Month: August 2010

Philosophy in Review New Issue

Here.

Vol 30, No 4 (2010)

Table of Contents

Bethania Assy, Hannah Arendt: An Ethics of Responsibility.
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Marije Altorff 235-236
Michael Banner, Christian Ethics: A Brief History.
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Gregory Bock 237-239
Christopher Belshaw, Annihilation: The Sense and Significance of Death.
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Byron Stoyles 240-241
Deborah Boyle, Descartes on Innate Ideas.
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Benjamin Hill 242-245
Gillian Brock, Global Justice: A Cosmopolitan Account.
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Janna Thompson 246-248
Douglas Edlin, Judges and Unjust Laws: Common Law Constitutionalism and the Foundations of Judicial Review.
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Whitley Kaufmann 249-250
Gail Fine, ed., The Oxford Handbook of Plato.
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Patrick Mooney 251-254
Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini. What Darwin Got Wrong.
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Henry Byerly 255-258
Renée C. Fox and Judith P. Swazey, Observing Bioethics.
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James C. Klagge 259-262
Daniel Garber and Béatrice Longuenesse, eds., Kant and the Early Moderns.
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Claudia M. Schmidt 263-265
Daniel Goldstick, Reason, Truth, and Reality.
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Glen Melanson 266-268
Stephen Halliwell, Greek Laughter: A Study of Cultural Psychology from Homer to Early Christianity.
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Pierre Destrée 269-271
Alexander Kremer and John Ryder, eds., Self and Society: Central European Pragmatist Forum, Volume Four.
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Phillip Deen 272-275
E. J. Lowe, Personal Agency: The Metaphysics of Mind and Action.
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Andrei A. Buchareff 276-279
Rudolf A. Makkreel and Sebastian Luft, eds, Neo-Kantianism in Contemporary Philosophy.
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Lydia Patton 280-282
Todd May, Death.
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Susan Mills 283-285
Iain P. D. Morrisson, Kant and the Role of Pleasure in Moral Action.
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Ryan Showler 286-288
Michael P. Nelson and J. Baird Callicott, eds., The Wilderness Debate Rages On: Continuing the New Great Wilderness Debate.
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Shane Ralston 289-292
David L. Perry, Partly Cloudy: Ethics in War, Espionage, Covert Action, and Interrogation.
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Robert J. Deltete 293-295
Marcus Pound, Žižek: A (Very) Critical Introduction.
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Rex Butler 296-297
Tal Sessler, Levinas and Camus: Humanism for the Twenty-First Century.
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Oona Eisenstadt 298-300
Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, ed., Moral Psychology (vol. 3). The Neuroscience of Morality: Emotion, Brain Disorders, and Development.
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Christian Perring 301-304
Quentin Smith, ed., Epistemology: New Essays.
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Diego Machuca 305-308
David Lay Williams, Rousseau’s Platonic Enlightenment.
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Ryan Hanley 309-311
Nicholas Wolterstorff, Justice: Right and Wrong
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Stephen Lake

We Were Never Postmodern

The New York Times Magazine has an article up reflecting on the ways in which one’s mother tongue shapes one’s thoughts about the world. It doesn’t begin well:

Seventy years ago, in 1940, a popular science magazine published a short article that set in motion one of the trendiest intellectual fads of the 20th century. At first glance, there seemed little about the article to augur its subsequent celebrity. Neither the title, “Science and Linguistics,” nor the magazine, M.I.T.’s Technology Review, was most people’s idea of glamour. And the author, a chemical engineer who worked for an insurance company and moonlighted as an anthropology lecturer at Yale University, was an unlikely candidate for international superstardom. And yet Benjamin Lee Whorf let loose an alluring idea about language’s power over the mind, and his stirring prose seduced a whole generation into believing that our mother tongue restricts what we are able to think. …For decades, Whorf’s theory dazzled both academics and the general public alike.

The claim is that (a) Whorf let lose this linguistic theory and (b) that Whorf’s research methods were questionable, which led people not to do any work on the relation between a given language and what one thinks for some 50 years. Entire eras in philosophy, anthropology, sociology, etc., washed away in this article like a figure in the sand…

This is Malcolm Gladwell-ism run amok: find a cute nugget of a heroic, unlikely researcher and build a story around it. Needless to say, I can’t  even begin to list the relevant figures, theoretical areas, etc., that have somehow managed to get along with most people never having read Whorf. But good news, we can study it now.

Reading Nietzsche Reading Heidegger

H/T the Enowning Blog: The NDPR published Cressida J. Heyes’ review of  Foucault’s Legacy. This part of the review takes up Babette Babich’s chapter:

In “A philosophical shock: Foucault reading Nietzsche, reading Heidegger,” Babette Babich argues that any reading of Foucault must incorporate readings of both Nietzsche and (a “very French”) Heidegger, rather than one at the expense of the other. The meanders of this essay take us through Nietzsche and Heidegger via an analysis of The Birth of the Clinic and reflections on philosophy of science to make the case. Remaining with Heidegger, later in the volume Santiago Zabala examines Foucault’s influence on the living Italian philosopher Vattimo. Foucault’s implicitly Heideggerian ontology is made explicit in Vattimo’s philosophy, Zabala argues. Foucault’s “ontology of actuality” (or “historical ontology of ourselves”) is his rejection of transcendental critique in favour of a historically situated analysis of the conditions of possibility of human being. This move, which engages Kant’s legacy while rejecting key aspects of his thought, has been key for Vattimo. The latter’s “weak thought” abandons “philosophy’s traditional claim to global descriptions of the world because after those masters’ demystifications . . . thought is much more aware of its own restrictions, limits, and boundaries” (115-116). Zabala goes on to make the connection between Vattimo’s referencing of Foucault’s ontology and Heidegger’s destruction of metaphysics and his hermeneutic alternative.

All four of these essays (which are scattered through the volume) suffer from the same difficulty: no doubt the authors found it hard to compress such complex philosophical ideas and inheritances into a chapter-length essay, and they are all broad-ranging and allusive rather than focused on a closely argued issue.

I haven’t read Babich’s essay and I think, if this summation of her point is correct, that it’s true (though less so about Heidegger). But it did remind me a bit of this:

Apropos of Nothing

But since I’m reading it:

“We should never be content to say, in spit of temptations, something like: the social, the political, and in them the value or exercise of sovereignty are merely disguised manifestations of animal force, or conflicts of pure force, the truth of which is given to us by zoology, that is to say, at bottom bestiality or inhuman cruelty. It would will be possible to quote a thousand and one statements that rely on this schema [n.b. and these 1001 would always animalize or naturalize or put outside of politics a certain number of so-called human beings–PG]. We could also invert the sense of analogy and recognize, on the contrary, not that political man is still animal, but that the animal is already political, and exhibit, as is easy to do, in many examples of what are called animal societies, that appearance of refined, complicated organizations with hierarchical structures, attributes of authority that are so often attributed to and so naively reserved for so-called human culture, in opposition to nature….The only rule that for the moment I believe we should give ourselves in this seminar is no more to rely on commonly accredited oppositional limits between what is called nature and culture, nature/law, physis/nomos, God, man, and animal or concerning what is “proper to man.” —Derrida, The Beast and the Sovereign, pp 15-16/36-7.

Obviously, this is not apropos of nothing: I’m reading it to take notes for my course, for final revisions to an MS (I need to use the English translations), and because I’m giving a paper on the seminar at the December APA. This set of assertions above are nothing new in Derrida, but it does fit somewhat with the discussion tonight around Morton’s book.

But I wanted to flesh out something else that needs highlighting: too many thinkers after Derrida (in all the senses) confuse distinctions as a method: the point in Stiegler and Agamben (his “zones of indistinction”) is to bring together certain oppositions and then mark out a homogeneous field: thus one can read in Homo Sacer about the dissolution of fact and right, nomos and physis, etc., in the state of exception. Or, conversely, you might just delete any distinctions at all (say between nature and culture). But the point is not to make them indistinguable, but to show how the “unnatural” difference instantiates itself, what its history is, etc. But here, as elsewhere, Derrida makes distinctions: zoology is not bestial is not animal is not biological, and he thinks each term has its own separable and important genealogy: he doesn’t slop them up into one and then use them interchangeably. Now one can say, ok, he’s lost in signs again, but that’s another matter…

In other words, I think somewhere along the way—I won’t offer examples—the so-called Derridean move was taken to mean to render inoperative difference, to make it all a muddle, and then devilishly claim, for example, there is no “animal”/”human” difference. That’s not to say that we should be reifying those differences: there’s a reason why his work on animality is never far from his discussions of sovereignty.

He writes, “we must multiply attention to differences,” and thus the ultimate indecidability of certain concepts is not indifference. Or, to put it another way: one way to read Tim Morton’s “mesh” is as a homogeneous field in which there is an implicit sameness across the field, on all sides of certain overused oppositions. But what makes the “mesh” such a disturbing concept (Tim, correct me if I’m wrong) is that it “multiplies attention to differences,” and does not simply say, insipidly, “I’ve just shown how there is no human/animal difference, or octopi are just like us, etc.” That’s the “strange stranger” aspect of his work. In short, Morton’s work is disturbing. And yes, I think he should have that on the back of the paperback edition.

Bryant Reviews the T.H.E. Review of Morton’s The Ecological Thought

Here. I agree with most of what he says and made similar points when I first discussed Morton’s book on this blog (among others here, here, here, here, and here). Here’s Levi:

In his deconstruction of Nature I believe Morton is doing something similar to Latour. He is refusing to treat Nature and Culture as two distinct and ontologically incommensurable domains. Rather, the ecological thought is about how these domains are bound up with one another, how they are intertwined with one another, and how we need to muster the conceptual resources to think a variety of heterogeneous components ranging from signifiers to rats if we’re to properly think through these issues.

This is exactly the connection I made when I first saw Tim’s book, or actually, when I wrote to him about his upcoming book after seeing several of his great essays online. I won’t say more about the T.H.E. review, though one critique was really misplaced: that at the end of the book, the person didn’t come any farther than what Tim introduced at the beginning of the book. I hope so!

Tonight I’m rewriting an introduction for a book. I’m trying to find an even clearer way to state the thesis, which can then be littered in slightly different ways throughout the book. But now I might be told that if I say this at the beginning, I’ll have to say even more near the end.

But again, read Tim’s book. It must be something: it has Levi writing “deconstruction” without, as far as I can tell, puking on the screen…

T.H.E. Reviews Morton’s THE ECOLOGICAL THOUGHT

But could this one ever hope to be as insightful as this? The reviewer, Laurence Coupe writes:

Philosophically, in fact, he is much closer to Marxism than to Buddhism. Hence his agitprop denunciation of ecological thinkers such as Arne Naess and James Lovelock: “Deep ecology, which sees humans as a viral blip in the big Gaian picture, is nothing other than laissez-faire capitalism in a neofascist ideological form.”

If such pronouncements make one wince, at least Morton’s political leanings mean that he feels obliged to address the ideas of the most important reinterpreter of Marxist theory of the 20th century, namely Theodor Adorno. But again, it is worrying that Morton seeks to draw on that philosopher’s specific insights while discounting the central importance he gave to the concept of nature. It was Adorno who insisted that “domination over nature is paid for with the naturalisation of social domination” (to use Simon Jarvis’ succinct summary). And it was Adorno who memorably declared: “Art is not nature, but wants to redeem what nature promises.”

There is an interesting book to be written about Adorno’s importance for ecological thought, but it would not be one dedicated to the idea that you can have ecology without nature. While I am sure that many readers will benefit from the challenge of reading Morton, I hope they then go back to Adorno.

Oh Tim, you are so deviously Marxist…