Monday, November 30, 2009

Truth and Hyperbole

Maverick Philosopher gives the following example of a sober philosopher exaggerating one's truth.

For a second example, consider Martin Heidegger. Somewhere in Sein und Zeit he writes that Das Dasein ist nie vorhanden. The human being is never present-at-hand. This is obviously false in that the human being has a body which is present-at-hand in nature as surely as any animal or stone. What he is driving at is the truth -- or at least the plausibility -- that the human being enjoys a special mode of Being, Existenz, that is radically unlike the Vorhandenheit of the mere thing in nature and the Zuhandenheit of the tool. So why doesn’t he speak the truth, and nothing but the truth, without exaggerating?

First, we are told somewhere in BT, not very reasonable for a philosopher, revealing already the beginnings of uncharitability. Next, without really arguing for his disagreement, Maverick Phil makes an appeal to something "obviously false." That's not really an argument in itself, but simply an assertion. As any interlocutor knows, a the disagreer has the burden to offer a replacement view to advance the intuition of falsity of the target position in question. You can't just blurb out disagreement and call it an exaggeration.

Now, there is an analogue to Heidegger's intention. Well, sorta. Consider the Third Antinomy of Kant in the CPR. Being a mere thing in nature understood from the third-personal viewpoint of science (the impartial viewpoint, the view from nowhere) is a particular way of being and can be found historically in Kant's Third Antinomy. Most of metaphysics and philosophy has assumed this is a primary mode of being, and place human beings in this type of understanding/framework/interpretation. Upon phenomenological reflection (from the first-person point of view, the phenomenological attitude), however, we experience ourselves as acting under the conception of freedom, what Kant calls transcendental freedom. You can understand Heidegger's intuition in the same way Kant will privilege a practical mode of being, the mode of transcendental reflection over an undrestanding that places human beings as simply an object to be subsumed under causal determinism of the third-person viewpoint. In this way, so does Heidegger. He finds that we are in a primary mode of being as absorbed in the practical affairs of our everyday life and we can consider this a more narrow conception of the first-personal viewpoint. Moreover, this is primary whereas the viewpoint from nowhere is an unrealistic abstraction. We can make sense of Heidegger's motivations in a consistent way that doesn't mean he is exaggerating anymore than the assertion of him being wrong.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Another Leiter Travesty Pt. II

I am quite unnerved by this recent tirade, but let's be fair to a man that labels, yet rejects being labeled himself. First, let us be concise about the definition of Party Line Continentalsm (PLC).

Party Line Continentalism" since what it actually picks out is a political effort to enforce a certain philosophical orthodoxy, namely, that which arises from a conception of philosophy and its methods that is largely fixed by Heideggerian phenomenology and developments in mostly French philosophy that involve reactions to Heidegger (such as Derrida, but not only him).

Is the nature of philosophy fixed by one author, or methodology? Is CP? I wasn't aware that PLC was fixed by Heideggerian phenomenology nor its French reception. But let's be fair to what he thinks Good philosophy is. Good philosophy is well-composed prose, good reasoning and a decent understanding of the history of philosophy. All these things are beyond PLCers. As Leiter puts it,

their command of the history of European philosophy after Kant is often quite weak and idiosyncratic...
Party Line Continentalists are very exercised about the fact that there are philosophical scholars of the Continental traditions who treat the figures of post-Kantian European philosophy as philosophers, without reading them through the lens and the methods of Heidegger and/or post-structuralism. Heidegger and (most) of the post-structuralists (Deleuze is an exception) were not, however, very good scholars or philosophical expositors, so it is not surprising that those with real training in philosophy and its history would not read the great figures of the Continental traditions in accord with the Party Line.

I think the use of the term PLC vs. Scholars of the Continental tradition is a misnomer first of all. There is more diversity between all the work I have ever encountered. Of course, we cannot assume my experience typical, but the anecdotal experience here is in part what carries evidence for Leiter's conclusions about philosophy as a whole. Leiter picks up the self-identification of the ostracized from the very philosophical orthodoxy historically that smushed all these thinkers and traditions together in the first place. Only "real philosophers" appear as the group I mention. Then, Leiter accuses Continentals of banding together when they were initially just thrown to the wind in the time of dominant analytic philosophy. However, this is not my gripe, just an unfair time slice of the exclusion as it stands now. It's a separate and independent issue whether or not this ostracizing is still active by what PLCers call "Analytics."

And again, it's not the party line, nor is it anyone's line per se. Anyone that has ever been to SPEP or even the Heidegger meeting at the Pacific APA knows there are as many different versions of Heidegger and Derrida than an official line. Such a generalization betrays the exact content and variety of scholarship within “Continental philosophy.” Of course, Leiter would have to take seriously the journals Continental Philosophy Review, Philosophy Today and Research in Phenomenology and the New Yearbook of Phenomenology as sources of top ranked journals since many of these authors are truly scholars of various thinkers, not PLC in whole. In fact, I know of many Husserlians that have started picking up on certain problematics such as Zahavi in cognitive science, or how I situate my work as trying to discern structures of moral experience by appropriating Husserl as a way to enter metaethical problems. But, I digress. There never was a PLC, but then again, there were many people interested in Heidegger and Derrida's problematic with the metaphysical tradition. Let me make my second point.

The point is that PLCers (even though there are really noPLCers) were never bad expositors if one understood what their gripe was WITH THE TRADITION as a whole. They spoke in the same OVERALL tone that Putnam mentioned when he uttered that “Meaning ain't in the head” or Gauthier calls for a solution to the “crisis of morality” ushering in such an ambiguous phraseology to call for a solution to moral foundations as the result of moral bargaining. It's just for these thinkers (Derrida and Heideggger) the history of Western philosophy is one huge conceptual scheme in the very same way that semantic and representational content were encountered historically in the whole of metaphysics for Putnam and the history of ethics is encountered for Gauthier.

Given that one can conclude generalities about the history of Western philosophy, then such generalizations or trend-observations can stand in for decent understanding of history, as long as they lead to a clear problematic. Given that Heidegger and Derrida consider the history of Western metaphysics as uncritically accepting of presence from the Greek onwards, then it is not that they are bad expositors of history; it is Leiter and the rest of the Anglophonic world that are bad at recognizing what it is and how they are encountering the conceptual scheme of Western metaphysics. Being insular for one party is directly connected to the inability for others to even want to listen. We should be mindful of that. I will concede, however, that the predecessors were better at expressing the criticism of Western metaphysics than Heidegger or Derrida.

For these Anglophones, it all comes down to clear writing. Of course, if you were to read my paper on Stevenson's emotivism, you would think that I was an "analytic." If you read my Husserl & Derrida seminar paper, you would see me oscillating between historical clarity and the alleged obscurantism since the very critique of metaphysics/Husserl involves many locutions of Derrida, as well as the attempt to make sense of them. It's not that PLCers are bad at philosophy; it's that Anglophones pretend that the prose they write can be understood by a decently educated man in general which is as much a fiction as the ideal observer in consequential theories. However, this type of clarity in their projects was as never true as they wanted to it to be when analytic philosophy held its domination. Clarity is a matter of degrees. Just read Grice's proposal about meaning, or Davidson. You'll get levels of clarity depending on how convoluted the problem and its historical dimension. Thus, you can see my problem with the want of exclusion entirely as he says it,
I am genuinely hopeful that over the next generation Party Line Continentalists will be exiled entirely to literature departments, where lack of real depth in philosophy and its history does not matter. If, in addition, some of the unfortunate "fads" in Anglophone philosophy--and the trivial intellectual parochialism that often accompanies them--do not intervene, then we may really enter a period of philosophical scholarship in the Anglophone world in which "analytic" and "Continental" as terms of partisan battle are largely uintelligible to those drawn to the problems of philosophy.

Not only does this speak to a generous spirit to the humanities, but the biased assumption of science-philosophy relation over the humanities. How is it that English departments lack real depth? I recall Nussbaum's fascinating point about the role of literature in moral thinking and the transformative dimension we have from our encountering literature and art at large.

I have a problem with anyone that starts off with faulty assumptions. First, that Heidegger and Derrida are bad expositors and bad historians of philosophy given that such generalizing can come in the same Anglophonic tendency to stand in relation to history (I'm not just repeating this, I have reasons for thinking this, e.g. the argument of analogy contained herein with David Gauthier and Hilary Putnam). Next, these trends carried on in their predecessors not as bad scholarship and philosophy. Instead, they are like projects picked up just in the analytic tradition. Consider the term "cottage industry." Every student of analytic philosophy is aware of those papers that have spurned cottage industries of papers, and some of my favorite works of analytic philosophy come from these papers, like Bernard Williams "Internal and External Reasons" or "Moral Luck." PLCers are interested in problems, but want to see them articulating in the textual history, not abstracted into logic.

Finally, the dominant trend to see philosophy as only problems that transcend their historical significance is itself a presupposition that needs defense, and itself an uncritically held belief by many philosophers. In essence, you don't get that for free, Mr. Leiter. In philosophy, none of us get our assumptions and starting premises free. That's the point, and uncharitable point you miss completely. Don't get me wrong. I think Derrida misses the point of Husserl's complexity the more I read Voice and Phenomenon, and Violence and Metaphysics. Moreover, I see Husserl as an interlocutor to expose the shortcomings of Heidegger. I would just rather expose and treat them fairly as taking up problems within the context of the history they encountered and makes my ability to understand them possible.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Derrida Abstract

I know some of you have asked informally when I was going to post something about the Husserl and Derrida Seminar. I finally have a brief sense of the argument I will advance. Of course, this, like everything I do, is under a constant state of revision. Here's the current form:

Abstract: In this paper, I argue that the sign is not undermined by the co-contamination of expression or indication. Instead, they co-operate at nuanced levels in which expression is the “solitary of the soul” and indication is the level in which such expression requires an articulation to the mediated Other. In fact, we can reinscribe this motif of the distinction back into the entire overall ambition of Husserlian phenomenology. Such a reinscription will allow me to agree in part with Derrida that this distinction does inaugurate phenomenology, but the call of contamination of the sign is too quick. In La Voix et La Phénomène, Derrida confuses too quickly expression and indication as blurred contaminated senses, yet the essential distinction is an attempt to phenomenologically describe an experience that's content can only be articulated after it is undergone. I find this to be the aim of the Fifth Meditation. As such, I instantiate my claim in how we should take Fifth Meditation in CM as both an expression of the phenomenologist articulating how the other is given to me and simultaneously CM as expressing “in living speech also function” as indicating the content of this description to others.

SIU Phenomenology Research Center

I usually don't post things about my host institution, preferring to keep separate my blog life from my school. However, this news should be known by others.

SIU now has a dedicated center researching phenomenological work. It is VERY EXCITING to me since the bulk of my work is in phenomenology. There are only a handful of centers dedicated to phenomenology, and we are well positioned to have relationships with these few centers as well, including Dan Zahavi's Centre for Subjectivity Research.

We'll be hosting our phenomenology workshop finally in the new center! Moreover, we will be active, and even have Francoise Dastur over in late April.

Our website is now up, and is a work in progress.

This new resource strengthens my ability to apply phenomenology to areas of value inquiry, and moral phenomenology in general.

With the Phenomenology Center, and Dewey Center, we are very well-positioned to advance the fields of American philosophy and phenomenology respectively.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Health Care Debate

So, the Teabagging movement and these Congressmen were involved speaking at a rally with this sign in the back of the podium. The sign reads: National Socialist Health Care, Germany, 1945 with a picture of heaped bodies of Holocaust victims.

Michele Bachmann:

Washington Office
107 Cannon HOB
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: (202) 225-2331
Fax: (202) 225-6475

John Boehner:

Washington, D.C. Office
1011 Longworth H.O.B.
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: (202) 225-6205
Fax: (202) 225-0704 Toll-free number

Eric Cantor:

329 Cannon Building
Washington, DC 20515
P: 202.225-2815
F: 202.225-0011

Jeb Hensarling
129 CHOB
Washington, DC 20515
(202) 225-3484

I called these offices. One of Cantor's interns or staff (it was unclear which it was) couldn't even tell me what Dachau was, and the same held for Hensarling's intern/staff member. She simply put me on hold and wished me away. Bachmann and Boehner's offices both repeated the same thing--they were not responsible for a rally of 10,000. I said that is also slightly misleading. We can associate with whom we choose. Our ethical associations have bearing on our character and practical identity. We can choose to be in the company of people, and that doesn't really remove the fact that the sign is distasteful and the Conservative opposition to health care is resorting to uncritical rhetoric and symbolism. It makes me sick.

If there are sensible Republicans "out there" that have substantial criticism, then they are being lost in the shuffle of stupidity with which these people are choosing to enact their opposition with equating Obama to Hitler, appropriating genocide in awfully erroneous and disanalogous ways, and ambiguous word toting like "freedom."

Monday, November 2, 2009

Nietzsche As Naturalist: Discussing Leiter's Nietzsche

There are some interesting threads worked out in B. Leiter's paper available on the the Social Science Research Network, Nietzsche's Naturalism Reconsidered and while we may not see eye to eye on many things, I have been having similar thoughts about Husserl given my exposure to the proprioception literature in Shaun Gallagher's How the Body Shapes the Mind, and his call for a neurophenomenology. For me, it seems that Husserl's critique of the natural attitude is a critique of strong naturalism:

Strong Naturalism (SN): All events require physical explanation.

If all events require physical explanation, then the laws of logic must be physically based, and the move to psychology to explain the rules of logic is the very source of the psychologism Husserl defends against.

Weak Naturalism (WN): All events require explanation, but not all explanations need to be physical (some can be simply descriptive like phenomenological descriptions)

I digress.

I am particularly interested in Leiter's paper as a good example of scholarship on Nietzsche despite some skepticism of poster's in another thread that Leiter is a hack Nietzsche scholar. Being skeptical about the PGR is a separate issue from his view of "naturalizing Nietzsche" So, given that my audience has always been MORE Continental, I thought that we should look to the arguments presented in the most clear concise writing I know of Leiter, and propose where he goes wrong (if he does).

For me, this is a wonderfully written piece where the argument is very clear. My exact skepticism falls on method here. I'm skeptical that every piece of Nietzsche's corpus can be unified under one single authored motivation. Philosophical exegesis sometimes tries to unify disparate elements into one single guiding thread for interpretation--sometimes this seems to quick, other times too slow. This is often done in hard cases like Aristotle in which the Metaphysics resist easy unification of theme since we cannot account for how the author's mind regarded the place of the various inconsistencies (where did Aristotle change his mind?). The same may be said of how particular some of the texts in Nietzsche's corpus seem to be.

However, let's give Leiter his due despite people emailing me that we shouldn't. If you don't think that Nietzsche can be naturalized, then argue for the claim. As I said, I'm sympathetic that there are degrees of rejecting naturalism that doesn't admit of reading Husserl as a full-blown anti-naturalist. There could be many shades of naturalism, even open for Nietzsche.

Right now, I'm wondering about distinction between a therapeutic and speculatively naturalist reading of Nietzsche. Can such a distinction hold?