Dec 152013

Morality is neither rational nor absolute nor natural.” (Nietzsche)

Nietzsche and Spinoza both challenged the validity of morality based on transcendent or universal values. They both argued that moral restrictions are based on weakness:  Nietzsche via enslavement by harboring vengeance or “resentment” against life ( Genealogy of Morals), Spinoza via enslavement to passive affections.

In both, the transcendent moral division between Good and Evil is replaced with an immanent, ethical differentiation (the noble versus base modes of existence for Nietzsche and the active versus passive affections in Spinoza). What determines a good ethic, then, is not the appeal to transcendent or universal values, but the manner in which one is capable of increasing in capacity, creativity and power. Continue reading »

Dec 082013

For this post, I give you some theme music by a very talented musician named Sumner McKane. I chose this nice little tune not for the music itself (deserving though it may be), but for its title: “The Winter I Got Louder than Bombs and Standing on a Beach.” I’m going to assume this title reveals that Sumner has memories (and possible nostalgia) for a time in his youth when he found himself impressed for a particular Winter season spent listening to these two albums. For the music geeks among us, we will recognize these two titles as the B-side collections released by The Smiths and The Cure respectively. The title “Standing on a Beach” is a lyric from the song “Killing an Arab” which appears on the album. Robert Smith had found himself sufficiently impressed with Albert Camus’ The Stranger to write this song, which caused enough controversy that The Cure decided to name their collection with one of the lyrics from it.

Continue reading »

Nov 282013

If from continental philosophy you throw out transcendental phenomenology and older idealist trappings–transcendental subjects and so on–you are left with a system which still has two components: the world and the self.  It was the relationship between these two that took hold as the major problem for 20th C. continental philosophy.

The upshot of the first phase of the “analysis of the self” we know as existentialism and may be traced back to Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and others, but it really gets off the ground as an independent topic with Heidegger. His pre-conscious self, which he calls Dasein, is primarily characterized by two things: 1) it is ontologizing (it takes part in giving the world its particular character); 2) it cares. Continue reading »

Nov 232013

[Editor's Note: Thanks to Randall Miron for this post. Randall's a long-time audio editor of ours and has been helping edit blog posts here recently as well.]

In his short book Nietzsche, subtitled “Nietzsche’s Voices,” Ronald Hayman argues that, “Like Kierkegaard, who made copious use of pseudonyms and personae, Nietzsche was exploring his ambivalence.” This theme is touched on at several points in PEL episode 84, where the guys make a convincing case that Nietzsche was by no means unequivocal in expressing his suspicions about truth. Hayman makes the case by telling us that, and citing how Nietzsche “talks to us in a variety of voices.” (Unfortunately, Hayman argues, Nietzsche was overcome by madness when he lost control of the voices through which he allowed his shifting, sometimes contradictory, perspectives expression.)

Continue reading »

Nov 052013

Here are the Not School group activities for the month of November for PEL Citizens.

Intro Readings in Philosophy: Finally!  We have a Nietzsche discussion in Not School.  They will be reading the On the Genealogy of Morals.  Join up and reduce to sour grapes all of your precious finger wagging. See Hillary Szydlowski’s plug here.

Philosophy of Mind: We are beginning our second month of Being No One by Thomas Metzinger.  This is a pretty difficult but fascinating book (to me anyway).  It is an attempt to naturalize consciousness, the phenomenal self, and the first-person perspective.  As stated on the first page, its thesis is that selves do not exist, only self-models.  It’s extremely detailed and thankfully lacks the overt hand-waving that is so common in Philosophy of Mind.  Our goal is to locate the hidden hand-waving that is sure to operate at some level in there.  And if not found: To BELIEVE. Continue reading »

Oct 022012

SOPHISTRY in Greek and English?
If you believe Plato, then the answer is “yes”. If all of philosophy is a footnote to Plato, then the artists have been subordinated to the philosophers for about 25 centuries. According to Plato’s Republic, especially the last section, the artists present a danger to society and to your soul. Two of my favorite thinkers disagree with Plato and Socrates on this point. Friedrich Nietzsche and Robert Pirsig both make a case that there is something terribly wrong with this Platonic legacy. In one of Nietzsche’s earliest works, The Birth of Tragedy, he asks us to consider the consequences of the Socratic idea that virtue is knowledge, that all sins arise from ignorance, and only the virtuous are happy. As a consequence, Nietzsche says, the “virtuous hero must henceforth be a dialectician” because virtue and knowledge are necessarily connected such that “Truth” is the highest good.

Continue reading »

Aug 092012

For our episode on Nietzsche’s On Truth and Lie in the Extra-Moral Sense, I’ve created a guide that you’ll find here.

– Wes Alwan

Aug 092012
and those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who couldn't hear the music Nietzsche

Surely only Brits and Americans get tattoos of Nietzsche quotes

In connection with Episode 61, I submit the following discussion by The Big Ideas podcast concerning Nietsche’s famous but often misunderstood claim that “God is dead.”

The several participants in the discussion each address Nietzsche’s pronouncement from different angles. Giles Fraser argues that the “God is dead” revelation is that humanity can only become free if it rejects the idea of the divine.Lesley Chamberlain sees Nietzsche’s “death of God” as “an attack on the tight association of reason and divinity, which had begun with Plato and carried through the Christian tradition until René Descartes in the 17th century.
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May 252012

Listening to the guys and Philosophy Bro on the last episode, I want to interject that actually I see Wittgenstein as a bridge between analytic and continental philosophy for reasons beyond his being Austrian. What he brackets out and why is crucial to his project, which does become “anti-philosophical” in a broad sense. Anti-philosophy is defined by both Alain Badiou and Boris Groys both, separately, definite anti-philosophy as a philosophical critique of a philosophical enterprise through other means.

Badiou compares Wittgenstein to Nietzsche in that his anti-philosophy is based on three operations (from Wittgenstein’s Antiphilosophy,p. 74-75:

1. A linguistic, logical, genealogical critique of the statement of philosophy; a deposing of the category of truth, an unraveling of pretensions of philosophy to constitute itself as theory. In order to do so, antiphilosophy often delves into the resources the sophists exploit as well. In the case of Nietzsche, this operation bears the name “overturning of all values,” struggle against the Plato-disease, combatant grammar of signs and types.

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Jan 302012

Foucault [Editor's Note: We're pleased to have some more blog input here from Getty, the guest from our Hume/Smith episode, who wrote his undergrad thesis on Foucault and was in line to be a guest on this one himself. You can blame me for the image, which I found here.]

Was Foucault a relativist about truth? Truth-relativism is the doctrine that there are no absolute truths, only relative ones. This view is often attributed to Foucault on account of his scathing critique of “reason” in Madness and Civilizationand his understanding of “knowledge” (even of the biological sort) as social kind. Nonetheless, it is mistaken to label Foucault a truth-relativist. Like Nietzsche, Foucault is primarily interested in how notions of “reason” and “knowledge” are rarefied in our cultural practices—and, conversely, how these practices impact our understanding of these notions. It doesn’t follow from this that Foucault had anything substantive to say about truth as-such. In fact, it seems that he wasn’t even interested in such questions.

Continue reading »

Dec 162011

Watch on YouTube.

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.

Continue reading »

Apr 152011

Walter KaufmannVia, check out these lectures by Walter Kaufmann, who did most of the good Nietzsche translations you’d pick up nowadays and was the teacher of Frithjof Bergmann whose name I drop a lot on the show (who was in turn teacher of Robert Solomon).

-Mark Linsenmayer

Mar 072010

So I have been established, or established myself, as the Heidegger ‘guy’ on this blog/podcast.  Why?  I read a bunch of his stuff in grad school, studied with one of his students (at the time a professor) in Germany, and wrote my Master’s thesis on “Ereignis”.  Wes just sent me a link to this review at The Time Higher Education of a new book by Emmanuel Faye on Heidegger and Nazism:   So the author claims to have access to unpublished letters & papers that prove Heidegger worked Nazism into his philosophy…oh, wait.  I don’t give a shit. 

Smarter, more well read, more articulate and generally better people than me have weighed in on the topic for 40+ years.  It mattered to them.  It might have mattered culturally at some point.  It did matter to me 20 years ago, but it doesn’t now. 

First, a distinction.  There’s Heidegger the man, and Heidegger’s ‘thought’, which is to say his texts and other writings.  Not in question are these facts:  he joined the National Socialist party, he did reprehensible things in their name and defended his actions, he was kind of a douche.  This isn’t about the man.  What’s at issue in Faye’s book and all the others is whether Heidegger’s thought is fascistic or national socialistic.  It’s all about interpretation of the texts, but interpretation with intent.

With regard to Nazism, you can make the attempt to ‘read’ it into his texts as an illuminating interpretative strategy, or you can do it to prove his philosophy was an underpinning for Nazi ideology.  The former I find uninteresting, the latter only matters if you are going to do something with the result.  The implication is that an answer in the negative means we are allowed to keep reading him, in the positive and his thought becomes ’tainted’, ‘fascist’, ‘anti-semetic’, whatever and, presumably, his texts are consigned to the flame.   This isn’t about proving a thesis, it’s about establishing a disposition towards his philosophy that implies some kind of action.  Let’s say Faye (and others) prove the point – what are you going to do?

It’s a normative question about the interplay of ideas.  We’ve already granted that Heidegger the man acted consentually and didn’t repent.  If you take the position that morally objectionable actions by the person invalidate their work, the point is already moot.  And you can then throw Niezsche, Schopenhauer, Picasso and Tiger Woods into the hole with him.  If you move from the person to their ideas, the question is more complicated.  In the case of a straight-up apologist hack, where the ideas have no merit other than to justify an objectionable ideaology, it’s easy to say that because X supports Y, I’m not going to read any of X’s work.  What we’re saying in that case is:  X’s stuff is one-note, and that note is tedious and objectionable, so I’m invalidating X’s thought by ignoring it.   In the case of a body of work more prolific, nuanced, thought provoking and less clearly implicated like Heidegger’s, I don’t think that move works. 

I think something like this motivates the Heidegger/Nazism debate now.  People who argue one side or the other want you to do something about his thought and texts.  Keep reading him or don’t.  Censure him or don’t.  Villify him or don’t.  Include him in the canon or don’t.  Blame him for something or don’t.  Take a stand…

So here’s what I’m going to do:  keep reading him (or not) without regard to the outcome of the debate.  As you’ll hear in the Danto episode and as befits someone tied to the tradition of pluralistic hermeneutic reading, I respect authorial intent but it’s only a gateway into interpretation for me.  And I’m quite OK with multiple, contradictory and difficult readings of texts.  In fact, the more you can read into and get out of a text, the better.  And I think there’s a lot to be got from Heidegger – useful, interesting, stimulating, thoughtful, relevant, meaningful things that stand independent of a) less useful or even censurable things you can get out of his work and b) they way the useful stuff might be employed.  Hence, re: Heidegger’s thought and Nazism, mir ist egal.

I’m surprised this debate even has currency anymore.  It does appear to be dying a slow death and perhaps with the last of Faye’s generation of intellectuals it will finally be put to bed.  Immediately after the issue came to light, there was real Angst on the part of intellectuals who were influenced by and had strong personal ties Heidegger as they tried to come to grips with his participation in National Socialism.   Early work on the subject reflected painful moral and philosophical struggles by people for whom the events of the War and Holocaust were recent and personal.  His stature as leading European thinker needed to be questioned and legalities around his ability to participate in German academic life needed to be resolved. 

That’s 60 years in the past now.  If you want to make this something personal for you, go ahead.  If you want to talk about the normative question above, feel free.  But the debate itself lacks currency and relevance and I’m just not interested.  –seth

Dec 152009

Christian Realism” — even Christians ought to struggle with David Brook’s latest invention. How delightful to juxtapose other-worldliness and practicality! But to really understand it, replace “Christian” with “love” and “Realism” with “War.” Meaning, “I love war, but I wage it only out of love.” It’s almost a self-parodying confirmation of Nietzsche’s critique of the human capacity for turning aggression into “love,” with Christian love as his prime example:

In my view, Dante was grossly in error when, with an ingenuity meant to inspire terror, he set that inscription over the gateway into his hell: “Eternal love also created me.” Over the gateway into the Christian paradise and its “eternal blessedness” it would, in any event, be more fitting to set the inscription “Eternal hate also created me” — provided it’s all right to set a truth over the gateway to a lie!

For what is the bliss of this paradise? . . . We might well have guessed that already, but it is better for it to be expressly described for us by an authority we cannot underestimate, Thomas Aquinas, the great teacher and saint: . “Beati in regno coelesti”, he says, as gently as a lamb, “videbunt poenas damnatorum, ut beatitudo illis magis complaceat” ["In the kingdom of heaven the blessed will see the punishment of the damned, so that they will derive all the more pleasure from their heavenly bliss."]

For David Brooks, such reversals fit his standard recipe for praising the opposition: it’s not enough merely to agree with a policy or like a speech; one must incorporate it into one’s sanctimony. In this case, Brooks likes the pro-war speech Obama gave while accepting a Nobel Peace Prize. Therefore, it is an example of Obama’s profound decency. Profound decency, in turn, means engaging in precisely the policies that liberals would thing of as inhumane by cloaking them in the garb of tough love, democracy-spreading war, etc. Further decompose such conservativism into its religious rationale: there is evil in the world, and it must be opposed. We must take Christian love to mean war, not peace!

Add to this the pleasure of one particular bit of aggression towards those Godless Europeans — that of using a Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech to justify war. But again, turn this hubris on its head and remind us that combating evil requires super-Obaman humility. And just as Obama imposed it on the Swedes, this humility can be imposed on entire countries — in its institutional form, as Democracy — at the point of a sword: Democracy is ”the only system that fits humanity’s noble yet sinful nature.”

So you see, when we wage these wars we may not be forceably converting Muslims to Christianity, as Michelle Malkin would have us do; but it all comes to the same thing. Democracy just is an institutional expression of Christianity. Freedom-wars just are “Christian Realism” … just are holy war.

Nov 102009

Discussing The Genealogy of Morals (mostly the first two essays) and Beyond Good and Evil Ch. 1 (The Prejudices of Philosophers), 5 (Natural History of Morals), and 9 (What is Noble?).

We go through Nietzsche’s convoluted and historically improbable stories about about the transition from master to slave morality and the origin of bad conscience. Why does he diss Christianity? Is he an anti-semite? Was he a lazy, arrogant bastard? What does he actually recommend that we do?

Buy the Genalogy and Beyond Good and Evil or get them online here and here.

End song: “The Greatest F’in Song in the World,” from 1998′s Mark Lint and the Fake Johnson Trio Get the whole album free.

Oct 072009

We are exuberant fellows and have long discussed using this blog as a BLOG and not just as a podcast accompaniment, so I’m going to initiate an idea I’ve been wanting to try out, sort of…

You see, I’ve wanted to go beyond the bounds of the podcast and tell folks about the philosophy books I’ve stumbled over of late, largely in trying to figure out things for us to talk about on the podcast, but in most cases I only finish part of the book, and it seems unfair to “review” a book given that. However, let me be frank: I’ve got a big bookshelf of philosophy books, and how many have I read ALL of? Not many, not many at all. Most courses only assign select chapters, select papers; there’s never time to discuss it all. That there Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason? Took a semester course just on it, and still didn’t finish it. Being and Nothingness? Didn’t come close to finishing. Dewey’s Experience and Nature? Searle’s Intentionality? Bernard Williams’s Descartes? No no no. Yet I deign to have opinions on most of this stuff anyway (or at least I did when the bits I had read were fresh in mind). So, you likely deserve my only partially informed ramblings on the books I’ve lately gotten out of the library, read the first couple chapters of, let sit for 3 months while I renewed them, and then returned. You’re welcome!

Now, if that doesn’t sound amateurish enough, right now I’m going to give you a review of the first 3/5 of a movie, because after 41 minutes, I’ve got opinions I can no longer keep in check.

The movie is “Stupidity,” a documentary from 2003 that I stumbled over sitting at my computer looking at Netflix’s streaming options. I just spent about 10 minutes writing about the format of the documentary just to give you some background but erased it. It’s a documentary! …and not the kind that has to actually follow someone interesting around or go shoot difficult footage, but just lots of talking heads and overlaid graphics.

The film points out that most people have ill-defined notions of stupidity, and hence intelligence, and talks to some people who have written books about the subject and who otherwise seem to have opinions, and of course the point is that America is dumb, rejoices in dumbness, and it’s largely the media’s fault. I find it ironic that a film that complains about people’s short attention spans feels the need to, just like a music video, cut away to a different image every three seconds maximum to avoid audience boredom. And yet, for me, it’s not enough. This is basically an informational piece, and there’s some real information in it, such as the historical, clinical definitions of “idiot,” “imbecile,” and “moron,” but I find myself wanting to just be reading the damn thing on Wikipedia, such that I could get all this publicly available information in three minutes rather than an 41.

After this sort-of interesting historical stuff is out of the way, then the movie just shows a bunch of people complaining about idiocy without doing anything to really add to my understanding of it. Yes, I understand that media editorial departments enforce an “audience target age” that means that not too many big words can fit in there. Yes, I understand that some TV shows are created simply as escapism, and, if poorly made, do so via a very limited number of tricks, i.e. murders, big guns, jiggling asses, people getting lit on fire, etc., but this all sounds to me like complaints about the 80s, where media were limited.

I have of late myself become addicted to big stories, whether in print or on film or whatever, which means, for instance, that I’ll get ahold of a season (or five) of a TV show with a continuous plot (like The Wire, Babylon 5, or Dexter) and watch it compulsively until it’s done. This kind of TV is very different from the Diff’rent Strokes and Three’s Company of my youth that was created purely to kill time and sell advertising, and yet, for me, it’s still passive, vegetating time on the couch, i.e. the putting oneself into a stupor that the film Stupidity objects to.

Likewise, after philosophy grad school, as an adult with some nice pretentious literature behind me, I went through a Stephen King phase… a writer read by many a dumbass who uses violence as titillation and consciously avoids any language (big words and such) that would trip anyone up and so interfere with the storytelling, and I’ll tell ya what: it generally works. I get sucked in, and I think I’m deadened enough to described violence that it just seems like some of the flavor of it to me… something that creates the mood but which could just as well be switched to something else to create a different, equally compelling mood.

So I’m not going to defend my country and my era against stupidity, and the film reminded me of the topic and provided me with some nuggets of information, but my view on the topic is about the same as when I started, which I’ll just tell you: Intelligence is a cultural myth, a reduction of a lot of very different capacities and behaviors to a one-dimensional scale that doesn’t make much sense. It’s not just “book smarts” vs. “street smarts” or “common sense” vs. “intellectualism;” there are just certain sets of things that make a given individual’s brain hurt when he or she tries to think about them, and so he or she generally DOESN’T, and philosophy is often one of those things, though not generally for me. I, however, have plenty of experiences of terminal inattentiveness, feeling “too tired to think” about some topic whenever it comes up, just not being able to get my mind around things, poor memory, etc. I’m convinced that these experiences are not fundamentally different than those had by someone pretty unambiguously dumb, and there are a lot of factors that go into how we each individually deal with those feelings. Do we have faith that even though this math stuff or Kant or investment crap or sports statistics or whatever seems so hard that we COULD figure it out with effort? It often depends on how we’ve dealt with such things in the past; my little nephew who doesn’t know his own limitations will ALWAYS volunteer to take a crack at anything you’re having trouble with, no matter how obviously inappropriate for a seven-year-old. Self-confidence is a lot of it, and practice is most of the rest. Yes, some people do a lot better on standardized tests, some people think better on their feet, some people can read Nietzsche while driving, but they’re all basically the same breed of dumbasses as the rest of us.

I’ve still got plenty of questions about stupidity: some positive puzzles brought up by some of the Nietzsche I’m reading for Episode #11, like what basic, necessary errors are necessary for us to live, or what crap we’ve inherited from our culture that we just can’t see past, or what can we possibly do to turn this era around and make it less stupid, but “Stupidity” doesn’t give me any insight on those questions. (Well, maybe it does at the end, but my prediction says no.)

So, there you go, a half-assed film review that’s now made me too tired to bother to see the rest of the film, told you not that much about the movie, and ended with a painfully inadequate account of one of my own half-formed views that you didn’t actually ask for. Again, you’re welcome!