Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Yeah Okay But Still Blog's Solid Ruminations on the Divide

Back in 2006, I started this blog as a field of exploration. Some thoughts and threads have been abandoned, others refined and others completely rejected. Originally, I entitled the blog the Chasm as living metaphor for what felt at the time as a living reality, the dreaded Continental-Analytic Divide. During my Masters, I'd attended a fairly analytic school and several people there made me feel like reading Being and Time was akin to publicly reading porn. Five years later, I'm still going on strong, planning a dissertation on rejecting Heidegger's account of the emotions and articulating a replacement view with Scheler in mind.

I only live out the drama of this Divide at conferences from older folks. In Memphis, I was at a conference recently and an analytic philosopher told me that Continentals take seriously Hegel, and we don't. For a minute, I thought about saying something about the Neo-Hegelians at Pitt, but I just let it bounce off.  Though, it didn't really bounce off. It bugged me the entire time I was there. I thought maybe that was the goal, to razzle my fi'nazzle. Later, the same gentleman said "Hi" in a very congenial and professional manner. I think this gentleman is convinced. I asked him later who he thought had been overtaken by Hegelianism. He said "Heidegger and all that French stuff!" He was simply ignorant.

Years ago, I went over to UBC to see Peter Singer. After he had left the session with the UBC graduate students,  a PhD student that had asked a rather juvenile question and somehow thought my response to his question to Peter Singer respectful of his intellect came over to introduce himself to me (I don't want to get into it now).  He said, "So what do you want to study after the MA?" I said, "Husserl and phenomenology." He took a step back and looked at me if I were a bizarre three-headed monster. "Why would you want to study that? There are no jobs in that!" I smirked, the very same smirk I now make. We do just fine over here.

These two stories come up in my head whenever someone wants to discuss the Divide as Nick does here. In truth, I think it is collapsing, but it is collapsing more with the fact that it stands as its own specialty. In addition, it is collapsing because there are entire groups of people that have went into philosophy, never read any Heidegger, Foucault and Derrida and they are really curious. The curious thing, no matter how you slice it, is Continental thought has acquired more significance than analytic philosophy. It bugs them to death that the Barnes'n Noble book shelf has 12 Foucault books and maybe two books by Searle (the same is true at Chapters). By comparison, Continental thought addresses/addressed lived-experience of death, politics and guilt to name a few. We often seek out literary expressions of these concepts, find them in art work and talk about the world completely from how subjectivity plays out in experience itself. We do not seek to limit ourselves with Ockham's razor to the point that we shave away what can be talked about, and more importantly, Continental thought embraces how wide and open human experience is. This means that I don't have to reduce the problem of death and meaning of life to the position of an epistemic agent. This is just how analytic philosophers compose and construct their writing. They write from the position of an epistemic subject all the time, and assume that all forms of noteworthy writing will assume this position and impose logical dialectic onto the problem. As such, you get a de-personalized and purely epistemic rendition of a philosophical problem that matters to everyone. I go to Nietzsche, Kierkegaard and Heidegger to understand human finitude and death, not analytic philosophy.

My analytic MA will no doubt help later on in the job search for the analytic barricade remnant of the last generation of scholars still holding on for dear life, and having several members on my committee from the Continental world will also help me. I am a rarit in disposition and training. In my philosophical disposition, I hate the extremes of this Divide. I hate hanging out with people that have only gone to Continental schools. They get rather blemished easily when they don't know who Bernard Williams is, and can't quite get what the Chinese Room thought experiment means. They are usually over-dramatic in their personal life and overly-embellished in their writing to the point it hurts my head to read. I also get rather pissed with the severely ahistorical analytic that would rather understand his/her contribution to a problem. The contribution made to a particular problem is so severed from the historical context that the PhD student is convinced of the contribution they are making to philosophy is original. This is the point of de-historicizing philosophy; it makes analytic philosophers feel very good about doing so little in truth. How many dissertations out there articulate a Neo-Humean account of practical reason? Seriously. I get that Hume thinks practical reason is not a source of ends as Kant thinks. I really do, but coming up with another account while taking seriously philosopher X's refutation of the general account and introducing your own -ism is not interesting. It is only thought provoking to a climate of de-historicized logic choppers.

Now, the above two are caricatures like James' caricatures of rationalists and empiricists in Pragmatism. There are examples I've met, but I've not met them in a while or met more. Most of us fall between the extremes. All philosophers are guilty of rhetorical flourish. Several self-identified analytic philosophers told me that philosophy as a subject should be written so clearly that a generally-educated person off the street could understand it. This general audience for analytic philosophy is a myth--it's an undergraduate pedagogical device and nothing more. I have not find the general reader yet that could understand it. I have met people that have read Melville and Sartre's Nausea. I doubt that literary minds could do justice to Being and Nothingness without guidance anymore than someone thrown into reading any work in analytic philosophy. "Hey you, over there. The guy in the scarf. Tell me what you think Parfit's account of the person might be!" This is an unrealistic expectation and can best be explained by analogy. Like art, philosophy's unfortunate fate is what it takes to appreciate it. The appreciation of philosophy requires time, training and practice just as much as it requires a lot of historical and contextual training to fully appreciate art and its history. Mostly, it requires a sense of living history to do philosophy well, and it is this awareness that makes us sensitive to the possibilities of how open we must be when dealing with philosophical texts and the philosophical conversations we have with each other. This is why the assumptions/methodology of logical atomism cannot constrain the openness needed when viewing Nietzsche's texts. As Nick, the author of Yeah Okay But Still puts it,

I have often been guilty of a “default” adherence to this method, and this is due in large part to my training. Yet, I (and we) must acknowledge that other forms of argument exist, ones which have wholly different validity-conditions.  Nietzsche argued, for example, that belief in a Christian god was no longer “credible” given the discovery of Christianity’s historical origins.  An Analytic Philosophy Monkey will look at this argument , utter the phrase: “genetic fallacy”, and move on.  If Nietzsche really intends to demonstrate, in a deductive fashion, the nonexistence of god, then he indeed commits the genetic fallacy.
Yet, surely he is trying to do something else.  In telling us about the dark, angry, psychologically troubling origins of Christian Good and Evil, he is trying to affect a different kind of change in his reader.  He knows full well that these considerations cannot entail the nonexistence of god.  Yet his argument seems to have a kind of importance.  This importance derives straightforwardly from its context: a Christian reader encounters it and is troubled by it. In order to understand why this is so, we must know so much more about this reader’s psychology, why he believes what he does, why his beliefs are important to him.  If we treat the argument as a straightforward logical deduction , we miss what is essentially an invitation, an opportunity to delve into this person’s life and the significance that philosophy can have for him.

Philosophizing is not simply about presenting ideas in argumentative dialectic. However, it is deeper than that, I feel. There is a passion for life animating Nietzsche's work, and this passion cannot be picked up by people enthralled by the fact that logic is ontologically-binding on reality, or what Nick has called the prominence of logical atomism. This is why so many of these problems in analytic philosophy take shape as they do. Since philosophy has no other method other than to think logical norms dictate how we ought to reason about the problems before us, philosophers internalize these norms to the point that thinking clearly and logically define the writing and its activity. This is not bad in itself and hence my annoyance at French obscurantism. The point, however, is that the confluence of factors that feed into philosophy should not over-emphasize one aspect that it goes on wholly unaware of its history---a sobering point as many top Leiterite philosophy programs eliminate or simplify their history requirements. I think this point is well made in the opening of Bret Davis' Heidegger and the Will: On the Way to Gelassenheit, 

Philosophy perhaps always involves the frustrated attempt to get back to where we have already begun, to get this foundation in full view, if not indeed to lay it ourselves. We then repeat this backward step with an introduction to what we have disclosed, trying to determine the very reading of the reading we have given. This backward stepping is both the virtue and the folly of philosophy...Heidegger asked for his texts to be read as "ways--not works (Wege--nicht Werke, GA: 1:437)", we are invited to pursue the paths of thought his texts open up, rather than forever attempting merely to faithfully reconstruct his "system." In order to genuinely read a great thinker, both critically and "faithfully," one must go beyond merely reproducing his or her thought "in their own terms." Reading is interpreting; thinking is being on the way of a thought and happily so. The task is to attune oneself to what is question-worthy in a thinker's thoughts, to take up his way and not simply imitate his works (Emphasis mine, p 1-2).

I could not put it better myself. For philosophers to genuinely participate with a work in philosophy, one is required to take up this invitation into the very hermeneutic effort in which these texts presuppose and re-constitute in our appropriation. Mere imitation is never enough.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Taibbi's Article on Bachmann

Matt Taibbi's article almost makes me scared. Originally, I did not think the contemptuous laughter of the cultural elite (if that is what I am, or more than likely taken to be) is full of itself. That laughter discredits her, makes Bachmann a source of irritation that one handles like the awkward cousin nobody likes. You laugh at the things she says, and "move on." However, Taibbi might be right to end the article on the nightmarish prospect of Bachmann's rise to the American Presidency:

It could happen. Michele Bachmann has found the flaw in the American Death Star. She is a television camera's dream, a threat to do or say something insane at any time, the ultimate reality-show protagonist. She has brilliantly piloted a media system that is incapable of averting its eyes from a story, riding that attention to an easy conquest of an overeducated cultural elite from both parties that is far too full of itself to understand the price of its contemptuous laughter. All of those people out there aren't voting for Michele Bachmann. They're voting against us. And to them, it turns out, we suck enough to make anyone a contender.

Obviously, I owe Taibbi a beer sometime and must apologize for my laughter.

Monday, June 20, 2011

What is Marriage

Here's a link to a paper by two political scientists and Princeton philosopher arguing for an anti-gay conception of marriage.

Over at Philosophy, Etc., the refutation is well-argued.

I don't think I have anything to add except one fact. The natural view of marriage as facilitating human reproduction is argued as a "metaphysical fact." The insight shared by French feminists, post-structural theorists and thinkers like Levinas is clearly suspicious of Western metaphysics for tending to promote discourses that subsume all difference into a category propped up and passed off as metaphysically real. Such suspicions drive at the heart of thinking women are lesser than men due to apparent metaphysical arguments just as much as systemic discrimination against Blacks in the American South was propped up by phrenology. This is why discourses of the "Other" are so pertinent, and cannot be ignored.

New College of the Humanities

I have been following the links provided by Leiter's blog about Grayling's New College of the Humanities.

I encountered someone on this thread that made some odious generalizations about public universities--which I still believe are necessary.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Last Exit Books, the Hidden Gem of Kent, OH

Years ago, I courted my wife while she attended Kent State. Last Exit Books was a tiny "hole in the wall" with the philosophy section behind a curtained room. Today, it is much bigger, expanding beautifully with cozy couches and chairs. For $23 dollars, I picked up the following titles:

1. Hardcover of Heidegger and the Will On the Way to Gelassenheit by Bret Davis.

2. Paperback of Luce Irigaray: Philosophy in the Feminine by Margaret Whitford.

It should be mentioned that the hardcover of Davis' book had been wrapped, and untouched. The Whitford book was free from annotation as well.

The philosophy section was very well-stocked, probably due to the fact that Kent State also runs an MA in philosophy. Some of the books make it back for whatever reason. I met a couple from New York that raided the literary and popular culture sections. I met another woman who was friends with a professor of philosophy at Akron and with a degree in mathematics was trying to find something in the philosophy of mathematics. Needless to say, the crowd I met in 20 minutes might be a very good sample of the reflective types that make this bookstore thrive. I highly recommend it.

There are still some very good primary texts of Irigaray there owing to some upper level class or seminar no doubt.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Exposing Entrenched Political Dynamics in American Political Narratives, Part 3: Two Arguments Against Libertarianism

I want to take issue with the fidelity to free markets. This post was prompted by watching Senator Ron Paul’s very faithful commitment to free markets and libertarianism in the recent Republican debate for the party’s nomination for the presidency. For him and libertarians like him, America was founded on the concept of liberty as articulated by libertarianism (I find this historical legitimizing of libertarianism problematic, but won’t get into in this post). A bold defense of liberty requires that we leave others alone. As such, libertarianism as a political and moral philosophy usually puts its principle:

Principle of Non-Intervention of Another’s Autonomy (PNIAA hereafter) states that agents ought to never interfere with the free exercise of another’s liberty and that the range of rights of others shares in this same principle reciprocally.

PNIAA is the fundamental principle that generates rights considerations politically and on the intra-personal level it generates a respect of an agent’s autonomy. In this way, it does come close to Kantian ethics, but in Kantian ethics, the respect for autonomy can decidedly inform more than what we ought not to do. It can generate some duties about what ought to do. PNIAA’s first shortcoming is that a deontological principle that forbids interference with the exercise of another’s autonomy can only generate principles of non-intervention, it can generate no positive duties. As such, adequate moral theories generate action guidance for both positive and negative duties. This theory is entirely one-sided. Therefore, it should be rejected.

Another fatal flaw of libertarianism is a flaw of its Kantian cousin—the isolated subject (what we can also call a self) necessary for such robust exercise of personal liberty. This is what is necessary for PNIAA to "get off the ground", that is, to make any sense whatsoever, yet the isolated subject does not exist. There is no concept of self that is atomistic and so autonomous that it can be abstracted from the concrete lived-experience of a self acting in the world. Selves are relational, and this relational aspect of the self is always becoming, always making possible my actions. It cannot be blatantly ignored. Selves know who they are from their interaction with others in a public space. I disclose myself in action as Arendt would claim and for my action to have any meaning whatsoever, it must appear before others in a very public space. Others must recognize what it is I have done, and a philosophical examination of the self acting in the world must articulate the necessity of otherness. Others recognize, accept, judge, hate, despise, vilify and enjoy who I am, what I have done and how my identity and actions resonate to the community. If I am an entertainer, I know that I am a good entertaining by being in relation to others.

In libertarianism, the self is completely abstracted from the concrete effects of a self relating to others. The theory in American political rhetoric takes on a dimension of the hypothetical, yet if your ideal does not mesh with how it is lived in practice, then what Ron Paul and other free-market enthusiasts are doing is using libertarianism as a trick. It is a trick to deceive you into favoring a system in which wealthy politicians already benefit. Libertarianism is attractive from the sense that it emphasizes no strings upon the state to affect the self-determination of those who work hard, and by work hard I facetiously mean those that have money already. It provides the myth of the self-made man that has entire control over what he can do if given enough freedom to do so. In libertarianism, the robust conception of a completely free self does not come with any aspect of relationality to it. This means that environment has no bearing whatsoever on whether or not you suffer. All you have to do is bootstrap yourself and you can transcend to wealthy heights. The actual data supplied by social scientists that study social mobility is more depressing than we'd like to admit.

As far back as Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, it has been realized that the actual political conditions that foster the conditions under which we all live has a direct relation on whether or not we can achieve the good life. It was Aristotle and not Marx that first had this insight. Here, the “good life” does not mean a condo in the Hamptons, or a top spot in a wealthy career. The good life is something more akin to living a life in which the goods of one’s life: friendship, justice, family, knowledge and even wealth are balanced such that one is permanently content. There is no one good that you possess that takes central attention away from any others, and it is the type of life that when looked back from the deathbed, one can say they have lived a good life.

Given that Americans are so obsessed with the exercise of their freedom in consumer-like ways, this argument usually falls on deaf ears. However, the intuition behind it is sound. Rather than focus on a moral and political philosophy that promotes a lofty conception of the self, we should focus instead on promoting a dialogue that examines the ends of what we want our society to become. It should not be one in which the exercise of freedom can only be understood in economic terms of utility. That is a base conception already of how we are, and once someone is trapped in that instrumental reasoning of means-to-end mentality of a cost-benefit analysis, one cannot see the error of that way of thinking. Time and time again, I get "into it" with free market enthusiasts (and one economics graduate student) and they cannot understand how value (meant here as a reason for why someone acts) can be intrinsic and non-instrumental. This creates a problem--namely that moral reasons largely lose their purpose (though some versions of utilitarianism might survive). The exercise of freedom to create and live has more dimensions than the way Americans tend to always associate the exercise of their freedom to the accrue of profit. There's more to life, and the Aristotelian way of understanding this insight facilitates a better way to address what America ought to become.

If the political world fosters conditions such as a disparity between all the resources necessary to live the good life, then it does not promote human flourishing. Libertarianism is dangerous for that reason. It divorces the communal structures that come to play out and determine how people can exercise their capacities to better themselves. Therefore, I recommend that what replaces a fidelity to free-markets in our public discourse is a renewed consideration as to what we think the conditions of Americans desire for the flourishing of our country rather than insist on ideologies that are blatantly false in their metaphysical articulation of what a self is.