Seth Paskin summarizes the John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice. The full PEL episode on this book will be released in a few weeks.
In light of our ep. 83, many listeners had questions on Frithjof’s social/political/economic proposals for creating a post-job, pro-meaningful-work world.
Mark Linsenmayer here pitches a number of these questions (culled from our blog and Facebook group) to Frithjof. What would a future New Work world look like? How do first-world folks fit into the project? How can I make MY calling economically work RIGHT NOW? What does New Work require for education? How do New Work proposals relate to legislative moves like a guaranteed minimum income? How do Bergmann’s ideas relate to Marx’s?
Some sort of answer to all these questions and more is now yours for the listening.
Talking with Frithjof Bergmann, Prof. Emeritus from U. of Michigan, Ann Arbor about his book New Work, New Culture (2004, English release coming soon).
Frithjof is a world-renowned ex-Hegel/Nietzsche scholar who has worked since the early 80s on projects to realize the goal of “New Work,” which is an alternative to the current, dysfunctional job system. New Work enables people to do work (which is not the same as a “job”) that they really, really want. Human nature is not such that we are born free and need restraining by a social contract; rather, we need institutions to help us develop a self, to figure out what we really want and become free by doing things that we deeply identify with. New Work Enterprises promotes technology like fabricators and cutting-edge farming to support community self-sufficiency in places like Detroit that the job system has left behind. Read more about New Work at newworknewculture.com.
Be sure to listen to Mark’s overview of the topic. Listen to a follow-up Q&A between Mark and Frithjof. Additional interviews are on Bloggingheads.tv and the New Work YouTube channel. Get more info, video, and a hefty hunk of the text.
End song: “We Who Have Escaped,” a brand new recording by the new lineup of Mark’s band New People. Get the mp3, along with all three of their albums, a Not School discussion of this Bergmann book, and much more by becoming a PEL Citizen, or just support our efforts through a donation.
On 10/13/13 we recorded a discussion on Nietzche’s The Gay Science. Listen to the podcast. The work is a series of numbered aphorisms, and we read all of those excerpted for the popular Nietzsche anthologies:
Preface, 1-4, 7, 11, 26, 34, 54, 57-60, 72, 76, 78, 99, 107-113, 116-122, 124, 125, 127, 130, 140-143, 149, 151, 153-154, 163, 173, 174, 179, 184, 193, 200, 205, 228, 231, 232, 250, 258, 264-280, 283-285, 289, 290, 292, 301, 310, 312, 316, 319, 322, 324, 325, 327, 329, 332, 334, 335, 338, 339, 340-342, 343-347, 349, 352, 354-357, 359-361, 369, 370, 372-375, 377, 380, 381, 382.
These are divided into 5 “books,” the first four of which were published in 1882 as roughly the last and best of his “early” works. He then published the more famous Thus Spake Tharathustra and Beyond Good and Evil, and then republished The Gay Science in 1887 with Book 5 and the Preface tacked on. The Gay Science is where he introduces a lot of the ideas that he lays out in these other books, like the death of god, eternal recurrence, amor fati, and even Zarathustra himself.
On Conjectures and Refutations (1963), the first three essays.
What is science, and how is it different than pseudo-science? From philosophy? Is philosophy just pseudo-science, or proto-science, or what? Popper thinks that all legitimate inquiry is about solving real problems, and scientific theories are those that are potentially falsifiable: they make definitely predictions about the world that, if these fail to be true, would show that the theory is false.
With this idea, Popper thinks he’s achieved a real respect for objectivity and beaten the epistemologists of the past, both empiricists (who think the ultimate source of knowledge is experience) and rationalists (who think that it’s reason). For Popper, there is no such infallible source. We approach nature with expectations: we leap to a theory with little if any warrant (the “conjectures”) and then we modify it when it fails us (“refutations”). Modify, not reject: really, the most powerful force in knowledge is tradition, so long as that tradition is open to critique.
End song: “Falsifiable,” by Mark Lint, written and recorded just for this episode. Read about it.
On Saturday, 9/21, we’re scheduled to interview Frithjof Bergmann, Professor Emeritus from the University of Michigan, about his book New Work, New Culture (published in German in 2004 and due for English-language release this year). I’ve written on this topic several times on this blog already, so perhaps you’d like to hear a quick introduction from the man himself, wearing a groovy hat:
Watch on YouTube.
This clip outlines the problem as he sees it and his proposed solution. In the 1980s he turned from the traditional academic’s life in favor of pursuing projects to make a real impact on people’s lives. You can read about those projects, and the entity (“New Work Enterprises”) more recently created to coordinate them, at the New Work website.
On Carl Jung’s “Approaching the Unconscious” from Man and His Symbols, written in 1961.
What’s the structure of the mind? Jung followed Freud in positing an unconscious distinct from the conscious ego, but Jung’s picture has the unconscious much more stuffed full of all sorts of stuff from who knows where, including instincts (the archetypes) that tend to give rise to behavior and dream imagery that we’d have to call religious. We neglect this part of ourselves at our psychological peril, and Jung also attributes the ills of the age (like nihilism and WWII) to being out of touch with our larger, unconscious selves.
Sound like goofy pop psychology? Well, Jung’s book was written specifically for the populace, and many have run with his emphasis on spiritual self-knowledge and his openness to talk of the paranormal to conclusions less well founded than Jung would have liked. Mark, Seth, and Wes keep trying to make the text speak to other philosophical works but eventually get sidetracked and occasionally personal on this very special episode.
On 9/3/13 we’ll be discussing the first three essays in Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge (1963). The book is a retrospective in part, presenting the ideas in the philosophy of science that had established his reputation back in the 1930s.
The first essay, “On the Sources of Knowledge and Ignorance,” is a historical overview of epistemology, describing Socrates, Bacon, and Descartes as “epistemological optimists,” meaning that under normal circumstances–if you’re seeing and thinking clearly–your faculties will provide you with truth. While Popper sees this optimism as preferable to the pessimism that says that we’re too defective to recognize truth and so need authority to tell us what it is, it still fetishizes certainty. Instead, Popper recommends the doctrine of fallibility: a real respect for objective truth means that we seek it, realizing that more often than not we miss it by a wide margin, and relentlessly try to correct our errors by testing.
Excerpts of discussions about Frithjof Bergmann’s New Work, New Culture, Cormac McCarthy’s novel Blood Meridian, Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and its Challenge to Western Thought by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, and Martin Heidegger’s “Letter on Humanism.”
Given rising economic productivity, we should all be working less, but we’re not, and the job system is not healthy for our souls. U. of Michigan prof (scholar of Hegel, Nietzsche, et al) Frithjof Bergmann has been actually doing things for decades to try to bring about the transition to a post-job world. Mark led a group in discussing this text, which will be covered in a future PEL episode.
Did you like our episode on Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men? Well, Blood Meridian is more notoriously philosophical than that, with an existentialist landscape of despair and a Nietzsche-spouting brute called The Judge. Dylan Casey participated in this discussion with our continuing Philosophical Fiction group.
Our Philosophy of Mind group covered a work by a philosopher and a cognitive scientist discussing how philosophy in coming up with its concepts has generally overlooked the obvious yet profound truth that we are embodied beings. To quote the book summary at Amazon:
The Cartesian person, with a mind wholly separate from the body, does not exist. The Kantian person, capable of moral action according to the dictates of a universal reason, does not exist. The phenomenological person, capable of knowing his or her mind entirely through introspection alone, does not exist. The utilitarian person, the Chomskian person, the poststructuralist person, the computational person, and the person defined by analytic philosophy all do not exist. Then what does? Lakoff and Johnson show that a philosophy responsible to the science of mind offers radically new and detailed understandings of what a person is.
Finally, Seth Paskin led a discussion back in March on Heidegger in preparation for episode 80, so you can hear some cool additional perspectives on that puzzling text.
Not School is free with your $5/month PEL Citizenship. Go sign up at partiallyexaminedlife.com to hear the full-length discussions of these as well as many others, plus you can participate in groups yourself (no, you don’t have to be on a recording). Take the video tour. Hey, and don’t forget to buy your Amazon schoolbooks and things through our site.
On Martin Heidegger’s “Letter on Humanism” (1949).
What’s our place in the world? What is it, really, to be human? Heidegger thought that being human hinges on having a proper relationship to Being. What is Being? Well, it’s something more basic than particular beings like people and tables and such, yet it being so close, Heidegger thinks it’s hardest to see, and that we too often get sucked exclusively into engagement with particular beings: into worldly goals and temptations.
He wrote this essay as a response to a question about whether his philosophy was a type of humanism, meaning an ethics based on relieving suffering and other evidently human interests. He responds that humanism is based on bad metaphysics that ignores Being in favor of beings, and it’s in fact that humanistic viewpoint that enables so much inhumanity in the first place. If you’d just get right with Being, you’d have wisdom and ethics and the rest of it would come naturally to you. But of course, most of us won’t do that, because we’re too corrupted by modern society and philosophical history starting with Plato to even understand what in blazes he’s talking about. Bah!
End song: “Into the World” by the MayTricks (1993). Read about it.
Please support the podcast by becoming a PEL Citizen or making a donation. Citizens can listen to a whole extra discussion of this text by Seth and some smart PEL listeners.
July is over, and with it another month of Not School. Join up for some August action, which looks to include some Kant, Jung, David Foster Wallace, Lyotard, the philosophy of computer programming, maybe some more Marx, and more if you get in there now and propose something you’d prefer!
My main activity this month was a group on the recent (well, 2003) work of a former prof of mine at U. of Michigan, Frithjof Bergmann, writing about alternatives to the job system. Read about the group here.
On 8/7/13, we recorded a discussion of Carl Jung’s Man and His Symbols, specifically essay he wrote that kicks off the book (which includes several authors), “Approaching the Unconscious.”
This reading (written shortly before Jung’s death in 1961 and published afterwards) was recommended to us by some Jung fans on our Facebook page. It provides a straightforward overview of his psychology, written for laymen with only a couple of lightly treated case studies to bolster his claims. So it seems to be a good window into what he thought, which is interesting, but not so much a piece of philosophical argumentation. He approaches this idea of “the perennial philosophy” that we’ve discussed on a few occasions (most recently with Heidegger) by inquiring into its origins. Many religions and philosophies discuss something fundamental yet inexpressible lying at the edge of our experience, and Jung is interested in why this might be the case. The answer is that the human psyche has evolved over time just like our physiology, and just as we retain traces of our mollusk-like ancestors (as evidenced by embryological similarities between us and current mollusks and other animals), so our psyche is equipped with instincts from our pre-historic pasts.
Eva Brann discusses her book The Logos of Heraclitus (2011).
What is the world like, and how can we understand it? Heraclitus thinks that the answer to both questions is found in “the logos,” which is a Greek word with multiple meanings: it can be an explanation, a word or linguistic meaning, science, rationality (the Latin word is “ratio”), the principle of exchange between things… So the world is logos, in that it behaves in a lawlike manner so that mathematics and science can describe it. His physics imagined a basic material (he calls it fire, but clearly doesn’t mean the same thing as ordinary, visible fire) that transforms in lawlike ways (in definite ratios) into all the different parts of the world, and that it’s these cycles of transformation, driven by the logos itself, that make the world the moving system it is.
The world’s intelligibility–its singular logos–doesn’t mean it’s peaceful, though. The world is held together by tension; the logos is force. Confusingly to modern readers, Heraclitus believes that paradoxes really exist, that what in this discussion we call “stable ambivalences” hold, e.g. that relationships are made up of both love and strife, not in alternation but both, essentially, at the same time. Should this “logos” be thought of as God? Does it have a personality, a will? Is it immanent in the world or a transcendent force shaping the world? Heraclitus says that the logos “is unwilling and willing to be called by the name of Zeus.” It’s a stable ambivalence! Is your MIND BLOWN YET? Read more about the topic.
End song: “Trading Away” by New People, from Impossible Things (2011), written by Matt Ackerman. Why this song? Because fire is traded/transforms into everything else, and Heraclitus was a misanthrope.
Go to pauldrybooks.com and enter the code PEL when you buy 2+ items (like Eva’s book!) to get 20% off and free shipping in the US/discounted shipping elsewhere. Support this awesome small publisher and help us prove that PEL sponsorships pay!
A short summary of Heidegger’s “Essay on Humanism,” read by Seth Paskin. After you listen to this, listen to the full episode.
This is a new kind of mini-episode for us, and you should tell us at partiallyexaminedlife.com whether we should keep recording them. Our hope is that this will encourage more people to want to read the text in advance of our full-length discussions, and that it also might be less confusing for some folks than our usual multi-voiced presentation.
Back in episode 32 (over two years ago!) we covered the project of Martin Heidegger’s most famous work, Being and Time, composed early in his career. (Incidentally, I see a new and exciting looking translation of this on Amazon that you may want to pick up.) We’ll next be covering a later work, his essay “Letter on Humanism” from 1949, which is his clearest statement of his concerns after his famous “turn” where his focus changed in ways that scholars are not entirely in agreement about, but which surely involved an increased interest in the role of language–in particular poetry–in relating us to Being. He seems to think that poets can express some truths that the rest of our discourse is too tainted by post-Platonic Western metaphysics to be able to handle.
On Rand’s Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology (1967) and “The Objectivist Ethics” (1961).
First Rand grounds everyday human knowledge, largely by dismissing the concerns of other philosophers (even those whom she unknowingly parrots) as absurd. Then she uses this certainty to argue for her semi-Nietzschean vision of Great Men who master their emotions and rely only on themselves. Mark, Wes, Dylan, and Seth are satisfied with neither effort.
Warning: This attempt to make sense of Rand’s texts will likely offend any Randians out there, and our reading numerous passages from her alleged “texts” may offend the rest of you. When in doubt, curl up in the fetal position and moan “A=A!” over and over again until the bad sounds stop.
Correction: The movie Atlas Shrugged actually got 11% on Rotten Tomatoes, with Part II getting 5%, both greater than L. Ron Hubbard’s Battlefield Earth’s 2%. So sorry.
This episode is sponsored by Audible. Go get your free audiobook today at www.audiblepodcast.com/PEL.
Heraclitus (who was active around 500 BCE) is the “Pre-Socratic” philosopher with probably the most influence today and together with Parmenides (it’s not clear which of the two lived first or whether they read each other) is considered the inventor of Western metaphysics. His book, if he even wrote a full book, did not survive antiquity, but he was quoted extensively by other authors, though in some cases (we think) erroneously. In particular, the characterization of him as a philosopher who posited that existence is pure flux (Plato’s characterization of him) seems to be bogus.
Bowing to repeated listener requests for an Ayn Rand episode, on the eve of 6/9/13 the regular PEL foursome started our discussion, got tired after a couple of hours, and recorded some more on 6/13. We plan to edit the result heavily enough to reduce the amount of frustrated kvetching (“Is that actually supposed to be an argument? Why does she think just saying that and moving on is in any way adequate?”), but it’s not going to make objectivism fans happy, I can tell you. Know that we did make an honest attempt at engaging the material, though it was hard going, and not in the way that difficult passages in Heidegger are.
Rand offers up a foundationalist system that is is supposed to be in accord with modern science and based on empirically evident premises and clear reasoning from those that anyone who isn’t being self-deceptive or otherwise dense should be able to reproduce. Every perception we have reveals to us that the world exists (thus skepticism is incoherent and impossible as a practical matter), and a properly scientific understanding of concepts will show us that all legitimate tools of thought are based on abstractions from perceptual experience of concrete objects.