Wednesday, June 29, 2005

The Rules Game

A simple challenge for young and old …
I am going to Grandma’s house and I am taking a melon.
Basically, you need to tell me (in the comments, constructing a statement akin to ‘I am going to Grandma’s house and I am taking x’) what you are going to bring to Grandma’s house. If what you propose to bring accord with the rule I have conjured, I will allow you to come, if it does not I will tell you so …

Houellebecq On Religion

“I asked Houellebecq if Europe’s status as a largely post-religious society was a major factor in his writing. “Yes. I think it’s one of the most important points in the life of people, in society in general,” he replied. “And what do you think of a society that is post-religious, or not religious?” “I don’t ask myself if it’s better or no, because it’s not a choice. People don’t really choose to believe or not. I think it’s more difficult to live without a religion, definitely.” “Is that part of the unhappiness that you’re describing?” “Yes, certainly. I think after a certain number of generations you forget the hope itself. France is not the most interesting country [in that regard]. For example, Ireland is very spectacular — very quick decline of religion. It was one of the most Catholic countries in the world. The truth is nearly incredible if you examine it calmly. Nobody could have predicted it.””
From ‘L’Étranger in a Strange Land’, LA Weekly.

Sartre On

SOCIETY: 'People who live in society have learnt to see themselves in mirrors as they appear to their friends. Is that why my flesh is naked? You might say - yes you might say, nature without humanity... Things are bad! Things are very bad: I have it, the filth, the Nausea'. EXISTENCE: 'The thing which was waiting was on alert, it pounced on me, it flows through me. I'm filled with it. It's nothing: I am the Thing. Existence, liberated, detached, floods over me. I exist'. THINKING: 'It would be better if I could only stop thinking. Thoughts are the dullest things. Duller than flesh'. GOD: 'I do not believe in God... But in the internment camp, I learnt to believe in men'. CRITICS: 'Critics are people who have had no luck in life, and at the point of despair, found a little quiet job as the caretaker of a cemetery...'. FREEDOM: 'Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does'. REVOLUTION: 'At the beginning of any revolt, you have to kill people. Murdering a European (for an Algerian) is killing two birds with one stone. He is getting rid of an oppressor and someone who was oppressed'
From ‘The Second Coming Of Sartre’ , The Independent.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Philosopher’s Carnival, No. Fifteen

The fifteenth Philosopher’s Carnival is presently being hosted at The Buckingham Inquirer. There are about nineteen posts, divided into three categories.

Kolakowski And Marxism

Kimball on Kolakowski on Marxism.

Forthcomming: On Communities And Rule-Following

Am presently drafting a post on how communities determine whether a rule is being followed. I think I have a model that might assist in understanding the process. I should be able to post it later in the week.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Cyborg Conciousness

I read this "The Cyborg Mother" from the 'Radical Philosophy' website this morning with some interest. I agree with its overall point that the increasing prevalence of technology in the most intimate and signifigant times in our lives is something worth thinking about. But I must confess, the author lost me at: "Ultimately, the breached boundary of the human body is a diasporic phenomenon". Is it really that bad? Rather than driving the human condition into a realm of "mutually incomprehensible languages", could not the opposite be true, producing at best a unity and at worst a homogenisation of the human condition and experience?
Or is this all just a lot of fuss over nothing?

The St James Ethics Centre Monthly Poll

This month’s Ethics Poll question is “It has now been confirmed that the man identified as ‘Deep Throat’ by Woodward and Bernstein during the Watergate scandal was a Deputy Director in the FBI, Mark Felt. Do you think it was wrong for a sworn law enforcement officer to leak details of an ongoing investigation to the media?”

You can vote here.

The issue here does not appear as straightforward as the pollsters would have you think. While the most obvious reaction seems to be that it is obviously wrong for a law enforcement officer to leak details of an ongoing investigation; the case in point has a sense of having been motivated by the greater good (as much as by any personal animosity between Felt and Nixon), at which point it seems to become somewhat nobler than your average cop leaking to the press. This would make it a worthy act. Hence the issue seems to become the question of whether one should obey duty, or aspire to nobility. But, it could be argued that Felt was actually, in leaking to the press, actually fulfilling his duty qua citizen. So I think I end up having to say that it is not wrong, in this situation, for a law enforcement officer to leak to the media.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Nussbaum On Utilitarianism And Sidgwick

“Utilitarianism can be usefully characterized (following an analysis proposed by Bernard Williams and Amartya Sen) as involving three ideas. First, consequentialism: The right choice is the one that produces the best overall consequences. Second, sum-ranking: The way we aggregate the satisfactions of different persons into a social whole is simply by adding them all up (rather than, say, by focusing on getting the worst-off person as high up as possible, or by insisting on some constraints on how unequal people can be allowed to be). Third, some substantive view of what the good for a person is, such as pleasure, or the satisfaction of desire. Sidgwick, like Bentham, opts for pleasure, though he is much more sensitive than Bentham to the difficulties involved in comparing different pleasures of the same person and the even greater difficulty involved in comparing the pleasures of different people.”

“Utilitarians typically commend the choice of pleasure as the goal by pointing to the alleged ubiquity of the pursuit of pleasure (not the best and surely not the only way to justify a central ethical value, one might have thought). They then encounter a difficulty: If what each person pursues, and should pursue (according to them), is maximal personal pleasure, how are we going to defend the view that the right goal for society is the greatest happiness of the greatest number? And how, having defended the view, are we going to convince people that it is that goal, rather than the egoistic goal, that they should pursue, since for many people pursuing overall happiness will involve personal sacrifice? Mill had a lot of difficulty with the philosophical argument, and he needed ultimately to depart from strict Utilitarianism in order to solve it to the extent that he did; but he was optimistic about the social process, believing that civic education could produce people who really did think of the happiness of others as an integral part of their own happiness. Sidgwick was hung up on this problem all his life; he called it the "dualism of practical reason,” and in the end he believed that he had failed to solve it--unless life after death should turn out to produce a coincidence between personal happiness and service to others. But he made much more headway than his predecessors on the philosophical side of the issue, with his probing work on ethical methodology and his defense of a perspective of impartiality ("the point of view of the Universe") as the right place from which to make ethical judgments. (Schultz rightly notes that Sidgwick owes a considerable debt to Kant, although it is scarcely acknowledged, and to the Kantian idea that one must not favor one's own case but rather must test one's own actions by thinking about how they would look as universal features of the world.)”

From Martha Nussbaum, ‘Epistemology of the Closet’ in The Nation June 6, 2005.

Sophie’s World

Jostein Gaarder’s Sophie’s World has been adapted into a Norwegian television series. For those unfamiliar, Sophie’s World is the story of Sophie’s introduction to philosophy via a series of lectures delivered by a dog (in brown envelopes). The novel combines history of philosophy with simple introductions to some of the key thinkers within the guise of an elaborate post-modernist novel (think Umberto Eco). It isn’t Gaarder’s best novel, though it is quite novel.

SBS will be screening the series on Fridays, starting this week, at 8.30 pm.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Am I a Master?

When reading Neitzsche, it is human, all too human, to entertain, for a moment, or longer, it can last years for some but should only last five minutes, the idea that you are a master. That you are, by nature, a master, and you are only being held back by X, Y and Z. That if only such and such would change, then I could take my rightful place as the arbiter of right and wrong. All this amounts to is what everyone else thinks, "If only everyone would listen to me." If I were king for a day. This is an understandable and forgivable fantasy. It is painful how long it takes for some, but everyone must realise, eventually, that if they were, by nature, a master, they would already be arbitrating to everyone what is right and wrong. They would have already seized the day, seen the lay of the land and worked it to their advantage to be the one on top, saying do this do that, being in control and letting people know what to think. If they were masters they would not have spent their time constructing debates, winging and whining from their misfortunate locale - they would have already commanded. All it amounts to, these people who think that if only they were born at the right time and place, if the world was different, like the recent neo-nazis at the Uni of Newcastle, if only the world were constructed for them, I'm saying, all it amounts to is just that typical slave fantasy of imagining what it would be like to be the master. A master is a master. Anyone who imagines or wishes they were is just like everybody else, a slave with a fantasy of a better life that could be - a nobody, vanishing in the dust of time.

If you are worried about the dusts of time, let me ask - what do you care for them? The dust of time does not care for you, so what do you care for them? Who do you love? Where does meaning reside? Let who cares for you be the summation of your significance. Before my grandfather died he said that what matters is having somebody who understands, and you don't have to explain.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Foucault And The Iranian Revolution

What Are the Iranians Dreaming About?’, by Michel Foucault, from Foucault and the Iranian Revolution.

BBC’s Greatest Philosopher

The BBC has published its shortlist for the Greatest Philosopher. The twenty nominations are …

St. Thomas Aquinas, Aristotle, Rene Descartes, Epicurus, Martin Heidegger, Thomas Hobbes, David Hume, Immanuel Kant, Soren Kierkegaard, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, Plato, Karl Popper, Bertrand Russell, Jean-Paul Sartre, Arthur Schopenhauer, Socrates, Baruch Spinoza, and Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Contributor’s Blogs

Samuel has undertaken a renovation of Philosophy Hurts Your Head, which you might like to drop by (leave him a comment so that he feels as though someone reads his Blog). Over at Hypomnemata I am in the slow process of posting my notes from Schopenhauer’s On the Suffering of the World, which will be supplemented (shortly) by notes from Wittgenstein, Kant, Mill, and Plato.

Articles Notice

A few articles - on Marx, Heidegger, and one by Pope Benedict XVI - that you might be interested in …

Wheen – ‘On Capital’ (Francis Wheen’s Karl Marx is probably the definitive biography of Marx, and one of the easiest philosopher-biographies to read).
Monaghan – ‘The Case of Theresa Schiavo'.

And lastly, a couple of articles; the first, ‘In Search of Freedom; Against Reason Fallen Ill and Religion Abused’, by Pope Benedict XVI, the second, ‘Of Reason and Faith: A Reply to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI’, a reply by Stephen Bronner.

The Journal Of Military Ethics

The current issue of the Journal Of Military Ethics is a special issue on jus in bello. Given recent discussions around here on the ethics of armed conflict, I thought that there might be a couple of you who would be interested in reading the papers.

Notre Dame Reviews

There a few reviews from Notre Dame that Reader’s might like to have a look at.

The first is a review of Gilles Deleuze: An Introduction. Also worth looking at are Pyrrhonian Scepticism and Peace Talks – Who Will Listen?.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Question – On The Public Jury

There have been two court decisions in recent weeks that have been debated in the Court of Public Opinion. The first was the ‘Corby Verdict’, the second the ‘Jackson Verdict’. The announcement of the verdicts, guilty and innocent respectively, has turned every man and his dog into a ‘juror’, espousing verdicts of their own.

The question that needs to be discussed, especially in this age of the incredibly democratic ‘vox pop’, is whether anyone who has not been privy to the court proceedings and the deliberations of the jurors is actually in a position to comment on any court decision at all?

[It is requested, by The Editor, that contributors and commentators abstain from posting their own verdicts and concentrate on the issue of whether they are actually in a position to make such claims in the first instance.]

Question – ‘Oz’ And Ethics

In the episode of Oz that screened on SBS last night Keller confessed to ‘ordering the hit’ on Schillinger’s son. The order was made by Beecher, in retaliation for Schillinger’s son, Hank, kidnapping and murdering Beecher’s son, whom Schillinger suspected when Hank’s body was discovered. Schillinger’s suspicion led him to order the murder of all of Beecher’s family, which commenced with the stabbing of Beecher’s brother, and was only averted by Keller’s confession to a crime that he did not commit.

Was it noble for Keller to confess to a crime, that he did not commit, to prevent the retaliatory murder of innocents? Or should Beecher have been made to pay for his crime?

Foucault And The Ayatollah

An article, from the Boston Globe, on Michel Foucault and his time in Iran covering the Revolution.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Saugstad On Post Modernism

Andreas Saugstad, in ‘Thoughts on postmodernism’ for the Independent of Bangladesh, makes an attempt at defining ‘postmodernism’. Saugard’s definition lies in a series of ‘trends’ that distinguish the post modern from Descartes, as a ‘historical phenomenon’.

While the article is poorer for its brevity, and its lack of founded and substantiated claims, Sugstad does make the apt observation that “Postmodernists have given us many ideas which are important, we should try to understand postmodern thinking and learn what we can from the postmodern approach” – it is a shame that this observation seems obvious enough to be redundant.

Eco And Existentialism

The Miami Herald’s review of Eco’s The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana. Apparently it has an ‘existentialist’ undercurrent since “Eco uses [the protagonist] Yambo's condition to raise all sorts of philosophical questions, specifically about the big-e Existentialist notion that being is becoming. Existentialism, you may recall, was the school of thought that reached its zenith in the occupied France of World War II. One idea behind the writings of Jean-Paul Sartre and others is that a person's identity, his essence, isn't innate but rather is determined by the choices he makes”. Further, “Yambo is a classic Existentialist hero in that he has no essence other than what he is able to recreate for himself using the material possessions around him. He soon returns home to his wife and his rare-books business but his memory has become a pastiche made up of far-flung literary allusions and the swatches of poetry that come to him through the fog of his amnesia”.

[You will have to sign-up for the Herald’s on-line services to gain access to the article.]

The Socialist Worker On Sartre

Jean Paul Sartre – philosophy of freedom’, or what Socialists can take from The Existentialist. [Wasn’t Garcin, in Huis Clos, a socalist?]

Kant Texts

A collection of texts about Immanuel Kant, from Germany.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Philosophers Index …

Philosophers Index – the bane of the philosophy student’s existence, the first stop for researching any essay and the greatest hindrance to that research (so many articles that appear to be exactly what you think you need, and that turn out to be in volumes of journals that have disappeared from the Library in the past fifty years, or in the only issue that the Library didn't buy) – has finally been put to interesting use. Enwe’s Metablog has run the names of a number of philosophers through the Index and tallied the number of outputs. These are the results.

I was shocked to see that Kant topped the list ...

Living Philosophers

Brian Leiter has compiled a list of living philosophers that one should know about, as taken from Honderich’s Companion.

I’m offering this list up as an interim measure until I complete (and post) the 'Chronology' I have been compiling (at the instigation of Ms Wallin) over recent weeks.

Editorial Notice – 10th June

Have added links to several Blogs, reaffirming the Editorial commitment to connecting to the widest range of philosophical discussions.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Hedonism and the Post-Darwinist World

I recently re-discovered a web page that I had come across once some years ago and forgotten about, The Hedonistic Imperative. Seemingly run by the mysterious ‘Dave’, this extensive site details a plan to “eradicate suffering in all sentient life”, complete with philosophical justifications. While the sheer bulk of material can be overwhelming and the approach can seem piecemeal, there is an interesting parallel between this and the situation laid out in the end of Atomised. It is also an interesting flip side to Rowan’s discussion of why we might want a “fake” world that is perfect; Why not just make the real one where we are all perfectly happy? I do admit that this is not really the kind of serious material that some of the contributors and editors here normally peruse, but if you are looking for a somewhat wacky read, this is it.
And you thought that utilitarianism was dead.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

A Question Regarding Common Morality

Philip Stratton-Lake, in a review of Bernard Gert’s Common Morality: Deciding What to Do, writes: "In this book Bernard Gert aims to describe and justify common morality. Common morality, as he understands it, is the moral system that most thoughtful people implicitly use in arriving at moral judgements. According to Gert this system is based on five basic harms -- death, pain, disability, loss of freedom, loss of pleasure. From these five harms we get ten moral rules that capture the core of common morality: 1. Do not kill 2. Do not cause pain, 3. Do not disable, 4. Do not deprive of freedom, 5. Do not deprive of pleasure, 6. Do not deceive, 7. Keep your promises, 8. Do not cheat, 9. Obey the law, and 10. Do your duty. The first five rules prohibit inflicting the five basic harms directly, whereas the second five prohibit actions that cause those same harms indirectly. So the first five rules are basic, and the second five derivative (although Gert does not describe them in this way)."

Is there, really, anything more to ethics?

The Oxford Companion To Philosophy, Second Edition.

Oxford University Press has released a second edition of its highly informative and practical doorstop The Oxford Companion To Philosophy. It is alleged to have fifty more pages than the first edition, which was published in 1995, which apparently amounts to about three hundred new entries.

Honderich’s ‘Preface’ is available on-line.

Notice – ‘Questions On Hostage Taking’

A link to ‘Questions On Hostage Taking’ has been made available in Nota Bene.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

An Interview With Umberto Eco.

From the London Telegraph – so it is light – as part of the publicity for Eco’s new novel.

Reviews: Plato, Kierkegaard, Wittgenstein

A couple of new reviews from Notre Dame. Firstly a review of Kevin Corrigan and Elena Glazov-Corrigan’ Plato's Dialectic at Play: Argument, Structure, and Myth in Plato's Symposium, I wasn’t going to post this but then there was the announcement about honours coursework for next semester … Secondly a review of John Gibson and Wolfgang Huemer’s collection The Literary Wittgenstein.

There is also this review of a new biography of Kierkegaard.

Cogito ‘Sonsuzluğun Sınırında: Immanuel Kant’.

The Turkish journal Cogito has published an edition dedicated to the bicentenary (last year) of Immanuel Kant’s death. It is apparently around five hundred pages of material. The downside to this is that the online content is in Turkish(?). Paper copies are alleged to have the non-Turkish original texts in parallel.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

The Dissapointment Problem.

There is a choice between E and F. E will either suffice or disappoint. F will disappoint. If you choose F, you know that you will be disappointed. If you choose E you may be satisfied or disappointed. Do you choose F knowing that you will be disappointed, and thus not be disappointed with your choice when it disappoints, or do you choose E?

‘I hate socialists’ – A Problem.

Firstly context; was accosted today by members of the Socialist Equity Party who were prophesising the coming Revolution. As I escaped their rhetorical pronouncements, I thought ‘I hate socialists’. This sentiment is probably enough to get me killed.

The problem is that I have no idea what I actually meant. ‘I hate socialists’. Does it mean that I hate the two individuals who were trying to convince me that the only solution to all the world’s problems is to end capitalism? Does it mean that I hate all the individuals who may be described as socialists? Does it mean that I hate ‘socialists’ as a category of people, while feeling nothing toward the actual people who are members of that category? Or do I hate the ideology that these individuals qua socialists espouse?

Am not quite sure myself, but if anyone can clarify my intentions it might be appreciated.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005


With the quote from Marx up I thought I might put forward the question of education.

I think that people should have a solid grounding in history, language, and logic before struggling with an abstraction of said disciplines such as philosophy. One requires the logic to perform the abstraction, the history to understand how others have performed the abstraction, and language to communicate how you have perfomed the abstraction. Without these skills any discussion attempted in the field of an abstract discipline is reduced to nothing more than waffle. There is certainly a heirarchy of disciplines, which should be observed. Any revolution to the order would plunge society into a quagmire of meaningless waffle.

A place for everything and everything in its place, and while a philosopher king may be in order, philosophy is not for the masses. But it does help differentiate the people from the masses, don't you think?

Discussion topic - why should we choose reality?

This is all too confusing. I can't take this any more. Anyway, several weeks ago, dreams were being discussed at the club meeting, and somebody mentioned a case where an individual chose to remain in a state of vivd dreaming than wake up for a prolonged period. This reminded me [of] an article written about The Matrix, but seems relevant. Likewise Nozick's experience machine. So I was thinking, maybe if people were to peruse said articles, there may be some stuff worth discussing on why we should choose reality over non-reality at the next meeting. The Matrix article and the Nozick (actually I couldn't be arsed finding it, so hopefully Martin or the like will be).

Paul Ricoeur, 1913 - 2005.

Paul Ricoeur, distinguished French philosopher noted for his phenomenology, died on Friday 20th of May.

Here is a collection of obituraries.
Le Monde (Christian Delacampagne, in Frech).
Inside Higher Ed (Scott McLemee).
The Guardian (Associated Press).
The Guardian (by Jonathan Rée).
The Telegraph (London).

From the Blogosphere there is In Medias Res, and Articoli filosofici's collections (which are mainly in Italiano). Also worthy of a look is Ricoeur's Kluge Prize Acceptance Speech (from December 2004).

Karl Marx's Manifesto On Modern America

"The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle. Freeman and slave, lord and serf, capitalist and proletariat, in a word oppressor and oppressed, stand in opposition to each other and carry on a constant fight. In the information age, in which knowledge is power and money, the class struggle is fought between the educated elite and the undereducated masses."