Wednesday, February 25, 2009

New Husserl Themes: Farber Continued

On page 555, Farber writes:

Husserl views an active individual as being in relationship with other persons, who are experienced as psychophysical. The ethical subject, in referring his living-in-the-world to a norm, finds the others with whom he can cooperate. By means of empathy, the ethical subject recognizes that every other subject is given "in the orientation form of the alter," is given in the form of the "ego." The potentiality of this empathy is taken to be the presupposition of a common life in the sense of stages of social organization. The single subjects "in their freedom" and in their social acts direct this activity upon another ego, and thus arises a "connection of ego with ego, of many egos to polysystems, of real and possible activity" (p. 161). Living in this synthesis, every ego, as active ethically, makes its best possible contribution to others, and produces, in connection with other persons, a society in which the egos become a "synthetic pole" of social transactions. A person does not live a "solipsistic life," but rather a "common life, a double-personal and still a unified ethical life." One person has to consider everything that is a true value for another person; the self-satisfaction of his fellow men cannot be a matter of indifference to him. It is only in connection with the "interlaced" life of another person that one can evaluate his own life. Such a life is taken to be "obviously" of higher value than a solipsistic type of life, and is therefore "categorically demanded." There is "no life without love," and every life is just known along with a consciousness of love, a "Liebesdeckung," in Husserl's characteristic language. The highest form of life thus occurs in the pure "spiritual love and community of love."

A moral phenomenology would start in the same place as we encounter the other. Here, Farber explains that Husserl sees active individuals experience each other, that is, are given phenomenologically as empathy opens our potential to experience a common world shared with others. This point of contact is synthesis of this empathic recognition of Others in terms of a single subject acts in relation to another, and those other subjects all act in a shared public world. Ethical activity is, thus, world-producing. Out of our inter-acting, a human world arises (Hannah Arendt is coming to mind), and I find it interesting here that solipsism is mentioned. Husserl, apparently, denies our living a life without inter-actions. Such a life would be solipsistic whereas the true ethical life is a life constituted by various ethical subjects opening up to each other in a real communal sense.

At this mentioning of solipsism, I am wondering now if the Fifth Meditation can be read ethically and not epistemically? Think about it. The same conditions that recognize the Other in terms of empathy (intersubjectivity) would be in place for either ethics or some nascent phenomenology qua epistemology.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Religious Bigotry Against Homosexuals

Below,is a reprint of my comments on Professor Beckswith's blog. I stand firmly on this.

I think you are misrepresenting the facts of the case, and possibly the truth of any authority your claims have against an objectivist ethics. The discrimination against homosexuals cannot be sugar-coated as Christian moral theology. You cannot mask injustice with beliefs that are unjust, period. I don't know a Kantian that could universalize the maxim "We ought to practice discrimination against homosexuals", nor do I know a utilitarian of any stripe that would maximize the practice of discrimination, and lastly, nor do I think protecting such practices as religious freedom of a religious institution leads to a flourishing society. Any way you cut it, ethical theories I think stand on firm agreement that we shouldn't discriminate against people, and this includes homosexuals. Moreover, if you think I am reading any of these basic normative theories wrongly, then you should provide me an argument as to why I should think otherwise. It is this extreme burden you have that makes it highly implausible.

These schools are religious, and in my mind, religion is literally 100% true (I would venture an opinion that some aspects of religion are allegorically true) fact, anyone that thinks so is ontologically irresponsible. To act on right reason, we must make sure that the reasons we act on are ontologically reliable and true, that whatever the source of normativity is for practical reasoning, it must be ontologically viable. People make claims that their reasons have religious authority, but since religion isn't true, then those reasons for acting are based on a false ontology. False ontologies cannot ground reasons for acting. This is what you are doing. Religious reasons cannot ground morality. If a religious reason is allegorically true, then it is because such a reason finds agreement with an independent source of normativity.

Monday, February 23, 2009

New Husserlian Themes 1: Encountering Farber's Discussion

Marvin Farber has an article entitled 'The Phenomenological View of Values' in Philosophy & Phenomenological Research Vol/Issue: 24 (4), Date: 1964, Page: 552. My discussion of Husserl opens with a careful perusal of this article. Just a note before beginning, the article is on JSTOR. You could also reference it here.

Farber opens up what Husserl regarded as the central concern of ethics qua normative science must precede every technology and must as a normative science (Farber translates Husserl) "survey human purposes in a universal manner and judges them from a normative point of view, in other words, investigates whether they are actually as they ought to be" (p. 553, from Husserlian Manuscript). First, I think Husserl is wrong, and lacking here. Being ethical not only involves evaluating normative levels of actions as the deontologist or consequentialist would have us believe. Instead, there are further questions that while associated with action cut deeper, these ethical determinations are agential, what you might call aretaic. As such, I would include in a phenomenological analysis of values directed towards expanding Husserl's notion of "purpose" in the above quote to include virtue ethical considerations. Eudaimonia considerations in virtue ethics concern cultivating agential characteristics (virtues) that lead to state of human flourishing (eudaimonia).

Now, a moral phenomenology in a Husserlian sense is highly influenced by the Husserl in Logical Investigations. Farber informs us that an analogy can be drawn here. Just as formal logic has "the principle of contradiction is the highest law, there is the axiological principle that something to which value is ascribed in some respect, cannot be valueless in the same respect." (Farber, p. 553, taken, I think from LI, p. 79). Let's put this into an example. This principle states that the reasons we value X cannot in principle be reasons that count against reasons for not-valuing X. Hence, the reasons I give for enjoying Star Wars fiction books cannot be reason that count against me finding them valueless. Moreover, when we give reasons for our valuations of X, those valuations find agreement in both willing and reason (Farber, p. 553).

Rationally grounded reasons provide the basis for ideal abstraction of ethics in Husserl. In general, this is also a truth of ethics. Formulated normative theories instruct us, that is, they provide action-guidance only because such action-guidance is grounded in cognitive judgments about which we can be right and wrong about. Practical wisdom comes about only because we can be right or wrong about how certain actions will go, or that something wasn't relevant when we thought it was in our moral acting. Ethics gets its substance from the ideality such practical wisdom takes on, and the ideality of practical action coheres with the body of reasons constituting such ideality.

Farber worries about the level of abstractionism in Husserl's ethics. One can easily be skeptical that there is a "harmonious social life" that remains ideal. Such a thing has never existed, nor ever will. Perhaps, agreement isn't even possible as to what the "harmonious social life" would entail (Farber, p. 554). Yet, this only is a concern if we think the harmonious social life requires strong conditions of moral agreement. I think I'm reaching an impasse here. For one, if we are ethical pluralists (as I am slowly becoming in the Rossian sense), there might be more than one way to achieve moral agreement. We need not be value monists in thinking that different goods cannot be counted in our moral considerations. Virtue, knowledge, pleasantness and consequences are the four goods Ross counts, and I'm uncertain we need more (let's be open about that for a bit).

As I continue, I'm thinking that a moral phenomenology might have to abandon the systematicity of a cohering set of value grounded moral reasons that resemble a formal eidetic science of a purely ideal nature. I'll continue moving in this article with additions to this post.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

New Husserlian Themes

Intersubjectivity plays a central role in thinking of ourselves as acting, thinking subjects. Moreover, this type of acting and thinking conception of ourselves is what ethical theories construe as moral agency, but obviously without the capital P phenomenological language. For Husserl, intersubjectivity is part of the transcendental-we-community that co-constitutes elements of the lifeworld. The SEP lists three achievements of intersubjectivity as fundamental.

intersubjective experience plays a fundamental role in our constitution of both ourselves as objectively existing subjects, other experiencing subjects, and the objective spatio-temporal world. Transcendental phenomenology attempts to reconstruct the rational structures underlying — and making possible — these constitutive achievements. (SEP Entry on Husserl)

From this, I gather it is possible to explain what phenomenological structures of experience might be involved in thinking generally about the nature of values, and how such values -- which I define as reasons for acting -- relate to others as part of a moral community. My thought is that while values are ontologically mysterious (or better worded as metaphysically inadequate) in a non-natural way Husserl gives us a way to talk about values in such a way as to provide a cognitive architecture to the types of reasons we invoke in moral justification. I am resistant at strategies in ethics that seek to naturalize various domains of ethical analysis, and realize how much of a first start my effort is here. This is why I will outline what will concern me in the next few posts. The theme is that ethics is phenomenologically grounded and the type of properties used in moral justification and the nature of reasons that purport such properties are, in fact, irreducible. They are the type of thing that cannot be naturalized away under the weird umbrella term "evolutionary mechanism," but are readily manifest in moral experience.

In the next few posts, I will try and establish first exactly what is meant by empathy in the 5th Meditation. I will see what is in there that can help me explain the nature of values, their justification, scope and content.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Co-Sponsoring the APA in Vancouver

Simon Fraser University, the institution of my MA, is co-sponsoring the American Philosophical Association's Pacific Division Meeting in April with UBC. Here's the full announcement.

The APA in Canada, now that's rich!


Abstract/Papers available up until the conference. (Please don't cite or reference).

I'm really looking forward to UNM PhD student Tara Kennedy and her paper on Heidegger.

SPEP Announcement

Summer 2009 Theme: Time, History, Memory
Paris, France

Villanova University
Centre Parisien d’Etudes Critiques
Collège International de Philosophie
Professor Gabriel Rockhill

The Atelier de Théorie Critique (Critical Theory Workshop) is an intensive graduate-level seminar, which takes place every summer in Paris. The primary objective of the Workshop is to provide an international forum for interdisciplinary and comparative research in contemporary critical theory. The Workshop is comprised of a research seminar at CIEE’s Centre Parisien d’Etudes Critiques, a series of public lectures at the Collège International de Philosophie, and public debates with leading European intellectuals at the Centre Parisien d’Etudes Critiques. All three activities aim at providing students direct access to some of the most recent developments in French—and more generally European—critical theory.

Each year, the Workshop is structured around a central theme. In 2008, the theme was “Politics and Aesthetics,” and the authors studied included Sartre, Barthes, Foucault, Heinich, and Rancière, as well as figures such as Balzac, Rimbaud and Resnais. Invited speakers included Jacques Rancière (emeritus professor of philosophy, Université de Paris VIII), Nathalie Heinich (sociologist, CNRS) and Olivier Voirol (sociologist, Université de Lausanne and Institut für Sozialforschung).

In 2009, the theme will be “Time, History, Memory,” and representative authors will include Bergson, Proust, Deleuze, Foucault, Ricœur, Gauchet, Godard, Dosse and Worms. Depending on availability, the following speakers are likely to participate in public debates regarding their work: François Dosse, Marcel Gauchet and Frédéric Worms.

The language of instruction is French, and a minimum of 6 college semesters of French or the equivalent are required. Contact Hours: 45. Credit: 3 semester/4.5 quarter hours.

For dates, costs and application:

For further information, contact Professor Rockhill:

Some Thoughts on Hard Naturalism

I define hard naturalism as the thesis that only physical entities describable by the natural sciences exist and secondly that in principle descriptions, even if philosophical, must be brought into line with what the natural sciences describe as real. Hard naturalism has the effect of either taking a hard-driven reductionism in which complex notions regarded as irreducible can either be eliminated in explanation by reference to natural parts, or a commitment to pluralism of posited objects. The former is more orthodox, and the latter is more controversial since it fails to explain why there is overlap between scientific theorizing of the various disciplines. Pluralism might be more plausible to its adherents that feel that unifying grounds of explanation in science are moribund. The scientific disciplines have become so thematic, specific and independent that this obsoleteness is not a product of the social organization of knowledge seeking, but revelatory of the phenomena studied. Reality is, after all, complex.

In the following post, I detail how it is that hard naturalism is mistaken. There are some problems it encounters. First, I will deal with hard naturalism qua reductionism. Reductionist naturalism is itself an ideation of the intuition that reality is organized into causal interactions of parts and wholes. They would pretend this is only a generalization of specific cases of the “doings of science”. However, even in generalizations you run into the same problem. Generalizations and ideations require the regulative function of ideals. These ideals are universalizing the specific cases, and generalizing is just a locution to pretend that the generalizations aren’t universal. In order to perform any reduction of explanation, it has to hold that reality is organized into parts and wholes, which of course is a peculiar relationship that cannot be explained away by reference to a smaller part. In this way, logical truths necessary to express generalizing and universal features of explanation, as well as the intuitions, like ‘reality is organized into causal interactions of parts and wholes’, necessitate the irreducibility of the objective categories.

The second form of my brief excursion into naturalism is more problematic. Hard naturalism qua pluralism posits objects as needed in explanation. Such pluralism, I imagine, might be mitigated to Ockham’s razor so that positing would not “get out of hand.” Pluralism will foster the natural attitude that what is posited is real, and corresponds to reality when actually it is our best model up to date. However, most scientists require that explanations are revisable in some fashion. A good pluralist would be a good reviser, making changes where needed. Yet, pluralistic naturalism still ignores the central role that consciousness plays in our knowledge of the world. We can only posit objects as needed because we are conscious of the very need to posit. For the phenomenologist understands rightly that knowledge is a subjective accomplishment, an accomplishment of a particular knower. If the pluralism is open to the phenomenological, then such openness would no longer serve as a problem for the naturalistic pluralism.

On the first account, hard naturalism is defeated since it cannot ignore the very idealism it seeks to eliminate. On the second account, positing is a particular achievement of a subject, and positing cannot be taken to be what the natural attitude would pass over as a third-person feature of explanations themselves. Pluralism can be opened to phenomenology by making the move to incorporate the phenomenological as another level of complexity. On my end, it would be hard to ignore.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Discourses, Foucault and Genealogies

Recently, I got into a disagreement with a colleague about the type of work Foucault does as proper philosophy. The typical strand of argument I got is no different than other analytic philosophers skeptical of CP. This feels heuristic more than precise, but here goes.

P1: If discourses are meaningful, then the discourses are in some way compatible with the natural sciences
P2: Discourses are meaningful
C: Therefore, discourses are in some way compatible with the the natural sciences.

In order to resist this argument, I reject that the only way discourses are meaningful is in their demonstrated compatibility with the sciences. Take for instance, when I encounter objects in the world, I first encounter them as available to my use, as objects of equipment. I encounter the world first in terms of my practical engagement with the world such that objects are encountered in what we might call the nexus of human purposes. I don't encounter a watch or a chair as objects with a stable electron configuration, as an object described by physics. Instead, I see it as related to my ends or purposes. Moreover, I postulate that I can still have an understanding of the world such that I can have an entire discourse describing my encounter with objects in my experience that pump the intuition that compatibility with the sciences is not the hallmark of a good discourse. It is just one possible formulation.

Likewise, the point I am driving at is simple. There are more than just philosophy qua science approaches in philosophy. In order to see that, consider a more positive argument to establish an example of responsible CP work.

P1: All discourses have norms that establish the standard of truth for that discourse
P2: Science is a discourse
P3: Therefore, science has norms that establish the standard of truth for that discourse.
P4: Normative standards are constituted by their socio-historic and socio-political conditions of the agent's doing science
P5: Nietzschean genealogies qua method provide access to how normative standards are constituted
C: Therefore, any theorist using Nietzschean genealogies as a theoretical device can explain the socio-historic and socio-political conditions of a discourse, including science.

The implication of the conclusion is that Foucault and Deleuze are employing responsible methods for what undergirds one type of human activity, science. This entire line of thinking also takes seriously Nietzsche's claim about history in the "(History Essay)...Uses and Abuses..." in that we are historically finite knowers and that understanding must reflect our position as finite knowers. These discourses are meaningful ways to understand the social conditions of how we do understand the world, and provide ways of encountering past philosophies as uncharitable to our finitude. Instead, classical epistemologies for instance construe our knowing as exemplified by some ideal epistemic agent that if these necessary and sufficient conditions are met, then we can know what it means to know. However, finitude cannot be avoided. Denying our finitude amounts to refusing to see how understanding is shaped by our historical situation. In the same token, Heidegger and Gadamer embrace this same concept, providing us with ways to interrogate the structure of discourses that persist not independent of our history, but shaped by it.

My opponent could refuse P1. He could say that there are discourses independent of norms. Yet, I cannot think of how a counter-factual would go that could deny the fact that discourses are a human activity. Maybe, you could give me one, maybe not.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Aristotle, Virtue Ethics, and Political Theory

I like this book review, and wouldn't mind getting it a hold of it. I agree with the central premise that the moral Good is essentially bound to contexts in which the the Good occurs. As such, politics is a necessary condition for the Good despite liberal theory believing otherwise. In a way, this meshes with my belief that some level of hermeneutics is involved in the interpretation of moral principles in terms of their application. Of course, that's a separate issue. Still, here's the book review if you're curious.

Check Out Susan Collin's Aristotle and the Rediscovery Citizenship.