Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Editorial Notice

This marks my final contribution to Dialectic as Editor. Samuel Douglas will act in the post until a new Editor is appointed. I am sure that Samuel, and the other Contributors, will continue to use Dialectic to promote intellectual and philosophical discourse.

It has been an interesting experience. I would like to think those many individuals whose work has made an appearance on this page.

Martin Hill.

Post Script - I will, for the foreseeable future, be contributing to Epideixis.


Epideixis – a new collaborative philoblog by Dialectic Contributors Rowan Blyth, Samuel Douglas (Philosophy Hurts Your Head), and Martin Hill (Hypomnemata).

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Two Posts By Stanley

Jason Stanley, Brian Leiter's current guest blogger, has posted two interesting musings. Chronologically, the first is a discussion of the difference/lack of difference between analytic and continential philosophy. Stanley is interested in the point that many of the key points made in one tradition have their equivilent in the other, his example being Derrida's Of Grammatology and Quine's Word And Object. The second is a discussion of relativism's status as the key philosophicl problem for the comming decade, and catch-all methodological solutions to philosophical problems.

Long Sunday Symposium On Benjamin's 'Critique Of Violence'

The first couple of contributions to Long Sunday's symposium have been posted. 'Marc Lombardo on Benjamin: Language, Jurisprudence, and the Divine', by M. Lombardo provides an interesting contextualisation of the discussion by pointing to the difficulty inherent in discussing the text. Alain Wittman has presented a position on violence as 'Pure Means', while Jodi Dean has posted on the concept of 'Divine Violence' in Benjamin's contrast with 'mythical violence'.

Mill's - Gaston's 'Derrida And Disinterest'

"Sean Gaston's contribution to philosophical literature on the work of Jacques Derrida is to be welcomed for its serious engagement with Derrida's oeuvre and sensitive reading of his formulations of ethics and responsibility. Gaston develops an insightful and original interpretation of Derrida's work through the lens of 'disinterest' and considers the potential of this concept for contemporary ethics and politics. He highlights the eighteenth-century understanding of disinterest, in which it is seen not as the lack or absence of all interest, but as opposed to self-interest and therefore central to ethics. This understanding, Gaston contends, has been obscured through the association of disinterest with either 'private autonomy' or 'public hegemony' (vii). In returning to an ethical conception of disinterest and particularly its importance for Derrida and Levinas, Gaston elucidates Derrida's relation to Levinas, arguing that in his conception of a radical disinterest 'that founds and exceeds the interests of being', Levinas revives 'a disinterest that both redefines and reinhabits the traditional concepts of disinterest that flourished in the eighteenth century' (vii). Derrida, on the other hand, formulates a post-Nietzschean disinterest radicalized by différance, which prevents the return of the same and of identity in disinterest, effectively turning ethics toward the 'to come' (viii)." - NDPR.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Baudrillard Interview - On Simulation

"Are you saying that America represents the ideal of democracy?

No, the simulation of power.

At 76, you are still pushing your famous theory about "simulation" and the "simulacrum," which maintains that media images have become more convincing and real than reality.

All of our values are simulated. What is freedom? We have a choice between buying one car or buying another car? It's a simulation of freedom." - Continental Drift, New York Times (November 20 2005)

Zizek On Paris Riots

"So what can a philosopher do here? One should bear in mind that the philosopher's task is not to propose solutions, but to reformulate the problem itself, to shift the ideological framework within which we hitherto perceived the problem. Perhaps, a good point to start with would be to put the recent outbursts into the series they build with two other types of violence that the liberal majority today perceives as a threat to our way of life: (1) direct "terrorist" attacks (of suicide bombers); (2) Rightist Populist violence; (3) suburban juvenile "irrational" outbursts. A liberal today worries about these three disturbances of his daily life: terrorist attacks, juvenile violence, Rightwing Populist pressures." - Some Politically Incorrect Reflections on Violence in France & Related Matters [Hat Tip to Theoria].

The Ethics Of War

The Ethics Of War - a philo-blog concerned with covering the discussion of the ethics of war.

The Business Ethics Blog

The Business Ethics Blog - A new applied ethics philo-blog, out of Canada, concerned with emerging field of business ethics. Aims to be comperable with, an admirable intention.

Badiou On French Philosophy

"Let us begin these reflections on contemporary French philosophy with a paradox: that which is the most universal is also, at the same time, the most particular. Hegel calls this the ‘concrete universal’, the synthesis of that which is absolutely universal, which pertains to everything, with that which has a particular time and place. Philosophy is a good example. Absolutely universal, it addresses itself to all, without exception; but within philosophy there exist powerful cultural and national particularities. There are what we might call moments of philosophy, in space and in time. Philosophy is thus both a universal aim of reason and, simultaneously, one that manifests itself in completely specific moments. Let us take the example of two especially intense and well-known philosophical instances. First, that of classical Greek philosophy between Parmenides and Aristotle, from the 5th to the 3rd centuries bc: a highly inventive, foundational moment, ultimately quite short-lived. Second, that of German idealism between Kant and Hegel, via Fichte and Schelling: another exceptional philosophical moment, from the late 18th to the early 19th centuries, intensely creative and condensed within an even shorter timespan. I propose to defend a further national and historical thesis: there was—or there is, depending where I put myself—a French philosophical moment of the second half of the 20th century which, toute proportion gardée, bears comparison to the examples of classical Greece and enlightenment Germany. " - 'The Adventure Of French Philosophy', New Left Review.

Theoria's extented discussion is available here, of interest is the cannon of French philosophers that can be extracted from Badiou's piece. One point worth considering - if interested in these matters - is the absence of any suitable successor to Derrida qua First Man of French Philosophy according to Badiou's list ...

Thursday, November 24, 2005

MacFarquhar On Baudrillard

"“I don’t know how to ask this question, because it’s so multifaceted,” he said. “You’re Baudrillard, and you were able to fill a room. And what I want to know is: when someone dies, we read an obituary—like Derrida died last year, and is a great loss for all of us. What would you like to be said about you? In other words, who are you? I would like to know how old you are, if you’re married and if you have kids, and since you’ve spent a great deal of time writing a great many books, some of which I could not get through, is there something you want to say that can be summed up?”

“What I am, I don’t know,” Baudrillard said, with a Gallic twinkle in his eye. “I am the simulacrum of myself.”" - 'Baudrillard On Tour', The New Yorker (28th November 2005).

Satan On Loneliness

"The only person who understands me is my friend Gene. Sure, he knows I'm a mythical representation of all the tragic and self-defeating fallibility inherent in the human condition, but he doesn't judge me for it. Lately though, I hardly ever get to see him." - Why Does Everybody Hate Me?, The Onion.

Notice- Internet Radio Discussion Of Sedition Laws

Dialectic contributor Samuel Douglas is, presently, slated to make an appearance on Novocastrian internet radio station Tin tommorrow (Friday) from ten (10) am Australian Eastern Daylight Savings Time to discuss the proposed ammendments to sedition laws in Australia in response to the 'spectre' of terrorism.

Morgan - Atterton, Calarco, and Friedman's 'Levinas and Buber: Dialogue and Difference'

"I waited for the publication of this volume with great anticipation. Levinas and Buber are two of the most important Jewish thinkers of the twentieth century, and yet we have no book or collection of essays in English that compares their contributions. Both are philosophically important, although Buber's philosophical significance has been much less appreciated, especially in North America. At first glance, a comparison of the two seems appropriate. Levinas privileges an interpersonal relationship he calls the face-to-face, Buber an encounter he calls I-Thou. Levinas wrote several pieces on Buber, and his discussions, while appreciative, are critical. He claims that Buber's conception of I-Thou is ethically formal and reciprocal, while the social relationship, for Levinas, is asymmetrical and ethically substantive, demanding responsibility and concern for the other's suffering and well-being. A straightforward comparison of their work is in and of itself an attractive thought, and an examination of what Levinas said about Buber and Buber's responses is also an intriguing project. When I saw the advertisement for the present volume, I was eager to read it.

Overall, the result is valuable, helpful, and informative. The questions and issues that the juxtaposition of the two thinkers raises deserve better, deeper treatment, to be sure, but there is a good deal to be learned from the essays, especially for someone coming to the comparison between Buber and Levinas for the first time." - NDPR.

Taylor - Lee's 'Epistemology After Protagoras: Responses to Relativism in Plato, Aristotle, and Democritus'

"Professor Lee's theme is the challenge to objective knowledge posed by Protagoras' relativistic thesis that 'Man is the measure of all things', and the responses to that challenge by Plato, Aristotle, and Democritus. While acknowledging the differences between Protagorean relativism and Hellenistic skepticism, she sees Protagoras and responses to him as foreshadowing some of the later debates between skeptics and dogmatists. Both Protagoras and the skeptics appeal to conflicting appearances and the lack of any criterion to determine which appearances are veridical, but draw different conclusions from these data; the skeptics conclude that is impossible to determine the real nature of things, while Protagoras maintains that the real nature of things is simply that, for each perceiver, the way things appear to that perceiver is the way they are for him/her. Protagoras is thus in skeptical terms a dogmatist, but his peculiar form of dogmatism makes him an ally of the skeptics against those, including Plato, Aristotle, and Democritus, who maintain that underlying the conflicting appearances there is an objective reality accessible to rational theory, assisted in one way or another by observation, and that theory-grounded access to that reality amounts to knowledge." - NDPR.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Spence On Hobbes

"A central argument that provides ethical support to the new laws is the social contract argument. First raised by Plato 2500 years ago, it was developed in its modern form by the 17th-century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes.

Hobbes said the legitimacy of the state and its citizens is rationally and ethically mandated by a notional social contract under which individuals agree to constrain their "anything goes" unlimited freedoms for the sake of security, safety, civility and public order which the state guarantees on the basis of mutually acceptable moral principles.

However, the state only holds power in trust for the collective good, and its legitimacy is ultimately founded on the implied consent of its citizens. Whereas the state has an obligation to protect and preserve the security and safety of its citizens, the citizens have an obligation to abide by the ethical and legal principles upon which the state is founded.

When individuals through deeds or words threaten the security of the state and the safety of its citizens the government has a legal and ethical obligation to do whatever is needed to protect its citizens. A government that fails to do so would rightly be deemed negligible and held culpable for such negligence." - 'Freedom, if others are restrained', Sydney Morning Herald (November 21, 2005).

Philosopher's Carnival, No. Twenty One

The twenty-first Philosopher’s Carnival is presently being hosted by For those of you at home. Seemingly down on numbers from last time, there is the usual mix of regular contributors and first-timers that makes the Carnivals dynamic.

Proposed Ammendments To Australian Sedition Laws

With the Federal Government in the process of passing the Anti-Terrorism legislation (link is to the leaked draft ... sorry about not tracking down the current draft), it seems as though a discussion of whether or not a society that values free and open speech of the type that can be considered an essential foundation of democratic processes should have laws that turn verbal and written political statements into crimes?

While on the legislation; the Federal Parliamentary Library's briefing is a more balanced location to start reading up on the ammendments and their legal implications while ABC's Media Watch has collected resources regarding the implication of the sedition ammendments, including this widely cited legal advice. The Gilbert And Tobin Centre Of Public Law at the University of New South Wales, has published this 'Briefing On Sedition Offences In The Anti-Terrorism Bill 2005'.

Berry - Richardson's 'Nietzsche's New Darwinism'

"If the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species in 1859 was a watershed in the history of Western thought, it was not due merely to his suggestion that modern species were revised descendents of earlier ones. Rather, it was that Darwin had identified the precise mechanism by which one species could be revised into another, biologically distinct species. Darwin's proposal of evolution by natural selection gave immediate direction to research in the biological sciences, and it allowed the theory to begin doing important work in that arena (and beyond) by eventually closing the only significant explanatory gap that might otherwise have hindered its widespread acceptance. In his most recent book, John Richardson proposes to make Nietzsche's views on morality more coherent, more credible, and ultimately more useful by demonstrating that they are underwritten by a modified Darwinism that identifies the thoroughly naturalistic mechanisms by which human beings come to have the moral values and practices they do and through which they might realize the possibility of creating new, healthier values.

As even casual readers of Nietzsche will observe, the bulk of what Nietzsche has to say about Darwin and Darwinism is hostile. Richardson rightly points out that Nietzsche has a perhaps regrettable but nonetheless reliable tendency to bite off the hand that feeds him; the thinkers of whom he is most critical are often those from whom he takes the most inspiration. But his intellectual relationship to Darwin is more complicated still. As Richardson's examination of Nietzsche's position shows, Nietzsche's attacks appear to get wrong both Darwin's position and the biological facts of the matter. The central motif in Nietzsche's criticism of Darwin seems to be that Darwin lays too much stress on survival, and too little on power [18]. But in offering this criticism, Nietzsche "misidentifies the selective criterion in Darwinism," which is not survival, but reproduction. Moreover, "Nietzsche seems to misread Darwinian survival as an 'end' in too literal a sense: as the aim of a will or drive or instinct" in the individual [22]. It looks as if Nietzsche has missed something important about Darwinism -- namely, that it is not hopelessly teleological, but manages to handle the idea of 'ends' or 'aims' in an entirely naturalistic way. If this is the case, however, it appears that Nietzsche's hostile reaction to Darwin and his subsequent 'correction' of Darwinism are grounded in error. Richardson argues, however, that these errors might be peripheral after all, and that Nietzsche might really appreciate the main thrust of the Darwinian position. "What if," he asks, "[Nietzsche] gets right, after all, the sense of Darwinian selection -- how it is and isn't teleology -- and builds his own will to power and drives in parallel?" [24] Richardson's aim is to demonstrate that the weight of textual evidence favors our reading Nietzsche in this way, and makes it more than just "wishful thinking" [25]." - NDPR.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Thought On Critical Theory

"All it takes is a little supposition mixed with critical theorizing and you can easily stumble on a tenuous half-truth that really makes you think." - 'I'm Very Interested In Hearing Some Half-Baked Theories', in The Onion.

[Yes, it is taken completely out of context ...]

Leiter On Nietzsche Studies

Brian Leiter has written an extensive post on the state, and future, of Nietzsche Studies which raises a number of interesting points. It links to this collection of papers from The Gemes/Leiter Nietzsche Seminar.

Benjamin's 'Critique of Violence' - A Symposium

Long Sunday is hosting a symposium on Walter Benjamin's 'Critique of Violence', which should being this Sunday. Theoria has been generous enough to host a pdf version of the essay, for those who cannot get easy access to it (be quick, as the link is likely to disappear ...).


Theoria - A contemporary political theory focused blog, broadly using a continential approach.

Mechanical Birds

Mechanical Birds - An occasional philo-blog that seems to be broadly concerned with issues in contemporary philosophy.

Travels Through Science

Travels Through Science - a young science blog that recently came to our attention, the posts thus far have a broad philosophy of science feel.

Clover - 'The Mirror Sage'

In the grand tradition of Derrida The Movie, comes Zizek! - "The exclamation point marks a broad joke about cheesy biopix, or perhaps a more specific anxiety about the film's own place in the millennial raft of theoryporn". According to The Village Voice "The movie is an attempt to disseminate serious social philosophy, haunted by the threat one might be selling it out. Jokes mask ambitious investigations; serious gestures withdraw into self-negation; the specter of historical violence is omnipresent (he refers to his critical confreres as "a cell, the theoretical Al Qaeda"). Zizek, who finished fifth in Slovenia's 1990 election of a four-person presidency, says he was offered various governmental positions: "Minister of education, health, I almost died laughing. There are only two posts I want: minister of interior, or secret police." The certainty that he's both making fun and utterly serious crackles through the international phone line. "The only way to signal you are serious is, at the level of form, to make fun of yourself. This pseudo-Heideggerian jargon, we live in fateful times, the destiny of humanity is threatened blah blah blah—I think you cannot talk like that."

So how can you talk; what is philosophy for? "It's not to provide answers, it's to correct the questions," says Zizek. "Terrorism, freedom, democracy: The duty of philosophy is not to explain what would be true democracy, how to beat terrorism, but to ask, is this truly the question? This is the only thing a philosopher can do. Other questions are for politicians—I mean, what do I know? Fuck it, who am I, what do I know how to fight terrorism? Every secret policeman, I give him moral right to know more than me.""

Kavka - Nelson, Kapust, and Still's 'Addressing Levinas'

"Addressing Levinas provides an opportunity to survey the field of Levinas studies in Continental-philosophy circles at that time. While at the beginning of that decade, there was somewhat of an allergy to readings of Levinas as a philosopher of religion or as a Jewish thinker, this volume shows none of that. For that the editors are to be praised, although one might have hoped that they could at least have developed an index or even also an index locorum to the contributors' citations of Levinas. The breadth of the contributors' topics is impressive; not only philosophy of religion and Jewish thought, but also straight-up phenomenology, trauma theory, feminist theory, and psychoanalysis are included. But there is also a basic confusion in the essays over the arguments that Levinas is making and the claims that Levinas entitles us to make. As a result, despite the inclusion of some excellent essays, the volume as a whole may not bring much insight to the reader." - NDPR.

Pace - Noë's 'Action in Perception'

"This book is a sustained explanation and defense of the "enactive account" of perception, an approach to explaining perceptual consciousness that Alva Noë has defended in a series of recent papers and in collaboration with others (notably Evan Thompson, Susan Hurley and Kevin O'Regan). The enactive account that Noë defends can look like a radical departure from traditional theories of sense perception that treat perception as a mental state that serves as an input to action and thought but is not itself a kind of action or thought. In several attention-grabbing slogans that appear throughout the book Noë registers his opposition to this psychological division of labor: "Perceiving is something we do," he says, and in Chapter 7 he suggests that it is also "a thoughtful activity". Perception, Noë tells us, is both a kind of action and a way of thinking about the world.

According to the main claim of the enactive account, perceptual awareness depends constitutively on the perceiver's having "sensorimotor knowledge", an implicit understanding of the way sensory stimulation varies with movement. It is this claim that is meant to support the idea that perception is both a kind of action and thought. To get a feel for what Noë has in mind when he talks about sensorimotor knowledge, consider a perceptual event in which you see a ripe tomato. According to the enactive approach, seeing a ripe tomato consists in part in your having a bit of practical knowledge: you must know how the visual stimulation you have would vary if you or the tomato were to move in certain predictable ways. When you successfully see the tomato, you understand implicitly what would happen experientially if you were to move your eyes, or body, or shift your attention, and you also understand what would happen experientially if the tomato were to be moved." - NDPR.

Coope - Crivelli's 'Aristotle on Truth'

"In Aristotle on Truth Paolo Crivelli aims to reconstruct Aristotle's views on truth and falsehood. His approach is to ask a series of questions and attempt to show how Aristotle would answer them. A list of these questions gives a good impression of the scope of the book. He asks: 'What are the bearers of truth and falsehood?' 'What are the truth conditions for predicative assertions?' 'What account can Aristotle give of the truth conditions of what seem to be predicative assertions with an "empty" predicate or subject?' 'Does Aristotle have a correspondence theory of truth (and if so, what type of correspondence theory is it)?' 'What is the relation between truth and time (and in particular, how is it possible, on Aristotle's view, for the bearers of truth and falsity to have different truth values at different times)?' 'Is truth a genuine property?' 'What is (or would be) Aristotle's response to the liar paradox?' 'Does Aristotle reject the principle of bivalence?'

As the range of these questions suggests, this is a book that will be of interest not only to ancient philosophers but also to those working in modern philosophy of language and in metaphysics." - NDPR.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Chappell - Forster's 'John Locke's Politics of Moral Consensus'

"Despite the title, the book is not confined to Locke's political thought. Forster surveys Locke's epistemology, his ethical theory, and his philosophy of religion, as well as his political philosophy. He focuses primarily on the works in which Locke's "mature thought" is expressed: the Essay, the Letter Concerning Toleration, and the Reasonableness of Christianity, as well as the Two Treatises. The philosophy contained in these four works, Forster contends, has a "coherent architecture"; it constitutes a single "system" of thought, that is, a "set of mutually consistent arguments that fit together to form a unified philosophic structure". During the time that he was writing these works, Forster contends, Locke had an overriding "political project", which was to "unite members of different religious groups into a single political community". The only way to do this, Forster believes (and claims that Locke believed), is by establishing a moral consensus, a set of shared normative convictions and commitments which will "justify the coercive rules that are the only hope of keeping a multireligious society from falling apart at the seams". So Locke's aim in these works was to "construct a moral theory that can accomplish this goal"." - NDPR.

Formal Philosophy

Formal Philosophy - the site contains a series of excerpts from a new book of the same name - has been receiving an ammount of attention, with That Logic Blog, Log Blog, and Leiter all claiming that it is an interesting collection of interviews with philosophers.


Antimeta - a philo-blog that, to paraphrase its own manifesto, generally mistrusts strong metaphysical claims in philosophy and mathematics which results in a focus on these particular areas.


Logicomp - a broadly philo-blog, by a computer science theory graduate student, concerned with logic and complexity theory. Some mathmatical logic, and an interesting series of posts on different logics.

That Logic Blog

That Logic Blog - The title says it all; a philo-blog devoted to logic of both the formal and symbolic varieties.

Logician Memory

Memory is one of those ubiquitous games; everybody has played a version at some point. Here is a version where you have to match the faces of logicians (one of the added challenges being how throughly unremarkable most logicians appear ...).

[Hat tip to Log Blog, and Theorème.]

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

A Little Logical Problem ...

"One man illustrated proper logic with this syllogism:

All men are mortal.
Socrates is mortal.
Therefore, Socrates is a man.

I raised my hand. "Birds are mortal too, aren't they?" I asked, hoping he would correct his error.
"Yes," our teacher agreed.
"So Socrates could be a bird?"
He smiled benignly. "No. Socrates doesn't have feathers."" - Bauman, 'But Can You Teach?'.

'The Morality of 'Sex Change' Operations'

"Before addressing the morality of "sex change" operations, or what is more formally termed "sexual reassignment," we need to first call to mind the fundamental moral foundation governing this issue. Each person is a precious human being made in God's image and likeness with both a body and a soul. Vatican II's "Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World" asserted, "Man, though made of body and soul, is a unity. Through his very bodily condition he sums up in himself the elements of the material world. Through him they are thus brought to their highest perfection and can raise their voice in praise freely given to the Creator. For this reason man may not despise his bodily life. Rather he is obliged to regard his body as good and to hold it in honor since God has created it and will raise it up on the last day" (No. 14). St. Paul also reminds us that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19), and therefore we should not degrade our bodily dignity by allowing the body to participate in the act of sin. Moreover, such sin hurts the body of the Church. For this reason, the Church teaches, "Except when performed for strictly therapeutic medical reason, directly intended amputations, mutilations, and sterilizations performed on innocent persons are against the moral law" (Catechism, No. 2297) ... To destroy organs purposefully that are healthy and functioning, and to try to create imitation organs which will never have the genuineness and functioning of authentic organs is gross and lacks charity. Such surgery which purposefully destroys the bodily integrity of the person must be condemned."

This extract is from an article, 'Straight Answers: The Morality of 'Sex Change' Operations', in The Catholic Herald (A US publication; the link comes via the Centre for Law and Genetics).

A question the article raises - other than the questions related to the normative schema it rests on - is whether there is still a discussion to be had over sex change operations, or whether sex change operations are ethically permissible.

Sandall On Popper's 'Tribalism'

"The attempt, in 2005, to redefine a heterogeneous people of mixed ancestry in the middle of the Pacific as a “tribe”, let alone an Indian tribe, a people moreover who have known little but modern American institutions for at least a hundred years, might seem surprising. But one man who would not have found it surprising is the author of The Open Society and Its Enemies, for the persistence of tribal yearnings in the midst of the modern world was the underlying theme of Karl Popper’s important 1945 book.

The words ‘tribe’, ‘tribal’, and ‘tribalistic’ occur forty-two times in the chapter that presents his main argument—Chapter 10—and his discussion of related matters continues in voluminous footnotes at the end of the book.

Popper’s main purpose in writing The Open Society was to try and explain the whole political, intellectual, and emotional phenomenon of Nazism. What Hitler represented was “arrested tribalism”, and the more Popper thought about the matter the more he saw an atavistic yearning for the past—closed, pre-rational, taboo-ridden, undemocratic, militaristic, and fearful of liberty—as something deeply menacing.

“Arrested tribalism” in political life was the same as “arrested development” in the life of an individual; it indicated a failure to grow, adapt, and deal maturely with a changing world. Change, as Heraclitus said long ago, is something we just have to put up with, like it or not: but the Nazis wanted to turn back the clock. And in order to understand the phenomenon of Nazism historically, it was also necessary to understand the deep roots it had in the past, and to see it in terms of a persistent reaction against social change that has been continually with us since the conflict of Athens and Sparta in classical Greece." - Roger Sandall, 'Tribal Yearnings: The enemies of the open society today'

McWhorter - Oksala's 'Foucault on Freedom'

"Johanna Oksala has produced a provocative reading of Michel Foucault's work on the issues of freedom and resistance to normalizing oppression. Although many commentators have contended that Foucault's historicization of subjectivity leads to metaphysical determinism and eliminates the very possibility of freedom in human life, Oksala argues that his radical rethinking of both bodies and freedom largely escapes the simplistic criticisms routinely put forward since the early 1980s. She does subject Foucault's work to criticisms of her own, however. While the title of her book leads the reader to expect a tight focus on the question of freedom, much of the text is actually devoted to an explication of Foucault's account of subjectivity, culminating in a discussion of his work in ethics, and it is in this late work where Oksala finds serious flaws in Foucault's thought.

Oksala divides her book into three major parts in which she reads Foucault against the background of three major thinkers: Edmund Husserl, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Emmanuel Levinas. In the first third of her book she argues that Foucault's philosophical point of departure is Husserl, perhaps to a greater extent than many readers realize (although those who know the interview material well are aware that Foucault himself made this claim). She offers a stimulating analysis of Foucault's early work The Order of Things as (following Gerald Lebrun) "an anti-Krisis" (40). However, she holds that Husserl's work serves Foucault as a springboard both in that he rejects much of Husserl's account of subjectivity and moves away from it and in that he learns some important lessons from Husserl's account of intersubjective constitution. I will discuss the latter point in a bit more depth momentarily. Oksala devotes the middle third of her book to an analysis of Foucault's work on the body and offers a very interesting parallel reading of Merleau-Ponty along the way. She suggests ways in which Foucault's account could be strengthened if supplemented by Merleau-Ponty's work and, equally interestingly, ways in which Merleau-Ponty's account (and the accounts of embodiment that feminist theorists such as Iris Young have derived from Mealeau-Ponty) could benefit from supplementation by Foucault. Finally, in the last third of the book, she draws heavily from Levinas to critique Foucault's account of ethics and the constitution of the ethical subject." - NDPR.

Jost - Warren's 'Facing Death: Epicurus and his Critics'

"This book is what Epicureans and their critics, both hostile and sympathetic, have been waiting for. It is rare, indeed, to find a work that shows both a solid grasp of ancient texts, their proper philological interpretation and appreciation, and is at the same time clearly cognizant of the contemporary philosophical debates on the issues originally raised by our Greek sources. This is such a book and its publication will prove to be a milestone. Serious[1] metaphysicians today are most likely to be physicalists and, even if we are not all physicalists now, the ancient atomists from Democritus through Lucretius, and especially Epicurus, were the closest in spirit to our modern metaphysics. How many, however, take on the Epicurean challenge in light of their physicalist convictions? That is, how many address forthrightly the old claim that "Death is nothing to us; for what is dispersed does not perceive, and what does not perceive is nothing to us" (Warren's translation of the famous second of the "Principal Doctrines", hereafter abbreviated following the usual convention as K[uriai] D[oxai] 2). Ted Honderich speaks for many a skeptic when he replies: "Epicurus tells us not to worry about death, because it itself isn't experienced -- where you are, your death isn't, and where it is you aren't. Only impressionable logicians are consoled" (quoted on p. 110, fn. 3). It is hard to say how many are now, or ever were, consoled by the doctrine or even how impressionable you have to be to follow the basic logic, but Warren has done a signal service in disambiguating several key claims made in the Epicurean tradition.

There are, he thinks, four main fears about death and its discontents that need to be addressed: (1) fear of being dead, (2) fear (or distress) that one will die and disappear, (3) fear of dying prematurely, and (4) fear of the process of dying. In chapters 1-4 he addresses each concern, exploring both the ancient and modern controversies about the (un)reasonableness of each fear, and then addresses in chapter 5 the positive case to be made for leading an Epicurean life, concluding with a chapter that summarizes the argument of the whole and ends on an upbeat note: "Although it is never too late to begin, Epicurean philosophy is not a 'quick fix'. Axiochus [an eponymous character in a pseudo-Platonic dialogue who has heard fashionable, even eloquent arguments of the sort Epicureans offer but remains unconvinced nevertheless] should have studied longer and harder before now. Had he done so, perhaps these arguments would have got through to his soul, lodged there, and been integrated fully into his other beliefs, transforming his view of a good life and his view of death" (221). "Better late than never" goes the common saying; if Warren is right in this book, it's not too late to finally appreciate this seemingly bleak worldview. If not, it is going to take some good counter-argument to the contrary. And argument or, rather arguments, is what it's all about. The Hellenistic philosophers offered numerous arguments both for their own schools' positions and against those of others and Warren surveys many of their original versions as well as later reformulations. He is aware, as Aristotle was, that arguments alone will not make people decent (NE X.1179b5 ff.) or (in this case) calm their fears but, insofar as they do have a role to play in "cognitive therapy," Epicurean arguments will have some considerable force and should not be entirely dismissed (p. 219)." - NDPR.

Cunning - Skrbina's 'Panpsychism in the West'

"This is a very interesting, and I think important, book. It is not without problems, some of which are considered below, and some of which might be regarded as intractable. But first a survey of the general themes of the book is in order.

One of the themes is that the doctrine that "all things have mind or a mind-like quality" (2) is pervasive in the history of human thought. The list of figures to whom Skrbina attributes the doctrine is impressive. Some are notable philosophers of the ancient period: Thales, Anaximenes, Parmenides, Heraclitus, Anaxagoras, Empedocles, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, Zeno of Citium, and Cicero. One of Skrbina's aims is to argue that panpsychism is not just a hiccup in the history of philosophy. In ancient Greece and Rome panpsychism was the predominant view, Skrbina argues, and was defended by thinkers that we have otherwise taken very seriously. After a hiatus that is traceable to the dominance of Christianity (63), panpsychism becomes pervasive again in the early modern period. A number of lesser known figures embrace a version of the view, but also Bacon, Spinoza, Newton, and Leibniz. Hobbes appears to be committed to panpsychism, argues Skrbina, even if he does not follow his own argumentation to its panpsychist implications. Locke does not endorse panpsychism, but he allows that it is an intelligible view and a contender.

Skrbina then argues that a substantial thread of these panpsychist views stretches to the present day -- from the early moderns to the German idealists; from Peirce and James to Dewey and Whitehead; from Thomas Edison to 20th-Century scientists such as David Bohm. David Chalmers subscribes to positions of which panpsychism is an "inevitable" consequence (242), and Galen Strawson is a panpsychist by his own admission. If Skrbina is right, panpsychism has been embraced by some of the greatest thinkers in the history of philosophy and science. We know "Pierce's more famous work in logic, semiotics, and positivism" (155), but we need to consider the good thinking that informs his other work, and we need to reconsider other figures as well. " - NDPR.

Klement - Mendelsohn's 'The Philosophy Of Gottlob Frege'

This book is a thoughtful, provocative and well-written piece of philosophy dedicated to Gottlob Frege's philosophical views concerning language and philosophical logic. Despite its general sounding title, the work does not treat other areas of Frege's philosophical works, such as his philosophy of mathematics. Nevertheless, a wide variety of topics are addressed: Frege's sense/reference distinction, the function/argument analysis of language, identity, existence, names, descriptions, quotation, referential opacity, assertion and truth. While portions of the work have appeared in print before, most of the volume is new, and older material has been revised and integrated within the whole. Although it contains a fair number of (mostly minor) flaws, it is, on the whole, a valuable contribution to the philosophy of language and secondary literature on Frege ...

In the preface, Mendelsohn points out that distinctions similar to Frege's distinction between sense and reference had been made in the work of earlier philosophers, such as Mill, Arnauld, and Ockham. Mendelsohn conjectures that the reason Frege's philosophy of language has subsequently received so much more attention lies with Frege's adoption of compositionality principles, according to which the sense and reference of complex expressions depend, in a rule-governed way, on the sense and reference of their parts. After a brief biographical chapter, much of the second and third chapters of the book is devoted to the attempt to formulate Frege's semantic principles in precise terms." - NDPR.

Shieh - Macbeth's 'Frege's Logic'

"As MacBeth puts it in the Preface, her aim in this book is “to develop a novel reading of Frege’s logical language Begriffsschrift and to defend that reading textually as a reading of Frege’s writings” (vii). She rejects the widespread assumption that Frege is (one of) the discoverer(s) of modern polyadic quantificational logic, by arguing “that Frege’s logical language ... can ... be read as ... radically different” from “a language of quantificational logic” (vii). Although MacBeth doesn’t put it in this way, on her alternative reading Frege was engaged in an expressivist and inferentialist project similar in spirit to the one recently articulated by Robert Brandom. Since it’s always philosophically salutary to be made aware of and to re-examine one’s fundamental assumptions, it is useful for anyone interested in Frege’s views, or in the nature of logic, to confront MacBeth’s challenge to the orthodoxy even if, like me, one finds it not altogether clear what MacBeth’s case amounts to, and even if what one can understand of it is ultimately unpersuasive." - NDPR. [The review is in Adobe pdf.]

Editorial Notice - Comment Moderation

Blogger has provided a new means of comment moderation. This process involves reviewing the comments prior to them being added to the posts.

The Editor has enabled this process for Dialectic. In continuation of the conventional editorial policy all comments will be posted, except those 'spam' posts that sneak through the verification process and those that are deemed offensive.

The Editor will endeavour to publish comments on a daily basis, and apologies for the delays resulting from this new practice.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Ian McEwan On Proof

"Proof, whether in science or daily life, is an elastic concept, interestingly beset with all kinds of human weakness, as well as ingenuity ... It has been surprisingly difficult to establish definitively what the truth is about any matter, however simple. It is always hard to get a grasp of one's own innate assumptions, and it was once perilous to challenge the wisdom of the elders, or the traditions that had survived the centuries, and dangerous to incur the anger of the gods, or at least, of their earthly representatives." - 'Is science driven by inspired guesswork?', The Telegraph.

Baier on Professional Ethicists

Can we approve of a division of labor in which the theorists keep their hands clean of real-world applications, the ones who advise the decision-makers, those who do “applied ethics,” are like a consumer reports service, pointing out the variety of available theories and what costs and benefits each has for a serious user of it? Does the profession of moral philosophy now display that degeneration of a Kantian moral outlook that Hegel portrays, where there are beautiful souls doing their theoretical thing and averting their eyes from what is happening in the real, even from what is happening in the way of “application” of their own theories, and there are those paid to be the ‘conscience’ of the medical, business or legal profession, what Hegel calls the moral valets, the professional moral judges? (Baier, A, Postures of the Mind Essays on Mind and Morals, pp 233 - 234).

The Ethics Of Ethics Consultancy II

In an earlier post reference was made to a segment on ABC’s New South Wales Stateline, 'An Ethicist Admits' (28th October), on the St James Ethic’s Centre’s Dr Simon Longstaff. The segment raised the question of whether Dr Longstaff’s non-disclosure of a financial link between the Centre and Macquarie Bank, when consulted on Macquarie’s recruitment of former New South Wales Premier Bob Carr, was unethical. The piece cast a shadow of doubt over appiled professional ethics and ethics consultancy.

Dr Longstaff readily admitted that that non-disclosure was unethical: “Firstly, in a hurry, focussing on the political dimension and also probably in the back of my mind thinking that this is not something which is having an influence on me because I don't get anything out of it personally, there is no direct obligation or duty to Macquarie. That said, there is an ethical issue and an ethical failure, which I am quite happy to mention”.

The incident raises the question of what normative principles should form the code that is applied to ethical consultancy?

Worth - Paskow's 'The Paradoxes of Art: A Phenomenological Investigation'

"Alan Paskow successfully defends an important thesis in this book -- that we need not view artworks as separate kinds of entities from other things in our world. Rather, drawing on Heidegger's Being in Time, Paskow shows that self and world are one relational being (88) and artworks and fictional characters are most effectively viewed as internal components of that world. More generally, Paskow takes on a daunting subject: what are the ways in which we interact with works of art? Although there is much historical background required to understand his ultimate thesis, Paskow puts forward the notion of a radically adjusted worldview in order to provide a context in which his thesis makes sense. The key for Paskow is to appeal to the worldview of the Dasein -- an integrated world, one which prefers the first-person phenomenological experience, and which is wholly anti-third-person and anti-Cartesian. As Paskow argues for this worldview, he develops a wonderful and coherent juxtaposition between historical and contemporary arguments and considers the question of our engagement with artworks from a number of different viewpoints. In the end I think that Paskow is successful in his endeavor to find a new perspective from which we can better make sense of our engagement with art. I worry, however, that in the process he may have taken us too far afield from ways that people actually think about the world and their interaction with it. He is also often too quick to dismiss some very important philosophical work in order to argue for the worldview that allows his position to make the most sense. In the end, however, I think he is successful in his endeavor and this book deserves high praise amongst a number of others that appeal to historical contexts in order to grapple with contemporary philosophical problems." - NDPR.

Monday, November 07, 2005

The usefulness of our heads

"We shan't do anything even without our heads, in spite of the fact that it is our heads that most interfere with our understanding."
Dostoevsky, The Devils.

Respect - Kant's Imperative

"Eighteenth-century Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant gave respect a moral weighting, defining it as treating people as ends in themselves rather than a means to an end" - Deborah Hope, 'Rude Awakening' in The Australian November 5-6 2005, p. 27.

This populist reduction of Kant's ethic seems demeaning ... It's almost as if the gravity of the Groundwork has been trivialised to the point of cliché.

Wang Shuhai - 'Society must not shun philosophers'

"In a society geared towards immediate gains, philosophy seems unable to produce tangible benefits. For the majority, philosophy seems virtually useless ... This branch of learning, which hardly delivers short-term benefits, is bound to falter once the government's support is removed. Under such circumstances, philosophy has naturally become a synonym for triteness and uselessness in the eyes of many people." - China Daily.

The case that Wang Shuhai makes - that China needs philosophers - seems, from this biased perspective, to be relevant for elsewhere.

Hauskeller - Agar's 'Liberal Eugenics'

"The title of this clear, scientifically well informed and philosophically sophisticated study is slightly misleading. What Agar is primarily interested in and what he strives to defend is not so much human enhancement as reproductive freedom. Whereas traditional eugenics is concerned with the improvement of human stock and its proponents consequently advocate a strict regulation of reproduction, Agar does not want to commit himself to a particular view of what would count as such an improvement. People have different conceptions of what makes a good life and what characteristics are desirable. From a liberal perspective, these differences ought to be respected, which rules out any form of authoritarian eugenics. What humans should be like is not for the State to decide. For the same reason, however, people should also be free to use enhancement technologies on their children in order to realize their own personal conception of human excellence, i.e. to make their children, in accordance with their own standards, better than they would otherwise be. Here, likewise, the state has no right to interfere. Just as a liberal outlook precludes any form of authoritarian eugenics, it encourages us to adopt a liberal eugenics which embraces not a monistic but a pluralistic view of human excellence. In this manner, "an evil doctrine" is being transformed into "a morally acceptable one." (135)

Unlike philosophers such as Jonathan Glover or John Harris, Agar does not claim that we have a moral duty to provide and use enhancement technologies. However, he argues that consistency with the moral values prevalent in a contemporary liberal democracy requires us to tolerate their development and use. There is no particular ethical theory on which Agar bases his conclusions. Instead of arguing from a Kantian, a utilitarian or any other ethical theory's perspective, he is looking for practices which we have already accepted as morally justified or, on the contrary, as not justifiable. By comparing a still unfamiliar practice to similar but familiar practices which "elicit moral reactions of which we are confident" (39), we get hold of moral images which indicate how morally to evaluate the unfamiliar. This "method of moral images" helps us to decide, without recourse to ethical theory, whether we ought to ban, tolerate or encourage the use of enhancement technologies. Since Agar wants to convince us that we should tolerate the development and use of enhancement technologies, he needs to demonstrate that those moral images which would support his view are in relevant respects closer to the practice of genetic enhancement than those that would rather support its ban or, on the contrary, an obligation to make use of it." - NDPR.

Guilfoy - Mews' 'Abelard and Heloise'

"Mews claims several very broad goals for his book. His first is to "provide a framework that can help readers explore for themselves the richness of the texts that have come down to us, not just of Abelard and Heloise but of their contemporaries". In this respect the book is brilliant. On topics covering the full range of Abelard's thought in logic, ethics, theology, literature, poetry, music, and liturgy Mews discusses what is known of many of the ancient and early medieval sources used by Abelard and his contemporaries. Even more significantly Mews presents the currently known thoughts and theories of Abelard's eleventh- and twelfth-century contemporaries. There are many places where one would wish that he had gone into much greater depth to explicate how Abelard rejected or elaborated these ideas, but Mews acknowledges that with such a broad goal many interesting topics needed to be treated briefly. The book compensates with extensive and detailed notes.

Mews' other stated goals are to argue "that the evolution of Abelard's thinking about language, theology, and ethics is marked by continuity rather than by rupture and that it cannot be understood apart from the influence of Heloise". In particular, Mews takes exception to John Marenbon's 1997 book The Philosophy of Peter Abelard for presenting Abelard's logical thought as distinct from his ethical and theological thought. To this end Mews has written a sort of intellectual biography of Abelard. He traces the development of Abelard's thought topically and chronologically from his arrival in the Paris schools, through his love affair with Heloise, his political struggles and various condemnations, to his eventual death in 1142. Mews' choice to devote considerable attention to Abelard's lesser studied works -- e.g., the literal glosses and the biblical commentaries -- is another of this book's great strengths. However, Mews is not entirely successful in his attempt to show the continuity of Abelard's logic with his ethics and theology. The book too often reaches to draw facile connections between logic, ethics, and Heloise." - NDPR.

Altman - Fitche's 'The Science of Knowing: J. G. Fichte's 1804 Lectures on the Wissenschaftslehre'

"Traditionally, Fichte has been interpreted philosophically as a wayward Kantian and historically as a mere stepping stone in the development of speculative idealism. But Fichte has recently begun to emerge from the long shadows of Kant and Hegel, and he is now considered by many to be a figure worthy of attention in his own right. Over the last thirty years, English-language scholarship on Fichte has significantly increased. Fichte's conception of philosophical thinking as an activity that validates idealism, his insistence on the need for systematicity and an absolutely certain foundation for transcendental philosophy, his understanding of how theoretical and practical reasoning are related, and especially his sophisticated approach to consciousness, which recognizes both rational and irrational elements in the formation of the subject, all provide important contributions to epistemology, philosophy of mind, and ethics, among other areas. Fichte is also thought to have anticipated a number of prominent themes in post-Nietzschean Continental philosophy, especially the idea that the "summons" (Aufforderung) of the other makes possible my existence as a subject.

Although Fichte's philosophy has begun to get the close attention it deserves, most scholars have focused on his early writings, before the so-called "Atheism Controversy" and his dismissal from the University of Jena in 1799. After his subsequent move to Berlin, Fichte taught privately and republished earlier works in order to make a living. But he also continued to reformulate his philosophy in a way that would answer his many critics and more effectively communicate it to an uncomprehending public. Fichte eventually devised what he considered a clearer and more convincing expression of the views that had been so widely misunderstood, and in 1804 he advertised a series of lectures that, for a fee, members of the public could attend. The second of three sets of lectures given during that year is viewed by many Fichte scholars as the first definitive account of the later Wissenschaftslehre." - NDPR.

silva rhetoricae

Rhetoric is one of those branches of philosophy that seems to have lost its place on the tree, yet it also seems to be one with significant history and merits. silva rhetoricae is a considerable resource for the beginner in this particular area.

Existentialism Philosophy

Existentialism Philosophy - A philo-blog dedicated to existentialism; slightly popularist in bent it is possibly the only blog dedicated to this particular movement.

Heretical Soapbox

Heretical Soapbox - A contemporary continental tradition philo-blog, this soapbox is a platform for deconstruction and heterodoxy.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Philosopher's Carnival, No. Twenty-One

The twenty-first Philosopher’s Carnival is presently being hosted by Prior Knowledge. The various post have been divided into six categories, of varying broadness ('religion and naturalism' and 'ethics and society' sits beside 'consciousness'). The introduction of a 'new blogs' category is the sort of development that the Carnival should perpetuate, to encourage new philo-blogs to stand up and be counted.

Notice - 'The Grout Is On The Wall'

'The Grout Is On The Wall - Preliminary Findings Of A Modest Study', written by Dialecitc contributors Rowan Blyth, Samuel Douglas, and Martin Hill, and fellow Philosophy Club member Christopher Baker, has been published in Opus Issue 7, 2005.

Copies of Opus are available from around the Callaghan Campus.

Windschuttle - 'Foucault as Historian'

"In 1966, Michel Foucault attracted a great deal of academic attention by coining the phrase 'the death of man'. His obvious allusion to Nietzsche's well-known proclamation of the end of religion in the phrase 'the death of God' drew a considerable notoriety to himself and to the then burgeoning school of 'anti-humanism'. By 'the death of man', Foucault wrote in his book The Order of Things, he meant the end of the humanist concepts of man as a creature ruled by reason and of history as a phenomenon governed by the decisions of powerful individuals. Instead, history was a process without a subject. Not only did men not make their own history but the concept of 'man' itself, he argued, was passé.

Foucault shared this thesis with other anti-humanist thinkers of the time, including the Annales school of French historians, all of whom regarded history as being driven by forces far more powerful than those of any individual. Anti-humanism's main proposition was that the autonomy of the individual subject was an illusion. The humanist tradition had been wrong to assign the central roles of human affairs to the conscious mind and free will. Instead, some strands of anti-humanism claimed that human behaviour and thought were dominated by the unconscious, and hence humanists should abandon their assumption that purposive behaviour was consciously directed. Others, like the Annales school, held that the impersonal forces of geography and demography governed the destiny of mankind." - The Sydney Line (site of the Australian History/Culture Wars ...).

Continetial Philosophy has posted a critique of Windschuttle's interpretation.


Philetica - another infant philo-blog (spring/autumn must be the season), this one is, apparently, concerned with aesthetics.

Posthegemonic Musings

Posthegemonic Musings - A blog focused on contemporary continental political theory (am not quite sure how seriously it is to be taken ...).

The Weblog

The Weblog - A diverse, and long-running, continential theory focused philo-blog.

Rauscher - Watkins' 'Kant and the Metaphysics of Causality'

"Eric Watkins has turned the old Patchwork Thesis upside down (or, if you wish, right side-up). The Patchwork Thesis, made famous in Kant circles early in the twentieth century by Hans Vaihinger and Norman Kemp Smith, held that elements of Kant's pre-critical thought found their way into his mature Critique of Pure Reason. Watkins essentially agrees. The Patchwork Thesis further takes as its interpretive lesson that these pre-critical elements ought to be ignored and that the genuine "Kantian" philosophy must be drawn from the passages most recently written. Watkins could not disagree more. Instead he argues that the best way to understand Kant's mature philosophy is to read it in light of his pre-critical thought." - NDPR.

Murphy - Frankish's 'Mind And Supermind'

"The overall picture distinguishes what Frankish calls either the strand 1 mind or the basic mind from the strand 2 mind, or supermind. (The book would be easier to follow if it consistently used just one of these pairs of neologisms.) The basic mind is non-conscious and contains passively formed beliefs that come in degrees, cannot be actively controlled, and do not involve language. As a reasoning system, it is well described by Bayesian decision theory. The supermind, on the other hand, is conscious, and its beliefs can be actively formed and controlled, expressed in a natural language, and are held or not without qualification. As a reasoning system, it is "classical". (This term is not defined, but it seems to mean syllogistic or otherwise subject to logical, rather than probabilistic, appraisal.) The supermind is realized in the basic mind, in the sense that generalizations about states of the supermind are made true by generalizations about underlying basic states. The result is a very strong commitment not just to the idea that folk psychology quantifies over real entities, but that folk psychology, properly understood, is correct in almost every particular about the nature of those entities, and that the nature of belief is a conceptual, rather than an empirical, matter." - NDPR.