Tuesday, January 25, 2011

MidSouth Philosophy Conference at the University of Memphis

So, I got my paper The Phenomenological Rejection of Naturalism in Contemporary Ethics accepted to this conference. Really excited!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Continental Philosophy Blog

The Continental Philosophy Blog has had a makeover. Really awesome. Check it out here.

Husserlian Encounter with General Pragmatism

Pragmatists eschew metaphysical debates. They avoid the type of debates that do not any practical consequences. We might say that how free-will debate occurs in early analytic philosophy between compatibilists, determinists and libertarians has no consequences other than the simple fact that it can be contemplated on its own. In fact, it might be thought that we should only consider philosophical problems as they pertain to human action. Accordingly, it is a common theme in American pragmatism to think of truth as contextual to such an extent that the truth of an idea is how it relates to action within concrete consequences the idea generates in context. Ideas do not correspond to reality. Instead, pragmatists embrace that our ideas must be tested in our experience. The reason for this favoring of experience over ideas, action over theory, is simple. For the pragmatist, human beings are first and foremost practical beings. Theory derives itself out of practice (through the consequences of the idea itself) and not vice versa. You can contemplate Platonic Forms all you want, but if the idea has no consequences to bear on human life (experience), then you should be talking about something else. As such, you might find many pragmatists somewhat dismissive about the conceptual problems faced in what might be called rationalist philosophies.

Rationalist philosophies in my use of the term have two things in common: A) they think philosophical problems often involve a priori elements to them that can be reasoned about on a purely conceptual level, B) there is at least enough common intelligibility to how subjectivity experiences its contact with the world that experiences can be articulated in a manner common to one subject, and there is a basis for communicating universal truths that have their origin in a priori elements also to other subjects. A and B are in direct conflict with the tenets of basic pragmatism. For the truth of these rational ideas is accessed by the same subjective structure as someone else. There is a transcendence to how it is that subjectivity works on this account.

Now, pragmatism would react fundamentally to any conceptual claim if it did not have its relation to experience/practical action. For instance, Kant engages in a transcendental argument to show that if one accepts moral requirements as a fundamental, then the form of those moral requirements would take the form in such a way that one could only deduce that the moral law requires us to never make an exception of ourselves. This follows from the idea of moral requirements itself, or so it would seem. However, the pragmatist might claim that such an abstract conceptual analysis leads away from how the truth of an idea is revealed within experience. The often cited phrase to me is pragmatism is a “fidelity to experience” since it is only within experience that ideas arise, and only in experience can ideas be tested.

Phenomenology has the same dedication to experience. It is a return to things themselves. By this, the Husserlian phenomenologist implies that we pay attention to the manner in which phenomena appear to consciousness. For this is how phenomena are lived through. Experiences are lived-though in our conscious life since consciousness is thoroughly a structural intentionality. We are conscious of our consciousness. Consciousness is a consciousness of the phenomena in question. In this way, consciousness always takes an object where the object of experience is a correlate of a conscious act. Intentionality is a philosophical truth in which human life consists, and is a layer pragmatism does not explain.

In pragmatism, ideas happen within experience. They are causa suis. Ideas just happen within experience, and pragmatism in its dedication to lived-experience has no mechanism to suggest why this ideality happens. In truth, the commitment to lived-experience is very phenomenological. Yet, in Husserl, there the same commitment to described lived-experience but Husserl also gives us the cognitive architecture of an intentional consciousness that constitutes the meaning of its intentional contact with the world. In this way, Husserlian phenomenology can explain better the how and what of how things are experienced. He has a better grasp to offer a philosophy committed to describing how it is that ideas affect our lives practically. In other words, he can describe

The problem observed of pragmatism’s causa suis and the ideality of experiences comes from assuming a rich conception of experience. For this account of pragmatism to work, the discursivity of experience must be readily assumed. If it is to be assumed simpliciter, many pragmatists run the risk of conflating their experience with everyone else’s. Experiences run together then not because of the consequences of an idea. Instead, they run together and like consequences only because the thorough conceptuality experience possesses. A transcendental phenomenologist has no problem with this level of either generality or what we might call the transcendence of a subject’s immanence. But, pragmatists want to avoid metaphysics for the fear that it succumb to dogmas of past philosophies like what I pointed out as A and B of rational philosophy. However, the conceptual-laden nature of experience remains unexplained. It is so in that pragmatists do not have the doctrines of either intentionality and constitution at work within experience. In trying to remain so true to the level of pragmatic experience they ignore providing a thorough account as to how meaning actually arises. This is also what no other phenomenologist after Husserl can explain neither.

It is therefore my contention that we should abandon pragmatism for its implicit inability to make sense of how it is that we truly do experience of the world and embrace Husserl’s procedure in order to maintain that we experience the world in the first-personal dimension of intentional consciousness and can pay attention to how something is given with respect to how consciousness constitutes in evidential insight the manner of a phenomena’s givenness. We should keep the pragmatic insight of remaining truthful to experience. Yet, the problems for pragmatism only arise when we highlight the assessability of an idea’s truth lies in consequences. Instead, they should have pointed to the intentionality of consciousness as a point of convergence and then proceed from there.  

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Anthology review at NDPR

Another interesting anthology about the analytic/continental divide.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Friday, January 14, 2011

Heidegger, Dreyfus and Leiter, Oh My!

You can read Leiter's comments on viewing the old BBC documentary on Heidegger.

I found a transcript of an interview Dreyfus gave in which he claimed Heidegger was refreshing to analytic philosophy. He calls it boring! If it wasn't for a traveling fellowship, he would have never came upon Karl Jasper and Heidegger's defenders at Freiburg. I mention this since we should not find Heidegger scary, and wonder rather from Dreyfus's example why Heidegger made him see things differently.

Now, Dreyfus rarely minces his words. He writes on Heidegger in a very concise and succinct way. I speculate that years teaching at MIT and U.C. Berkeley will do that to you. If one hangs around analytic philosophers long enough, one will start to write in a very systematic and maybe even boring way (I just spent the last three hours reading John Drummond's Chapter on the "Structure of Intentionality" in Welton's The New Husserl). Truthfully, this training from Simon Fraser has helped me more than hindered my abilities thus far.

My only real disagreement with Leiter is that this documentary gets to the "entirety of Being and Time." I didn't find that to be the case since much of Being and Time is a silent engagement with Kierkegaard and the concept of anxiety. The documentary is more or less a slight introduction to those of whom will never really want to read Heidegger, but might find some knowledge beneficial. Moreover, if Leiter presents a thesis arguing for the contentiousness of why Heidegger is a major relevant philosopher, such a claim can appear to have a semblance of authority behind it. Yet, I think it is very misleading to suggest that it can be otherwise without first noting that those that object to Heidegger's philosophy usually don't know it well enough. I'm not saying this is the case with Leiter. However, it does stand to reason that most analytically-inclined philosophers -- like those Leiter often favors on his blog -- in the mainstream do tend towards views that are naturalistic, and therefore somehow continuous with what philosophers take to be scientific. This means they are skeptical already, even implicitly, towards philosophies that thematize matters of our existence first, what I would call phenomenological themes in the capital 'P' sense.

To be sure, Being and Time is Heidegger's most provocative and concise effort. It is important for hijacking Husserlian phenomenology and transforming it into an existential phenomenology that abandons many assumptions that analytically-inclined naturalists take for granted. So, Heidegger's relevance should be judged in a more nuanced way than Leiter's sweeping generalization.
It is unfortunate, though, that the documentary gives the impression that everyone agrees Heidegger was a "great" philosopher, and that the only doubts about him pertain to his disgusting political and personal behavior.  In fact, there are extensive doubts among philosophers, both European and Anglophone, about Heidegger's originality and philosophical depth.
A close reading of a text and its history is not something many analytically-inclined naturalists are up to doing. I don't know any "Continental" philosophy who can get away with never reading Heidegger, and quite frankly, I don't know many "Anglophone" philosophers that think reading him is a good idea. There are many reactions to Heidegger, and so Leiter is right to point them out. However, it should be stated from the outset that philosophers that seek to describe the world continuous with science reject the aim of phenomenology already (there are even substantial differences with what the term "phenomenology" refers to from analytically-inclined philosophers of mind). This implicit assumption is thee major reason why so many are skeptical about Heidegger. The difference in method already colors the perception. In some ways, it is similar in Leiter's work on Nietzsche. Leiter is very skeptical of what he calls the cultural therapeutic Nietzsche over his more -- again -- naturalist reading of Nietzsche as a speculative naturalist in much the way Hume is claimed to be a speculative naturalist. In this way, Heidegger will never get a fair shake, and my colleagues in philosophy will think this documentary the only synopsis needed for an otherwise sophomoric introduction to Heidegger's thought.

However, the difference in method does not remove the fact that Heidegger needs to be overcome because of his originality and depth. He needs to be overcome because of his lasting influence. We shouldn't be skeptical of that influence anymore than we should think philosophy should remain Heideggerian. Yet, that is a blog post for another time, but a point of lasting significance that cannot be washed away with a call to contentiousness. I find it is a rhetorical trick of preference and nothing more on Leiter's part to suggest Heidegger's claim to fame a matter of contention. In fact, we can always cite our philosophical opponent whose work we find disagreeable and lay claim to their status as a philosopher. That's the easy thing to do. It is quite another to critically engage Heidegger's lasting significance and overcome it.

Again, this documentary is not that good in giving the background thought about Heidegger's thinking. Heidegger is one of those thinkers that you need to have an extensive amount of background knowledge to make sense of his work. You have been warned. Besides, the Sartre documentary is better in my opinion.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Fox News President Roger Ailes's Advice to News Anchors

Fox News President Roger Ailes's had this advice to give to his news anchors:

I told all of our guys to shut up, tone it down, make your argument intellectually. You don't have to do it with bombast. I hope the other side does that. (source)

Now, this advice is rather interesting. First, Fox News anchors might only refer to the day cycle of "news" and not include the opinion shows. On this, it is not clear.

Next, Fox News anchors would need to know what an argument is. An argument is a series of propositions one of which is the conclusion and others being reasons that lend support to the overall conclusion. As my philosophy students know, there are many types of arguments that tend to either be bad or good. Bad arguments involve a whole bunch of fallacious reasoning, the relation between the reasons and the conclusion might not be that "tight", the conclusion might overstate its case,  etc. Good arguments avoid logical forms that lend to bad inference-making, avoid fallacies and in general attempt to avoid transgressing the norms of reasoning.

Unfortunately, delivering the news is never simply as rational as exchanging arguments on a philosophical topic. Even the daily news cycle of Fox News is filled with implicit normative assessments of the news that favor free-enterprise choices, and often pretends that all they do is simple information-giving without being honest about their biases. Consider the following video:

Look at the choice of words between "government-run health care" rather than "public option." The choice of words and labels is one way to commit a strawman when presenting information.

Now, I could go on. Yet, the spectacle of cable news networks will constantly inspire me to teach Intro to Logic to my students and what fallacious reasoning looks like. :)

Monday, January 10, 2011


I cannot believe the violence. I cannot believe the vitriol. I cannot believe I live in this country, again. I will do everything in my power to leave once I have my PhD. America, you can have your lack of commonsense health care, right-wing inspired fear-mongering and utter blindness to social injustice.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Philosophical New Years

In the first year of the PhD, I was just happy to be here, working towards the end. Now, my coursework is over. Now, the light at the end of the tunnel is very bright. I have no classes and have begun to take dissertation hours so that I can at least have some time to dedicate to my literary prospectus and prepare for my preliminary examination. As such, this year I am done reading other miscellaneous things. I have two responsibilities to myself philosophically. I will read through the chronological list of the history of Western philosophy, and secondly I will read and engage material only relevant to the intersection between phenomenology and ethics. 

In addition, I will complete the reading of listed articles for a friend's more analytic program as to at least judge myself competent to continue my skill set I acquired during my Masters. It would be so easy to throw it all away and just market myself as a Continental who could teach the history of ethics, and even work from that perspective. However, I find myself in agreement with a comment made by Bernard Waldenfels made at lunch last semester. I am interested in describing things. I am not interested in construing philosophical activity as a sort of hermeneutics that eschews the world for interpretation. Someday, I will have to face Continental philosophy's more Heideggerian orthodoxy in a formal engagement. In essence, I will have to revisit Heidegger's conception of truth and refute it. However, that is not today, nor likely to follow for some time.