Monday, December 19, 2011

Leiter on Analytic/Continental Divide

I must say that I agreed with almost 100% of what he said here.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Phenomenology of Indefinite News and Bad Faith

The exercise of a right comes with the responsibility of its exercise, not mere possession. So many people in this country think they have a right to speak freely, but the practical wisdom behind the first amendment is to foster an informed citizenry. Political discourse means nothing if we don't take it upon ourselves to fulfill an epistemic duty to be as informed as possible, and this means to go further than cable news.

Simply due to the phenomenology of the experience, one might find warrant in adopting more options for information. When I watch cable news, I am drawn in to the news anchor, and it is an organic experience from the news anchor to the dearth of content. The news anchor gestures, her voice calculating. She is pretty or he is handsome. The voice is melodic and average; the news anchor cannot be smart--only average in appearance, mannerism and depth of perspective. The news anchor is dressed in business professional suit, and participates in a broadcast alongside the spectator. The broadcast itself feigns a terminable point to which there is no end in site. Therefore, the spectator awaits the announcement and news, and the news anchor unwittingly crafts the discourse to embody its inevitable arrival. Yet, it does not come at all. In politics, though some event might be accomplished; it can always be undone. Conservatives can always undo health care reform. Some event's are too concrete not to arrive, but when they do they are held onto for dear life.  

When there is a lot of build up for some announcement, the camera pans to squeeze every sense of an event's termination. What will be the outcome of Dr. Conrad Murray? Eventually, the jury will exit, announce judgment. For the 24 hour newscycle, it will continue. The camera pans to a panel of experts. These experts will speculate about what is to come next. Even though there is some resolution, there is no resolution for America. He will receive a lighter sentence because California is overridden with inmates already. The Judge will give the maximum penalty in this case claims another. At this point, however, the spectator doesn't know that the news cycle is trying to generate more drama out of an event that generated countless stories before. America's consciousness cannot endure without knowing what will happen, or so the mentality is proffered by cable news. The broadcast attempts to overcome the event's finality in judgment by generating more content of an indefinite future to which the broadcast is headed. If and when that does not work, there is more. 

Later that night, a panel of experts led by a comedian or some pundit will claim an outrageously controversial claim. Pehraps, it is about M. Jackson's race and the fact that Murray is black (or some such nonsense). The claim will be outrageous and its only intent is to generate more emotional drama over the terminable event so as to render aspects of the trial as interminable--that is, until the newscycle finds another story to feed its desire to present content where none exists. In this way, the newscycle doesn't inform. Rarely are facts presented and when they are, there is bias everywhere operating at a subtle level. This is because what holds for political discourse in the United States is nothing more than browbeating ideology. 

So what can be done. For starters, we could teach more philosophy. But obviously, I have an interest in that sort of thing. 

As a citizen, we should expand access to information and make it socially unacceptable for people not to be informed. I don't know how to do this. I am sure this means that while everyone might not want to read the American Political Science Review, they should. 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Theism and Philosophical Faith

I don't usually comment on this topic; I leave it indeterminate. I find discussions about God overly simplistic and in an academic climate, if it is found out that you are a theist, people generally dismiss you without much foresight. But as I get further into the dissertation about Scheler, I am constantly questioning his move to Catholicism, and the romanticism of the universal church and feudalism central to his political thought. As a philosopher, I could spill nothing more original, newer or insightful into the discussion of God. In fact, I am anything but conventional with respect to God even though I take fellowship in the life that church offers.

For me, God is not a paternal authority in the heavens that revealed his infallible word in the form of the Bible that informs us as to how things literally are. This type of naivete with respect to scripture and to the concept of God unnerves me. Accordingly, not much can be said about God. It's not as if we have a speculative use of reason that can apprehend through intuition or the imagination what God must be like. In fact, Kant showed that speculation can both affirm and deny the thesis of God's existence with equal precision. As such, we are left within an "antinomy". This happens because speculation over extends its concepts without having any frame of reference in experience. For Kant, reason operates within strict limits. Therefore, if traditional metaphysics is deprived of its right to use speculative reason and moreover it has never been grounded in experience, reason loses its authority altogether to create a metaphysical system in which God is understood (or in which God is rejected). Kant's thought is liberating. Let me explain.

When a scientist and creationist both insist on the literal truth of their belief about the universe, they are attempting to describe reality as such. The scientist reifies his current models, considers them literally true about the structure of the world compared against Biblical literalism in much the same way that metaphysicians thought they could describe reality as such in speculation. Some might not insist it is the same since scientific procedures are open to revision through systematic experimentation. However, to be against the falsity of Christianity, the skeptic proposes science as a static alternative no matter what that current alternative is. Neurath's boat is taken as is. It's only relevance is that it is a substitute for a religious perspective.

When a religious observer insists that what is written is literally true, the religious observer denies there exists anything like interpretation. The Earth must have been created in 6 days. God revealed scripture as inerrant to human beings through revelation. As such, the content of the literal language cannot be challenged under any other guise but itself. Religious truth somehow transcends the attempt of finite human beings to understand its content given the distance in historical context of a nomadic people speaking a different language to the politics of what books exactly could count as official scripture.

When scientists desire to refute religion, they reify scientific content to be revealing of reality and its structure as such. When religious observers desire to refute science, they reify religious content to be revealing of reality and its structure as such. In both cases, they over-extend their concepts and on top of that reify reality to suit their own needs. In both cases, reality is, at best, a mind-independent world of facts that can be disclosed as such. This is similar to the Kantian position in which both the thesis and the anti-thesis are asserted without having any ground in experience. The mistake lies in not only considering the world mind-independent, but in thinking that one also has access to that mind-independence and the taken for granted assumption that reality endures uniformly as such. Under such a view, the epistemic standpoint we take up to reality is vastly oversimplified, and this explains the oversimplification of both. The scientific perspective cannot reify the world; it requires inquirers to maintain an openness such that future models of explanation can be revised. Likewise, the religious perspective relies on inquirers maintaining an openness to future possibility since God exceeds any representation we may have of She/He/It. Such an openness requires interpretation and not the literalism that accompanies that understanding. This can be shown in what faiths means.

Faith is not simply an epistemic standpoint with commitments attached to it such that it can be replaced by a superiorly informed standpoint of science. It is not as if these standpoints trade only on knowledge about reality as such and that's all that needs consideration. When scientists make that shift in an argument where they trade one belief that describes the world for another, they have forgotten that life cannot simply be reduced to the epistemic position from which it is judged, and more than that, the epistemic standpoint is not primitively-basic to life as many past analytic philosophers have regarded (I can have more to say about this later). Instead, life is a matter of a dynamic orientation we maintain towards the world.

God is not a being separate and apart from the world anymore than subjectivity for me is separate and apart from the world. Instead, being-human consists in taking up the possibilities towards life and experiencing the world in a very "thick" way. Every scientific or religious possibility involves this dynamic orientation of life. And within that orientation, both succumb to the relational possibility we call experiencing the world. Each bears within itself a limit to what can be experienced. For the scientist, the world is a series of causal relationships and the scientist seeks to control and harness nature for human purposes. It is therefore silent on the very transcendence of God if God is taken to be above and beyond the representational-causal order, and within a religious orientation, God is best regarded as the God not-yet-arrived (the kingdom yet to come), the expression of everything that is wholly other.

Since God cannot be known with any exactitude and exists as beyond all representational order, it is a matter of faith that it is taken up and lived just as much as the faith operative in science might summarized as the belief that nature is accessible to experimentation. The only requirement of this faith is not in reifying it as a possibility with a determinate content, but instead faith requires the openness to the God to which exceeds all representation. By exceeding all representation, God cannot be appropriated for any particular agenda, belief or creed. He cannot legitimize the oppression of that which is different and other. In this very exceeding representation, God's inability to be appropriated, reified and used for some instrumental end is the model by which the otherness found in humankind must be treated. In God as wholly other, so too is one human being completely and wholly other unto himself/herself, and it is this absolved and transcendent individual uniqueness that human being shares in God.

In such a conception, the transcendence of God is not a reality-as-such. It is not a metaphysical transcendence objectively discerned. Instead, the transcendence of God lies in the very same unique singularity of one individual. As Jean Paul Sartre showed a man is a "series of projects" that transcend himself. Many of our concerns and projects take on a life of their own above and beyond their origin in us, and yet in some sense, we must take ownership of them as well. They are as much a possibility for others as they are for us, and it is in this being-responsible-for in which any woman or man reveals his unique singularity to the world. In this way, I draw upon the same existential attitude that exhibits projects that man comes to exceed himself and likewise within God too. This transcendence, however, is a communal possibility, a renewed possibility in which we all must honor the singularity of God. The singularity of God is the infinite wholly otherness found in each other, and so it comes as no surprise that God is the call of the ethical demand to serve the otherness found uniquely in all of us.

Now, this might be hard to swallow, especially since I sit in a pew next to you. I will not share that I am a philosopher. Amongst other church-goers, I am merely a man sitting next to them. I do not share my skepticism about literalism of scripture, nor do I tell them that I see literature as an articulation of a symbolic order conditioned by language, history and the uniqueness of the interpreter. I merely see God not as a metaphor but as a possibility in which community can be realized and a tradition to ground it. The part at which religion becomes negative is when that which exceeds representation becomes a dogmatism rather than the openness required in the inter-human world. It is in this openness towards difference, multiplicity and otherness in which my faith can be found. It is a faith of possibility and that is all God could ever be.

Friday, December 2, 2011

College Majors that Don't Pay

From the humorous post here to the ominous bureaucratic management of China's proposal here, it comes as no surprise that I, a philosopher, would wonder if both the United States and China operate under a mistake. This is the mistake that universities are responsible for the training of employees--this belief is supported by the thought that professional majors like engineering, computer science and business earn more than their liberal art counterparts. However, that might not be true. Consider Edwin Koc, Director of the Strategic and foundation research at the National Association of College Employers says,

But the advantage possessed by career-oriented majors may be short-lived. Once in a career path, the more general skills of communication, organization and judgment become highly valued. As a result, liberal arts graduates frequently catch or surpass graduates with career-oriented majors in both job quality and compensation. A longitudinal study conducted several years ago by the National Center for Educational Statistics found that the wage differentials that existed between career-oriented majors and academically oriented majors were all but eliminated within 10 years after graduation.

Now, if this is true, and my experience confirms that it seems to be so, then what universities should be doing is holding true to standards in which the best can succeed, and if others are willing to put in the hard work, then they too should be held to a standard of excellence steeped in the liberal arts tradition. This has always been my problem. Philosophy majors tend to be exceptionally bright. They are studying the physics of the humanities and they have acquired a level and depth to their critical thinking that outstrips the typical business student. Now, I don't pretend to be not biased, but I have also taught in universities in which this bears out time and time again. Business students account for 1 in 6 majors in the United States. Philosophy majors, I read somewhere, account for about 1% of all Bachelor degrees given out every year.

The NCES study doesn't surprise me given that liberal arts majors are more likely to attend postgraduate education of some variety, and the pressing need for future critical thinking skills in life may far outweigh exactly how an accounting major learns to do her thing.

But let me return to my initial thought. Is it the job of universities to improve the quality of the overall person, or train future workers in a economy? Why is it the university's sole responsibility to supply an economy with workers ready-made and gift-wrapped upon graduation? Given how volatile our economic cycles can be, I do not think something as unpredictable should have a bearing on educational outcomes at all. Perhaps, it is the economy and the people working within it that need to be more adaptive to the inherent chaos within how an economy moves. Ideas come from innovative people, individuals with skills to adjust to life. It makes no sense to plan a life around something as volatile as the economy. This is not a call to hold back a second and try to assess how we can best serve ours students. This can only be done by a liberal arts education that fosters the capacities to learn and adapt--that is, namely, teaching those critical thinking and communication skills that come from assessing arguments in Plato, or reading theology, art history or any number of classical disciplines in which have no direct immediate gain; instead, the humanities proffer a lifetime gain over a long period of study by promoting reflection, critical thinking and the ability to clearly articulate and appreciate contexts that transcend the immediate and instrumental needs.

Maybe the private sector can help and anticipate its own needs by further training people as the needs become apparent. If companies want good workers with critical thinking and communication skills, then perhaps they should invest in human capital more, and I'll increasingly teach more philosophy majors to boot.

Monday, November 21, 2011

UC Davis, Political Violence on Campus and the Occupy Movement

Universities are not places for police actions, and the intimidation used by police on peaceful protests. Universities are no violence zones. Period. End of story. I'm sorry, but call me old-fashioned. Weapons do not belong where the mind should have free reign. This means that violence of any sort is intolerable and wrong. Universities are about seeking out the truth and asking questions. The point of a university is never to be a place that condones violence. When the Chancellor Linda Zatehi condoned and ordered the removal of peaceful protesters at UC Davis, she violated the sanctity of the university. I am not surprised at the least, however. The Administrators of our universities are often scholars that couldn't hack it.

Now let's not be fooled. The Occupy Movement is so named since it is a form of civil disobedience that disrupts the cohesiveness of a public space's meaning. It seeks to appropriate that space, to re-invent its original function and re-integrate that space into an interrogation of the de facto meaning the space originally held. In this way, the Occupy movement seeks a transformation of a space as part of its protest. It is a disruption of the original status-quo, and calls attention to the specific problems and challenges facing America. As such, it is a new form of civil disobedience. It is a call to self-interrogation inasmuch as it might highlight or specify its claims.

Within the occupation, there is no violence. It plays on the ambiguity by calling for transformation by occupying, but occupying with irony. Usually, the term occupying is completely disruptive in that occupiers are the leftover of some invading force--"the boots on the ground" keeping steady the peace after some war. Here, they are occupying not through violence, but by locking arms, holding working groups and sharing ideas so that something may foment, come to the surface and radiate outward. It is a call for social transformation without much design; it is an organic dialogue that moves about in its own way like an infant learning to take its first step. Eventually, it will take form, mature and make demands. But part of its inability to be co-opted by the larger discourses is an enactment of political refusal. The Occupying movement is a movement actual commitment since so many times before the partisan discourses seek to integrate populist movements into itself and play off that political energy. Here, the political refusal is a resistance, a civil disobedient form itself. In that regard, it is very clever; it is neither Democratic or Republican. Though, I wonder how long before the possibility of the Occupy Movement becomes a New Left and integrates itself into the populist movement to reelect President Obama. Time will only tell, though I digress.

As a form of peaceful resistance, the system will lash back. There will be arrests, perhaps violence as we saw, and the integrity of the university will be far from the police officer's mind. However, it should never be far from the mind of a Chancellor that calls for the intolerance of peaceful protesting.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A. R. Luther's "The Articulated Unity of Being"

There is a lot in this essay, and I offer my thoughts in no particular order. I am, however, interested in what is necessitated ontologically for values to be given in experience, and how far the phenomenological method is privileged by Scheler--the latter is a question about the merits of interpretation of his works. Oftentimes when I discuss Scheler's work, it seems that people want to push the phenomenological angle and subordinate later inquiries into metaphysics and philosophical anthropology to Scheler qua phenomenologist. It is easy, however, to smooth over the complexity of a thinker's thought and relegate the complexity into a unified conception. We make systems out of past thinkers usually; it is rare that past thinkers attempted to systematize their own thought in ways we reconstruct and interpret them. Thus, I am plagued by the tenacity of the phenomenological angle of interpretation of his later works.

Most notably, Arthur Luther apparently had a fondness for the phenomenological interpretation to such an extent that he reads the Eternal Cosmos in Man against Sceler's phenomenology. 

For Heidegger, existence can be described without value. In some way, there is a mooded relief and backdrop implicit in the field of human life, but there are no values associated with those moods, only their function in relation to us. However, for Scheler, values can be articulated without human beings, but what they cannot exist without is God. For Scheler, as Luther interprets him, man, person and God come together in a creative becoming that is inexhaustibly full and rich. It is a coming together of the vital impetus and blind releasements of force and power in our biological reality and simultaneously the abiding and immediate expression of our primordial loving. For Luther, this structure has more phenomenological depth.

Pushing deeper here, it must be said that simultaneous and co-operative acting does not mean that God executes an act and that man as person executes an act, and that these two acts coincide. Simultaneous acting means that an act executed in and through man as person, when it is directed towards higher values (ultimately the Holy) is simultaneously God acting, to the extent that He is becoming in and through man becoming as the realization of values, which although disclosed in and through man, transcend man as absolute, by hence, as values of the absolute person, as values which coincide with the directedness of primordial loving. Moreover, in and through such realization of values God becomes really and fully who He is, but in a way that does not exhaust the fullness who He is because it is a way rather than that fullness itself. This relation between fullness itself, whole or totality (Ganzheit), and concrete expression, manifestation, realization is possible because fullness itself, whole or totality here is spirit, which is to say, no thing or object. Fundamentally boundless, the fullness which is spirit is inclusive while transcending as a whole or totality, any expression, manifestation or realization (Luther, Articulated, p. 36). 

The actualization of acts is a relational aspect given entirely in the fullness of spirit. Man as person realizes higher values in a simultaneity of God realizing his own fullness of spirit whenever we realize higher values. This realization is a becoming in and through man, and unmentioned in the passage above is the plurality necessitated by that becoming. As such, like Levinas, God can only be a possibility realized in human community in Scheler's thought. It takes others, and others held at the level of un-objectifiable spirit or person, for God to become realized in and through man. This is why Being for Luther and Scheler means "solidarity of persons." A solidarity of persons "is a community of uniquely executed dynamic orientations" (p. 37). Persons are radically unique points of dynamic orientation. Phenomenologically, they are given in terms of their ability to act and be free such that persons are spontaneous free initiators of acts.

The point of citing the above passage is that it one candidate amongst many that pushes Scheler in a phenomenological direction. However, I wonder if the tone of phenomenology is accomplishing anything significant here. This worry manifests since I have recently written extensively of the phenomenology of essences in the Formalism for part of my dissertation. I see this type of phenomenology as vastly different from Heidegger's hermeneutic turn in sections 31 and 32 of Being and Time. Luther construes Scheler's phenomenology as a deep commitment to an irreducibility. At the beginning of the Essay, Luther provides a lengthy but very relevant passage,

What is unique about Scheler's phenomenological approach is that it constitutes an attitude of "openness towards...", which permits what is revealing itself to reveal itself as it is in itself. The significance of this approach, or attitude, is that the openness it cultivates excludes reductionism of any sort. It is an openness which is ready for revelation in its fullness. More specifically, the openness here is the implicit affirmation that what appears is precisely what it is (Wesen) and not something else, hence, cannot be reduced to something else. The approach is not so much determined by an applied methodology as it is by how what is appear is , in fact, appearing in the openness who is man. The effort, then, in Scheler's phenomenology is not to reduce something to something else, or to explain something away, or to demonstrate the proof of something , but to account for "everything" as it discloses itself in concrete experiencing...Phenomena are everywhere apparent, referring to one another, in a dynamism of appearing that indicates an inexhaustible richness of potential meaning-fulfillment. The problem becomes one of penetrating each phenomenon, each revelation as it is in itself, in order to lay bare  or let appear in some way that center or core or whole or totality which constitutes its essence (Wesen) or inner actuality (Wirklichkiet), without losing sight of the fact that each phenomenon is in relation to all other phenomena. The relational character of "appearing" is a priori. Man is man as a unique "place" of appearing; appearing here includes implicitly all that can appear, without determining in advance what will appear, with respect to the phenomenon itself or to the phenomenon as situated in the horizon or totality. In short, one is always encountering a whole, in and through perspectives, which either diminish or augment, occult or disclose the richness of that whole (Luther, Articulated, p. 4-5)

Before, you will note in the very opening, two words used by Luther. These are "revelation" and "fullness." Fullness for Luther is a way to communicate how the givenness of spirit and God are considered overflowing. A language of epistemological emphasis would talk about spirit and God as reified abstract representations,and could not account for the experiential elements of these two words. Yet, this brings up the fascinating point that if Luther along the way has tripped up Scheler. In the Formalism, Scheler makes references to God and the relationship between man, person, values and spirit. Yet, he does not present his talk about phenomenological method with the chosen religious tones with which Luther communicates it. Phenomena are apprehended as immediately given essences within intuition. If anything, the phenomenology of the Formalism is more akin to something like William Alston's religious epistemology than importing the theological emphasis with phenomenological tones.

Luther's talk about phenomenological description not succumbing to reductionism is a familiar point, especially considering the inauguration of phenomenological method in Husserl preoccupied itself with the erroneous tendency of psychologism. Psychologism proffered to reduce logical laws to descriptive psychological laws to the point that the normativity of logical laws could not suggest itself as a way we ought to reason. Instead, if we reasoned logically, it was because we were determined to do so since we had proper psychologies. Husserl's Logical Investigations is, then, a defense of the irreducibility of logical laws and how they are constituted within intentional consciousness. Husserl, like Luther, is consistently a good phenomenologist, and insofar as Scheler is a phenomenologist, he is attempting to describe phenomena as they appear to him. We do not presuppose anything about those phenomena, but let them appear as they will in experience. However, this also commits us to the possibility that if we are "too open" or in Luther's emphasis too "open towards" in attitude, then any phenomenon insofar as we have a word for it, or need to invent one, can appear for phenomenological investigation. This would be fine if we were nominalists like William James. However, Scheler has some very nasty things to say about ethical nominalism to the point that we can infer that he would be against any larger commitments to nominalism. By Luther exploiting that phenomenological openness in Scheler, it is very easy to sneak within that openness the very suppositions of a theological phenomenology without really being honest about it. It is, therefore, an open question whether or not all things can appear, nor should we be so naively open to the world such that simply because Scheler's phenomenological approach admits of irreducible phenomena  that we should admit God, spirit, persons and values tout court.

Certainly, God, spirit, persons and values have a central place in Scheler's thought. This cannot be ignored. However, is it really the case that phenomenology can admit these things and still remain phenomenological? Perhaps, I am echoing Dominique Janicaud's worry too much. If we honestly bracket all things about moral experience, it seems intelligible that we can phenomenological access to the givenness of value in emotive intuition. I can readily point to examples of those kind such as loving and preferring in Scheler's thought, and readily admit them as evidence. Yet, to point to something like spirit or God is another matter entirely. Scheler can freely admit a phenomenological conception of the person as the intentional unity of acts. Being a person manifests as being the locus of intentionality in a lived-body. These are things that we can also easily point to describe. However, to call spirit the interiority of our experience the sphere of actuality and one of several spheres in human experience is not a readily available phenomenological insight. These spheres are not irreducible phenomena, they are mediated. Our understanding of organic and inorganic being might be phenomenological at first, but to put these concepts in touch with each other in a system is to exploit the openness attitude and irreducibility criterion of phenomenological description. Calling them phenomenological is a ploy in authority; it is a trump card against skepticism and the natural attitude. In this way, phenomenology is always in danger. It can be too open and liberal with what it thinks is given, and shore up one's biases rather than disclose what is truly given.

I suggest a way out of this predicament. When Scheler talks about how man relates to God, perhaps he is simply doing that attempting to conceptualize man's relation to God. Given how Scheler later came to reject Catholicism, it was a very pressing philosophical inquiry for him. We need not presuppose that this inquiry must take a phenomenological orientation that grounds all other attempts. To push the phenomenological angle oversimplifies many of the issue that Scheler's very short lived life could not further develop. What we do have, however, is a dynamic thinker that regularly adopts new methods, addresses completely new and alien contexts, incorporates old ones, and synthesizes all of these elements with frustrating detail. As such, Scheler scholars may always be frustrated that Scheler is not given to easy systematization, but that is exactly why we like him. This is also where Luther went wrong.

Sunday, October 30, 2011


A colleague of mine has a new paper coming out in Transactions and has given some brief description about it here. He combines insights from Heidegger and Dewey in much of what he does. I'm looking forward to reading it.

I also apologize for not blogging in a while. I have done some more work on editing Chapter 1 and have been very busy trying to internalize Scheler. Part of my attention has been to see what phenomenological method means for both Heidegger and Scheler--a point you might have thought made its appearance before introducing the problem in Chapter 1. However, I found it more logically conducive to establish what the problem is I find in Heidegger's writings before elucidating differences between Heidegger and Scheler. Chapter 2 is an expository chapter about Scheler's thought---mostly from the Formalism about his phenomenological ethics. I will draw conclusions and more comparisons in Chapter 3. It is a very simple plan. Right?

I have found that writing this montrosity is an organic process. It is a process of developing and going back, and revising what you have done. There are loopholes in my writing and Scheler's thinking, places where Scheler simply asserts his thinking and I find myself picking up the pieces from what he has done. For instance, there is a good a section where Scheler starts meditating on the nature of moral facts. It is familiar. Like an old friend, I feel like I am in the presence of Ross and Moore.

I have found that the most challenging part of dissertation writing is attempting to assume who is your target audience. Certainly, my committee is filled with a whole bunch of people knowledgeable about phenomenology. They know the differences between hermeneutic and Scheler's phenomenology of essences. However, the general reader would not, and so I am writing the dissertation to a target audience between my committee and the general reader.

Sometimes, I feel shorn philosophically. I am entering debates that are much older than myself, and sometimes I am not too sure they need retrieved. I am fascinated with the limits of phenomenology, conducting a phenomenological description about lived-experience and engaging texts primarily without the mediation of secondary literature. To write on Heidegger and ethics is so 1990s. We'll see where the dissertation writing takes me.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Seminar Question: Phenomenological Immortality and the Lived-Body

I should say that I am having a blast in the Husserl seminar I'm auditing. With that said, today's seminar conversation really got me thinking.

Today, we read Section 24 in Analysis Concerning Passive and Active Synthesis, and Appendix 8. Husserl concludes that the self-becoming of self-consitutions appears in experience without beginning or end. This can be called phenomenological immortality, and so it is not a conclusion about immortality as a property of the soul or endorsing anything metaphysical. It is simply a thesis about how the self is given before the self. I am given eternally as self-giving. I took issue with the fact that self-constitution is given in this way as phenomenologically immortal and consequently, I went the other direction of the whole seminar.

For me, to talk of self-givenness in this way reifies the process as it appears. There is no lived-body here. As I walked with the Professor of the seminar, I repeated my frustration and urged that the self-temporalization of becoming may appear to us as given as phenomenologically immortal fashion, but that doesn't remove the fact that self-temporalization takes place in a lived-body. It is the lived-body that also impinges and makes me aware of how I am given before myself. In this way, I urged that the constraints of the lived-body imply a phenomenological mortality.

The seminar ended with me conceding that I understood what Husserl had meant, but there is still a lingering suspicion that, like Descartes, we have reified the process of self-temporalization and implied the manner of givenness we think reveals itself as phenomenologically immortal. The Professor urged me that even if we conducted the same level of description at the level of the lived-body, we would arrive at the same conclusion. This leaves us with the question I wanted to quickly write it down here: Would phenomenological immortality of the givenness of self-constitution remain immortal if the same analysis described self-constitution of the lived-body?

Paper Proposal for Reasons and Rationality Conference

Title: TBA

To act on a reason is to accept a propositional formulation to what a reason is. However, I find this type of talk limiting for two reasons. First, the fact that language constructs its syntax in certain ways might be misleading to what it is to act on a reason, and secondly, when we engage in “propositionalizing” reason, we abstract the intention, maxim or reason for acting from its worldly concrete context. An agent is someone that can give oneself a reason, and the reasons are separated from the context that inspire them when we talk in such a fashion. These two problems stem largely from Kantian conceptions of agency and rationality that still persist to this day.
In this paper, it is not enough simply to put out the “obvious” flaws in Kantian conceptions of rationality and agency. A difference must be posed, and a substitute for reasons must be found. Therefore, I briefly sketch out my conception of agency and reasons based in part by rethinking Heidegger’s existential analysis as a substitute for what the Kantian position defends and reviving the affective intentionality of Scheler’s moral philosophy. This has two advantages, and one flaw.
First, reasons are not possibilities given to oneself by oneself. There is more depth in this experience than Kant permits. For Kant, self-legislation stems from the noumenal character of rationality. This puts the practical agent outside the concrete world, and this really cannot stand. There is a question as to how that possibility arose in the first place. It arises in the “historicity” and the world we are “thrown” into which we have no control. The historicity of self-understanding implies that there are limits to practical rationality.
Secondly, the noumenal character of the practical standpoint, the claim of impartiality of practical reason, cannot stand. This can be seen by defending the existential analysis of moods that both Scheler and Heidegger open up in their analysis and its consequences it would have for agency. An agent cannot maintain absolute neutrality with regard to the reasons it comes to possess.
However, Heidegger’s analysis of affectivity is blind to values that feature in experience, and this is the flaw that while Heidegger possesses the fact that our reasons are always “mooded.”[1] Heidegger does not see that emotions are the place where values can be found. For my point here, values are evaluative reasons for actions, and I intend the term in that respect.
Let me take stock of this paper proposal, and what has been exactly claimed so far. First, the Kantian articulation of reasons as “propositionalized” and self-legislated is misleading and causes two confusions. It promotes the falsely noumenal character of what it is to give oneself a reason such that rationality and agency stand outside history and context in which true action is exercised. Therefore, I propose two theses about rationality and agency that attempt to return agency and rationality to the concrete world of experience.

  1. The Hermeneutic Limit of Reasons: For any reason R, R is a possibility that comes to an agent A through historical mediation to such an extent that A’s identification with the possibility cannot be extricated from A’s situated understanding.
  2. The Affective Intentionality Condition: For any reason R, R is always based in a existential mood M such that R can never stand outside M.
The first thesis comes out of Heidegger’s analysis in Being and Time and is less problematic than the second. Thesis (2) comes in two varieties Heidegger’s and Scheler’s respective varieties. First, Heidegger does not associate affective intentionality with having a value correlate. Scheler’s position does construe value in this way, and so it is to him that we must turn on this point to reject Heidegger altogether for the second thesis. Taken together, these two insights are corrective measures against what the Kantian positions fails to articulate. The Kantian position fails to articulate a worldly concrete conception of rational agency.
            Now, the reviewer of this proposal will note two things. First, this paper exhibits no ambiguous language concerning what Heidegger’s position is (nor Scheler’s position for that matter), and secondly, I am arguing against the Kantian position itself, not any particular Kantian. Therefore, I am engaged in a logical dialectic with a commonly held position and some thematization of that position is made on my part here. My thematization is based on a severe dissatisfaction with many Kantians to sneak unrealistic powers of autonomy into their conception of what rational agency is to such an extent that they ignore the historical source of that bias in Kant—the noumenal character of the practical standpoint.
            The paper is organized into three parts. First, I will outline the exact nature and character of the noumenal conception of rational agency in Kant and the problems generated from that conception. In the second section, I will propose thesis (1) and defend it. In the third section, I will propose thesis (2) and show why Scheler’s conception of affective intentionality takes precedence over Heidegger’s conception.

[1] This insight is the thesis of my dissertation on Heidegger and Scheler. 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Yeah Okay But Still Blog's Practical Reason Proposal, Part 1 and 2.

I find any moral philosopher that questions mainstream ethical theories refreshing. Somehow, I think, moral philosophy has to re-invent itself and its methods when it gets to the point that ethics conceptualizes matters to such an extent that it does not bare out in experience. Sometimes you can run across a traditional metaethics professor that has conceptualized issues to such an extent that experience does not relate to the concepts. However, this is rare.  For me, this was the only area in analytic philosophy in which something-like phenomenological description and lived-experience mattered to the subject.

Still, I have questioned Nick's proposal in Part 1 and 2 while still optimistic about its initial thrust. It's a proposal worth checking out. My comments are under Part 2.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Philosophy, Philosophers and the PGR/Pluralist Affair

I do not like this singling out of an individual on the web, especially when it comes to singling out and ostracizing another professional philosopher. First, it wreaks of rumormongering and I wonder what effect it will have on someone's career. At worst, it comes across as bullying, and even more to the point, it promotes divisiveness. As if philosophers of any affiliation, expertise or approach can practically stand to be divided given that we live in an academic world that prides itself on supplying the demand of unreflective vocational degrees like business majors rather than valuing anything in the humanities! Much of the content on Leiter's Philosophy Reports has descended to that level with this whole Pluralist Guide debacle.

As philosophers, our common exchange is argumentation and interpretation. We give each other reasons for thinking X or Y, and that's the appropriate place for what we do. This includes the treatment of each other. Lately, there have been several blogs that trade in vitriol. I don't like it. It only bespeaks the implicit commitment that there is not only a divide between an us and them--without really knowing what it is exactly that we're disagreeing about while everyone insisting that the reason they personally are disagreeing with this whole affair is the same as everyone else's. It comes across as more attitudinal sometimes rather than substantive.

Surely, you can disagree with the actions of a professional colleague. Surely, you could raise these points with tact, but really to launch a survey about the issue, to elicit feedback from Leiter's gossip page can really damage someone's career. If Leiter doesn't like you, if you enter his little radar to the point that you piss him off, he could literally hurt you with his blog. I am privvy to the effects he made personally about a fellow colleague.

I have no evidence either way to infer anything on the part of Linda Martin Alcoff's actions or her motivations. I sometimes wonder what she heard that made her so fervently decide to place three top PG ranked schools as bad places for women to study philosophy. I don't know anyone at these schools; I probably never will. The point, however, should be what would motivate someone to suffer the cost of those reports? Equally disturbing is, if she is wrong, then how have her comments been received and affected the status of those graduate programs? If you are reading this, you probably don't know anymore than me. That's the point. We ought to suspend judgment on the truth of the proposition rather than surveying our social perceptions of a colleague. This is a reaction of taste. It's in poor taste that Leiter made it a survey. Again, tact is a wonderful thing. Tactful action at minimum involves respectful engagement with a colleague.

Can you imagine if the whole world of philosophy voted about your status? Imagine what it must be like to be under the hot seat. I'd be silent too. I'd wish it to go away. Moreover, if Leiter really wanted some answers about the Status of Women report, then a respectful engagement with Dr. Alcoff might have presented the results he would want: Answers.

Ever since this started, I've started her Feminist Epistemologies. It's quite good, thorough and well-researched. The only conclusions I could ever possiblly reach from her work (other than the obvious implications for phenomenology): She is more than likely smarter than me, and I'll probably teach at some liberal art school while she will carry the torch of Continental philosophy and feminist philosophy. Someone so accomplished does not require me to defend her, and this should not be read as a defense or a position in the whole affair. Instead, it is merely a judgment of taste, and an honest evaluation about what we truly know--little to nothing. If I were teaching critical thinking and my students told me that we knew little to nothing about a particular problem, then I'd advise them to suspend judgment until they acquire more evidence.

It is despicable what has become of this whole affair, and you can point fingers... The only conclusion that can be drawn is the following:

1. There are implicit power formations about what constitutes proper philosophy.

2. Various parties have a vested interest in maintaining some version of what constitutes philosophy proper and where best one should study such a conception. I don't make any claim as to what this type of philosophy should be.

3. Given 1 and 2 above, there is something like a "divide" and no precise definition can be given about it, though something like Wittgensteinian family resemblance is possible.

If 3 is remotely possible, then whatever it is that "divides" philosophers is a hermeneutic condition of the activity to such an extent that the denial that there was no divide ever seems naive. But, I digress from the main point of this post.

I don't think I'll go to Leiter's website anytime soon, and the fact that it seemed so distasteful the way he handled his criticisms, I don't suspect my call to boycott his site would have any effect. Regardless, that's where I am. I neither excuse nor praise Linda Martin Alcoff's actions since all that I know is that I don't know---what a wonderfully modest beginning and starting place for philosophy should also hold for a point as to how we conduct ourselves professionally.

That's all I got. I am glad the poll is closed. I will not post anymore about the whole Pluralist Guide/PGR debacle. I will simply end where I think philosophy is heading. If I am not mistaken, philosophy is headed towards more pluralistic grounds, and I don't know if that upsets the old guard. I have friends at some Pluralist Guide schools, and I have friends at excellent to mid-range PGR schools.  I have friends writing on Sellars and pragmatism, I have other friends writing on moral psychology and philosophy of action. I have friends writing on Agamben, and I know others writing on Merleau-Ponty and Levinas. I have friends that do metaethics, and I know others that do philosophy of culture and feminism. I, myself, seem headed toward a comparative dissertation between Heidegger and Scheler with the last chapter devoted (maybe) to Jesse Prinz's naturalistic conception of moral emotions. I read Matt Radcliffe's work on philosophy of psychology and his engagement with Heidegger. My associations are erratic, inspiring and intriguing. This is why I am excited to finally and hopefully transition to finishing the PhD and joining the ranks of my fellow colleagues. It is a truly inspiring thing we do, philosophy. For me, it's like art. It takes a while to appreciate how complex another philosopher's work is, and undoubtedly, you need to be trained to appreciate philosophy just like it takes one some time to familiarize oneself with art to appreciate its current manifestation.

In the end, all I really can say about the whole thing is "I don't like green eggs and ham. I don't like them Sam I am."

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Friday, August 12, 2011

Gov. Perry's Transcript and Political Rant

Yeah, that's what you get in the cult of personality Conservative politcs, completely mediocre students achieving power without intelligence. Here's Gov. Perry's transcript.

It should be said, however, that I think it is somewhat sleazy to run the story like the Huffington Post did. It's yellow journalism at its finest. You can reject conservatism without smearing the person. Both Senator Kerry and George Bush had C averages at their Ivy league schools.

What is interesting for me philosophically is the traits necessary to succeed in politics. You do not need intelligence. All it seems one require is wealth, social capital and a bit of charisma.

Years ago, I interned for a Congressman. I'll leave his name anonymous. At that point, the man was a freshman Congressman. He had attended law school. He'd been a State Representative and ran from State Representative all the way up to heavily populated 90% Democratic district. He was the up-and-comer in that state.

For two months, I answered calls, filled out paper work for flag requests and helped put together folders for academy nominations. I compiled a database of US manufacturers in the several counties. I met him once. He stopped by the office, and when I shook his hand, I felt just how "fake" he was. There was no doubt in my mind. The Congressman had a very charismatic personality, but I didn't feel anything very genuine from him. He had already been oiled and slicked by the party machine. I think this holds for almost any politician. Once they are situated in power, a variety of interests come to court them. They are forced to embed themselves in a nexus of power interests that hold sway over their reelection coffers.

US politicians don't do anything. They don't make anything. They don't wrestle with anything too controversial that would cost them to upset their respective constituents. In effect, they are useless. Call me bitter.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

4 Problems of Attunement and Mood in Being and Time

I wanted to share something I'm working on, and wondered if I am off base. Heideggerians and Schelerians alike are welcomed to respond. These are four criticisms I'm using in what will become my Dissertation Prospectus and Chapter 1. I'm still working out whether or not these are appropriate and well justified criticisms. 

I wish to summarize the claims I have made and will make based on extrapolating from them.

            (1) Heidegger’s conception of attunement through mood does not explain how attunement through mood brings into relief what matters to us. He merely insists on this point, and this cannot be given without some level of interpretation which he does not provide. If he did, then a proper candidate for bringing into relief what matters to us is not that the world is disclosed as such. More than that, the world is already “charged” by the very moods that prepare a way for the world to be disclosed. In this fashion, Heidegger is not wrong in thinking that there is already some agreement about what we find threatening prior to experience—we’ll see this in the example of fear below. Even more so, Heidegger outlines the basic non-neutrality of knowledge in general. We are already underway. We come to inhabit a world saturated with meanings already interpreted. As such, I am not claiming that Heidegger’s mood bring us into an original transcendent relation to what matters to us. Instead, I am merely claiming that without really stating how attunement relates to what matters to us, attunement leaves unsaid the truly interpersonal and intersubjective factors that help describe how it is that we come care about what matters to us. Put another way, how does attunement through mood find its expression in things mattering to us when there is no correlate established to how things actually matter to us? What is the phenomenological depth beyond simply positing that they matter?

            (2) Heidegger’s avoidance of connecting affective life to value can partially be explained by Heidegger’s interpretation of values as present-at-hand. This explains why Heidegger never wanted to include within BT’s fundamental ontology a type of moral phenomenology. Even in Scheler’s dissertation, Parvis Emad reminds us that Scheler regarded values as nothing.[1]  That is, Scheler did not even take up values as propositions or the discourse of moral facts. In the Formalism in Ethics and Non-Formal Ethics of Values, Scheler describes value phenomenologically. For him, values are expressed as emotive intuition (f├╝hlende Anschauung).[2] As it is too early to spell out these differences in full, part of the disagreement with Scheler will be the essential doctrine of intentional feeling and its correlate (or as Scheler uses the term “connection”) of values. It is within lacking intentional feeling that Heidegger fails to observe the reality of the full emotional life. This also follows that Heidegger does not observe the interpersonal dimension of emotional life and leads us directly into (3) below.

            (3) Heidegger’s care structure is not primordially constitutive of Dasein. By describing affective life as co-operative with other elements of the structure, Heidegger cannot see the full independent problematic offered by the complexity of emotional life. Specifically, emotional life is its own independent sphere. It is rather the sphere of spirit at the level of the person that demands analysis. As such, care and anxiety are not fundamental but derivative structures of what is more fundamental, spirit. Within spirit, Scheler offers the interpretation that love and hate are more essential than anxiety.

            (4) A central concern in Heidegger’s notion of authenticity is that an anticipatory resoluteness is not constrained by norms. This follows from the fact that in authenticity Dasein leaps ahead of others on its own, and if we admitted a degree of interpersonal dimension, such a possibility of Dasein would be a leaing-in would not be construed negatively as ontic and inauthentic. Leaping-in extols the publicness of the They to overtake my own possibilities. Thus, the authentic mode of being-in-the-world embodied in Befindlichkeit must shed the evaluative associations with inauthenticity over authenticity, even despite Heidegger’s claiming these are non-evaluative concepts in his fundamental ontology.

Given my interpretive claims above, Heidegger opens the way for phenomenologists. Heidegger provides the first primordial interpretation to emotional life apart from Scheler’s contribution anterior to his efforts of the early 1920s. Ever since Plato, most of Western thought has regarded the emotions with a secondary importance. Reason is that which most often trumps the passions. However, Heidegger might have opened the door for a conception of the emotions, but his aim has always been to provide an ontologically constitutive interpretation of human life in general and given how values centrally feature into human experience in general, no ontologically constitutive schema can avoid them. This is the shortcoming of Heidegger’s basic approach, and one I will advance in this dissertation. For now, let us move on to his example of fear in §30 in order to make good on my interpretation.

[1]  Parvis Emad, Heidegger and the Phenomenology of Values (Glen Ellyn, IL: Torey Press, 1981), p. 110.
[2] Formalism Max Scheler, Formalism in Ethics and Non-Formal Ethics of Values: A New Attempt Toward the Foundation of an Ethical Personalism trans. M. S. Frings and R. Funk, (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1973), p. 265. I cite this as the Formalism hereafter.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Canadian PhDs

I notice that I get several hits from Canada and thought it pertinent to mention.There is an article over at the New APPS about how Canadian departments do not hire Canadians attending their own Canadian PhD programs.

I cannot attest to the perceptions of Canadians about other Canadian departments. I will say, however, it was common knowledge that the MAs at Simon Fraser should seek to go to the United States rather than, say, someplace like Dalhousie to study philosophy. This was prudent advice offered by several members of the faculty. I've heard the same elsewhere. I talked to several folks at a university event over at UBC from the University of Alberta. They felt it was wrong of so many of U of A's PhDs did not fare well on the job market as compared to Canadians who attended prestigious American universities.

Now keep in mind. This is just the two incidents I have been privy to hear. I have a sense that the article does bear some truth to it.

The greatest thing about Simon Fraser's Philosophy Department is how developed the MA program is. Frankly, I am a better philosopher for having attended there, and while I only maintain a marginal interest in the courses I took there I know how well-suited I am to go on the market having gone there. Like Tulane or maybe Miami University of Ohio, there are few schools where as an MA student you can get trained to improve your dossier for PhD applications and receive funding at the same time.

Consider SFU if you are into philosophy of mind. With Eric Margolis at UBC and Kathleen Akins at SFU, Vancouver is a city primed for philosophy of mind. UBC tends to attract a lot of important speakers and SFU/UBC always have a tight-knit affiliation with courses taught between the two schools at SFU's Harbour Centre.

Moreover, Vancouver has a wonderful fringe art scene and great music. I would venture to say that several of my colleagues got sucked up into Vancouver as an awesome place to live.

New APPS Blog on more Ethics Suggestions

The works on the list are quite good and predictable from a pluralistic perspective.

Props to Roman for mentioning Scheler before I did.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Women and Works in Moral Philosophy over the last 200 years

Undoubtedly women have been pushed to the side in philosophy, and if and when I graduate with this damn PhD, I'll be hard pressed to tell future female philosophy students some of the experiences I've heard about. With that said, it is also incumbent upon us men to highlight those women that have had considerable impact in moral philosophy. 200 years is a long time, and certainly we have had women in the 20th century than should have made the list.

To be fair, Leiter has included many seminal works in analytic and Continental philosophy respectively.

I nominate several following women whose works should be on the list. Certainly, there will be disagreements, but part of the sensitivity to women in the profession revolves around interrogating the philosophical reasons as to why that exclusion happened. Therefore, while some of these thinkers might be labeled more directly feminist than others, I think it is hard to claim that feminism is, in principle, not a form of moral philosophy. Feminism is so steeped in both a criticism of the history of philosophy and overriding normative concerns in both the history and contemporary life it can never be non-ethical. I don't even think the claim could be argued personally.

Judith Butler (Say what you will. Butler has wholly embraced the controversial thesis that values are wholly a social construction with specific with attention to gender and bodies)
Claudia Card
Virginia Held
Simone De'Beauvoir (especially Simone. To suggest Sartre over her "Ethics of Ambiguity" is a crime of clarity and sophistication)
Luce Irigaray
Marth Nussbaum
Jane Addams

There will, of course, be others. I am not perfect and this is off the cuff. Feel free to suggest more.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Dissertation Problem: Heidegger and Scheler on Moods

This post presupposes familiarity with Heidegger's thought. 

The distinction between fundamentally authentic moods and inauthentic moods differentiates with the depth of complexity. Fear takes an object and is, in a certain sense, not as primordial as anxiety. Anxiety is so fundamental that it does not take an object, but concerns everything and nothing. I want to claim that anxiety is derivative of a more basic mood. I am substituting anxiety with the example of love found in Scheler's work. At least, this is the basis of my critique. 

Love does not take a specific object, but requires others. I want to say something like  love concerns everyone and nobody all at the same time (thinking that love would have the identical structure to anxiety). It is a moral orientation I take up in relation to the world at a primordial level. Someone might object that I've just substituted an impersonal other to stand in for everyone and nobody all at the same time. Of course, my analytic training -- like a Spidey-sense if you're a comic book geek -- informs me I should reject the distinction authentic/inauthentic moods in Heidegger. However, this impedes my story to say that anxiety is not derivative at all. To say something derives from something else is to give an interpretation as to why X is more primordial than Y. Therefore, I still need to assume a level of primordiality which occupies the level of the authentic. This is my current problem. 

I could disassociate authenticity from primordiality, but I take it that Heidegger's want for a primordial science, a fundamental ontology, is the aim of phenomenological research itself. If phenomenology is not after the fundamental structures of human existence at the primordial level, then I abandon the level where I am working out the problem. In Scheler, the immediately given within intuition is what is proper to phenomenology. I could substitute Scheler's conception of phenomenology first as a more "realistic" and concrete version. At that point, though, it is not so much as working the problem out within phenomenology as simply asserting that one is better. My project needs to be worked out in phenomenlogy for two reasons: A) it is the common background from which this problem emerges and B) internal to phenomenology, there are resources I think are here; I just need to find them. 

Moreover, Merleau-Ponty might be right in thinking there is no complete reduction. As such, Heidegger is a product of that level of skepticism and Scheler is an enthusiast with respect to its exercise. 

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Echoes and Thoughts

Part of the reason for studying Heidegger is my admiration for his thought, his uncanny way in which thinking tends to come alive in his texts. The same can be said for Nietzsche and Kierkegaard. I’ve been accused of making Heidegger a sacred text, and perhaps that’s a little hyperbole about my stated interest. It would be more careful to say I find Heidegger constantly irksome, intriguing and often downright wrong—all at the same time! On some things, we agree. It is, therefore, difficult to tell where the admiration and hatred begin and end.

One central point of agreement would be on method. I am a self-identifying phenomenologist since I like to put the “subject” back into experience. I like discerning the structures of existence, seeing what is there phenomenologically and thinking that philosophy qua phenomenology ought to put me into contact with the texture of life as lived. There are many philosophies that reify, objectify and assume characterizations about experience without looking to the first-personal experience how it is lived. This makes philosophy detached from the demands life makes in how it is lived. I found an echo of this love in Michael Bowler’s Heidegger and Aristotle.

Heidegger rejects any philosophy’s claim to be primordial science if it is not situated in life. The lack of primordiality in the philosophies of Rickert, Husserl and Natorp is indicated by the fact that one finds at the foundation of their philosophies a living element that they simply do not account for. Thus, according to Heidegger, the renewal of philosophy as primordial science requires exhibiting how philosophy is located in life as well as how it can be productive of life, most specifically, how it can be productive of the non-primordial sciences. This necessitates an investigation into philosophy as lived, i.e. philosophy as situated in life. In essence, philosophy as primordial science must be a ‘philosophy of life’ in the sense of belonging to life, but also as constitutive of life….if philosophy is to be primordial science then the concepts of world and intentionality must be resituated in life itself. They must be resituated in life because they have been removed from life by philosophical worldviews that conceptually objectify them (p. 92)

For obvious reasons…

Steven Crowell Interview

Steven Crowell's Interview over at Figure/Ground. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Non-Argumento-Centric Philosophy Anthology

The title is a term coined by Simon Glendinning, a philosopher at the London School of Economics who does research in Wittgenstein, ordinary language philosophy and then add "Continental philosophy." He has a piece in the Chase and Reynolds anthology I've recommended below. I also appreciate his book In the Name of Phenomenology. 

Call this a speculative idea for now!

With that aside, I had an idea. I wanted to make a call on the blogosphere for a discussion about an anthology inspired by Glendinning's piece. Specifically, I wanted to organize an anthology about divergent traditions that are critical of the narrow focus of logical dialectic. I would want a whole range of perspectives, but the central issue would have to be if one acquires wisdom through non-argumento-centric modes, then what constitutes those modes? And how are they an improvement over narrow logical dialectic? Does the mode work in tandem with the argumento-centric mode, or does it modify, change, revise or undermine it? I imagine pieces from hermeneuts, psychoanalysts, pragmatists and phenomenologists would all be invited, not to mention philosophers of literature or maybe even philosophers of religion.

Each piece would, therefore, have to take up an "analytic theme" but do so in a non-polemic way. The piece would have to show intimate familiarity with the analytic tradition, and come to terms with how wisdom is given in that they are questioning argumento-centric modes of philosophizing.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Mortimer Adler's How to Read A Book

My wife unknowingly downloaded Mortimer Adler's book How to Read a Book without knowing that Adler was a philosopher. In the future, I want to incorporate this book into Introductory courses, yet I wondered if anyone has ever required an audible text for their students?

In addition, I just wondered if anyone had devoted about 4-5 weeks to a how-to skills portion in their introductory courses?

Last time, I taught Intro to Philosophy, I used Lewis Vaughn's book on how to write philosophy for two weeks.

Philosophers Anonymous Thread

My blog has been quoted as touching upon the Leiterite/Pluralism issue, "albeit badly." Posters are encouraged to post more about where I went wrong. The common device might be actual arguments.

From the main thread,
My biggest surprise, though, is the relative silence of some of the more vocal opponents of the Leiter Report. The Pluralist's Guide actually and overtly manifests all of the methodological flaws that critics of the PGR typically (though mistakenly) claim undermine the PGR and render it pernicious. So anyone who (misguidedly) objects to the PGR on methodological grounds has especially strong reason to object to the Pluralist's Guide-- the Pluralist's Guide really is what Leiter's ignorant critics say the PGR is

Someone care to explain?
Now, my criticisms of the PGR have always been twofold. First, 250 or so (depending on the year) people cannot speak for more than 10,000 + philosophers in the United States. That's pretty simple, and the methods simply reify attitudes of institutional pedigree that seem to result in silliness. Consider the following quote from Leiter,
The quality of philosophy and scholarship at the recommended SPEP Guide programs in continental philosophy is generally inferior to that at programs either ignored or not recommended that have offerings in the same areas.  This is a judgment on the merits of work, a judgment based on considerations like argumentative and dialectical sophistication and perspicuousnes, historical and cultural erudition, and knowledge of the history of philosophy.
We're putting our faith in those that have faith in pedigree before substance, even to the point where we exclude others that are clearly doing excellent work. Let me point you to an example. Would I want Sean Kelly to supervise my dissertation if I wanted to work on Husserl, or Memphis with Thomas Nenon? I think the choice of the latter over the former an obvious one for supervisory reasons alone.
I think Memphis has a top-notch PhD program. Leiter has used it as an example of what he called Party-Line Continentalism some time ago. 
The good news here is that Party Line Continentalism is, ironically enough, increasingly just an Anglophone phenomenon, confined to a handful of departments in the U.S. (e.g., Penn State, Stony Brook, DePaul, Memphis, Vanderbilt, the New School, Dusquesne), the U.K. (e.g., Middlesex and Dundee), and Australia (e.g., New South Wales). (Even these Party Line Continentalist departments are increasingly diverse, which is a welcome development!) On the European Continent itself, Party Line Continentalism is in retreat almost everywhere, as rigorous historical scholarship, that transcends national boundaries, and Anglophone-style philosophical work is increasingly dominant.
So, we have two examples of Leiter thinking such a program as lesser than a PGR ranked school. Why not, however, see Memphis as a place that just does things differently? Certainly, it is impossible for a single man to render judgment on all these programs and their collective work given that nobody could sample all their work, yet he does. The philosophical reason to call Leiter out on his attitude comes from the tremendous power exercised on behalf of his blog and position in the profession. I think having such a polemical attitude towards other philosophers is dangerous, and downright wrong.

Those that agree with him have a self-interest in the perception of their program being maintained. These are the very same people enacting the surveys, though it should be clear that a surveyor cannot render judgment about their own department. Even more to the point, these same people have now had the favor of Leiter's rankings to the point that undergraduate students of placed PhDs are sending those undergraduates back to the same resource they consulted. Thus, the reification of pedigree continues.

In my eyes, such reification is bad because it divides up the professional community in ways that do not benefit the whole of the community. With that said, Leiter is at least exemplary when any department of philosophy comes under attack. His blogging during the Middlesex fiasco supported philosophy, even though they were Party-Line Continentals.

The same reification would happen eventually to the Pluralist Guide. That's just the danger of ranking. It shores up our biases.

This isn't to say that Leiter is wrong about everything. His concerns about how exactly the women section was reported has some merit.

In conclusion, the criticism of PGR is that it reifies institutional pedigree over and above what actually might be prudent for a student to choose. I've used the example of Nenon vs. Kelly. If your interests were to use phenomenological method in conjunction with analytic discourses in the philosophy of mind, you'd go to Harvard (but then again, Memphis just got Shaun Gallagher whose work is very comparable). Again, we are only talking about supervisory reasons and the quality of work scholars produce that motivate those reasons for applicants. Therefore, the applicant should decide where they would receive the best supervision from the quality of work actually done. The point is that there will be times where a highly ranked program cannot supervise what an applicant wants to work on, and the reification prevents a solid evaluation of someone's work simply because they work at an under-valued department.

I don't know if any ranking could prevent this reification. As such, it might be better to have more than just Leiter's rankings out there, but the danger of reification would rear its ugly head conceivably in that way. As such, I firmly accept that the APA's statement on rankings. Then again, that's just me.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Commentary on the Ends of Thought Entry "Why is Continental Philosophy So Bad?""

I have responded to comments over at the Ends of Thought blog. I like Roman a lot. He's been a good interlocutor in the past, and with that said, I respectfully think he tells a very oversimplified story about Continental philosophy. I argue for a principle of charity that is hermeneutic in nature since so many of the ways of the writing of Continental philosophy is tied to particular pedagogic aims. It is unfair to say that Continental philosophy is all bad, especially how it is framed. That's just a one-sided engagement that would never honestly see what is at work in a particular text. How about some examples?

Caputo writes texts that deconstruct themselves or Levinas avoiding epistemic frameworks altogether in order to describe how such a view would "reduce the other to the same." Irigaray uses language to avoid the gendered speech of Romance languages and alludes to the symbolism and metaphor of things like angels and mucous to talk about something that has never existed before (a wholly developed living subjectivity of women liberated from power structures). Could analytics buy into Irigaray's use of figurative expression, Levinas' avoidance of all Western discourses that subsume difference into the same, or Caputo's heuristic deconstructionistic style? There's a point sometimes to the ambiguity. Or my particular favorite, Heidegger's move to change our understanding of language to a form of poetics. These are all points worthy of our consideration as philosophers. We need not stray away from Heidegger, Irigaray, Levinas or Caputo to see if they have anything to say. It's about time that analytic philosophers learned to read hermeneutically, not the other way around. 

The example of Irigaray is interesting. The New APPS blog did not comment on Margaret Whitford's contributions to philosophy but only listed her as doing work on Irigaray. Irigaray is an awesome styled thinker. As I noted earlier, her writing is Nietzschean and provocative in its own way. It would never sate the appetite of your typical analytic, however, nor the basis of her writings stemming from Lacan. It would be as dismissed as easily as women have been in this profession. It is one thing to shore up and be honest about one's personal biases and taste. It is another to think that there is no redeeming value in the strategies of engagement some Continental writers have taken up.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Leiterite Hysteria and the Protevi Journal Experiment

John Protevi works on Deleuze. He's good, and often goes to SPEP. He corresponds with "analytics" like this New APPS thread. The thread is started out as an empirical attempt to see where Continental thinkers have been covered in "mainstream" journals. So far, the disparity hasn't really been commented on or explained.

There has been a point of impatience from more mainstream philosophers (to call them analytic philosophers now might be to belabor the point) that Continental philosophy has not been victimized. An anonymous poster by the name of Bizarre wrote this full length comment on Lance's "Queering the Analytic/Continental Distinction" thread.

I find sk's and Shelley Tremain's interpretation of the tenor of the discussion here rather tendentious. Being a party-line continental is not in itself at all like being a woman in philosophy, or a gay person in philosophy, or a person of colour in philosophy, or a disabled person in philosophy. For any criticism of party-line continentals to "sound like blaming the victim" it would have to be plausible that they are in any reasonable sense victims qua party-line continentals. But they are not. There is a crowd whose egos are apparently in such need of Brian Leiter's approbation that they will raise all hell if they don't get it (cf. Michael Fray, who writes on another blog "I take special offense at [Leiter's view of SPEP departments] because I am studying at one of the programs Leiter impugns in that post. I have been absolutely infuriated ever since. It is TOTALLY untrue that my professors are 'inferior' or that I am receiving sub-par training; Leiter should be ashamed of himself for saying such things."). But having Leiter (or any other philosopher) think you are an intellectual mediocrity because of the kind of work you do (as opposed to because you are a woman, or gay, or a person of colour, or disabled) is not in and of itself being oppressed. Party-line continentals have for a while now had a much broader influence across the humanities than party-line analytics (and some of their defenders readily admit as much; cf. John Drabinski complaining how "far behind" the other humanities philosophy supposedly is). This overall intellectual climate makes cries of continental oppression sound rather hollow. Someone uncharitable might even compare the situation to astrologers complaining about not being respected in astronomy departments - never mind how many millions of dollars more are globally spent each year on astrological services and merchandise than on astronomical research.
Likewise, it would be cavalier to dismiss party-line continentals' facing the prospect of being "out of a job" if what was being discussed was in fact unemployment simpliciter, with all the difficulties it brings ("visiting the food-bank (again), making decisions whose alternatives are paying rent or purchasing a much-needed prescription drug, going on welfare, eating a steady diet of boiled potatoes, becoming a sex worker, committing suicide"). But it is not. Rather, the discussion merely touched upon the fact that they may not be able to get a job in philosophy departments ranked (highly) in the PGR. And while it's reasonable to think that everyone is entitled to gainful and non-dehumanising employment, it's surely not reasonable to think that everyone is entitled to being a philosophy professor (much less a philosophy professor in some select group of departments).
The academic job market is abysmal for everyone. Many departments train many more PhDs than there are available jobs. This is not limited to philosophy, either, as we all know. One of the roles the PGR (or any alternative) has to play is to give prospective graduate students some sense of how professionally risky it is to undertake a particular course of study (of course, mentors have a much larger responsibility to do this). Ideally, all philosophy students would be aware of their almost universally dismal academic job prospects. But this is all orthogonal to the continental/analytic divide and what we ought to think of it. Mark Lance, and Brian Leiter, and Rebecca Kukla, and Lee Braver, and some others in this thread, have made a number of useful suggestions as to how the divide should be understood and overcome. All of these suggestions centrally depend on the intellectual merits of pluralism, and intellectual demerits of anti-pluralism. None depend on the idea that party-line continentals are somehow victimised in the profession

I do not think anyone would say that systemic discrimination against sexual orientation or race is analogous to the often felt boundary policing on the part of Party-Line Analytics against the internal achievements of Continental philosophy. Again, boundary policing is not the same as discrimination, but it is a form of powerplay. In my own experience, I've seen it happen firsthand and it's embarrassing. At a national conference, I've heard a famous analytic metaphysician once claim that one avoids Foucault as a matter of "intellectual hygiene." I once heard an up and coming Descartes historian laugh off Continental philosophy as he proceeded down the hallway. At the University of British Columbia, it is so bad that an UNDERGROUND group of students met in secret to read Continental authors. I have no knowledge if they continue to meet. I met one of them in Point Grey at a cafe. The group member was so happy to know that I was leaving SFU to study Husserl. Somehow, this confirmed they were not crazy.

The success of Continental philosophy in the humanities is an indication to them that they have not been victims of intellectual censorship from more analytic heavy weights. However, the success of a worldview or thinker to have an effect on other topics not covered by "mainstream" philosophy is logically independent as to whether or not mainstream philosophy has been discriminatory to Continental philosophy. When you consider that analytic philosophy has strictly confined itself to a narrow focus on matters largely epistemic, then what goes on outside of their attention is completely unknown to them. Continentals did have a large impact on more humanistic and historically-centered disciplines, but analytic philosophy could have never known that it did have this effect all the while discriminating against this type of "other."

Of course, it is healthy for this silly distinction to go away. Yet, it has to go away for the right type of reasons, as I've said. There must be equal respect and command of hermeneutic attention to central Continental thinkers in a way that engages "Continental" philosophy for what it says in its own way. This means an enlargement of philosophy that accepts in principle that art, literary works and creative expression can also be ways to share ideas inasmuch as logical dialectic. Given this, I very much sympathize with Babette Babich's heated comment from the same thread above.

Analytic philosophy remains and will always remain closed to ‘continental philosophy’ of any but the ‘analyticized’ kind (i.e., the kind of continental philosophy that eliminates all the continental bits like style and like authors referred to in favor of analytic bits).
The reason for denying the distinction between the two, for arguing that such distinctions should be abolished, is the logical consequence of this closed approach. Thus one speaks of “philosophy” just philosophy – which is coincidentally the method of choice in analytic philosophy to exclude or banish whatever one does not wish to engage, one argues that the refused is simply not doing philosophy.
Q. E. D.

She's right. I hate to say it. In my short experience (10 years of schooling, or half a decade between studying analytic and Continental philosophy), it is never that analytics were interested in collaboration or integration with the exception of the Davidson / Gadamer correspondence about the Philebus. It has always been from those, like myself in question, that see merits in being philosophically ambidextrous.

However, it is hard to accept that philosophical ambidexterity will result any time soon. If typical Party-Line analytics continually insist that philosophical analysis consists in providing causal explanations, and these explanations must be made consistent with science, even if the consistency is speculative on the basis of science, then those philosophers have a different ideas altogether of what philosophy is from someone like me. I agree with Gadamer or Heidegger that philosophy is about the hermeneutic engagement with the various strands of philosophical history that enable us to talk to each other. I won't spell out what this means right now, but these are two very different and incompatible metaphilosophical and methodological commitments. Someone needs to analyze these moments of methodological differences before pluralistic analytics want to dissolve "Continental philosophy" and engage it analytically. This is easier said than done.

Even I am at odds within my own soul on this point. When I do "ethics", I am attempting to describe moral reality, arrive at a non-foundational account of morality, while trying to eschew charges of relativism. I stand firmly against consequentialist approaches and find Bernard William's assessment of utilitarianism persuasive. When I do this, I am certainly not at all consistent with the previous claim of favoring the hermeneutic style of reflection I often engage in. Then again, philosophy requires an encounter with cognitive dissonance. It is about shaking the ground of one's soul to enter the depths. It's not easy. I'm still trying to figure this all out, and probably won't for a while. Then again, that's the whole point. Part of the solution might rest in the following article:
Glendinning, Simon (2010) Argument all the way down: the demanding discipline of non-argumento-centric modes of philosophy. In: Reynolds, J. and Chase, J. and Williams, J., (eds.) Postanalytic and metacontinental crossing philosophical divides. Continuum, London, UK, pp. 71-84
Again, engaging Continental philosophy means at least understanding why it is that analytics did not engage with it in the first place and I haven't really heard any honest explanations on that point. Undoubtedly, this will be a principle explanation as to why Continental thinkers haven't been taken up in "mainstream" journals.

I wonder what the consensus will be empirically, yet I dare not remind everyone on Protevi's thread that interpretation of empirical results is just another form of hermeneutics.