Posts Tagged philosophy


Why I am (not) an anarchist.

Here are some random thoughts on this claim:

  • Anarchism tends towards emphasis on negative liberty: “Nobody tells me what I can and cannot do.” Like difference philosophy and deconstruction, anarchism emphasizes one pole of the sphere of human existence. What about postive liberty, the freedom for becoming what you are (or will have been)?
  • Anarchism, as Emma Goldman puts it, resists the state, property, and religion. It is an open question whether these can be resisted. All can be seen as “artificial,” creatures of human artifice, and so we might be warned against, in Roberto Mangabeira Unger’s terminology, false necessity. But the question is whether underlying the particular manifestations of state, property, and religion there is not something fundamental, something fundamenting, as Xavier Zubiri would put it, that explains the inescapability of something like state, property, and religion.
  • Anarchism, as an ism, paradoxically functions as an archē, as an inviolable principle which serves to authorize, to generate authority (and heresy). A good example of this can be seen in all the trouble Shevek gets into with the “anarchists” of Anarres in Ursula LeGuin’s The Dispossessed. He is called a “traitor” for his “egoizing” desire to be in contact with the people of Urras (the “Propertarians”). The “anarchism” of Annares becomes the tyranny of the mass, as Goldman would put it.
  • I am interested in an anarchy that has no archē. Or at least no single archē.


  • Anarchy means to be without a ruler. It means, thus, to be unruled, unmeasured, without a measure. But is it so that human beings are lacking all measure? Is self-transcendence (Augustine) the same as infinitude? Is not the confusion of these two what is meant by “original sin”?
  • Multarchism would mean that there are multiple measures, perhaps always one more measure. It would reject the idea that there is no measure (an-archy), but it would also reject the hegemony of any particular measure, principle, foundation.

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Advice from John Searle – Find the questions you are passionate about

In an interview with John R. Searle, there was this exchange (edited):

 Searle: That’s my main objection to contemporary philosophy: they’ve lost sight of the questions. …

Interviewer: … But what advice would you give to a young philosopher starting out to not lose sight of the questions?

Searle: Well, my advice would be to take questions that genuinely worry you. Take questions that really keep you awake at nights, and work on them with passion. I think what we try to do is bully the graduate students. The graduate students suffer worse than the undergraduates. We bully the graduate students into thinking that they have to accept our conception of what is a legitimate philosophical problem, so very few of them come with their own philosophical problems. They get an inventory of problems that they get from their professors. My bet would be to follow your own passion. That would be my advice. That’s what I did.

Indeed! The idea is to find the questions that matter, at least to you and pursue them doggedly.

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Essay Prize Offered by the Royal Institute of Philosophy

You can find the details here. The question this year is:

‘What is philosophy? How is it possible?

What can it expect to achieve?’

Entries may address the topic in a variety of ways, and could ask what makes a problem or an approach philosophical.  Are there particular subject areas for philosophy? Have these changed over time? Are they different in different traditions? Is progress achievable in philosophy? How might progress be assessed?  If there has been philosophical progress, where is it to be found? If not, why is this?  And if progress in any non-contentious sense is not possible, does philosophy still have a point?

The prize is £2,500. If you can answer this set of questions adequately, you deserve the money!


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The meaning of enemies for philosophy

…a philosopher is bound to make enemies because of his ideas, or else we can say he isn’t a proper philosopher at all.

I used to work for an organization that promoted the “constructive engagement of science and religion.” The trouble with that mission, though, is that it is milquetoast. It tried to show that everyone on both sides has a point and that all should be taken, if not totally seriously, then at least with a modicum of respect. But who can disagree with a mission that reduces to “don’t be so judgmental”? The problem for that organization was that, as I always used to say, “we didn’t have any interesting enemies.” If you are saying something that absolutely no one would find objectionable, then you are not saying anything of interest at all.

Same goes with philosophy. But there are other reasons a thinker might gain enemies: jealousy, pettiness, stupidity, posing, and so on. Slavoj Žižek attracts both kinds of enemies, the ones who read and understand his work yet do not agree with his ideas and the ones who don’t bother to read his work yet feel compelled to not like him anyway. (Jacques Derrida had plenty of the latter.)

Read this piece concerning Slavoj Žižek and one of his enemies to see what I mean.


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Some thoughts on philosophy

…by other people:

One of the things I love about philosophy is how egalitarian it is. There’s no “beginning” philosophy and no “advanced” philosophy. You can’t do philosophy at all without jumping right in the deep end of the very same questions all philosophers have wrestled with since the time of Plato, questions such as what it means to be just, or whether people really have free will.

M.G. Piety (from just down the road at Drexel University)

I want to see adds on TV about studying philosophy or about great philosophers, I want to see these philosophers on the side of buses, in popular magazines, in concert halls and cinemas, I want to see stadium philosophers…where people go to learn and think rather than be told, ones that explore questions of ontology and epistemological truth, rather than relay religious ideology.

Jack James

Imagine yourself in the office of a senior executive of a big company, such as Nestlé or UBS. But instead of typing on his computer’s keyboard, the man just sits still, chin resting on his fist and gazing as if lost in thought. Like a modern thinker, he invokes Aristotle and reflects on the meaning of authority.

This image of manager-as-philosopher might seem unrealistic. And yet, a new approach is spreading fast among top executives of Swiss companies, thanks to specialized university lectures and intellectual seminars of ancient and modern philosophy.

–from a piece on why executives are embracing philosophy.

 What do you think about philosophy the field — work published by people in philosophy departments, who publish mostly in philosophy journals like Mind and Noûs, who are writing mostly for other philosophers?

I’ve previously called philosophy a “diseased discipline,” for many reasons. For one thing, people working in philosophy-the-field tend to know strikingly little about the philosophical progress made in other fields, e.g. computer science or cognitive neuroscience. For another, books on the history of philosophy seem to be about the musings of old dead guys who were wrong about almost everything because they didn’t have 20th century science or math, rather than about actual philosophical progress, which is instead recounted in books like The Information.

Do you wish people in other fields would more directly try to use the tools of their discipline to make philosophical progress on The Big Questions? Do you wish philosophy-the-field would be reformed in certain ways? Would you like to see more crosstalk between disciplines about philosophical issues? Do you think that, as Clark Glymour suggested, philosophy departments should be defunded unless they produce work that is directly useful to other fields …?

–get some (possible) answers to these and other questions from Scott Aaronson here.


Harvard students are lined up to study Chinese philosophy. Find out why here and here.

Thanks to the always helpful Bookforum Omnivore blog for these and other interesting links.

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Science, Non-Science, and Philosophy

Harvey Mansfield ends his lengthy meditation on the matter like so:

I mention philosophy at the end, but I have been discussing it throughout. To consider science and non-science together, and in a whole that includes both, is neither science nor non-science but above them, so that each is made aware of the other. Philosophy is then still the queen of the university, sovereign over the specialties. It cannot assume that it will succeed in bringing harmony, and in any case it must face the additional challenge to reason made by revelation. As Allan Bloom emphasized, the concern for value commitment in our time is in truth a kind of return to religion, a desire for charisma if not grace. I end with a warning: the philosophy I have been advocating, or trying to introduce, a philosophy with relevance combined with ambition, is to be found in the Great Books, nowhere else. And a parting shot: you probably won’t find it in the Department of Philosophy.

The gauntlet has been thrown down.



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Pigliucci on philosophical thought experiments

What we are left with are three types of thought experiments in philosophy of mind: (i) Those that do establish what their authors think (Chinese Room), even though this is a more limited conclusion than what its detractors think (the room doesn’t understand Chinese, in the sense of being conscious of what it is doing; but it does behave intelligently, in proportion to its computational speed and the progammer’s ability). (ii) Those that do not establish what their authors think (Mary and the bats), but nonetheless are useful (they make clear that third person description and first person experience are different kinds of “knowledge,” and that it makes no sense to somehow subsume one into the other). (iii) Those that are, in fact, useless, or worse, pernicious (p-zombies) because they distract us from the real problem (what are the physical bases of consciousness?) by moving the discussion into a realm that simply doesn’t add anything to it (what is or is not logically conceivable about consciousness?).

You can read the details of these famous thought experiments here. I feel certain that Pigliucci is right about types (i) and (ii). I am sure that there are thought experiments of type (iii), but I will have to think it over whether Chalmers’ p-zombie example is apt.

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