Friday, September 30, 2005

On Foucault And Lego Theorists

"The Lego Michel Foucault comes with a Parisian library for younger children, or with the Lego San Francisco S/M Dungeon for older boys and girls" - Available at Also available are Judith Butler and Antony Giddens.

Clarke's 'Call For Affirmative Action'

The Philosopher's Magazine has put out a call for comments on Simon Clarke's 'Call For Affirmative Action'. A selection of the respondants will be published in the next issue of the Magazine.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Subterranean Sex, DIY Style - Forum

'Exhibitionists, fetishists, feminists, playboys and connoisseurs talk underground culture, sexual expression and DIY attitude.'
5 oo pm, Sunday 2nd October, The Banquet Room, City Hall.
Part of This Is Not Art.

Unethical treatment of the Dead.

I don't know how many people have yet heard about the controversy building in the blogsphere at the moment. A certain company has been giving membership to its ponography site to US soldiers in the middle east, in exchange for pictures of dead Iraqis and Afghanis that the soldiers have collected. I summarised what I could find out and tried to include the important links in a post on my blog here.

(Martin of course would have known about this months ago, because Martin knows all and sees all!)

My personal response to this is probably best expressed on my own blog. I am very interested to know what other people make of all this. If the reports are accurate characterisations of what has been happening, is there any way that the gore-for-porn swap is remotely ethical? Are the rationalisations for this even remotely valid? Should we not expect ethical behavior from certain professions? Is this even legal? And not least, what would Foucault say about this?

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Habermas And Post-Secular Societies

"On the one hand, religion's return -- Habermas, perhaps with the American situation foremost in mind, goes so far as to speak of the emergence of "post-secular societies" -- presents us with undeniable dangers and risks. While theodicy has traditionally provided men and women with consolation for the harsh injustices of fate, it has also frequently taught them to remain passively content with their lot. It devalues worldly success and entices believers with the promise of eternal bliss in the hereafter. Here the risk is that religion may encourage an attitude of social passivity, thereby contravening democracy's need for an active and engaged citizenry. To wit, the biblical myth of the fall perceives secular history as a story of decline or perdition from which little intrinsic good may emerge.

On the other hand, laissez-faire's success as a universally revered economic model means that, today, global capitalism's triumphal march encounters few genuine oppositional tendencies. In that regard, religion, as a repository of transcendence, has an important role to play. It prevents the denizens of the modern secular societies from being overwhelmed by the all-encompassing demands of vocational life and worldly success. It offers a much-needed dimension of otherness: The religious values of love, community, and godliness help to offset the global dominance of competitiveness, acquisitiveness, and manipulation that predominate in the vocational sphere. Religious convictions encourage people to treat each other as ends in themselves rather than as mere means.

One of Habermas's mentors, the Frankfurt School philosopher Max Horkheimer, once observed that "to salvage an unconditional meaning" -- one that stood out as an unqualified Good -- "without God is a futile undertaking." As a stalwart of the Enlightenment, Habermas himself would be unlikely to go that far. But he might consider Horkheimer's adage a timely reminder of the risks and temptations of all-embracing secularism. Habermas stressed in a recent public lecture "the force of religious traditions to articulate moral intuitions with regard to communal forms of a dignified human life." As forceful and persuasive as our secular philosophical precepts might be -- the idea of human rights, for example -- from time to time they benefit from renewed contact with the nimbus of their sacral origins." - The Chronicle of Higher Education.

On Selfish Memes

“Memetics is one possible way of using Darwinian evolutionary ideas to study culture. As I shall explain below, it is not the only way of doing this. According to memetics, the essence of culture is constituted by memes and the essence of cultural change is constituted by changes in meme frequencies. Memes are mental states that embody discrete chunks of socially transmissible information. To say that the information that memes embody is socially transmissible is to say that memes can give rise to other memes through social learning. To say that memes embody a discrete chunk of information is to say that, when the information present in a meme is socially transmitted, such information does not usually blend with the information present in other memes. On this view, social transmission is (at least at its most fundamental level) a copying process in which memes generate copies of themselves. Memes are thought to be socially transmissible beliefs, desires, values, and mental representations of tunes, stories, myths, rituals, ways of doing (or saying, or thinking about) things, etc. According to some versions of memetics, it is not just socially transmissible mental states that deserve to be classified as memes, but also those artefacts and activities (including those of a linguistic and textual nature) that can be copied and that can result in the existence of similar artefacts or activities.” – Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.

The Cost Of Free Speech

"A society of free speech needs lively exchange between the parties and not just loud voices from its eccentric fringe--and this is true, too, for universities. For lively exchange you need balance, as it is easy for a dominant majority to be unruffled by dissent when it is only from a token few. One could seek balance by declaring partisan opinion to be academically irrelevant, as when President Robert Sproul at Berkeley in the 1930s ... banned the use of university buildings for partisan purposes. Many social scientists in universities follow a similar logic when they adopt the fact/value distinction: "My science is over here and my values are over there; there's no connection!" The fact that most all of us are liberals, and hardly any conservative, is therefore irrelevant. Science is what matters, and that is impartial.

This attitude coexists at universities today with the opposite, postmodern view that science is only a mask of impartiality to conceal the partisan exercise of power. True impartiality being impossible, in this view, we should embrace partiality and politicize the university. Either way, whether from positivism or postmodernism, conservatives lose out. They are not necessary to be heard, and if they are heard, they do harm to progressive causes." - The Weekly Standard.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Thoughts On The Global … An Editorial Comment.

The aim of a blog is to reach an audience. For many blogs this audience is anonymous; a number notched on a counter, a referral link that, on occasion, might provide some indication of the inclination of the visitor. More oft than many would link to admit these statistics are nothing more than spectres who haunt the complex web of blogs: next-bloged, they browse, and then pass on.

From its early stages, Dialectic has employed Site Meter to keep track of these passers-by. This is a thankless task, undertaken by a piece of software somewhere, that more often perplexes us who keep tabs on traffic flows than it sates our appetite to understand those who dally and peruse the pages. This state of confusion has been compounded recently.

Site Meter has added a World Map of Visitors to its tool set; Dialectic’s is here. This map allows the viewer to determine the location of a visitor to the page. This raises the question – slightly more perplexing – of how, of the ten most recent visitors (when checked), visitors from Qatar and Serbia and Montenegro could have made their way to the page; and the further question of what these visitors could have made of Dialectic. (The map also raised the question of why there were more recent visitors from Germany than almost anywhere else, but that does not warrant really thinking about).

In many ways, it is simply a sign of the global transmission of information that most go on constantly, almost without anyone really comprehending it.

Archbishop Pell – ‘The Dictatorship of Relativism’

“Relativism is powerful in Western life, evidenced in many areas from the decline in the study of history and English literature, through to the triumph of subjective values and conscience over moral truth and the downgrading of heterosexual marriage. None of this is entirely new: relativism is an antique theory. The great thinker and father of history Heraclitus [History 3, 38] noted that different cultures differ in their basic beliefs and customs, and at the dawn of our philosophical tradition the Greek philosopher Protagoras challenged the religious and moral wisdom of his day, arguing that each individual’s own opinions are the measure of truth [see Plato Theaetetus 151eff]. This theory has so far received no official sanction – usually because wise men and women have seen that either relativism is the real truth about the Universe, in which case relativism is wrong since there is a real truth, or relativism is not the real truth, in which case we should all stop thinking about it. The danger today is that people do not even think this far to see the inconsistencies. Hence Pope Benedict’s warning.” – Archbishop Pell’s Address to The National Press Club, Canberra.

Pell's Address is presently being widely discussed, though I am presently concerned by his thinly veiled employment of a Slippery-Slope Argument. I am also unsure whether Pell's model of relativism accords with reality.

[The Editor requests that anyone commenting on Archbishop Pell’s comments read through the entire Address, and not base them solely on the quote. – The Editor.]

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

This has made my day.

Anyone who knows me at all will appreciate how true the above statement is. This is at the same time, one of the funniest, most clever, and at the same time most lame things I've ever come across.
Read it, and acknowledge the Flying Spaghetti Monster as Lord or be damned! ( or something)

I can't believe so many people got so upset about this. What makes this both highly entertaining and very sad is that so many people could be bothered writing hate mail to the author.

While I would not commit the club to endorsing this view (because we endorse almost no views, maybe, I'm not sure), I am considering it myself, not least because it reflects a serious flaw in the dialectical move from a generic deity or similar (such as described in arguments like the ID and Ontological) to a specific conception of God. It's also upsetting tightly wound conservative types, which I find hard to resist.

It's not great philosophy, but today I needed a laugh and the FSM heard me and delivered.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Philosopher's Carnival, No. Nineteen

The nineteenth Philosopher’s Carnival is presently being hosted at Mathetes. This Carnival seems briefer than others of late, with fewer submissions.

Monday, September 12, 2005

the irrelevance of God's death

If God is dead then everything is permitted, they say. But would it not be more correct to say that if god is dead then nothing is taboo? Frankfurt wants to say that if we have no restrictions placed upon us, then we cannot begin to form our identity. His idea is that we need a starting point from which to continue, this starting point in some way 'showing us the way' or some such. So if this initial lesson is not given then we are not capable of becoming a person.

But this seems to assume much, particularly that the intial limitations placed on us are of such an extent that they actually do constrict our options. And not just constrict but also reduce them in an actual way. I bring this up because once there are no limits we would have infinitely many choices. And even if our choices were constricted by half, we would still have infinitely many options. So indeed it would seem that in order for our actions to be limited/reduced in a real way, so that we actually had fewer choices, they would need to be positively, rather than negatively, described (for this is the only way to say that 'this is all the options available').

No, I don't think that any system does this, let alone the system of Dostoevsky's soon to be ex God. And thus, despite God's ability to forbid a large number of choices, the removal of these restrictions does not actually enlarge our possible options. So such a removal could, I believe, in no way lead to an identity crisis, as Frankfurt would have us believe.

So the only way one can come to a crisis of identity is by finding one's self required to do mutually exclusive things. Then one is forced to choose.

Friday, September 09, 2005

2005 Human Rights/Social Justice Lecture

"Poor me: In a world of individuals have we lost the hope for the 'great society' and a healthy planet?"
Presenter: Rev Nic Frances MBE
Thursday 15 September 2005 at 1:00 pm
Griffith Duncan Theatre

More Details

Question - On Lysis

Having re-read Plato's Lysis, yesterday, the question remains: can the neither-good-nor-bad be friend of the bad?

Experimental Philosophy

"Chatting with people in a public park about a hypothetical profit-hungry executive is not the way philosophers usually gain their insights.

But it is how Joshua Knobe, a newly minted Ph.D. from Princeton University, has rocked the philosophical establishment and earned a place at the leading edge of the discipline in a new field called "experimental philosophy."

The field uses the empirical tools of psychology to address philosophical questions, designing experiments to test how ordinary people think. It is in stark contrast to how philosophers have typically operated -- sitting in a proverbial armchair while pondering human thought." - From The Chronical.