadamer's insistence that the humanities operate differently than the natural sciences, and to insist otherwise is to misconstrue the humanities, including philosophy. Gadamer thinks that the humanities are directed towards a type of self-knowledge that is productive and brings to light how one can be transformed by engaging with tradition (vice versa as well). Gadamer's insistence that the hermeneutical project is a universal one threatens/challenges the idea that philosophy has access to original grounds outside of our historicity. I wonder if this is even true? Should I remain committed to a transcendental viewpoint in which the world is given, and all phenomena once traced through a genetic phenomenology in Husserl deliver over to me an original and primordial understanding of the world in a way that transcends history? For Husserl, even the lifeworld is filled with invariant structures!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Post-Continental and Post-Analytic Philosophy

I thought I would supply the more accurate picture of the Divide's collapse as many people have commented on Alexander Pruss's blog. I've found that many people are listing my blog either in their blog rolls or providing a link to my entry entitled Continental Ignorance. In addition, google analytics reveals that I have had 30+ visitors in one day, and I am taking time to show two instances of scholarship that are not moving to become analytic philosophy simpliciter, however much Pruss would want such a thing to be true. On the contrary, philosophy is perhaps just becoming philosophy, and many people are realizing just exactly how much work and arguments are contained in the Continentals, especially those phenomenologists that I love seen as relevant to philosophy of mind. I am listing a few sources that might be of intellectual interest to people.

The first is a book review for Post-Analytic Philosophy edited by John Rajchman and Cornell West written by H. Veatch. I enjoyed this review and read a series of these essays long ago since this is a 1985 book. This is a PDF from mediafire.com.

Richard Rorty's comments in A House Divided are particularly salient to this discussion. The link here is only to Amazon.com.

Lastly, this is a link to the NDPR. Continental Philosophy (however, perjorative a term this might be) has been rather stagnant, and a new direction in CP is seen as a form of immanentism given in John Mullarkey's Post-Continental Philosophy: An Outline.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Continental Ignorance

Alexander Pruss recently commented rather ignorantly on the merits of what constitutes philosophy proper. Too much work at the Ends of Thought blogspot has shown the erroneous nature on this already, and rehashing

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Current Research

Here is the summary of a current research project:

An unattractive feature of post-Habermasian influence on Gadamer scholarship is to view Gadamer's thought as reactionary to Heidegger. Commonly, this view is one of discipleship in Habermas famously put Gadamer's contribution to philosophy as the“urbanization of the Heideggerian province.”1 While it is important to keep in view Gadamer's connection to Heidegger, I find Gadamer more active and productive than this discipleship view might suggest, even in his appropriation of certain Heideggerian concepts. As such, I argue Gadamer's understanding of truth is an appropriation of Heidegger's conception of truth, and his use of the concept of truth accurately describes how the subject matter (Sache) is understood in hermeneutic experience. In reversing the primacy for interpreting the central notion of truth, one can find Gadamer’s appropriation as an original contribution to phenomenological understanding of truth. The contribution lies in seeing truth in our lived hermeneutic experience.

The move on my part at looking what truth is in both Heidegger and Gadamer has several functions. First, Heidegger's concept of truth as used by Gadamer makes possible seeing the difference between the human sciences and the natural sciences. Secondly, the mediation spoken of between past and present, that is, the fusion of horizons, I argue, is connected to the notion of Heidegger's truth. In section I, I explicate Heidegger's notion of truth. It is my contention that Heidegger only sets the stage, but that Gadamer gives it content.2 Next, I develop the connection of truth between the fusion of horizons and Heidegger's concept of truth in section II.

1 Jiirgen Habermas, Philosophical-Political Profiles, tr. Frederick G. Lawrence (Cambridge, 1983), 190.

2The fact that Gadamer doesn't fully develop a theory of truth in Truth and Method has been seen as a shortcoming. This criticism is developed y Robert Bernasconi in “Bridging the Abyss: Heidegger and Gadamer,” Research in Phenomenology, 16 (1986), 4. I don't claim content-bestowing conditions at the level of phenomenological analysis in Gadamer and Heidegger. Instead, my use of “content” designates a well-developed conception of phenomenological truth that isn't given much treatment by Heidegger in either Being and Time or in Heidegger's dealing with the issue of truth indirectly in his 1931 lectures On the Essence of Truth wherein Heidegger develops his concept of truth indirectly through an analysis of Plato's Allegory of the Cave and the Theaetetus.

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Vita Activa and the Vita Contemplativa

Today, I was told I have excellent leadership experience, and the attitudinal commitments necessary to professionally work canvassing for the Demorats this Summer. The offer to do such work comes at a point in my life where offers are shy. Working and paying off my indentured servitude to attend grad school thus far is another reason for taking the job. I am defintely going to take the job; I can only say that philosophy has been fun, and that to have a job reflective of one's values is another reward not common amongst many that have to transition from the contemplative life, the vita contemplativa, to the practical life, vita activa. In this post, I reflect on my experiences of living abroad the the immortal tension between a life of action, that is the philosophical life, and life yet to be lived by my recent hiring, the active political life.

First, a rehashing of Hannah Arendt is in order. The distinction really is explained in her Human Condition. For her and the tradition of political thought, there has always been a tension between the vita activa and the vita contemplativa since the active life requires a constant immersion into practical affairs whereas the contemplative life is one best characterized by Plato's Allegory of the Cave. In the story, the philosopher is pulled from the shackles of opinion, those that dwell within doxa are the mass of individual incapable of retreating inward into the mind for contemplation. The unshackled philosopher is brought out of the cave pulled upward to see the world for what it truly is, its pure essence or eidos. From then on, the philosopher knows that the common ordinary understanding of the appearing world where politics occurs is not how the world truly is. The joy that comes along with retreating inward and contemplating the universe far outweighs the burdensome life of action necessary for the human world. I am leaving that joy behind. Eventually, I will come back. For now, though, I have to "make this happen."

Part of me is deeply saddened. I cannot believe I must leave Canada. Living abroad (as far as any American wants to admit "living abroad" is 20 minutes north of Blaine, Washington.) has shaped me. The weather is not that different from other Pacific Northwesterners in WA and OR, and the land to my North is filled with rigid mountains crowned in a coniferous treeline. The sky is gloomy often, but when the sun peaks through densely dire clouds of grey, the land illuminates, manifesting the sublime in everyone's appreciation for everything green. The tolerance and multiculturalism of Vancouver is unrivaled, although the lacking of good Tex-Mex restaurants makes me water for more familar American dining options. Vancouver is a beautiful city, a city of glass and tears from the sky. Its beauty has fostered in me an appreciation for the literary and analytic tradition of philosophy I once mocked for its singular obsession with the natural sciences. Still, I mock it, but less so. The people I have met have moved me, molded me, and now I must depart for the United States in less than two months time.

Living in Canada has always taught me that no matter what it is imperative that the United States get back on track. The United States is the most targeted country for abhorrence and satire in the Canadian experience. They view us as a hungry desperate people, lacking a government that funds wars but not health care. They mock us at every turn, and make it clear how Canadian they truly are, even in situations where they clearly are "like us." It is a deeply ingrained pathology to deny one's close relationship with anything remotely American. Of course, this paragraph may be guilty of slight hyperbole. However, one must recognize the source of the Canadian disagreement. The disagreement lies that at the heart of the Canadian mentality--there is a sense of collective responsibility for the welfare of one's countrymen, an attitude uncommon in the United States.

Our obsessant individualism makes it hard to convince others of the morally and politically necessary intuitions of collective welfare. As a people, the United States is fragmented, divided into clear oppositions that blind us to these intuitions. These divisions are between have and have-nots, Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives. Collective welfare is the talk of pinko-commies, socialists and the way left that are skeptical of private enterprise and capitalism. Yet, private businesses and capitalism still occur in Canada. The fact that they know they either sink or swim as a people together might be a result of having the population of 33 million people (approximately, the population of Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania), and a greater social anxiety comes when one realizes that 300 million people can rarely assent to anything in common. The point is to do just that. By going from door to door, we must make the change, and I'll be damned if I am going to sit by watching America descend into another unstoppable quagmire with Iraq, or conservative (of any stripe moderate or Neo-con) raise the instrumental concerns of profit before collective welfare.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

New York Times Philosophy Article

Here's a New York Times article explaining the success and increase in philosophy as a major for undergraduates. I especially like the fact that an uncertain economy creates mindful students looking to study philosophy for the skills it fosters: argumentation, critical reasoning and an increased ability to write logically. I wonder what my newly acquired friends in the English Department would say to that one! Hopefully, this translates into a direct need for university administrators supporting philosophy faculties everywhere.

Here's a link to the article:


Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Bernard Williams and Moral Phenomenology

“Ethical experience” can cover many things. There could be a way of doing moral philosophy that started from the ways we experience our ethical life. Such a philosophy would reflect on what we believe, feel, take for granted; the ways in which we confront obligations and recognize responsibility; the sentiments guilt and shame. It would involve a phenomenology of the ethical life. This could be good philosophy, but it would be unlikely to to yield an ethical theory. Ethical theories, with their concerns for tests, tend to start from just one aspect of ethical experience, beliefs. The natural understanding of an ethical theory theory takes it as a structure of propositions, which, like a scientific theory, in part provides a groundwork for our beliefs, in part criticizes or revises them. So it stars from our beliefs, though it may replace them (Williams, Bernard. Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy, Cambridge, MA: Harvard U P, 1985, p. 93, italics mine)

This quote has been on my mind for a few days now. Williams agrees that my proposal for a moral phenomenology, as far as I made PhD applications this year, "would be good philosophy." However, I am finding central disagreement with his very point of a moral phenomenology not delivering on the merits of ethical theory. Let me explain.

It is common in moral philosophy generally to proceed on two strategies of disagreement. Let there be two ethical theories X and Y with corresponding adherents. As the opponent of ethical theory Y, X can claim:

(1) Y is counter-intuitive leading to an absurd moral intuition as exemplified in a thought experiment of X.


(2) Y is incongruent with our ethical life; X matches up more with our ethical life.

Depending on how 1 and 2 are carved up, these can look like two separate claims whereas I just think that 1 is a general instance of the claim 2. Some moral theorists might try to keep 2 separate due to the feature of Y's incongruent nature. However, for my purposes, it doesn't matter how 1 and/or 2 are divided. There is a disingenuous and irresponsible move in our theorizing to make these types of criticisms without first looking to the phenomenology of our moral life. It is precisely on these grounds that ethical theories always fall short in some other capacity in relation to each other because various ethical theories, as Williams said, focus on different aspects of our moral life. For Williams this is the realm of moral beliefs, and those beliefs can be about many different things in our ethical life. This amounts to Williams acknowledging that a phenomenology couldn't deliver a normative ethical theory, though it would be beneficial for understanding how these elements of our moral life fit together. Why the tension?

The reason why a moral phenomenology is seen as falling short of ethical theory is that theorizing here still means delivering principles and clear cut rules for action-guidance. It is still largely just about answering the question of our obligations, and nothing more. A fuller and richer experience with the philosophy of morality would exemplify how it is that various elements of our moral life fit together: guilt, our care for intimates, the split between motives and reasons and so on. These elements, as I call them, constitute the possibility of being moral, and hence take a certain priority over the action-guidance criterion for ethical theorizing.

Recent explorations in virtue theory of ethics have led me to conclude that the fetishizing of rules and principles that so much of deontology and utilitarianism revere cannot encapsulate our moral life. Instead, the virtue ethicist asks two central questions demanded of ethical theory. First, what I ought to do? But, more importantly what kind of person ought I to be? The virtue ethicist is in touch with those traits that lead to a flourishing life, that is, what I would call the moral life. Now, the picture is far from complete, but the intuitions being pumped in virtue ethics parallel my suspicions of Kantian-based and consequential theories that solely seek to answer the first question without ever addressing the overwhelming concerns of the "elements of our moral life."

Going back to resolving the tension, a phenomenology looks at phenomena as they appear to consciousness while at the same time bracketing -- putting out of play -- our presuppositions we maintain of the world already. This is what Husserl called the epoche. Phenomenology, in this way, is a descriptive effort to see what undergirds the claims we make about the world. These descriptions often conflict with people who think that the mind-independent structures posited by science should be privileged as "all that matters." By extension, moral philosophers would put out of play their respective normative theories, and look at the particular instances of, say, guilt and shame. If a moral theory implies or states a conclusion about guilt and shame outside of what is revealed in lived experience of these elements, then the phenomenology could yield not an ethical theory, as Williams observed, but a check of applicability. For, if a moral theory is inapplicable in experience but noble in theory, then such a moral theory will have to be discarded since a developed moral phenomenology can inform us of a theory's inapplicability. From this, it follows that moral philosophers have an obligation first and foremost to develop a phenomenology of all those concepts they employ for normative understanding as to ensure the demands they claim about our ethical life truly supports how it is that we experience the ethical life.