Mar 312012

At one time in Savatthi, the venerable Radha seated himself and asked of the Blessed Lord Buddha: “Anatta, anatta I hear said, Venerable. What, pray tell, does Anatta mean?” “Just this, Radha, form is not the self (anatta), sensations are not the self (anatta), perceptions are not the self (anatta), assemblages are not the self (anatta), consciousness is not the self (anatta). Seeing thusly, this is the end of birth, the Brahman life has been fulfilled, what must be done has been done.”
- from the Pali Cannon (Samyutta Nikaya, Nikayas).

Listening to the interview with Owen Flanagan led to me to ponder if the no-self doctrine had produced something similar to the continental response to Hume’s critique of traditional notions of the self: the subject (i.e. whatever it is that’s experiencing, as opposed to a soul or something like that taken as an object).

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Mar 302012

As mentioned on the race episode, I thumbed through a book edited by Andrew Valls called Race and Racism in Modern Philosophy,which includes essays on Descartes, Hobbes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, Mill, Marx, and Nietzsche. To give Valls’s words on the last of these, since I mentioned it in the discussion:

…James Winchester examines Nietzsche’s views on race. Against those who charged that Nietzsche was a racist, Winchester shows that his relation to race is far too complex to be captured by this label. Although Nietzsche made some disturbing remarks on this score, he also departed from conventional racial thinking of his day by claiming, for example, that Jes constituted a strong race and Germans a mixed and weak one. These views, among others, do show that Nietzsche was a racialist–he believed that races were real and had great causal significance in shaping thought and culture. This view, combined with his assessment of the German and Jewish races, led Nietzsche to recommend “mixing” of the two in order to strengthen the German race. While Nietzsche sometimes thought in racial terms, his use of racial ideas was neither consistent nor well worked out.”

Knowing that Nietzsche didn’t have his shit together on this topic despite talking about it so much doesn’t make me feel much better about him in this respect, but then again, I was already looking past the many unforgivable things he said about women, so the race issue doesn’t require any further stretching of the brain on my part.

-Mark Linsenmayer

Mar 292012

So just what is the good life, according to Buddhism, according to Flanagan, according to this post I’m writing right now? (…According to the inner, private language that my attempts to write are meant to reflect, according to the reality as perceived which my inner words are attempting to express, according to the reality itself to which my reality as perceived is meant to correspond, according to… what was I talking about?)

Ah, yes, so you want to read something brief by Mr. OJ Flanagan that you needn’t purchase that is relevant to our great interview with him, do you?

Well take a look at this article he posted, called Buddhist Persons and EudaimoniaBuddha. In it, Owen lays out what a philosophical psychology is supposed to do and gives the Buddhist version of it:
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Mar 282012

In this post brought to my attention by our commenter DMF in light of our race episode, Kristie Dotson of Michigan State University attacks the question that one might ask when reading DuBois, for instance: Is this really philosophy?

The question, how is this paper philosophy, is a poorly formulated question. At best, when asked in good faith, the question could in fact be one of several questions. At worst, when asked with ill will, the question indicates pernicious ignorance in the asker. Either it is a well-intentioned, problematic question or a poorly intended, bad question…

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Mar 262012
Owen Flanagan

Discussing The Bodhisattva’s Brain: Buddhism Naturalized (2011) with Owen Flanagan.

What philosophical insights can we modern folks with our science and naturalism (i.e. inclination against super-natural explanations) glean from Buddhisim? Flanagan says plenty: Buddhism is founded on common human experience (not faith), and we can profitably put Buddhist ethics in dialogue with familiar types of virtue ethics. However, we need to be skeptical of any claims to scientific support the superior happiness of Buddhists.

We kick off with a general assessment of phenomenology and naturalist ethics, and Flanagan provides such a plethora of great insights that the regular PEL crew will be continuing the discussion in Ep. 54. Get more info on the topic and obtain the book. Download Wes’s summary of the book.

End song: “A Few Gone Down” from Mark Lint & the Fake Johnson Trio (1998). Download the album for free.

The discussion continues (without Owen) here.

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

Mar 262012

For those of you who didn’t get a chance to do the reading for our recent discussion with Owen Flanagan about his book The Bodhisattva’s Brain (and our soon-to-be posted follow up conversation without Owen), you can download my summary of the main points of the book here.

– Wes Alwan

Mar 262012

One of the names dropped during the Race and Philosophy episode was that of Stokely Carmichael. Below is a famous recording of one Carmichael’s “Black Power” speeches, given after Carmichael was appointed Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC:

Watch on YouTube.

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Mar 252012

[Note: This post was requested by Laura, one of our big-spendin' financial supporters. While making a donation through this site will not guarantee that we'll read/write about something you request, greasin' the wheels won't hurt.]

I’ve used the gay marriage issue as an example of a prototypical example of progressive morality: something that we should have realized (as a society) was perfectly fine a priori, but which it’s taken us a lot of growing up to accept. A good moral theory, of course, should allow us to call these cases far before they’re trendy, and feminist philosopher Elizabeth Brake argues in Minimizing Marriage: Marriage, Morality, and the Lawthat (this quote is from an extract from her book):

…Marriage should be demoralized—that it does not have a sui generis moral status or a transformative moral power. …The great social and legal importance accorded marriage and marriage-like relationships is unjustified, and that this privilege harms, sometimes unjustly, those not oriented towards monogamous, central relationships. Those harmed include members of multiple significant overlapping friendships such as adult care networks or urban tribes, the asexual and solitudinous, and the polyamorous. …A truly politically liberal law of marriage would expand the legal category of marriage in surprising ways, minimizing special restrictions on entry, exit, and what transpires between.

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Mar 232012


So I’m the kind of guy that pays attention to the words of songs and a large part of my enjoyment of music is knowing lyrics and singing.  So much so that I am practically always on call for Karaoke, particularly when it’s Karaoke Apocalypse (greatest thing since the Redskins won the Super Bowl – for the record I own I Want You to Want Me).  I can remember all the words to Billy Bragg and Smiths’ songs if first heard 25+ years ago.  I sing in the car and hum songs to myself to enhance or change my mood.

So after the recent race episode, where once again it was established that white guys cannot appropriate the *n*-word, I was corresponding with Law about hip-hop on Facebook.  My main goal was to get some street cred with him, but it occurred to me that my experience of hip-hop has been largely solitary rather than social like my experience with pretty much every other kind of music.  I’ll happily serenade my friends or family with some REM, Black Sabbath, Cage the Elephant or whatever, but not Busta Rhymes. Continue reading »

Mar 222012

Political philosophy through the prism of Black-American thinkers: Tommie Shelby is a distinguished professor of philosophy at Harvard university. In this text, he examines the political thought of black thinkers to arrive at a philosophical articulation of black solidarity. This is a great text to examine if one is interested in understanding black philosophical thinking about politics.

Womanist Perspective on Race: Womanism is concerned with what Bell Hooks calls the “unholy trinity of sexism, class, and race.” Womanists argue that feminists should focus on sex and class, but they must not forget the ill of racism. This is a seminal text in the Womanist tradition.


Mar 202012

Here’s that Stanford African-American Freedom Struggle course I referred to several times during the episode by Clayborne Carson. iTunes U link.

It’s really an excellent course, with maybe 2 and a half lectures on DuBois covering his (long) life, starting with this one:

Watch the introductory DuBois lecture on youtube.

Carson’s lecture on MLK is great; you can see him respond to the plagiarism issue, talk about King’s theology, and more. For more King, don’t miss the later ones by Vincent Harding and Clarence Jones, who worked directly with King. Other lectures fill the historical gaps between DuBois and MLK, and this course is one of the few (Carson says) that goes up to modern times, with episodes on Tupac and Obama (as he was running in the primary for the 2008 election).

-Mark Linsenmayer

Mar 192012

Go check out the album.

I’ve posted several times before about my college band, The MayTricks, which was active from maybe early 1991 through the summer of 1994, after which I left Ann Arbor for graduate school in Madison. It was a pretty weird group of guys with a lot of ideas and enthusiasm.

Since I knew I was leaving many months before this point, a lot of late ’93 and ’94 was spent putting together as many songs as we could finish into a massive double album. All the actual recording was completed before I left, though the mixing process stretched for some months afterward, and I took more months to work on the liner notes.

Consequently, the album never received a proper release at all, and the other guys, finding a double album with many songs by someone no longer part of the band not useful for their current promotional purposes, actually took 10 songs off of it and made a single album, “Fingers,” to support their new band (also called Fingers). That Fingers album was the first product I was involved in to be put on CD, promoting some other band, with another bass player’s picture on it. A bit disappointing at the time, given all the work that went into this.

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Mar 172012
W.E.B. DuBois

On W.E.B. DuBois’s “Of Our Spiritual Strivings” (1903), Cornel West’s “A Genealogy of Modern Racism” (1982), and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (1963) and “The Black Power Defined” (1967), plus Malcolm X’s “The Black Revolution” (1963).

What kind of philosophical lessons come out of the history of black oppression in America? Historian and intellectual DuBois describes the “double consciousness” involved living as a black man in the white world (he was the first black man to graduate from Harvard); he sees the oppression experience as providing some spiritual insight that the rest of us could use. West analyzes the codification of racist aesthetic standards in western philosophical history, leaving us with traces (a white “normative gaze”) that require more than a tolerant attitude to root out. The American civil rights writers discuss the practical ways to combat this legacy, the upshot being that whites will not in themselves become enlightened and fix everything, but that blacks simply needed more economic, political, and cultural power. So where does this leave us some decades later? Read more about the topic and get the texts.

The full foursome is joined by Lawrence Ware of Oklahoma State University, who serves as the token professional in our amateur melting pot. Contemplate our liberal bias! Snicker at my awkward white guilt!

End song: “Bankrupt” by The MayTricks, from the album Happy Songs Will Bring You Down (1994), one of my more amusing musical crimes against the inventors of funk. Download the whole album for free.

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

Mar 162012

Science examining religionIn the same way that Owen Flanagan wants to naturalize Buddhism by stripping its hocus-pocus, William James focused his attention on personal religious experience rather than the “smells and bells” of traditional institutions. As biographer Robert Richardson puts it, “much of what one usually thinks of as religion James rejects at the start”. James says he has no interest in the, “ordinary religious believer, who follows the conventional observances of his country, whether it be Buddhist, Christian, or Mohammedan. His religion has been made for him by others, communicated to him by tradition, determined to fixed forms by imitation and retain by habit.” James says he wants to confine himself to “personal religions pure and simple” and say as little as possible about systematic theology or institutional history. The latter are second-hand religions, but he wants to look at the original article. As one might imagine, Richardson says, “James continues to be attacked by church leaders and systematic theologians for his failure to start where they start.” James’s biographer tells us that this approach to the psychology of religion was a “radical departure, more radical even than that of Friedrich Schleiermacher.”

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Mar 142012

Dennis Hollingsworth

Yes, we have a Google alert on ourselves. Go write about us and we will try to give you a linkback or even go read/listen to you, etc. (When Colin Marshall did this, I hooked him up with a gig writing for openculture, where one of his posts just got picked up by The New Yorker, Slate, and Andrew Sullivan’s blog. Go, Colin!)

Here are some recent PEL mentions on the wide scary web:

The Onion AV Club wrote a nice review of us.

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Mar 132012

We spent our winter holidays reading about Buddhism in preparation for a January interview with Owen Flanagan, which he then had to reschedule. It’s back on, scheduled to happen a mere two days from now. If you have questions or comments to throw out to inspire our discussion, post them here, where I’ve also updated my previous topic announcement post, adding a great link to a lecture he gave in January summing up the book. It would be a good idea for you to watch or listen to that before our episode appears some weeks from now, as hopefully we won’t be making him retread through his whole thesis in our discussion.

-Mark Linsenmayer

Mar 092012

[Editor's Note: Lawrence Ware is the guest on our episode on philosophy and race, and we're happy to have him come blog for us.]

Derek Parfit is one of the most important ethicists of our time. I’m sure that his Reasons and Personswill soon challenge Kripke’s Naming and Necessityin the number of philosophy dissertations it has influenced.

It appears that the best was yet to come. On What Mattersis Parfit’s Magnum Opus. Some have argued that this tome (and I mean tome—I skipped the gym and just curled volumes 1 and 2) is the most important work in moral philosophy for over a century. I’m not sure if it deserves that level of prestige, but it certainly is a text that attempts to revolutionize ethical reflection by showing how much seemingly oppositional ethical theories have in common. Parfit is an unapologetic rationalist—an unstylish ethical position in our current philosophical climate. Parfit argues that there does indeed exist objective ethical criteria whereby one may judge an action to be right or wrong. This is not a new position. Many have tried to appeal to a religious authority to argue this point. What makes Parfit unique is that his argument is both convincing and secular. How does he do this? Read the text—you will not be disappointed.

The book is very long—but, as Peter Singer states in his review, one could just read the first 400 pages and walk away with the gist of Parfit’s argument. This is necessary reading for anyone interested in ethics. Highly recommended.

-Law Ware