Month: March 2011

Annals of Graduate Education

Matthew Yglesias—who before being a prolific political blogger was a Harvard Phil major—has the following post up quoting from a recent bio of Quine:

Peter Hylton’s book Quine about the great philosopher W.V.O. Quine brought home to me how much graduate education seems to have changed over the past eighty years. As an undergraduate at Oberlin, Quine was a math major and then:

A result of Quine’s decision to concentrate on mathematics was that his formal study of philosophy, as distinct from logic, was not extensive. As an undergraduate he took two survey courses in the subject, which evidently made little impression. For graduate school he chose the philosophy department at Harvard, largely because Whitehead, co-author of Principia Mathematica, was teaching there (though not teaching logic; his interests had shifted considerably in the twenty years since Principia). At Harvard he spent only two years on his doctorate. …

Quine thus began his career with little background in philosophy. He does not seem to have done much work to fill in the gaps. With the notable exceptions of Russell and, especially, Carnap, he is not, in his early work, either reacting against or building upon the work of others. His references to the work of other philosophers are not always signs of any real knowledge or thought about such work.

To be clear, the career in question launched with little background in philosophy was a career as a philosopher. It doesn’t seem like that would fly today.

Now, the first point one can make is that this was, indeed, Quine. But one does wonder how many Quines don’t make it through have the requisites just to get into very competitive programs in philosophy, then through the rigors of graduate school, and then somehow finding a tenure-track job…

Agamben and the Future of Europe

Later this month, I’ll be speaking at Cornell University on Agamben’s work on Monday, March 28, the Monday after the Philosophy, Interpretation, and Culture conference in Binghamton at which I’m happy to be the keynote. (Thus, I’ll have a nice weekend between the two in upstate, which will be nice…also a warning for anyone that would like to meet up or what-have-you and happen to be in the area.) Basically, I’ll look to update some of my thoughts in my forthcoming (it was handed in months ago–thus is the time gap that one is updating what hasn’t hit the bookstores yet) The State of Sovereignty: Lessons from the Political Fictions of Modernity (SUNY Press, 2011) on Agamben. In particular, what I’m planning on doing is to compare Agamben’s account of language and its link to sovereignty to that of Rousseau, thus setting up a discussion of Agamben’s politics after deconstruction. Kevin Attell has kindly agreed to be the respondent for the talk, so for that at least, it’s worth your attendance, since Kevin gives great, tightly argued papers.

All that is a set up to Devin Z. Shaw’s two recent posts on Agamben, “Trouble with Agamben (Part 1)” and “Trouble with Agamben (Part II).” Devin will also be in Binghamton, so look for what is developing into a sure-to-be-important book on political theology and its use and abuse. Here, his point is that Agamben is heavily assailable for his over-reliance of Heideggerian ethnocentrism:

Agamben does not help himself out of his occidental standpoint when he argues in The Signature of All Things (a variant appears in, perhaps unsurprisingly, The Time That Remains)—while providing very little evidence—that his “philosophical archaeology” avoids the problems of “writing the history of the excluded and defeated, which would be completely homogeneous with the history of the victors, as the common and tedious paradigm of the history of the subaltern classes would have it.” That he enlists for his political theology Walter Benjamin, whose “On the Concept of History” is an attempt to think through a concept of the history of the oppressed, is even more incongruous.
One other way to approach this: Samir Amin argues in his book Eurocentrismthat there are four elements, which need not always be present, to the system of Eurocentricism: 1) the annexation of ancient Greece to modern Europe, 2) the presentation of Christianity, “employing an immutable vision of religion,” as the basis of European unity, 3) the construction of biological racism, and 4) an orientalism that distinguishes social groups by their supposedly invariable cultural traits. At least (1) and (2) are present in Agamben’s work, and the monolithic history of the West verges on, or at least does not address (4).

In his first post, Devin takes up a point I haven’t seen addressed in the secondary literature, which I’ve considered before and is glaring: little has been written about his treatment of Jewish intellectuals and in particular its long intellectual traditions, though there was much written to address a supposed veiled objectification of Holocaust victims, since he conflated their existence with life as zoê. I’ll have to tackle this at another time…

Links of the Day

1. Here’s a nice overview and review by Dale Snow of Yolanda Estes (ed.) and Curtis Bowman (ed., tr.), J. G. Fichte and the Atheism Dispute (1798-1800), Ashgate, 2010, 297pp., $124.95 (hbk), ISBN 9780754636885.

2. Another NDPR review, by Jeremiah Hackett, of Philip Tonner, Heidegger, Metaphysics and the Univocity of Being, Continuum, 2010, 218pp., $120.00 (hbk), ISBN 9781441172297.

3. Bryan Smith has a review in Philosophy in Review of Kascha Semonovitch and Neal DeRoo, eds, Merleau-Ponty at the Limits of Art, Religion, and Perception.

4. Alexander Barder has a review in Philosophy in Review of Roberto Esposito’s Communitas: The Origin and Destiny of Community. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press 2009. 192 pages. $22.95. Paper ISBN 978-0-8047-4647-2.

Here Barder defines Esposito’s rethinking of community, central to his work:

What, then, is a community? Rather than thinking of it (like many commentators) in terms of a ‘wider subjectivity’ and its conflation with individuality (what ultimately binds a community) (2), Esposito advances an etymological argument to show that community—in essence, cum (with) munus (obligation)—represents the possibility of an obligation to an other that binds in an important way. This obligation, however, is not one that is reducible to a form of property or limited by predefined ideological specifications; rather, it constitutes itself through a lack in fulfilling this original obligation as such and through the continuous need of the receiver to respond to such an obligation. In other  words, Esposito’s etymology of the Latin munus shows that an original community is one where its subjects ‘are united by an “obligation,” in the sense that we say “I owe you something,” but not “you owe me something”’ (5, emphasis in original). The implication is that this intrinsic lack or debt that percolates between individuals can never fully be  met; it always demands a perpetual reciprocity and exchange that in fact problematizes a notion of subjectivity as a self-contained essence removed from the ‘other’. Community, as Esposito theorizes it with respect to its intrinsic munus or obligation, thus involves a fundamental loss of boundaries among its members: ‘That which everyone fear in the munus, which is both “hospitable” and “hostile,” according to the troubling lexical proximity of hospes-hostis, is the violent loss of borders, which awarding identity to him, ensures his subsistence’ (8). But it is this substantial lack, this gravitational effect without an object as such, the very Janus-faced possibility of hostility and hospitality, that constitutes the ‘unreachable’ origin of what binds a community.

5. The TOC is up for the second issue of the journal Speculations.

6. Nothing appears to be up yet, but if you know Wikileaks, then you should also be aware of this site set up to be the university version of that: unileaks.

7. Speaking of another take-off of sorts for a better-known web-site, here’s Stuff Academics Like, which takes off Stuff White People Like, though it appears to be more based less on our fashions than on our often inscrutable self-descriptions of our work. (See the IHE article here.)

Online Petition on Philosophy of Race

Sally Haslanger (MIT, Philosophy), Jennifer Saul (University of Sheffield, Philosophy), and Nathaniel Adam Tobias Coleman (University of Michigan, Philosophy) have undertaken an online petition to have Philosophy of Race included in Leiter’s Philosophical Gourmet Report.
We, the undersigned, are troubled by the Philosophical Gourmet Report’s omission of the specialty Philosophy of Race. It is admirable that the report now includes both Feminism and Chinese Philosophy, but this makes the omission of Philosophy of Race even more striking. We urge the Gourmet Report to include Philosophy of Race. It is a vibrant and important area of research and deserves full recognition by the report and the professional legitimacy that brings.
Feminist Philosophers explains:
Leiter explained that his editorial board had considered and rejected the idea of adding a philosophy of race category. Sally Haslanger and I agree with Coleman that a philosophy of race category is needed, and we think that many in the philosophical community would concur. In order to demonstrate support for this idea, we’ve compiled a petition. If you agree, please sign it! (And please do list your institutional affiliation, if any.)
For info, here are the categories already used.

Brassier and the “Online Orgy of Stupidity”

Eric Schliesser is up with some sharp comments on Ray (not Roy) Brassier’s recent interview in Kronos. Brassier has several times lamented his role in speculative realism, though he was one of the four main speakers at the Speculative Realism event in London in 2007, which was published in Chaos and became something of a recent seminal intellectual event. The love affair, if ever there was one, is over, and all that’s left is a loveless set of affairs and mechanical “orgies of stupidity”:

KRONOS: How would you describe your ‘love-affair’ with the speculative realists movement?

[Brassier]: The ‘speculative realist movement’ exists only in the imaginations of a group of bloggers promoting an agenda for which I have no sympathy whatsoever: actor-network theory spiced with pan-psychist metaphysics and morsels of process philosophy. I don’t believe the internet is an appropriate medium for serious philosophical debate; nor do I believe it is acceptable to try to concoct a philosophical movement online by using blogs to exploit the misguided enthusiasm of impressionable graduate students. I agree with Deleuze’s remark that ultimately the most basic task of philosophy is to impede stupidity, so I see little philosophical merit in a ‘movement’ whose most signal achievement thus far is to have generated an online orgy of stupidity.

Who are these “impressionable graduate students”? Leaving aside the critique of SR, can we stop the infantilization of graduate students—something I hated when I was one and promised I would never propound myself? I’m pretty impressionable now, come to think of it, and I tend to think enthusiasm as such is by definition misguided. In any case, more egalitarianism in the academy and less patriarchal descriptions of vast members of the academic community, please…

Update: As a couple of Cengiz and Michael pointed out, the SR roundtable from 2007 was published in Collapse, not Chaos.