Skepticism and Progress

Does Pyrrhonian skepticism provide a viable approach for a progressive life? Skepticism is often reproached for its noncommittal attitude towards life, being charged with apraxia, the lack of asserted action or purpose, as well as a deficiency of imagination due to their continual appeal to the unadorned appearances. So we ask, what good is skepticism? Better yet, why practice skepticism? Surely there are compelling justifications why the skeptic school should be preferred over any other, otherwise there be no incentive to study and practice the discipline over any other. To explore these questions I will use ‘progress’ in the philosophical as well as the historical sense. Stated clearly, I will investigate whether the skeptical approach is capable of solving problems, or providing answers to questions, and whether these solutions provide a means of becoming increasingly better in the various life projects humanity undertakes.

I will begin by delineating the core tenants of skepticism, specifically exploring the aim and ends of quietude, before discussing the dilemmas and consequence of these tenants, such as the charge of apraxia brought against skepticism. I will then argue that the skeptical approach ultimately tames progress by providing a regulatory methodology that corrects for stipulative errors of judgment, but does not directly contribute to progress due to its inherent inability to assert any original facticities of value. To conclude, I will take the position that the skeptical approach (though not explicitly stated by the skeptics themselves) is vital in the development of a critical consciousness, that its methodology and tropes provide an analytical framework and methods of deconstruction and reduction that render dogmatic facts, semantics and values as subjective instruments, rather than true facts. Continue reading “Skepticism and Progress”

Justification for the Death Penalty

Is the death penalty an acceptable punishment? Is it moral? Is it prudential? I will take a pragmatic position, arguing that the death penalty is an instrumental and symbolic act for maintaining order and harmony. Morality, that which appeals to a higher good, is typically codified by societal conventions and expectations. Arguing whether the death penalty is moral would require appealing to what is traditionally acceptable, or asking whether it benefits society in some way. In this case the question of the death penalty is a pragmatic one.

A society based on liberalism is characterized by the mutual collaboration of free and equal individuals working towards certain ends, with the most general end being the growth and flourishing of all of its constituent citizens. This is a feature of life more generally. Laws are created to preserve order and to ensure that this collaboration occurs justly, where liberty and equality are preserved for all. Why do we use the death penalty? This form of punishment is reserved for those who undermine the harmonious order, order that is instantiated to ensure the well-being of society, and is used for punishing the most heinous of crimes, most typically those committed by individuals who murder.

I argue that the death penalty is justifiable on moral and prudential grounds, that the authority established in the formation of the government, in which all citizens tacitly consent to, has ultimate power to exercise its interpretation of the law in order to justify punishments. Speaking broadly, this authority is derived not from its power to exercise rule, but because of the constitutional document which established it and the tacit consent of its citizens to exist under the rule of this document.

Continue reading “Justification for the Death Penalty”

The Philosophy of Parmenides

          The fragments of Parmenides provide the earliest formulations of the laws of thought[1] that Aristotle later most famously formalized. (p. 58, 2.B2) His philosophy runs in direct contrast to that of Heraclitus who sought to create a philosophy that could accommodate the flux of the universe with the simultaneous paradoxes arising from change. Most likely influenced by the Pythagoreans and their conceptions of the capacity to reason, Parmenides sought to rely on understanding (capacity to reason) as a means of discerning the truth of what-is. This essay will begin by summarizing Parmenides’ account of what-is and what-is-not before exploring the question of why we cannot investigate what-is-not. It will conclude by discussing whether it is possible to learn about what doesn’t exist and delve into the potential implications of such a possibility. Continue reading “The Philosophy of Parmenides”

Existential Freedom: Simon de Beauvoir

Beauvoir presents an existential account of freedom by continuing with Sartre’s thinking of man as free, but emphasizing the ambiguity man faces by simultaneously existing in freedom and facticity, as a free being in a concrete world (7).  Man escapes from his natural condition, she says, through the freedom of rationality and the pure internality. Men have “striven to reduce mind to matter, or to reabsorb matter into mind, or to merge them within a single substance.” (7) What arises is the inherent paradox of man.

Beauvoir does not want to escape the ambiguity, like so many philosophers and thinkers have done in the past, but to accept the ambiguity and live within it, that is, “accept the task of realizing it” (13). She calls the tendency to deny, or negate, or escape the ambiguity of existence cowardice, saying that this method doesn’t pay. (8)

The existential conversion, Beauvoir says, “does not suppress my instincts, desires, plans, and passions, it merely prevents any possibility of failure by refusing to set up absolutes the ends toward which my transcendence thrusts itself, and by considering them in their connection with the freedom which projects them.” (14) This passage addresses the incarnation of subjective ends through subjective freedom. In this way she says that the world is a place willed by man which “expresses his genuine reality” (17). She emphasizes the “plurality of concrete, particular men projecting themselves toward their ends on the basis of situations whose particularity is as radical and as irreducible as subjectivity itself” (18).  This raises the question of how unique and separate men can live in ethical harmony. Her answer is that “an ethics of ambiguity will be one which will reduce to deny a priori that separate existents can, at the same time,  be bound to each other, that their individual freedoms can forge laws valid for all” (18).

To be free, then, requires the conscious spontaneous choice of projects undertaken moment by moment. These projects must be positively assumed, says Beauvoir, and the weight of the concrete consequences of these choices of the will must be accepted as a result of our fundamental freedom (24, 32). Meaning “surges up only by the disclosure which a free subject effects in his project.” (20) Thus, the principles of ethical action will be discovered as inextricable from choices and freedom (23). In the same way, the will to be moral and the will to be free are one in the same. (24) But a tension arises nonetheless from the disclosure of being. While the justification of life requires the realization of particular concrete ends, it also requires itself universally (24).  As a result, the relationship of a being with others is integral the Beauvoir’s existential thought.

Beauvoir emphasizes the failure of man as a central component to freedom, citing philosophers who wrestle with this failure as absurdity or anguish, the otherwise overall lack of answers. Beauvoir states that “nothing is decided in advance, and it is because man has something to lose and because he can lose that he can also win.” (34) In this way life is marked by activity and ambiguity enmeshed in the situated affairs of other men, all of which objectify the others.

Beauvoir describes the complex situation that free man finds himself in by illustrating the condition as men born into the world like children. A child comes into the world that is determined for them. They act according to the rules and structures pre-established. So long as a man continues acting according to this world, and never for himself, he is kept in a state of servitude and servile. (37) There is no exercise of freedom and the world is seen as a serious place. (38) Eventually the infantile world gives way to adolescence as questions are asked and discovery of subjectivity arises. (39) Not so with slaves. Even women, Beauvoir says, at least have a choice as to whether to choose or consent to the world imposed on them (38). The child is unique in that, whereas man draws upon the character of his past to make choices, the child has no character to draw from and must set it up “little by little” (40).

Beauvoir sets up several categories describing how humans seek to escape their responsibility and freedom by delineating the nature of the “sub-man”, the “serious man”, as well as the “nihilist” and the “adventurer”. The sub-man is a manifestation of bad faith and apathy by constraining activity through the denial of their freedom (44).  The sub-man is barely man at all, living in constant boredom and sloth. This sub-man is often manipulated by the serious man as an object. The serious man is an attitude that seeks freedom of objective standards and values which in turn denies freedom (47). The serious man does not act authentically because the action is not willed from freedom, its goals are not established with freedom as a goal, but rather as instruments revered in various ways as useful or right or good for some end (48-9). As soon as these objective external ends are removed from the serious man, his life loses all meaning (51).

The nihilist is a failed serious man, essentially “conscious of being unable to be anything, man then decided to be nothing” (52). The assertion of nothingness is not a result of freedom, but a result of denial found as a disappointed seriousness which “turns back upon itself”.  The nihilist is right in thinking that the world possesses no justification, but forgets that it is up to him to justify the world and instantiate himself (57).

The last is the adventurer who rejects the attitudes of the serious man and the nihilist (60). He accepts his freedom and projects, but he forgets the role of the others and thus exists in pure egoism and selfishness (61). He is therefore apt to treat others are mere instruments and sacrifice others for the attainment of personal power. In this way the adventurer is the ultimate tyrant, seeking independence and submitting to no other master but his own ends, no other master than the supreme master he makes himself (62). In this way the adventurer maintains a subjective positivity that is not extended toward others. Thus he exists in a false independence that falsely believes one can act for oneself without acting for all. (63)

Works Cited

de Beauvoir, Simone. The Ethics of Ambiguity. New York: Citadel Press, 1948.

Existential Freedom: Jean-Paul Sartre

Sartre wrote Existentialism and the Human Emotions in response to the critics who viewed the corollary of his existential philosophy to be solipsism or quietism. Whether existentialists are religious or secular, Sartre states that it is impossible for man to transcend human subjectivity. Thus, subjectivity is the necessary starting point, for “Man is nothing else but what he makes of himself.” (15)

Sartre says that man is conscious of imagining himself as being in the future and consequently is what he has planned himself to be.  Man is a plan which is aware of itself, where nothing exists prior to this plan. (16) This runs contrary to the Cartesian paradigm stemming from “I think, therefore I am” where essence precedes existence, where concepts are the genesis of operating processes (13). In this view man is dictated by and in bondage to a priori ideas and concepts as a way of existing. However, man’s existence precedes preexisting determinations. In this way existence precedes his very essence, rendering man totally free.

Freedom is the predetermined nature that establishes a commonality of human nature. Existence is a universal human predicament, a condition that precedes consciousness, a situation man finds himself in. (14) Man’s commodity is his necessity to determine, his freedom in choosing to be. With this freedom, Sartre says, comes a responsibility for determining what he is. Every act contributes to the creation of man’s image so that every choice establishes an essence of man. (17) Man is always responsible for his choice to choose what he is to be and how he is to live: he is always in the making, continually projecting himself into the world and materializing his freedom through action, through deciding. (50)

Sartre emphasizes the responsibility man has to this freedom. A dishonest man is one who believes in passion and other deterministic excuses. Man is responsible for his passions. There is no conception prior to what man has expressed through his actions. (23) Man fashions himself through his actions, by expressing himself through a series of undertakings, through an ensemble of choices, in which he is the sum of the organization and relationships contained therein. (33) This image of man forms a constitution that is continually manifested through his total involvement on the basis of the repeated acts he forms. (34) In this way, man is a destiny unto himself in which his actions enable him to live. (35)

This freedom extends not only to the individual, but to others. Because there is no a priori conception of man, what he is and should and can be, every choice and action contributes to what we believe the image of man ought to be. (17) By allowing for the understanding of self and others, intersubjectivity establishes a universality among men that is a comprehensible human condition. Sartre says his choices to pass beyond or recede from limits or deny or adapt, represent a configuration of man in a set of circumstances. (33) This configuration is perpetually made through choosing or building an understanding of other’s configuration. (39) Thus, since the creation and invention of man’s image occurs our freedom comes with a responsibility to all mankind.

Sartre says that the fundamental project of human reality is the desire to be God since God “represents the permanent limit in terms of which man makes known to himself what he is”. (63) Freedom is the choice to create itself its own possibilities. Consequently, freedom is a lack of being. By being something concrete, one is not free. Therefore, the annihilation of being is freedom. (65) Man’s project, Sartre says, is to manifest freedom through a lack of being by making itself the desire of being, that is, making “the project-for-itself of being in-itself-for-itself”. (66)

Works Cited

Sartre, Jean-Paul. Existentialism and Human Emotions. New York: Citadel Press, 1987.

Existential Freedom: Albert Camus

Camus wrote the Myth of Sisyphus as an essay on the relationship between individual thought and suicide as a solution to the absurd (6). Camus used the Greek myth of Sisyphus as a metaphor for life and the seeming absurdity of living. Understanding Camus conception of absurdity is necessary for grasping the role of freedom in human existence.

According to Camus, absurdity can be found to occur anywhere, on street corners or in revolving doors. (12) It strikes in moments throughout a man’s life when the uniformity and routine of existence—the habituations of thought and regularities of action—are broken and man seeks to reconnect and repair them again (12). Camus says that “before encountering the absurd, every man lives with aims, a concern for the future or for justification (with regard to whom or what is not the question).” (57)

Absurdity arises when the inference of reason reveals itself to be wholly dependent on cognitive activity alone, the sole work of consciousness. In this event inference ceases to follow from the nauseating compulsion of objective necessities and the world readjusts itself as a relative, subjective condition of man. Camus says that “A man’s failures imply judgment, not of circumstances, but of himself.” (69) Inference positions itself as alien to the world from which we attribute it (21). When man posits the question ‘why?’ and weariness sets it, he reveals the lack of inference in his mechanical routines, and elucidates an impulse of consciousness. (13) This consciousness either dissipates as man falls back into his life’s motifs, or he realizes, through an awakening, that inference is a device imparted to the mind, rather than a process inherent to the world. Camus says man comes to terms with this awakening by embracing suicide or recovery. (13)

Camus holds that life is indeed meaningless, full of contradictions and confusion, and has no inherent values other than those that we create. He entreats, however, asking “In the face of such contradictions and obscurities must we conclude that there is no relationship between the opinion one has about life and the act one commits to leave it?” (7,8) Certainly not. Rather accepting the futility of our world as an excuse for suicide, and rather than accepting the leap of faith that religion calls for, Camus proposes that we consciously accept the futility moment by moment by revolting with freedom and passion (64). In this way living is keeping the absurd alive, retaining the possibility of happiness and meaning in moments in between, whereas suicide would negate the very absurdity and possibility that established it. (6, 54) According to Camus, revolt as “the constant confrontation between man and his own obscurity” is one of the few acceptable philosophical positions. It means we must “challenge the world at every second” (54). This revolt is defiance, an exercise of freedom, which intensifies life’s value maximally in a way that no other ideological thinking can guarantee (55).

Camus paints three extreme portraits of absurd lifestyles given the form of the lover, the actors, and the conqueror (90). While there is nothing exclusive about these lifestyles they provide a caricature of the absurdity as a joy of living creatively. Inasmuch as life is absurd, life is creation (94). “To think is first of all to create a world” Camus says. Through creation man manifests ends and aims and realities so that just as an artist “commits himself and becomes himself in his work”, a creative being commits himself and becomes himself in the tasks he lovingly chooses for himself (97). Intelligence must refuse to reason the concrete, concluding that “expression begins where thought ends” (99).  According to Camus, gratuitousness is a hallmark of the absurd life and a life with hope: with no revolt or divorce from illusions, there is no gratuitousness. What is necessary then is this constant passionate detachment (102).

Works Cited

Camus, Albert. The Myth of Sisyphus. New York: Vintage International, 1991.

Existential Freedom: Viktor Frankl

Viktor Frankl’s conception of the freedom of human existence spawned from his trials and observations in WWII concentration camps. Throughout his duration in camps he identified certain attitudes and behaviors that his fellow inmates exhibited when faced with death and meaninglessness. These experiences would later form his logotherapy approach. For Frankl, man’s search for meaning is the primary driving force in life. (99) The search for meaning is uniquely fulfilled by the subjective interests and responsibilities of each individual. Frankl’s logotherapy revolves around the “will to meaning” as the driving force propelling man to achieve fulfillment.  Psychiatric problems arise out of an ‘existential frustration’ when the will to meaning is obstructed. According to Frankl, values and defense mechanisms are constructs fabricated by man as a result of his desire for a meaning. (100)

This search for meaning is fulfilled in three sources. These sources of meaning are love, work and suffering. Frankl describes love as the saving ‘why’ that facilitates the ‘how’ contained in work. The final source of meaning is contained in suffering. Frankl quotes Nietzsche and says that “He who has a why can bear most any how.” He cites two reasons for why suffering is good, namely that it creates inner freedom or spiritual freedom, and that man can choose to see suffering as a task in which he can suffer proudly. Again he quotes Nietzsche saying “There is only one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings.” In this way suffering becomes an achievement which ‘transforms a personal tragedy into a triumph.”

Frankl stresses the importance of attitude toward life. Taking responsibility for life meant seeing life as tasks to complete with right action and right conduct (77).  Man always has choice in his action. He is responsible for his life. This responsibility is an essential response to the will for meaning. Man desires a fulfilling life; he desires meaning and worthwhile achievement. It is important to note that Frankl isn’t concerned with what man wants out of life. He is concerned with what life wants out of man. The demands of life present tasks. Man undertakes these tasks by exercising the freedom of inner life and choosing his attitude and how he aims to respond to these tasks.

Works Cited

Frankl, Viktor. Man’s Search for Meaning. Boston: Beacon, 2006.

Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding: Hume’s Empiricism, Skepticism, and Naturalism

The whole premise of Hume’s An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding was to delineate the limits of human understanding and put a rest to metaphysical speculation by grounding philosophical reasoning in experience rather than pure reason. From the outset Hume’s preferred method of inquiry is scientific, based on observation and experimentation, rather than purely abstract reasoning. He posits that any fruitful beliefs about the world must be rooted in experience rather than wholly reflective theorizing.

I will begin by briefly summarizing Hume’s primary claims regarding his empiricism, skepticism, and naturalism and illustrate his emphasis on each of these in an effort to show that his philosophy is consistent and equally supports all three. I will ultimately conclude that his account of naturalism is the least developed of the three. This paper will then examine the methods and their accuracy that he employs in developing each of these. Continue reading “Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding: Hume’s Empiricism, Skepticism, and Naturalism”

Thoughts on Rorty’s Neo-pragmatism

Rorty lays out a compelling case for his rendition of pragmatism. Ultimately his claim produces the same effect as the sentence “This sentence has no significance.” By throwing out the ideas of essential truths and knowledge as simply products of social convention, he adopts a pseudo-relativistic view of the world where truth and knowledge are contingent upon the starting points afforded to us by our language. However, he maintains that conversational inquiry has a purpose and maintains a utility, despite where its conclusions may lead. As the aforementioned sentence demonstrates, despite its futile conclusion or message, we are engaged in an activity that allows us to converge in understanding. In the event if we decide to evade the contingency of our starting points and continue the pursuit of higher essences, we do so not as a means of establishing something essential, but to satisfy some “Metaphysical Comfort”.  Continue reading “Thoughts on Rorty’s Neo-pragmatism”

Draft: Science as a Pragmatic Social Utility: Implications on Freedom

All things are subject to interpretation; whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth.
-Friedrich Nietzsche

Continue reading “Draft: Science as a Pragmatic Social Utility: Implications on Freedom”

Evidentialism

The Principle of Evidentialism states that a Subject is justified in believing p if the belief is proportioned according to evidence at a given time. That is, S is epistemically justified in believing a proposition at time t if and only if the belief is supported by S’s evidence at time t.

Suppose I maintain the belief that I will pass all my philosophy classes. The evidence I have for this belief is that I have received all passing grades through the semester, that there are no new assignments, there is no class curve, and it is now the last day of classes. I am justified in believing that I will pass because all the evidence supports this belief; namely that all my grades are undeniably above passing and there are no more opportunities to earn credit toward my grade.

This belief is justified because the proposition “I believe that I will pass all my philosophy classes” is supported evidence “it has been confirmed that all the grades I received in all these classes are undeniably passing” at the time the proposition was stated, i.e. at the last day of classes. It is important that all evidence is properly accounted for, including knowledge of a class curve and the relation of these grades to other students. Also vitally important is that the proposition is stated according to the evidence at time t. If it was stated earlier there would be insufficient evidence to uphold that belief because not all possible grades were completed.

Pragmatism and a priori Knowledge

Can a pragmatist accept a priori knowledge? Consider the following statements of a priori knowledge:

1) 4 beer cans and 3 beer cans equals 7 beer cans in total.
2) A can contains the properties metallic and cylindrical.

The mind has inescapable a priori knowledge that operates as an interpretative function for ordering and categorizing experience. A pragmatist can instrumentally stipulate any definition. If we take thought as a priori, i.e.capable of intuitions independent of experience,  one can stipulate necessary conventions for assimilating experience. In this way the self generates a priori thoughts that function as an interpretive structure brought to experience, but this a priori knowledge is uniquely exclusive to the self. Revisions to current a priori knowledge have no affect on past interpretations as they have already been interpreted as experience. All a priori stipulations provide a ‘perceptual gestalt’ or ‘interpretive lens’ composed of axioms that categorize experience into concepts to suit personal ends. The implications of a stipulation may even yield new insights about experience, as when two stipulated definitions render incompatible (contradictory or inconsistent) experience.

The two examples given illustrate concepts with definitions stipulated a priori that categorize experiences a posteriori. In this way the definition of a can brings classification to experience, so that experiencing the properties metallic and cylindrical classify an experience as a can.

While experience may provide material to stipulate categorical definitions, such as certain predications, it is not necessary for stipulating. Stipulations arise from the mind and are brought to experience as a priori categorical structures.

 

 

Insanity

What is insanity? The most familiar definition that comes to mind is from Einstein who said, “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” It is peculiar to think of insanity this way, particularly because it flies in the face of normalcy. Many believe that the socially responsible and acceptable thing to do is to adhere to certain norms and customs and traditions, and that these will allow you to adequately function in society. What normalcy doesn’t guarantee, however, is individuality, or originality. To be an individual, one must do things differently and expect different results. But what of a society that values doing things differently only to achieve the same results, such as participating in all the counter-cultural rituals to gain acceptance as an ‘individual’ ? Can it be said that such a person has achieved individuality?

‎”Insanity in individuals is something rare – but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.” -F.Nietzsche

Insanity. What I find insane is society. Civilization. Tradition. Custom. Ritual. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the utility of consistency. I understand the pragmatic element of predictability, from a linguistic standpoint as well as a logical and epistemological standpoint. After all, learning curves are greatly reduced by assimilating the knowledge past down by forbearer, no? And we can’t very well go about creating our own neologistic language and expect to be effective interpersonally, now can we?  But where do we draw the line between maintaining and gaining? Passing on and passing over? Subsisting and thriving? Progress requires change. Change requires adaptation. If we sell out to maintain the status quo, if we fail to commit to the efflorescent incarnations of possibility in favor of the denouement of equilibrium, we must embrace our death; for we have already died.

Society is insane. Look at the way they scuttle around in the rat race, trying to secure these temporal provisions; see how they frantically instill meaning and comfort into fabricated facticities. Observe the perduring populous that embodies repetition; always allied to the alacritous attachment of doing the same thing, over and over again, and always expecting different results. If you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep getting what you’re getting. In the end everyone’s demise is the same. Society is a self-fulfilling prophecy; a reflexive perpetuation proselytizing more of the same. The social consciousness does not readily expand but rather, it promptly strengthens itself onto itself.

So what is insanity? A break from conventional norms, I suppose. So sanity, once again, is doing the same thing over and over again. The endorsement of cultural customs, e.g. materialism, hedonism, consumerism, aceticism, celebrityism, sciencism, etc. I suppose the great majority of people think they aren’t insane because they don’t expect different results. Predictability is offered as a sycophant of security.

That is the real tragedy. When people not only do the same thing over and over again, but they do not expect different results. They have been sedated or conditioned or desensitized to rudimentary routines and rituals. 9 to 5. Primary, secondary, tertiary schooling, followed by a stint of rebellious youth, cue the career, make room for marriage, corral some kids, restfully retire, and then comes the inevitable surprise of death.

Sanity: “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting the same results.” This rationalist program will inevitably suffer the same stifling fate as freedom. Time waits for no man. If you are not progressing, you are regressing. Life is meant to flourish. Growth and evolution should be the cynosure of contemplation, the mark of progress. But not by any quantitative measure imposed by external authority. It should be an inward journey. Growth is not static.

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. — ‘Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’ — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.”  -R.W. Emerson

Insanity is characterized by senseless or abnormal behavior by societal standards. But how amazing it is to look at societal standards! Especially through the perspective lens of time! How standards change!

So the question of insanity remains. Are you insane for following your desires? Even if your desires lead to your demise? Even if they cast you into chains? Even if they toss you into pain and hardship? Would you be willing to escape sanity and embrace the lucres of authentic freedom? At what price?

Men are never really willing to die except for the sake of freedom: therefore they do not believe in dying completely.
-A. Camus

 

Science as Logic of Discovery: Examining Kuhn’s Critique of Popper

This essay will examine and critique Thomas Kuhn’s thesis in his article titled Logic of Discovery or Psychology of Research. To accomplish this I will summarize Kuhn’s thesis, identify key critical arguments made against Karl Popper, analyze these arguments, and critically evaluate the argument with supporting examples. Each of Kuhn’s arguments will be stated clearly and analyzed so that the evidence in favor for or against Kuhn’s claims becomes clear and distinct. I will then present an argument in favor of Kuhn’s criticism on Popper.

Continue reading “Science as Logic of Discovery: Examining Kuhn’s Critique of Popper”

Thoughts on the Philosophy of Science

Recently I’ve read a variety of essays on the topic of philosophy and the natural sciences. Some of the philosophers I’ve read include Kuhn, Popper, Thagard, Lakatos, Ruse, and Lauden, to name a few. Some of the topics include the demarcation of science and non-science, and the criteria for pseudoscience. Subtopics include astrology, biorhythms, and creationism.
I just read an essay written by Michael Ruse titled Why Creation Science is Not Science. I wanted to expunge on some thoughts…

Michael Ruse carefully defends his position that creation-science is indeed, not a science. He centralizes his arguments against creationism around key philosophical principles that act foundationally to support his notion of real science. At the crux of his argument is empiricism, the basic tenant of science, whereby sense experience and observation of consistency and order ultimately yield understanding which scientists distill as laws through rigorous standards of criteria.

Continue reading “Thoughts on the Philosophy of Science”

Pollock’s principle of objective epistemic justification

Pollock’s principle of objective epistemic justification, whereby objective epistemic justification entails justified true belief, states that:

S is objectively justified in believing P if and only if:
1. S is (subjectively) justified in believing P; and
2. there is a set of X truths such that, given any more inclusive set Y of truths, necessarily, if the truths in Y were added to S’s beliefs (and their negations removed in those cases in which S disbelieves them) and S believed P for the same reason then he would still be (subjectively) justified in believing P.

In an example similar to Pollock’s Tom Grabit case, it becomes evident that the structure of epistemic justification and the complexity of epistemic norms is the crux for objective epistemic justification:

Suppose I see a sign indicating that the home of particular neighbor Mr. Beech is for sale on my street. I am sure that I am familiar with this neighbor who is an economics professor at the local college and know he lives there. The following day I arrive at work and report that Mr. Beech’s home is for sale, on the account that I have met him and seen a for sale sign on my street. However, unbeknownst to me, my wife insists that Mr. Beech is not moving anywhere, on account that she spoke with him the day before and he made no indication of doing so.

However, my wife did not know that Mr. Beech was ashamedly the victim on a Ponzi scheme and lost all him money, and that he desperately wanted to move to save face and needed to sell his house to recoup money. In light of this evidence, it becomes apparent that I did know that Mr. Beech was moving.

This example supports Pollock’s principle of objective epistemic justification because S instantiated argument A that objectively justified P so that A prevailed undefeated in relation to the inclusive set of truths presented. In the example, S is objectively justified in believing P as a result of knowledge that was undefeated by true defeaters.

Does Language Exist?

To say that there is no such thing as language would be to say there is no such thing as a theory of meaning. This equivocation becomes confusing when trying to establish semantic or foundational theories of meaning that rely on the use of propositional attitudes or cultural identities.

Davidson makes very compelling arguments for why the ordinary notion of language- “the ability to converge on a passing theory from time to time”- should be abandoned. While I am apt to agree with his conclusion, he fails to fully account for the role that socialization plays, what Wittgenstein refers to as enculturation and Bourdieu refers to as censoring, in shaping a learners beliefs and reducing indeterminacy to contextually determinate linguistic practices.

While Davidson rejects the building block theory, the seeming core of Wittgenstein’s language game theory, they both agree that human action is the starting point for any linguistic theory discussion. For Davidson, words are meaningless unless they occur within a sentence, just as sentences are meaningless unless they occur within a context of some purpose or aim: the semantic content is rendered radically indeterminate without a context. As a corollary, one sees that sentences are meaningless unless they communicate a set of propositional attitudes that harmonize with the interlocutor’s beliefs about the action or aim, beliefs tightly bound to purpose or aims unique to the community of the interlocutor. The purpose or aims directly reflect the social and environmental demands that the community works to resolve through cooperative human activity, as Wittgenstein illustrates with the enculturation of language games. Each ‘language’ contains the propositional attitudes associated with this human activity. The defining characteristic of a language then is the evolving social and environmental demands manifesting as a shared intentionality which take form as common propositional attitudes or beliefs that become embedded into the language and words.

Language[1] then can be defined as a manner of speech which functions as a device of exchange ‘to make common’. It can be concluded that Davidson’s passing theory, similar to Wittgenstein’s language game theory, is simply the origin of language formation as a result of converging on an aim or purpose through a shared intentionality which gives rise to propositional attitudes. Mastering the art of interpretation requires the ability to converge on a common aim or purpose by successfully cognizing the demands or shared intentions of the interlocutor.

Does language exist? So long as common demands exist among interlocutor, then a convergence of purpose or aims, as facilitated through Davidson’s principle of charity, can be achieved as shared intentionality. The result is a commonality among the interlocutors that provides ground for future cooperative exchanges. The repeatability of practices gives way to customary norms and standard conventions that provides communicative exchanges with a contextual determinacy that aid in facilitating the translation of intentionality and successfully addressing shared purpose or aims.

Many philosophers have presented objections directly against Davidson’s claim against the existence of language. One difference argues a fundamental difference between translation and understanding that stresses the divide between the hearer’s stance and the detached perspective of the observer. Social objections include Putnam’s linguistic division of labor between experts for articulating semantic domains, questions of national and cultural identity that possess certain linguistic struggles and linguistic rights, the social costs emphasized by Bourdieu for departing from linguistic norms, and the reality of unintended meanings occurring within social contexts.

On a linguistic level, language, dialect and idiolect reflect the nuanced conventions of a community specific to the human activity contained in each of their unique purposes and aims. The development of a distinct language is the manifestation of enculturated conventions on a macrocosmic scale according to the social and environmental demands, while a dialect mirrors a more narrow deviation from this enculturation corresponding to more regional variations in demands, and idiolect even narrower still.

To assert the importance of one linguistic level over another would effectively overlook the function of language as a medium for facilitating the cooperation of human activity toward shared purposes and aims. Each level elucidates a degree of enculturation that distinctly comprises the purposes and aims of a family, community, and/or nation. A system of linguistic practices always develops as a result of the convergence of shared intentions between two or more persons addressing a common purpose or aim interactionally. However, as the demands change, so to do the purposes and aims as individuals arrive at new shared intentions. As a result, conversational exchanges become chained together as preexisting linguistic practices are inherited through the traditional conventions and customary norms embedded and passed on through the language as residue of antiquated conventions and outdated practices of the past

The consequence for individuals born into a preexisting language systems are the subtle ideological influences within in the language that contain inconspicuous propositional attitudes that shape an individual’s ideology and identity. While individuals can develop new linguistic practices by identifying demands and form shared intentions, they are constrained, insofar as they have been enculturated by institutional practices and habituated by ideologies inherited from the language. In this way language solidarity is achieved that supports a homogeneity among a populous which affords a more singular consensus and more unified propositional attitudes. The result is an integrated linguistic community that allows for greater ease in communicating purposes among people with demands that would be typically varied within a widespread population. As Bourdieu argues, this integration of a linguistic community is a condition for the establishment of relations of linguistic domination.

However, so long as an individual fails to recognize the inherited practices and ideologies of their language, and fails to embrace their ability to identify personal demands and purposes, they are bound to the conceptual scheme inherent to the language, for better or worse, and blind to see beyond its capacity for addressing possibilities and coining new meaning outside the language.

I can only conclude then that the idiolect, the variety of language created and instantiated by an individual, is the most important linguistic level of communication. Only at the idiolect level does an individual possess a role in the creation of a language that is relevant and meaningful according to their personal purpose and aims.

Davidson’s analysis of language is conducted on a metaphysical level by investigating the origin of language formation from an idyllic perspective void from any influence of enculturation. His work did a great deal to elucidate how language can arise between individuals, but failed to make a significant contribution to the discussion of how socialization affects the development of language. For Davidson, insofar as language was neither systematic, containing definable properties and rules, nor shared, as an agreed method, language was non-existent. In his essay A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs he argued that any prior theory of language was weak and insufficient describing the interpretation of meaning and that passing theory could not be reduced to methods. He concluded that if language was “the ability to converge on a passing theory from time to time” as a result of wit, luck or wisdom and not because of any regularity, we have simply “erased the boundary between knowing a language and knowing our way around the world generally.” Language is an intersubjective pragmatic process that develops between two individuals.

Bourdieu focused on this intersubjective relationship and delineated the way in which symbols such as language shape ideologies and creates class stratifications within a society.  According to Bourdieu, language possesses a symbolic power that maintains value as linguistic capital which is exchanged within linguistic markets as well as among overlapping linguistic markets that are politically and socially defined by lifestyles. An individual’s language makes him apart of a normative group, whoever or whatever that represents; it is not a communal tool available and equal to all. The consolidation of linguistic communities into official language is a means of domination by reinforcing the authority of it’s authors. This consolidation is achieved through instituting social apparatuses such as formal education and the creation of dictionaries as a means of creating a standard tongue within the nation. These institutions infiltrate the ideological apparatuses and reinforce prescribed ideologies through conditioning the habitus, an embodied way of responding to symbols or language, which dispossesses an individuals of their natural language and facilitates the loss of identity through instructed censorship that eventually develops into internalized self-censorship. This unification creates homogenous economic and cultural values which allows for the greater ease of governing.

Much like Bourdieu, Anzaldua discusses the function of language in identity formation and discusses the dispossession that occurs during censorship. In her books Borderlands, Anzaldua describes living on the fringes between two languages and hybridization that occur between the two languages. Much like Bourdieu’s notion of a linguistic market and their ideology, the Chicana hybrid between overlapping linguistic communities that developed out of necessity for a distinct identity. This identity serves as a reflection of the unique community situated at the borders and obscured by two dominating languages. Davidson would agree that the formation of the Chicana language is a special kind of creativity borne out of the unique shared intentions of the people. Anzaldua argues “I am my language” and that language is inseparable from identity and that to citizen someone for being poor in language is to criticize their value as a human being.

The tensions and struggles between languages is really a struggle for power. As language is born out of the shared intentions of a people, it begs the question of what these intentions seek to accomplish and who they serve. Language is a reflection of a communities identity, a way of life embedded with beliefs and ideologies. A break in language can lead to a devastating divide in the ideology of a people and the destabilization of a nation and government.

When Nietzsche proclaimed “God is Dead,” he essentially prophesized the break from religion that emphasized the supreme authority of a singular text and the ideology it possessed. The break from religions authority on language destabilized the notions of a singular truth and an ultimate meaning which led to the proliferation of existential freedom that challenged antiquated norms and created new perspectives for examining what it means to be.


[1] ‘Language’ is derived from the L. lingua meaning ‘tongue’.‘Communication’ is derived from the L. communicare meaning ‘to share, divide out; impart, inform, joine, unite, participate in” from communis meaning “to make common”.

Social Mobility: Language, Influence, Power

You said it, my good knight! There ought to be laws to
protect the body of acquired knowledge.
Take one of our good pupils, for example: modest
and diligent, from his earliest grammar classes he’s
kept a little notebook full of phrases.
After hanging on the lips of his teachers for twenty
years, he’s managed to build up an intellectual stock in
trade; doesn’t it belong to him as if it were a house, or
money?
Paul Claudel, Le soulier de satin, Day III, Scene ii

 

Communication. I can’t stop thinking about communication. It’s everywhere. You can’t help it. You are conditioned to adopt certain norms and customs. The interpellation that causes identity formation through subjectification and submission to authority. Bear with me while I get this all out. It might get a little cerebral.

Pierre Bourdieu described the habitus of language. Habits form our character, our ideological world view, our identity as a subject. Using language makes you apart of a normative group whoever and whatever that might represent.

We are creatures of habits. The habituation of ideologies shapes our view of the world. Through habituation we come to embody certain symbols that mark out our ideology as a result of the environmental influences we were born and conditioned into. These habits elucidate the societal structures we find ourselves belonging to. Each societal structure contains distinct linguistic capital that defines a linguistic market or social group.  The linguistic capital we use has symbolic power or symbolic imposition. The greater linguistic capital a person possesses, the more mobile that person is within and between different linguistic markets. The accretion of habits that form linguistic capital are instrumental for the formation of identity.

The language and gestures that forms a person’s linguistic capital contains explicit or implicit symbolic power that are used to define the world.  The symbolic power of language takes the form of subliminal and non-verbal insinuations. Posture, eye contact, intonation, definitions, conventional phrases, and mannerisms all play a role in the insinuation of symbolic power.

The formation of a person’s identity arises from censorship. Ideological influences in society- family, religion, school- all facilitate this censorship. Eventually the external influences of censorship become internalized and act as self-censorship.

When we were young our parents molded our ideology by pruning our habits through assent or dissent. The process that habituates the internalization of censorship and forms the ideology that becomes our identity looks something like this:

As a child we may use the word ‘fat’ to describe someone who’s overweight, or ‘bitch’ to describe someone who’s mean. To show their disapproval of the ideology our parents initially rebuke us with a reproachful look and say “Michael, do not use that language.” In this was they are actively censoring the language that doesn’t fit into their conceptions of accepted ideology.  The next time we use that word our parents may need only say “Michael, language.” The next time only “Michael.” The next time only the reproachful look. The next time only their presence is needed to censor our language. Soon enough, as we become habituated and internalize this censorship as self-censorship,  nothing is needed to prompt our censorship.  A persons subjectivity is shaped first through language which gives rise to a subject or self.

This process habituates a complicit reaction to the symbolic domination taking place. The force of our language, the symbolic power within linguistic capital, imposes itself onto the world and others. It forms a persons identity through their subjectification. This subjectification is a result of the symbolic imposition characterizing the symbolic power of a linguistic capital.

The linguistic capital that composes a linguistic market is deemed a legitimate language. The formation of the legitimate language characterizing a linguistic market involves the consolidation of a language. This consolidation is the accumulation of distinct linguistic markers or signs that compromise the markets linguistic capital. The coalescing or consolidation of language into linguistic capital gives rise to a community. This community formation is the linguistic market in which the symbolic power and force of the linguistic capital is exchanged. In this way the community contributes to the process of forming particular individuals. This is the perpetuation of tradition, customs, trends, as a result of the communities ideological influence on the individual through censorship.

Censorship, in another name, is none other than the idea of ‘instruction’ or ‘discipline’. This occurs anytime an ideology is being imposed on an individual, be it a child, student, employee, citizen, and the like.

This emphasizes the subject-object relationship within ideologies.

It is interesting to look at the implication of this paradigm.

When someone uses a language, or employs linguistic capital, that falls outside our ideology or linguistic market, there is a misunderstanding or miscommunication, a conflict of ideologies.

The notion of ‘control’ characterizes the stability of our ‘identity’.  Our identity defines us, and we control our identity by endorsing ideologies that manifest through symbols (gestures, language, accessories that fill our life: clothes, house, and other tokens or bibelots). When someone interacts with us through a explicit, direct, conscious interpellation that conflicts with the ideology that forms our identity, there is a loss of control. This lack of control leaves one vulnerable.  These vulnerabilities are felt according to the past histories of an individual subject.

All this being said, I want to emphasize the importance of understanding this paradigm. It is life. You are shaped by your environment: family, society, education, peers. There is no way around it. You are born into a world with a space waiting for you. The moment there is knowledge that you wil be born you parents begin creating this space filled with expectations for the kind of person they wish you to be: boy or girl, smart, hardworking, handsome, polite. The extent that their ideology allows them to  understand exactly what these words or expectations mean is dictated by the linguistic capital within the linguistic market they are apart. Or, simply stated, the language they use is determined by the societal structure they willfully or unwillfully find themselves in. They censor you, discipline and instruct, according to the parameters of the symbolic force within the ideology of their language.

Leverage language. Leverage the symbolic power of linguistic capital, the semantic force of language. Leverage your identity in this way. Leverage your social mobility by being much more understanding of different ideologies and learning to adopt contrary or conflicting world views.

Do not let others impose their ideology on you. Seek to create an awareness of the influencing ideologies that shaped your current conception of self. Consider its limitations, its failures. Form a pure conception of self. While it is near impossible to escape the influences totally, you can be aware of an ideologies symbolic power and force that imposes itself on the world.

Do not be concerned with the ‘Things’ of the world. Be concerned with the ‘beliefs’ or ‘methods of interpellation’ that categorize and define the world. If you are concerned with the ‘things’ or the markers and symbols within the linguistic capital comprising your ideology, and not the underlying interpellation or beliefs, you run the risk of operating outside your ideology. This jeopardizes the control over your identity and leaves you vulnerable. This lack of control, or vulnerability, leaves one resistant to agree or engage.

When engaging with people, look at their beliefs and talk, not in terms of the right or wrongness of their language and terms and definitions, but in terms of the ideology that has formed their conceptions of that language. Look at why they use the language they use and where the symbolic force of their language lies. Adopt their language and talk as if you operated from their ideology.

It is not about being right or wrong, it is about understanding. Leaders leverage a diverse array and large quantity of linguistic capital. This allows for incredible adaptivity, influence, and social mobility within social structures and groups- linguistic markets. They are the weak ties that bind solitary communities together.

Language is capital. It is as good as gold. Actually, it is much more valuable than gold. If you possess the right language, you can do and be anything.

Language and Influence

I’ve found that affinity is the ruling thumb for relations. If one has an affinity for something, or someone, he is much more apt to practice the principle of charity, or the principle of rational accommodation. These principles, simply stated, constrain us towards maximal agreement of the truth or rationality of our interlocutors sayings. When we have an affinity towards our interlocutor, we extend them the same ratiocination we attribute to ourselves. Many times, depending on the content and context, we are willing to extend complete maximal agreement and suspend our rationality altogether in favor of the interlocuters reasoning. While we do not lose our ability to reason altogether, we allow our past experiences to lose the legitimate foothold they once had on our reasoning. This exchange of reasoning leads one to substitute a quasi-faith, backed by new justifications, as the topical foundation of thought.

This affinity hinges on a number of personal and societal attributions, specifically: perceived authority, perceived utility, and reciprocal value.

When we behold the words of a perceived authority figure, their words have much greater weight, and the principle of charity is extended far more maximally towards their truth and rationality. Some examples of spoken titles that confer this authority in the mind include: Professor, Mister, Doctor, Sir, Father (Priest), Mother (Nun), President, His Majesty, etc. Similarly, written titles serve in the same capacity: Phd, MD, JD, MHS, CEO, Pres, etc.  Notice that each title specifies, directly or indirectly, their area of authority. Some being more narrow, while others more encompassing. Their area of authority prompts our willingness to extend the principle of charity, and accept their reasoning as rational and true.

In many situations societal conventions fail to provide recognizable markers that identify and designate widespread belief in this authority. In these cases reputations do the work to legitimize a person’s authority.

The utility of adopting an others reasoning, or propositional attitudes, is borne out of the necessity for self preservation. One assimilates conventions, standards, and semantics according to the utility they serve one’s ends or aims. Unless these aims and ends create wholly new demands for others, they are usually left dictated by the community

The perceived reciprocal value relates to utility, but in a much more internal capacity. Human relations serve not only to aid in the maintenance of an extrinsic state, but a person’s intrinsic state. This internal state regulates all other activity in our life and deals with matters of self-esteem and emotional well being. Reciprocal value is a shared mutuality that supplements the core of relations, such as good will and trustworthiness. Reciprocity’s facilitation of trust acts as a principle support for the formation of community. This community is necessary for the feeling of place.

On Haunted By The Future

A Summary on Excerpts from David Wood’s "On Being Haunted By The Future"

The future beckons, and we answer. Thus is the call of men, lost in their baseless endearments, disoriented from the values in which they came, they are left wary of their ways and long for a return to the future. So onward they march, on the heels of time. In On Being Haunted By The Future, Professor Wood begins by deriving an illustration from Derrida that explains the future as a deferred experience containing the apprehension of messianic faith. This messianicity holds a “universal structure of experience” that provides justification and responsibility to the protention of experience. Protention, or perception of the next moment, functions as an incomplete and temporal phenomenon that lends itself to this “universal structure of experience” that confronts the future as a yearning apprehension.

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Husserl’s Spatiality

In his essay Foundational Investigations of the Phenomenological Origin of the Spatiality of Nature, Edmund Husserl explores the conception of motion in relation to bodies. While an exhaustive summary and examination could be undertaken on the essay as a whole, I would like to begin with examining an excerpt that characterizes the essay’s foundational theme that establishes the origin of the spatiality of nature. After all, as Husserl stressed, it is the implicit formations of such parts that give rise to the unity in which we perceive the whole.

“We must not forget the pregiveness and constitution belonging to the apodictic Ego or to me, to us, as the source of all actual and possible sense of being, of all possible broadening which can be further constructed in the already constituted world developing historically.

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Economy of Thought

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As reflection occurs, there is an invitation for expansion of the mind. As noted elsewhere, consciousness arises from the syntheses of our response to environmental demands. The better we become at responding, or satisfying, these environmental demands, the more ‘material’ or ‘programs’ are available to synthesize for the creation of new thought. In the sense that there is a conditioned path in which a demand was satisfied and remembered, these responses are simply programs. Concerning this synthesis of creating, the more programs, or responses, that occur, the more possibilities exist. Just as the more land there is, the more crops can be grown and the more goods can be cooked or baked, leading to endless combinations. It is simply a matter of what seed is planted, much in the way that demands plant responses. For now on, the word thought will be used to describe the conditioned response programs.

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Freedom and choice.

What is Freedom?

The question of freedom poses itself when explaining why people convert to god. If a conversion towards god is a result of a lack of responsibility for accepting and exercising our freedom, we must define and determine the nature of freedom as it relates to sentient volition- or free will

The notion of free will supposes an inherent ability to choose. The choice lies in the decision to act or not to act, as well as to choose among alternative actions. Ideally, this choice is autonomously made. However, to what extent are we autonomous? Is there such a thing as freedom of choice? Or, are actions mere precipitations of mechanical chain reactions?

Answering these questions requires the exploration of the science or philosophy of mind.

 

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On Spirituality.

What is spirituality?

What does that mean? Pious and impious use the word to describe a transcendental mental attitude or world view.

Because I was indoctrinated at home from an early age, I didn’t convert to Christianity on my own volition, per se.  I do remember moments in my religious walk where I renewed commitments to God and reaffirmed my belief. This caused an awakening within me which inspired my efforts to bridge the gap between ‘God’ and myself.

The process of conversion requires the displacement of ego in exchange for ‘God’s Will’. The very idea of displacing the self is a powerful and transformative experience. In Christianity, you’ll often hear the ‘testimonies’ of people coming to Christ who  refer to the exchange of self for ‘God’s will’. I remember growing up hearing that we need to ‘die to self’ in order to lead a ‘God centered’ life.

 

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Freedom and Spirituality

Abstract
This essay explores the phenomenon of spirituality by delineating the rise of free will as a product of a reflective consciousness synthesized from conditioned responses resulting from external demands.

Contents

  1. Reflection as a starting point for analysis and reducibility
  1. Necessity of cause
  • Freedom
    1. Predictors of Demand
    2. Rise of Ideas
    3. Free will
    4. Reflection as Action
    5. Distance Defines Knowledge
  • Spirituality
    1. God’s Nature
    2. Conversions
  • The Rise of Spirituality
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    Common Significance of Reversals and Deconstructionism.

    Do reversals have a common significance?

    At the moment, deconstructionism is the only method or paradigm that could even begin to grasp the illusive nature of these reversals. Derrida’s essay On Positions masterfully delineates the ‘general economy’ of deconstructionism.

    These reversals present themselves as unique revelations. While the genres of each reversal are unique and wholly distinct from one another, there is a common thread that holds each of these experiences together. Whether our minds create the illusion of common significance through the innate classification of these experienced reversals, or if they really do contain a common significance that leave a potentiality for further exploration, I am not sure.

    I do believe that there is legitimacy to these reversals. Deconstruction works to tease them out. As I have read over the readings I have developed a general idea of how these reversals behave. Derrida was right to say that when a reversal takes place, what is happening is a violent binary reaction between oppositions that overturn the signifier and the signified. What is created is a space within the system. Because this system is closed, this is the only option for creating new meaning, new space for exploration and new room for thought. It is when these oppositions meet that a momentary condensation expresses a coalescing visibility into the system, just before it clouds over again. This visibility, this seemingly new space that is created, allows for new shades of meaning to enter our periphery.

    But what creates this binary reaction? What are the forces, or triggers, that power the overturning and create a reversal? What is the significance of this reversal after all? What it might go back to is the necessary conflict that occurs during the reversal. The temporary suspension of order involves a violent hierarchal exchange between the loci of power, representing a deeper expression of the non-intentionality detailed by Levinas in his Ethics as First Philosophy. This non-intentionality passively subsists beneath our cogito to supplement the intentional consciousness’ objectification of knowledge in the pre-reflective contemplative state. The-non-intentionality gives rise to the bad conscious as a means to assert itself through the expression of intentional thought. The resulting intentional thought posits itself through questions, which beg a response. Thus we are met with the responsibility of language.

    Let us explore non-intentionality and the bad-conscious as it relates to reversal. The bad consciousness that arises from the aimlessness of the pre-reflective non-intentionality operates out of restlessness. It poses questions and demands a response. The intentionality is much less restless and much more controlled. The cogito directs this objectification of otherness to grasp for knowledge. But what happens when our conscious intentionality encounters the demands of the bad-conscious? Perhaps this is when a reversal is experienced. As we intentionally grasp about the otherness, we are preoccupied externally, leaving the non-reflective intentionality idle. While we willfully apply our intention to the objectification of things in an effort synthesize the alienating divide and construct our nests of knowledge, our bad-conscious simultaneously asserts itself in opposition. Our intention, turned outward, is surpassed from behind, so to speak, and momentarily overcome by the non-intentional bad-conscious so that we witness a sudden phenomenological change in scenery that disorients and delights, altering the landscape of the mind. The conflictual overturning lasts as long as the non-intentional is left demanding, and the intentionality is free to observe these demands objectively without weighing them reflectively. As soon as the experience is contemplated, the non-intentional pre-reflective withdrawals its assertions and demands and the reversal rights itself again.

    It is in the opposing forces of intentionality and non-intentionality that we find a common significance of reversals. To examine the substance being reversed is to overlook the common significance of why the reversals occur across substances. All substances constitute otherness and are non-uniquely the same in that respect. They differ only in their present significance. As they drift to the peripheral margins of thought, the space they occupy in our mental landscape diminishes as our need to acquire knowledge of them through objectification wanes. It is only the intentional objectification of the other that the bad consciousness can assert itself through the expression of an intentional thought. It is this conflict that is presented as being commonly significant throughout the experienced reversals.

    A Reflection: An Evolution of Responsibility

    The Evolution of the Responsibility to Self and Place:

    Looking back on the semester, I fastidiously inspect the various moments my mind was exposed to new insights. The philosophy class has been a period of incubation. Throughout the fall I have allowed my mind to freely explore the legitimacy of novel ideas and weighed their relevance to my life, unhindered by competing feelings of preservation. A burning passion kindles in my chest. I reflect on the philosophers and the discussions that struck deeply, that fanned that flame into a fiery blaze. My thoughts turn to a few readings and philosophers that reinforced and, at the same time, upended my antiquated belief system. In order to illuminate the timid shadows of self deception, I allowed these philosophies early on to serve as a spectacle for all further reflection.

    At the start of the year I was enveloped in a dense cloud of confusion. As we progressed in our readings and I accreted understanding, a series of themes began to emerge. The themes, strung individually throughout the weekly readings, later weaved themselves into a vivid tapestry as the semester culminated. They included the conception of self, the genealogy and history of society, the role of belief, and the function of nature as it relates to a sense of place. None of these themes stand alone, but borrow from each other. Of each, I will speak broadly and expound on each philosopher’s contribution to the construction of each theme as it appeared to me.

    I believe the core to understanding is primary experience. In an age of information, I believe its role in the modern life has been diminishing. With so many perspectives to read on a subject, who needs to waste time experiencing it for themselves? One can read of the countless errors and achievements and interpretations of each and come away feeling equally wise and judicial. The fault with this, however, is that we rob ourselves the task of exercising our own powers of reason and interpretation. Nevertheless, our lives are short and we cannot possibly indulge all our curiosities so, read we must. With this in mind, we are obligated to read judiciously, choosing texts carefully (preferably primary sources to ensure minimum distortion of interpretation) and reflecting with the intent to incorporate the new knowledge into the faculties of understanding. John Aubrey said, “He had read much, if one considers his long life; but his contemplation was much more than his reading. He was wont to say that if he had read as much as other men he should have known no more than other men.” Reading must involve contemplation. Thus is the duty of the philosopher.

    Continuation…

    Kant’s Deontological Ethics in Sum.

    I. Kant begins The Grounding of the Metaphysics of Morals by reducing the self to reason in order to understand the foundations of right thought. He concludes that at the base of one’s thoughts, there is an intention or will that is at the core of self.

    A good will is the only qualification for good action. Kant says: “A good will is good not because of what it effects or accomplishes, nor because of its fitness to attain some proposed end; it is good only though its willing, i.e., it is good in itself.” That is, a good will is good in itself, independent of any requirements that would make it good. Kant goes on to justify this by explaining that even if good will failed to achieve its end through action, it would still retain its value as good will because of its good intention.

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    Nietzsche: Morals

    “Here precisely is what has become a fatality for Europe—together with the fear of man we have also lost our love of him, our reverence for him, our hopes for him, even the will to him. The sight of man now makes us weary—what is nihilism today if it is not that?— We are weary of man.” (Genealogy of Morals, 11)

    Nietzsche here diagnoses a malady of mankind: nihilism. Nietzsche was writing in 1888. Does his description of nihilism resonate with you today? If so, how do you specifically experience the nihilism of contemporary culture? Are you weary of man?

    Or, perhaps, Nietzsche was just being an anti-democratic pig. Is he too harsh in his criticisms of the herd? Too elitist in his orientation? Can mass-culture be a stimulus to life?

    (Firstly, I thought these writings were pretty difficult to decipher.)
    Core to Nietsche’s writing so far is the idea of resentiment. Nietzsche has illustrated a dictomy between the slave morality and the master morality. The master morality, or noble valuation of things, is simple and indifferent and acts spontaneously (37). It exists in the present and gives little thought to the condition of the slave, other than a careless and impatient afterthought of contempt. The master morality is consumed with the happy and beautiful and noble self, only seeking invented and ‘falsified’ negative (‘bad’) contrasts (these contrasts are not rooted in reality) that would reinforce it more “gratefully and triumphantly” (37). Meanwhile, the slave morality is preoccupied with deep resentiment towards the master, a festering and poisoning passion that create an imaginary a world where “hatred grows to monstrous and uncanny proportions” (33 & 36). Slave morality rejects the hostile external world with a resounding no in a creative defiant act (37). It is in this covert imaginary world of unsatisfied hatred where the idea evil manifests itself, contrary to noble flighty idea of ‘bad’.

    This is the most basic summary of what Nietzsche has laid out here. At the end of GM, 11, Nietzsche asserts that Europe has slipped into a nihilistic state due to Europe losing their fear of man, which has caused it to lose its “love of him, reverence for him, our hopes for him, and even the will to him” (44). This fear of man is necessary for the master morality, because noble man needs enemies as his mark of distinction (39). Nietzsche begs for “something still capable of arousing fear” in order for man to justify man (44).

    I believe what Nietzsche is saying is that Europe has slipped into the slave morality because there is no fear and therefore no reason to grow greater (44). The slave morality is insidious and covert, residing not in the present, but in hope of the future. This removal from reality and the present is what dulls man and makes him weary and mediocre. Being “better” is simply man failing to grow by reducing the positive substance of inequality. The noble man needs a fear of the plebian man in order to justify his distinction.

    So, if any of that is correct, does this resonate with me? Well, Nietzsche is very disorienting.

    I believe that there are enough forces of fear at work in this culture that sustains mans self confidence and causes man to rise above and react and grow in their midst. Mass culture in itself a force that provides man a means to rise above and justify man.
    I also believe that our society has almost eliminated the need for fear, because we live in a (semi) functional democratic nation. This might cause man to slip into a weary nihilistic state. Specifically, because we live in a democratic nation, there is no notion of one presiding over another and therefore no fear of the plebian to base our noble valuations. This eliminates the master mentality, necessary for growth according to Nietzsche. By losing this fear we slip into a slave morality consumed with resentment towards… God? The government?

    Nietzsche makes some pretty bizarre connections. I need to think more on everything I’ve read to decide if he’s too elitist. I think he’s just challenging the traditional foundations and rocking the boat.

     

    South Park and Open Society: A Response

    An essay I recently wrote. Loved reading about Karl Popper, didn’t really like the essay.

    South Park and Open Society: A Response

                When examining a democratic society there should be ample evidence of open expression, where ideas can be examined and critiqued by the people as a whole. Professors David Curtis and Gerald Erion investigate this evidence in their essay South Park and the Open Society by presenting the controversial cartoon show South Park. South Park gained popularity in the nineties, and has since built the reputation of parading society’s most controversial topics for the public eye. Curtis and Erion provide examples of how the open examination found in South Park was intentionally designed to exercise and preserve the health of liberal democracy. To support their case and qualify the importance of an open society, the authors cite twentieth century political philosopher Karl Popper and his critique of totalitarianism, The Open Society and Its Enemies.

                In the opening paragraphs of their essay, Curtis and Erion reference media theorist Douglas Rushkoff’s position that many social criticisms are intentionally interwoven into seemingly harmless entertainment mediums and serve to illustrate the fundamental principles of democratic philosophy at work (para 1).  South Park, they instance, does this explicitly by portraying its characters as ‘overzealous political activists’. The show openly offers up caricatures of extremism on the right and left for ridicule and derision. Because South Park finds no person or subject taboo, it has been constantly targeted for censorship and cancelation. Curtis and Erion believe that the creator’s decision to allow open discussion of such extremism places them in a position safe from the extremists who threaten to shut down the show.

                While South Park may come off as a crass cartoon filled with crude humor and ‘tasteless’ jokes, authors Curtis and Erion create convincing parallels between serious social and political gestalts that allow for deeper considerations of South Parks methods of free expression. What has protected South Park from much of this ridicule is that by silencing the shows message, many people would effectively be silencing their own. What lends credibility to the show is that it rests on the ideals of open society that are needed for critique and criticisms. It is just as natural that the show is a critic that it is producing critics.

                Curtis and Erion cite South Park cocreators Trey Parkers and Matt Stone in a PBS interview as they remark on the importance of openly recognizing that people screaming on both sides of an issue are the same people, and that it is ‘OK’ to be in the middle and laugh at both of them (para 3). What is paramount here is that these extremists don’t stifle the message of one or the other. Curtis and Erion refer to Karl Poppers principle of intolerance for intolerance to support Parker and Stone’s position (para 14). This principle emphasizes what Popper saw as a necessity in a democratic society in order to ensure open discussion on all subjects that call for critique and lead to progress. While the creators may not intentionally have society’s best interest at heart, they are most definitely furthering the healthy process of examining controversial subjects so that progressive ideas can be exchanged.

                When looking at the heart of this type of free expression in action, twentieth century scientific and politic philosopher Karl Popper provides the best framework for examining the system. As a major proponent of liberal democracy, Popper championed the notion of open society while criticizing the controls of government and customary myths perpetuating closed societies.  

                In order to avoid being subject to criticism from one extremist group or another, the creators of South Park opt to bash all sides, playing it safe in the middle ground. Referring to the remarks of the co-creators about the importance of extremism being expressed, Curtis and Erion find evidence of Poppers open society framework in the countless characters of South Park who openly embody this extremism and portray stereotypes of all kinds. Each of the main caricatures of SouthPark, Stan, Kyle, Cartman, and Kenny, encapsulate characterized beliefs within our culture.

                Through the character Cartman, the obnoxious overweight authoritarian, the co-creators exhibit the abhorrent stereotypes associated with the right wing fanaticism (para 11). Curtis and Erion describe the qualities and character defects that Cartman poignantly displays in characterizing ‘un-democratic’ conservatives. He has no issue berating anyone with his foul mouth and fascist opinions and most often takes his anger out on Kenny, a character that best represents the poorer class.

                With his coat covering his mouth and inhibiting recognizable speech, Kenny’s role usually consists of random muffles here and there, followed by his eventual death in most episodes. His lack of speech is similar to the lack of voice and influence within the poorer class. His regular deaths, and the utter lack of concern his friends share when he dies, represents the constant struggle within the lower classes that is often overlooked or ignored as a whole.

                With just as much ease, Curtis and Erion reference the characters identified with the extreme political left. An episode with their teacher, Mr. Mackey, portrays the hypocrisy of the watered-down leftists as his attempts to get the students to stay away from drugs lead to his own addiction.

                For middle ground the creators introduce Stan to exemplify the every day American middle class Christian populist. Along with Kyle, they represent an open and diplomatic approach to problems which allows the audience to receive him easily. While similar to Stan, Kyle is Jewish and embodies the prejudices as a minority.       

                The friendship between these four not only illustrates the volatile dynamics within American culture as they interact, but creates a satirical stage as they encounter other residents and extremists within the show that demonstrate extreme beliefs and opinions. What makes the show so popular is how these characters encounter these extreme ideas and the scenarios they contain. As an audience we witness our own behaviors, biases and prejudices exhibited through the characters.

                Curtis and Erion present convincing evidence in their essay South Park and the Open Society that South Park creators Parker and Stone share Karl Poppers political philosophy of an open society. By actively identifying and discussing the extremism on all sides, they offer themselves up as an extreme, and legitimize an important stake in open discussions. If Popper were alive to witness South Park on the air, he would rest assure that the health of American Democracy is alive and well.