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Monday, November 7, 2016

Philosophers on 2016 Presidential Election

Slavoj Žižek, one of the most famous living philosophers, endorsed Donald Trump for president. As someone who cares greatly about philosophy’s role in the world, I was disappointed by this news, and not simply because I disagree with him. Žižek is an unusual philosopher. While he’s highly controversial, he’s both publicly and academically renowned and he uses his own philosophy and ideas from great historical thinkers to engage with contemporary events. As a result, he’s one of the few philosophers whose political views are widely reported and listened to.

Unfortunately, this means that when Žižek speaks about Trump, he does so in a public-philosophy vacuum, as there are few other philosophers who can or will publicly debate his ideas. Ironically, by wading into discussion over the US election, Žižek has effectively highlighted philosophy’s failure to engage in contemporary public discourse.

Read it all here.

Here is what Zizek has said in an interview with Sergio Cantone.

Sergio Cantone: “Donald Trump. The phenomenon of Donald Trump.So the US is facing a kind of revolutionary period?”

Slayoj Zizek: “Of course, Trump is personally disgusting, bad racist jokes, vulgarities and so on. But at the same time did you notice how he said some very correct things about Palestine and Israel? He said we should also see Palestinian interests and approach the situation in a more neutral way. He said we should not just antagonise Russia, find a dialogue there. He was even for higher minimal wages. He hinted that he would not like simply to cancel Obama’s universal health care, Obama care …”

Sergio Cantone: “He is a liberal centrist …”

Slayoj Zizek: “Yes! That’s my provocative thesis! That if you scrap this ridiculous and, I admit it, dangerous surface, he is a much more opportunist candidate and his actual politics perhaps will not be so bad.”

Read it all here.

PEA Soup asks "Should We Let Trump Off the Hook?" and leads with this:

Donald Trump loves himself. And while professional psychologists and psychiatrists cannot ethically diagnose him, many have made it quite clear that they think Trump has narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). George Simon, a clinical psychologist specializing in manipulation, is archiving video clips of Trump “to use in workshops because there’s no better example” of a narcissist in action.

Then there was this nearly hysterical piece from Leiter Reports:

The latest bizarre twist in the 2016 election

Most readers have probably heard by now about an interview in which Trump jokes about various acts of sexual assault and how he can get away with them, which now is leading to speculation that he'll withdraw (he won't) or, perhaps a bit more likely, that the Republican Party will instruct the electors to choose someone else when they vote in December, probably Mike Pence, the extremely conservative Indiana Governor who is Trump's usually invisible VP candidate.  That would be a risky gambit for the Republicans, since it's not clear whether the message would get out in time to affect the election, and it's also not clear what the effect would actually be, given the cult-like loyalty Trump enjoys among an alarmingly large segment of the electorate.   I'll add links if I see any intelligent analyses of these possible scenarios (please e-mail me, readers, if you see any).  As things stand now, we are looking at a huge win for the Democrats, and Trump still has another month of gaffes and outbursts to come (plus two more debates, starting tomorrow)!
ADDENDUM:  This is informative on the options, such as they are.
ANOTHER:  Senator McCain, the 2008 Republican nominee, officially withdraws support for Trump.  The Republican implosion begins.  Amazing it took this long!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Beware of Letters Bearing Poop

We've heard the adage "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts" and now we should beware of letters bearing poo. At least some philosophers have become wary of opening their mail, according to this Washington Post report.

Presidential candidates are not the only ones who are behaving badly this year. Over the summer, at least four philosophers have received feces in the mail, BuzzFeed reports. What the four philosophers have in common is that they have all been critical of the University of Chicago’s Brian Leiter, the proprietor of the prominent Leiter Reports philosophy blog (and Leiter Law School Reports).

Read it all here.

Friday, September 30, 2016

A Physicist Looks at Beauty

By George Stanciu

Last week, my wife, a painter-friend of ours, who wishes to be anonymous, and I did the Friday night walk down Canyon Road, the site of numerous galleries in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a small town that is the third-largest art market in the United States. Halfway down Canyon Road, we stopped in at a contemporary gallery that had a new show featuring conceptual art that our painter friend was dying to see. Inside, I gazed at one wall of the gallery painted red with white block letters pronouncing “Belief + Doubt = Sanity”; on another wall I encountered a photograph of a human brain with the caption “A Thinking Machine”; next to the photograph was a large white canvas with the black letters “Pure Beauty.” Puzzled by what I saw, I mumbled, “What pointlessness. What happened to beauty?”

Our painter friend wheeled around to face me, and I was surprised to see black anger in his eyes. He shouted at me and apparently at everyone else in the gallery, “Beauty is an old-fashioned, idiotic concept. Representational art is dead, killed by the camera, by technologists, and by scientists. We contemporary artists are painting ideas.” Then, he pointed at me and yelled, “What do you theoretical physicists know about beauty! Nothing!”

I shrugged my shoulders, and if I hadn’t placed friendship above the truth, I would have said, “More than you artists, apparently.” I surmised that theoretical physicists talk more about beauty than present-day visual artists. I recalled that even as an undergraduate hardly a class in physics or mathematics went by without the word “beautiful” spoken.

Read it all here.

George Stanciu has a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. He is the Academic Dean Emeritus at Northeast Catholic College in Warner, New Hampshire, and he is the co-author of The New Biology and The New Story of Science and the author of many essays.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Reality Making

Review of Mark Jago's Reality Making
Reviewed by Ricki Bliss, Lehigh University

Mark Jago (ed.), Reality Making, Oxford University Press, 2016, ISBN 9780198755722.

It would be hard for anyone interested in metaphysics not to have noticed the recent explosion of interest in notions of ground, ontological dependence, metaphysical structure, fundamentality and their like. Although doubtless the mushrooming of the literature devoted to these themes, and the cottage industry associated with them, has sprung from soils made fertile by time, sometimes one wonders what metaphysicians even did before Kit Fine told us we ought to be worried about grounding.

Mark Jago's edited collection offers eight new papers that contribute to the rapidly expanding literature on reality and its structure. Where this volume is, perhaps, unique and somewhat refreshing is that its focus is less on meta-issues pertaining to the over-arching structure of reality, and the kinds of concepts we use to understand it, and more on how certain first-order issues, particularly those associated with essentialism, can be brought to the conversation.

The volume opens with Martin Glazier's 'Laws and the Completeness of the Fundamental', in which he develops an account of the explanatory relationship between the derivative and the fundamental that makes appeal to the notion of the laws of metaphysics. In particular, what Glazier is concerned with is how, supposing there is something fundamental, whatever it is that is fundamental explains everything else. This paper offers an interesting discussion of some tricky issues pertaining to the connection between the fundamental and the derivative. And it makes a valuable contribution to what is, I hope, a growing body of literature devoted to filling in the details of a broader picture of reality -- one according to which there is something fundamental that gives rise to everything else - that we are so often told is intuitive and natural.

Naomi Thompson introduces and defends a view she calls 'metaphysical interdependence'. The current orthodoxy in the grounding literature is a species of metaphysical foundationalism: reality is hierarchically structured with chains of entities ordered by relations of ground terminating in something fundamental. Thompson argues that we have compelling reasons to take an alternative to this view seriously.

What does metaphysical interdependence commit us to? Unlike foundationalism, interdependence denies the well-foundedness of the grounding relation. And unlike both foundationalism and infinitism, interdependence denies that the grounding relation is asymmetric. Thus, (strong) metaphysical interdependence says that reality is ordered by relations of ground that are symmetric and non-wellfounded.

Read it all here.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Francis Bacon on Atheism

Francis Bacon 1561-1627

Francis Bacon was a genius whose activities extended to service in the court of Elizabeth I, philosophy, writing essays and science experiments. He predicted televisions, airplanes, submarines, and lasers in the 17th Century.  Many of these are anticipated in Bacon’s work “New Atlantis" which describes a society governed by scientists and the scientific method that he espoused.

Bacon was a Christian. He had a great deal to say about the Faith. He wrote that, "Knowledge is the rich storehouse for the glory of the Creator and the relief of man's estate." Here is a pithy quotation on philosophy and atheism:
It is true that a little philosophy inclineth man's mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men's minds about to religion; for while the mind of man looketh upon second causes scattered, it may sometimes rest in them, and go no further; but when it beholdeth the chain of them confederate, and linked together, it must needs fly to Providence and Deity.
(From The Works of Francis Bacon: The Wisdom of the Ancients and Other Essays, Black's Readers Service Company, 1932, p.53)
Bacon died on Easter Sunday in 1627. In his will, he included this final prayer: "When I thought most of peace and honor, thy hand [was] heavy on me, and hath humbled me, according to thy former loving kindness. … Just are thy judgments upon my sins. … Be merciful unto me for my Savior's sake, and receive me into thy bosom."

Friday, September 2, 2016

Analytic vs. Continental Philosophy

Bridging the Analytic-Continental Divide


Many philosophers at leading American departments are specialists in metaphysics: the study of the most general aspects of reality such as being and time. The major work of one of the most prominent philosophers of the 20th century, Martin Heidegger, is “Being and Time,” a profound study of these two topics. Nonetheless, hardly any of these American metaphysicians have paid serious attention to Heidegger’s book.

The standard explanation for this oddity is that the metaphysicians are analytic philosophers, whereas Heidegger is a continentalphilosopher. Although the two sorts of philosophers seldom read one another’s work, when they do, the results can be ugly. A famous debate between Jacques Derrida (continental) and John Searle (analytic) ended with Searle denouncing Derrida’s “obscurantism” and Derrida mocking Searle’s “superficiality.”

The distinction between analytic and continental philosophers seems odd, first of all, because it contrasts a geographical characterization (philosophy done on the European continent, particularly Germany and France) with a methodological one (philosophy done by analyzing concepts). It’s like, as Bernard Williams pointed out, dividing cars into four-wheel-drive and made-in-Japan. It becomes even odder when we realize that some of the founders of analytic philosophy (like Frege and Carnap) were Europeans, that many of the leading centers of “continental” philosophy are at American universities, and that many “analytic” philosophers have no interest in analyzing concepts.

Read it all here.