Sunday, April 26, 2020

Bad Philosophy

What is bad philosophy? What makes for a bad philosopher or a good philosopher gone bad? What's the difference between a bad philosopher and someone who makes groundless, unjustified, or nonsensical philosophical claims and isn't really a philosopher at all?
      A bad philosopher may be one who proposes logically unsound or invalid arguments for the truth of propositions. Thus, a bad philosopher may be one who, under the guise of working as a philosopher, actually works in a sloppy, slipshod, illogical, uncritical, and non-rigorous manner.
      A bad philosopher may be one who says they are doing philosophy but actually fails to engage in any meaningful way with philosophical arguments that have already been made about the particular philosophical subjects they are investigating.
      A bad philosopher may be one who may more accurately be called a pseudo-philosopher (working on pseudo-philosophical problems, and doing pseudo-philosophy).
      A bad philosopher may also be one whose writing is needlessly vague, obscure, abstruse, impenetrable, long-winded, pretentious, pedantic, and full of technical jargon or unnecessary neologisms for rather trivial, empty, or meaningless concepts.
      A bad philosopher may also be one whose writing is repetitive, redundant, obfuscatory, unintelligible, or simply incoherent.
      A bad philosopher may be one who implicitly or explicitly endorses racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, fascism, eugenics, genocide, or some other morally objectionable or repugnant social viewpoint, ideology, or political agenda.
      A bad philosopher may also be one who takes the term "philosophy" to mean only "Western philosophy," and who ignores non-Western philosophical traditions. A bad philosopher may be one who ignores and attempts to marginalize the philosophical thought and contributions of women, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, indigenous peoples, LGBTQ people, and other historically underrepresented groups in academic or professional philosophy.
      Bad philosophy may be philosophy that violates or deviates from the generally accepted norms, principles, and standards of philosophy (as long as those norms, principles, and standards are sufficiently justified, and are not arbitrary). If philosophy involves a search for truth, then bad philosophy may be characterized by epistemic vices (such as intellectual dishonesty, unscrupulousness, and inconsistency), rather than epistemic virtues (such as intellectual honesty, conscientiousness, and consistency).
      Bad philosophy may present unpersuasive and unconvincing arguments for the positions it takes. It may be poorly argued and easily refuted.
      On the other hand, it may be skillfully argued for detestable purposes or reprehensible moral positions. It may be "bad," in this sense, insofar as it arises from "bad" motives or has "bad" aims or purposes (where being "bad" is taken to mean being morally wrong, blameworthy, or evil). So there may be more than one sense in which bad philosophy may be "bad."
      Bad philosophy may employ specious arguments in order to deceive or mislead those whom it attempts to persuade. It may knowingly employ flawed or fallacious reasoning in order to defend a particular position, regardless of the viability, truth, or rationality of that position. Rather than trying to rectify our misjudgments or misconceptions about things, it may try to reinforce them. So sophistry may be a form of bad philosophy, not in the sense of being unpracticed or unskillful, but in the sense of being meretricious and unconcerned with the truth of things.
      Bad philosophy may also misread the texts of other philosophies, misquote or misattribute textual sources, and misapply or misappropriate the terms of other disciplines.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Storytelling and Narrativity

The following is a reflection that I delivered at church during the 8:00 am service, on Sunday, May 26, 2019. The "Faith at Eight" service is usually a small gathering of people, including the rector and about ten parishioners, who come together to sing hymns, say prayers, participate in a reflection period (during which we talk about that day's readings from the lectionary), and share Holy Communion. This reflection was inspired by a reading from The Acts of the Apostles (16:9-15).

In the lectionary readings from the last few weeks we've been reading stories about the lives of the Apostles. So I had some thoughts I'd like to share about the nature of storytelling and narrativity.
      In one of my favorite movies, Lawrence of Arabia, there's a sequence in which Lawrence (played by Peter O'Toole), is crossing the Nefud Desert with a band of warriors, who are led by Sherif Ali (played by Omar Sharif), in order to launch an attack on Aqaba, a port on the Red Sea. The attack takes place during the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire in 1917. The warriors must reach a well at the edge of the desert by midday or their camels will start to die of thirst. But one of the warriors, Qasim, falls asleep during the night while they are riding across the desert, and falls off his camel. The rest of the group doesn't realize he's missing until dawn, when they've almost reached the edge of the desert. Lawrence insists they go back to rescue Qasim, but Sherif Ali says, "Qasim's time is come, Lawrence. It is written."
      Lawrence says, "Nothing is written!" and starts to turn back toward the desert.
      Sherif Ali starts to get angry, and says, "You will not be at Aqaba, English!"
      Lawrence says, "I shall be at Aqaba. That is written" ("in here," he says, pointing to his forehead). And thus he heroically rides back into the desert to rescue Qasim, who has lost his camel and is nearly dead of heat exhaustion. Later, when they return to the rest of the group at the edge of the desert, Sherif Ali admiringly says, "Truly, for some men nothing is written unless they write it."1
      So we're presented with the idea that we can write our own stories, and that our destinies are not predetermined. The phrase, "it is written" is an appeal to scriptural authority, but if we want to be able to write our own destinies into being, without ignoring what the scriptures have to say, then we must somehow be able to write for and about ourselves without simply retelling what's already been written.
      When we read the Gospels, we're often reading stories or narratives of the life of Jesus, and when we read The Acts of the Apostles, we're often reading stories about the lives of the apostles. Jesus used storytelling and parables as a means of teaching his disciples. But the only time in the Gospels we hear of Jesus writing anything is in John 8:3-7, which says:

      "3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in their midst, 4 they said to him, "Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. 5 Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone adulterers. What do you say about her?" 6 This they said to him to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. But Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground, 7 and as they continued to ask him, Jesus said to them, "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.""

      We're also presented with the idea that our actions constitute a kind of speech or writing to others. In 2 Corinthians 3:2-3, Paul says, "2 You yourselves are our letter, written on your hearts, to be known and read by everyone. 3 And you show that you are a letter from Christ...written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts."

      In what other ways can we speak or write ourselves into being? We may also speak or write ourselves in being when we tell others our stories as disciples of Christ.
      What's the importance of telling our story? It's a way in which we can share our faith. The narratives of each of our lives have a beginning, middle, and ending. To tell others about ourselves is to tell them the stories of our lives, and to narrate events that we have witnessed or, in one way or another, participated in.
      To share our faith in Christ with others is also to tell them why we believe in Christ as Lord, Redeemer, and Savior. To witness to or give personal testimony about our faith is to tell others what or where we were before we found Christ, and to tell them how we found Christ. To witness to Jesus as our Lord and Shepherd is also to confess our faith in Jesus, to serve and obey him, and to tell others how Jesus has entered our lives. We each have a story to tell, a narrative to share with others. But this implies that we can also write or tell our own stories. We can become whoever or whatever we want to be by writing new narratives about our own lives, and by changing the narratives that have been written for us by those who want to subjugate, oppress, manipulate, or control us.
      H. Porter Abbott, Professor Emeritus of English at the University of California, Santa Barbara, says in The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative (2008) that

      "Narrative is found not just in the arts but everywhere in the ordinary course of people's lives, many times a day...We are all narrators, though we may rarely be aware of it...As we seek to communicate more detail about events in time, we become involved in increasingly complex acts of narration...We are also the constant recipients of narrative: from newspapers and television, from books and films, and from friends and relatives.2...Narrative is present in almost all human discourse."3

      Alasdair MacIntyre, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Notre Dame, says in his well-known book After Virtue (1981), however, that the narratives through which we retell and reconstruct the events of our lives are always co-authored. "We are never more (and [are] sometimes less) than the co-authors of our own narratives. Only in fantasy do we live whatever story we please," he says.4
      McIntyre also says,

      "What the narrative concept of selfhood requires is thus twofold. On the one hand, I am what I may justifiably be taken by others to be in the course of living out a story that runs from my birth to my death. I am the subject of a history that is my own and no one else's, that has its own peculiar meaning. When someone complains--as do some of those who attempt or commit suicide--that his or her life is meaningless, he or she is often and perhaps characteristically complaining that the narrative of their life has become unintelligible to them, that it lacks any point."5

      MacIntyre goes on to say,

      "To be the subject of a narrative that runs from one's birth to one's death is...to be accountable for the actions and experiences which compose a narratable life."6 ...The other aspect of narrative selfhood is correlative. I am not only accountable, I am one who can always ask others for an account, who can put others to the question. I am part of their story, as they are part of mine. The narrative of any one's life is [therefore] part of an interlocking set of narratives."7

      So we are not only the subjects of our own narratives, but also the subjects of others' narratives. We are not only constantly in the act or process of writing our own narratives, but also are simultaneously contributing directly or indirectly to others' writing of their own narratives. In a sense, I think that's what we're doing here today, in this reflection period--sharing narratives about our experiences, thoughts, and feelings, sharing our narrative interpretations of the scriptures, and writing a kind of collective interpretation of the readings in our minds and hearts.
        So I'd like to thank my wife Carol for being co-author of my own life story, and I'd like to thank each one of you for also being co-authors of my life story.


FOOTNOTES

1Lawrence of Arabia, directed by David Lean, produced by Sam Spiegel, screenplay by Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson, Columbia Pictures, 1962.
2H. Porter Abbott, The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), p. xii.
3Ibid., p. 1.
4Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981), p. 213.
5Ibid., p. 217.
6Ibid., p. 217.
7Ibid., p. 218.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Why I Don't Own a Gun

(1) I'm not fascinated by guns.
(2) No one has ever encouraged me to own one.
(3) I don't feel the need to own one for personal protection.
(4) If I owned a gun, I'd have to devote enough time to ensure that I knew how to use it properly, and to ensure that I wouldn't unintentionally endanger someone.
(5) I don't think I'd have enough time for the amount of practice that would be required in order to be skilled at firing a weapon.
(6) Even if someone threatened me with bodily harm to the extent that I felt my life was in danger, I'm not sure I'd be ready to shoot them in self-defense. (However, I think that, under certain circumstances, I'd probably be prepared to shoot someone in order to protect the life of a family member, friend, or other innocent person.)
(7) If I owned a gun, I'd probably be more likely to be arrested on some gun charge, regardless of whether I'd actually broken any laws or intended to do anything unlawful.
(8) I've spent my life trying to be a healer, not a destroyer, of people. I believe in peace and not violence. So why would I ever want to own something that can be used to kill people?
(9) Would Jesus have owned a Glock or an AK 47? I don't think so. So I'm not going to own one.
(10) I don't believe in killing ducks, deer, or other wildlife simply for the sake of sport.
(11) Owning a gun wouldn't make me feel any safer, unless I'd been a victim of assault, armed robbery, or some other violent crime (and fortunately, I haven't).
(12) If I owned a gun, I might be more likely to shoot myself if I got really depressed.


Why Maybe I Should Own a Gun

(1) Because there are a lot of white supremacists who're looking for an excuse to terrorize or kill black people.
(2) Because there are a lot of unarmed black people who've been shot or killed on fabricated pretexts by police officers.
(3) Because it shouldn't be just right-wing people who own guns. There should be some left-wing people who own guns too, so that gun-owning right-wingers have to think twice before trying to intimidate them.
(4) Gun control laws are designed to keep guns out of the hands of black people. So maybe I should own a gun, simply as an act of protest against laws that are designed to arm white people but not black people.
(5) There are some far-right white hate groups who see it as their mission to commit acts of terrorism and violence against black people. So why, by not owning a gun, should I make it any easier for them to accomplish their mission?
(6) It might be fun to go to a firing range and practice my shooting.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Kant's Distinction between the Transcendent and the Transcendental

According to Kant (1781), immanent principles are those whose application is confined within the limits of possible experience, while transcendent principles are those whose application transgresses the limits of possible experience. Transcendental principles are those concerned with our mode of cognition of empirical objects, insofar as this mode of cognition is possible a priori. Thus, transcendental principles do not transcend or transgress the limits of possible experience, but rather make knowledge of experience possible.
      A.C. Ewing (1938) describes the distinction between the transcendent and the transcendental by saying that the transcendent refers to what is not a possible object of experience, and that transcendent knowledge is therefore impossible. The transcendental, on the other hand, refers to the necessary conditions of experience, and transcendental knowledge is therefore certainly possible.1
      Transcendental idealism, as described by Kant, is the theory that all objects of possible experience are merely representations having no self-subsistent existence apart from human thought. Transcendental realism, on the other hand, is the theory that objects of possible experience are things subsisting in themselves, which are real independently of their representations in human thought.2
      Faculties of cognition, according to Kant, include intuition, understanding, judgment, and reason. Intuition is a lower faculty of cognition, while understanding, judgment, and reason are higher faculties of cognition. Intuition is the faculty of receiving impressions. Understanding is the faculty of producing rules or concepts. Judgment is the faculty of determining whether a rule or concept is subsumed under other rules or concepts. Reason, the highest faculty of cognition, is the faculty that produces principles.
      While the categories (of quantity, quality, relation, and modality) are conceptions of pure understanding, transcendental ideas are conceptions of pure reason. While the objective employment of pure conceptions of understanding is always immanent, the objective employment of pure conceptions of reason is always transcendent.3 Reason never applies directly to experience or to any empirical object. Its object is rather the understanding, to the manifold cognition of which it gives unity a priori by means of conceptions.4
      The principles of pure understanding are immanent but not transcendent principles, insofar as they are applicable to objects of possible experience, but not to objects beyond the limits of experience.5
      Thus, transcendental illusion may occur when immanent principles are mistaken for transcendent principles.
      The pure conceptions of understanding apply a priori to (empirical or non-empirical) objects of intuition.6 Transcendental ideas, on the other hand, are conceptions of pure reason whose objects are not empirical, but are objects of pure understanding.7 Transcendental ideas are also transcendent, insofar as they transgress the limits of possible experience. Their objects are cognitions to which no actual experience ever fully attains. No object can ever be perfectly adequate to a transcendental idea.
       Thus, the transcendental employment of reason is not objectively valid, since all a priori cognitions are given their objective validity by their possibility of experience.8
       When we mistakenly regard transcendental ideas as conceptions of actual things, their mode of application is not only transcendent, but also delusive. However, it is not a transcendental idea itself, but only its application, in relation to possible experience, that is immanent or transcendent. A transcendental idea is applied immanently when it is applied only to an object within the limits of experience. It is applied transcendently when it is applied to an object beyond the limits of experience or to an object falsely believed to be adequate with, and to correspond to, it.9
      Principles of pure understanding may be classified as (1) axioms of intuition, (2) anticipations of perception, (3) analogies of experience, and (4) postulates of empirical thought. While the first two classes may be described as mathematical, the second two may be described as dynamic.10 The mathematical principles are constitutive principles of understanding, while the dynamic principles are regulative principles of understanding.
      Transcendental ideas may be regulative principles of understanding, but they are not constitutive principles, since they are not based on empirical intuition. Indeed, contradictions may arise when they are confused with constitutive principles. However, they may still guide our understanding of the empirical world, and pure reason may therefore act as a regulative principle to guide the production of rules and concepts.
 

FOOTNOTES

1A.C. Ewing, A Short Commentary on Kant's Critique of Pure Reason (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1938), p. 25.
2Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, translated by J.M.D. Meiklejohn (Amherst: Prometheus Books, 1990), p. 278.
3Ibid., p. 205.
4Ibid., p. 191.
5Ibid., p. 205.
6Ibid., p. 61.
7Ibid., p. 205.
8Ibid. p. 97.
9Ibid., p. 360.
10Ibid., p. 114.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

François Laruelle, on Non-Philosophy

François Laruelle is a French philosopher who was born in Chavelot, France. He studied philosophy at the Sorbonne and at the École Normale Supérieure de Saint-Cloud, and completed his doctoral dissertation on the general economy of hermeneutics at the Université de Paris X (Nanterre), under the direction of Paul Ricoeur. He taught at the Université de Paris X (Nanterre) from 1967-2006, and was a program director at the Collège International de Philosophie from 1986-1989. He is the author of many books, including Une Biographie de l'Homme Ordinaire (A Biography of the Ordinary Man, 1985), Philosophie et Non-Philosophie (Philosophy and Non-Philosophy, 1989), Théorie des Étrangers (Theory of Strangers, 1995), Principes de la Non-Philosophie (Principles of Non-Philosophy, 1996), Dictionnnaire de la Non-Philosophie (Dictionary of Non-Philosophy, 1998), La Lutte et l'Utopie à la Fin des Temps Philosophiques (Struggle and Utopia at the End Times of Philosophy, 2004), Les Philosophies de la Différence (Philosophies of Difference, 2010), Philosophie Non-Standard (Non-Standard Philosophy, 2010), and Théorie des Identités (Theory of Identities, 2016)
      According to Laruelle, non-philosophy is viewed by philosophy as the judgments of common sense, or as whatever is other than philosophy and remains to be thought, or as the presuppositions of philosophy itself, which are themselves philosophizable.1 But philosophy is, or has become, a utopia of the past. "It is impossible to elaborate a new practice of the future without dealing with philosophy as a whole as a failed or worldly utopia," he says. "Philosophical practice has become the archaeology of its own ruins, an archaeology of utopias without a future."2 Why is this? Because philosophy is governed by a principle superior even to the Principle of Sufficient Reason, the Principle of Sufficient Philosophizability.3 This principle expresses the pretense of philosophy to occupy a position of absolute autonomy in deciding and determining the real. Non-philosophy, on the other hand, interrupts the philosophical trajectory of the real (identified as Being, substance, unity, multiplicity, etc.),4 because the faith-in-the-real of philosophy is in fact merely the philosophical hallucination of the Real.5
      Non-philosophy is undecidable by philosophy. It "possesses a 'radical,' albeit relative, autonomy of thought," says Laruelle, "that it receives from the non-sufficiency of its cause"6 (because it isn't governed by the Principle of Sufficient Philosophizability). "Vision-in-One" is what makes this suspension of philosophical sufficiency possible.7
      Some axioms of non-philosophy include (1) the One is radical (but not absolute) immanence, not associated with a transcendence or a division between immanence and transcendence, (2) the One is in-One, or in vision-in-One, but not in Being, or in Difference, and (3) "the One is the Real, insofar as it is foreclosed to all symbolization (thought, knowledge, etc.)."8
      Non-philosophy, according to Laruelle, is "the style of radicality enacted against the absolute...the style of uni-laterality against convertibility, the style of heresy against conformity."9 It is neither philosophy's negation, nor an attempt to deconstruct philosophy. It is rather a pragmatics that ensues from the One.10 It is, by its very essence, Vision-in-One.11
      Laruelle argues that the transcendental Unity proper to philosophical decision is a unity associated with a prior division between the immanent and the transcendent. In non-philosophy, on the other hand, the transcendental is pure transcendental identity, an undivided identity.12 Thus, "non-philosophy does not go from the transcendental to the Real...like philosophy, but from the Real to the transcendental."13
      The Real is immanence-without-transcendence, and is simple identity, says Laruelle.14 The Real is radically immanent, the One, neither capable of being known nor capable of being thought.15 It's non-conceptual and radically immanent, regardless of any possible conditions of thought. "The essence of the Real, resides neither in Being nor in the Other, but in the One."16
      The One is indefinable and undecidable, and has no ontic or ontological content. It neither is nor is not, because it is not One-Being, it is One-in-One.  "Insofar as its essence saves it from philosophical decision," says Laruelle, "it is not Difference and has no need of [Difference]." Difference, on the other hand, is a philosophical interpretation of the One, and has need of the One.17
      "The One is not 'transcendental Unity,'" he says. "It has no specific essence of Unity, which is always a blend of immanence and transcendence."18 Thus, non-philosophy is a practice that's no longer founded on philosophical faith, but "is established within the limits of the bracketing of this faith."19 Its goal is to save the human from the superhuman. Humanity, the One-in-person, then becomes the radical subject of non-philosophy.20
      The style of non-philosophy is uni-laterality, says Laruelle. "Uni-laterality is the essence of the One-in-One that, separated from philosophy by its own immanence, is Other-than it."21 Thus non-One and non-uni-laterality are not modes or accidents of the One in relation to Being, but rather the essence of immanence separated from the One.22
      Two basic problems with which non-philosophy is concerned are (1) "the limitotrophic status of the One that, whether explicitly or not, associates by proximity with Being and the Other without either being able to grant it radical autonomy," and (2) the theoretical status of philosophy, "which is a theoreticist impulse without being a theory, which has practical aspects...without being a practice."23 The limitotrophic status of the One in philosophy renders the One just as much Other as One, and just as much divisible as indivisible. But non-philosophy is a practice of thinking according to the One, rather than thinking of the One (as a final object related to Being or the Other).24 The theory and practice of non-philosophy are derived from Vision-in-One, which is uni-versal in the sense that the One is foreclosed to division by philosophical world-thought.25
     

FOOTNOTES

1François Laruelle, Dictionary of Non-Philosophy, translated by Taylor Adkins (Minneapolis: Univocal, 2013), p. 99.
2Laruelle, Struggle and Utopia at the End Times of Philosophy, translated by Drew S. Burk and Anthony Paul Smith (Minneapolis: Univocal, 2012), p. 12.
3Ibid., p. 28.
4Laruelle, Dictionary of Non-Philosophy, p. 127.
5Ibid., p. 39.
6Ibid., p. 56.
7Laruelle, Philosophy and Non-Philosophy,  translated by Taylor Adkins (Minneapolis, Univocal, 2013), p. 4.
8Ibid., p. 166.
9Laruelle, Struggle and Utopia, p. 13.
10Laruelle, Philosophy and Non-Philosophy, p. 4. 
11Ibid., p. 31.
12Dictionary of Non-Philosophy, p. 148.
13Struggle and Utopia, p. 38.
14Ibid., p. 29
15Dictionary of Non-Philosophy, p.125.
16Laruelle, Theory of Identities, translated by Alyosha Edlebi (New York: Columbia University Press, 2016), p. 80.
17Laruelle, Philosophies of Difference: A Critical Introduction to Non-Philosophy, translated by Rocco Gangle (New York: Continuum, 2010), p. 22.
18Laruelle, Philosophy and Non-Philosophy, p. 43. 
19Ibid., p. 10.
20Ibid., p. 30.
21Laruelle, Struggle and Utopia, p. 29. 
22Ibid. p. 33.
23Ibid., p. 27.
24Ibid., p. 28.
25Dictionary of Non-Philosophy, p.167.