Monday, December 10, 2012

Dissertation Defended and the Lessons Learned

Nobody tells you that to finish a Ph.D. is just a step into a larger world. Well, that factoid is true. Also, you learn about all the nasty habits of writing you've picked up and at the same time, these habits of writing become purged. You are then beaten over the head with your dissertation and made to defend it to such lengths that when you leave the room of the examining committee, you will start to doubt yourself. At that point, your dissertation committee comes out of the room, shakes your hand and calls you "Doctor." The immediate contrast is striking and jarring.

One minute you enter the room as the student and next some weird supervenient-thing happens when you leave as a Dr. There are no words for this transition, and while you are done with school -- as I have said --, it is only the beginning.

I hammered out a dissertation in about 1.5 years. Even now, I sit more carefully tending to the sentences within, trying to tease out a clearer way to say what I wrote. Often what I write becomes embedded in a larger structure to be forgotten and discovered for better or worse months later. Other times, I am very conscious of one section and not another. During my defense, for instance, I wrote a comparative section between the emotivists and Scheler's phenomenology. When I confessed to the reader, I did not have a knockdown argument to prefer Scheler's connection between intentional-feeling and the values intended in feeling, I revealed a larger implicit commitment. What I revealed is simply that I do not think there are any knockdown arguments at all in philosophy. However, that passage was taken to be self-undermining. Why bother one examiner said if that is the sense I am conveying to the reader. Why compare them at all if that is what I am going to write? I understood how it looked, and did not even comprehend that sense of the passage when I wrote it nor in my revisiting it two days ago. Yet, the fact that the passage can be taken that way, read as a self-undermining confession of one moment of intellectual modesty meant that I earned every intellectual blow I received about it.

Straight after my prelim exams, I went to writing, and the project has had several stages -- as readers of this blog may know originally it was a comparative project between Scheler and Heidegger --, and found home with a tremendous advisor/supervisor here at SIUC. Needless to say, however, the editing comes next and while you may defend it, at some point you also have to discriminate when a project is done. Yet, there is no such thing as done; there is only prima facie done. When we write, we can always revise, and revise we do. Even this blog post has undergone some revisions, and I do not even treat these as formal entries carved upon the soul of the world as I do when I revise potential journal articles or presentations.

Another life lesson learned: you will learn who has a vested interest in your development and you will learn how to grow and with whom you should grow.

For those of you that have read and commented, I thank you. This blog has been a repository of thoughts, even to the point of generating some ideas for papers that came out of it. I do not know what will become of this blog, or the earlier versions of myself that has only grown.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Film Review: One Nation Under God, Directed By Will Bakke

One Nation Under God is a documentary directed by Will Bakke. It depicts Bakke and his friends evangelizing people across the country, interviewing people about their beliefs in the afterlife, the divinity of Christ, and is interspersed with scenes of twenty-year old antics. Now, as a philosopher, I could have much to say about the content or activity of Evangelizing, but that's not the worst part of this movie. This movie is just downright pathetic.

Bakke and company confess a life of privilege. They never go into detail about their background, but some things are clear. Most, if not all of them, are from affluent Christian families. They open the film under the guise of asking questions about their own faith, but then project this inquiry onto others. When they encounter difference, they flash to a white background often rolling their eyes, or mocking the interviewed subjects. Two girls in Boston are mocked when one girl claims to believe in reincarnation. Other times, they bounce up and down like idiotic adolescence frat boys about where they are going next.

They also mock people without them knowing about it. A lesbian takes them in for the night, and they wake up in the middle of the night and start to show her apartment in disbelief showcasing what they claim is a whip with a heart on the end of it. Even if the whip is hers (you never see their generous benefactor from, the fact that they wake up in the middle of the night to showcase elements of her sexuality speak more about the limits of Protestant Evangelism of a certain class than the merits faith can ultimately provide.

They travel a weird path starting in Texas and then looping clockwise around the states moving onto California, Montana, Chicago, Philadelphia and then closing the loop somewhere in New Orleans. I get the impression that doing the documentary was more an excuse to travel and have fun. They do not show many interviews they have claimed to do. At one point, really strange details that have no bearing whatsoever on the goal of the movie like their dissatisfaction that Mt. Rushmore is not fun, and that they paid 10 dollars in parking fill most of the movie. One of the Bakke's friends gets poison ivy because they show 4 minutes of climbing down a cliff.

There are two points in this film where it could have been redeeming, had the young men, insecure with difference in this world, developed those conversations, or better yet been developed by them. One interviewer challenged the belief that a loving God would not require eternal damnation. Rather than dealing with the subject matter, one of the friends claims that's a hard challenging question. He leaves it at that, and just reaffirms his faith. He stands on the edge of a precipice and does not want to philosophically engage in a self-reflection about the limits of his own faith. Repeating a mantra is not a substitute for really wrestling with the limits of faith.

Next, Bakke and his friends were invited into a Muslim house. The Muslim and his wife simply try to articulate the difference between them. One of them reports that it was amazing conversation, and they show literally three minutes. At the end of the conversation, the poison-ivy friend says the difference between them is the divinity of Christ, repeating a text book answer. At one point, another of the friends claims that all his misconceptions had been blown away. Here, this person witnessed that what he was taught about Muslims after 9/11 couldn't be true, and the moment of self-reflection here could have been powerful, even transforming. Instead, the film transitions to a buffoonic display of bravado yet again. The purpose of interfaith dialogue is lost on them.

On Netflix, their journey is described as "a hilarious, thought-provoking journey and question everything in order to live for something." They are not hilarious, but attempt to shrug off the difference they encounter with insecure bouts of humor. Humor is a mask for their inability to push further in self-examination. Instead, the humor underscores the limits of their own faith and their judgment of others that fail to articulate what they have been told their whole lives.

They are not thought-provoking in any way. Put some coffee on and pull out your copy of Kierkegaard or Plato.

Finally, they are not questioning everything. "Questioning everything" is indie for being cool hipster-style and attempting to appear deep without understanding the depth and discipline that inquiry requires. Instead, if anything, this movie fails on all intellectual levels save one. Unintentionally, they have produced a mockumentary unwittingly about the limits to which they will strive for self-validation in the eyes of others. Such self-validation comes at the cost of revealing a common problem in American culture: the inability of the dominant class to encounter difference and those in need. Had they been more concerned, they might have lived some of their faith and donated their time to feeding the poor other than smiling half-cockingly about how they will give a Little Caesars pizza to a homeless man. The homeless man is allegedly encountered, and the camera fades. Like so much of the movie, the fade gives the impression that the impersonalizing that homeless man's suffering and starvation shall remain as such for Bakke and his friends, an impersonal affair briefly encountered, a pause on the road of acting stupid.

Their idiocy has not stopped. Apparently, Bakke and his friends have directed another movie where they vacation in Europe yet again under the guise of "questioning everything" which actually just means "questioning nothing."

Friday, August 24, 2012

Visiting the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis

About an hour ago, I left the Cathedral Basilica in St. Louis.

As one grabs the huge wooden doors, one's anticipation is overthrown as the door opens way too easily. As one proceeds into the doorway, an immediate aura of gold showers one's skin. The tiles reflect the light as I enter from the busy street outside. An older man, a volunteer of the Basilica, in a bow tie and older raspy voice tells me that the intricate tile work took 74 years to complete from 1914-1988. Soon, it is apparent. The walls shimmer in various sparkles of opulent tile work. A staggering 21.5 million tiles surround the observer; the walls are adorned with various mosaics: Jonah and his whale, Thomas Aquinas and the beatitudes.

True to medieval form, various images of the Holy stand in to symbolize various tales and saints alike. In medieval times, the image was a substitute for understanding, and this sets it apart from the pristine lightly colored chapels of Protestant churches. The Protestant experience avoids iconography, preferring instead to understand the intangible word literally within the mind's eye. For the Catholic, the image is everywhere, and it is hard to decide if opulence and magnificence are leftover strategies set to work in the illiterate class, or something else for the 20th century born. Leftover strategies become something else, or as I will contend, one possible way of understanding the Holy (I am not committed yet to the exhaustive nature of my own opinions opting for a open humility to put them forward for examination).

The image is a transacted symbol, a type of gateway for the imagination to conceive the possibility of the depicted subject. A literal and naive imagination will simply take the image as is, as if the entire depicted Virgin Mary stands only for the miracle of Jesus's birth. I have explained many times before how much I deplore biblical inerrancy and literalism. Such strategies keep people from attending to the true complexity and richness of historical interpretation at work in history. Rather, I think, we should encounter the questions such richness pose when we stand at the threshold of inquiring for ourselves what tradition means to us.

Now, why talk of the Image as a way of opening up the imagination to conceive the possibility of the depicted subject in its richness. The pictorial form is not literal. To think of it as literal is to operate with a limited imagination, and operate as one might conceive a French peasant viewing the story of creation. The pictorial form is meant to carry us. The intricate symbols above force and inspire our eyes upward. I glanced up and saw the saints, the disciples and various ensconced metaphors for the divine. They held my attention in sheer brilliance and they gestured me to look onward and upward. My eyes track the roundness of the various middle sections of the roof that mirror the literal shape of a cross. As I look about, I feel like stretching out my arms in wonder and simultaneously feel like I want to take the beautiful images into myself.

The images overwhelm in silence contrasting against the occasional whisper and spoken voice. The resonance of the voice echoes throughout chiming and then vanishing with a reverberation meant to instill us to listen for it again. This reverberation manifests an aesthetic quality of manifesting the word, and is the general reason that all churches maximize the resonance of sound. Inside, people walk and sit in silence. They prostrate themselves before the saints, Mary or Christ. The respectful silence of the Cathedral snap us back into ourselves at the very same time the images are set to work on us. We start imagining the very possibility and form such images depict. We bow before their sheer awesome opulence, beauty and leave with a profound reverence. This reverence is an earthly feeling. Reverence can only be felt in contrast to the sublime Image of the Holy.

Within the Cathedral, I tried to pray today. I folded my hands in supplication, bent down on my knees, and I could not reach any quite in prayer. Instead, my mind wandered to questions it has always wrestled with about the Images surrounding me. In truth, I reach a quiet more silent than prayer affords. This quietude is reached when I think about philosophy as a difficult passage or when I write. If I of  am attempting to penetrate the depth of Aristotle, Husserl or Scheler, I reach a quiet of reflection more sacred than when I pray. The sacredness is a product of the quiet silence wherein I am alone before myself. In this solitude, I experience the cessation of the constant shifting of thought from one thing to another. There is only being in this "philosophical" silence. When I pray, I experience a restless quiet, an anxious encounter at being alone with myself before another. This is comparable to the nerves before going on stage or talking in large groups. In this way, it is a reactivation of an old social disposition of being before others. At this point, the possibility of God feels like an intrusion in my breast, a provocateur sent to stir trouble than the calm overwhelming presence of love. There is no loving presence when I pray to a personal God, and I speculate that this love is an unexpressed implicit want to be judged favorable before others. This is why I am more comfortable with a Cartesian God, an impersonal God subsumed in Descartes' metaphysical obsession of projecting geometry onto the world or Kant's postulate of practical reason. The experiences of the Holy that engender sacred silence and restful quiet are found in philosophy, and this is why philosophy is a religious experience for me.

The Images around me literally "throw me." They put the literal and the metaphorical at work within us such that the experience of God, the experience attempting to conceive the divine are re-constituted in a way to serve as a contrast of the countless other banal experience of daily life. Even the light of the Basilica captures the silence somehow. The candles shine in memory, the voices reverberate resonating and trailing off into the silence form which they came, and the visual images carry an allure that makes me look upward. As the lived-body is the zero point of orientation in physical daily life, we never look downward except in shame at what we have done or the want to ignore others and everything else. We ignore the concrete facticity of the ever-present others of social life. When we look upward, we look on alongside others doing the same thing. In this way, I speculate that in looking up, this gesture reveals the intersubjectivity of religious life to which something greater than all of us can be experienced in common. In William James, this is the "unseen order" to which we "harmonize" and it is within the symbol that we are thrown back upon realizing the benefits of religion in life rather than inventing ways to ignore the unfamiliar in Protestantism (Protestant churches are very adept at taking care of their own). We can also see the effect of the Image within ritual found in the gesture of looking up. The religious communal experience is a ritualistic symbol of our interdependence in human life. This is why we share in silence with others in mass, and interrupt that silence in mass by welcoming those next to us. In the middle of mass, we shake the hands of others. We invite the complete stranger around us and embrace their hands. The silence shared and its interruption between is the only intimate time where we hold the hands of those we may never know.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

William James, Absolutism and Dogmatism

In Lecture II of The Varieties of Religious Experience, James says

The theorizing mind tends to the oversimplification of its materials. This is the root of all absolutism and one-sided dogmatism by which both philosophy and religion have been infested (p. 37)
I like this a lot. It is short, concise, and above all very true.

I have a friend. He works in the metaphysics of causation. When I pointed out long ago, that he presupposed the principle of sufficient reason prior to proving PSR, he flipped his lid. He became irritable, and we have not talked about philosophy for some time. I challenged him to a knockdown argument as to why I might regard PSR as true. Whenever he would frame an argument in its favor, PSR had been presupposed in some way. That was the point of the challenge.

This is not a "knock against him." Rather, this is a confirmation about what Gadamer said long ago. Gadamer claimed that we all have pre-judgments, or what we would find as the root of prejudices. During the Enlightenment, human beings were to achieve a standard of objectivity and avoid prejudices. Prejudices should be embraced, and we should see how they play a part in constituting how we engage the world.

Beyond anecdotes, dogmatism and absolutism are the same side of the coin. Given the limits of human reasoning, I cannot apprehend reality or form a system of metaphysics so complete that the feebleness of reason does not enter into its construction. Try as I might I cannot draw a perfect system of metaphysics anymore than you can draw a perfect circle. These limits are abandoned in the self-confirmed wishful thinking of those that maintain the experience of religion or philosophy as having "all the answers." Such alleged "perfection" of a system is evident to the delusion of a master concept, one concept or category that can overgeneralize the complexity of many into one. For Calvinism, it was the doctrine of the elect, and in Evangelical Christianity that others are motivated by "the Enemy." In Islamism (not to be confused with the actual Islam), it is the "infidel." In every example, the master concept that excludes others for the sake of internal perfection is the root of all evil. When people can dismiss others either through metaphysics or religion, then religion becomes self-undermining enterprise and loses all claim to that which grounds the experience of the ethical.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Ruminations and the Criteria for Metaphysics

For me and Heidegger, theology can never be a true science, or deeply reflective as philosophy. Theology always presupposes the validity of its object even prior to its study whereas philosophy questions and undermines even itself. Thus, theology is forever ontic, but can never be truly ontological. And the question facing me is would we truly want theology to be ontological?

Given that I said yesterday there is no such thing as constitutive reasoning, and I am opening up the possibility of ontology, an adept reader would pose the question if I am contradicting myself. How can we have an ontology without speculation? Of course, such an objection would have me if by ontology I meant to arrive at the most basic categories of being through speculation alone. However, I do not mean ontology through speculation. Instead, I mean ontology through the analysis of experience in terms of what is revealed within experience itself, and how the essence revealed in experience meshes with human action. In this way, I want to explore two criteria about how ontology of experience can be pursued. First, the phenomenological reduction can open up the constitutive layers of a phenomenon by tracing back our experience of a phenomenon within the natural attitude and revealing the necessary genetic development of a phenomenon. Thus, the essence of an experience peels back the natural attitude and shows the concatenations of constitution. These concatenations open up socio-historical life, and reveal the intersubjective and communal nature of experience of individuals.

Next, the intersubjective field now revealed must not only pinpoint how it is that a phenomenon acquires its constitutive development in socio-historic life. Instead, the intersubjective field is opened up, clarified, and the structure of human action incorporates the discerned essence into the person. The discerned essences become internalized and therefore projected upon the world. In this way, the discerned structure discloses the possibilities of projected interest, and these possibilities either affirm the intersubjective valence of the disclosure or takes hold of new possibilities. When new possibilities are generated from this internalization, the socio-historic life becomes illuminated and given possibility anew. This is largely a pragmatic structure in which we can internalize the possibility and reconstruct possibilities for the future and it is an open question whether we maintain the same continuity of experience into the future or change. Either option is an event in which the greater the valence of the disclosed possibility will be a reverberation for an individual's person/al life and possibly the life of others. This might come in the form of internalizing a norm, creating a new habit individually or disclosing a created possibility in socio-historic life that permeates human culture. One might call this last one the annunciation of the possible, and takes on a uniquely felt religious dimension. In fact, the Annunciation to the Blessed Mother might be one such event, an event so earth-shattering that the consequences of it are important for us all. There can be secular moments of this as well, such as the alleged Peace of Westphalia in which the first moment of human history successfully encounters collective security of the modern state.

Now, I have not thought this through in any great length of time. I am attempting to merge two criteria for ontology and respect the boundaries of a regulative conception of reason, although I interpret this Kantian injunction loosely. In phenomenology, we identify the form of constituting-consciousness that plays out in genetic and static analysis. In pragmatism, we test the form by exploring the manner in which content could vary in the opening up of possibility suggested by phenomenological description. In this way, we synthesize the role both phenomenology and pragmatism share.

Culture is the reification of the dynamic unfolding of internalization and projection of socio-historic life, and when Christian theologians base a metaphysical opinion stemming from a literal reading of the Bible, we must remind them of how literal and naive such readings are; they invoke a passive mind in relation to the world, taking it only on faith that the object of their speculation is present. This problem is worsened by a Biblical-only theology that eschews the hermeneutic constitution and historicity of interpretation. Such naive readings run very close to constitutive reasoning (or it is a species thereof to which Kant's critique still remains salient). Instead, the Bible should be taken as expressing no ontological language at all. The Bible only establishes itself as a field of common symbols and narratives that help us adjust our orientation towards others (by this one might read into the phrase "towards others" a Levinasian otherness as a notable influence in my thought). The Bible provides an intersubjective richness of meaning that gives rise to a shared culture of possibilities.

What will not jibe with the extremely religious orthodox is that this structure that is the same for Christians, at least as I see it, is the same for other religious orientations as well. Each tradition resonates in the same way. As a philosopher, I do not immediately discount learning from other wisdom traditions. For instance, Buddhist thought describes the problem of human desire more intricately than Aristotelian-Thomist accounts do. Moreover, this does not immediately mean that I subscriber to faith or belief in Buddhism in relation to the stock of my other opinions concerning the world. But let me get back to

On the Divinity of Christ Part 3: The Religious Turn

I have really forgotten where I am now in this long story. Obviously, by now, you have a sampling of my thoughts, and how I approach the world. I have not given a long treatment of phenomenology, nor of those thinkers that I have listed as an influence. As such, if you do not know philosophy, you might get a tad bit lost, and at this point, it is a little too late "not to be a philosopher." As I am defending my dissertation this year and going on the market, I am very much the philosopher, and I am at the highest point I have ever been as a scholar in training. Soon, the training wheels come off. Much of what I will say here presupposes familiarity with the content of philosophy. I will attempt to make it as approachable as I can. 

I approach my philosophy of religion through Kant. Kant wrote his most famous work, The Critique of Pure Reason. In that text, Kant distinguishes between two types of reasoning. First, he called what Descartes had been doing a constitutive form of reasoning. Constitutive reasoning is an extension of pure concepts that make no reference to experience itself, but they move beyond it and take the speculated object as real. This is what we do when we speculate. Descartes speculated that there were two substances, an extended substance and thought substance. With this constitutive reasoning, Descartes concluded there were two substances that comprised all reality. In fact, reason is taken as a faculty that can speculate about the truths of reality. For Kant, this is bullshit (the reasons being too large to explain here). 

To free us of the false illusion and pretension of constitutive reasoning, Kant defended a different conception of reason. Kant defends a regulative use of reason. In regulative reason, we look to how reason regulates the knowledge we already have, and how to give that knowledge unity. In this way, regulative reason says nothing about reality, but the conditions under which we achieve knowledge. Regulative reason does not posit any content about what constitutes reality; it only serves as an evaluation of how we know the appearance of reality. We can never gain knowledge of how the world is in itself for Kant, but only make sense of the way in which reality appears to us. Thus, it is fair to say that the constitutive use of reason was presumed whenever anyone engaged in metaphysics. Kant supplants the metaphysical use of constitutive with the epistemological regulative use of reason. Plainly put, Kant's first critique devastates metaphysics and attempts to replace metaphysics with epistemology. 

Given this distinction, we can now say something about how we cannot know God with a constitutive use of reason. Put plainly, God is not available for metaphysical speculation. Kant brilliantly shows the futility of speculating about God in a section of the Critique of Pure Reason entitled the Antinomies of Pure Reason. Speculation can generate two logically consistent proofs. Reason can affirm God's existence, and it can also disprove God's existence at the same time. If constitutive reason can prove both with equal precision, then the problem is not with either proof. Instead, the worry is about constitutive reasoning itself. Put plainly, constitutive reason just assumes a power of reasoning we don't actually have and if we were to follow that conception then we will just be chasing our tails. Round and round we would go so to speak. 

This is the reason why I am against the extremes of the culture wars when it comes to creationism versus evolution. Both camps talk past each other all the time, assuming and asserting their point of views as someone might defend with a constitutive use of reason instead of a regulative one. Moreover, Kant did say that he wanted to "make room for faith". This room for faith is made possible by delimiting reason to be strictly about the appearances of the world and securing limits to knowledge. Kant, therefore, in my eyes opens up the possibility to have faith and abandon the tedious task of metaphysical speculation. The implication is that we abandon apologetics altogether as much as defending physicalism in the sciences. Both reify their opponent, commit the strawman fallacy against the other and finally commit to a use of reason we don't actually have access to whatsoever. By extension, we give up on trying to defend a literal account of Biblical passages and we also give up on attempting to prove God's divinity. The want for certainty about God's divinity in Christ is the misplaced thought that religious matters should be as certain as sensory knowledge. I know with a lot of certainty that I am writing this post on vacation at my mother's house in Pennsylvania. 

Now, you might be bothered. I am simply about having faith in something I cannot know with certainty. If I sought out certainty for my beliefs, I would be walking in a Cartesian fog. For Descartes, certainty is truth-entailing about the particular belief this attitude corresponds, yet this association arose out of conception of reason we don't have or will ever have. On this score, Kant is brilliant, and I have never looked back at the want to do metaphysics. In practice, this means that philosophers like Richard Swinburne have spent a lifetime under the delusion that Christianity warrants a defense of its most sacred doctrines. Usually, these philosophical defenses amount to clever tricks of reasoning, assume a lot of rationalism about the world, and lastly commit to constitutive reasoning. 

Given that we have no constitutive reasoning, or ability to speculate about reality's content, the positive story is a bit messy. On my score, we might do several things to philosophize about religion. Like James, we can study the practical effects of religious experience, and see how such concepts play out in human action. We can say a lot about how we experience the world, and how we find the consequences of an ideal meaningful in our experience. We just can't affirm if they correspond to an inherent reality. This is how I read Kierkegaard's defense of the subjective orientation to the experience of religion. It is not a form of irrationalism that Kierkegaard defends, but he elucidates the concepts of what such a stance would entail. Likewise, we might engage in a phenomenological description about religious experience and see exactly what that might entail. From Kant's defense of the limits of reason, I look to both phenomenology and pragmatism as ways to explore how we experience the world. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

On the Divinity of Christ Part 2: The Rock Years into the Masters

The summer that I decided to transfer, I drove up to Slippery Rock, PA. It was 30 minutes from my house. I found Spotts World Culture Building, and trudged through the whole building. With Platonic irony, the philosophy department is in the basement with obviously no parapets or torches in the hallway. I came across the man that would be my advisor, Dr. Ted Kneupper. He wore a beard neatly trimmed and his glasses framed his whole face. As geek, he appeared like an elder elf, and he wore Tibetan prayer beads around his neck. I talked to him about God. I do not remember the conversation, but I do remember the substance of our conversation ending on a deeply troubling question. Do we need to personify God in order to understand Him/It? Or were we the source of that personification? I had been blown to the floor. He gave me John Hicks, an analytic philosopher of religion to read.

Ted taught me the religions of the world over the next few years. I took his Eastern religions class, and his Mysticism class. I read translations of the Vedic scriptures, scriptures from both the Theravadan or Mahayanist schools of Buddhist thought. I read excerpts from the Torah, Koran and the Bible. Because of Ted, I read too much Krishnamurti, and for a time, the only conclusion that I could reach is that if God truly existed, then God must be known in different ways throughout each of these traditions. Religions became, for me, sedimented possibilities of encountering the divine--a position sometimes described as religious pluralism. Mystical religious experience is filtered through all these traditions, and represented one possible overall object of analysis.

Meanwhile, I had been influenced in a number of fascinating directions. I had taken courses in political theory, studied lots of Arendt, and Heidegger. I had been schooled unbeknownst to me in Continental and history of philosophy. I had taken one course in analytic philosophy as an undergrad, and I absolutely thought it was silly. Part of me still resonates with this earliest attitude though I realize the contribution to 20th century analytic thought since I read for my Masters in it.

I had not really thought about God for a while. I did meet my wife, however, and decided that we should be married with all the appearances of Christianity. My officiant was an ex-Methodist minister. He had suffered a lot being raised in a very Conservative Christian household. Now in his 40s, he had completely left the Methodist church. I had gone to a unitarian church in Youngstown, Ohio, and my wife while inclined to spirituality thought it best to feign Christian appearances. She had already received some comments about being married outside the Catholic Church. We were to be married outside Stambaugh Theatre in Youngstown, Ohio in the garden. We met with him, discussed our troubles, and he proposed that we take out God in the Methodist doctrine of ceremony and replace it with something else. I forget what the substitution was, or just an elimination of those sentences. My wife and I had created our own vows, had friends read from Jane Austen and the Tao Te Ching. Later on, my bestman and best friend read a passage from the Bible prior to his speech. To this day, it is still the best speech I have ever heard.

I read for my Masters in Canada at Simon Fraser University. The department's faculty had gone to the best schools in analytic philosophy. I had been taught by people who went to Michigan, Cambridge, and UCSD. As one may know, philosophers can be a tad bit rebellious and within the halls of SFU, I had let others know that I thought moral properties were non-natural. I had a proclivity for ethical intuitionism and started to explore the religious epistemology of William Alston. I read some Alvin Plantinga and his name had been held in some reverence even despite his religious persuasion. The positions I had started to adopt and explore in dialectical relationship to others involved non-natural elements, and I had been prone to forms of rationalism in epistemology. Christopher Peacocke and Robert Audi's philosophies were heavily explored, and it is at this time, I discovered W. D. Ross with fascination. At this time, I discovered Husserl as a way out of the analytic bubble encircling all of Vancouver.

My wife and I continued along the "something hypothesis." For us, God was an ineffable reality, barely understood or put into words. We did not like the idiotic things done in the name of Christianity and when we grew irritated with Conservatives, often our irritation grew out of the ideology surrounding why such idiocy arose. We laughed during the time when we heard literalists build a Creationist amusement park and museum. We also attended very briefly the Unitarian Church. My wife felt it was "floosy" and we were invited to a Sociologist's house at a nearby college. He was part of the Social Justice Committee at the Unitarian Church. We felt a little out of sorts with that bunch.

Now, I cannot say enough good things about Simon Fraser. Several of my colleagues have gone on to Harvard, Brown and McGill. It is a good place to get one's MA from, and it made me a better philosopher. However, I had been reading a lot of Heidegger in secret. Many people did not know that I would put Heidegger down when they came into the office, and I read what I supposed to read for class rather quickly. Other than moral philosophy, I just wanted to read Husserl and Heidegger. I relished swimming in the sea of phenomenology. The attention to phenomenology subsumed my explorations of non-natural ethics and epistemology. Although within phenomenology, the same attraction to rationalism could be explained with the shared features between Husserlian phenomenology and the larger epistemological world, especially his LI and Idea of Phenomenology.

For me, phenomenology had been the ultimate way of putting us into relation with experiencing the world firsthand. In so doing, Husserl had created an architecture to map our firsthand direct experience through his concept of intentionality. To this day, you cannot have persons without intentionality, and I shutter every time I hear analytics talk about "aboutness" or "representational content" without considering the modes of givenness to which such ideas first emerge. They never really get that they assume a third-personal level of analysis to analyze first-personal elements of experience. Now, it may be appearing that this is a distraction, but most of my philosophical engagement with the world is phenomenological. It's a big part of the story.

After TAing an additional year, I came to Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Several professors are spiritually inclined and I met peers that were Catholic, Wesleyan and Methodist. Another professor had been raised Unitarian, and another professor specialized in Buddhist thought with reading knowledge of Chinese and Sanskrit. Once again, I started going to feel a little better; my weirdness could flourish a little more. I had internalized my naturalistic environment at Simon Fraser University and found it stifling. I pushed the boundaries of non-natural ethics as far as I could. I had always assumed William James' approach to freedom without realizing it. I had learned that my engagement with philosophy had been better suited to the study of phenomenology than ever thinking that I could reach any conclusions about the divine as if it were a problem to be solved in metaphysics or epistemology. However, one can already see that at this point, I had reached an agnostic wall. I had read the great texts of the world's religions. I had pursued God's existence as an analytic philosopher might in philosophy of religion. I had spent way too much time reading phenomenology and moral philosophy. Still, I felt that it needed addressed. I would finally address it during my PhD studies....

Monday, August 6, 2012

On the Divinity of Christ Part 1: The Origins of My Philosophizing

A recent paper made me reflect that it is about time, I start a reflection on the divinity of Christ. This is a hard one. It is not hard for me to decide; the harder part consists in philosophizing on the very divinity of Christ to such an extent that it opens up oneself before others. I violate something deeply sacred by subjecting the divinity of Christ to reflection. There is an unfortunate social cost in America about rejecting Christ's divinity, or seeing it as something else. Let me first start with a long history of my beliefs.

Years ago, I was baptized in the Catholic Church. My mother's family had immigrated from Southern Germany. My father's family had been Roman Catholic. As such, I made my first holy communion in the Church. Then, my parents left the church. We did not attend mass regularly, and my family moved to Michigan. I am unsure why my parent's left the Church. My father had worked for GM his entire life, and contract negotiations and labor disputes often stole his attention from many matters in life. Moreover, I simply saw Sunday as one more day to do something with my father, or to play with my friends. Sunday never seemed sacred.

Years later, we lived in Pennsylvania. I had several friends attend a youth group. I joined the youth group at Northminster Presbyterian. My parents were slightly taken aback when I asked to be confirmed in this church, and so they let me decide my own spiritual fate. I joined the Presbyterian church having been baptized and making my first holy communion in the Catholic Church.

One night at the youth group, Northminster brought in a speaker, and the speaker started speaking bad about evolution. We all sat politely, but something in me sparked. I recall with great irritation the distortions of Potassium-Argon dating of volcanic tuft, the distortion of Carbon dating and the distortions inherent in the factual presentation about the science. With fondness, I recall this as my first memory of being Socratic and regard this as the moment that sent me down the philosophical path I have traveled today. I openly questioned his presentation in the company of my peers. I left that night very confused as to how someone might criticize a science without ever really knowing about the mechanisms of that inquiry. That very same year, my science teacher had singled me out and invited me to a science fair on the nearby campus of Grove City College. She said I had a knack for it and might want to go.

Unbeknownst to me, I had rebelled. The Youth Director had privately told me she was not pleased with me. I did not go back for some time. Throughout high school, I became an atheist. I once yelled at a kid  for prostyletizing me before home room. I demanded that he should have scientific proof before asking me to assent to the truth of his belief. Instead, I had been reading about Buddhism. I had picked up books by Alan Watts at our local library. I read Thich Nhat Hanh's Living Buddha, Loving Christ. The fascinating thing about Buddhism is that at its root Buddhism is empirical. Buddhists seek to cultivate the same experience of an altered-state of consciousness the founder had achieved, and the long lineage of its tradition repeated the same state over and over. In this way, I thought that Buddhists had repeatably confirmed this altered-state of consciousness like one does with scientific experimentation. 

Meanwhile, I had been an art student all throughout high school. I enjoyed photography, water coloring and charcoal drawing. At Edinboro University, I decided on art education as my major, and I spent my freshman year locked away in buildings drawing. In addition, I took Elliot Wreh-Wilson's Introduction to Philosophy, and the question that bothered me was: What is love and where is it? We had just discussed Platonic forms, and I thought that was not a likely solution. We, then, talked about reducing love to its material parts, a neural mechanism perhaps, or a series of cognitive mechanisms that direct an evolutionary adaptive behavior for human pair bonding. Yes, I thought! That's it!

I had left the Presbyterian church, became atheistic, but I wanted something like God to be true. I had worried about the naturalistic reading of love, and then been reading about the mind-body problem. I had read Descartes, and found solace in his arguments. I could have an immortal soul; God existed because I already possessed an idea of perfection, and given that perfection implies existence, God certainly existed. In the same chapter, we started to read about physical explanations of mind, and the week I found solace in Descartes' arguments. This was a shortly lived peace. I recalled with great irritation that I found arguments for materialism more convincing. Descartes could not adequately explain how a nonphysical mind interacted with a physical body.

I would walk at 3 am around campus. I would sit on the bench overlooking "Fake Lake" (a glorified retention pond). Since I was not approaching my art anymore with vigor, I decided to become a philosophy major. This seemed more comfortable given that I would worry about God's existence. I then read Paul Churchland's Engine of Reason, Seat of the Soul. I found it to be a strange but fascinating work. Churchland described in intimate detail how stereoscopic vision works, and lauded the science behind it. He would put in plain language how such science should inform our philosophizing. At this point, I am still persuaded in the materialist arguments.

For other personal reasons, I left Edinboro. I transferred to Slippery Rock University. To this day, they are my alma mater, and my experiences with religion and God would finally culminate in a trajectory they inspired. I am almost done with my dissertation and entering my final year of philosophy graduate school, but given the complexity and fondness of the Rock, I will leave this story unfinished.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Synthetic Philosophers

In this post, I will offer a manifesto of procedural thinking. This is extremely "off the cuff" so to speak, and I do not apologize for its presentation.

At its core, philosophy is an awareness of the contingency of existence. Many facets of existence are opened up, explored and mined and then synthesized together in hopes of adding new insight to new or old concerns. These concerns may be practically resounding in the old Deweyan adage "felt difficulties" of the "problem of men" or the more erudite and theoretical. For instance, I am interested in the old proposals of ordinary language philosophy and the naive ontologies assumed in metaethics. While some might find this work "un-practical" and therefore not concerned with immediate practical ends, certainly the fallout of these ontologies will impact how we conceive of existence later on, and so I hold out on some theoretical concerns for the promise of their pragmatic relevance. Opening up and creating spaces for articulation, I draw both from history and problems, old and new. I do not feel situated on any line.

Years ago, I started this blog with the want to build bridges, and it was a creative outlet to express my more creative side. I conceived of philosophy very much as a chasm, a gulf between analytic and Continental camps completely ignorant of the radical exclusion often felt by my Americanist colleagues. At first, this seemed plausible and even anecdotally confirmed. However, even now as I proceed on the job market, I am aware of how strange the term Continental philosophy is. Now, the Southern Journal of Philosophy has commissioned a volume with very good essays on the relation between Continental philosophy, analytic philosophy and the prospects for the future. In Iain Thomson's contribution, he calls for an end to both Continental and analytic philosophy. "The future in other words, belongs neither to the traditional Continentals nor analytics but, instead, to the synthetic philosophers."

Levinasian spill

To love another is at its core to let the other be in their own fullness of being, and if in the fullness of the other, we realize that to love another can only be for a short time, or at most a human lifetime. Love's risk of disclosing the fullness of our being manifests as human frailty. I am disclosed as a wholly other vulnerable 'I' before the other, and if the other loves me as much as I love them, then the other stands in as much vulnerability as I do. In the vernacular, the singular vulnerability of my disclosure to the other cannot be exhausted in their representation of me. However, in so doing, the other has more access to my non-objectifiable personhood than anyone else. As Scheler has said, the person is "the unity of acts" and this unity is only disclosed in the execution of acts. Otherwise, the person stands aloof, barely present even if the person stands there before me. The other is perpetual mystery. In love, I disclose my personhood more so than regular since in the loving relationship, I "let someone into my heart." The perpetual relationality of my self to the other discloses my unique habits and expectant style of quirks, behaviors, and preferences. I "let my guard down" and allow more contact with the unity of acts exhibited in each and every act of mine--this is the phenomenological basis for the growth of intimacy with a partner on the side of the lover, and the source of expectant hope that one's beloved returns in kind. Love's orientation opens the disclosure of the execution of all acts given that in relation to my beloved.

At the same time, the person is a structure that can never be encapsulated, represented and known with any precision. The other may wish to know me in full, and even if they have a better idea as to whom I am, the beloved can never be certain about me, or I any more certain about the beloved. We may even honestly both have let our guards down, yet the hope of knowing the other becomes a point of fixation. The beloved is still inexhaustible in their richness and fullness, and this holds for me in relation to the beloved as well. This inability to represent the other is the phenomenological form of love. If the lover regards the beloved in a way in which the lover thinks that they can encapsulate the excess of the other's spirit, then the lover devalues the inexhaustible richness of the other and turns that inexhaustible richness into some-thing other than spirit. For example, a possessive man may fixate on the sexual beauty of his beloved and jealously guard his lover. In jealously guarding his lover, he is not loving the person, but neurotically guarding what he feels is his, her body. Such a man does not love the person of the woman, but loves possessing her body in the sexual act itself. The woman may be valuing the person of her lover such that she cannot experience her own devaluing in his eyes. Instead, the sexual act is about facilitating the growth of intimacy in which the unity of acts is embodied in the physical union achieved.

Sexual union also reveals the physical frailty and finitude of love. Let us say that both value the personhood of the other. They increasingly disclose themselves not only in the sexual act but in the sphere of intimate relations. Two lovers may live together, share in economic fate and socialize in the same circles. They may even consecrate the Holy value of the other person through the sacrament of marriage. Yet, the time of this love is short. As I have claimed, love's risk comes at the expense of human frailty. Love is all that more special because of our finitude, and for me that finitude expresses the deepest sincerity of whom we are, this vulnerable unique "I" before the beloved. This vulnerability is the source of the risk in love. For the term vulnerability expresses the conditions under which I disclose my person to the beloved. Even I am sick, I can only my person is made manifest before my beloved as in need. I am called in responsibility in this very Levinasian way.

Yet, while vulnerability may condition the disclosure of my person to another person in love, vulnerability only taints the condition of the disclosure of my person. Vulnerability does not limit the perspective of love to the other. Instead, love is infinitizing, and allows us knowledge of a depth beyond the vulnerability of the body. Scheler calls this the person. In Scheler's thought, vulnerability is something that produces anxiety within us, and anxiety only occurs at the realization of the vital sphere's relation to the environment. Instead, love takes on a relation to the other. The other is given in so much excess that no prefigured ontology can encapsulate the other's spontaneity. They are given as inexhaustible, mysteriously present, and above all absolute.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Intuition Pumping on Meillassoux

I have been thinking about addressing Meillassoux's correlationism critique, and addressing the challenge specifically to phenomenology. Below are some links I've been reading on this, though no serious philosophical reflection can commence until I get several book reviews done.

This is the best blog post I can find on the subject.

Somehow, I think Meillassoux's want for a realism of the "ancestral realm" guilty of the natural attitude (this is my prima facie intuition about depictions of his arguments, the best being Cogburn's articulation). By my understanding, speculative realists want a realism from the perspective of objects beyond or independent of being given, or mediated. The point of phenomenological givenness is to keep in view the co-relational structure and the fact that subjectivity is an experience of our constituting acts and the constituted world. A wholly independent perspective from an impartial and impersonal viewpoint loses sight of subjectivity (Husserl's term for this perspective is the natural attitude) and as long as we want to start with how we experience the world, what would the impetus for metaphysics achieve in retrieving the sense of the philosophical view from nowhere that characterized Western thought prior to Kant? It seems proponents of SR are just reaching back for something lost. In this way, I do not think SR adds anything new to philosophy.

I'll have more to say on this in the near future perhaps.

I have yet to really penetrate Meillassoux, as I have been buying books on Scheler left and right so be patient with just my intuition pumping for now.

Of course, there are very naive and enthusiastic pronouncements of Meillassoux that uncritically denounce phenomenology.

Of all the papers on this topic, I think Paul Ennis' paper a good representation of reading Meillassoux. You can find that paper here. 

For now, I would like general discussion about what you might think about correlationism.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Hinduistic Conversion of Sudduth

To make a long story short, a well-known Calvinist Christian philosopher, Michael Sudduth has converted to a certain form of Hinduism, and the thinkers over at have it very wrong. Sudduth wrote a very long protracted defense of his conversion experience, reproduced here. Again, notice at Triablogue how Sudduth's very long an personal articulation is an example of "emotional immaturity." It sounded very coherent to me, but what I really want to address is Jamin Hubner has made a very strange argument.

Put simply, he denounces the "impersonal method" of "Christian analytic philosophy." He does not define what he means by impersonal. However, on the about section, it seems consistent to say that analytic philosophy of religion is not proper. For anyone seeking "to do apologetics apart from a biblical basis simply do not meet the standards God has for His people." Implicit and consistent with this commitment is the thinking that moving past biblicism, a commitment to a literal inerrant reading of scripture is the only basis to think about God. The analytic philosopher doing philosophy of religion in terms of Plantinga or Craig is way off base. Thus it is a no-brainer in explaining Sudduth's conversion:
So, yeah, it’s not terribly surprising that a “Christian philosopher” can jump ship and give his life to Lord Krishna, given how disconnected “Christian philosophy” is these days from the very foundations of Christianity: theology. 
So the concealed move is an ad hominem in disguise of a rational point. Hubner has offered a ad hominem argument that took the form:

(1). Sudduth claimed Hinduism is an expression of his previous Christian faith and converted to Hinduism.
(2). Sudduth is not a theologian
(3). Therefore, Sudduth's claims about his own conversion are false (and therefore not a challenge for Protestant Christianity.

Sudduth's conversion and testimony reveal nothing as a challenge for Christian apologetics because Sudduth is not a real thinker about Christianity. If he were, he would be a theologian and then reflect on the demands of explicating faith. The starting point of Sudduth's conversion is a species of proceeding to adopt a position removed from theology. Now, this drives me bonkers. It's a bait and switch with our really addressing the issue. This type of rhetorical shit is passing off the self-affirming bias of a theologian as reason why we ought not to be surprised. Sudduth is not like us; he was never like us. He is a philosopher and not a theologian.
I think we are giving up too much by allowing philosophy to be somewhat autonomous and disconnected from its very roots: God and His Word. The fact is, there exists no true philosophy apart from true theology, as Bavinck, Van Til and others have asserted through and through. And so, whether we like it or not, there exists no true philosopher apart from a true theologian.
However, this does nothing to explain why we should not listen to Sudduth's conversion on rational grounds. Hubner never addresses Sudduth's letter on rational grounds. To do so, might be to use reason; instead, Hubner just pounds his fist table thumping like a pretentious child that someone disagrees with you about the nature of the world. Sudduth offered deeply personal reasons why his faith changed only to be rebuked in disrespectful ways. A proper philosophical treatment of Sudduth would have respected his point, attempted to re-create the reasons he displayed in his testimonial and then propose a reasoned defense and challenge Sudduth. However, this just displays Hubner's ignorance on what philosophy requires.

More than that, however, I want to protest against a certain type of evangelism that assumes biblical inerrancy and its literalism as a starting point. Those points are certainly key foundational points as to how Hubner proceeds and why he founded the website in the first place. Yet, these two positions are common in Protestant thought. They stem from the re-appropriation of Augustine's personal relationship with God. By re-appropriating that one may have a personal relationship with God, the Protestant reformers sought to delegitimize the authority of the Catholic Church. They challenged the longstanding authority of the Church. Thus, many Protestant churches put the burden of self-discovery and faith in the hands of soul-seeking individuals. Fast forward to Evangelical often non-denominational "Christian" places of worship, and you will find many Americans reading the Bible on their own, discovering God in Bible classes taught by a pastor (sometimes anointed by Church Elders as in Baptist churches with little or no training in religion), but putting the emphasis to grow and learn about Christ on their own. Yet, what these individuals do not do is read enough Augustine to know what defined that personal relationship.

If you read Book 1 of Augustine's Confessions you'll find that he was taught Latin and Greek by the grammarians begrudgingly. He had a stellar education for the day, and with respect to his ability to think, he was certainly a genius. Beyond that, the latter part of the Confessions offers thoughts about God and eternity which are not contained anywhere in the Bible. He reflected and thought through his faith while historically inventing theology. In the Protestant world, it's not as if Bessie and Mary are going to learn to read Attic Greek anytime soon at their huge megachurch, learn how to read the Bible in its original language nor study the tradition that informed Biblical understanding for the past 2000 years since Christ. In fact, if you accept Biblicism and inerrancy what you read is what you get. It's as if we can just lift insight straight from the text in English no less and we are removed from the burden to actually think through the requirements of faith much less the burden of interpretation and the history of past interpretations that unknowingly shape our conceptions. I think this is a process and belief that goes without questioning in Protestant circles and it is stupid. Even at first glance, a Reformed theology takes its cue from John Calvin, a person that assumed many things about the nature of reality without argumentation, like the doctrine of the Elect and predestination. These are beliefs that merit philosophical questioning.

So the theologian is left scrambling and this is very much the case with Hubner's comments. The theologian scrambles because Socrates and his followers are able to poke holes in the orthodoxy of tradition. As many philosophers know, tradition is not warrant or justification even though all theologians like to feign that authority or their own tradition is warrant enough. What philosophy does is push the envelop past where the faithful like to tread. God's eternity is a concept that demands reflection. It's not as if the Bible has any answers about the nature of reality; it does have passages that one can interpret as offering an explanation for reality in some ways. It's not as if the Bible offers self-evident moral truths about internet privacy laws. The Bible can be many things. It is a book written for a very popular audience, and some are incapable of reflecting past the point of comfortable naive literalism where the faithful do not read critically and question the revelation of truth--much to their own detriment. Their were Baptists that defended the right to own slaves in 19th century America, and there were Northern Baptists that felt it immoral. Religion can be co-opted by many forces and the want for a clear-cut and un-ambiguous reading experience of the Bible motivates Hubner belief that theology trumps/constrains philosophy. In truth, philosophy enriches the naiveté of this type of faith itself. Faith is not as simple as picking up a dropped coin. There is a deep background that informs us, even unknowingly to the purpose, context, history, language and associated meanings to any claim we might make. Now, if this sounds like phenomenological hermeneutics, then good. It should. Even plain hermeneutics matters, however. Anyone can claim the simple neutrality of the Bible, but interpretation is anything but neutral.

In this post, I have explained what I believe may motivate the calling out of Christian philosophers as non-theologians. Despite the fallacious reasoning of the earlier ad hominem, I have sought to explain why I think Hubner thinks it is enough to say that Sudduth is not a theologian. In other words, (2) has no bearing on whether or not we should accept (1) as true. Even then, there are implicit assumptions that motivate Hubner. Hopefully, I have given the reader some context as to why interpretation matters reflecting on the very pre-understanding of the non-denominational Christian inspired by the Protestant move to re-appropriate Augustine's personal relationship with God. This re-appropriation is naive in identifying Augustine with any democratized attempt to know the Bible only in English since nobody in the democratized sense had such a command to make sense of the Bible in the original language. Such efforts have attempted to be like the New Critics in English literature that argued for a text-centered-only approach. Such naiveté clearly gives evidence to the wrongheaded notion that tradition does not matter and that our understanding of scripture can be simply be lifted off the page due to the text's inerrancy as revealed religious scripture. Even if we concede the special class of revealed truth to the Bible, the communicability in language and the subsequent unavoidability of interpretation leads me to think that the text-centered-only approach -- which is also the reason why impersonalized reflection of analytic Christian philosophy of religion is criticized in the first place -- expresses the desire of non-denominational Christians to leave their faith purposefully unchallenged. While leaving a faith unchallenged and dismissing philosophy not rooted in the Bible may be convenient, it adds nothing to the fact that such naiveté leaves many philosophical questions unanswered about faith, and philosophy exposes these unrefined elements much to the chagrin of those that pretend otherwise.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day

On Memorial Day, there is a narrative of sacrifice of honor; we remember veterans. We extol those who are living and remember the dead. This takes place in a larger narrative that accepts the fact that the United States has gone to war, attempted -- if not succeeded -- in achieving its ends, and internalized the cost of that war for ourselves. Memorial Day never measures the cost of war to those we fought, the civilian populations we have killed and the fact that by fighting wars we are made more unsafe. 

We are more free. This is the constant adage to which our whole society accepts, like a doctor prescribing what we really need and we are not in any place to question the doctor, let alone the narrative. This narrative takes hold because so many of our relatives, friends and family have lost someone in those past conflicts. To question the immorality of war, its happening, undermines the individual who fights in that war since the individual narrative is a product of the larger narrative. This narrative pacifies the acceptance  of loss; makes it memorable. We toss flowers around, parade and have barbecues in solidarity. We transform loss into the continuation of the necessity that those deaths paid for my freedom may come again in a later generation. 

I am somehow more free than I would have been if a war did not happen. Perhaps, this is slightly true. With the United States asserting its geopolitical influence through the threat of force, we cause others to back down, and create and foster an illusion of our dominance. This is only a partial freedom. It is an assertive will-to-power. It must continually feed itself to sustain that dominance, and that's where we are partially unfree. We cannot accept losing that position in the world and feed it. In this way, we suffer at the hands of our own delusion. America the delusion. 

Friday, May 25, 2012

Dissertation Ruminations

I have been away for a while. Dissertating is not done by a long shot, but I have concluded the last mega-chapter, and I am rethinking its organization. I am going through the motions of writing an introduction that unites all three facets into one whole. On the most basic level, my dissertation is on the ontology of value, and I address that problem through Scheler's work. This has led me to a form of realism I like to call participatory realism. Let me describe my ruminations in no particular order.

First, the use of the world "agents" or "agency" in ethics does not sit well with me. Ethics is about persons, and Scheler's work allows me to restore the proper object of ethical study. Agency is paired with accident in the 16th century, and an accident is a contingent reactive being whereas agency is self-causing, self-moving. This dichotomy rips asunder the necessary and sufficient condition of personhood in general and often articulated without a body. Intentionality is the fundamental requirement for being a person.

Secondly, given a phenomenological interpretation, persons are that which orientate themselves in a particular act moralization, and participatory indicates that the self participates in the ontological reality of life-as-experienced (the intentional relation) such that the essence of a particular act (fearing, judging, valuing, perceiving) discloses the content of an experience. This content forms the basis of what it is to experience the world more generally against those attempts that abstract from this content and substitute an unexperienced, untrue formulation. This happens in all other forms of anti-realism and realism in ethics.

In Scheler, the particular act moralization that discloses values as objective is love. Love is a being-in-an-act that tends towards higher forms of spiritualization, and love can muster its own phenomenological evidence in this regard. Against other acts, love takes an object, but it allows the object so related to come to fruition as itself. It does not reshape or remake some sense of the Other into an image it would have of itself. Moreover, it is not an imposition of admiration from outside. Instead, love is an allowance for the uniqueness of the loved one to come into being as they are. It is acceptance of difference, individualization. In this way, love is the only way that community can be possible, and how we understand love as one way in which the person relates to the larger whole reflects the very possibility of community.

There are many that are skeptical about the promise of phenomenology. However, in the hands of an applied phenomenology like Scheler, phenomenology is a tool to discern the structures of experience. It does not matter if these structures of experience persist independently of our participation. That's the wrong-headed feature of any realism. Such realisms seek intelligibility in things that stand independent of us when in truth structures of experience require a renewal, a re-constitution in the affirmation of them in their very realization. The very possibility of phenomenology rests on the truth that it is not just individual intentionality, but an intersubjective element of experience that constantly re-constitutes the possibility of a sense to which we all can experience.

Saturday, April 14, 2012


I find myself loving the process of writing a dissertation. Tentatively, I am entitling my dissertation Scheler's Phenomenological Ontology of Value. It is a twofold task of problematizing the ontological indeterminacy about value that plagues the Formalism in Ethics, and at the same time analyzing Scheler's being-in-an-act in his other works to formulate an answer to the question of value ontology. Scheler's works are intriguing, and they highlight my own philosophical journey in some striking ways. Years ago, I applied to SIUC to attempt to articulate a moral phenomenology, but knew nothing of Scheler's works. I thought this would entail reading the C-Manuscript by Husserl, and write on intersubjectivity. I wanted to fuse my inclinations of non-naturalism found in Ross, Moore and Prichard to phenomenology. At Southern, I have been given complete freedom to pursue this task and probably more so given how pluralistic our department is. This involves partial journeys through Heidegger, Ayer, Stevenson and very possibly Hume and James (maybe Roderick Chisholm on realism since he translated Brentano's ethical work).

My dissertation develops an account of Scheler's phenomenology of value called ontological participatory realism. I have not yet formulated the position of OPR, but if I were to characterize tentatively now, I'd phrase it in the following way:

OPR: the ontology of value V is given insofar as person P participates properly through a loving orientation such that the P complies with axiological preferring inherent in the context in which V is given to P and P acts to realize higher forms of V based in a loving orientation.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

What is the Purpose of Political Philosophy?

I have always been attracted to thinking through the issues in value theory. My entire dissertation is on a phenomenological account of values, and while I do not practice intense reflection on politics in either Marxist, Rawlsian or Habermasian theory, I bask in its sun every now and again. However, I found some recent philosophers so radicalized that they questioned every premise I used. My objections to their argument fell on deaf ears. That wasn't the surprising feature of the conversation. I could not enter the discourse since I had not been radicalized enough. I failed to have uber-leftist street cred. I am a self-confessed Neo-Aristotelian when it comes to most matters in value theory, but I have never made up my mind on exactly what political philosophy is, its questions and what the proper formation of the polity should be. I do not even begin to wonder what a Neo-Aristotelian approach might be in political philosophy other than thinking that institutions possess the virtue of justice, let alone if the table of constitutions even applies from Aristotle's Politics. We'll leave that for another time.

A recent conversation with two colleagues in my department resulted in a fantastic realization. I am not radical enough. We were discussing the legitimacy of the state and the role prisons play in American society. Prison populations are incongruent in terms of race, economic power and educational level just to name a few. We could agree on the saliency of the moral facts about whom is in prison, and what the social iniquities are. Philosopher A advocated the complete abolition of prisons due to some Foucaultian critique of power and anarchist commitments. Philosopher B advocated a virulent Marxism or critical theory approach to the analysis that I could not quite follow. Admittedly, the view was a bit garbled. One of the claims made by A: state power is strongest when you are not under surveillance, that is, when you feel like you are not being watched but act in a manner as if you were being under surveillance. I broached some skepticism on this point. I simply asked what if this notion of power is more due to the fact that others take moral considerations seriously and defined morality as the set of impartial constraints we learn from upbringing and practice...

Now, I already anticipated the objection to my response. Philosopher A would say something like the internalization of moral constraints is not strictly impartial. That's all I got. I did not get that there is some dynamic of power that Aristotelian upbringing and focus on practice cannot encapsulate, and what that dynamic notion of power is, how it operates and most importantly how that view challenges my objection. Foucault has a lot to say about how power works in local contexts, and since I am no expert, I wanted to hear about it. I did more philosophical work in my head than the dismissive attitude about my objection---this is the strong point I want to make. Philosophers work by scrutinizing each other. The moment we stop "testing" our conceptions against other views that attempt undermine our own, the moment we stop having the intellectual humility to search out which political conception, critique and theory should be true is the moment we stop doing political philosophy altogether. We abandon what it is to be philosophical. 

Now, my sample is small and anecdotal. It should be taken with a grain of salt. However, I have talked to many people not only at my department but at conferences too. Most of these exchanges, however, have been the expression of consistent ideology. Consistent ideology is when the young philosopher learns to employ a set of concepts and concerns within a school of thought. However, this is minimal work inasmuch as young philosophers learn to speak Quinean about epistemology and metaphysics or Heideggerian about questioning modernity. We can all speak our specialties, and political philosophers are no different. However, the point of philosophy is to preserve the living-presence of these concepts. The moment these concepts become calcified is the moment we stop questioning them.

I am not advocating that someone cannot be a Rawlsian or any other such label. However, I am questioning that thinking stops with being a convinced this or that philosophy--the moment that happens is the moment philosophy becomes ideology. I suspect such a move from disciplines that do not engage in systematic argumentation about central commitments or core beliefs. I anticipate the English literary theorist who does not attempt to undermine the logical possibility of her appropriation of Foucault for the purposes of interpreting a text or the political theorist that appropriates Habermas. The appropriation is often ideological, and the scholarship of said philosopher is lacking (and decent exposition of central texts). For them, it is in the act of appropriating the theory we conceive and evaluate that matters. This is why the analogy of the philosopher to the theoretical physicist has some weight. I do theory and engage in theorizing so that others do not have to theorize just as much as the theoretical physicist does theory so that the experimentalists can carry on. The employment of these concepts outside their philosophical domain requires the fact that I test them out.

Given the fact that the qualitative questions philosophers address and the fact that philosophical questions are indefinite, these questions could be asked and reflected interminably. Therefore, it becomes incumbent upon us to arrive at answers and put them into logical form. The logical form of an argument provides normative ways we can all agree on in order to reflect on these questions. In addition, the form arguments take need not reflect solely the influence of argumento-centricism and its tendency to logocentrism. Any number of Continental authors can be read as having intelligent points, critiques and arguments. The point, however, is to at least strive for consistency.

So let me return to my experience. A and B are solidly convinced of their belief structure and in their inability to put that belief structure into tension with others, they are advocating an ideology. This relies on a distinction between philosophy and ideology, and this is what I have argued so far. Philosophy relies on the engagement with opposing viewpoints to brush up and test one's own conclusions. Ideology is the mere acceptance and eventual self-validating profusion of one's own commitments whether it be rightist libertarianism or leftist Marxism. This is what it means to be radical. Being-radicalized is a function of ideology, not the other way around.

Yet, there is the original question: what is the purpose of political philosophy?

At this point, I couldn't really answer the question. I think it is vastly more complicated than it was at the time of Rawls. In my experience, no one asks the foundational questions of this line of inquiry. The recent debt crisis and post-2008 recession has conjured new life in the critiques traditionally offered from the left about capitalism, and in equal measure the conservative justification of the neoliberal order. Moreover, it has caused an awareness and stretch of economics for other social sciences. I cannot anticipate where this will lead, but if there is any wisdom to what I've written, then let it be simple. Try to abandon ideology, and I'll always question the argument you're developing. That's why I became a philosopher, and I would hope that's why you'll question my questioning of your argument.

Monday, March 19, 2012

A Re-Enchanted Nature

Crisis. All philosophy is a response to it. Over at Larval Subjects, there is some disenchantment about environmental thought in general. It exhibits a lack of efficaciousness the author desires in political and cultural change about the environment. The solution, it would seem, is to accelerate the environmental degradation to the point that  the intertwined "government and industry" are therefore forced to change.

Now, this is the issue. We've messed things up so bad that we're having a global impact currently. Pick your poison; it doesn't have to be global warming. It could be deforestation, or ocean toxicity.

In the thread below, Mr. Bryant does wish for a proportionate response to what needs done. I concur. However, I wonder what this amounts to is the worry of another blogger that we use a market-driven solutions to fight back. Likely, Bryant's worry is that no response will be forthcoming proportionate enough if we don't do something quickly. Consumerism and capitalism are the two mechanisms through which we can effect change now, and consequently, the very mechanisms at root of environmental degradation. Therefore, let's use them.

No offense, but this sounds like saying to someone with skin cancer that they should bathe in the tanning booth a little longer. In seeking to abandon a sacredness to nature, we wind up removing all the ways that human beings esteem nature, celebrate it and revere it simultaneously. We forget that religious-spiritual orientation to the world has an impact, and sometimes for the better. Human beings seem to require a tradition that socializes and habituates a lot of their responses to crisis, and as such, we should attempt to re-weave the sacredness of nature back into our traditional spaces of meaning and spirituality. When Adam is asked to name all the animals that come before him, he is not naming to dominate them as the Protestant line often indicates. Far from it, he is participating in the creation of their essence through God's love. His participatory part in this creative process should be a hallmark of a tradition that celebrates God's majesty and likewise cultivates stewardship. Humankind is integral into this unfolding teleology of nature.

We fear this teleology of nature since it flies in the face of everything that is still modern in the philosophical sense. Ever since modernity, nature has been repeatedly disenchanted to the point that it is only a series of events happening in space-time. There is no higher notion of causality; there is no more pre-established harmony, or higher notion of form above the interconnected linkages of efficient causality. There is no final end to which all things aspire. There is only the process. Nature resembles one big clock. William Paley's 1757 argument from design is not a metaphysical argument as much as it is a reflective metaphor for a disenchanted nature yet to be thoroughly disenchanted. It gives us the idea that God designed nature, but stood apart from it as the watchmaker does his watch. After the watch works, there is no longer any reason to hold it sacred. The watch is meant to be sold in the store just as Locke's conception of nature is to infinitely supply the body with things to labor upon.

Of course, this might seem strange given how atheistic or secular philosophy can be. Indeed. However, I cannot help but notice the desire to dominate nature even through our most spiritually reverent traditions requires us to think of events as mechanistic processes. In the face of this, philosophers have tried to create an environmental ethics based on nature possessing a non-instrumental intrinsic value, a perverted Kantianism in some way. They attempt to give life a value within it. This is not taken hold of people's imagination since value integrated into life creates the anti-mechanistic rejection that haunts even Mr. Bryant's reflection. Mr. Bryant calls for the mechanistic processes to come to a crescendo that will automatically call for change. That crescendo, however, may come at too high a price that we do not want to pay, yet we need a proportionate response. One way to express that proportionate response is to overcome the cultural milieu in which such proportion is required. This is nothing more than rethinking nature as the self-sufficient physical system of cause and effect relations into that which has an end that outstrips even our knowledge of it. We must remake nature into something sacred.

Sacred spaces are inviolable. As long as lobbyists/industry/politicians can conceive of nature as something to harnessed or modified, then the problem will persist. The problem persists since there are very few sacred spaces left to us. Sacred natural spaces are the thing of pulling off the interstate or going camping into a state or federal park. At such a time, natural spaces have value on in that they provide a temporary escape. However, if we can re-enchant nature, and I am by no means suggesting there is one clear way to do this, then nature can be saved, preserved and cared for. This does require that we adopt a teleological principle hidden within how we conceive of nature. Like the Kantian idea of a suprasensible noumenal realm, a re-enchanted nature will be subsumed by threads of cultural mystification and unscientific theology. Yet, these threads of subsumption can affect people and help them reconceive of the necessity for action. Human beings must be re-integrated into the natural unfolding of nature. The process of mechanistic alienation starts with re-appropriating process language and instilling into it the purposes of harmony we so desperately need.

In Schelerian terms, we attempt to pull down higher values down to the level of either the useful, or pleasurable. We make nature into a consumable good so as to consume it for pleasure as immediately as it was manufactured. This also means we are not making anything durable or lasting to which civilization requires. As Hannah Arendt learned from the Romans, to work is to create a world of durable goods that outlasts even one's life such that there will be a durable world for our posterity whereas a world of labor creates goods as quickly as they are consumed. There is nothing to last in a world of complete labor and alienation from nature. The point is to re-instill humankind's participatory process within nature as one in which will have a long-lasting effect on its vitality, health and growth. At minimum, this requires a spiritual orientation that one finds often commonly shared with an ethical orientation (despite Kierkegaard's thoughtful separation of the two).

Mr. Bryant and company cannot exclaim shock that we continue to transgress against nature while at the same time denying to nature its near divinity/value that makes our knowledge of that transgression possible. We can conceive the world of hurt we are dishing out. The problem is that we continually create walls of justification that conceive the separation of our being from the world apart. Giving into Mr Bryant's accelerationism does not seem wise. It would only perpetuate this forced division between humankind and nature, and that's the very cause as to why nature is so thoroughly exploited; a point Mr. Bryant should have the philosophical acumen to anticipate, but doesn't.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Bodies and Patience

Sickness is an attunement to the body. We notice every nook and cranny of our own body since it is brought into relief as sick. The sick body is always contrasted against the former vitality the body possessed in the past. Thus, sickness constitutes its temporal meaning from the present to the past as a regression. This regression is experienced in various modes in particular feelings. There is the depression that sets in when one feels like they will never possess the past vitality they once did, and a regret towards the future for not harnessing that vitality for purposes left unfinished or never initiated. Regret and depression commingle when so much attention focuses on the constant fixation of "getting better" no matter if it is hope of an unknown diagnosis or one that threatens disability permanently. 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Post-Pluralist Society, Birth Control and the Patterns of American Social and Political Life

The debate surrounding whether or not the Federal government can mandate coverage of birth control on insurance companies that service religious health care plans isn't exactly about women's rights or religious teachings per se. There is a deeper philosophical quandary. It is really about whether or not the state can enforce its conception of the right and the good upon its citizenry. Now, more than ever, I think we will start seeing a post-pluralist society emerge in which government leaders no longer show restraint in imposing what they feel is the right and the good.

What I am about to say may be alarmist. I'm very aware of that. However, I never thought I would hear a Presidential Candidate like Rick Santorum. Here's a Presidential Candidate running for office, and he thinks the presence of birth control threatens public safety. He thinks of this issue as a "policy issue." The backlash of the Catholic bishops or even their intellectual worldview (such as Feser's post here) represent a decisively poignant lashing out against American political liberalism to allow for private and reasonable conceptions of the good. In effect, the conservative political base is coming at Obama not simply as a partisan, but as a symbol of an entire ideology opposed to everything they believe in even when that is an oversimplification of significant proportion. It is not only the conservatives that are mustering these efforts; there is a certain dogmatism of the left emerging that will respond in kind. In each case, the divisions of American political parties have subsumed any chance of reasoned dialogue about these issues. They are only interested in asserting their ideological systems of belief. This has already had significant consequence in American life.

One consequence is that political regions of partisan support surface. If you are gay, you'll move to the San Francisco Bay area, or other metropolitan West coast regions. Utah will always be a safe haven for conservatives. Like will always beget like. This voluntary seclusion and growth in numbers indicates that the preference of the political culture has had an impact. If we were ever to experience Differences in a positive and constructive way such that the radical singularity of the Other should be part of our experience, such experiences are no longer possible (I'll leave it an open question if we ever truly did experience Differences in a productive way). With that possibility goes the forced socialization of differences necessary for toleration.

Following suit, our politics and media have grown insular. Conservatives have built their own channel -- FOX News -- through which they don't have to be challenged just as much as liberals have flocked to MSNBC. We have started to build patterns of reinforcing assertion of someone's identity in public spaces and spaces of information exchange guided naively along these partisan lines. Internet IP addresses register what type of media you read and as such, when you load up Yahoo News only certain stories will populate fitting your established worldview. We are no longer experiencing any cognitive and social dissonance in our political and social spaces. There is no common experience of Differences anymore. This goes without saying since the public space where we disclose ourselves is slowly shrinking away.

Now, perhaps we never truly did experience as much Difference as possible. Still, years ago, racial integrationists sought the need to expose others to Others. That was a hard won victory for many, and now the only experience of others lies in the cramming of cities at work or in public school systems. There are few public spaces left to all of us through which we become exposed to Difference. Many of those to whom we meet is a function of our position and class in society. My high school consisted of mainly White professional families. We had one African American female in our entire high school and she was adopted. University has been the only time where I have met many different people from all over the world. Outside university, however, I don't have any experiences as global, or as unique. And now, public universities are vying for public support in a climate that does not want to fund them and sustain their accessibility to a shrinking middle-class.

Again, you are wondering how we got here. Well, I've tried to show that a post-pluralist society is realization of how we've organized and arranged our social patterns in the world. This organized arrangement is symptomatic of a fundamental shift in our cultural milieu that no longer seeks to understand Difference. Instead, it has become enough to assert an ideology as a form of power over others. This suffuses both sides of the political spectrum to such an extent that it could've been the other way around. The Catholic Church or Catholic Congressmen could've mandated that secular institutions forbid birth control. In both examples, secularism or catholicism can form patterns so confident that they have access to objective moral knowledge about how culture and individuals ought to be that they close off the openness to Difference. In the end, such confidence takes off and becomes a form of ethical violence as Levinas has fully shown. More than that, when we think we have access to a proper conception about how society ought to be, we forget the humility moral knowledge really requires.

So how to proceed? First, we could reassert Rawls' political liberalism in light of these social patterns. If that idea takes hold, political institutions cannot use any comprehensive doctrine when offering public reasons for why they acted in a certain way. For Rawls, living in a democracy means that every action of the state and its institutions must be justifiable to all that live within it. Therefore, there must be a public reason as to why the state acts as it does. The only restriction to public reason is that the state abides by a principle of mutual respect which is something akin to Kant's respect of autonomy. Religions count as comprehensive doctrine, and therefore lie outside what can justify state action in a democracy. The problem is that religion is not going away any time soon and Western democracy did not become less religious.

Secondly, we could allow that religious reasons can meet the burden of public reason. Habermas pushed for something like this recently. I am equally dissatisfied with this answer since the language of public reason promotes an unyielding deontology about what we ought to or not do as a society that gets appropriated by ideologues. Perhaps, part of the problem lies exactly in the language used to address justification of policies.

Thirdly, I offer a different answer. It will not be as concise as Rawls. Instead, I think that we should conceive of state actions and our participation in the state as aiming toward a chief end. Sounds familiar? Pretty Aristotelian, huh?! Except the chief end is not a teleological abstraction to which everything conforms. More than that, the chief end is openness to the wholly other (and for the religious, this will mean a conception of God as wholly other). Flourishing can only happen if a state allows for the radical uniqueness of others coupled with a pattern of social organization that forces others to encounter Differences. Now, I don't know exactly how to do this, but among some of the options of the Greek world that inspires my speculation is the practice of taking our meals in a common area. More common areas and public spaces could organize events that draw us together. Festivals and a calendar of public events meant to celebrate not one singled out Difference, but Differences in the pluralistic sense might inspire conformity to the chief end of openness.

In the end, I do not want to hang the solution of birth control and proper health care coverage on the lofty idea of openness qua flourishing, yet I wanted to move past a debate that merely asserted a transgression of what is right of one group over another. Rights become asserted when one group finds itself injured in one way or another, even if there has never been a claim or right asserted in that particular way before. This boundless expansion of rights then makes the assertion of right superfluous. Instead, I think virtue ethic standpoint combined with Levinasian respect of the radical singularity of the Other might just be one solution to try. In addition, I have also argued that if we do nothing, the world is slowly becoming a post-pluralist society in which all identities assert their own difference not as a point of what we ought to respect following Levinas, but instead that the assertion of difference involves an ideology of power that subsumes difference into it.