Daniel Horne

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Mar 052013
 

A dialogical relation will show itself also in genuine conversation, but it is not composed of this. …On the other hand, all conversation derives its genuineness only from the consciousness of the element of inclusion—even if this appears only abstractly as an “acknowledgement” of the actual being of the partner in the conversation; but this acknowledgement can be real and effective only when it springs from an experience of inclusion, of the other side.

-Martin Buber, Between Man and Man (London: Routledge, 1947).

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Mar 012013
 
bubermeme

cdn.memegenerator.net

Regardless of how or whether you relate to Buber’s vision, I and Thou makes for a frustrating read. Seemingly simple words are used in new and alien contexts. Solutions are announced rather than derived. Worse, while nominally divided into three parts, I and Thou is really more of a loose collection of 61 aphorisms. Following Buber’s reasoning by comparing his different uses of “word pairs” (e.g., “I-You” in the context of person, or tree, or cat) becomes particularly tricky as a result. Of course, Buber would probably consider this a feature, not a bug; his oracular style seems deliberately designed to provoke a kind of dialogue between the book and the reader. (That’s true even if your end of the dialogue often feels like, “What the f___ are you on about?”) According to Walter Kaufmann, who translated I and Thou‘s most recent edition:

Most of Buber’s German readers would be quite incapable of saying what any number of passages probably mean. The obscurity of the book does not seem objectionable to them: it seems palpable proof of profundity …. It is not even impossible that in places Buber himself was not sure of the exact meaning of his text.

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Oct 222012
 

A recent blog post at New York Magazine‘s Vulture blog queries whether fandom is inherently pathological. This seems a fair question to ask after some of the more amusing anecdotes revealed on the Lucy Lawless episode:

[Fandom is], by definition, a bit different from hobbies like cooking or learning an instrument in that fandom is in the service of someone else’s creativity rather than one’s own. And all the time invested in these pop-culture passions: Who among us hasn’t wondered what else we could be getting done with the time spent studying up on or arguing about them?

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Aug 242012
 


For another take on Nietzsche’s theory of truth, here’s a lecture from Prof. Robert Solomon, one of the stars of The Great Courses series. Solomon describes Nietzsche’s concept of truth as perspectivist rather than relativist. (Though, unlike Rick Roderick, Solomon is willing to concede that other Nietzsche interpreters have — rightly or wrongly — gone farther.) Solomon’s argument sources the origin of Nietzsche’s critique to his rejection of the “thing-in-itself,” which so consumed Kant and Schopenhauer. Once one is cured of the concept of a “thing-in-itself,” then we are all left to determine truth based on upon the world of appearances. But of course, once we are left to determine truth based upon experience — there is no “God’s eye view” by which ultimate truth can be established. In fact, even God could not have a “God’s eye view” of the world, in the sense of pure omniscience:  there is always context; there is always aspect. Solomon wants to make clear that this is not the same thing as saying that all truths are “relative,” if one means by “relative” there are no criteria by which we can judge the relative merits of fact or value statements. But it does mean that truth is complex, not simple, and requires an ability to interpret answers, rather than merely “discovering” them. For more on this subject, perhaps review this thesis submitted by one of Jessica Berry’s students.

-Daniel Horne

Aug 082012
 

Listen on YouTube.

Like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy has many omissions and contains much that is apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate. Even so, Bertrand Russell’s prose is entertaining enough to make this audio chapter on Aristotle’s Politics a worthwhile supplement to PEL’s Politics episode.

-Daniel Horne

May 162012
 

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In the video above, Prof. David Papineau compares different “naturalist” theories of consciousness to propose that phenomenal concepts pose a problem for Wittgenstein’s private language argument. (A version of this issue was briefly raised during the second episode discussing Philosophical Investigations.) Hint: If you’re not yet familar with the “Mary’s Room” thought experiment, it would be helpful to review a synopsis.

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Apr 272012
 

http://youtu.be/w0FQoypdDTk

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I liked the meta-discussion that kicked off the second PEL naturalized Buddhism episode, specifically on what knowledge we gain by assessing the supernatural “rules” contained within “religious” Buddhism. Even after rejecting a supernaturalist stance, there’s value in reviewing the form of life revealed within Buddhism’s supernatural tenets. In that spirit, I enjoyed Boddhisatva’s Brain most for its comparison of different philosophical worldviews. Reading the book, I asked myself how Owen Flanagan’s purely philosophical Buddhism meaningfully differed from, say, the Roman Stoicism of Marcus Aurelius. But Flanagan might respond that juxtaposing a “naturalized” Buddhism against Roman Stoicism is inherently interesting for its own sake. Flanagan says that comparing Eastern and Western traditions…
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Apr 162012
 

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One way to naturalize Buddhism is to discern the moral lessons it might offer after shedding its metaphysics. Another way is to scrutinize the physiological effects of its practices. As Owen Flanagan explained on PEL’s first “naturalized Buddhism” episode, not all Buddhist sects practice meditation. But of course, many do, particularly within the Japanese Zen tradition so popular in the West. The lecture above comes from Dr. James Austin, Emeritus Professor of Neurology at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. Austin believes Zen meditation has discernable physical benefitsthat can be studied neuroscientifically. His numerous books reviewing the neuroscience behind Zen meditation receive both positive and dismissive reviews. Owen Flanagan (who, like Austin, publishes through The MIT Press), gives the following cautious praise for Austin’s work:
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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:

http://youtu.be/9cRasrZHwVI

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Mar 072012
 

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Here is a surprisingly edifying and entertaining synopsis of structuralism. I particularly like how Prof. Louis Markos connects Saussure’s work to the “proto-structuralism” of Freud and Marx. Also enjoyable is Markos’ mini-rant, in light of Wes’s recent post:

Structures are found in all areas of thought and study, from history to linguistics, psychology to anthropology.

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Mar 042012
 

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For anyone still trying to sort Derrida out, here’s a hopefully helpful attempt at explication from Rick Roderick. I liked Roderick’s approach in directly opposing Derrida’s theory to the “Theory of Reference.” This is an allusion to Gottlob Frege, who was discussed in an earlier PEL episode.

I found it impossible to follow Roderick’s argument toward the end of the lecture, until I tracked down the Derrida essay to which he was referring, White Mythology: Metaphor in the Text of Philosophy. (After you open the online PDF file, do an on-screen text search for “The breath is seated,” and you’ll find the relevant passage.)

-Daniel Horne

Dec 242011
 

Brian Leiter

A really good interview with Nietzsche scholar and opinionator Brian Leiter appears in 3:AM Magazine, where he drops pithy quotes on Obama, Nietzsche, Marx, and Foucault.

But he also appears to have a new argument to sell. Leiter advocates a new way to divide the philosophical canon, not into “contintentals” or “analytics,” but rather into “naturalists” and “anti-naturalists”. You can also listen to Leiter’s argument on the latest Philosophy Bites episode, where Nigel Warburton thankfully pushed back a bit.

It seems to me that Leiter focuses too much on outlier examples to deny the boundaries of the “continental” and “analytic” camps. Sure, perhaps Marx wouldn’t have thought much of Derrida (though who can say, and what kind of an argument is that, really?). But that doesn’t mean they weren’t both united as students of Hegel, and therefore assignable to a certain intellectual camp. I mean, Heidegger didn’t think much of Sartre, either, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t more similar than different when compared to Frege and Russell. Not all Republicans agree on all points with their fellow Republicans, but they can still sense when a Democrat has entered the room; there’s a reason these camps evolved in the first place. Continue reading »

Dec 162011
 

http://youtu.be/p4rF5mspaVk

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Christopher Hitchens died on Thursday after a punishing bout with cancer, and I’d like to take the liberty of inserting a brief memoriam. I do this in a philosophy blog partially because PEL recently discussed one of his books. But mostly I do it because I would hate to think anyone remembers Hitchens as nothing more than a “New Atheist” icon.

I first stumbled across Hitchens’ work in law school, after picking up discarded issues of The Nation left lying around student offices and library carrels. I soon came to seek out ever more trashed copies of an otherwise predictable opinion paper, simply for the chance to cheer on or get pissed off by his unpredictable stances. A reliable aspect of Mr. Hitchens’ writing over the years has been his willingness to pugnaciously defend unpopular views, whether on political figures,religious figures,or, more recently, unpopular wars.
To get a sense of the younger but no less feisty “Hitch”, check out the clip above. He punches in fine form around the 6:45 mark.

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Dec 092011
 


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You’ll find precious little discussion of Transcendence of the Ego within the Sartre episode of Human, All Too Human, the BBC’s 1999 documentary on existentialist thinkers previously name-checked by Seth. However, you do get a capsule summary of Sartre’s thesis around the 10-minute mark. BBC provides some lucid illustrations of certain Sartrean arguments, particularly his entertaining (and somewhat telling) “pervert’s argument” against solipsism. The creepy, hyper-dramatic soundtrack is unfortunate — assigning existentialism such a morbid affect doesn’t help its cause, whatever the Gauloises-smoking set might think. Points also deducted for interviewing the inexplicably famous BHL, whose contribution is to summarize Sartre thusly, “He was freedom.” Just fast-forward through that part.

-Daniel Horne

Nov 122011
 

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This video records Nobel laureate Amartya Sen’s somewhat rambling lecture, wherein he discusses a few themes in Hume’s ethical work which he deems relevant today. Specifically, Sen wants to advocate for Hume’s argument that society’s globalization tends to expand its moral sensitivities. We hear that Hume was among the first to argue that a society’s mores were a function of its culture rather than physical circumstances. Hume was also an early critic of then-nascent British imperialism, arguing that it demeaned the conquerers as much as the conquered.

Many of the Humean insights to which Sen refers seem so obviously true today as to be unworthy of further discussion. But perhaps that says as much of Hume’s foresight and intellectual victory as the tepid nature of Sen’s summary. To be honest, I couldn’t tease out any great insights from the lecture, but I’ll let Sen’s intellectual cred justify the post, and anyway it may prove interesting to those trying to assess Hume’s contributions, if not his continued relevance.

-Daniel Horne

Oct 202011
 

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I can write nothing on Heideggerian scholar*/(anti)Hollywood director Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life that hasn’t been better written elsewhere. Even so, the film has just come available on DVD and digital download, so I thought I’d recommend it to anyone who has been interested in PEL’s recent religion episodes. (Suggestion: try to watch the HD version of the clip.) If I had to try to connect the film’s theme to recent topics, I’d call attention to Malick’s ruminations on life’s utterly contingent nature, and whether it suggests the presence or absence of God.

While the film isn’t perfect (somebody please explain the ending!), a movie with existential dinosaurs beats a two-hour couch-warming session with another Transformers sequel. Trust me.

*I can’t find a decent link, but Malick translated Heidegger’s The Essence of Reasons for Northwestern University Press before he abandoned graduate study.

-Daniel Horne

Oct 142011
 

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A name that popped up in Episode 43 and Episode 44 was that of Oxford philosophy professor Richard Swinburne. Swinburne has made his reputation positing analytic arguments in favor of Christian theism. As Robert pointed out toward the end of Episode 43, most Christians, even if sympathetic, would probably not find Swinburne’s arguments dispositive toward their belief. Even so, it’s only fair to allow serious scholars like Swinburne to frame their own arguments before rendering judgment. Swinburne’s approach reveals the strawman nature of the arguments deployed by Hitchens, Harris, et al. when they evoke the cartoonish “I believe because the [insert Holy Text] says so” stereotype. (I will cut Richard Dawkins some slack here; he’s actually done a pretty good job of engaging non-silly theists in civil debate.)

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Sep 132011
 

http://youtu.be/c1K3a5GXg3Y

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A 1999 episode of In Our Time was ostensibly about “feminism,” but in fact addressed a narrower and more pressing issue: Are men “by nature more competitive, ambitious, status-conscious, dedicated, single-minded and persevering than women”? And if so, doesn’t that mean men are biologically better disposed than women to achieve material success? And if that’s true, doesn’t it follow that the comparatively disadvantaged status women hold in modern society results from “natural” psychological differences, rather than “cultural” patriarchy? What would that then mean for feminism’s mission? Should society ensure equal opportunity, or privilege difference? I would have thought such claims would arouse more backlash than it has. But such theories are taken seriously, to some degree, because they are championed by Prof. Helena Cronin, an academic philosopher at the London School of Economics Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science. Lest you think I’ve mischaracterized Cronin’s arguments, you can also read them here:
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Aug 022011
 

This September, PBS will re-broadcast an interesting episode of NOVA ScienceNOW, which touches on some points raised in PEL’s interview with Patricia Churchland. The episode demonstrates a procedure called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), which can influence a person’s moral judgments as they are being made, simply by messing with the neural activity located within the brain’s Right TemporoParietal Junction (RTPJ):

If you find the clip interesting, you can find the published research here.

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Jul 092011
 

volition and brain

Pop science journalists / authors Bob Wright and John Horgan have an interesting debate on free will from a, well, pop science point of view.

Nothing gets resolved, as always, but I like hearing well-informed middle-aged guys argue the same debate we’ve been hearing since the university dorm room.

Highlights include Wright’s assessment of Daniel Dennett’s Freedom Evolves:

Horgan naturally disagrees, but it’s telling that his biggest objection is his reluctance to accept a free-will-less universe. Isn’t that everyone’s biggest objection?

-Daniel Horne