Monday, April 25, 2011

On Nietzsche's Systematicity and the GM

A friend over at Yeah Okay But Still has an excellent post on both Hurka and Reginster's attempt to systematize Nietzsche's moral philosophy. As I have said in the past to others, Nietzsche inspires very good philosophy done on behalf of his name, but whether or not that is what Nietzsche claimed is a different matter entirely. I wrote the following in a journal of mine after completing the Genealogy of Morals (GM hereafter) for prelim reading.

The GM is the one book that if it is right by a hair in any way, then my efforts in ethics will suffer in some way. I've been thinking of the main problem I have in N's GM. My problem amounts to what I take to be an ambiguous relation between nature and culture within his work (at the very least there is a conceptual tension between these two things). It seems very generally that at times the way we are culturally such as being "sick" or men suffering from "bad consciences" is at odds with a more natural way, men with will-to-powers who are stronger, more healthy and do not suffer from cultural forces. Thus, we might say that N is offering us an examination of how we ought to reshape culture in light of how we are naturally. Now, while N might also claim this relationship is an interpretation, it does seem like it is a causal story doing the work for his analysis. 

However, there is a real problem I have with this type of thinking found in experimental philosophy. In X-phi, various ethicists are sampling they're 18-20 year old students to see how morality should be structured such that the conceptions of morality respect how it is that we are psychologically constituted. However, the strategies employed are simply polling students with surveys. These surveys occur at a a level of analysis in which I think it is epistemologically impossible to tell where culture and nature can be teased apart. If we can't reliably know the moment they pull apart, then just as it is the case in X-phi, I am unsure how the relationship obtains in N's work such that what is justifying the claim that we should endorse the ways of the master morality over slave moralities (or whatever you take the active skepticism concerning common slave morality in N to be) loses its efficacy. At best, the inability to tell the difference might make us skeptical that N is right into identifying the "correct" side as nature over culture. Perhaps, it is then that nature selects for cooperative behaviors over individualistic ones. 

Of course, the immediate rejoinder might be to emphasize N's thinking that culture is just a perverted understanding of nature, and that it is contained within the tent of N's commitment to a type of naturalism. At the moment, I think something like this is probably the case for N's work, though I still think the division in interpretation between culture and nature needs clarification. 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Early Phenomenology Conference

I'll be giving a paper at the Early Phenomenology Conference in Steubenville, OH. The group at Franciscan University at Steubenville is very oriented towards Scheler in general. I can make some contacts, discuss his work and I'm giving a paper on Husserl.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Submission to a Conference

I'm becoming an increasing fan of applying the phenomenological method to areas of interest rather than thinking that as phenomenologists, we should just simply regurgitate textual exegesis.

Phenomenology and the Sense of Nature

In this paper, I will argue that phenomenological descriptions of nature cannot establish a value or ethic. Phenomenology can only study the form of these experiences. HoweveNo r, the benefit of adopting a phenomenological orientation to nature brings to light what emotive engagements arise in relation to nature. Some of these emotive engagements condition the response to nature as either objects of instrumental use, or the sublime beauty of nature. An ethics of nature or the environment is therefore a consequence of reading our aesthetic emotive engagements of nature back into the very orientation we take up in relation to nature. In other words, phenomenology recovers the sense to which the meaning of nature arises.
This approach flies in the face of modernity in two respects, which I argue are still present for us today. On the one hand, as long as philosophers continually operate with a Cartesian attitude that scientific and philosophical knowledge empowers human beings to possess nature, and on the other hand, ethical theories restrict value to human beings only. My phenomenological description of relating to nature then comes into contact with these two proclivities. As such, I argue phenomenology provides us with an alternative as to how we find nature meaningful; it is through the emotive engagements of the sublimeity in nature that should open up how we see nature acquires the sense of value inherent within (offering us a different eidetic seeing of nature).

Let me speak to the paper’s organization. In section 1, I describe what I take to be the relation to nature uncovered by phenomenological description. In section 2, I explain what I take to be the Cartesian attitude towards nature and likewise the same in section 3 in relation to the human-value bias in ethical theories. Finally, I conclude in section 4 how the description of section 1 can amend both the 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

G. E. Moore's Open Question Argument and Phenomenology

In this post, I want to suggest something different about Moore's Open Question argument. It might be weird to say, but I've always found this argument convincing; yet it's more about what the Open Question argument implies Let's review.

For moral property M, M expresses the fact that there are intrinsically good things in this world like moral values. M is not the same as natural properties N in N is simply a descriptive state of affairs about how the world is, not how it ought to be. According to Moore, no M can be identified with an N. If an M is identified with an M, then the strange thing is we can still ask if  M is really an N? It is an open question whether or not, e.g. the good is identified with maximizing collective welfare. We can still ask if maximizing collective welfare is good? Thus, all determinate identifications of M as N suffer from the open indeterminacy of any predicate attributed to what is good. The inference suggested is that natural properties and moral properties are an irreconcilable divide, and any future identification between these realms of fact and values, is-statements and ought-statements, or what is called the descriptive and the normative is foolish. Instead, we should think that values are irreducible following that the difference between fact and value is a difference in kind, and it is not a stretch to say that within moral philosophy the sphere of the personal is also maintained as irreducible.

Husserl gives us good reasons to think that something like this follows from Moore's argument--that is, there is a diference in kind between what can be explained naturally and what should be explained at the first-personal level. From the natural standpoint, all events can appear as if they can be described by the totality of Ns in the universe. From this point of view, all events occur as N revealed in a long chain of physically caused phenomena. In this way, the antecedent conditions of the causal story result in my having chosen any decision and one gets in the habit of positing events as N all the time. Among the events as N, the fact that I have  subjectivity and have initiated deliberation as an event is lost in this perspective. There is nothing like consciousness in this view. All events that become subsumed in the overall chain of events. Thus, any first-personal perspective in which I initiate, feel or experience in any way is a fact to be explained. Yet, according to a shift in the perspective taken from the standpoint of my conscious experience, it is I that decides what to do. It is me that decides to endorse my son's adoption of a baby, or not. For moral experience, and the experience of M in general, the dimension of experience bearing on any moral quandary is to be lived through at the practical level of the first-personal experience. This is where all moral experience takes place and this is where the experience of the personal matters. It is never a question of what is to be explained as part of an overall order of natural explanation. Rather, it is a question of values pertaining to how different in kind they are from matters of description.

Let me be clear. Moore's argument does not endorse phenomenological analysis of the sphere of human being or of moral experience. Yet, it does not limit it either. What Moore's open question argument achieves is a strict non-identification between the natural and the moral. This adds evidence that we are not off base for thinking that our experience of morality should seek its answer within the lived-experience of human life. In other words, there is more to moral experience than seeking to explain the ontology of value-predicates in moral judgments. Given that Moore's argument achieves this, it is not a stretch to assume the possibility of a moral phenomenology. Moreover, it is silent on whether or not a moral phenomenology is the only way to get to the experience of values. One might as easily treat the moral and the natural with a pragmatic conception of experience. Thus, while I advocate the phenomenological approach, it is at least conceivable that there are other approaches to describe the respect of lived-experience the Open Question Argument implies.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

What am I doing?

This harder than it looks. Define what you are doing right now. Define it by doing, but while you do that try and clearly define the boundary of something as big as philosophy. Hmmf. Hit a wall. Yeah, I know. The problem with the "love of wisdom" is that wisdom demands much from us. A look to what it means to be wise offers no consolation...

A good wise person is someone that is convinced by good arguments only, or can, say, philosophy find wisdom in artistic and creative expressions in art and literature? Should a philosopher be poetic or rational? Maybe both? Should a philosopher only be concerned with science since science is an exemplar about how we ought to know? Should philosophy be none of this, but a type of systematic thinking that reveals the weakness of various systems of belief and ideology? Should philosophy talk about clearly delineated problems with a logical structure, or should such structure be recognized as a movement away from what phenomenologists call "lived-experience" or what Dewey called "the Problems of Men"? Should philosophy assume its problems in light of a standpoint capable of universal and transcendent conceptual knowledge, or should philosophers be wise to their limits and construe the possible interpretations of philosophy as historically-mediated? Should philosophers strive for objectivity, or should they recognize this as impossible? Should philosophy be based in anyone area of concern first like epistemology and then do other things like metaphysics, ethics etc? Should philosophy be a conversation between the historical formation of my background knowledge and my present lived-experience? Should we move away from phenomenology's attention to the sense-formation of meaning in consciously lived experience and merely trace out the consequences of an idea itself? Are their biases in philosophy that have gendered its possibility? Should philosophy recognize it is a product of social forces of power? Should philosophy seek to only critique various systems of thought? Should philosophy concern itself only with the emancipation of human beings from domineering social, political and economic ideologies? Should philosophy be based in reason and oppose faith? Should philosophers be faithful, or should philosophers expose an oversimplification between faith and reason?

In essence, the questions are many and you can imagine many wise people asking these questions.

The only thing I can fathom I am actually doing as a philosopher is asking questions and using my intellectual imagination to address these questions. The questions are big and small. Some of these questions I don't ask, but some of my fellow colleagues do.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Persons and Alabama

As these efforts in Alabama focus on what a person is. I often have to insist that this is not where to end the abortion debate. What is at issue is not the ontology of the person which we then use to deduce when someone has moral standing! Mary Anne Warren had this trouble in her 5 criteria for personhood. There was no clear way the criteria happened. As soon as the baby possessed one of the five criteria, then bingo! It was a person. This also seemed to correspond to the miraculous manifestation of these properties when the baby entered the world. Bingo personhood once out of the womb! Like some weird Kantian property of contra-causal freedom of the will...

The abortion debate starts with first admitting two things from the extremes. First, it is not an issue of bodily autonomy in which abortion is morally neutral like getting a haircut. Secondly, the complexity of fetus in the very beginning of fertilization isn't exactly a person, and that we should not conflate being a person defined by species-membership and a being with moral standing. Given that, where do we begin?

Quite frankly, we start by admitting that there are moral scenarios where two beings have competing normative claims. On behalf of the woman, we have many possible issues: physical harm from birth and possibly death, quality of life for both the woman and potential child, and perhaps the desire to be free from having a child in the first place in combination with any of the other above all reasons. On behalf of the fetus, we cannot ask it to state its normative claim, and so we interpret that if the fetus had any claim, it follows from its dependent nature that the child would have a right to life. I concede that point wholeheartedly to anti-abortionists. If there are two competing claims, then we must admit that the function of morality is to resolve the competing claims so as to provide action-guidance to the conflict before us. As such, it is only the woman that can entertain reasons for why she ought to have an abortion, and while the fetus cannot communicate its claim to a right to life, we must default to the woman. The woman is actual, and the fetus's claims are only potential. Even if the fetus has a right to life, this claim only follows from its potential and dependent nature. The woman is an actual being, and has more concrete relation to the world that her choices will trump any potential being since moral norms apply more in proportion to actual beings than potential beings.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Heidegger on the Limits of Philosophy

In this post, I detail some thoughts I've had for a while. It concerns the limits of what philosophy becomes after Heidegger's influence in Being and Time (BT hereafter), and the claim of the Daseinanalytik. For those unfamiliar with BT, Heidegger claims that if we are concerned with the question "What is Being" we need not further ask anymore than to locate this question within the self-referential nature of Dasein. It is within Dasein (for now just think of Dasein as his word for you and me). Dasein has an intimate awareness with Being since it is the only entity that can pose the question of its own being to itself. Therefore, an analysis of Dasein's ability to pose the question is the locus of interrogation for the more general question "What is Being?". In this way, Heidegger proposes to outline the primordial structure of Dasein to get at the heart of Being by consulting only Dasein. Like a phenomenologist, Heidegger commits himself to the view that he wants to get at the heart of the phenomenon of Dasein without presupposing anything about it. As such, this move to do a phenomenology as a fundamental ontology of Dasein means Heidegger has to address many presuppositions before such an analysis of Dasein can take place.

With the transition to putting Dasein clear aThe totnd in focus, many things have to be addressed. Heidegger advocates a deconstruction of Western metaphysics, makes truth into a historically revealed event, and insists on the on mediated character of experience just to name a few. Heidegger overturns the typical notions subjectivity, and opts for an analysis of pre-reflective consciousness in terms of the structure of care while at the same time insisting on the hermeneutic character of philosophy. For Heidegger, philosophy cannot step outside of history since Dasein's structure is temporalized. Yet, sometimes, Heidegger's analysis of Dasein's care structure invokes a sense of the transcendent, as if the description of that structure of care is transhistorical in nature. In the opening of Division II, he states:

"The totality of Being-in-the-world as a structural whole has revealed itself as care" (BT, H. 231).

So the question is how to reconcile instances of thinking this reveals that when Heidegger describes the structural whole of the care structure, he's describing the transcendental preconditions of Dasein's possible experience and the added fact that if that's true, then Heidegger no longer observes the hermeneutic limit he establishes for philosophy. If there's something else gong on, it is less clear to me what is going on.

Several options might be relevant to mention to allay the interpretive tension with candidate passages above:

1. Heidegger could be using a sense of the transcendental in different ways, or a more nuanced way than Kant or Husserl. If so, then what does his analysis ultimately imply?

2. We could read Heidegger as an existentialist. This might alleviate some burden since existentialists describe the human predicament in general terms, but Heidegger strives to differentiate himself from Sartre in the Letter on Humanism. There is no room for thinking that Heidegger is fine with simply an existentialist label.

3.  We could read Heidegger as just another species of Husserl--as a transcendental phenomenologist. This doesn't seem to bode well either since most of his fans follow out a story to do with the severe differences mitigating Husserl and Heidegger's approach to things.

I know there are other options, and I'll not focus on them. Please feel free to make your own suggestions.