Nov 302010
 

Ned Block — whose views on consciousness and the mind-body problem are, like those of David Chalmers, close to my own (and far from those of Daniel C. Dennett) — is not impressed with Antonio Damasio’s new book Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain.Damasio makes the same sorts of desperate moves typical of those determined to jerry-rig a scientific solution to a philosophical problem: he makes consciousness dependent on self-consciousness (and seems by implication to deny it to animals, despite other claims to the contrary); and rejects the scientific evidence that consciousness does not depend in any way on behavioral manifestations. Unfortunately, it’s just a brief review; for a full dose of Block, see his excellent critique of Jerry Fodor’s What Darwin Got Wrong.

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Nov 302010
 

Kierkegaard’s stern Christian vision originated with a strict, almost traumatic, upbringing. His defense of individualism and radical subjectivity would not likely have developed without it. But it’s hard for the modern reader to get past Kierkegaard’s freakish, introverted persona. A more sympathetic view of K. might be found in the 1984 BBC television series Sea of Faith, written and presented by controversial ex-Anglican-priest-and-Cambridge-dean-turned-radical-theologian Don Cupitt:

Watch on youtube.

In response to more cynical assessments of K., Cupitt provides this rejoinder in the book version of The Sea of Faith:

Yet to end on such a note could be to suggest that Kierkegaard was a side-show freak: we wonder at him, and then return to our humdrum lives. Not so. Kierkegaard, more than any other writer of recent centuries, has the power to make us believe that we might actually succeed in becoming something of worth… Continue reading »

Nov 302010
 

Start at the beginning.

We are now up to the sixth and sixth and a half sittings. Today’s excerpt puts the connection between tripe (the non-humor forming the bulk of this book) and self-consciousness in terms of our attitudes towards free will:

The form and shape of the supposedly humorous is predictable, though the content is not. Unfortunately, form is part of content, as such:

“Knock Knock.”

“And knock knock to you.”

…Violates the form of said joke, and so is not funny, but unfortunately inevitable. Let me explain: It is a point of sociology that whenever you point out to people that they perform in some lawlike manner, always sitting in a public room according to certain arrangements and such, they immediately break whatever “law” that you (you being the high-paid sociologist) thought up just to be obnoxious. Now we know from our imagination about evolutionary history that over the years, the mass of people achieve greater self-consciousness, and so, for instance, get tired of asinine knock knock jokes (a redundant term) and will break the form and not be funny out of this desire to be obnoxious, to leap out, to freak out, to die and have sex simultaneously.

Plus we get Mr. Wolf in this section quoting Georges Bataille quoting the Marquis de Sade, which is always nice.

With continuing faithfulness,

-Mark Linsenmayer

Nov 292010
 

So this whole “is the external world really there?” question is pretty tiresome: it’s the bane of intro philosophy students and the thing that turns off many of these students from ever taking another philosophy class, yet it’s still pretty much the central concern of epistemology for much of its history.

Edmund Husserl asks if we can’t just set that question aside and describe the phenomena of our experience. Without labeling the experienced world as truly external or truly our invention, either of which involves theorizing beyond what’s actually given in our experience, let’s just see if we can give a theory-free description of things and see what that reveals.

Well, for Husserl, escaping from theory-laden ordinary language in describing phenomena requires inventing a lot of cumbersome terms that make him hard to read, but for this reading, Cartesian Meditations (where, just as it sounds like, he uses a parallel structure to Descartes’s method of doubt as depicted in the Meditations), we’ve got a transcription and elaboration of some lectures Husserl gave in 1929 (lectures typically being not as obnoxiously opaque as philosophers’ writing), so it’s not as thorny as most of his other writings, and it serves as “An introduction to phenomenology” (that’s the subtitle of the work), which is a movement we’ve talked about several times on the ‘cast that includes folks like Heidegger, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, plus many other philosophers analytic and continental make use of the basic method of trying to describe experience without imposing theories upon it. In this respect, it’s just a thorough-going empiricism, which unlike classical empiricism (Locke, Hume) doesn’t include elements like “sense data” that in fact aren’t experienced.

Read the text online. I’m sure we won’t actually get through the whole text, but don’t know specifically where we’ll stop. The introduction and first couple meditations should have most of what we need.

Nov 292010
 

Start at the beginning.

In In chapter five, the central conceit of the book emerges:

For the sole purpose of linking up some topics that have breezed by so as to create the illusion of unity in this manuscript, the lack of appropriate standards of judgment for this book (due to the fact that the genre I’ve posited doesn’t supply any) makes it a lot like a person, no? …And just like most people that are hard to understand or “weird”-seeming, this book is likely to be ridiculed — by people who have use only for “comedies” or “philosophy” or “books with actual content,” but they will miss the experience of really getting to know an autonomous entity, peering into its inner chambers, getting to know its idiosyncratic rules of self-determination, pouring over its most secret secrets, and then ridiculing it… much like most mentally healthy folks treat themselves.

Of course a book itself can’t be “organic,” but if mostly unplanned, it can be a work of spontaneity that will to some degree reflect the author’s organism, or so the theory goes. Whether this can result in more than a somewhat sloppy diary or an embellished psychotherapy session remains to be seen. The immediate discussion of death and sex as little death immediately after the quote above indicates something like the latter.

-Mark Linsenmayer

Nov 292010
 

If you wanted some more detail on the story of Abraham as discussed by Kierkegaard in Fear and Trembling, here’s a version by comedian Louis CK (yes, with swearing):

Watch on youtube.

This presentation shows the challenge Kierkegaard or any other Judeo-Christian apologist faces in defending a belief system that would make this story a central, celebrated piece of its faith.

Continue reading »

Nov 282010
 

Below is a clip from David Malone’s recent documentary, Soul Searching, originally broadcast on the UK’s Channel 4. It reviews some of the latest developments in brain science to discover that the self might just be an illusion, a byproduct of the brain’s left hemisphere trying to construct a narrative of reality. It makes for compelling viewing, and those uninterested in Kierkegaard’s sermonizing may find good old brain science more edifying:

Watch on youtube.

Continue reading »

Nov 282010
 

By the “fourth sitting” of Tripe, the references to previous bits come quickly and constantly enough that it’s really not advisable to start at this point, but instead, like an ordinary book reader, start at the beginning.

New topics covered in this section include goat suet, the supposedly fictional holiday of San Juan de la Cruz Day (which I have just now discovered is apparently not fictional), creating new words via font variations, and a recognition of yesterday’s revelation that being funny is inconsistent with a rejection of all standards of literary quality… which I guess would leave the reader with no reason to continue slogging through Mr. Wolf’s drippings, but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt, shall we? We shall.

Continue reading »

Nov 272010
 

Start at the beginning.

In the “third sitting” of Tripe, Mr. Wolf seems to provide us with a self-deprecating back-handed apologetic of the sort that makes me tired but dresses this up as a rejection of quality standards a la the Taoist. In other words, our esteemed author apologizes for his bad writing with the excuse that “good” vs. “bad” as a distinction is just a trap anyway.

The thing that I am not hiding is that this is a bad book, thus violating pretty much any standard of goodness you could want. Fortunately, we don’t always want what fits our standards of goodness, we don’t usually even have these standards, and we mostly don’t have a clue what we really want, let alone what we could want. So the badness of this book could be kind of cool, in that, should it be sitting on your coffee table and some coffee-drenched guest open it at random, he/she may be dumbfounded and perhaps start a conversation with you, the profoundly-alone host, with a comment like “What the hell? This is such a bad book. Its, like, `style’ (Your guest will makes little quotation thingies with her/his voluptuous hands. This will overwhelm you.) is so needlessly opaque, and there’s no structure… I can’t believe someone actually published it… yet… I admire you for actually reading the whole voluminous thing… you don’t have, like, any diseases or anything do you?”

Continue reading »

Nov 262010
 

Dear kind and patient readers,

The burden of stewardship is great, and though it is with hesitation that I here link to the “Second Sitting” of Cliffson Wolf’s masterwork Tripe, given that interested parties could have easily clicked through from the first chapter to this document, it is incumbent upon me through the terms of Wolf’s will (in which he left me some snacks, now, sadly, quite stale, among other sundries) to maximize exposure of his most eminent philosophy through additional linkage.

Whether additional posts here will continue until each chapter has its own commentarial link during this holiday season has yet to be determined, but depends in part not only upon the tolerance of my fellow podcasters and you our readers, but also on whether level of torment currently inflicted upon me by Wolf’s ghost. In short, my walls are bleeding (a bit), and I hope to assuage his hungry spirit by posting this link:

Read Tripe, Part Two here.

Continue reading »

Nov 242010
 

In the spirit of Kierkegaard, I will now reveal that I am the beneficiary of one of the great thinkers of our time, Cliffson Wolf, who entrusted me upon his death to publish and publicize his great work of philosophical, autobiographical, anarchist, dadaist, anti-neo-Hegelianism: Tripe.

Marvel if you will upon this mind-bending work of unadulterated genius. (Later edit: I have a PDF now too.)

Here is an excerpt for those of you who are too lame to click on the above:

Spelling for me has always been hard, so I won’t attempt to relate to you my last name and the story behind it, but I will say this: I am someone other than yourself (probably), and you are basically alone, a lonely soul reading tripe. You may then see me as your friend, and may even see me as such when I say I hate you (which I might later say), but you will be in some small part wrong, for I think — and please take this in the most tentative way — I think that I hate you. Nonetheless, you are basically alone, even and especially in a third grade classroom during storytime, so you really have no choice but to be touched by the personal tone that I use here, as well as that tone used later in describing things that are personal, which is also a personal tone. You will thus not only continue reading, at least for another page, but appropriate me, not me as an actual person but me as a conduit for tripe, as another voice within your head, as an objectification of that part of you that, during a passionate kiss, makes you unable to divert your attention from the subject of hairballs — that part of you that, during the hairball competition, distracts your attention with thoughts of a passionate kiss. Most people fail to cultivate this part of themselves, but it never goes away, and if it does… well, it never does, but if it did, you would be much too boring and efficient and you would have to be hit by a bus just to put the universe back in balance.

Here’s that link again, in case you missed it.

And hey, here it is again!

Continue reading »

Nov 242010
 

In the spirit of Kierkegaard, I will now reveal that I am the beneficiary of one of the great thinkers of our time, Cliffson Wolf, who entrusted me upon his death to publish and publicize his great work of philosophical, autobiographical, anarchist, dadaist, anti-neo-Hegelianism: Tripe.

Marvel if you will upon this mind-bending work of unadulterated genius. (Later edit: I have a PDF now too.)

Here is an excerpt for those of you who are too lame to click on the above:

Spelling for me has always been hard, so I won’t attempt to relate to you my last name and the story behind it, but I will say this: I am someone other than yourself (probably), and you are basically alone, a lonely soul reading tripe. You may then see me as your friend, and may even see me as such when I say I hate you (which I might later say), but you will be in some small part wrong, for I think — and please take this in the most tentative way — I think that I hate you. Nonetheless, you are basically alone, even and especially in a third grade classroom during storytime, so you really have no choice but to be touched by the personal tone that I use here, as well as that tone used later in describing things that are personal, which is also a personal tone. You will thus not only continue reading, at least for another page, but appropriate me, not me as an actual person but me as a conduit for tripe, as another voice within your head, as an objectification of that part of you that, during a passionate kiss, makes you unable to divert your attention from the subject of hairballs — that part of you that, during the hairball competition, distracts your attention with thoughts of a passionate kiss. Most people fail to cultivate this part of themselves, but it never goes away, and if it does… well, it never does, but if it did, you would be much too boring and efficient and you would have to be hit by a bus just to put the universe back in balance.

Here’s that link again, in case you missed it.

And hey, here it is again!

Continue reading »

Nov 242010
 

You don’t have to be a self-absorbed mope to like Kierkegaard, but it can’t hurt.  Below is a stereotypically morose clip from Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (1957), which echoes themes presented in The Sickness Unto Death:

Watch on youtube.

The protagonist, Antonius Block, is a medieval knight suffering from what Kierkegaard might classify as conscious despair of infinitude. Despite assertions by many a cinema studies major, it’s not obvious whether Bergman was directly influenced by Kierkegaard, or whether Bergman simply shared Kierkegaard’s Lutheran outlook. Both Kierkegaard and Bergman were raised by authoritarian, pietistic fathers. (Bergman’s dad was a Lutheran minister.) Bergman never admitted to the Kierkegaardian influence often ascribed to him, or even to ever having read Kierkegaard. On the other hand, Bergman had read Sartre, Camus, and the Finnish positivist philosopher Eino Kaila. And it seems unlikely that a 20th century Scandinavian intellectual with a Lutheran upbringing, who was versed enough in philosophy to read Sartre and Kaila, would not have had at least a passing familiarity with Kierkegaard.

Continue reading »

Nov 232010
 

[Editor’s note: If you’ve listened to the Kierkegaard episode, then you’ve heard plenty of felicitous exposition and argumentation by Mr. Daniel Horne, whom we’ve consequently invited to post some follow-up thoughts and resources over the next weeks:

Kierkegaardian despairYes, we know Kierkegaard thought of despair as sin, but is despair “a” sin? Is it “sin” writ large? Despair is prohibited by no Biblical commandment, so what was Kierkegaard getting at? In The Book of Dead Philosophers,Simon Critchley asserts that Kierkegaard understood despair to be “consciousness of sin.” I think this is not quite right, or in any event, unnecessarily confuses the issue. After all, Kierkegaard felt most people suffering from despair had no consciousness of sin.

Kierkegaard scholar Gordon Marino gave a similarly opaque description of despair with his unsatisfying New York Times op-ed. Marino correctly describes several different aspects of despair presented by The Sickness Unto Death. But not only did Marino avoid summarizing Kierkegaard’s concept of despair, he ignored Kierkegaard’s proffered cure, which would have gone a long way toward explaining the sickness. The resulting confusion to NYT readers was clear in the comments following his editorial. In response, Marino conceded that Kierkegaard’s proposition was fundamentally religious, and not merely psychological. Marino also belatedly provided a useful insight: Despair is best classified as one of the seven deadly sins, that of acedia, a kind of spiritual sloth. 

Continue reading »

Nov 212010
 
kierkegaard

Discussing Soren Kierkegaard’s “The Sickness Unto Death” (1849).

What is the self? For K. we are a tension between opposites: necessity and possibility, the finite and the infinite, soul and body. He thinks we’re all in despair, whether we know it or not, because we wrongly think we’re something we’re not, or we reject what we are, or we just don’t pay attention to this dynamic at all: we just go along with the crowd. So we need to keep self-examining and (he thinks) ultimately embrace our subservience to God.

Joined by guest podcaster/Kiekegaard’s lawyer Daniel Horne, we consider K.’s 3-step self-help program and whether there’s anything to be gotten here if you don’t subscribe to K’s Christianity.

Read the text free online or buy the book.We also devote some discussion to Fear and Trembling.

End song: “John T. Flibber,” from Happy Songs Will Bring You Down by the MayTricks (1994). Get the whole album free.

If you enjoy the episode, please donate at least $1:

Nov 182010
 

world philosophy dayApparently today (or yesterday, or Nov 21-23, depending on which thing you read) is World Philosophy Day, according to the United Nations, and you didn’t even get me a present! (That’s OK, I didn’t get you anything. Here’s a smidgen of history about this most holy of days

Here’s an article about the big event, which was scheduled to take place in Iran, but enough people complained about it that while the event happened anyway, the U.N. removed its endorsement. Here’s Brian Leiter listing some specific grievances concerning Iran’s treatment of philosophers. But don’t worry, the orchestra is still behind the event.

So now I see there’s something at UNESCO (the U.N. organization in question) HQ in Paris, with “celebrations… organized by different academic actors in more than 80 countries…” I hope one of those “academic actors” is Tony Danza!

Here’s a reflective article from ABC News, by an actual philosopher, on the use and reputation of philosophy in today’s society. As usual, the user comments are more revealing than the article.

Given that the vast majority of articles I’m seeing on this are about the furor over Iran, and I’d never even heard of this “holiday” prior to this year, I’m thinking that the initial staging was a publicity stunt on the part of the U.N. to garner attention to the holiday. Well done!

-Mark Linsenmayer

Nov 182010
 

Jay mentioned on the episode being profoundly affected a short film from 1951 where Jackson Pollock shows how he works. Here’s a clip from it (Jay says it’s almost impossible to get one’s hands on a decent copy of the whole thing, but in the Ed Harris movie about Pollock they depict the making of the clip.):

Watch on youtube.

Jay told us:

All I can say is that I always thought the guy’s art was garbage until I saw this film, which is much longer as a whole. It blew me away. Changed everything in how I saw art and very much defined my “art world” view. Give it a look. All that American Abstract Expressionist stuff is pretty fantastic and, at least in my mind, was the last great era of painting.

Continue reading »

Nov 172010
 

OK folks. As we build out our schedule for the next year, I’ve promised that we are going to do something on Economics. I’m in the process of doing the research now and would like to solicit input from the community.  What we need is a digestible text (or several) that lay out some of the central philosophical assumptions of Economics or which represent economic philosophical presuppositions well.

It seems to me that economic theories make very clear assumptions about human behavior and what motivates it – that’s one direction to go.  Another is to look at political, social or moral implications of specific economic positions (e.g. importance of reducing unemployment vs. managing inflation).  Yet another would be to examine the stated or unstated goal(s) of economic practice – wealth creation, human flourishing, political stability, etc.

So send us your suggestions.  I’ll be asking some friends and sending hope mail to eminent Econ profs as well.  As an aside, listening to economists argue about Economics sounds a lot to me like philosophers arguing about Philosophy.  I’m far from convinced that it’s any different from other liberal arts and certainly isn’t a science.  I’m also slowly becoming Hayekian.

–seth