Saturday, January 21, 2012

Prospectus Defense

Okay, so I have been writing and encouraged to write as I continue with thinking and reading through Heidegger and Scheler. However, I had not defended my prospectus, and now I am defending my prospectus. It is really happening. I can see more light at the end of the tunnel. Now, the light is bright with tiny streams of white pouring along the contours of the tunnel. The tunnel walls are more refined and somewhere in the distance someone is waving one of these:

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Apple Products, Teaching and FoxConn Workers

I prefer Apple to PCs. I used PC for years before my wife got one. I borrowed her computer "all the time" to her annoyance and my joy. Recently, I realized that computers are like food. We don't know where they come from, and once you learn about the conditions of some livestock, you begin to wonder about eating meat. Today, I read an article, and while I'll admit about being a "smart guy", I never would have thought that Apple products were made in China. More to my dismay, I would have never thought Apple would put profits before the value of treating workers fairly. I assumed naively they were made in pristine conditions. It is one thing for someone else to get dooped, but not me. I should have known better. I should have had some cynicism about the world philosophy usually provides to know that things need questioned. With Apple, you always see a pristine product, clean surfaces and geometric lines that impose upon you a clean ideal of its inception. This is false now, and forever in the back of my head as I go about teaching and interacting with likely students that are mesmerized by Apple products. Among the many examples, consider this excerpt from the article:
Daisey [the journalist involved in the report from the article] interviews dozens of (former) workers who are secretly supporting a union. One group talked about using "hexane," an iPhone screen cleaner. Hexane evaporates faster than other screen cleaners, which allows the production line to go faster. Hexane is also a neuro-toxin. The hands of the workers who tell him about it shake uncontrollably.
So the people that clean the screens are using a neuro-toxin! That just takes my breathe away and now, I will be e-mailing Apple a link to this blog entry. I would welcome any response about the treatment of workers in China. I especially think it germane they respond with positive change, and not some liberal platitude. Otherwise, I -- as a PhD Candidate writing my dissertation and a professional that will have contact with numerous young minds -- will always use the FoxConn treatment of workers as an example of how someone ought not act. As a graduate student, I have already taught 650+ students, and will teach many more in the years to come. Let us say I get a job teaching a 4/4 load at a university that does semesters. Here, around 35 students is a maxed out capacity for teaching Intro to Philosophy. Let's say I did only intro courses each time. That would be 240 students per year, and any time I do Intro, I always cover moral philosophy. Moreover, my favorite teaching preference is always Intro to Ethics where one could do case studies of company practices, and talk about what ought to be. Let us assume this to be consistent for 30 years until I retire. In that time, I would have contact with 7200 students in my classroom in one lifetime. This is also not the number one actually encounters at a university that are not the ones you are teaching.

Here are some of the pictures and reporting from a sister article.

So how about it Apple? Address the conditions of FoxConn and the working conditions of the Chinese, and specifically if you do respond. Follow the article's suggestion:
 Unlike some electronics manufacturers, Apple's profit margins are so high that they could go down a lot and still be high. And some Americans would presumably feel better about loving their iPhones and iPads if they knew that the products had been built using American labor rules.
In other words, Apple could probably afford to use American labor rules when building iPhones and iPads without destroying its business.
So it seems reasonable to ask why Apple is choosing NOT to do that.
(Not that Apple is the only company choosing to avoid American labor rules and costs, of course — almost all manufacturing companies that want to survive, let alone thrive, have to reduce production costs and standards by making their products elsewhere.)
The bottom line is that iPhones and iPads cost what they do because they are built using labor practices that would be illegal in this country — because people in this country consider those practices grossly unfair.
That's not a value judgment. It's a fact.
There are always independent minds in a computer science department willing to build you a computer for far less than you pay a company to make one.

This article is making me literally sick that I am writing my dissertation on an Apple. It is a very visceral thing, and Apple needs to respond now. To be clear, it is not just me they ought to respond, but permanent reform and apologies to the workers. I feel deeply bitter and betrayed. Moreover, joining the FLA as detailed here is not a real start until Apple pushes the Chinese government to treat its workers better. A Washington DC-based monitoring group is a platitude.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Leiterite Headaches: Crochetedly Ole' Critchley

There is a really, really deep-seated hatred of not what we might call "Continental philosophy" but Simon Critchley. Leiter hates him. He abhors him, and the 'Party Line Continental' approach to philosophy. In a devastatingly characteristic fashion, Leiter writes

The actual reality is this:  there are a group of philosophers in the Anglophone world--at about a dozen PhD-granting programs in the US (basically the "SPEP universe"), and at a handful of places in the UK--who are marginalized from and not very knowledgeable about the main tendencies in Anglophone philosophy over the last fifty years, but who are deadly serious about Heidegger and who need to justify their existence to university administrators.  Even though there are now literally hundreds of philosophers at the major "analytic" departments that award PhDs who work on the Continental traditions in philosophy (including Heidegger), these SPEPPies need to perpetuate the illusion of two different "camps" so they can explain why the folks in "their camp" aren't taken seriously outside their network...

I don't mean to prod, but there is no nice way to say this. Having a like for Heidegger's philosophy is no different than doing a dissertation on, say, Kantian practical rationality, and then having to face the anonymous administrator. At the end of the day, administrators don't seem to get that the humanities in general are necessary for civilization. They simply and often think that you can't get rid of everything else except the English department because employers want students to write well. They just happen to have the name of the language everyone needs to be writing well, and so they are the only humanities to be left at the end.

Moreover, Leiter does admit that Party-Line Continentals are "marginalized from and not very knowledgeable about he main tendencies in Anglophone philosophy over the last fifty years." However, I think this patently false. I know several younger Heidegger scholars that don't fit this bill and have come from "SPEPpie" institutions. Lauren Freeman's article on moral particularism and Heidegger is exceptionally revealing. Steven Crowell's reading Heidegger and Korsgaard is intriguing. So, it is very possible to come from these schools, have a background in the tendencies of Anglo-phone philosophy and seriously reject those approaches. It's allowed to happen.

Again, there is some good work being done at SPEP just like good papers in epistemology are given at the APA.

At serious issue is the hermeneutic character of Heidegger's thought, and what this means for anyone that thinks philosophy arrives at some privileged insight. If Heidegger is right, then there are no more immutable truths revealed at the end of the day. It is in these ramifications of section 31 and 32 inside Being and Time that incur the most wrath when we think about the methods we use in philosophical reflection.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

On Reading Heidegger

My relationship to Heidegger is always rough. When you read him, it is hard to come away unscathed. Your thoughts take on his troubles as if someone had scratched you with mental sandpaper and once you wipe away the dust, you find a lingering smoothness you don't want to admit is there. I have never had this experience with any "analytic philosopher" before though perhaps there is an admitted love of Bernard Williams, W.D. Ross and Martha Nussbaum I find comforting. It is definitely not the same.

In a alluring passage, Heidegger illuminates what he thinks the "ultimate business of philosophy is," or at least one of its many features.
Nevertheless, the ultimate business of philosophy is to preserve the force of the most elemental words in which Dasein expresses itself, and to keep common understanding from leveling them off to that unintelligibility which functions in turn as a source of pseudo-problems (section 44 in BT).
I love that phrase preserving "the force of the most elemental words" through which undergo life. We live through life in its depth and mystery. In this way, Heidegger has always had a poetic bent to a phenomenological orientation to human life. Moreover, this is also suggestive as to why Heidegger finds all art poetic, and why I find his works preserving this elemental force and restoring wonder to philosophy from my brief excursion into analytic philosophy. Some insights escape us if we do not hold fast to how we undergo and experience them firsthand, and some structures of experience cannot be encapsulated by previous philosophical frameworks. Therefore, a new vocabulary that attends to the phenomenological mystery must be brought to the fore while at the same time not creating an "uninhibited word mysticism" in Heidegger's own words.

Preservation of elemental force in Western philosophy reveals one of the many currents operating in Being and Time. In BT, Heidegger is worried about how we relate and actualize the past into the present while simultaneously acknowledging the limits of human finitude. Central to his concern is the possibility of philosophizing itself, and even though Heidegger is suspicious of elements from that past as forming likely possibilities for the future of philosophy, he is deeply aware of the imposed limits of philosophy. It is no surprise that the above passage occurs in the section on truth. For him, "truth" is a time-honored concept and though it has been distorted by the past, it is still one of the most elemental words in philosophy. However, at the end of that section, Heidegger re-infuses the word with an almost poetic quality that many might not tolerate.

On the flip side, Heidegger intimates the sense to which some philosophical terminology can obfuscate the dimension of lived-experience by simply imposing a technical jargon on a series of problems. One could argue this is what actually was going on in ordinary language philosophy where, for instance, the analysis of the concept good could illuminate an entire system of ethics for Moore. Now, perhaps, that's not entirely fair. Moore had inherited the problem of value as how value-predicates functioned in moral propositions. Even so, one could sympathize with Heidegger about a clever and often called analytic proclivity to merely think about "philosophical problems." I have never trusted that there are cottage industry of philosophical problems on their own. However, I do think that there are problems enmeshed in a history of thinking that constantly repeat and challenge thinking. It is simply not possible to get at the problem on its own -- as if one is distilling the essence of it -- without also thinking how such historical elements are appropriated by those thinking through them.

So, if you are reading philosophers and your soul is not enlivened, if the text stays dry and dull in your hands, then either you or the text is doing something wrong. Maybe a little bit of both?...Philosophy cannot survive if the wonder of its engagement is not conveyed in the reading of it and its elemental force is lost.