Jan 022014

Listen to Mark’s summary of the two main readings, then Listen to the PEL Players act out the play “No Exit.”

At long last, we’re returning to existentialism after an initial foray into it with Camus. We’ve previously covered Sartre talking about phenomenology and the self, and also Kierkegaard talking about the self and values, so those are related, as is Heidegger’s talk about being-in-the-world and our proper attitude towards Being. Oh, and Buber also talked about the primacy of “the Other” in making sense of ourselves, and this general discussion of “self” continued in many of the above and was key in one of our Hegel episodes.

“Existentialism” is an amorphous term that is used in many ways; it connotes primarily the experience of me, now, facing life, including my own death. Well, that’s pretty much one end of philosophy, isn’t it, or rather the center, where the periphery is made up of various subjects that we throw ourselves into, studying them with some analytical apparatus like that of science, or history, or mathematics. Any time philosophy becomes urgent, becomes about facing the human condition and trying not to be distracted or otherwise self-deceived, then you’re talking about existentialism, so it’s not surprising that you could have Christian existentialists and Buddhist existentialists… Continue reading »

Dec 242013

On The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, published mostly in 1962.

Does scientific knowledge simply accumulate as we learn more and more, coming closer and closer to a full and truthful picture of the world? Kuhn says no! Instead, each scientific sub-culture has its own “paradigm,” or model for what constitutes legitimate science, which includes what problems to study, what to counts as a result, some background assumptions, and other things nebulous enough that you really can’t enumerate them. While Kuhn still believes that the movement to a new paradigm constitutes progress in a sense, the traditional picture of progressive science is still wrong.

Dylan enthuses at a weary Mark, Wes, and Seth over this fast and furious book, which is chock full of stories about phlogiston and all things mechanico-corpuscular. Read more about the topic and get the text. Listen to Dylan’s introduction.

End song: “Retrogress” from The Fake Johnson Trio New & Improved EP (1996), remixed now with freshly re-recorded vocals.

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Dec 202013

Mark Linsenmayer lays out some themes from Jean-Paul Sartre’s “Existentialism is a Humanism” and the “Bad Faith” chapter (Part 1, Ch. 2) of Being & Nothingness.

A transcript is available on our Citizen site’s Free Stuff page.

Read more about the topic.

Dec 112013

Listen now to Dylan’s introduction to the text.

Science is just us accumulating more and more knowledge and getting a more and more accurate picture of the world, right? Not according to Kuhn, in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, first published in 1962. Yes, there’s progress, in terms of better and better answers to a given question, more and more data collected in pursuit of a particular undertaking, but different areas within science periodically reformulate their questions and redefine what their undertaking consists in. These “paradigms” within science are something like new traditions: a particularly interesting scientific work comes along, such as Newton’s Principia with its laws of motion and all that, and bam, the questions that research is supposed to answer, its methodological assumptions, and its picture of what constitutes rigor are established, and so scientists in that area (which shouldn’t be confused with one of the named areas of science like “physics”; a paradigm can cover a much narrower area with only a couple dozen professional practitioners, such that folks outside of that area might not even understand that a profound change has occurred) en masse refocus their efforts and begin filling in the blanks left by this new picture of the world. Folks that hang on to the old paradigm are redefined as obsolete, or maybe not scientists any more (maybe they’re philosophers!), or maybe practitioners of some other science.

Continue reading »

Dec 072013

On John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice (1971), most of ch. 1-4.

What makes for a just society? Rawls gives us a thought experiment: Imagine you don’t know whether you’re rich or poor or any of the other specifics of your situation (he calls this going behind “the veil of ignorance” into the “original position”). Now what principles would you pick to determine basic social institutions? Would you choose a caste society where you might be born an untouchable and be screwed? Rawls thinks that in this position you would instead support his basic rules of justice, which are (in short) to make sure everyone has basic liberties, and, more controversially, to allow only such inequalities as bring up the fortunes of those least well off. So you can allow super riches so long as doing so means that the poorest will be less poor than with any other arrangement; the default position is everyone getting an equal share of society’s wealth unless you can demonstrate that letting some have more will benefit all.

This theory has been massively influential, and you can easily read it into Obama’s speeches. Even many defenders of free-market capitalism do so on basically Rawlsian grounds. The founding fathers (Mark, Seth and Wes) and an especially energetic Dylan debate whether this original position is really coherent and whether it yields the principles that Rawls wants it to.

Read more about the topic and get the text, then listen to Seth’s introduction.

End song: “Yours to Keep,” by Mark Lint & the Madison Lint Ensemble, featuring Bob Linsenmayer. Read about it.

Please support the podcast by becoming a PEL Citizen or making a donation. Remember please to do any holiday shopping at Amazon you may do through PEL’s Amazon link in the right margin of partiallyexaminedlife.com.

Dec 072013

Dylan Casey lays out Thomas Kuhn’s thesis in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. The full PEL episode on this book will be released in a few weeks. Read more about the topic and get the book.

A transcript is available on our Citizen site’s Free Stuff page.

Nov 192013
From wikipaintings

From wikipaintings

[From David Crohn, Friend of the Podcast]

Question: How are Ludwig Wittgenstein, this sentence, and shooting your neighbor’s donkey related? I had no idea—until I listened to In Our Time’s excellent (not PEL-excellent, but pretty close) introduction to Ordinary Language Philosophy.

OLP was the effort on behalf of a group of post-Wittgenstein philosophers to clarify the way language is used in an everyday context. Without going so far as Wittgenstein’s claim in the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus that ethics, aesthetics and metaphysics cannot be coherently addressed using words and grammar and must therefore be “passed over in silence,” the OLPers turned their attention toward what everyday, non-philosophical language can and cannot express and how exactly it functions. Eschewing Wittgenstein’s WWI-foxhole austerity, folks such as Gilbert RyleJ.L. Austin, and P.F. Strawson embraced language for its own sake—it is, after all, the chief medium with which pretty much all philosophers do philosophy. Continue reading »

Nov 102013

Listen now to Seth’s Precognition for this episode.

On the evening of 11/10, we’re discussing John Rawls. What is justice? Rawls interpreted this question as asking what basic social rules and structures would result in a society that we’d consider fair. Justice is fairness, on a social level.

Fairness, of course, is an intuitive notion, and begs for a philosophical definition, but instead of doing some sort of old fashioned search for a definition (as in Plato’s Republic) which we can then use to deductively ground this general social framework, he wants to translate our intuitions straight into these social rules. Rawls came up the the name “reflective equilibrium” to talk about the considered opinion we reach on something when we carefully evaluate and make consistent our current set of beliefs.

Continue reading »

Nov 102013

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.

Read more about the topic at partiallyexaminedlife.com. A transcript is available on our Citizen site’s Free Stuff page.

Nov 012013

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.

Connect with us via newworknewculture.com and partiallyexaminedlife.com The New Work Facebook group is at www.facebook.com/groups/nankcollaboratory.

Oct 102013

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.

Oct 102013

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.

Continue reading »

Sep 242013

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.

Read more about the topic and get the text. Listen to Dylan’s summary of the essays.

End song: “Falsifiable,” by Mark Lint, written and recorded just for this episode. Read about it.

Please support the podcast by becoming a PEL Citizen or making a donation.

Sep 122013

Listen to Mark’s introduction to this topic via our Precognition mini-episode.

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.

Continue reading »

Aug 292013

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.

Read more about the topic and get the text. Listen to Wes’s introduction.

End song: “Bedlam” by Mark Lint and the Simulacra. Read about it.

Please support the podcast by becoming a PEL Citizen or making a donation.

Aug 282013

Listen now to Dylan Casey introduce these essays.

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.

Continue reading »

Aug 282013

A summary of the first three essays in Karl Popper’s collection Conjectures and Refutations, read by Dylan Casey. we recommend listening to this before the full episode.

Read more about the topic at partiallyexaminedlife.com. A transcript is available on our Citizen site’s Free Stuff page.

Aug 222013
Not School

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.

Aug 082013

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!

Read more about the topic and get the text. Listen to Seth’s introduction.

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.

Aug 062013

An introduction to Carl Jung’s Man and His Symbols, read by Wes Alwan. After you listen to this, listen to the full episode.

Read more about the topic. Get Wes’s transcript.