Two new books argue that pre-agricultural societies were far more Hobbesian than Rousseauean.
Read the Spectator review of Ian Morris’ War: What is it Good For? The Role of Conflict in Civilisation, from Primates to Robotshere, which includes this:
If sometime around 7a.m. on 1 July 1916, as you waited to go over the top somewhere along the Somme, you had been tapped on the shoulder and told that you’d never had it so good, you might well have been mildly surprised at the news, but you would have been wrong to be. It would seem from the growing evidence of graves that Stone Age man had something like a 10–20 per cent chance of meeting a violent death, and if you factor in the anthropological evidence of surviving 20th-century Stone Age societies, then, as Morris puts it, Stone Age life was ‘10–20 times as violent as the tumultuous world of medieval Europe and 300–600 times as bad as mid-20th-century Europe.’
If I understand right, Morris is building off of Stephen Pinker's earlier research. Napolean Chagnon has just released his book about the Yanomamo that provides some more contemporary evidence.
Lot's of great stuff. Epistemology and ethics form a strong plurality this month. There are two by newappsers and one by friend of the blog Joshua Knobe and one cool interview with friend of the blog Roy Cook.
Very happy to see Aesthetics for Birds' Christy Mag Uidhir interviewing Cook about his Lego work. My second punkrockmonday three years ago post was dedicated to his jawdroppingly awesome Lego building skills. Uidhir's interview is pretty awesome and has some more recent of Cook's work.
While lecturing on Tristan Garcia's chapter on history today I couldn't help but remember this essay by Adam Curtis on music and youth rejection in the Soviet Union.
Curtis explores the psychic fallout of the widespread failure of communism to deliver on the very promises that legitimated it (e.g. we keep breaking all these eggs and nobody I know is ever going to get that omelet). He explores how the widespread recognition of civilizational hypocrisy lead to despair and a general collapse of belief in anything. His main thesis is that the same thing is happening in neo-liberal regimes now.
This seems plausible to me, both in the European Union and the United States. Consider the latter. With their constitutionally affirmed right to buy and sell politicians, Shelden Adelson and the brothers Koch are very close to becoming nothing less than our version of late Soviet era gerontocracy (Brezhnev/Andropov/Chernenko, etc.). To see what happens when American politicians are commodities, look at West Virginia. This kind of thing is going to get much worse.
The real problem is that these people (successful Soviet apparatchiks and our 1%ers) are very good at gaming the system so that they land on top. But, for various reasons, the system is not very good at putting people on top who will be very good at running things. And at some point the population starts to see through the relentless propaganda about how great everything is becoming.* And then, according to Curtis, rock and roll ceases being rock and roll. It becomes phony.
whether one should put one's adjuncting jobs on it,
how post docs seemed to only be available to people from the most prestigious schools,
the extent to which one can infer affirmative action from the page,
the extent to which one can infer chances of a tenure track job right out of graduate school from the page,
the extent to which deans are or are not driven by the desire to make hires from more prestigious schools,
how many post docs might already have accepted job offers which are now deferred and not on the page,
the ethical obligations of everybody involved in a department with persistantly low placement numbers.
One thing that didn't get any discussion is the fact that there's a search field on the appointments page. It's on the the right hand side with the word "Go" after it. You can search by area and tell how many people out of the (at present) 206 people who reported their hiring to the site got jobs with given AOSs or AOCs, e.g.
In much of the philosophy of language and mind coming out of the late Wittgenstein and/or early Heidegger, a distinction is made between merely following a norm versus also being able to correctly assess whether others are following that norm. Note that the Brandom of "Dasein, the Being that Thematizes" (in Tales of the Mighty Dead) and the Mark Okrent of "On Layer Cakes" both mark this distinction, though they disagree on whether the latter ability requires language. Okrent (whose objects that Brandom's view entails that human aphaisics and non-linguistic deaf adults have no minds) writes:
Because all tool use is embedded in a context of instrumental rationality, there is more to using a hammer correctly than using it as others do. Sometimes it is possible to use a hammer better than the others do, even if no one else has ever done it in that way, and no one else recognizes that one is doing so, because the norm that defines this use as ‘better’ is independent of what is actually recognized within the community. That norm is the norm of instrumental rationality: it is good to do that which would achieve one’s ends most completely and most efficiently, were anyone to do it in that way. For the same reason, it is sometimes possible for a member of a society to improve a hammer, or repair it, by giving it a structure that no hammer has previously had in that society.
I went to last year's symposium on Schelling and it was one of the most fun, productive conferences I've been to. They have a participant's conference for the first two days, so you get to see papers by all of the students and faculty who are attending. It's really awesome because then you kind of know each other going into the actual Symposium. The invited speakers (last year was Iain Hamilton Grant and Jason Wirth) each had about fifteen hours of lecture allotted over the week, which gave us plenty of time to talk over their new book projects with them. I learned a tremendous amount of philosophy and met a lot of great people who are rocking out in various ways.
This year the theme is "Formalism and the Real: Ontology, Politics, and the Subject," and the invited speakers are Prof. Bruno Bosteels (Cornell University), Prof. Tom Eyers (Duquesne University), Prof. Paul Livingston (University of New Mexico). We did an e-Symposium on Livingston on Derrida at newapps last year.
Anyhow, the application deadline is April 25th, so Joe Bob says check it out soon.*
[*And kudos to Jim Bahoh, Dave Mesing, Martin Krahn, and Jacob Greenstine for organizing such a cool thing for a second year now.]
I sometimes get asked why one should bother attending to continental metaphysics.*
It's an impossible question to answer in generality, because different people asking it usually have such contradictory presuppositions. If the person is anti-metaphysical, any answer has to be directed to the neo-Kantian presumption that proper philosophy is some form of transcendental epistemology. If the person is anti-continental then you have to try to demonstrate that there are resources relevant to their projects. Sometimes this is possible.** Often it is not, especially if your interlocutor has decided a priori that large swaths of contemporary French and German philosophy is "crap philosophy."
I was thus very happy to read this interview with Graham Priest (who himself has wonderful chapters on Heidegger, Hegel, and Derrida in Beyond the Limits of Thought and also delves deeply into the continental tradition in his new book One).
Kripal argues that we don't have more empirical evidence for extra-sensory kinds of perception, because such perceptions usually involve trauma, often the death of a loved one. And of course we can't replicate these things in a laboratory. Two of his examples are Mark Twain and Swedenborg, the first involving a kind of mental telepathy where Twain vividly dreamed about his brother's death a week before it happened, in his dream getting a lot of odd details correct. Interestingly, Kant made fun of Swedenborg in his published works, but in a private letter to a friend, actually accepted one of the stories of his clairvoyance.
Even though nearly every philosopher I know is too naturalistically minded to take these things very seriously, I don't find Kripal's claims implausible. As he notes, for just about any interesting physical property we have to do a lot of violence to matter to be able to figure out what's going on.
One of the best books I've read recently is Rod Dreher's The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, which recounts his sister's dying from lung cancer and his decision to move back home to Saint Francisville, LA in the wake of her death. He describes a few numinous moments of the sort Twain worried about, and their depiction is both moving and plausible.
[*You have to hurridly scroll down to get past their irritating little box with job adds that constantly scroll in and out before it drives you nuts, or you can fight the good fight and nuke it with a firefox add-on like this.]
Really fine review of the movie (filmed on the LSU campus) at Psychology Today here, with a number of comparisons between the film and that one Rocky film where Stallone wins the Cold War, including this:
If you recall, the Russian boxer Drago trains in a state of the art scientific facility, where they measure the impact of his punches, train him on machines and try to figure out how to make him a better fighter. Meanwhile Rocky runs out in the snow and lifts logs. God’s not Dead is very similar. The reiteration of Hawking’s statement that philosophy is dead was not accidental. It is something that the conservative evangelicals who made this movie desperately want to be true. In the real world, Hawking’s statement was met with condemnation from both scientists and philosophers,* and philosophy is so alive and well today that the Christian right-wing feels they need a movie to demonize it. But this is a part of a larger anti-intellectual movement in evangelical Christianity that distrusts what academics say on everything from American history to evolution.
The end of Johnston's piece is a little bit unfortunate.
The interview is online at Edinburgh University Press here.* There are lots of juicy tidbits, for example this from Ohm:
The latter half of the 20th century bequeathed the Anglophone world a very one-sided picture of “French Theory.” The soixante-huitards were like our noble savages. Many important voices were silenced, due perhaps to institutional and sociological pressures, as well as individal and collective decisions about what works to translate. In many ways this Romantic image of French philosophy continues today.
Mark's one of the most consistently interesting interlocutors I've ever had the pleasure to work with.** Some of the background is in the interview. As an undergraduate he initially worked in South Asian Studies, and as part of that lived in Nepal during a civil war. Then while finishing his degree at Madison he got interested in the French Theory presupposed by many of the people he was working on. So he went to France and studied there, a process which gave him an interesting distance from some of the canonical American receptions of French thought. Now he's at LSU getting a Ph.D in French and an MA in Philosophy.***
If Plutynski and Weatherall's reviews are right (and they read wonderfully) both books in different ways seem to me to mark decisive moves away from Generalized Philosophy of Science. The very first paragraph of Weatherall's reads:
If this collection has an overarching theme, it is that the details matter. If philosophers hope to understand contemporary physics, we need to engage in depth both with the technicalities of our best physical theories and the practicalities of how those theories are applied. The authors in this volume brush aside an older tradition in the philosophy of physics -- and the philosophy of science more generally -- in which actual physics entered only to illustrate high-level accounts of theories, explanation, or reduction. Of course, by itself, dismissing this tradition is hardly worth remarking on: such an approach to philosophy of physics has been going out of fashion for decades. Taken as whole, however, this volume pushes the theme still further, in ways that mark important shifts in recent philosophy of physics.
Given all the blogospheric animus (peaking about five years ago) that accompanied Quentin Meillassoux's critique of correlationism, it's extraordinarily cool that the "turn to metaphysics" in recent continental philosophy* has reached a point where you get this level of constructive criticism and dialogue. It will be really cool to read Gratton's forthcoming book. I think everyone who was lucky enough to see his talk on Meillassoux at SPEP this year is excited about it too.
[*Which as three interlocking moments: (1) the new understanding of Deleuze as a speculative metaphysician, (2) Speculative Realism broadly construed (enough to include Badiou, Zizek, and Lacan in the conversation), and (3) a renaissance in the study of German Idealism. I think a fourth moment is a re-examination of the other great soixante-huitards: especially Mailbou, Haaglund, and Goldgaber on Derrida but also Brad Elliot Stone's audacious rereading of the whole tradition in Strawsonian terms (check out the first paper on his academia page).]
I helped Mark Ohm translate Garcia's book,* and our translator's introduction (included in the material EUP posted) is substantive.
One of the really exciting things about Garcia is that he has single-handedly revived the tradition the French novelist/philosopher. La meilleure part des hommes (recently out in English as Hate: A Romance) won the Prix de Flore. It's an amazing novel.
[*Unless you've done this, you have no idea how much work it is. But you learn so much about the philosophy in question (and about language itself) that it's an awesome experience.]
In our culture we do tend to associate men with the nerdly characteristic of getting overly enthusiastic about some narrow area and then trying to become frighteningly completist with respect to it. If we didn't have that association we wouldn't have the locution "nerd girl" (for more info, see the funny tumblr "Nerd Girl Problems") If you just call a guy a nerd you don't have to say "nerd boy."
I think that these stereotypes might have a little bit to do with why women are underrepresetned in philosophy. There's not much difference between a music nerd reclassifying his sixteen boxes of LPs and someone organizing the dialectical space around everything anyone has ever said about Fitch's Paradox.
There are three kinds of answers to the question I can think of: (1) a Witggensteinian deconstruction of the question, (2) a phenomenological/aesthetic answer, and (3) a moral answer. I'm sure there are more than I can think of, and also that these can be extended in interesting ways. So comments are welcome.
If construed broadly enough, the question is infelicitous. Since part of what it is to be human is to delight in playing and watching games, the question amounts to asking why one should be human. And this makes no sense. First, it's not a choice. Second, "Why?" questions are only felicitous with respect to a normative/teleological background shared by the asker and answerer. If the claim that games are an essential part of human nature strikes you as untrue, go read Bernard Suits The Grasshopper: Games, Life, and Utopia, a book Simon Blackburn rightly called a masterpiece (brief review by Mark Silcox here). Note that if Suits is correct that "game" can be defined as “a voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles” then the "Why?" question is even more pointless.
There's probably some language that has a word denoting the kind of emotion Gillian Welch summons in "Look at Miss Ohio." Maybe English does. I don't know.
It has something to do with dashed expectations. The subject of this song has a convertible and maybe has a kind of Auntie Mame devil-may-care type charisma. But the narrator's tone is weirdly critical, even while nostalgic. And then the subject admits that there's some problem lurking under the pretense:
The weirdest thing about all of the hoopla surrounding revelations of Heidegger's Nazism is that both defenders and detractors accept that "Heidegger wrote that P" is factive when P concerns the interpretation of Heidegger's own texts. You don't have to go along with Foucault's "Death of the Author" or agree with Wimsatt and Beardsley that there is an "intentional fallacy" to find this extraordinary odd.
What can this possibly mean? As so often happens, the italics obscure more than they clarify. I think I've read every article that Shuman links to, and I can't understand it at all. Even if the Black Notebooks contained a detailed interpretation of Being and Time as a recipe for mass murder, what would that show about the book? I just don't get this, but as far as I can see the Black Notebooks could only even possibly be a "smoking gun" if you a priori assume that Heidegger gets the last word on interpreting his own works. Many of his detractors and French defenders seem to me to be making just this assumption. But it's a frankly bizarre thing for anyone to believe, especially so for anyone who is sympathetic to Heidegger's history of philosophy, which almost systematically posits that philosophers don't really understand the meaning of their own works. Why would Heidegger himself be an exception? I'm missing something here.
After the jump is a lecture I gave a few weeks ago as part of our Adult Sunday School course on Martin Luther King's theology (even though I don't give a citation, to readers of this blog it might be pretty clear I was thinking about this post by Helen De Cruz at the time).
Presenting on King was a little bit humbling since one of the organizers of the Baton Rouge bus boycott is a member of Baton Rouge's University Presbyterian Church and was in the class audience.
King himself actually took a two semester course on Hegel taught by Edgar Brightman and Peter A. Bertocci. John Ansbro (author of Martin Luther King: The Making of a Mind) discusses King's debt to Hegel here.
Genuine Realists about modality typically understand propositional content to be a function of the set of worlds where that proposition is true (the set of worlds might include impossible ones). Actualist Realists take the dependence to go in the other direction, taking a world to be a function of the set of propositions true at that world. Since this function is almost always identity,* let's treat it as such in what follows.
Kaplan established a cardinality paradox against Genuine Realism analogous to an earlier paradox about the set of all propositions put forward by Russell. Russell's paradox** is now taken analogically to present a problem for Actual Realists.
Here's how Kaplan's paradox goes. Assume the set of all possible worlds has the cardinality K. Then, by Cantor's Theorem, the powerset of the set of possible worlds has a greater cardinality. But if a proposition is a set of worlds, then the cardinality of the set of propositions is greater than the cardinality of the set of worlds. O.K. so far. But let's consider for each proposition a world where one being is thinking that proposition.**** But then the set of worlds has at least the cardinality as that of the set of propositions. Contradiction.
In comment #9 at this post, Susan makes a kind of canonical case I've heard from lots of assessment people.
First, I should say that I agree with 95% of the intended answers to Susan's rhetorical questions. We should be much clearer about what we want our students to get out of their degrees, and we should put in the hard work of assessing the extent that we are successful.
But "assessment" in contemporary American bureaucracies almost always accomplishes exactly the opposite of the laudable goals that Susan and I share. And there are deep systematic reasons for this. Below, I will first explain three fallacies and then explain why everyone involved in assessment faces enormous pressure to go along with these fallacies. Along the way I hope to make it clear how this results in "assessment" making things demonstrably worse.**
Really nice conversation between Gary Gutting and John Caputo about religious belief at the Stone here.
Gutting's interventions are great, with the exception of: "After all the deconstructive talk, the law of noncontradiction still holds."
No. No. No. Deconstruction in part shows exactly where it fails (cf. Chapter 14 of Priest's Beyond the Limits of Thought). This is not just Priest's appropriation of Derrida (as making a version of Russell's paradox) though. In the interview itself, Caputo puts enough on the table to suggest an enclosure paradox with respect to religious belief and practice.
In "Changing Places" David Lodge describes "the humiliation game," where English professors have to list the most important book they've never read. The winner is the person for whom it is the most humiliating to admit s/he hasnt read the book s/he gives.
In the novel, humiliation ends up generating something analagous to a Priest type enclosure paradox with respect to practical reasoning.* Howard Ringbaum represents a particular kind of hyper-competitive obnoxious American academic, and so of course at a party with all of his colleagues present the game renders him momentarily speechless as his will battles out what to do. He has to win the game, but you win by looking the stupidest, which for someone like Ringbaum also means losing game in a broader sense.**
Lodge's game worked perfectly as satire given the level of status anxiety of the star culture of the 1980s English departments. I don't know the extent to which it works for philosophy today. First, we don't quite have that star culture any more. With punk/grunge DIY, the internet and open access, our swath of academia is increasingly starting to resemble folk art, where you get small groups of people making philosophy for each other*** (in the Baby Boomer era Lodge satirizes, all of the pressures worked to push people to ape mass art with respect to academic celebrity). Second, analytic philosophy isn't really a culture of the book.
Continental philosophers can I think still play humiliation in its original form. What's the most important philosophical book that you haven't read? For analytic philosophy at least, the analogue would have to concern a position or argument or maybe paper. It would be something like this- Given your area of expertise, what is the most important argument about which you are shockingly ignorant.
All philosophers could amend the game in this way. What is your most strongly held commitment that is deemed least plausible to those around you? Call the contest involving this question "humiliation-prime."
Why do things like "professional development," "continuing education," "team-building," and (yes, this too) "assessment" always have to tend towards infantalizing the poor people subjected to them?
It's one thing to bureaucratically humiliate people by making them waste huge gobs of time. But this business of making them engage in ritualistic idiotic performances (which always involve to some extent enthusiastically presupposing that everyone is not in fact wasting time) is a much higher echelon of evil. How can the adult human beings in this video (courtesy Washington Post) have any self-respect?*
Mark my words. First they came for the high school teachers. . .**
[*To be fair, everyone involved in making the video and smuggling it to the Washington Post gained back their self-respect fourfold.
**If I was doing my normal thing and putting a rock video in the upper right hand corner, it would probably have been Jane's Addiction's "Idiots Rule." But I realized that it didn't scan because even if team-builder/professional development/assessment types are self-deluded enough to believe in the rightness of what they make the rest of us do, it takes quite a bit of intelligence to get people so complicit in their own immiseration.]
Wow, this is cool. Try it out, especially if you've moved away from your childhood home.
I got Montgomery, Mobile, and Birmingham as my dialectical homes and Milwaukee, Grand Rapids, and Detroit (sorry Jack, sorry Iggy) as the places most dialectically foreign to me.
As a child my father was stationed in Montgomery the most, but the accent is pretty well suppressed at this point. Neat to know that sweet home Alabama is still lurking somewhere in my various language modules and whatnot.
With Robert Brandom (and for recognizably Hegelian reasons) I think that Whig histories are necessary. I also agree with conservative critics that American English departments damaged their own enrollments when the 1980s attacks on the canon led to too sweeping curricular changes. In every field, it's very important for students to master a Whig history that allows them to critically engage with contemporary work and that gives them an analogical jumping off point to apply their knowledge elsewhere. And students know this.
I also agree about 90% with Brandom on how this Whig history should be put together for philosophy. A philosopher must understand Kant, how Kant led to Hegel, how (and hopefully why with respect to the 19th century) Hegel was finally suppressed in the "back to Kant" movement, how phenomenology and logical positivism pushed the neo-Kantian moment to its breaking point, and how contemporary philosophy is a reaction to the agonies and ecstasies of positivism and phenomenology.
This semester we've started a pluralist reading group at LSU. We've got students and faculty from both analytic and continental philosophy who may not have that much antecedent overlap in background and methodology. So (as much as possible) it's very important to get books that will help analytic philosophers learn continental philosophy while simultaneously help continental philosophers learn analytic philosophy.*
This semester and summer we're working through Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit, focusing on secondary material that will be accessible to both analytic and continental philosophers (Forster's Twenty-Five Years, Beiser's two books covering Kant to Hegel, Robert Stern's work, and Westphal's Blackwell Guide to the book). In summer we're going to move to contemporary philosophers who use Hegel, including Stern and Markus Gabriel's metaphysical works, anti-metaphysical Pittsburgh Hegeliana, and Zizek's recent doorstop. Given Stern's contentions about the connection between Hegel properly understood and Deleuze, we might move on to the recent interpretations of Deleuze that are interesting and pretty accessible to all (including Bell, Delanda, and Protevi).