Monday, December 20, 2010

Eagleton's Death of Universities


Below is my response to Terry Eagleton's Article in the Guardian. 

As universities continue to struggle with the shortfall of public assistance, this situation opens up the financial crisis to speak once more on the function of higher education, and what we value as higher education.
First, the function of a university is employment for most people. However, does this really follow? I never thought it did. I have friends with degrees in French literature working at Enterprise Rental Car, or investment firms hiring linguistics degrees in addition to more common degrees like Business or Finance. Back at the turn of the 21st century, I walked into a philosopher’s office, and decided to change my major. I went from Art Education to Philosophy. It’s a rather strange switch, I know. However, it just felt right. I did it for my own purposes, which I saw as self-empowerment. I never went to university to think that I’d get a job in my field of study. Instead, I went because in some ways I was expected to go.
Self-empowerment came from philosophy’s benefit as a therapy of the soul. Philosophy courses taught me not what to think as so many other courses do, but challenged my personal beliefs. Every philosophy professor challenged me to rethink my own thoughts. I’d learn how some problem had been articulated by a historical philosopher, and challenge their argument. I’d see the implications of some historical idea for my life, or I’d find that the philosophy or philosopher in question led to different questions altogether than the one’s I had started with. I’d stop by the professor’s office hours and have very meaningful conversations that one cannot find in the public anywhere else. In this way, philosophy taught me to think about questions that have no definitive answers. It fosters skills in critical thinking, logic and the intellectual imagination that only comes from philosophy and by extension other humanities-based disciplines. 
Think about it—an entire major that answers questions that have no definitive answers. How many times in life do we come into contact with those types of questions? Everywhere. Whereas if we conceive of education as only for getting a career, our education will not be soulful or meaningful beyond the career we have chosen. Certainly, human life has more experiences that reflect the type of questioning that goes on in the humanities at large, and more specifically philosophy. How many times have we wondered if something our governments did was just, or how we ought to proceed in doing a very difficult and moral thing? How many times have we reflected on what was art, or what really is beauty? How many times have we found our faith lacking in certainty and sought in reflection what we thought faith took for granted?
The type of questioning in a philosophy courses we ask our students to do cannot be reliably predicted. The benefit I argue for philosophy is one in which this unpredictable growth produces a sense of intellectual autonomy and learning that defies contemporary practice. Students are made uncomfortable once they are shown exactly how vulnerable our beliefs actually are, and this is the most common reason why students fail to experience philosophy (and the humanities at large) in a positive light. They are taught that more practical fields of study can be given a single answer. In many disciplines, students are shown the right answer, and the questions they are taught to ask have definitive answers. In engineering, the calculation for what the buttress can support has one right answer. However, in living our lives as human beings, we rarely face such clear problems. Not every dilemma we face can be put to an equation. Sometimes, our problems are different than that.
This is not to say that the humanities are for everyone. They are not. Some people are just better at soil science than others. Some people are more comfortable with narrowly entrenched questioning than going to push the limits of what is conceptually possible to know. However, a university is a place for self-empowerment and understanding. Students should have the freedom to study these questions. These are the types of questions that are important to reflective individuals. If you’re not reflective about the human condition, then do something else. If you have the nerve to ask questions of a philosophical nature, then the more power to you as an individual versus a world that is unsettled by philosophical investigation. Philosophy so affected my soul in my younger days that I couldn’t put it down. I can’t stop being philosophical and so I have decided to go to philosophy graduate school. I have taught it to undergraduates for the last five years, and continually love teaching it.
Now, does anyone think that the humanities are for the rich at large? I’ve never found this to be the case. I’ve studied philosophy at Essex in the UK, Simon Fraser University in Canada, and at SIUC in the United States. Most of the graduate students I’ve run across are run-of-the-mill Middle-classers. No one is exceptionally rich and the demands of graduate study force one into poverty. We all know that as first-time lecturers or as Associate Professors in North America, we will not make much. We’ll be lucky to payback some of the student loans. Still, if we can land a job in academia, we will be comfortable, and that’s all I or my colleagues truly want.

 Lastly, I wanted to touch upon the incompatibility between advanced capitalism and public universities. Eagleton’s point about their incompatibility raises the question that I started this response with: How are we to value higher education? If our societies are not interested in turning out reflective individuals, but simply consumers and career-oriented people, then what is valued is not reflection about the human condition. Instead, what is valued is how universities simply function as a cog in the overall machine of the economic state. We make practical oriented decisions about what we value everyday. In so doing, we don’t need to dispose of the idea of how some public goods are better managed by government than the private market forces that have infected the management of public goods. We can make practical decisions without disposing of some intrinsic goods that must always be part of the equation such as public housing for the poor, or emergency responders. How we manage our universities is just another way to ask what we value as a public good over thinking that no such intrinsic goods need matter—a debate it should be pointed out that is entirely philosophical!


Friday, December 10, 2010

End of the Year

In about twenty minutes, I will walk down the hallway into my PHIL 303 Philosophy and Art class, and I will miss it. I've had a blast teaching it, and these are the types of students that actually want to learn, read and reflect on art. Teaching philosophy can be very rewarding.

If any of my students ever find this blog, know that you're missed.

So, I do have a variety of philosophical things to say, now, about Husserl and Heidegger, yet I haven't formulated any statement about them. I will continue to master Husserl's corpus and might switch from moral phenomenology to a more manageable topic given I am writing my prospectus next semester. In principle, I want to start next year off with a project in mind, and take a year to write it. I'd love to be done with school. We'll see what happens.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Geeky

I Am A: Neutral Good Human Wizard/Cleric (3rd/2nd Level)


Ability Scores:

Strength-11

Dexterity-11

Constitution-11

Intelligence-20

Wisdom-15

Charisma-16


Alignment:
Neutral Good A neutral good character does the best that a good person can do. He is devoted to helping others. He works with kings and magistrates but does not feel beholden to them. Neutral good is the best alignment you can be because it means doing what is good without bias for or against order. However, neutral good can be a dangerous alignment because it advances mediocrity by limiting the actions of the truly capable.


Race:
Humans are the most adaptable of the common races. Short generations and a penchant for migration and conquest have made them physically diverse as well. Humans are often unorthodox in their dress, sporting unusual hairstyles, fanciful clothes, tattoos, and the like.


Primary Class:
Wizards are arcane spellcasters who depend on intensive study to create their magic. To wizards, magic is not a talent but a difficult, rewarding art. When they are prepared for battle, wizards can use their spells to devastating effect. When caught by surprise, they are vulnerable. The wizard's strength is her spells, everything else is secondary. She learns new spells as she experiments and grows in experience, and she can also learn them from other wizards. In addition, over time a wizard learns to manipulate her spells so they go farther, work better, or are improved in some other way. A wizard can call a familiar- a small, magical, animal companion that serves her. With a high Intelligence, wizards are capable of casting very high levels of spells.


Secondary Class:
Clerics act as intermediaries between the earthly and the divine (or infernal) worlds. A good cleric helps those in need, while an evil cleric seeks to spread his patron's vision of evil across the world. All clerics can heal wounds and bring people back from the brink of death, and powerful clerics can even raise the dead. Likewise, all clerics have authority over undead creatures, and they can turn away or even destroy these creatures. Clerics are trained in the use of simple weapons, and can use all forms of armor and shields without penalty, since armor does not interfere with the casting of divine spells. In addition to his normal complement of spells, every cleric chooses to focus on two of his deity's domains. These domains grants the cleric special powers, and give him access to spells that he might otherwise never learn. A cleric's Wisdom score should be high, since this determines the maximum spell level that he can cast.


Find out What Kind of Dungeons and Dragons Character Would You Be?, courtesy of Easydamus (e-mail)

Thomson on Heidegger and Levinas AND Co-incidence

I am not really convinced by Thomson's interpretation that Levinas is committed to an implicit understanding of Heideggerian phenomenology, particularly about death -- to get his thought "off the ground." It is as Thomson observes a "non-standard interpretation." I do agree that Levinas is one of the more thoughtful and creative interpreters of Being and Time. Although I do not agree Levinas is as beholden to it as Thomson suggests, it is an amazing article with a commanding depth. Moreover, Thomson has such a command over these thinkers that when he writes on "Continental" philosophy, I think we should take stock of actually how he writes Continental philosophy. It is rather clear and lucid.

Reading this article comes as I am amidst a Heidegger seminar on Being and Time.

I find myself navigating through Division II, part 2 in BT. I will argue that Levinas's description of conscience better fit the phenomenology of conscience, but our reasons for rejecting Heidegger's description cannot be that Heidegger can clearly be said to not take ethics seriously. He is very ambiguous on this point with his ethically charged language. Rather, Heidegger's ambiguity on the possibility of ethics opens up need for meditations like Levinas to centrally articulate the phenomenology of our moral experience. We do have to reject, however, that ethics is an ontic inquiry and is, as Levinas suggests, a more constitutive experience than ontology can thematize.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Warby Parker Glasses

The short story: My wife got very ill and was hospitalized for six days. Before that, however, I had won a blog contest of sorts for a free pair of glasses for my wife. While she was in the hospital, I lost track of time and space, let alone when her free glasses were coming in the mail. In fact, I still don't know what happened. When I relayed the story to Warby Parker, not only did they say "No sweat, we'll send out a new pair for my wife." They also said, "Have a pair for yourself."

My wife originally learned about Warby Parker from various design blogs. They're stylish, chic and are remarkably vintage. That's not all. As a moral philosopher, I love it when a company takes on the duty of being engaged communally. For every Warby Parker pair of glasses sold, one is given to a person in need! I will make no jokes about being a poor PhD student in need. I won them from a contest. Needless to say, the company is a good fit for my educated sensibilities as well as my eyes. In the future, I'll always buy my glasses from this place.

Warby Parker has found a friend in one philosopher. Below is a picture of my glasses lying on my favorite philosopher, Edmund Husserl.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Tea Party and the Politics of Negation


Before anything else, I’m a philosopher. I’m a philosopher before I’m an activist. I’m a philosopher before I’m an American citizen. In fact, you might say that philosophy subsumes all particular roles I have into itself, and the only thing I may say about myself is that I’m Socratic—questioning and reflective, cautious to assent too quickly to a point and modest in my making claims about the human condition. In truth, I think every American ought to be this way, but that’s another post for another time. For now, let me explain what I find so dangerously fascinating about the Tea Party movement.

With this temperament, I’m not too overly optimistic about Tea Party claims. The Tea Party is a miscellaneous category, the politics of all that is other, yet it’s come to solidify with a cluster of ideas and identities. It is born out of a populist rejection of moderate liberalism it seeks to exaggerate into the wretchedness of Marxism and socialism. Within its ranks, the Tea Party consists mostly of libertarians, disgruntled Republicans and upset rural Democrats. It has nothing new to say but like the Republicans during the Health Care debate, “No, no and no.” The make-up is also largely white. Philosophically, we might inquire behind the reasons that motivate such views, yet, I think such cohesion is rather impossible. That’s the very interesting philosophical point. Let me explain.

When a group comes together with disparate viewpoints, one can usually know what a group stands for. A collective representation of their particular vantage point is disclosed in the actions made on behalf of the group’s name. The actions taken are “authored” in the way that Hobbes’s Sovereign authorized the action of those that embody the will of the Sovereign. Moreover, such groups usually publish their core values, and when an American joins these groups, a practical knowledge of what they value can be known. However, the Tea Party movement is entirely grassroots. It is made of up of individuals with no identifiable leader. During media coverage of one of their rallies, this was a sticking point and reason given for the greatness of the Tea Party. With no identifiable leader and a pluralism of upset citizens, the group has no hierarchical values it shares. Instead, this plurality and grassroots structure dissolves any meaningful claim it can make as movement, and the only meaningful criticism can come from its members themselves.

Now, while this may seem highly unproblematic in a America so celebratory of its individualism, it means functionally the meaning of what is valued can only come from the member. One can, then, only say “I feel that X” or “I see it as Y.” The possibility of articulating a vision of political change is ruptured by no cohesion amongst the members. There might be a spectrum of upset individuals comprising the group to the point that many different criticisms are all coming at the President and his policies. The lack of a solid identity is not an advantage; there is no upshot to a group that can negate the politics of Washington. Even if there are solutions to be found within the Tea Party about a range of problems, which I doubt, the level of plurality manifests only within the negation since negation is the only way the plurality of the Tea Party members can be brought together in activism. And this is the danger of the Tea Party! They are unwise to their own nullity in action, and cannot therefore carry together any meaningful change since they have no vision to offer. Political power must arrange the world constructively in some fashion, not simply negate the status-quo.
.
The negativity in Tea Party politics obstructs them to the danger of populist political movements. Populist movements openly deny the complexity of a political situation and substitute a radically disconnected view to replace current practices. Some Tea Party candidates want a flat tax, say 15% across the board. Consider that 15% of a millionaire’s yearly income would be high, but not as high as say someone who makes $30,000 USD in a year. With the decrease in the mean of American household incomes, the amount normal people would pay under a flat-tax might equally be more damaging than having a gradual scalar tax that depends on income. Of course, this prediction is incumbent upon the continual state of income decline in the recession and the slow climb expected of our economic return to pre-2008 status. The very rural poor White American sitting around the various Tea Party rallies would pay more of what they did have than those at the top in this recession alone if income tax is changed to a flat tax. The Democratic solution to maintain an income tax based on income is more favorable to lower-income American households.

Another disconnected proposal that might surface is the dissolution of entire government agencies based on a libertarian impulse from the classical liberalism of such thinkers as John Locke. While I love the attention that philosophers get outside my classroom, I do not expect any productive solution from Locke to come forward. Locke abstracts human beings from the social conditions and environment. It privileges an atomism that is unrealistic. I’ll have more to say on these issues later.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Retraction of Angst

One should never write anything while moody. Okay, let's go as far to say that one should not write philosophy while moody or angsty. I formally retract my Nietzschean commitments of the previous post. I'm still bitter, but the sun is shining today. I am no longer aware of the burden of Being (Heideggerian joke).

Sunday, October 10, 2010

On the Person

To be a person is a distinct, if not, concept on its own. In an age where ontology qua scientism drives the push of philosophy, we often forget the concrete subject that lives through these experiences. Primitively basic to living through our experiences as a subject is being a person.

The tricky part in philosophy is to assume only so much is suspect in the very question you ask. For instance, in ethics you ask about what is right and wrong action. Thus, this question assumes implicitly: A) moral properties are evaluative of only actions and B) assumes that very level of being a person basic to the  ethical experience. Call this the 'received view' of what ethics is. My only point is that being a person is subsumed under the 'received view' of ethics. There is, actually, a deep phenomenological core to describe underneath what the typical 'received view' of ethics.

Contrary to phenomenology, I find that two moves in contemporary ethics have been made about persons, and both an be united under assuming beforehand the nature of persons. The nature of persons are decided before one would phenomenologically look to  Following Kant, being a person is expressed through rationality. A person has moral standing only insofar as a person can grasp the form of morality in the categorical imperative and apply it. In consequential formulations, a person is also expressed through rationality, but it is a rationality about the means to satisfy an end that benefits all. This does nothing to differentiate the basic reduction of a person to the rational capacities. A person is only that which can determine the ends of action. Yet, there is more to being a person than a practically rational maximizer or rational apprehender. There are more facets to our lived experience, especially in the ethical dimension than laying bare the basic structural principle of all morality. Laying bare a structure requires that Kant and Mill presuppose the nature of persons prior to describing the structure of morality.

A phenomenology of the person would reject assuming the person outright. The person would have to be defined in such a way that levels of revealing could come forth from personhood itself. For now, a person is that which has subjectivity. Subjectivity is lived through in relation to a world with others, and participants in the lifeworld.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Phenomenologically Thick Concepts


Some time ago, I gave a talk to our department. I maintained several things, but I hinted at two implicit intuitions I'd like to bring into relief now.

A) Relevant moral properties are never thin properties, that is, no moral property is ever just evaluative.

and

B) All relevant moral properties/considerations are thick properties, that is, all moral properties have a descriptive and evaluative component to them.

I also stated that virtues, or virtue considerations are thick, and here's my reasoning. Virtues describe the reliable trait I have or ought to have as a state intrinsic to the practical "who" I am. These virtues are better described as practical abilities I exercise and grow into. That's the descriptive element. As a teenager, I might not be as patient as I now am, especially regarding things I want from things I need. However, in my 31 years of life, I have more wisdom to be patient for things, and can readily distinguish between what I need from what I want. In this way, it is descriptive of the practical "who" I am that one might describe me as "patient".

Notice in the above example that the description of the agent possessing patience is pregnant with evaluative meaning. The fact that there is a difference in description between my impatient teenager self and the more refined 31 year-old PhD student carries with it the message that only now do I realize that as a teenager I ought to have distinguished between the patience virtuous demands generally and how impatient I really was. By all accounts, I should have been different; I should have had more patience as a teenager. In this way, the virtue of patience is both a trait I now have, and reflection about patience independent of my possession of the trait has evaluative significance.

Now, the fact that agents possess a trait and ought to have it occur simultaneously in reflecting on a given virtue. The truth is that virtues are never abstracted from the practice of agent's possessing them. Virtue ethics is an ethics of realizing a balanced life where the virtues facilitate our growth. There is no moment when we can call upon a morally thin property to parse out the difference between the descriptive (having a virtue) and the evaluative (the practical wisdom stemming from a virtue). In order to see this, let me first discuss the opposing view of thin properties.

Normative theories advance rightness as the model thin property. So an act consequentialist might accept that an act is right if and only if it generates more good, but in order to believe in such a morally thin property as rightness, the act consequentialist is forced to value only one element in an action. Rightness is forced upon only the action, and that action is either right or wrong. More peculiar, right and wrong are simple predicates that can only attach to actions. An action could not be described as brutal. Brutality intimates the presence of the doer with the deed. Under such a view, the doer is not distanced from action. Instead, the agent comes to possess a quality with the use of "brutal" that the act consequentialist cannot stand for, and yet this is the theoretic advantage of morally thick concepts. It brings to light the unforeseen level that it is the agent and action that are morally valuable, and if we dare say so, the type of person I ought to be is the source of why an action is brutal in as much as it is wrong. Put another way, wrongness is a minimal level of moral evaluation. It says something different if I call an action brutal. The act consequentialist has cleaned up morality to be so thin that it makes for a highly precise measure of the value of an act, but that precision is maintained at a level no normative theory can describe (even though they think they can). My chief reason for thinking that precision is general in ethics is a demonstration that moral properties are actually thick, incapable of inspiring certainty as thin ones do.

However, it can be argued that I have removed the certainty of at least our common intuitive judgments about what we are morally certain about. Leaving an infant alone in a trash heap is wrong, and the criterion of wrongness offered by act consequentialists or Kantians might differ. Yet, it is the fact that these theories try to establish one overall principle that best explains why it is that we are certain about some of our common intuitions. The certainty flows from their actually existing a certain method of testing for rightness and wrongness. It can be done to any action. However, actions are not simply the product of a self-contained moral agent. Instead, an action is a display of the responsive strategies of the type of person who I am. When a mother abandons a baby to a trash heap, it is not as if the action were the only thing to have a value. Such an action is a realizing of the type of the mother is. A mother that discards her baby in a trash heap is morally deficient in her being. She lacks the ability to care for her child in the way someone ought to care for their child. Our judgment of the mother would be lessened if the mother abandons the baby at a convent in the foundling wheel. In fact, the sacrifice to abandon one's child to the church may be a sign of great love. The mother knows she cannot provide for her child in the same way that the church can.

The recognition of these judgments about the type of people revealed in action takes place within intentionality. This is the phenomenological connection. There is a conceptual space as intentional living subjects that can be captured by phenomenological analysis. It is the description of how it is that I live out the structure of moral experience through the possession of morally salient virtues versus vices. I do not have all the answers about such an experience, but it is one that I am interested in opening up in future phenomenological descriptions.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Politics and Everything Conservative Under the Sun

What is conservative really mean for American politics?

It means the abuse of history to legitimate one's current ideology and usual historical blindness to how antiquated classical liberalism is for contemporary politics.

It means promoting radically individualistic autonomous selves that are atomistic to such an extent that the communal bonds necessary for any society are deemed as irrelevant to practical considerations we might face.

It means making people radically responsible for things they cannot control like the demographic determinations of someone's background in a largely unjust world.

It means fundamentally believing in a free market system so radically and fervently that any criticism of it is demonized before the substance of that criticism comes to the fore. This is especially exemplified by the philosophical illiteracy demonstrated by demonizers of Marx to have never read his texts and secondly to not understand Marx was a perverted Hegelian.

It means usually adhering to an Evangelical interpretation of Christianity to such an extent that religion becomes a force to manipulate a massive amount of people with the subsequent consequence of promoting a theocracy in American government.

It means thinking that the private ownership of firearms will prevent the rise of a tyrannical state despite the massive gap between what the military owns and what we, the citizens, own as weapons.

It means thinking that there is something called hetero-normativity about sexuality despite the massive amount of sexual difference inherent in the human experience.

It means thinking that the United States is so sovereign that rational multilateral decisions in which states work together for a common peace are deemed irrelevant to the needs of our national interests.

It means thinking that women cannot be liberated through advances in medical technology such that they cannot decide the fate of their own reproductive system.

It means thinking that a woman's body is owned by the state since in denying her personal autonomy for abortion, conservatives will wind up owning a woman's body through legislating what a woman can do.

It means usually thinking that creationism should be taught in biology classrooms, and if we do that, then why not bring back Aristotelian four elements to replace particle physics?

It means being so ignorant of the rise Islam and its subsequent history that we cannot separate out fundamentalist radicals from the rest to such an extent that we hide our bigotry about Islam behind the tactful suggestion that a Mosque in New York City be built elsewhere than two blocks away from ground zero. Moreover, we are so blind to the complexities of world politics and Islam at large that Conservative Christians propagate a medieval us vs. them model which is commonly accepted as common sense in the Republican party.

It means being so blind to economic policies that benefit the disappearing middle class that you blindly appeal to the dream of social mobility to hard-working Americans who will never see the dream promised to them by a Republican party that defends the interests of the rich over the most poor.

It means falsely informing people that there will be death panels and that Canada's health care system is ruthlessly inefficient. I lived in Canada for three years, and if I have the choice, I will emigrate and raise a family there.

Okay, I'm done with this. This is only making me angrier.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Upcoming Conference

I'll be giving a talk at the West Virginia Philosophical Society on October 8th.

I just wish it didn't have the words "West Virginia" in it, even though I get to go back home to Western Pennsylvania to do so.

"The Phenomenological Inadequacy of Ethical Naturalism"

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Interesting Thread

Over at Perverse Egalitarianism, there is some musings on the relationship between naturalism and phenomenology. I don't know how naturalism is used in this thread, but there is something like an anti-naturalism in phenomenology only insofar as the general positing character of the natural attitude becomes all-encompassing. This is what is really important when speaking about naturalism in Husserl. Husserl does not eschew the world. Moreover, it might be possible to have a naturalism that works in tandem with phenomenology. I'm aware that Shaun Gallagher thinks phenomenology puts us in contact with mental events in the right type of way and as such, argues for a neurophenomenology that is not simply a folk psychology.

For me, naturalism is the reduction of philosophical inquiry to what the natural sciences posit. In such a relationship, philosophy disappears as directed inquiry of a free subject. Philosophy becomes only reactionary to science in the most excessive form. This is not to say, however, that there cannot be a range of activity studied by the natural sciences. In so doing, those studying science must regard themselves as engaging in a life-praxis. It is only when the scientific character of the world is presupposed as the only legitimate standpoint we can ever take on issues that makes robust naturalism problematic.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Another Mildstone

So, the graduate director emailed me and told me that I had fulfilled my language requirement. That put me in a really good mood since things have kinda sucked recently.

So, at the end of this term:

I will have taken all coursework required for the PhD
I have my language down
I have my analytic course requirement (waived from the analytic MA)
I have a preliminary outline of a literature prospectus (a little ahead of the game)

Steps still to overcome:

I will take the prelims for my PhD next Fall.
I will need to complete a literature prospectus, form a committee and write something called a dissertation

For Fun:

I will continue to audit more German courses because German is fun.
I will start exploring Scheler's work on moral personhood in addition to Hart and Sokolowski on the person as well.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Phenomenological Account of Commitment

Commitment is what separates out successful relationships from bad ones. It is the word most associated with comedically about how a man will fail to live up to the virtues of monogamy. We have an entire cliche industry about this phenomenon. This is my first real attempt at a solo phenomenological description of commitment.

In the Same Sex Marriage Debate (SSM hereafter), someone may claim that commitment and the conventionality of marriage alone give us reason to allow for SSM. I reject straight out relativism about the conventionality of our moral practices, but think that in the SSM debate, there is something about commitment that features in our experience of love. This experience seems common enough to both hetero and homosexual couples that I posit its essential featuring.

In commitment, you take on and internalize living-for-another. You are not obligated to anyone other than someone you have sworn a vow of commitment towards. You are allowed to be partial in this experience. Let me elucidate the structure of this experience.

In living-for-another, the meaning of my actions are defined in relation towards the other. To lay claim to a practice as one's own is a reflection of the other's character. If I go out and steal TVs, I embarrass my wife since my actions reflect on her. The reflecting on her is the fact that my actions chosen in this way are oriented towards how I have chosen to relate to others through her. When I do something shameful, I have forgotten how I ought to live-for-her since living for another requires a moral orientation towards one's partner that makes one's life completely suffused with the my partner's presence. Living-for-another is, then, a normatively driven disposition to take on someone else as the condition for which you will always act.

Living-for-another is a surrendering over to the promise of the partner's transcendence. When I need something, I simply call out and my wife will be there-for-me. Regardless of what she is doing, she will come, even if begrudgingly, into the room to answer my question or get what I need. In this way, commitment requires a devotion to surrender, and it goes both ways. In traditions past, men had a more active role and women reacted to their wants and needs. However, this ethically unsustainable, and gives reason to reject any form of relationship in which both partners are not equally surrendered. It is the possibility of equal surrendering that separates out good relationships from bad relationships. Moreover, the surrendering over explains why it is that one's actions reflect on the other, as explained above. To be committed is to be promised and deliver over to another. It is through this mutual surrendering of wills that one finds their partner worthy for the respect of love.

Commitment cannot simply be about attracted love. It is a deeper type of love than simply liking another person. Many people substitute the concept of attracted love for something deeper than what it is not. Attraction can lead to sexual possession of the other. However, purely physical and attraction are not substitutes for mutual surrendering. The confusion lies in that surrendering the body over to the other in the sexual act is not surrendering it in a sexual act in the sense of living-for-another. The sexual act in living-for-another is carnally about possessing the other's flesh, but it is an enactment of surrendering to the point for that mutual surrendering. Mere possession of the flesh can lead to transcendence of the other in mutual surrendering only if that possession is directed towards that mutual surrendering. This is best captured by the vernacular phrase "making love." If it isn't, it is something else, superficial, hedonistic or otherwise.

The mutual surrendering of the other's transcendence creates partnerships. Yet, in living-for-another a partnership cannot be a sustained relation only between two parties once consummated in a ceremony. Instead, it is like faith in that it requires renewal. Mutual surrendering will be renewed in the act of each surrendering to the other. The submission required for living-for-another enacts a promise a new to sustain what has been, or to correctly re-establish where the couple ought to proceed. The renewal enables us to see that we are once again anew, the newness of re-invoking the vows of commitment. They must be taken on again every so often in order that we may sustain the awareness that living-for-another requires.

Living-for-another can be suffocating and you will see many couples assert a separation from living-for-anotherness. The man may do something like carve out a space in the garage to work on his life-projects or establish a man-cave. He will go out with single friends and act as if he were not living-for-another. If this breaks down too much, then the living-for-another will become threatened, and hence will not be renewed as it requires. Infidelity is one example of the ultimate break in which commitment breaks down the possibility for renewal since so much of the renewal of living-for-another takes place in the transcendence of the sexual act. For living-for-another, the sexual act takes on the mutual surrendering required at all times in life, but within this act, sexuality is a surrender of the body to symbolize more than the bodily possession of the other. It is an opening of promising where the other's pleasure becomes your own, and the union of flesh (no matter heterosexual or homosexual) becomes shared between two. To break that bond and transgress against the possibility of renewal is what is so devastating about cheating on one's partner. It disrupts the security and sanctity of the renewal commitment necessitates in its own structure.

Given that I have described commitment as a living-for-another. It follows that part of this experience allows me to see what types of relationships do not have commitment in them. They are, as it were, substituting the concept for the experience, superficial pleasure for commitment itself. In this way, all relationships can be judged accordingly to how committed the partners are within that relationship. We have a way to view in some sense how it is that living-for-another takes shape in the concrete experience of our lives and know how silly counterfactual reasoning is when they assert wrongly that sincerely committed relationships are not enough for marriage. Rather, it is commitment that makes possible our ability to share in a commitment with a loving partner.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Something Weird

This happened twenty minutes ago and as a phenomenologist, I wanted to capture this narrative. A woman had been visiting her daughter. The daughter dropped of her baby at daycare. Then, the daughter got into an accident. Relieved to hear that the baby was not in the accident, I uttered, "God bless." At the utterance at that phrase, a strange feeling external to myself came over me. I felt reassured that Ashley (my wife) would also be Okay. She is currently in the hospital for an unknown severe infection and complications of possibly a virus or severe allergic reaction to an antibiotic.

A strange and ultimately weird experience ensued. I felt whole, or at the very least connected to the sun on my back. I quickly entered my car and burst out in tears thanking Jesus. I knelt over the steering column excited and shaking. My tears were not that of mourning, or that something bad was coming. I was rejoicing. I felt like Ashley's health would be delivered to me. Deliverance.

A couple of nights ago, I prayed. I confessed to a philosophical friend of mine in my department, and called my more Conservative friend. I had prayed ask-fors, the type of prayers that are insincere. The type of prayers where a man covers his bases "just in case." Cephalus in the opening of the Republic in Book 1 leaves to do this very thing before the arguments get under way.

It should be known that I have defended materialist ontologies in philosophy of mind. I have ridiculed those that go to excess in faith, and still mock the impiety of the Inspiration channel. I love to read even Sartre and his existentialist positions concerning how man makes himself, and I think that evolution is right about how material processes unfold naturally. I have never considered myself a theist. At the age of 17, I scolded a Christian apologeticist for misconstruing the complexities of Carbon dating at a youth group. I told him he didn't understand what he was talking about and decisively left, putting Northminster Presbyterian behind me. In high school, I told off a strange kid that God will not strike me down for saying God did not exist. In college, I found Descartes for two weeks and soon found that mind-body dualistic interactionism had to many problems to be true, and found a materialist ontology quite satisfying to explain consciousness as just a neural network.

In that experience, I also recalled my Kant, and the antinomies of pure reason. Speculative reason cannot confirm or dis-confirm the existence of God. Reason should always remain agnostic to problems it can never solve. To live life philosophically is not simply to adopt the epistemic orientation to world and see in every moment whether one has justified beliefs about what is before them. Faith is an operative concept, more akin to the habituation of virtues in Aristotle. It is a way of seeing, an opening to the possibility of something greater, a connection that lives through and constitutes -- no better put "permeates" the field of my subjective horizon. It is that maintaining the openness in a world of constant doubt and idiotic literalism where religion goes wrong. It is the insight of religion so often missed, and I do not know how to register this experience.

I am going over in my head. Did I create or foster this in myself by constantly asking the divine to aid in the health of my wife? Could my stress have altered my brain to foster conditions to calm my stress down? Was this an experience grounded in some materialist ontology of my situation? What about the prior asking, the pseudo-prayers. I know these were insincere. These were the "what-if" prayers of an undecided Kantian (on matters of metaphysics only). These were not the prayers of a man devout, but a habituated naturalist. Did I presuppose the existence of God by being open? I don't think so. If I presupposed God, then the content of the experience wouldn't be that overwhelming. It'd be like when you know your little brother will come back for your hidden stash of cookies. It wouldn't be overwhelming, nor would it be a break in the normal flow of expectations of your experience.

These very expectations of my experience are that easy and tidy scientific categories organize the world, and that these categories are responsibly posited by systematically agreed upon criteria of practicing scientists. I accept these explanations as easily as I toss a coin. These categories explain reliably the concordance of how to expect the world. Things will fall because of gravity, animals will mutate randomly. Surface tension of water will cause the water to drop. It is not like I asked for Jesus, or to have a complete urge of certainty overtake my body, causing me to shudder over a steering column. It does not fit the concordance of the natural attitude presupposed normally. It breaks that mold, and forces me to put my cat on the chair by the draped window. I kissed her, and said "Let's look at sunlight together." She meowed in agreement.

I must go and return my wife to good health.I may never be a whole-hearted Christian, but I will express my faith in the tenants of my culture. I will ask for Christ's guidance every now and again. I pray for the safe return of my wife.

Same Sex Marriage Again

I'm over at edwardfeser.blogspot.com at this thread urging several points about the SSM debate.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Ideas 1 Part 2

















In this post, I will offer an interpretation about section 49 in Ideas 1. This section does not establish a form of idealism in Ideas 1.  This came about from a recent confusion I've had about sections 49, and why Husserl thought that if the physical world were annihilated, then phenomenology as a research project could continue unhindered. At worst, it is an attempt as one friend put it "to out Descartes Descartes." By this account, Husserl extends the Cartesian moment not simply to negate individual beings so that certainty can be gleaned by the cogito's reflexivity, but to doubt further to the point that phenomenology can be valid even if our substantively the world is idealistic.

In Ideas 1, Husserl says this of Descartes, "his attempt to doubt universally is properly an attempt to negate universally" (p. 59) Within that project, Descartes only carries out the moment of doubt to the point he reaches reflexivity. He does not bracket enough the world to see what is given. In Husserlian terms, Descartes only negates the existence of the world, but does discover that the world, or perhaps nature "is possible only as an intentional unity motivated in transcendentally pure consciousness by immanental connections" (p. 115) . Employing the phenomenological reduction requires the connection of the world in the same fashion "in which colors are inconceivable without extension" (p. 115). There is an "involvement with Nature" to such an extent that phenomenology is inconceivable without thinking that mental processes have as their directedness the world at large. Elsewhere, Husserl suggests a connection with the world in perception:

The physical thing is also essentially capable of being perceived, and it is seized upon in perception as a physical thing belonging to my surrounding world (p. 99)

My reading is that perception puts us into contact with a world. This world has no other status for concrete living subjects than having meaning primarily disclosed to us from the first-personal standpoint, the phenomenological attitude. Strictly speaking, however, this description of a physical thing linked with our capacities describable in the first-person does not suggest a type of idealism. In fact, I would not think an idealist would say anything of this kind at all.

Instead, I interpret section 49 as offering a conceivability point in relation to the status of the world found within phenomenology. Husserl identifies through phenomenological description the limit of what we can know through experiential life of being conscious. Through phenomenological description we are not entitled to think away consciousness but must insist upon its own self-contained reality. I find this point similar to Hume showing what is really involved with causal judgments as being simply associative  conjunctions of customary experience. Hume exposes the naive assumption that there are necessary connexions between cause and affect. By analogy, Husserl exposes the naivety of the world. The sense our world has for Husserl beyond its appearance is always shaky in regards to its certainty. This is a product of phenomenology paying attention to structures of experience as they appear to us in our experiential life. Once we bracket our presuppositions about the world, we find that the natural world could simply be pure appearances. In this way, I interpret the annihilation of the world as a point of conceivability, that is, it is conceivable that if there were only appearances, phenomenology is still a conceivable research program. In this way, section 49 is not a tantamount proposal for some form of idealism.

However, even though the world is connected in our involvement through intentionality, the point of raising the conceivability point is that self-consciousness is a valid standpoint from which to glean structures of our experience with its own standards of evidential validity apart from the natural attitude supplied by the "involvement of Nature". In order for consciousness to be a source of legitimate knowledge, that is, eidetic cognition, consciousness requires that it exist as a "strictly self-contained domain" (p. 116).

Now, if what I have said is true, then my interpretation would not follow the same previous citation where Husserl also says,

In its [consciousness's] essence, it is independent of all worldly, all natural being, nor does it need any worldly being for its existence. The existence of nature cannot be the condition for the existence of consciousness, since Nature itself turns out to be a correlate of consciousness: Nature is only as a being constituted in regular concatenations of consciousness. (p. 116)  

Some will further object that "independent of all worldly, all natural being" above supports reading Husserl as offering a transcendental idealism in which the correlate of consciousness is constituted to such a degree, that the world is fundamentally mental, a mere accomplishment of a fundamentally mental world. Under this interpretation, consciousness makes possible our knowing the sense of the world, and the world is ontologically equivalent with what brings it into being to have meaning. Such a reading, as I understand it, of thinking that Husserl is offering a version of idealism relies on the a metaphysical reading of intentionality while losing sight of the world Husserl links with it. In an idealistic interpretation, the constitution of intentionality is not an operative concept, but one that only engenders our knowing the fundamentally mental world; the whole enterprise of phenomenology would then reify the objects under phenomenological investigation.

This reading might further press onward, citing that ultimately Husserl collapses the distinction between subject and object with the metaphysical reading of intentionality. However, the simple fact that consciousness has its own presence and this interpretation takes it to be fundamental does not suggest that consciousness alone should be given any more ontological weight than the world of physical things. It's just that physical things belong to the possible determinate order it could have for me, but to read possibility for me as a consciousness is only half the story. It is only because there is a world at all that a determinate order of possibilities that physical things can be perceived for Husserl (p. 91). It is the fact that Husserl is the first to connect up consciousness with the this-ness of a particular perceptual object in the world. As such, one must remember that those passages which talk of the world as a correlate of consciousness are not offering an idealistic reading, but explaining that consciousness is its own legitimate source of knowledge apart from the naturalistic interpretations found within the natural attitude that would reduce or eliminate subjectivity altogether. It is on evidential grounds that Husserl so often speaks of consciousness apart from the world, not on offering us a metaphysics.

Everything I have said here should not simply point to Husserl as the philosopher who defends a foundational account of subjectivity against the world. It should be no surprise that Husserl speaks of transcendence. There are structures of experience that are shared between I and We, e.g. as the founding of values shared by our continual renewal to abide by communal norms. . Husserl should generously be read as offering various descriptions of structures of experience such as the previous example. In order for phenomenological descriptions of structures of experience to be intersubjective, belonging to a sense of the first-person plural 'We' that involve also intersubjectivity and the transcendence, such structures of experience require a shared intentionality, a co-founding a simultaneous unfolding of various constituting intentional subjects to bestow-meaning on our conduct. In this way, Husserl offers us ways of speaking about transcendence about one particular example. His efforts are not simply concluding a foundationalism of the subject that grounds all experience. In fact, if anything Husserl's project is about subjectivity and the transcendence required to make sense of our lived-experiences in the world.

Participating in a conversation at Prosblogion

There is an insane amount of reaction to a philosophy of religion professor just throwing up his hands and calling it quits. They're having a decent discussion about the direction of philosophy over at Prosblogion on this very issue. They do favor more analytic approaches to philosophy of religion, and I'm wondering if my comment that I subsequently made will appear.


Monday, September 6, 2010

Politics and Art

Politics of Art is a pernicious phrase. It is not threatening to me, ultimately, but to what this phrase conjures in my mind. First, I am skeptical that politics should have any say over art. At first glance, keep them separate. It brings up images of book burning, censoring content or schools cutting the budget of young people learning the benefits of living creatively. Secondly, however, my defense of people to say and express themselves freely comes not from reversing the priority of the previous phrase for political reasons. I'm devoted to the idea that a range of creativity is sovereignly expressed by the person expressing and cannot be censored by the state. But is it right to think that politics enables art solely or is there a different relationship philosophically that art maintains in relation to politics?

Unknowingly to myself, the previous rugged defense of individualism purely expresses what some have come to see as the death of tradition, art or at worse, the death of Western civilization. My very reasons for defending pure expressibility is nothing more than having grown up in a time where culture has been uprooted for a mass culture seeking and wanting to express themselves freely only for entertainment purposes. What I am missing in my reflection is that a politics of art is only a phrase symptomatic of a different problem altogether. The want to be entertained has grown so large it attempts to appropriate culture for instrumental ends, steering us away from beholding the eternal wonder and value inherent in cultural works possess beyond the life of their inception. Cultural works have become instrumentalized. Hannah Arendt makes these points brilliantly in her essay, Crisis of Culture.

Culture relates to objects and is a phenomenon of the world' entertainment relates to people and is a phenomenon of life. An object is culture to the extent that it can endure; its durability is the very opposite of functionality, which is the quality which makes it disappear again from the phenomenal world by being used and used up. The great user and consumer of objects is life itself, the life of the individual and the life of society as a whole. Life is indifferent to the thingness of an object; it insists that everything must be functional, fulfill some needs. Culture is being threatened when all worldly objects and things produced by the present or the past are treated as though they are only to fulfill some needs...(208)

For Arendt, cultivating a sensibility to the beautiful, to those works of art and culture that "arrest our attention" preserve the conditions of society in order that intrinsic value may survive. However, we have entered a time period in which, as I have said, this intrinsic interest has paved way for a more instrumental mentality to the point that culture is all but dead. Yet, Hannah Arendt finds in this crisis an optimism, or what can be taken as the only possibility. In her words,

And the task of preserving the past without help of any tradition and often even against traditional standards and interpretations, is the same for the whole of Western civilization. Intellectually, though not socially America and Europe are in the same situation: the thread of tradition is broken and we must discover the past for ourselves--that is, read its authors as though nobody had ever read them before (204).

So, we are to rediscover the tradition without any mediation, but encounter it for ourselves. And this is the point of crisis, we can either return to the historic authors of art and philosophy, or we can go on pretending we can do without them for mere entertainment. I am left to wonder if this can be done at all given entertainment's "gargantuan appetites", and more to the point about art itself. For I started wondering about a politics of art, and my want to preserve the individualism of the artist as a right. I invoked political language and the metaphor that an artist is sovereign, autonomous and downright in tension with the very society that would seek to censor expression.

A report by the National Endowment for the Arts came to some odd conclusion about how much time Americans are reading. The following synopsis comes from a CBS article here.

Among the findings:


  •  On average, Americans ages 15 to 24 spend almost two hours a day watching TV, and only seven minutes of their daily leisure time on reading.




  •  Reading scores for American adults of almost all education levels have deteriorated, notably among the best-educated groups. From 1992 to 2003, the percentage of adults with graduate school experience who were rated proficient in prose reading dropped by 10 points, a 20 percent rate of decline.




  •  In 2002, only 52 percent of Americans ages 18 to 24, the college years, read a book voluntarily, down from 59 percent in 1992.




  •  American 15-year-olds ranked fifteenth in average reading scores for 31 industrialized nations, behind Poland, Korea, France, and Canada, among others.




  •  Money spent on books, adjusted for inflation, dropped 14 percent from 1985 to 2005 and has fallen dramatically since the mid-1990s.




  •  The number of adults with bachelor's degrees and "proficient in reading prose" dropped from 40 percent in 1992 to 31 percent in 2003





  • The situation looks bad when so much of our current attempts to engage with culture are strictly entertainment. On top of that, anecdotal evidence from numerous college professors who I admire and respect corroborate the growing trend of incoming Freshman can't read basic Plato. This is my experience as well. Something like the Apology is difficult to teach. I struggled to teach the Euthyphro last year in my Intro class. How is it that Arendt can suggest an encounter with the sources of tradition where at the same time the death of that tradition has died? For a moment, I am granting that she is right about the state of affairs. Yet, I just don't see how it is that we can go on pretending there is no mediation given the death of tradition. It is like her optimism may have only applied to her from her New York City window. On the streets, things look a whole lot different, and this difference is a constant source of agitation for those of us teaching at public universities.

    What to do as an educator, let alone a philosopher? I resist any attempts to turn my classes into a degree mill by administrators wanting clear-cut assessment. Such attempts at conformity in a curriculum do not challenge students to think, let alone think though the cultural works of Western civilization. However, as I look around, I encounter very smart people in other disciplines that do not share this sense of resistance. I feel like any resistance is again a political move. I come back to the very beginning that inaugurated this blog post, a politics of art.

    Politically, I resist conformity and the gargantuan appetite of entertainment not for the artist to challenge orthodoxy (that's only a very small part of it), but that the transformative experience for students to encounter the greatest thinkers and artists of Western philosophy is also a renewal of culture. This is what Arendt misses. She misses that culture is renewed through every encounter, and the resistance it takes to entertainment is the very site of my classroom. This is what it essentially means to teach philosophy and allow the humanities to exist unhindered. It is not the goal of the university to breed consumers, but actively intelligent citizens that can engage with the world in an enriched understanding of its many dimensions: philosophical, political, sociological, poetic and aesthetic layers.

    Sunday, August 22, 2010

    Douthat has it wrong, Corvino has it right

    I don't think much needs to be said. Corvino has significantly refuted Douthat's argument in a NY Times column here. What Corvino has done is, however, extend charitability to Douthat's argument to the point that he transforms Douthat's op-ed piece into an argument. It is rather the simple assertion of deluded human being and it is to Corvino's character that he is so charitable.

    The assertion of a belief, whether Christian or postmodern (pick your favorite label or eponym), is not an argument. That's all Douthat has done. Consider this passage:

    The point of this ideal [of heterosexual marriage] is not that other relationships have no value, or that only nuclear families can rear children successfully. Rather, it’s that lifelong heterosexual monogamy at its best can offer something distinctive and remarkable — a microcosm of civilization, and an organic connection between human generations — that makes it worthy of distinctive recognition and support.

    The point I am making is this piece is mere assertion, and yet speaks to the stupidity of opinion pieces in popular media. Douthat offers no independent reason to convince us that the ideal of heterosexual marriage offers something distinctive. It is just the assertion that marriage ought to have this privileged status. This is what Corvino should have said about this op-ed piece.

    Now, philosophers do this all the time -- they build up the background assumptions of an argument if they are not explicitly stated -- to the point that what they criticize is the best version conceivable. If that best version fails for some obviously flawed reasons, then we have a right to reject it and its lesser forms. As such, again, Corvino should be commended because I would not have the patience to be a philosopher with someone as moronic as Douthat.

    Thursday, August 19, 2010

    Indirect Continental Bashing

    Now, I've said that Derrida is obscure and never states what he means. However, a charitable reading of Derrida starts with this as a basic fact and then moves on from there. This is definitely not charitable:

    I am personally very sympathetic to the analysis of Chomsky and others, for whom a certain variety of philosophical obscurantism results not just from sloppiness or from lack of intellectual rigor, but is indeed an intrinsic part of its proponents' strategy for protecting their racket. The usual line of criticism approaches the phenomenon of French obscurantism with the conceptual tools of analytic philosophy (a measure by which it is doomed in advance), when what is in fact needed is sociology. It has often struck me that much American 'continental' philosophy depends on a total ignorance of the social milieu of the Parisian professoriat, and on a consequent inability to detect that what looks like the difficult expression of difficult ideas in writing is in fact just rarefied sociolect. Now sociolect, whether among carnies or professors, helps a group to cohere, and this helps it to survive. For Parisian professors as for speakers of carnie cant, all the better if outsiders are unable to understand....

    What are the reasons for not clearly stating what one means? Here, it is read as a strategy to protect jobs of a few French professors, not a critique of a Western bias in philosophy since Plato to privilege a metaphysics of presence (obviously culminating in the work of Husserl!) Doubtful, Leiter would even want to know what the previous sentence means, though that is as clear and direct as I know how to say it. By extension, these poorly informed analytics do not want to actually engage with Derrida's work anymore than when French intellectualism of the 1980s was at its heyday.

    Let us be fair. In the same post, Leiter does call our attention to the fact that this is an "ad hominem." Then again, Leiter has posted an excerpt on his wall giving credulity to an uncharitable interpretation of Derrida and promoting a philosophical intolerance for plurality. By grouping philosophers together that have nothing in common, he promotes the idea that there is something called "Continental philosophy". That's fallacious in itself. Why would a celebrated philosopher permit ad hominem arguments to stand on  his own wall if in fact the operative definition of philosophy is the systematic exchange of arguments in a dialectic to find the truth. I suspect motivations are not entirely philosophical, even with the qualifier.

    As I've said many times before, even I find the interpretation of metaphysics qua presence questionable, but just because we do not accept a philosopher from the past does not mean we should not at least listen charitably to what they say.

    Tuesday, August 17, 2010

    Essay on the Superfluousness of Philosophy: What is to be done!?

    A friend sent this to me over facebook. I must say this is quite extraordinary if only for the snarky comments about postmodernism. Where to start? A return to transcendence no doubt, a return to things themselves without losing sight of the fact that there are such things as truth, experience and minds.

    School Rant

    This is, I've got to say, one of the worst schools with respect to their health care. It is a self-insured plan completely administered by the university. They own it, and they don't give a rat's ass if you are even married. let alone have kids. Also, if you have a pre-existing condition, you'll pay the fees, wait around for one year, and then they'll cover you. The implicit hope is clear: they hope that you will go away, leave university and be sick. Can you imagine? Students paying for a service they can't use!

    The only reason I am bitching is that this would have never happened in Canada. I say that in part I regret ever leaving Canada. Sometimes, I think I should have built up my work history even more, and applied for permanent residency.

    I'm part of the Grad Assistant Union bargaining team for our contracts, and we'll probably mobilize on October 7th with all other public universities in the United States. The day of action's purpose is to make clear the want for affordable public universities. As people keep losing their homes, more and more people cannot afford the basic necessity of a higher education. This is forcing families to borrow unprecedented amounts. Top tier schools are out of reach for deserving middle and lower income families. If public universities cannot keep up, then I don't know what we'll do as a nation.

    Monday, August 16, 2010

    Ideas 1 Part 1

    So, I have made my way through several chapters of Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy, vol 1., and wanted to catalog my opening impression of the first 60 pages. Now, most of what I say here will not be about what I like since I like all of Husserl. What I like would simply be a regurgitation of agreement. That would be really redundant. Instead, I will focus on areas of confusion and what provoked my marginalia comments. With that said, I do have one striking question about the first chapter.

    Nearing the end of the first chapter, Husserl introduces a range of logical concepts, yet he describe the purpose:
    It has been our purpose to outline, on the basis of pure logic and as part of the fundamental structure of all possible cognition or cognitive objectivities proceeding from a pure logic, a schema in conformity with which individua must be determinable under synthetical principles a priori according to concepts and laws, or in conformity with which all empirical sciences are relevant to them and not merely on the pure logic common to all sciences (p. 32, section 17). 
    I take it that whether grounded in pure logic or possible cognition or an ideal objectivity, Husserl wants to develop a schema, a type of conceptual representation that explains individual phenomena as determinable under synthetic principles a priori. In other words, the eidetic cognition that legitimates individual phenomena can be distilled to the point we can show eidetic cognition is the source for all possible knowledge of any individual phenomena. It can be shown to such an extent this eidetic cognition is a priori and comes to synthesize various elements of givenness from the phenomenon itself. In this way, it is not that these logical elements, or descriptions are common to all the sciences. Instead, these logical elements and descriptions serve as a legitimating force. So, here's the question: It feels like this was introduced in an impure way. Husserl does not bracket these elements, but instead simply insists upon these terms and logical elements. They seem to come out of nowhere, although they do have a stated purpose as I quote. So, the question that I first want to take on is if Husserl starts with these logical elements, terms and descriptions, then does the attempt at revealing their necessity feel a bit contrived apart from the phenomenology?

    Now, it could be that this first chapter is simply a rehashing of the work Husserl did in Logical Investigations to establish the ideal objectivity of logical categories as independent from empirical naturalism. In this way, Ideas 1 is after a similar philosophical project, to defend the phenomenological attitude against any attempt to posit the general character of the natural attitude. So, I find that the contrivance of the logic chapter might not be that big of a deal, although it does feel a little too quick. I will post some other thoughts and questions I have tomorrow.

    Thursday, August 12, 2010

    Husserl, Finally...

    As many of you may know, I think the unknown genius of the early 20th century is Husserl. He had the greatest contact with some of world's top intellectuals (Russell, Frege, Scheler, Gurswitch, Reinach) and had the generation of the world's greatest students and scholars influenced by his work in philosophy (Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Sartre, Derrida). Yet, these are reasons of taste, not substantial reasons for Husserl's greatness. I don't really think we can argue for greatness, other than to say how it is that history overshadows someone's thought. Analytics write Husserl off as an echo of Frege, which is probably Follesdal's fault mainly. Continental philosophers (even though there is really no such thing as I have said) write Husserl off either completely or slightly given their misguided commitment to Heidegger. As Paul Ricoeur has said and I repeat this often, the history of phenomenology is a history of "Husserlian heresies."

    Either way, the "finally" part of the above title hints at I am finally taking a Husserl course, an independent study, but an independent study nonetheless on Husserl. I will make my way through Husserl's Ideas I, II and III. This semester will be accompanied by courses in Kant's first critique and Heidegger's Being and Time. As such, the direction this blog will move is to meditate on the meaning of Husserl's thought in those works, and whatever ruminations will result.

    I'll also slow down in my posting, and I am thinking of inviting others to join in on the festivities with discussions on Ideas I, II and III.

    Tuesday, August 10, 2010

    Joshua Knobe on Knowledge without Belief

    I have commented on this thread, thinking that the phenomenological distinction between pre-reflective intentionality and reflective intentionality has some purchase. We'll see if anyone responds.

    An Example of Phenomenological Description

    Several of my friends from an analytic background have wondered what a solid piece of phenomenological analysis looks like given that I constantly warn against thinking of phenomenology as introspection.

    Here is a solid description of the affectivity of hope.

    Monday, August 9, 2010

    Feminism and Moral Standards

    Before I get going in this post, first a definition to avoid confusion. This post is mostly a post about values. "Values" is a broad term used to encompass all the stated reasons why members of a certain culture will act the way they do. In this way, values encompass norms and intelligible opinions and attitudes cultural members will have internalized and attempt to justify for why it is the fact they will or have acted in a given way. Next, I use the term cultural relativism to explain the thesis that there are no culturally-transcendent values; instead values are relative to a cultural framework/domain. Framework and domain are used interchangeably.

    Now, this post is not really meant for philosophical colleagues. Rehearsing the all too often rejection of cultural relativism as a sound approach to moral theorizing is not my sole purpose here--although admittedly, it is here. Instead, the purpose of this post is to reveal that these problems are embedded in the social scientists' mainstream approach in their discipline--this holds for all of social science.

    On a brief office visit to a sociologist friend, I sat down and asked her plainly that if one adopts a feminist commitment, then certainly one has adopted prima facie a commitment to addressing the immoral practices and unjust circumstances that women find themselves in. She agreed to that. Next, I asked independent of feminism, what is the status of those values that feminism will call upon? She did not give up the much anticipated answer that there are moral frameworks, and indeed we can study them empirically. We can survey attitudes and the values people hold of, say, the morality of homosexual marriage or female genital mutilation, but in the end, these values are simply groundless. They have no backing independent of the cultures that engender them. In her words, "there are no absolutes" and this view is consistent with the postmodern skepticism that social scientists can have knowledge that is definitively culturally transcendent. To observe, say, the unequal distribution of salaries of women in a profession is wrong only insofar as the cultural framework has conventions that can spell out exactly why it is wrong. If another culture dominates women to the point that they are denied equal opportunity under the law and that culture has no feminist critics, then one cannot get any moral point of view going since to construe morality as deriving from culture is a non-starter. This can be explained with a much needed example.

    Suppose two cultural frameworks, I will call the first C1 and the second C2.

    C1 is the cultural domain in which women have no rights under the law, are considered property and prescribed a "proper" place as domestic workers and mothers only.

    C2 is the cultural domain represented by women with advanced education, empowered with a range of opportunities, possess equal rights under the law, and are not considered property by anyone.

    Both C1 and C2 express values, and empirically they disagree on the fundamental role women play in their society. Yet, in keeping with the cultural relativism adopted in social science, we cannot say that one culture is better than another since to invoke better appeals to concepts outside either C1 and C2. At the same time, this has another consequence. As a member of C1, I cannot be within that culture and disagree with that culture. Sure, I may disagree personally, but my disagreement has no status if I oppose my culture. Since values originate in culture, C1 can never be wrong. It is inerrant in that C1 is the source and justification of its own values. This is what I meant that cultural relativism is a non-starter.

    Aside for not allowing moral reform and criticism from two very different cultures, cultural relativism is defended not on multicultural grounds, but on the motivation for the social scientist to understand as much as possible. Multiculturalism is just the result of trying to be value-neutral. Let me explain. Social scientists spend lots of time studying many different groups, and in their opting to make no judgments as to how those members of that group are, they regard their activity as value-neutral. If I am a political scientist attempting to understand how various groups vote, I will not impose my liberal politics on the question, but instead opt for an impartial value-neutral perspective that surveys all the different groups and their voting patters. This is an often repeated suggestion for what the social scientist is doing. Yet, to regard is to value. The attempt at being value-neutral is motivated by valuing value-neutrality. It is not a value-neutral position itself.

    If the social scientist concedes that they value value-neutral perspectives, it could be they don't want to become the very thing they study. Social scientists often can give deeply troubling reasons for why some groups fare better in societies than others. Oftentimes, this comes from one group imposing its values on another, even quite dogmatically. They don't want to do the same thing since that might give rise to oppression in some way. This is an admirable quality, and so of all values, perhaps the only value a social scientist will recommend is multiculturalism. It fits with studying different groups as a scientist in the first place, and as such the endorsement of cultural relativism is the after thought multiculturalism. Yet, cultural relativism should be teased apart from multiculturalism. Here's why.

    Multiculturalism is valued in terms of prudence of governments having a diverse population to rule. Multiculturalism therefore has more to do with tolerance than it does with cultural relativism. Remember, cultural relativism is a certain skepticism that we can have culturally-transcendent values. It is commonly associated with multiculturalism for this reason, but the reasons why we back multiculturalism are not that we can't have culturally-transcendent moral knowledge; instead, it is prudent and pragmatic way to govern.

    Now, let's bring back the discussion of feminism. Feminists make moral claims that there are injustices against women. From the previous example, this might look like C2 making claims about C1. Cultural relativism will limit the moral claims members can make to either C1 or C2. Moral claims can only be internal to the cultural domains they come from. Again, there is no legitimacy for C2 members to make claims about C1 if this is so. However notice what motivated my friend's compliance with cultural relativism, it was a limitation of method and that method involves a constant explanation of people in terms of being members of a cultural domain. Social science does not seek to explain people as committing to a standpoint that transcends or acquires knowledge apart from culture. Culture is, in fact, an uber-explanatory force that removes us from viewing ourselves from the first-person standpoint, what I call moral agency. This type of explanation does not see people as beings  with desires, values and intentions that act freely on their own accord. For ethics itself looks to explain people in terms of the experience of individual freedom to respond to moral situations.

    The next limitation of method in the social sciences is a conflation of two categories--the descriptive and the normative. When social scientists empirically observe differences in culture, say again C1 and C2,  the social scientist immediately infers that we should adopt cultural relativism. Yet, the empirical observation of their disagreement does not entail cultural relativism. The fact that C1 and C2 differ is only a description about the world, it does not remove the possibility that there is no fact of the matter that moral knowledge can be culturally-transcendent (and therefore objective). Moral knowledge instead looks to see how the world ought to be, not is. Disagreement is an observation of difference and no reason to think there is no truth, plain and simple. For example, in one culture people might have believed that the Earth is flat, and another culture might have thought the Earth is round. Given that there is disagreement between the two cultures (even if both cultures have no science or mathematics to really settle the issue), we cannot say that all knowledge is relative to culture.

    So where does that leaves us? Feminism could be a proposed set of moral judgments about values we should see in our history, culture and social experiences that dominate women. In this way, it is an orientation that follows out of thinking that moral knowledge is culturally-transcendent in much the same way that basic truths of mathematics are true in all cultures at all times. Moreover, this does not mean that moral knowledge and the various theories we hold about morality are clearly known and dogmatic. On the contrary, moral knowledge is hard, difficult and there is much left unsettled. Given its hardness, it is better that we think that moral knowledge requires much effort and take to heart how easily it is for us to be wrong about things, even morality. This means that we should approach moral matters with a sense of humility, but on some things, we need not be as humble to think that genocide and systematic oppression of women are theoretically unsettled. They are just plain wrong, and any skepticism otherwise is untenable.

    Saturday, August 7, 2010

    Phronesis and Openness


    I have always found comfort in Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. Particularly, what Robert Louden has called anti-theory. However, I have never liked this expression since it questions Aristotle's general focus on ethics as a move to anti-theory. In Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, ethics is capable of a very general level of precision. It is not about finding a single monistic principle by which to explain all of morality and the content of what we ought to do. Instead, practical wisdom, or what I will call throughout this post as phronesis is to be cultivated through our virtuous character. Central to this ethics is a process of responsive realization we have to difficult scenarios, and in denying that morality is codifiable -- that is by a principle or set of principles as in deontology or consequentialism -- practical wisdom stands in for determining what we ought to do. Virtue ethics is in my words a wisdom tradition and phronesis is at the heart of it all.

    Phronesis is practical wisdom. Practical wisdom is acquired through the reinforced habits of our ability to discern, see, judge and realistically implement the best course of action. It is incredibly open only insofar as there are many wise things to do in a given situation. The usual rendering of its ethical principle is the following: 

    An action and/or character-trait is right if and only if it is exemplified in a phronimos. 

    Phronimos are ideal moral agents in the community that are known for their excellence. They excel at doing the wise thing and knowing what one ought to do.  In truth, most difficult moral scenarios take time and a great deal of maturity to handle. Aristotle does not deny that there is intrinsically valuable life, a worthy life lived well. It's just that there are many ways to respond, and it is proper to respond well through the exercise of the virtues, including the intellectual virtues which are at the heart of knowing what we ought to do. Yet, it is anti-theoretical given the range of openness conducive to the exercise of a virtue trait and construes morality as something other than a principle or set of principles. Let me explain. 

    Suppose a man is a former Marine and trapped in a hostage situation. The Marine is with his girlfriend and is one of several customers lying on the floor while the gunman is having a nervous breakdown at the chance of little or no escape. He has already shot one hostage. Now, when the negotiator is on the phone, the man reaches down to the Marine's girlfriend. The Marine as you has every right to think that he is dangerous in his intentions. Prevailing practical wisdom might require that we respond courageously to this incident, and acting courageously is understood as a v-rule. Conceding this point, however, we can interpret a whole range of morally appropriate manners:

    1. Acting courageously might require that you get in the way of the gunman to grab your girlfriend
    2. Acting courageously might require that you attack the gunman straight out. 
    3. Acting courageously might require that you wait and do nothing while waiting for the police.
    4. Acting courageously might require that you talk down the gunman. 

    Now which of these three are the most morally appropriate? In many ways, the Marine can still do the courageous thing. Yet, it does not specify exactly what I ought to do precisely. Such a level of thinking permits us to respond contextually to a full range of possible outputs. This openness is then a strength and it takes phronesis to discern what we ought to accept. 

    Friday, August 6, 2010

    Feser's Bias Masked in Metaphysics

    I have already given a very long response to this post over at Feser's blog. I will say, however, that I too defend a conception of virtue ethics. I am fond of the idea that besides thinking morality only applies to actions it primarily is about what type of people we ought to be. Unlike Feser, I don't go around and throw up very antiquated metaphysics even though I like Aristotle's formulation of virtue ethics. As contemporary philosophers, it is our job to identify those themes most pertinent to our theoretical need while also having an eye to the truth. We need to identify those parts of Aristotle that contribute in a positive manner to our need while at same time jettisoning a lot of it.

    Feser wholeheartedly accepts Aristotelian teleology. For him, homosexuals don't share in the proper teleological essence of man. This is a sure way to loose any credibility amongst common everyday orthodoxy. In order to get this project off the ground, you need a very robust and metaphysical view that has been dead for a very long time. Feser has called on conservatives to not be cowards and adopt a "classical essentialist metaphysics".

    The mistake lies in several areas. Among them is to think that teleology can only be a principle about nature. First, we might have a teleology as a proposed explanation that comes from our rationality, but is not constitutive of nature. This is a Kantian way to go. We might think that we can construct teleologies for evolutionary explanation since the limit of biology is largely a science of observation. This, however, is contingent upon systematizing our current observations. We might revise such explanations later. Both are more in line with a naturalist bent than thinking that nature is populated by essences conforming to nature's purpose. Even in a phenomenological sense, there are essences, but the principle of the phenomenological insight is to judge a thing's givenness solely without presupposition. This cannot be enacted by having a prior commitment to A-T essentialism. In this way, even phenomenology is more modest in its approach than Feser himself.

    Secondly, a Thomist thinks they have reason to know God's law. A Thomist commits the Augustinian mistake--they think God is intelligible rather than siding with Plotinus who sees God as ineffable. If they saw the divine in more modest terms, they would not be so quick to see that God is on their side. For when anyone thinks they can know God's will, it inevitably follows that God will shore up your biases. That's what Feser has ultimately done.

    Wednesday, August 4, 2010

    Leiter's Excerpt on Political Media

    We have had our disagreements, and some email correspondence about philosophical matters. It is interesting to see here that Leiter excerpts a good description of media bias here. Me likey-likey.

    Tuesday, August 3, 2010

    Past and Naturalism

    As a philosopher, I often think that I have some good arguments. Moreover, I find myself revisiting elements of my own faith when pressed into the corner. I cannot say for certain whether or not a full-fledged naturalism is the best way to go. In my previous Anglophone analytic experience, it was the ONLY way to go. I've complained that numerous times that people in their presentations and after parties wanted more acceptance from their philosophical peers, resulting in a need to legitimize the conceptual bag of concepts they used. As such, they speculated on naturalizing their concepts over drinks, and then all was settled. There wasn't much need for any other philosophizing since anything else other than naturalism and full commitment to Ockham's razor was the only way to go. In fact, this implicit commitment to naturalism or some type of physicalism is now the guiding norm so much that I find myself in the same climate that Husserl found himself in tension with psychologism.

    I am not against a naturalism program per se, but I find the orthodoxy achieved as something of an illusory confidence, as if some philosophers no longer want to argue for their premises. To do so, I think would show that naturalism is not as sturdy as originally thought.

    Philosophical Explanations

    Like all my blog posts, this should be taken as an undeveloped intuition pump to get my ideas out there.

    Call a philosophical explanation any conceptual description of human experience. Usually such explanations are causal accounts, they might be something like explaining how practical reasoning works in terms of desire-satisfaction, or they might be even more naturalistic in invoking some compatibility or subsumption in a physical science. The Churchlands do this with neuroscience, explaining what a mind is via concepts like a neural network.

    I take it that philosophical explanations might be minimal with respect to what is invoked in explaining human experience. For some fellow pragmatists, they are devoted to a certain feature of "experience" that mitigates outlandish conceptual claims with real world concrete experience. This usually means a skepticism concerning a priori claims like a transcendental apperception in Kant for instance, or anything metaphysically essential. In this way, pragmatic explanations are also philosophical explanations, in that the theory/philosophical explanation in question is derived from our first being practical-historical beings.

    Philosophical explanations have at least two trajectories I have encountered in recent philosophizing. I would not commit myself to saying these are the only two trajectories. Instead, I would only say these are possible formulations of the higher-order distinction between transcendence and historicity; there could be other formulations of this problematic elsewhere.

    Transcendence is the quality of a concept to represent something that is beyond the immediate facticity of our socio-historic world. Phenomenology is often used as a defense of transcendence. For instance, Husserl's Logical Investigations are a defense of ideal objectivities in logic that cannot be explained by thinking of logical laws as laws of psychological science. It is a defense of the irreducible elements of logic. One might interpret Heidegger's early description of the structures of Dasein as a transcendent (This is contentious however).

    Now, historicity is the quality of a concept to represent something only within the boundaries of facticity and the historic ontotheology that determines the threshold of our ability to understand/interpret something.

    Philosophical explanations can pick out transcendent concepts like consciousness, noema, intentionality and then see how these explanations explain a variety of human experiences, or they can be historical in which the concepts become a hermeneutic level that articulates present understanding. The historic explanations work to point out the limits of understanding and often are seen as generating fictional problems because of surpassing or being trapped within the historical limit.

    In the historic explanation, our concepts become instances of our historical threshold. It explains past movements or texts as being samples of the historic time that determines what they could have said. Descartes and the moderns could not conceive of nature as nothing but the totality of space-time coordinates given that they were determined by historical formulations of geometry and how Being was understood (Husserl's formulation of this problem preserves living subjectivity) This historical explanation subsumes the living-subjectivity of those authors and construes them as determined to imagine what they wrote given the operative historic understanding of Being at the time. Such an explanation invites many problems, among which I have already hinted it. It sees human experience as an articulation of the historical dimension through which they interpret their world, and nothing more. These are not people with a living-subjectivity trying to solve the problems they face in their current life. Instead, this means that the historic explanation equivocates the term, "explanation" since it can mean both the hermeneutic limit of what people can understand, or also the hermeneutic limit that causes people to believe what they do. It therefore explains causally and establishes the limit of what can be understood.

    Next, the historic explanation relatives philosophy to the framework operative at the time, what both is the limit and cause of past philosophers and the content of what they have said. In this way, there is no genuine knowledge possible, but only knowledge at a historical time. It is therefore impossible to think that human beings have been confused about one genuine problem throughout philosophy. There is no transcendence of the problem of how the mind relates to the body even though we have been thinking about it for nearly four centuries. Such a claim could hold no water.

    Moreover, and what I find very counter-intuitive is that these explanations deny that theory can be done at all. There is no genuine knowledge about how we ought to act, and thus ethics looses any way to prescribe action given that we could just chalk up normative advice to the current societal framework. No transcendence in moral knowledge means that nothing really has any normative weight and no culture has better practices than any others. Nazis were just articulating their moral understanding of their own culture in as much as I believe in a free press to hold a democracy accountable. This not only seems counter-intuitive, but a little bizarre with similar effects in logic. No transcendence means that there is no way to tell better viewpoints from others. There are no norms to good reasoning, but only the self-asserted ramblings of whatever is the historic zeitgeist at the time says is true. In effect, the historic explanation gives up in actively searching for truth, and this is its greatest weakness since in circular fashion it, too, is only true in that the historic explanation itself is true at the time it is articulated. That really gives us good reason to think that it itself is true.

    It should be said that what post-Kantian philosophers and Husserl mean by transcendence is not the same as with science. Philosophers of the logical positivist variety wanted a transcendence per se, but they wanted science to replace the transcendent concepts they thought were nonsensical. In this way, we are still looking to describe human experience. It is unwise to give up that fight.