Thursday, October 29, 2009

Taking Up History as the Decisive Universal Moment

Meaning for Husserl is the result of a transcendental realm accessible by suspending our worldly relation. Heideggerians, instead, think that we cannot circumvent the historical situation we find ourselves. From their viewpoint, Husserlian phenomenology is a turning away from the concrete historical world. Thus, perhaps, if anyone thinks that Heidegger contributes to our understanding of philosophy, it is in showing that the descriptive efforts of philosophy are essentially bound up with the history it takes up.

This same Heideggerian tendency to see philosophical problems embedded in a horizon of intelligibility that proceeds from our relation to history produces a view that amounts to a historicism. Philosophical problems only make sense given we can still speak and make sense of the very history in which we find ourselves. However, I want to argue against this view. For me, this is only one layer of the problem, and is distinct from asking if what a philosopher has said is true. Moreover, this also explains a key difference between styles of doing philosophy (and perhaps why Husserlians are alone on this). In truth, we need both, but the dynamic of doing philosophy doesn't bear on the problem that we can still carry on as if history does not matter. I don't think this is just some philosophers being dismissive about history; it speaks to our abilities to philosophize on our own in our own historical situation.

So, in this brief post, if we can still carry on as if we do not require history, then I want to ask is it a product of our historical situation that we can abstract from history? Perhaps, the pressing question I want to ponder is what is it about our historical situation that makes it possible to carry on in anglophone philosophy as if history doesn't matter as much as asking whether or not what a philosopher says matters to us?

I don't think there is any easy answer to these questions. But, I have an inclination as to where to start. First, the fact that Anglophone philosophy has largely been a project of centralizing the epistemological subject in a variety of problems is on track. In centralizing the epistemological task, philosophers make philosophy about both our historic situation as knowers and establishing formalistic criteria that transcend the very history we find ourselves. We can identify those structures of subjectivity in a variety of contexts, but we must see it is these objective conditions that establish our ability to make sense of meaning. Therefore, we might want to consider that identifying the epistemic conditions of our knowing stand over and above the historical situation. However, such a move is replete with problems.

My second move is to address that though we have access to what the subject qua epistemologist is, such a subject needs grounding in the history of its occurrence. It doesn't make sense not to make history a level of analysis. As Gadamer shows, we are beholden to history since it is the very possibility of making sense of what is handed down in tradition, yet that doesn't mean that we are bound to that history since we take it up. We take up history and that is the moment we can see that there is something universal, something transcendent in that we can speak about our ability to take up history. In this way, we can see that a universal subjectivity does come into our concrete experience, it is just that if you stand on one side of doing philosophy than the other, you miss both dimensions to philosophy. That's an oversight on both our parts.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Another Leiter Travesty

Leiter has remarkably come to the defense of a hack job book on Heidegger by Carlin Romano indirectly. See the post here.

But that does stop his rumination about Heidegger scholars, what I take it to be meant by cult:

There is also something interesting to be written about the ways in which the Heidegger cult and its temporal and cultural kin, the Strauss cult, have operated in similar, quasi-fascistic, "in group" vs. "out group" ways: esoteric terminology, hostility towards dialectic engagement, worship of the master, and so on.

Heidegger doesn't engage in dialectical argument because for him, the purpose of philosophy is to describe human facticity. He is teasing out phenomenological descriptions of human existence. Maybe that is, in itself, an argument---yet in so doing, philosophy is not a description of some problem abstracted from history. It occurs within an ontotheology. In this way, it is resistant to the very positivism that carries Leiter's naturalistic Nietzsche (of course, I would argue something like that someday)! This is not some weird obscurantism if people were honestly going to give him an honest reading, know the background of the philosophy that gives birth to Heidegger, i.e. Husserl, know his contemporaries like Natorp, the background of Dilthey, and see him as completing (by Heidegger's self-estimation) the shortcoming of Husserl's phenomenology. When you know all of that, Heidegger is up to something whether or not one agrees with its status in the history of phenomenology, or philosophy at large.

Moreover, understanding the context of Heideggerian phenomenology in its beginning allows one to encounter why Heidegger moves to poetry. In fact, the language Heidegger adopts is provocative; it has a purpose beyond the lens put to language in any analytic framework. But again, one would have to understand the under-currents of Rilke, Holderlin, Heidegger's rejection of some central themes of the metaphysics of presence and the attempt to implement phenomenology as reasons for why Heidegger requires/uses language the way he does.

The charitability of Leiter's lapse is as charitable as a Protestant Minister's characterizing Leiter's work on moral psychology and Nietzsche. Just because Heidegger and those influenced by his philosophy look like something from the outside doesn't mean they are that way. This is a separate issue from whether or not Continental philosophers and supporters of Heidegger in general have done a good job of talking to outsiders. However, the outsiders must be willing to listen, and one good way might be to honestly represent Continental philosophy schools that are marginalized. And, I might add, have great scholars in phenomenology working on Heidegger! But this problem is more complicated than just than the professional dimension.

Leiter also displays some ignorance of the status of this debate. Consider the following,

"Faye's leitmotif throughout is that Heidegger, from his earliest writings, drew on reactionary ideas in early-20th-century Germany to absolutely exalt the state and the Volk over the individual, making Nazism and its Blut und Boden ("Blood and Soil") rhetoric a perfect fit." OK, so how do these "reactionary ideas" about exaltation of "the state and the Volk" figure in the main themes of Being and Time? I have no idea...

Since Leiter finds the argument from one phrase of Romano on Faye somewhat "interesting", let's look at the above. First, this theme has already been taken up by a number of skeptics and critics. The big book, Mr. Leiter is Victor Farias' Heidegger and Nazism. So, now you have some "idea"; you're only about twenty years too late in your ignorance (It was published in 1987 by Temple University Press).

Really... Oh yes, he does Continental philosophy lady and gentleman. Lest we forget. Now, I know he is nice to me when he says, "The ideas that Heidegger's books should be banned and that anyone who studies Heidegger is a Nazi sympathizer are so ludicrously offensive as to defy belief." I take that as nice, and what he might mean by generous. But seriously, you have to listen to people, like myself, who engage in this stuff before characterizing us from the outside. At least, he goes to Thomson and Carman as good philosophers working on phenomenology. At least, we should respect him that far. Yet, the spirits of his comments are redolent of generosity cloud in the intolerance we Continental Philosophers (Aspiring or Established) find ourselves.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Moral Philosophy for the Masses

This just goes to show how relevant ethics is, and how unlike other areas of philosophy, moral philosophy is just germane to one's life. Michael Sandel, a moral philosopher at Harvard, is publicizing his course (allegedly the most popular at Harvard) "Justice" to local PBS stations in Boston. Here's the article off the NY Times website.

TV episodes can be gleaned from the website of Michael Sandel here.

Women in Philosophy: A Question for You?

While I have revealed a new love of Irigaray and that I am in a Continental Feminism Survey Seminar, this post should not be seen as connected to these recent motivations (or maybe it should since I have found a love of how Continental Feminists have appropriated and successively demonstrated a research project in Continental philosophy). Apparently, one of those mass-consumption philosophy periodicals have published an article on women in philosophy in general. Here's one of the interviewees blog entry about her interview, and the recent debacle with the NY Times.

My question to many here is given the dearth of women (for whatever reason or variety of reasons), is it right to teach with this sensitivity in the back of one's mind? Should I actively try and recruit talented women students into the major given the dearth of women in general? Would it be more responsible of me to actively recruit women students given that I have some working knowledge prior to recruitment of the reason or reasons why women are not in philosophy to begin with?

Assume for a moment a possible world in which philosophy actively discriminates against women (which might be very possible, I admit) and I recruit students into the philosophy profession (it should be clear this is hypothetical and not associated with my home institution), convincing a few to pursue graduate study. In so doing, it is possible I have done some form of intellectual violence to them. No? Shouldn't the causes of women aren't in philosophy first be identified so that my talented women students can have this information to see if they truly want to go into philosophy, or is recruitment itself a way to lessen whatever forces are at work keeping away women in philosophy?

What do you think?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Derrida and the Close Reading of Texts

I know I keep posting about methodology--methodology is a central theme of what it is that I do, phenomenology. Moreover, methodology is crucial for many different types of philosophy across its wondrous facets. For experimental philosophers, there is a school of thought that surveys folk philosophical intuitions and in philosophy of mind, the philosophers sometimes work in labs with psychologists. In the Continental tradition, it would seem that a Husserlian has an exact method, and Derrida can be seen as interrupting the phenomenological method (this much is certain), asking about the presuppositions and exposing phenomenology to whatever it is that Derrida is doing. There is a method. Fleshing that out, and giving it content is the problem. So, anyone with knowledge of this, jump right in.

Part and parcel of this method is regarding the entire history of philosophy as guilty of a metaphysics of presence. In so doing, the entire tradition accepts uncritically the reality of presence. I don't know how to put this without using his language. As such, let's see if this makes sense.

1) All conceptual frameworks of philosophy have assumed uncritically presence.
2) Husserl is an example of uncritically assuming presence.
3) Therefore, Husserl is guilty of a metaphysics of presence.

Derrida seems to be doing that.

Examples of a presence are an enduring subject through time in epistemology, that the self has transparent access to its own states is another example of presence in a metaphysics of mind. Historically questions of metaphysics and epistemology typically motivate a lot of philosophical attention, so I can see the large historic concern. However, what I cannot see is that skepticism about this fact of presence is reason enough to dismiss these systems of philosophy...I guess that is where I am now.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Some Cool Abstracts

I found these on a random Google Search and would love to get a hold of some of these papers on Husserl and ethics. Some are also on Adam Smith as well.

Here's the link

I should say that John Drummond's work on Husserl and ethics is especially impressive.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Can Philosophy Be Done without History?

I want to ask people in general what you think the place of history in philosophy is. One may argue the following:

1. Philosophy is, in part, a sustained reflection with a historical-tradition.
2. Any Introduction to Philosophy is (in part or wholly) a sustained reflection with a historical-tradition.
3. Therefore, an introduction to philosophy class should study its history.

Now, does it follow that we should think of history as IN PART or WHOLLY RELEVANT? This question is just asking quite another thing: Can we have philosophical discourses that attempt to describe in some way the world?

Now, I answer the intuitively obvious answer: Yes, we can, but with qualification. Let's take a case I know intimately. For within the history of phenomenology, phenomenology developed as a method to describe the givenness of phenomena. Some people reject this idea or series of ideas that have come to us through history. Yet, to discuss the validity/objectivity of the phenomenological reduction is on the same level as asking which better fits with reality: act utilitarianism or rule utilitarianism. So, we come to phenomenology only through the history of Husserl's texts and what follows them. However, our entrance into the problem of phenomenology as a method may be both historical -- if we so remain in those texts -- or we attempt to move from the history to describing it and the status of its method. This moving beyond would be an independent evaluation as to meet those skeptics of Husserl's method. Either way, we are doing philosophy.

In other words in the above argument, 1) can only be true if we meant IN PART. For the whole of philosophy has different conceptions that articulate its very possiblity. The Heideggerian agreement in me is that philosophy is an interpretation of human facticity whereas the other conceptions of philosophy hold that our concepts describe the world in some way. We should get clear on their limits and what they do and do not describe. As such, we can hold other conceptions of philosophy as true or relevant for so long as 1) is read as "in part." One can do philosophy as a meditation on texts and then take the insight from those texts to problems that tickle our philosophical imagination. For me, these have always been: What is practical reason like? How do I come to know moral beliefs? What are moral beliefs? What is agency like? We move from history to the ahistoric dimension of philosophical problems.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Reacting to Derrida

So, I am perplexed about any topic for research in our new reading of Leonard Lawlor's Voice and Phenomena. We're taking a look at the new translation he has provided, and our own Anthony Steinbock is an editor for the project. We're reading the French and David Allison's translation alongside Husserl in the German (maybe it should be said that Steinbock is doing all of this in front of us as we all try to play the game of catching up to his pace). It is a daunting task to see in motion. It's quite wonderful actually. I'm digressing though.

I can't find a research project for the seminar paper.

I think there are two overall reactions to Derrida with a spectrum of nuance in between these readings. First, the Analytic in me wants to slap Derrida upside the head, calling his deconstructionist reading of texts a denunciation of meaning itself. Such a denunciation is a denial to be philosophical. In so doing, I would wear a T-shirt that says Unrepentant Logocentrist. Don't be taking this idea! I'm uploading it as a T-shirt on in the near future.

At the outset, it seems that Derrida could find where the meaning breaksdown in a text since the literary interpretation from the outside looks like self-serving selection of what binary opposition is at work, and how exactly Derrida pushes that binary opposition to the limit. All this could be self-serving, read in a particular way in which Derrida couldn't help but come to a skepticism about the meaning of a text. For instance, the abuse Derrida puts Husserl through in wanting to conclude that phenomenology is just a guilty version of the metaphysics of presence sometimes comes off as pure word-association.

Even in such an outside portrayal of Derrida's project(? Is that even the right word?), one is misinformed. This leads me to the second interpretation. Derrida started out as a Husserlian, and interrupts phenomenology in the very beginning of his work (what constitutes this interruption is not important). The ties to this interruption as I call it signify a gross under-appreciation and over-estimation of his project when it is taken outside the limit of the phenomenological interruption it seeks to provide. That is why, I think, it is so essential to understand Voice and Phenomenon, and situate Derrida works within the horizon of a well-versed historical and Continental reading of his work, NOT COMPARATIVE LITERATURE DEPARTMENTS!

Realize in between completely rejecting Derrida and fully embracing him with appropriate understanding, there is a world of Derrida in-between.

So my reactions to Derrida probably constitute the impression I get from him, or the trace of him in his writings. In his early work, he is detailed and knowledgeable of Husserl's project, but at the same time that knowledge is synthesized with what appears to be an abuse of the text. Or is the the text that abuses me, convincing me of its life independent of the philosopher? As if taking a life of its own, the text takes on a seductive allure, and comes into its interpretation only through me, or I it? One cannot be sure in Derrida's world.

As such, I said to many of my readers I would post about this seminar, and the related topic of a metaphysics of presence. However, with the active efforts to find a possible paper topic, I have exhausted myself. I've actually found that the Continental French Feminists have what the analytics would call a sustained research program, and find their criticism of Western philosophy fascinating. It is a very descriptive and hermeneutic project, and each has implemented Continental philosophy in different ways unlike other areas of Continental philosophy awaiting or reinventing the past for a sustained research project---a move that for me never gets old. But, I am an old soul so to speak, agreeing with Husserl that to be a philosopher is always to begin anew with the same questions that motivated curiosity before (or was this Fink talking about Husserl?). I just wish a paper topic would spring up in my beginning anew.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Ethics and the Tradition of Cultural Critique

This opposition between a timeless conceptual analysis in ethics of, say, common sense morality, and the Continental suspicion of mainstream culture overlap, I think. This overlap is another point of contact between roughly two figures that would not talk to each other, and as such, I want to at least offer an initial point of contact.

After having seen Butler in action in Bodies That Matter, one might regard her analysis as calling into question mainstream cultural opinions, especially about how it is that we acquire a sexed position in language. Her critique resembles the general propensity of Continental philosophers to question culture, and offer critique. In some ways, Heidegger reading back the question of Being into our culture and finding no ability to express this question (to the point that even Carnap becomes a symptom of the question's inexpressibility) is a symptom of our culture. In Husserl, the natural attitude conceals over the implicit consciousness that structures our world. We forget that intentionality is there, and take it for granted. In all these ways, there is a suspicion of our cultural world. So, what I am getting at is exactly this: construing philosophy as a form of cultural critique would inform a general suspicion that can also be suspicious of certain trends within philosophy that exemplify a targeted cultural problematic. As such, some philosophical questions in the Analytic tradition presuppose what some Continentals would reject as ridiculous unsubstantiated assumptions.

Now, take this move of cultural critique to someone like Sidgwick and his ruminations about the possibility of ethics. Sidgwick is answering the question why do we find common-sense morality so plausible. For me, this may assume a hegemony of one's culture, upbringing or Zeitgeist of the age that determines why Sidgwick is answering this question. Before we answer this, let's at least be clear what Sidgwick might think he is doing. First, Sidgwick is not saying that common sense morality is independently valid. Clearly, he thinks that common sense morality offers us action-guidance, but it must do so only because a more fundamental principle undergirds its possibility for action-guidance. For him, it is the utilitarian principle.

There is a backdoor to this line as well. Sidgwick reconciles an intuitionist epistemology with the utilitarian principle. In this way, Sidgwick opens himself up to the charge that all intuitionists face, namely, that one's intuitions are simply echoed historical socializations. Thus, his classical four criteria for an intuition to be true is just a deeper problematic of our age, one in which elevates the subject beyond the historical conditions under which the subject is realized (as Foucault explains very well in applying a Nietzschean geneaology to numerous problematics). This might also be a way of reading historicity back into another author that offers another anti-historic analysis of right and wrong. You might notice, dear reader, I have been thinking of this theme of history as it relates to the possibility of ethics as of late.

Now, I'm not going to give content to Sidgwick or to any particular form of cultural critique. Instead, I am only suggesting an initial conceptual tension, one already realized at least on the side of the Continental tradition that sees historicity as a theme of human existence inseparable from the possibility of realizing an ethics (where ethics means the possibility of creating a theory that explains what I ought to do). Thus, the analytic move to offer a conceptual story is left at an impasse, yet that is not the only impasse here. Moreover, this move to account for historicity and seeing ethics as determined by cultural forces also confronts the possibility of some Continental authors that see their work in light of emancipation, such as maybe Critical Theorists or Marxists themselves. The Continentals seem required to explain why some normative emancipation is better than the cultural status-quo. Whatever the complaint may be, the normative force driving any emancipatory analysis requires moral justification. Moral justification would seem, then, be needed, and traditionally, I find only analytic ethics concerned solely with why I find certain actions, policies or events morally valuable. Thus, the Continentals at large are largely at an impasse too.

Where does this leave me? Well, I don't know. I don't have an answer of how to incorporate an appropriate understanding of historicity or cultural critique into ethics without transgressing the limit of one side of the Analytic/Continental divide. If I were to venture a guess, then incorporating historicity might involve (amongst other things), the habituation we find in Aristotle and hermeneutic problem of practical wisdom in general. In one sense, such a response will lose precision in action-guidance, though it is arguable whether or not content of action-guidance was ever a strong feature of moral theory anyway, and that action-guidance would be more sensitive to the framework of its historical origin. Thus, a return to the Nicomachean is in order at least if the beginning ruminations on my part can sketch a response to the concerns of both traditions in ethics.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Intuitions and Ontotheology

The use of intuitions in moral philosophy, and whether or not the ontotheology of our day and age has any relation to the claim of intuitions and their independence in moral theorizing constitute the limit and power moral theorizing has for us. I've been in recent discussion with a number of people in the Continental tradition that eschew straight up moral theorizing. Instead, they regard moral theorizing as a product of an age, a certain history. For moral theorizing to have any intellectual purchase, therefore, it is important to inquire into its possibility and limits. The threshold of this limit can have an impact over the whole field of moral theorizing which to a certain extent is too large a term to have any significant sense for us. As such, I take my cue from Ross, and want to narrow the focus on Ross' intuitionism. In so doing, I will draw together some themes from Heidegger that challenge the common deontological assumption about morality's independence, and test the waters concerning the historicity that informs so much of the Continental tradition influenced from Heidegger onward.

In the first sense, this question is like many others that I have posed in the past, namely, about the phenomenology of our moral experience and all its facets from the beliefs to justifications we have for them. In another way, it is different since "intuition" is reserved for Ross in a very limited sense. For Ross, there is some issue at stake in a situation that has value. For instance, we might say that if I am not paid for services I have provided, or the customer feels I haven't done my service adequately to warrant payment, what is at stake is the integrity of my service. Did I truly do it right to warrant payment? If I didn't do what someone paid me to do, then that would be the wrong-making property of the situation, and the customer can withold payment. If I was true to the service provided, then the wrong-making property is in the customer lying about why he will not pay me. Thus, we have moral intuitions that recognize higher-ordered properties of situations and how, initially, to know what we ought to do.

Another important point about intuitions is that they are not incorrigible for Ross. Instead, they are comparable to other duties we may have, and they are defeasible because of this comparability. For instance, if I have promised to meet a friend for lunch and my wife is suddenly struck ill, I can realize by critical reflection that one intuition to honor my obligations of my wife trump considerations of a friendly lunch. Moreover, there is no infallibility in our intuitions. Critical reflection may amend the status of our immediately recognizable intuitions to do my duties.

Now that these two features of moral intuitions are generally known, I think we should switch it up to some Heidegger. For Heidegger, an ontotheology means a historical constellation of intelligibility that the current metaphysical presuppositions of the time condition exactly how we understand aspects of our place and being in the world. For Heidegger, this means that historical influences of various stages of metaphysics determine the expressibility of the human experience. This means that once a metaphysics determines what is, then this will delimit what anything is (I should mention the overwhelming exposition of an ontotheology is indebted to Iain Thomson's work). Let's try to give content this idea by looking at the history of ethics for a clue.

Some might think that the formulaic constructions of moral philosophies like Kant and Mill exemplify some aspect of our modern age whereas before a language of virtue reigned supreme. These two thinkers share something in common, the fact that they wanted to boil morality down to one basic principle from which all else would follow. Once we have the secret philosophical principle, we can determine all matters of right and wrong. This sounds very much like the ideal of the Enlightenment science which tried to grasp the ideality of the world through reason. Perhaps, the fact that the Enlightenment defined the age as one in which men would autonomously aspire to control nature through reason might have bearing as to how morality was understood. Something is missed in this age about morality.

If Heidegger is right, the history of Western metaphysics determines different type of epochs that determine the limit of how exactly we can understand the world, including morality. Of course, we can have some disagreement about what ontotheology holds true for metaphysics right now, whether or not we find ourselves thinking being is no longer asked, or that scientific-technological utopianism governs our epoch is open for discussion. I don't care either way; it's only if Heidegger is right that the historical status of the world is thus determined by a historical understanding of metaphysics that affects moral philosophy.

For Ross, this would mean that the intuitions we recognize as the wrong-making property are actually products of the type of historical epoch we are living in. Moreover, if we possess these inherited intuitions about morality, then the independent ability for moral theorizing to arrive at a way to decipher the concepts of right and wrong are overdetermined by ontotheologies, that is, we couldn't tell one way or the the other what makes actions right or wrong in moral theorizing since moral theorizing is determined by the historical understanding of metaphysics. Instead, what I call moral intuitions, in turn, might just be granting value and legitimacy to a historical product. Morality might be arbitrary because of historicity. Ultimately, this undermines the independence of ethics to suggest a criteria of why certain actions are wrong and right, and this is what I desire from a moral theory (and Ross for that matter).

So, I leave this blog entry in aporia. Does anyone think I have set up this problem in an accurate way? What possible solutions are there for ethics' independence in light of Heidegger?