Aug 152013
 

Hobby horse as Motorcycle

“A bad work of art is an oxymoron,” Patrick Doorly says, “like bad skill.” He thinks there’s no such thing as bad art because the term does not refer to a class of objects or a category of activity. Art simply refers to excellence or to any “high-quality endeavor,” a phrase he borrows from Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Doorly’s new book, The Truth About Art: Reclaiming Quality, devotes an entire chapter to Pirsig’s metaphysics, which Doorly deploys to untie various intellectual knots.

You’ll find big-hitters like Plato, Aristotle, Kant, and Hegel in the book’s index. There is even a footnote mentioning the philosopher and art critic Arthur Danto, whose work was the topic for P.E.L’s 16th episode. The Truth About Art looks like an art history book, with plenty of illustrations, but the text feels more like an accessible book of philosophy.

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Jan 302013
 
Karl Marx

On Karl Marx’s The German Ideology, Part I, an early, unpublished work from 1846.

What is human nature? What drives history? How can we improve our situation? Marx thought that fundamentally, you are what you do: you are your job, your means of subsistence. All the rest, this culture, this religion, this philosophy, is just a thin layer over our basic situation. Ideas are not primarily what changes the world; it’s economics. In fact, you can’t even have an idea that doesn’t end up being in some way a product of your economic situation, and any given culture inevitably reflects and reinforces the interests of the rich within that culture. Marx saw history as following an inevitable progression driven by the division of labor and development of technology, which would inevitably lead to a situation so awful for the vast majority that we’ll have no choice but revolution leading to Communist paradise.

OK, so that last part is a pretty big stretch, but some of Marx’s diagnoses seem on point: our alienation from our jobs, the fact that our opinions really do more often than not reflect our situation and are not therefore the product of a wholly free intellectual choice, the fact that a lot of philosophy ignores our practical situation to its detriment (Marx really rips into the “Young Heglians” that were dominating German thought at the time), our general lack of self-knowledge (this idea among others being lifted from Hegel), and some of his analysis of past cultural advances (mostly lifted from Adam Smith). The original threesome of Mark, Seth, and Wes are back to hack into these issues and more. Read more about the topic and get the book.

End song: “Job” by Mark Lint and the Fake from the album So Whaddaya Think? (2000). Download it free.

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Jan 162013
 

On 1/13 we recorded a discussion of an early work of Karl Marx, from about 20 years before the publication of his famous Das Capital, The German Ideology. Listen to the episode. We read just part 1 of the work, which was written in 1845-6 but not published until 1932 (with some portions of it coming out earlier in the 20th century). The work is credited to Marx and Engels, but according to the editor of the version I read, it’s pretty clear that the part we read was Marx’s work.

The book is more philosophical than his later work, though its substance is in part an attack on philosophy, in particular that of the Young Hegelians like Bruno Bauer and Max Stirner. As you might recall from our Hegel on history episode, Hegel saw history as progressive, and analyzable in terms of “Spirit,” as in the spirit or intellectual climate of the times: you can (maybe) predict what will come next historically (e.g. will this democracy become a tyranny?) by looking at the big ideas driving the times. One idea somehow leads to the next one in a “dialectical” manner, e.g. a reaction against the current state of things, in turn supplanted by a synthesis which is more like the original position but changed to incorporate some of the advances to the second position. To use a musical example, 70s prog rock leads to the punk reaction, which turns into new wave/post-punk, which is artsy like prog but keeps some of the energy and simplicity of punk.

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Aug 052012
 

Courtesy of www.columbo-site.freeuk.com

[From Douglas Lain - see biographical note below for more details about Doug!]

In Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit there is a procedure to which Hegel subjects every positive proposition called dissolution.  This process or procedure of dissolution doesn’t belong to Hegel alone.  In fact, the Phenomenology seems to be Hegel’s attempt to demonstrate how all the philosophers who came before him were correct and how understanding how they were correct requires us to discover this procedure of dissolution.  As each idea falls apart we’re led from one idea to the next.

Descartes was correct when he argued that we can’t be certain about the world based on our senses because there is always the possibility that we’ve been deceived, for instance, and Berkeley was right when he argued the universal concept of matter was empty and insubstantial, and Hume was correct when he pointed out that the idea of cause and effect was merely an assumption that we made about the world — that ultimately we simply assumed that the world would continue to act as it had in the past. Continue reading »

Dec 112011
 

Francis FukuyamaIn his new book The Origins of Political Order,Francis Fukuyama tackles the history of the idea and its reality “from prehuman times to the French Revolution.” Fukuyama works under the contemporary name of political science, but he is really one of the few people we have today intellectually able to go beyond the narrow confines of academic specialization and to give us the sort of philosophically-informed and empirically-informed broad vision comparable to that of the classical modern political philosophers, e.g., the grand ambitions we find in Adam Smith‘s Wealth of Nations, David Hume‘s 6-volume History of England (“From the Invasion of Julius Caesar to the Revolution in 1688″), and Hegel’s History of Philosophy.

Watch a video interview where Fukuyama summarizes his book.

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Aug 142011
 
Reshaping Reason by John McCumber

The living Hegelian dialectic in hardback!

The disciplinary identity of philosophy is in question. So says John McCumber in “Reshaping Reason”, where he makes a serious argument with evidence of trends pointing toward a sort of Hegelian synthesis in American philosophy to overcome the “Fantasy Island” of analytic thought and the “Subversive Struggle” of continental thought.

“Fantasy Island” and “Subversive Struggle” are McCumber’s well-reasoned nicknames for the two schools. Here are his two primary criticisms of the schools: (1) analytic thought traps itself in present tense language, ignoring the substantive insights of Hegel and Heidegger about the temporal present-past-future structure of thought or the subject; (2) continental thought dooms itself by pretending that it can continue to talk intelligibly while getting rid of the concept of true statements, irrespective of social construction — that’s why so much continental philosophy is bad.

McCumber gives to the analytic tradition that philosophy must cede ground to science on much of its old territory, but insists that there is one job (at least one, but he discusses others) only philosophy is uniquely situated to do, and that is the “situating” of reason and knowledge as such, especially their being situated in time.  It’s a very Hegelian idea: after science, philosophy becomes the practice of understanding — to be sure, with handy dandy new post-Fregean analytic conceptual tools — the historical becoming and meaning of knowledge in the context of the present. This is a job that can actually have relevance for the public (you know, all those weird people outside the walls of academia?).

Continue reading »

Apr 272011
 

I couldn’t find any Solomon lectures on Hegel, but here’s one introducing Edmund Husserl, which I think is apt now that we’ve covered Hegel’s “phenomenology,” so you can reflect on the difference:


Listen on youtube.

Maybe the only reference to Hegel here is the discussion of Husserl’s rejection of historicism, though I think it should be clear that “historicist” is would be an over-simplification when explaining Hegel. Hegel shared what Solomon describes here as Husserl’s rejection of “naturalism.” Unlike an empiricist, Husserl is explicitly in the business of discovering essential truths, though for Hegel this seems more difficult, as one seeming necessity at one phase of development in the Phenomenology of Spirit can end up being inadequately grasped and in need of improvement. Likewise, though, for Husserl, throughout the course of the Cartesian Meditations, I think you could argue that the phenomenological grasp gets more adequate: the contribution of other people doesn’t enter into it until near the end of the work, though that ends up being an essential factor in experience, and certainly one of the primordial ones as far as our non-reflective experience goes. This very same progression shows up in Hegel, where the early part of the book reflects in a Cartesian way on my experience right here-right now, and this works forward, adding more elements to in some way reconstruct/simulate/analyze more fully our actual experience.

-Mark Linsenmayer

Apr 272011
 

I couldn’t find any Solomon lectures on Hegel, but here’s one introducing Edmund Husserl, which I think is apt now that we’ve covered Hegel’s “phenomenology,” so you can reflect on the difference:


Listen on youtube.

Maybe the only reference to Hegel here is the discussion of Husserl’s rejection of historicism, though I think it should be clear that “historicist” is would be an over-simplification when explaining Hegel. Hegel shared what Solomon describes here as Husserl’s rejection of “naturalism.” Unlike an empiricist, Husserl is explicitly in the business of discovering essential truths, though for Hegel this seems more difficult, as one seeming necessity at one phase of development in the Phenomenology of Spirit can end up being inadequately grasped and in need of improvement. Likewise, though, for Husserl, throughout the course of the Cartesian Meditations, I think you could argue that the phenomenological grasp gets more adequate: the contribution of other people doesn’t enter into it until near the end of the work, though that ends up being an essential factor in experience, and certainly one of the primordial ones as far as our non-reflective experience goes. This very same progression shows up in Hegel, where the early part of the book reflects in a Cartesian way on my experience right here-right now, and this works forward, adding more elements to in some way reconstruct/simulate/analyze more fully our actual experience.

-Mark Linsenmayer

Apr 162011
 

Just to remind you, the recent Hegel episodes are not our first: we covered Hegel on history (the later, in some ways less radical Hegel) last year, shortly before I started posting videos related to our episodes. So here’s a video addressing that aspect of him.


Watch on youtube.

Rick Roderick, talking in 1990, stresses Hegel’s view of freedom (as Tom did) and discusses Hegel’s relation to then-current politics. His reflections on communism are most interesting to me looking back on what the world was like as of 1990, not as much what he has to say about Hegel.

-Mark Linsenmayer

Apr 142011
 

Churchlands

Patricia and Paul Churchland

Paul and Patricia Churchland are researchers and advocates of eliminative materialism in neuroscience and philosophy of mind. Eliminative materialism claims that everyday concepts such as the beliefs, feelings, and desires we attribute to each other are illusions of what we should refer to as “folk psychology.” They believe not only that these concepts are destined to be eliminated by a genuinely scientific understanding of human nature, but that this goal is a good or end to which research ought to be hastened.

One argument in response to this position comes out of the discussion in episode 35 and episode 36 on Hegel’s account of self-consciousness. Here is the argument:

Continue reading »

Apr 102011
 
178px-Georg_Wilhelm_Friedrich_Hegel00

Part 2 of our discussion of G.F.W. Hegel’s “Phenomenology of Spirit,” covering sections 178-230 within section B, “Self-Consciousness.” Part 1 is here.

First, Hegel’s famous “master and slave” parable, whereby we only become fully self-conscious by meeting up with another person, who (at least in primordial times, or maybe this happens to everyone as they grow up, or maybe this is all just happening in one person’s head… who the hell knows given the wacky way Hegel talks)? Then the story leads into stoicism, skepticism, and the “unhappy consciousness” (i.e. Christianity). We are again joined by Tom McDonald, though Wes is out sick. Wild speculation and disagreements of interpretation abound!

Buy the peach translation by A.V. Milleror read this online translation by Terry Pinkard.

End song: “I Die Desire,” by Mark Lint and the Fake from the album So Whaddaya Think? (2000).

Apr 102011
 

Having read many commentaries on and interpretations of Hegel’s Phenomenology, I’ve found Alexandre Kojève’s Introduction to the Reading of Hegel: Lectures on the Phenomenology of Spiritto be the best written and most helpful. The language is terse, direct, powerful, fresh, and compelling. It’s always struck me as an example of how philosophy ought to be articulated, and I return to it often for inspiration.

In this book Kojève gives the most convincing argument as to Hegel’s basic rightness in his grasp and description of “the Concept,” i.e., the concept of concepts. (He Capitalizes the big concepts a lot, but it’s not so obnoxious in context.) Kojève argues that Hegel is the first to understand that the Concept = Time itself. Human Reason or thinking itself, “the Concept,” is the concrete location where Time becomes capable of grasping itself, where Existence grasps its own Temporality.

Continue reading »

Apr 082011
 

One public intellectual who has made much hay of Hegel’s continued relevance is Slavoj Žižek, who begins one of his jazz-session-like lectures on Hegel’s concept of identity here:

Watch on youtube.

It’s not clear to me whether Žižek is properly interpreting Hegel, mostly because I find both Žižek and early Hegel incomprehensible. Z’s been accused of mis-reading Hegel, and of being a self-contradicting crypto-anti-semitic charlatan to boot. (Which is a bomb I can’t drop without immediately providing Z’s own self-defense.)

Maybe Žižek’s a fraud; maybe he just angers the intellectually insipid. I think vehement criticism is the inevitable price you pay when you don’t try to make yourself understood. But I’ll reserve judgement, as I haven’t read the necessary syllabus to decipher him. But I’ll give him this: he’s more disarming and affable than I expected, and his lectures are more fun (sometimes in a NSFW way) than most.

-Daniel Horne

Apr 052011
 

Here’s an audio-only lecture by Lawrence Cahoone:

Listen on youtube.

Cahoone here emphasizes very different themes than we talked about on the episode, specifically the theistic themes (he characterizes “Spirit” as “pantheistic” or “panentheistic,” both of which have been used to describe Spinoza; the former means everything is God, while the latter means everything is within God, but God can exceed creation as we’re aware of it) as well as politics.

Hegel’s Phenomenology, according to Cahoone, involves detailing the shapes or forms of Spirit (geist) as they evolve in human history. “God is evolving, and human beings are part of that evolution, by which God comes to full self-consciousness or self-recognition.”

Continue reading »

Apr 022011
 
G.F.W. Hegel

Discussing G.F.W. Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit (1807), Part B (aka Ch. 4), “Self-Consciousness,” plus recapping the three chapters before that (Part A. “Consciousness”).

This is discussion one of two: here we only get as far as “The Truth of Self-Certainty,” i.e. sections 166-177. This is plenty, though, as this may be the most difficult text in the history of philosophy.

We discuss Hegel’s weird dialectical method and what it says about his metaphysics, in particular about ourselves: not static, pre-formed balls of self-interest, but something that needs to be actively formed through reflection, which in turn is only possible because of our interactions with other people. Featuring guest podcaster Tom McDonald.

Buy the book,or you look at this alternate translation by Terry Pinkard online. I highly recommend having one of these open to read along, as the text is very hard to follow.

End song: “Ann(e)” by Mark Lint, written in late 1991 shortly after my exposure to this book and completed in 2010 for the music blog.

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

Mar 292011
 

I just stumbled across an 8 part series on Spinoza (discussed by us here), completed today and begun here on 2/7/11, written by U. of Liverpool lecturer Clare Carlisle, who I see has written some books on Kierkegaard,which will give you some idea where she’s coming from.

I’ve not read the whole series, but it seems pretty clear and cogent, and will remind you (or fill you in on) terms like “conatus,” that were dropped in our podcast, i.e. the striving to persevere in existence, and to enhance its own power, that constitutes the essence of every individual being.”

Part 7, for instance, is about a topic that will be relevant to your enjoyment of our soon-to-be-posted Hegel discussions on the self:

Unlike many other philosophers, Spinoza does not think that living an ethical life involves overcoming our natural self-centredness. For Spinoza, the main obstacle to virtue is not egoism, but ignorance of our true nature. When we are subject to strong emotions, which we attribute to imagined causes, we are unlikely to act in a way that is good for ourselves, or for other people. Add to this our misguided belief in free will, and the messy, antagonistic reality of human relationships seems inevitable.

Continue reading »

Mar 082011
 

We will at last be breaking open the most notoriously obscure, fantabulous work of philosophy ever: Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit.This is the early Hegel: anti-metaphysical and historicist, as opposed to the later Hegel previously discussed in our philosophy of history episode and ripped on by Kierkegaard and Schopenhauer. It’s a frickin’ acid trip, this book is.

We’ll focus on the most famous portion of the work: Part B on Self-Consciousness, though I can’t see how we’ll entirely avoid talking about earlier sections of the book. (The Introduction is an easier point of entry if you’re reading along than the Preface.)

We tend to think of people as basically selfish, which implies that we are fully formed, autonomous individuals by nature with certain needs. Hegel argues that instead, “the self” is an achievement. We only gain a sense of who we are, or even that we’re a being distinct from other beings, by interacting with other people, and it’s really their treatment of us that determines what we initially take ourselves to be. So far from being these balls of greed that Hobbes makes us out to be, we are initially not all that differentiated from our surroundings and have to build ourselves up to be individuals and figure out what we really want.

The most famous part of the text is on the “master and slave” relationship. This is Hegel’s substitute for the idea of the Social Contract: instead of people forming together to make a deal of some sort, when people recognize each other as more than just objects, they perceive a threat: society starts with someone enslaving someone else. But as far as development of the self goes, the resistance the slave encounters actually allows the slave to develop a real “self” (in opposition to the master’s will), whereas the master has no reason to be reflective and so doesn’t develop a self. So ha, master! Bite it!

Buy the book,or you can look at this alternate translation by Terry Pinkard online.

Dec 282010
 

Melvyn BraggAmong my favorite podcasts is the BBC Radio 4 show In Our Time. IOT is usually a genteel forum dedicated to discussing “the history of ideas.” Topics and tone range from Oxbridge middlebrow to Oxbridge highbrow, but I always walk away learning something. I almost swerved the car, however, when tempers flared on last week’s episode. IOT’s host, Lord Melvyn Bragg, just about lost it when one of his guests declared “nationalistic” and “racist” his suggestion that British inventors played a non-trivial role in the Industrial Revolution. Who was more (in)correct is almost beside the point – academics yelling is great radio!

Continue reading »

Feb 242010
 
Hegel

Discussing G.W.F Hegel’s Introduction to the Philosophy of History. Though he didn’t actually write a book with this name, notes on his lectures on this topic were published after his death, and the first chunk of that serves as a good entrance point to Hegel’s very strange system.

How should a philosopher approach the study of history? Is history just a bunch of random happenings, or is it a purposive force manipulating us to fulfill its hidden ends? If you have asked yourself this question in this way, then you, like Hegel, are mighty strange.

Here we talk about the unfolding of the world-historical spirit, world-historical individuals (hint: not you), dialectic, his alternative to the social contract, the formation of the self based on what others label you, the geist of America, why a constitutional monarchy is obviously the best form of government, and heaps more.

Read with us: Pages 14-128 of this online version or buy the book with only the part we’re concerned with.

End Song: “Cold,” by Madison Lint (2004), described in my music blog.