Characteristically trenchant thoughts on religious agnosticism HERE. Gutting's reflections on the relation between knowledge and understanding are in reaction to a couple of very nice earlier meditations by Simon Critchley. Here's the punchline with respect to religion:
Knowledge, if it exists, adds a major dimension to religious commitment. But love and understanding, even without knowledge, are tremendous gifts; and religious knowledge claims are hard to support. We should, then, make room for those who embrace a religion as a source of love and understanding but remain agnostic about the religion’s knowledge claims. We should, for example, countenance those who are Christians while doubting the literal truth of, say, the Trinity and the Resurrection. I wager, in fact, that many professed Christians are not at all sure about the truth of these doctrines —and other believers have similar doubts. They are, quite properly, religious agnostics.
"The problem with panpsychism is not that it is false; it does not get up to the level of being false. It is strictly speaking meaningless because no clear notion has been given to the claim. Consciousness comes in units and panpsychism cannot specify the units." John Searle, NYRB, 10 January, 2013, 55, reviewing Christof Koch, Consciousness: Confessions of A Romatic Reductionist.
So, take that, Mr. Spinoza!
This post is a response to a comment by Jason Streitfeld on my recent post, Reading Plato on Death Row. My response overflowed the word limit of the comment box, so I am posting it here as a separate entry.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this, Jason. My response will be a bit long-winded, but I am thankful for the chance to think about these issues more systematically.
It's true that I did not intend to offer an argument against the death penalty, but rather to bring a different perspective to the discussion. It's fair to ask for a defense of my claims, which I will try to offer here. But I also want to make it clear that I do not intend these claims to add up to an argument in the *debate* about capital punishment, because I think the terms of this debate are already immoral. I am absolutely against the death penalty. To enter into a debate about when and whether capital punishment is warranted, when and whether it is properly, justifiably, or "reliably" applied to someone, is already to concede too much. (I put "reliably" in quotation marks in reference to Jennifer Culbert's excellent book, Dead Certainty, in which she analyzes the US Supreme Court's efforts to secure "fair, equitable, and reliable outcomes" in capital cases (Culbert 47).)
Simon Glendinning proposes in this blog post a trinity of philosophical stances toward the EU: Skeptics, Experimenters, and Dogmatists. Dogmatists think they have derived a political program from their insight into human nature; Skeptics think human nature (or less dramatically, the current state of human knowledge-production) doesn't allow for such insights into human nature; and Experimenters, taking their lead from Isiah Berlin, combine a suspicion of grand progress narratives with a willingness to commit to ends one nonetheless knows stand alongside other commitments in a pluralism of values. Glendinning adopts the Experimenter's position, looking toward
a Europe to come that ‘stands unflinchingly’ for the ideal of freedom to choose our own ends (including all sorts of collective ends at different levels); a condition where people increasingly feel themselves the author of their own lives rather than subjected, in imperious fashion, to Dogmatic ideals of a single end for all.
It would be unjust to allow Erik Loomis's presence in the blogosphere to be defined only as someone to whom those concerned with free speech rallied when he was attacked in the wake of the Newtown massacre. For Loomis is also the author of an extraordinary series of posts at Lawyers, Guns, and Money entitled "This Day in Labor History."
Today's post begins:
On January 25, 1941, A. Philip Randolph, head of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and the most important civil rights leader of the World War II era, called for a March on Washington to protest discrimination in defense industry work. The success of this movement in convincing the government to act on employment discrimination both opened unprecedented economic opportunities for African-Americans during the war and helped lay the groundwork for the modern civil rights movement after the war.
One of the key insights:
Roosevelt was desperate to avoid the embarrassment of a nation preparing to fight fascism having its own caste system publicized before the world.
You should do yourself a favor and read the whole thing.
One of the darlings of current Brazilian ‘Indie’ music (if there is such a thing…) is Tulipa Ruiz. I’ve been following her career for a while (on the advice of my friend Alexandre Cerqueira, who is a friend and big van of Tulipa). On the ‘Best of’ lists of Rolling Stone Brasil for 2012, her new album Tudo Tanto came as no. 2, and in the song ranking she has ‘Dois cafes’ at no. 5 (in a duo with Lulu Santos, a giant of Brazilian pop music and an excellent guitar player), and ‘É’ at no. 15. Tulipa Ruiz’s music is not always of easy assimilation; I must admit that it took me a while to get into the spirit. On the other hand, this also means that her music is original, unexpected, and the more you listen to it, the more you like it.
Even more important, we would really like to encourage people - including WHITE MEN - to apply for the site visit training. It is important that we have allies involved because having mixed teams will be more effective than just a group of women....who are feminists, besides!
I have the same opinion of Sir James Stewarts Book that you have. Without once mentioning it, I flatter myself, that every false principle in it, will meet with a clear and distinct confutation in mine.--Adam Smith to William Pulteney Esqr, Member of Parliament, Kirkcaldy, 3 Sept. 1772
When an expert speaks to a member of parliament we should always be a bit mistrustful. However, in the Wealth of Nations (1776) Smith does not mention Steuart's nearly forgotten (1767) An Inquiry Into the Principles of Political Economy. (As Salim Rashid has explored, Smith is not generous in his citations.) So, we do not learn what Steaurt's true principles are by Smith's lights. James Steuart (1713-1780) had an exciting life, but after the publications of the Wealth of Nations Steuart's political economy became completely overshadowed by Smith's, despite their shared debts to Hume. This is a shame. For, while Steuart, who -- as the late Andrew Skinner has noted -- has a fantastic treatment of price-formation (a topic that is handled very schematically in Smith's Inquiry), is not the most elegant writer, Steuart's Inquiry is prophetic of the world we live in: in Steuart's economic universe there are free markets alongside active government interventions. (What's missing in Steuart's treatment are the large bureaucratic agencies that simulate markets--Oskar Lange and data-mining came much later.)
In particular, according to to Steuart: "The duty of the statesman is to support the double competition every where and to permit only the gentle alternate vibrations of the two scales." (229; quoting from the Dublin edition of 1770). This is the only duty of the statesman mentioned by Steuart. Steuart's is, in fact, the vision of neo-liberalism, especially the ordo-Liberals (Röpke, Eucken, and to some degree Hayek), which -- as Foucault has nicely described -- also make it the state's primary goal to create and maintain the possibilities of free markets. (This is not to claim that Steaurt and the ord0-Liberals have the same ideas about the means of doing so.)
My friends, the serious historians of philosophy, often look down at (Analytical or even Continental) work that engages critically with authors from the canonical past; 'as if such classic texts could coherently be criticized from present perspective--we all know that involves vicious anachronism!' Even those employed in Analytical departments tend to prefer contextual understanding and sympathetic exegetical imagination over attempted refutations. (In fairness to the serious historians: they also look down at work that mines the past for useful insights.) These historians say they want to understand the past on its own terms and sometimes they also insist that in doing so we can understand the present. But (with a nod to Nietzsche) my friends are, in fact, quiet undertakers (the brilliant ones) or museum guards (the mediocre ones); they never imagine being a Maharal to the past and make it live.
Recent comments by Eric and John on Foucault’s reading of Adam Smith have made me think about one aspect of Smith’s argument about domestic industry in Wealth of Nations IV.ii; and about the phenomenological aspect of Foucault’s thought.
Smith begins by arguing that ‘domestick industry’ benefits from the ‘invisible hand’, so that the individual with capital directs it to the use of domestic industry rather than foreign industry, for reasons of self interest rather than public good. It is only that this individual does not only think of the ‘revenue of society’, not that he is completely unaware of it. Foucault’s reading is typically schematic in seeing this passage as being about the complete invisibility of the public good. That schematism is part of Foucault’s creativity, but we should always be particularly careful about distinguishing between the sources Foucault uses and the way he uses them in service of developing a schema. Getting back to Smith, he moves onto the argument that free trade is better for a society than protectionism, that is that the revenue of a society benefits more from trade with other countries than the situation in which the stare creates impediments to that trade. This is a shift away from the initial point, and consciously or not, Smith is using a rhetorical strategy to move the hypothetical reader, who prefers state direction of the economy, to first accept free trade within a national economy, and then international free trade.
Returning to the invisibility of the hand, this is fascinating for Foucault, I suggest, because of an underlying familiarity with phenomenology, which clearly takes a lot from Merleau-Ponty as well as Heidegger though Foucault never chooses to to refer to Merleau-Ponty in his publications or lectures. A peculiar situation made even more peculiar when we remember that Merleau-Ponty was one of Foucault’s undergraduate teachers. However, the text by Merleau-Ponty that is key here is The Visible and the Invisible, sadly left unfinished on Merleau-Ponty’s death.
In an earlier post, I began to write about John Hawthorne and Daniel Nolan’s analysis of teleological causation. (Eric has written about related topics too.) My aim there was primarily to summarize H&N’s analysis. Here I have some critical thoughts—I have only been thinking about this for a couple of weeks, so my opinions are far from final. H&N ask two questions: Is teleology coherent? Is teleology consistent with contemporary physics? Can it be added on? In my opinion, their analysis demonstrates coherence. (That's not a very high bar, but they clear it with ease.) I am less clear about consistency with physics.
Let’s start by considering the motion of a single particle. (I’ll consider ensembles of particles in a further post.) H&N distinguish three types of process (all more fully described in my earlier post): mechanical (for simplicity’s sake, Newtonian), retrotemporally mechanical (like Newton’s, but moving backward in time), and teleological or goal-directed. Since Newtonian trajectories are reversible—the temporal reversal of a trajectory is possible if the trajectory is possible—the paths of single particles do not distinguish between the first two options. If they are consistent with Newtonian mechanics, they are also consistent with time-reversed Newtonian mechanics. (See Eric Winsberg's comments on my earlier post.)
Now, Hawthorne and Nolan open the door to two ways of distinguishing goal-direction or teleological causation from both mechanical and retro-mechanical causation at the level of single particles.
Every Wednesday, I go to Riverbend Maximum Security Prison in Nashville to facilitate a discussion group with prisoners on death row and philosophy graduate students. It’s a nice prison, as far as prisons go: clean, suburban-feeling, with a soapy smell that lingers on my hands and clothes after I leave. The reception area is filled with motivational posters of determined mountain climbers and goal-oriented rowing teams. Beyond the checkpoint, an ordinary sidewalk leads to death row. The path is lined with beige wooden fences and topiary shaped like giant bathtub stoppers. We pass through a series of grey doors and empty hallways until we reach the smiling faces of ten men who have been condemned to death by the state of Tennessee.
Mark Lance rightly complains about the fact that corporate interests and sponsors are getting a free pass in the Lance Armstrong doping scandal. But they are not the only ones. For example, as one of my favorite blogs, Retraction Watch, reports in 2005 Edward C. Coyle published a paper about Lance Armstrong in which he "hypothesized that the improved muscular efficiency probably reflects changes in muscle myosin type stimulated from years of training intensely for 3–6 h on most days." As the NYT reported half a decade ago) that paper was regularly used "by Armstrong and his lawyers to fend off allegations that his cycling success came in part through doping." Turn out, Coyle was a paid consultant to Armstrong in a series of lawsuits (even Armstrong's team insurer suspected doping). The NYT quoted also Coyle in 2008 as follows, “People are drawing their opinions essentially on whether or not they believe Lance cheated or not,” he said. “I don’t know what the truth is about that, but I don’t really care.”
Coyle still features the paper on his website alongside his grants and honors. This despite the fact that it has been shown to be deeply flawed. It is reassuring to know that this gun-for-hire is a consultant to the IOC.
As we get on in life, we begin to collect first deaths: first grandparent to die, first parent, first friend. For many of us who have devoted much of our lives to intellectual pursuits, there is another category that is as important as these: teacher. I don't mean just someone who stands in the official role of teacher, someone with whom we took a class, but someone who guided our intellectual development, nurtured our intellectual autonomy, someone whose voice pops into our head at crucial and unexpected moments as we think through issues. For me, Joe Camp was such a person, and he is my first such teacher-death. (Adding to the pain of this moment is that it brings fresh to my mind also the untimely death of Joe's former partner Tamara Horowitz, with whom I took a class, but who I think of more as a dear friend and one of the finest humans I have known.)
Very sad to learn of RIG's passing. In 1980, when I was at UBC, I would hang out with him and hear his stories and discuss all kinds of philosophy. Just about then, he wrote a wonderful piece in the Scientific American on quantum logic.
Tamar Gendler writes that he graduated from Cambridge University, did his National Service with the Royal Artillery, moved to Canada to teach at the Shawnigan Lake School, and then found himself at the University of British Columbia, where he worked with my friend and co-author, Ed Levy. RIG (his nickname for his initials) taught at Toronto, Princeton, Yale, and the University of South Carolina. He was loved and will be missed.
Here is an excellent interview with Jesse Prinz (H/T Markus Schlosser) on the themes of his new book, Beyond Human Nature (which I still haven’t gotten around to reading). The main idea of the book is that experience and culture, as opposed to genetic and biology, play a much larger role in determining our behavior than is often thought. Some excerpts:
“If we are interested in differences in intelligence, the thing we should be interested in is learning and culture.”
“Brazilians are super-nice.”
I find myself agreeing with pretty much everything that Prinz says in the interview (including the bit about Brazilians…), which is not so surprising, given that, like him, I am very much of a ‘nurture-culture’ person on the nature-nurture dimension. (A bit of self-promotion: here is a recent paper of mine, "A dialogical account of deductive reasoning as a case study for how culture shapes cognition", forthcoming in the Journal of Cognition and Culture.) But more importantly, to my mind he manages to set up the debate in a very subtle and informative way, so I very much recommend the interview to anyone interested in this debate. (Btw, I’ve posted on my enthusiasm for his work before.)
In the 1980s, Ruse wrote a series of important papers that revived evolutionary ethics. The debate on the implications of evolved moral intuitions for ethics remains very active up to today (see e.g., this conference that I'll be attending in a couple of hours, at least if the British railway system isn't disrupted by half an inch of snow!). Contemporary evolutionary ethics can build on a wealth of research, for instance, in the cognitive neuroscience of morality, developmental psychology, and the study of altruism in animals. But the metaethics of the folk remains a relatively understudied area. Are people intuitive moral realists? If so, what is the connection between metaethics and behavior?
Ruse hypothesized that humans are intuitive moral realists, and that this metaethical intuition has an evolved function: "human beings function better if they are deceived by their genes into thinking that there is a disinterested objective morality binding upon them, which all should obey" (Ruse & Wilson, 1986, 179). Ruse thought that if everyone thought that morality was subjective, that it was merely a matter of taste or convention, our social systems would collapse. Intuitive moral realism was thus a key component in human altruistic behavior, held together by moral beliefs, which in turn were cemented by intuitive moral realism. As Ruse wrote later on: "Substantive morality stays in place as an effective illusion because we think that it is no illusion but the real thing" (Ruse, 2010, 310).
When Ruse first formulated this hypothesis, it was by no means clear that humans were intuitive moral realists. Also, it was not clear to what extent an intuitive moral realism, if anything, helped us to act more morally. In the meantime, there is some empirical work on this, which I'll discuss briefly below the fold.
Busy week here, so short BMoF. Today I'm posting 'Mama Africa', a song of the mid-1990s by Chico Cesar, a very cool singer from the state of Paraiba. It's a good example of Brazilian Reggae, and it's a song I danced to at many a party back in the 1990s. Perfect for the start of this cold (in the Netherlands at least) weekend!
In Tuesday's installment in his Philo Economics series, Eric discusses Foucault's analysis in Birth of Biopolitics of Adam Smith. (Jeff has a post from February 2012 on BB as well; [update, 17 Jan 12:30 pm: Eric has one on "regimes of truth" in Spinoza here.]) Common to both is the notion of non-totalizable multiplicity so that economics is "atheist." I thought I should put in my two cents, with an extract from this piece on "Foucault's Deleuzean Methodology of the late 1970s." (See also this earlier post on Foucault's notion of "statification" as integration of a multiplicity.)
I posted a while back on my frustration that those with economic power in cycling - and other sports as well - are never implicated or even much considered in the eternally recurrent drama of denunciation and punishment for performance enhancing drug use. Happily the economic engines of this spectacle are getting a bit of attention at a much higher profile outlet than NewAPPS. Below the break is a comment from a former professional cyclist Jorg Jaksche that gets to the heart of the matter, followed by a clause from a contract that cyclists signed with the team Rabobank, along with the corporate "explanation" - by which I mean "statement so insanely and obviously dishonest that in a just world one would burst into flames instantly upon completing it."
In a recent review of Badiou's essays, Žižek's cover blurb was quoted: "one final "figure like Plato or Hegel [who] walks here among us!"" (It elicited a negative reaction from Brian Leiter.) Now cover blurbs are designed to sell books, of course, but Žižek's jokes are often serious play (cf. Plato, say, Laws, 803). It is worth reflecting briefly on the fact that Žižek is cutely echoing (or transforming) Exodus 29:45 or Leviticus 26:12. If we free-associate a bit then we can say that God is divided in three (Plato, Hegel, Badiou). So, Žižek is (like Nietzsche and a few others since) closing the metaphysical tradition, yet again. Žižek is also not-so-subtly dissing the rest of us; If Plato-Hegel-Badiou are Godlike, the rest of us are the Israelites (enuff said) with Žižek playing the scribe. As Jeff Bell reminded me, in the introduction to Being and Event, Badiou present himself as a part of (maybe even provoking) -- to quote Badiou -- a "new departure," or, in my terminology, philosophic prophecy. His book is, as Badiou tells us, "in conformity to the sacred mystery of the Trinity,...'three-in-one.'"
But as we learn from the start of the Timaeus, there is a missing fourth: Descartes, who had, in fact, better use for the Gods: "Dii male perdeant [sic]/Antiquos, mea qui praeripuere mihi." In Lachterman's translation: "Let the Gods cruelly destroy/the Ancients, who snatched my things/away from me beforehand." Leaving aside Descartes' expansive notion of property rights, Lachterman (The Ethics of Geometry, 128) notes that Descartes expresses the wish to embrace "radical novelty" (excplicitly accepting the violence that this presupposes). That is, Descartes wishes to be like Adam in Paradise. Lachterman, who is oddly unread, goes on to quote a poem by Constantijn Huygens in which God and Adam are dispensed, and the mathematician Descartes gives birth to himself from nature (129-130).
For many of us it often seems that the alternatives are a tradition of sacred mystery and (outsourced violent) autonomous-self-construction.
[Update: thanks to Michael Kremer, who caught some typos in the Latin quote from Descartes.--ES]
We have already linked to the petition to save the Cedarville philosophy department (see also Leiter). Anyway, the group trying to save the department has been running very touching testimonials from former (and current) students about the impact philosophy has had on their development in (what is clearly) their very Christian environment. It makes for very moving reading.
After last week's post on Smith's treatment of Jupiter's Invisible Hand, I intended to post on Smith's great (and unfairly neglected) rival, James Steuart, but other obligations prevented me from composing that piece this week. So, this week I turn to Michel Foucault's treatment of Smith in The Birth of Biopolitics. While commenting on Smith's use of "invisible hand" in the Wealth of Nations (hereafter WN), Foucault insists that Smith is committed to the claim that
Everyone must be uncertain with regard to the collective outcome if this positive collective outcome is really to be expected. Being in the dark and the blindness of all the economic agents are absolutely necessary. The collective good must not be an objective... Invisibility is not just a fact arising from the imperfect nature of human intelligence which prevents people from realizing that there is a hand behind them which arranges or connects everything that each individual does on their own account. Invisibility is absolutely indispensable. It is an invisibility which means that no economic agent should or can pursue the collective good. (Foucault 2008: 279-80)
Foucault conflates here two features in Smith; Smith’s insistence in the Wealth of Nations that that “never… much good” is “done by those who affected to trade for the publick good” (WN 4.2.9, 455-56) does not require that individuals do not know that if by legally pursuing profits for their own enterprise (in competitive environment) they can indirectly promote the public interest. If that were right, then by Foucault’s logic, Smith should have never published. However, the reason why the merchant/employer does not know that he is contributing to national wealth by profit seeking activity is that s/he is laboring with a faulty ideology supplied by Mercantilists. Smith never claims that the profit-seeker can never know that his (her) activities may contribute to national wealth. In fact, it follows from Smith’s account that once one is familiar with a correct (that is, Smith’s) political economy, one can also intend to promote national wealth just in virtue of pursing one's economic interests. This is not to deny that according to Smith “generally” there need not be such intent, just that sometimes there could be.
What's the difference between university admins and fast food franchise owners? Ha, trick question! There is no difference.
Starting in January 2014, any employee working 30 hours or more per week will be considered a full-time faculty member and will be entitled to health insurance through an employer under new federal rules, with an exception for certain small businesses. So far, several schools have cut adjuncts' hours to avoid the requirement and save cash. Matt Williams, vice president of New Faculty Majority, a group that advocates for collective bargaining rights of adjunct instructors and professors, told The Huffington Post in November he expects this type of action to happen more often.
H/T "Cynic" in comments here.
On my way through Paris, both going and returning, I passed some time in the house of M. Say, the eminent political economist, who was a friend and correspondent of my father, having become acquainted with him on a visit to England a year or two after the Peace. He was a man of the later period of the French Revolution, a fine specimen of the best kind of French Republican, one of those who had never bent the knee to Bonaparte though courted by him to do so; a truly upright, brave, and enlightened man. He lived a quiet and studious life, made happy by warm affections, public and private.--J.S. Mill Autopbiography
While reading Evert Schoorl's enlightening intellectual biography, Jean-Baptiste Say: Revolutionary, entrepreneur, economist (Routledge 2013), I learned what Mill is alluding to in the passage above. I quote Say (in a translation originally by, I believe, Evelyn Forget):
During my period as Tribun, not wanting to deliver orations in favour of the usurper, and not having the permission to speak against him, I drafted and published my Traite d'Economie Politique. Bonaparte commanded me to attend him and offered me 40 thousand francs a year to write in favour of his opinion; I refused, and was caught up in the purge of 1804. (quoted in Schoorl 2013: 36)
Schoorl comments: "He also refused the tax collectorship, at a salary of 30,000 francs." (Schoorl 2013: 36)