Thursday, July 28, 2005

talking to one's self

a combination of lying, reassuring, and just plain venting. I was reading a critique on Ovid's Cephalus (Mary Douglas -- Confabulating Cephalus: Self-Narration in Ovid's Metamorphoses), and how he creates the story of his past into an image acceptable to him. This seems like a form of self-creation, but at the same time is just an attempt at self-delusion. Kipling, in his introduction to "Life's Handicap", wrote something along the lines of 'a story is true as long as it is being told'. But in the case of Cephalus both stories are being told at once and are seemingly mutually exclusive. One involves the spear, one of the gifts from Diana, doing what we are told that it will do, and the other involves it doing what we are told that it actually does. there seem to be two people telling stories here, the narrator (the old Cephalus) and the narrated (the young Cephalus), but they are the same person. There could be a third person, on a plane where these two stories are not mutually exclusive. It is this third person that I want to say is the most real of the three, but what kind of person are they that they can embody two such mutually exclusive ideas within themself.

Most writers on identity would probably say that the old Cephalus is exhibiting second-order volition or some other explination tending toward a morality that shows that he is trying to align himself with what he wants to be: some form of self-creation. But as I allused edarlier, this does not tell the full story, but only a biased abridgement of it. There must be some way of explaining both parts of this person within an undivided union, similar to an explination of an individual as an undivided union of reason and passion. But I don't know what it is. I like stories, but I do like to get to the end of a story.

The Ethics of Identity: a review

You, I, and the rest of the world's inhabitants are distinct individual persons, but what is it that differentiates us? In political philosophy, the current consensus is that the relevant distinguishing factors are the motivating plans and projects we each consider our own. Versions of this view have been advanced by philosophers as diverse as John Rawls and his arch-critic, the “communitarian” Michael Sandel. If this is right, then there are both individual and (so to speak) “collective” or “communal” aspects of the self; for, while we are undoubtedly separate persons, it is equally undeniable that our projects, and the values which inform them, are a function of the specific cultural and historical contexts in which we find ourselves situated. So what – precisely – is the relation between these two aspects? Read the full article here.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Why is a raven like a writing desk?

the caterpiller asked Alice. She did not have an answer for this, but here's a thought to do with ideas involving a telos: I did not make myself. I as a person have a telos. so somebody else concieved of my purpose. so 'my' purpose is the purpose someone made has for me that I through consideration of what I am have discovered. SO, if I were a chicken the farmer intended to roast, and I reasoned that, as I am a chicken, the farmer intends to roast me, so I ought to set about plucking myself, wringing my neck, gutting myself, and surrounding myself with potatoes and onions and such in a baking dish. AND such action is defined as 'good' and all others 'bad' or at the very least 'not good'.

As a result the writing desk, like the Raven, has a purpose that is outside of its own making. But I feel that I at least am capable of creating my own purpose and calling it good. and when one thinks of it this is what the chicken also does, because his purpose is decided on without consultation with the farmer who knows, and so it is pure speculation and thus not in accordance with, even if it is identical to, that telos which is given in the construction of the entity itself. And so neither the Raven nor the writing desk are capable of knowing the purpose for which they are made.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Failed Society?

Writing for Borderlands, John Docker of the ANU asks: Is America a Failed society?

"As well as a general curiosity, then, I wished to know how much did the US think of itself as a settler-colonial society, including its scholars, its intelligentsia? Would there be an awareness of American history as a history of genocide? Is there a public culture that discusses such questions? Indeed, what sort of public intellectual culture would this society have at close quarters?"

Read the full article and decide for yourself.

Articles on Terrorism

Two articles on Terrorism. The first is from Roger Scrunton:

I resent your success. I hate you and your kind. So I bomb you.
Apologists for terrorism (and they are not in short supply) argue that it is a weapon used by people who despair of achieving their goals in any other way.

It is a cry from the depths by those deprived of a voice in the political process. The terrorist is not an aggressor but a victim, and we must disarm him not by violence but by addressing the grievance that motivates his deeds.

This argument has been used to excuse Palestinian suicide bombers, IRA kneecappers, Red Brigade kidnappers, and even the mass murderers of September 11. Its main effect is to blame the victim and excuse the crime. Read More

The second, from George Fletcher

Defining Terrorism
Every age has its enemies. In the mid-20th century, Fascists were the evildoers. After World War II, Communists became civilization's public enemies. The bombings across London of July 7th have shown that terrorists remain today's designated masters of evil.
The word "terrorism" now appears in law books around the world and is gaining new legislative adoptions. Various civil sanctions apply to "terrorist organizations." It can be a crime to assist a terrorist organization.

But it is sometimes hard to determine who "they" -- the terrorists -- are. Whether organizations are terrorist or not is largely an administrative determination motivated by politics. Politically divided, the UN repeatedly passes resolutions against terrorism but cannot agree on how to define the term. Read More

Both are worth reading, particularly in light of the discussions of this topic here in recent weeks.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Question On The Unexamined Life

Socrates is quoted, in Plato’s Apology, as saying “I tell you that to let no day pass without discussing goodness and all the other subjects about which you hear me talking and examining both myself and others is really the very best thing that a man can do, and that life without this sort of examination is not worth living”.

A recent discussion of this passage, among Contributors, lead to a discussion of whether the study of philosophy can be justified. Several Contributors were put on the spot; so, to give them and others a chance to develop considered responses, the question being put forward is can the protracted academic study of philosophy be justified? Further, is the unexamined life not worth living?

Notice – Regarding Meetings

Due to the usual timetable alterations between semesters, the Club meeting time needs to be changed. All suggestions are welcome (leave them in the comments). A decision will be made in the next few days.

Tzara On Philosophers And Dialectic

“A philosopher questions: from which angle to start looking at life, god, ideas, or anything else. Everything we look at is false. I don't think the relative result is any more important than the choice of patisserie or cherries for dessert. The way people have of looking hurriedly at things from the opposite point of view, so as to impose their opinions indirectly, is called dialectic, in other words, heads I win and tails you lose, dressed up to look scholarly.”

Recently, for various reasons, I found myself re-reading Tristan Tzara’s ‘Dada Manifesto’. The previous and subsequent quotes are taken from the ‘Manifesto’. Am presently posting more quotes from Tzara, and Marinetti (the ‘Futuristic Manifesto’), at Hypomnemata.

“Dialectic is an amusing machine that leads us (in banal fashion) to the opinions which we would have held in any case. Do people really think that, by the meticulous subtlety of logic, they have demonstrated the truth and established the accuracy of their opinions? Even if logic were confined by the senses it would still be an organic disease. To this element, philosophers like to add: The power of observation. But this magnificent quality of the mind is precisely the proof of its impotence. People observe, they look at things from one or several points of view, they choose them from amongst the millions that exist. Experience too is the result of chance and of individual abilities.”

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Philosopher’s Carnival, No. Sixteen

The sixteenth Philosopher’s Carnival is presently being hosted at Dinner Table Donts. There are about eighteen posts on a variety of topics and from a range of sources, with a dinner-party commentary.

Dialect contributor Sam Douglas is represented by a post from his personal blog, Philosophy Hurts Your Head, on Kripke, Hohwy, and dispositons, derived from his recent work on post-Wittgensteinian meaning scepticism .

Editorial Notice – Blog Directory Update

Briefly, a considerable number of philosophy blogs have been added to the Directory recently (at present there are over one hundred blogs listed). All are worth a quick visit. There are still more to be added, and will be over the next few weeks. Further, any suggestions for addition are always welcome.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Question On Terrorism

“This was not a terrorist attack against the mighty and the powerful. It was not aimed at presidents or prime ministers. It was aimed at ordinary working-class Londoners, black and white, Muslim and Christian, Hindu and Jew, young and old. Indiscriminate slaughter irrespective of any consideration for age, class, religion, whatever. That isn't an ideology. It isn't even a perverted faith. It is just an indiscriminate attempt at mass murder.” – Ken Livingston, Lord Mayor Of London (BBC).

In a comment, Kathryn raised a question that should be more widely discussed: ‘What principle in the world is worth the costs of an act of terrorism?’.

I put it to the world.

Two Articles On Derrida

“Philosophy is a way of exercising the mind, of keeping it from becoming complacent. It urges us to think long and hard about things, to make ourselves uncomfortable, to question our very existence, and to work to improve ourselves, and the world, through rigorous examination. What I learned from Jacques Derrida was simply to examine everything in the most fundamental way.” – K.A. Dilday, another by Candida Clark.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Editorial Statement Regarding The London Bombings

The Editor wishes to express his condolences and sympathies to those who have suffered as a result of the explosions in London.

Brief Note On Terrorism

Terrorism sees extremists attempting to energise the mass. They employ their force, in acts of resistance, only to see it absorbed by the mass.

The Ethics Of Amputating Limbs II

Another piece on Tim Bayne and Neil Levy, whose What Makes Us Moral (Oneworld, 2004) is an interesting study of relationship been biology and ethics, and their argument that ‘amputee wanna-bees’ should be allowed to remove limbs. From the ABC, this one has a little more on the nature of Body Integrity Identity Disorder.

The Ethics Of Medical Marijuana

Given this post at Undetached Rabbit Parts, I have been wondering why it is that governments persist in outlawing a number of recreational drugs. From an ethical point of view it seems better to decriminalise these drugs, though regulate their production and access to them, than to persist in trying to enforce laws that probably do more damage than they prevent. Is there a vaguly coherent argument for the regulation of narcotics?

Oriana Fallaci – ‘Prophet Of Decline’

“"How do you dare to ask me for a solution? It's like asking Seneca for a solution. You remember what he did?" She then says "Phwah, phwah," and gestures at slashing her wrists. "He committed suicide!" Seneca was accused of being involved in a plot to murder the emperor Nero. Without a trial, he was ordered by Nero to kill himself. One senses that Ms. Fallaci sees in Islam the shadow of Nero. "What could Seneca do?" she asks, with a discernible shudder. "He knew it would end that way--with the fall of the Roman Empire. But he could do nothing."” – An Interview with Oriana Fallaci, The Wall Street Journal.

‘A Philosopher’s Humanity’

“The desire to portray great thinkers as disembodied argument machines remains a powerful force in analytic philosophy. Think of it as a slice of amour-propre, part of the arrogant wish to be seen as timelessly, noncontingently right about everything. It can move acolytes to depict thinker-heroes as dynamos of pure intellect rather than peers: mere featherless bipeds whose thoughts bear clear markings from their beliefs, fears, and weaknesses.” – Carl Romano, The Chronicle Of Higher Education.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Induction and Atheism

Trawling the depths of the blogosphere I found this surprisingly rank nugget of reasoning about induction and the rationality of atheism . I think this would have to be the post that has annoyed me most so far today.
The argument is more or less this:

1.Induction is without justification under atheism.
2.Induction is part of all our reasoning, and is thus true.
Therefore it is non-sensical to be atheist.

I would like to invite contributors those who are intersted in this to please come and give some feedback to this smug and somewhat mistaken individual. I know I will, once I have devised something suitably caustic.

The Ethics Of Amputating Healthy Limbs

“Two Australian philosophers believe surgeons should be allowed to cut off the healthy limbs of some "amputee wannabes". Neil Levy and Tim Bayne argue that patients obsessed with having a limb amputated should be able to have it safely removed by a surgeon, as long as they are deemed sane. "As long as no other effective treatment for their disorder is available, surgeons ought to be allowed to accede to their requests," the pair wrote in the Journal of Applied Philosophy.” – The Age.

The question that this position presents, is whether or not the philosophers are on the right track?

[Is it just me, or is The Age more philosophically inclined than The Sydney Morning Herald?]

Gödel And The Nature Of Mathematical Truth

“Gödel mistrusted our ability to communicate. Natural language, he thought, was imprecise, and we usually don't understand each other. Gödel wanted to prove a mathematical theorem that would have all the precision of mathematics—the only language with any claims to precision—but with the sweep of philosophy. He wanted a mathematical theorem that would speak to the issues of meta-mathematics. And two extraordinary things happened. One is that he actually did produce such a theorem. The other is that it was interpreted by the jazzier parts of the intellectual culture as saying, philosophically exactly the opposite of what he had been intending to say with it.” – 'An interview with Rebecca Goldstein', Edge.

Another Reappraisal Of Sartre

“To put it mildly, though, his name no longer seems to excite the intelligent young; mainstream British philosophers continue, as they did when he was alive, to contend that what Sartre wrote had little or nothing to do with philosophy, and for every one book published on Sartre and x, there are 60, 70, 100 on Foucault and y. A widely read crib entitled Fifty Key Contemporary Thinkers (1994), by John Lechte, devotes whole chapters to fauna such as Le Doeuff and Pateman—Pateman?—but mentions Sartre only in asides.” – Kevin Jackson, Prospect Magazine.

Nweze On Human Rights

“The vocabulary of human rights has become universalised. Contemporary concern for human rights attained a high momentum in response to the horrendous events of the inter-war years. The concept, which was espoused by the UN charter, UDHR and amplified in the two international covenants and other conventions, has acquired elements which take matters beyond the original notion. Hence, the concept is no longer tied to natural law in its classical sense. The contemporary notion of human rights harps on human dignity and human autonomy. Its pivotal concern is the full development (empowerment) of each individual human being. This is the utilitarian view of human rights now in vogue. In this view, human rights are now seen response to the special threats to human dignity: poverty and hunger; underdevelopment; corruption; impunity etc.” – ‘Reconstructing Human Rights Jurisprudence’.

Ogbunwezeh On Power

“In politics, leaders and politicians in history have always been seduced by the illusion of omnipotence. Many of them have done a very good job of eating this forbidden apple, thereby falling to the fatal fraudulence of diseased illusions, which dresses them in the borrowed robes of perceived divinity. From whence, they start perceiving themselves as all-powerful. Lord Acton had this in mind, when he uttered those famous words: Absolute power corrupts absolutely. This equally may have informed Montesquieu’s insistence on the separation of power as the only cure to the madness of unrestricted power.” – ‘Power and the illusions of omnipotence’, Global Politician.

McLemee On Bourdieu

“Pierre Bourdieu had a way of getting under one’s skin. I don’t mean his overtly polemical works — the writings against globalization and neoliberalism that appeared toward the end of his life, for example. He was at his most incisive and needling in works that were much less easy for the general public to read. Bourdieu’s sociological research kept mapping out the way power, prestige, and exclusion work in the spheres of politics, economics, and culture.” – 'Locating Bordieu', Inside Higher-Ed.

‘Prisoners to design own jail’

“The architect Will Alsop is helping a group of prisoners to design their own jail … Participants will be encouraged to visualise a “creative prison” that emphasises rehabilitation rather than punishment and security.” – Is whatever remains of Bentham turning in its grave?

Gordon On Liberty

David Gordon has compiled a list of “125 books in print, useful for understanding liberty and the system of individual enterprise”.

Reason Papers: A Journal Of Interdisciplinary Normative Studies

Reason Papers has made a large selection of its archive available on-line. The archive contains papers and reviews on a diverse range of topics. The site has been added to the Links post.