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.