Sunday, February 27, 2011

Continental Philosophy Video

This video is a good example of why "Continental philosophy" (though there really is no such thing) is often misunderstood. However, the limitation is a failure to observe how closely connected Derrida's ideas are to Husserl. Derrida's critique of the metaphysics of presence is more important than Derrida's criticism of language alone. Both are tied conceptually, but Derrida only gets to this point through rejecting Husserl's phenomenology in Voice and Phenomena.

Zen College life has me wrong

Of the top blogs listed in philosophy over at They list my blog at #2 and say of me "...The Philosophical Chasm is a dark look into the thoughts of a Canadian philosophy teacher lecturing at Southern Illinois University, while finalizing his PhD. A great blog if you identify with the philosophers from whom Carbondale Chasmite (our author) draws his inspirations."

As far as I can tell, is a mill site paid for by online colleges. There's nothing really honorable in being associated with a site that promotes irresponsible financial practices and burdening students with cheap curriculums. Aside from that, however, a couple things need mentioned:

First, I lament ever leaving Canada, but that was as an American. I love BC and all its quirkiness, and I'm quite public about that fact. However, I do not think I can be Canadian as I was born in New Jersey and have spent my entire adult life in Western Pennsylvania. I did take a Masters at Simon Fraser, but that's quite another story entirely.

Secondly, I don't know why it is so dramatic. This blog is not a "dark look into" my thoughts. I try and be as honest as I can about matters in philosophy. And perhaps, it is a dark thing, philosophy. The only thing philosophers can ever agree on is anything written in philosophy demands to be scrutinized, challenged and reflected upon. So if we find Nietzsche's pronouncement about the fact that we have killed God, we should ask ourselves why Nietzsche said what he did. We do not shy away from him. Is that dark? How about Heidegger? Heidegger showed that philosophy is highly determined by history and language. Do we shy away from him for saying what he did? Is that dark? I reject Heidegger almost completely, then again, I still read him.

Contemporary philosophy of mind has settled upon materialism about mind. This means that there are no more souls. Is that dark? I still confess a slight interest in philosophy of mind, and I still read some of it.

I am hostile to naive religious dogmas that inform American conservative politics and cultural praxis. I reject traditional views about God, while still believing in a divine reality. I maintain that we need a new parousia of understanding God, and follow Irigaray -- a French psychoanalytic thinker and feminist -- in this regard. Is that dark? America needs a newer conception of God to replace its inert, reified and patriarchal figurehead for more reasons than the feminist ones I tend to agree with.

I am hostile to ethical theories that only seek to supply us with notions of right and wrong. I want a fuller, more developed ethical theory that meshes with our phenomenological experience of value and at the same time considers what type of people we ought to become. Is that dark? So, I like Aristotle.

Now some will disagree with me. Someone might find Irigaray's writings obscure. Others might find it possible to accommodate my phenomenological worries without sliding into a virtue ethics. Someone might opt for a defense of Cartesian dualism against my acceptance that a physical substrate underlies human minds. The dialectic of philosophy is a dark place for those that want to preserve beliefs. Philosophy leaves no stone unturned in questioning and the pursuit for truth. That is dark for others, but I in no way find it uncomfortable, nor do I think it is uncomfortable to even my analytic friends in this universe. To call my thoughts "dark" is to look at philosophy from the outside and not practice it from within.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Weakness of Robust Evidentialism

The following argument takes issue with what I call Robust Evidentialism. The thesis behind Robust Evidentialism has two components, which are (1) and (2) below. The first part of this thesis is committed to the normative principle that all beliefs require evidential justification, and the second part delimits evidential justification as only that which comes from the sciences. Here, science is to be understood broadly to include the social and natural sciences. This post is an attempt to not introduce the higher-ended debate in a field like epistemology or philosophy of science. Instead, my ambition is to capture how it is that the popular debate actually occurs in popular media. 

The reason behind concentrating on robust evidentialism is that this is the position people like Dawkins and Dennett are committed to in popular debates about science and evolution versus religious claims. According to Dawkins, religious claims are neither justified nor scientific, and you can see how strongly tied evidence is to the legitimacy of a claim for these new atheists. It is held that science is the all encompassing principle to explain all facets of the universe, yet if we hold to our guns, I think you'll find like I do, the problematic feature of maintaining such a position. Let me give you my premises. 

(1) All beliefs must be justified by evidence
(2) The only evidence that can justify beliefs is science
(3) In order to accept premise (1), following (2), (1) must be justified by scientific evidence
(4) (1) is not justifiable by science since no experiment can demonstrate a normative claim—that is to say science only studying factual claims about the world cannot tell us how the world and human beings ought to be.

And by extension we have (5):

(5) Given that science is not up to the task of supporting (1), we have a few options to take this argument:

(a) we can broaden our notion of justification and evidence to include non-scientific evidence up to and including the use of logic and argumentation that philosophers use in addressing problems of a conceptual nature. This involves giving up on premise (2).

(b) we can try to reconcile the divide between normative and descriptive domains of human experience and argue that science can bridge this gap in some way. This involves giving up on premise (4)

(c) we can reject (1) entirely and recognize that some beliefs are self-evidential, and open ourselves up to the possibility that some beliefs are known a priori.

Needless to say, I do not even think option (b) is possible. (a) is a weaker form of (c), and I think if we accept either (a) or (c), then we have no real way to reasonably reject truths claimed by revelation anymore than we do someone claiming the truth of the Ontological Argument for God’s existence based on self-evidential reasoning. Yet, I am strangely comfortable with this predicament because we are right back where philosophy starts with an analysis of our intuitions and the authority philosophy has to deal with problems that cannot be solved by common sense, faith or science alone. Inevitably, this is why we reflect. We reflect on these philosophical mysteries because no amount of any one single strand of science, faith or common-sense is up to the task on its own. 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Qadhafi's Dissertation

Qadhafi's son's dissertation was plagiarized while receiving a PhD at LSE in political science. Direct passages were just lifted out of texts. 

It's embarrassing to philosophers since Nancy Cartwright, a philosopher of science of some renown is directly thanked by him in the committee. The liberalism section definitely deals with aspects of Anglo-American political philosophy, and the section is competent. It does not seem, however, Cartwright's cup of tea.

In the dissertation, he also thanks Alex Voorhoeve; this is obviously the political philosopher that directly may have had some oversight of the theory section. Note that Voorhoeve doesn't list Qadhafi as a student.

David Held has denied being Qadhafi's advisor, but said he played a more intimate role. He was not his advisor, and Cartwright is a philosopher of science. As such process of elimination leaves Voorhoeve, and he does not list Qadhafi on his faculty page at LSE among the students supervised.

Either way, it is really embarrassing for us as philosophers.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Experience and its Intelligibility

To see experience has meaning as it is lived is to be under the preoccupation of phenomenlogical methodologies. However, these methods are not for everyone, and even internal to the phenomenological tradition, there is disagreement. However, it is clear that if philosophy passes over this level of lived-description, it is unclear what philosophers are doing for the sake of wisdom. They are rather promoting the gain of knowledge without thinking about the whole of person.

For instance, Putnam once supported a position largely called semantic externalism. This position stated that for any proposition about the world, the meaning of the proposition itself derived its content from our causal interaction with the world. Experience was determined by causal interaction--meaning was a process between mind and world. Meaning was never "in the head" as the early Putnam exclaimed emphatically; it is rather in the world. This put the efforts of philosophers to regard the epistemic moment of knowing meaning, and in order to analyze our experience in the world, these philosophers have focused only on the narrow field of epistemic knowing. There are other dimensions of human life the person lives. Philosophy has sequestered these areas as outside philosophical concern. Yet, my intention in focusing on this very briefly is to put forward an interesting historical thesis: Analytic philosophy in reducing all problems of its inquiry to the epistemic subject has narrowed how it is we really do "experience" the world whereas phenomenology takes seriously how ladened and "condemned" to meaning human life is. In this way, phenomenology usurps the narrow conception, and lets lived-experience predominate our concern to put us back into contact with the world in the right way.

Now what is the lesson that might follow my thesis? First, it is pointless for philosophy to search for the source of experience's intelligibility other than what we may generally say about some domains of human experience. For instance, there are some experiences that start with brute meaning -- as is the case with values -- in our affective life. A room may be distressingly decorated, and prevent me from being calm in order to read. This immediately given datum of the room fills out my interaction with that space in such a way that I must leave the room in order to read. I close my eyes away from looking at the tone of colors and the splattered abstract designs and cannot help but offend my host who notices my looking away from his new renovated house. In such cases, I could give a phenomenological description of my lived-experience and even generalize about method and procedure used to see such experiences. However, in the end, this method of philosophizing talks about common everyday lived experience in a non-mysterious manner.

Next, it should be thought that I think all of analytic philosophy incapable of relating to lived-experience. There is still only one area in which it excels at connecting up with our lived-experience. This has always been the various problems associated in typical normative ethics. In Moore's open question argument, it seems that it is a phenomenological description about how we encounter the good. It is an indefinable property since we can always comport ourselves openly to the possibility as to whether or not we are right this time about what good means. The open possibility of its meaning being otherwise presents us a challenge to provide a one-stop answer to the nature of what good means. In this way, the ordinary language philosophers were proto-phenomenologists offering descriptions of ordinary meanings as we tended to live them. They were not phenomenological in that they did not get passed bracketing much of what needed bracketed, and tended to reify elements in the natural attitude as that which was ordinary.

Now, I don't want to get bogged down in a polemic. That's never been my style, but in pushing for the thesis that we should no longer philosophize about the source of experience's intelligibility but see ourselves as encountering intelligible meanings in and through our life suggests the world is already intelligible. We cannot get away from the fact that experience is always meaningful. We can, however, attempt to describe with rigor what goes unnoticed in our experiencing the world, and this is the wise move of phenomenology.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Scheler, Good News and Teaching News

This has been an excellent week. Yesterday, I was dropped a hint of the career variety that makes mouths water.  I can't say more than that.

Today, a student told me "I come to class taught by you to learn logic; I don't learn anything in lecture." This boosts my ego. My students really like me, and they are very capable. It is very rewarding to teach logic this semester.

The Grad Chair referred to me as a "Padawan." We discussed plans for writing up and moving to dissertation land. Dissertation Land is the place I want to go and live for a year. Wouldn't it be nice if we get paid to do that?

Lastly, maybe Scheler vs. Husserl vs. Heidegger. ??

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Dermot Paper on the History of Intentionality

Wonderful paper.

John Drummond Paper about Virtuous Persons

Most of my work revolves around what is phenomenologically basic to being a person, and this question has an ethical focus for me. I've come to really love Drummond's work on Husserl, and here is a good example of Husserl intersecting with ethics is an interesting way.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Fox News Insider at Media Matters

This is a very telling article. It's really no surprise. Americans are picking up on the fact that cable news is not real news, and people want to replace substance with ideology. Cable news is entertainment, even if it is muted like CNN, or more liberal like MSN-BC. It's beyond me how to remedy the situation. One thing you can do is make sure Republicans don't succeed with denying funding to PBS and NPR.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Great Philosophers Who Failed at Love

Andrew Shaffer has basically reflected on philosophers blurring the line between literary thinkers and philosophers. His history conflates art and philosophy to the extent that it makes philosophy into a rumormongering. By accessing their personal lives, philosophers are revealed as failures at love. It is not even a bad book of philosophy. It is a book about the perplexing lives these people live written by someone who wants to popularize philosophy for a larger audience. This is not a bad ambition. But, someone not educated about the historical nuances of these texts and dialectic about these philosophical problems will make very dangerous and distorting leaps. I've already hinted at this by blurring the line between literary thinkers and philosophers. Yet, as we philosophers know, there are often thoughts endorsed by philosopher that do not map onto the lives of their authors very easily. How does Descartes loving a maid relate to developing substance dualism? Obviously, it doesn't. How does his fathering an illegitimate child when contraception was not fully developed as it is now have to do with anyting other than commenting on how easily it was to sire progeny during the 17th century? Moreover, it is still an open question about the limits of philosophical biography, but what we should acknowledge is we're still asking this question, especially since Ray Monk published the well known philosophical autobiography on Wittgenstein. There is no relation to this event and Descartes' primary contribution to propose that truths reside in a foundational epistemology over and against the traditional scholastics at the time.

Now, philosophy is about taking it slow. It is about careful and systematic reflection, and I'm pretty open about what and how of reflection. I've got friends who are analytic, pragmatic and Continental, and I count myself in the first and the third of these categories. However, I do not recommend books that want to libel the easy aspects of someone's life.

Reclaiming for nonfiction a form of literary art does little to advance philosophy. This is just a way to say you aren't a scholar of philosophy and denying it should be done at all. When outsiders write about philosophy, they distort and miss very important things. This is essentially how Shaffer can continually say he is not interested in scholarship, but if we owe anything to these philosophers' lives, we owe both to get their philosophy and life right. This requires we stand within the text itself, the horizon of past and future interpretations and we come to see how the text articulates a contribution to truth. To do philosophy historically is to preserve the insight that these historical individuals were wrestling with difficult problems. They saw their activity as aiming at the truth and this is what we need to sustain when reading them. Historians of ideas and other disciplines see historical individual philosophers as products of the times. In this sense, they generalize to such an extent that a philosopher's life becomes that which subsumes the idea in the text, or some movement comes to manifest in a particular text. The life or movement reifies the free subjectivity that participated in relation to authoring the text. Instead, as philosophers, we ask what the argument in this text is AND how it is that historical factors have come to shape our understanding of it. We never lose sight of these texts as capable of expressing truth, even if historically delimited. This is the difference in how we treat our texts.

We treat our texts in a very formal way, and for good reason. It takes time to understand how these historical conversations have taken shape, what has come to determine another, and that philosophical texts are accomplishments of the freedom of a unique individual. Reading them, often, requires knowledge of the primary language other than English, and a severe treatment of those that preceded the philosopher in question. Yet, the philosopher in question has never lost the first-personal element when examining philosophical questions in the text now before you he or she has written. We treat them as part of an endless conversation, and only patient treatment of philosophy can distill these insights. This formalism internal to philosophy is well-placed. Let me give you an example from my own experience.

Analytic philosophers have interpreted intentionality in a different way than Husserl. For purposes beyond this post, it is not important to cash out that difference. The important thing is the careful attention to how analytic philosophers understood and received Brentano's philosophy apart from how Husserl reacted to Brentano's descriptive psychology. Dermot Moran's paper is the most wonderful piece on intentionality I have ever read, and explains why it is that intentionality in one tradition went one way, the other tradition the other way. Someone coming to early analytic philosophy and phenomenology studying Brentano, Frege and Husserl would not "get it" as someone who has spent a great deal of time doing the history of late 19th and early 20th century philosophy.

Because people outside of philosophy won't get it, the only way to ensure a proper understanding is to take philosophy classes in a traditional university setting.  Making headway in philosophy requires slow tedious reading and critical engagement with philosophical ideas. Furthermore, these philosophical ideas demand Socratic presentation, inquiry and mentoring to get it right. This is contrary to what is sometimes claimed by some. I often commonly hear "I don't need to take philosophy; I can just read it myself if I want to." This is an objection made to much of the humanities, and perhaps even one Shaffer might embrace since he is "reclaiming literary art qua nonfiction" and not interested in scholarship or journalism. He is interested in genre-bending of literary genres, and treats all texts as art. Yet, it is not true. Genre-bending, however, is not appropriate when so much is at stake to get it right. Anything else is a waste of time and devalues philosophical praxis.

Don't buy this book. Read the history of philosophy from respected philosophers.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Ninja and Shadows

This is not the run of the mill philosophy post. Actually, it is more an admonishment of guilt. If you'll permit me five paragraphs to tell you about my Ninja and her philosophical dispositions.

Ninja's Philosophical Dispositions

I have a cat. Her name is Ninja. She is a medium domestic hair. She is black with dark brown splotches which you can only see in the sunlight. She is frisky, secretive, meows at us for everything, and thus highly opinionated. True to form, she is also pretty smart. Long ago, we played the red dot laser game, and after three minutes of chasing around the ephemeral dot, she clawed at it curiously. Ninja stopped chasing the dot, and attempts to scoop it up. She found it strange that she could not scoop up light. She calculates that it is not worth her time, and eventually came to connect my picking up the small laser pointer as a sign to play. Ninja is an empiricist for this very reason.

Ninja has an immense ability to communicate and plan her desires. When I would sit in what was clearly "her chair", she would sneak behind the chair, poke me with her claw, and when I jumped out of the seat, she would then jump up into "her chair." Like a Ninja, she would hide behind the couch or from behind the bed and poke us. She knew we could not get to her, and she could attack in relative safety. On Sunday mornings, she will jump in between my wife and I while we sleep. She has all her food and water, and she yells at us so that we may play with her. In this way, she has adopted a desire-satisfaction account of the good.

Ninja is a bit too fearless for her own good. When we moved back to the United States from Canada with her, we had to stay at my mom's with five golden retrievers over the summer before I started my PhD. Needless to say, she simply stayed in my bedroom for the first few weeks. In truth, the apartment in Vancouver, BC wasn't that big and she was not in the habit of living in bigger spaces. Like all kitties, she got curious as to what existed beyond the bedroom door. One night she escaped downstairs with Ninja-like Stealth. At night, my mom takes four of the golden retrievers to sleep in my parents bedroom. My wife and I were downstairs with Mr. Bear. Bear is a sixty pound golden retriever with broad shoulders and an impressively large head. In truth, he is quite docile, but when he knows that animals are smaller than he, he can be quite fierce. Ninja snuck all the way into the kitchen where Mr. Bear was sleeping. When she saw us, she let out a little whimper to tell Ashley and I she was near. Not knowing what would happen, I quickly ran to intervene. Mr. Bear had woken up.

Mr. Bear was fully awake and stared up at Ninja from the floor. Above him, Ninja was leering at him from the kitchen counter. Ninja stared intensely into the huge 60 lb. golden retriever's eyes. Mr. Bear's lip curled silently growling under his breath. Ninja lowered her back and arched downward. I could hear the lower powerful whining of Ninja's furious high pitch threats. She hissed at Mr. Bear and he coiled back unsure about his current prey. Ninja's calculated movement made Mr. Bear lose eye contact while she never looked away from his eyes. In the animal world, I hear that is bragging rights. I digress. Ninja continued to arc forward, her claws extended and she looked like she was going to pounce him. At this time, I finally managed to enter the kitchen, grabbed her and took her upstairs. She screamed in absolute protest. She doesn't like when "her humans" mess in  her affairs or intrude upon her autonomy. In moral philosophy, my cat is either an egoist a la Nietzsche or a Kantian. I often can't tell.

The Paradox of the Shadow

In recent months, a problem has intensified. I am partly to blame. Originally, it started out innocent. Ninja would notice the early morning birds fly across the stream of sunlight hitting the wall in the second bedroom. She would chatter her teeth and lick her lips in anticipation of some kill, I speculate of course. With all intensity, she'd wait for the flicker of a bird's shadow to fly across the wall. So my wife and I started doing shadow puppets. This is where guilt enters into the equation. We did shadow puppets about two months ago. Now, she has made the connection: there are things like shadows on the wall that move. She waits for the sun to strike parts of the apartment in the morning and sits at night watching our silhouettes from the side wall light. She goes up to them like the laser dot, smells them and meows softly at us. She seems concerned about the shadows. She seemingly knows about their insubstantial nature, but she warns us often of their movement. It has become more obsessive than watching birds out of the actual window. It has consumed her life, and we are to blame.

We've tried to move our hand and have her notice the same movement on the wall. To no avail, we cannot get her to make that connection between the fact we are moving, and the shadow moves. From a distance, she will notice the flicker of her own tail's shadow and then not notice her own shadow as moving. Perhaps, she is indirectly demonstrating a Humean skepticism that one event necessarily follows another, or that I should read more Plato for my preliminary examination. Like an aspiring Platonist, she is investigating the shadows cast on the wall in the hopes of knowing more.

I feel really guilty about this. I have stressed my cat in a way I could never have anticipated and nothing I can do seems to stop Ninja from attacking shadows. Originally, I felt there would be no harm. She got the laser pointer fairly easy. I just hope she "grows out of it." I cannot stand to see my cat obsessed about some feature of the world. If anyone has any suggestions, I am all hears.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

North Texas Philosophical Association

I'm delighted to be accepted to the NTPA. Conference organizers let me know early since I'll be applying for travel funds from my department. I gave them a paper on Husserl and Derrida. It ought to be fun.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Philosophical Strangeness

the strange thing about being a philosopher: you can watch the world burn, give reasons for it and even contribute to a possible dialogue about it, but oftentimes there's just nobody who wants to listen.