Tuesday, February 04, 2003

Philosophy.com has moved

At long last. Stage two of the renovations have been completed. Philosophy.com has moved from Blogger to Moveable Type.

Its new address is Philosophy.com

Do come and visit when you have a moment. The new look wewblog kicks of with a piece on trust, terror and politicians.

Sunday, February 02, 2003

Rob is back
blogorrhoea is back from vacation and Rob has come up with some very fine postings. Nice solid length, very meaty. Take a look.

Rob is taking the weblog in a new direction----the emphasis is on content. It is a move away from the journalist-inspired weblog structured around whats current in the media flows. That style, the quick grap, the witty biting comment and the link, is popular with readers, but it is not appropriate for other kinds of material that are in need of a longer blog.

He is not the only one. There are others. A sample.
Myirony.com is another cross over---it has a good posting on the posssibilities of world government by chutney.

And Mindfloss has some solid postings on political philosophy and the intellectual roots of anti-Americanism.

And Jim Ryan at Philosoblog has some longish postings on conservatism based on a review of several books by John Kekes.

There are solid explorations of moral philsophy and abortion at Calvinist Libertarians

There is a solid article on America and empire on the collective blog Innocents Abroad. The article by Collin May is the first of 3 parts.

Need I go on? I have made my point?

A different form of weblog is developing. It is one based around an educated public, informed understandings and a critical perspective. As Jim Ryan observes ''the quality of inquiry is high in the blogosphere. Most physical campuses are the doldrums by comparison."

I can only affirm that.

Rob is leading the way in developing this new form in Australia. Its cutting edge.

Saturday, February 01, 2003

Transgressing analytic philosophy

In previous posts I have mentioned the stranglehold that the school of analytic philosophy had over the philosophy institution in the now deceased liberal university. This was especially the case in case in Australia where the work of analytic philosophers was primarily directed at constructing a mechanistic materialism ( nature and people as machines) which had its roots in Descartes and modern physics.

Those who were keen on reading what analytic philosophy called continental philosophy were generally not taken seriously, found it very difficult to get full time jobs and were treated as outsiders. To be accepted in professional philosophy you had to work with the language game of scientific materialism, go all starry eyed about the great names of the analytic canon and work to contribute another brick in the edifice of knowledge about important philosophical problems.

So how did analytic philosophy become post analytic? It certainly did not come about through the work of continental philosophers. They were mostly ignored and, by and large, were content to explore continental philosophy, rather than engage in criticisms of the mechanistic research programme. Hence the development of the analytic/continental divide.

Richard Rorty offers a convincing explanation of the shift from analytic to post-analytic philosophy in his ANALYTIC PHILOSOPHY AND TRANSFORMATIVE PHILOSOPHY paper. He says that the shift came about from self-criticism within the analytic school, through a criticism that chipped away at its foundations and calling its scientific pretensions--- of putting philosophy on the secure path to science----into question.

Rorty says that there is no need to ignore or avoid analytic philosophy as some of those who have embrace continental philosophy have done. The story he tells is about:

"...why you need to study certain selected analytic philosophers in order fully to appreciate the transformative possibilities which the intellectual movements of the twentieth century have opened up for our descendents....Analytic philosophy may not have lived up to its pretensions, and may not have solved the puzzles it thought it had. Yet in the process of finding reasons for putting these pretensions and puzzles aside it help earned itself an important place in the history of ideas."

In telling this story Rorty say that that the significance of German Idealism (Kant & Hegel) was that it cleared a path that lead us around empiricism. The significance of the transformation of analytic philosophy is that a cleared a path beyond scientism

What happens when the two paths away from empircism and scientism cross? Where does that lead us? What kind of philosophy can be found at such a cross roads?

A literary philosophy ---ie., one that works in the literary institution-- according to Rorty, but thats another weblog.

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

1 & 1=?

What happens when you put Francis Fukuyama's 'the end of history' ( the best possible social order has been found and it is capitalist liberal democracy) and Samuel Huntington's 'clash of civilizations' (as the main political struggle of the 21st century) together?

Easy: the clash of civilizations is the end of history.

What does that mean?

It means that a militant fundamental Islam is the chief enemy of capitalist liberal democracy. So we get the remainders of the historical past (the forces of reaction or Islamo-Fascism ) needing to be overcome by an armed liberal social order.

It only takes a bit of jigging and a bit of Christian spin, and hey presto, out pops President Bush and the US neo-con republicians with their war on terror.

Who said philosophy was not useful?

Monday, January 27, 2003

Australia Day

Australia Day = nationality = nationalism. Its about the flag, the nation, the bonds that tie us as a people, the common culture; and, in these times of war, patriotism or love of country. On Australia Day nationality is seen as a good thing-----eg., we are proud to be Australian---and we celebrate Australia Day in a variety of ways. This an easy-going, relaxed and populist nationalism.

Two quick asides. First, the 26th of January is an odd choice because the nation had yet to be formed when James Cook landed. The nation only came into being with the federation of the colonies in 1901, the formation of the nation-state, and British colonialists turning into Australians. The moment of Federation would be the more appropriate date for celebration.

The moment of federation also evokes the principle of self-determination in order for Australia to achieve its own sovereignty. It invokes the nation state, a political community and citizenship.

Secondly, many dismiss nationalism as inherently bad, and they say that it should be rejected altogether. On their account nationalism is violent, ethnic irrational, barbarous, tribal, xenophobic, racist. On more extreme accounts nationalism leads to gas chambers, ethnic cleansing and apartheid. So nationalism is devoid of any emancipatory force that would serve the cause of human autonomy, freedom and self realization.

This ethno-nationalism has little connection with a multicultural, or culturally pluralist Australia, where there is a national majority and different minorities sharing a common public culture.

The proper response to this dismissal is to say that there are nationalisms and nationalisms. For instance, the nationalism of a super power such as the USA is different from that of Scotland, which is different from Serb nationalism, which is different from Australian nationalism. Not all these are an ethno-nationalism centred around ethnicity.

My interpretation of the populist understanding of nationality in Australia is that it is a form of cultural nationalism, which is based on a sense of belonging to the nation. When 'a sense of belonging' is unpacked it assumes that the nation is a community constituted by shared beliefs and mutual commitment. It holds that the nation is extended in history, connected to a territory and marked off from other communities by its distinct public character, which is generally defined in terms of a common language.

The limits of this populist nationalism are not hard to find. One limit in Australia is to the idea of the cohabitation of different nations within a single sovereign nation-state---eg. an aboriginal nation or a Greek nation. A multination state is Canada (Quebec) not Australia. Another limit is that, though we Australians easily accept a cultural nationalism (Australia versus England in cricket), we are more reluctant to embrace a nationalism that involves the political community and citizenship.

Saturday, January 25, 2003


I noticed that Shelly at Burningbird is very down on blogging. She says here that from where she sits blogging is pretty much all about:

"entertainment and profundity. That's all this is -- smoke and mirrors.It's about links and popularity and one upping each other, and posting and running around seeing who links to us and checking our ranks. How many of you check your popularity in the morning before you read your so-called 'favorite' weblogs? There's no ethics or honor, friendship, pathos or beauty in the hypertext link; it just is. But we use it as a judgement of worth, and that's the saddest thing I've seen since high school. And I quit high school."

That was about two weeks. Her life was a bit topsy turvey then.

But the issue remains. Why blog?
Well you ain't going to win the popularity stakes with philosophy.com. Its a very low traffic site with no links at all, apart from my own----as far as I know. So there must be other reasons than smoke and mirrors, entertainment, links and popularity.

Why blog? It can be answered by another question why write? We write because we have something to say, in this case about philosophy and the contribution it can make to public life. This involves learning towrite in a different kind of way to academic philosophy, but not to popularity and seeking links for their own sake.

Friday, January 24, 2003

Richard Rorty

Much has has been made of the very real and debilitating Continental/analytic divide in academic philosophy. In response many talk aboutneeding to build bridges across the divide and how they appreciate the bridge building currently being built by postanalytic philosophers.

It is, therefore, suprising that Richard Rorty, who has done of lot of bridgebuilding should be so quickly dismissed. More considerate commentators say that he leaves them cold; or even though they-----eg.,purse *lips* square jaw appreciate aspects of pragmatism, American pragmatists like Richard Rorty doesn't appeal.

What Rorty has been able to achieve from the perspective of someone who was nearly ground down into the dirt and hung out to dry by analytic philosophers in Adelaide whilst doing their PhD in the philosophy institution is an opening to other ways of doing philosophy. After Rorty you can discuss Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidgger, Adorno, Derrida, Foucault etc legitimately. After Rorty you can talk about philosophy needing to transform itself. After Rorty you can talk about philosophy allied to literature rather than science. You may not agree with lots of things that Rorty says but at least he has opened the windows of the philosophy institution and allowed some fresh air in. That's important because it was getting to be so stale in the philosophy institution that it was becoming difficult to breathe. Though philosophy was a part of the Humanities in the liberal university it saw itself as a part of the natural sciences. Analytic philosphy drew a stark divide between philosophy (ie., scientific philosophy) and the rest of the humanities including literary criticism.

In his paper ANALYTIC PHILOSOPHY AND TRANSFORMATIVE PHILOSOPHY this state of affairs is addressed by Rorty He says that the 1960s left movement did not change the way that philosophers understood their discipline. They became politically active and continued on with doing analytic philosophy and concentrating on the hard core specialities ---metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of mind and science. Everything else, including the history of philosophy was seen to wimpish and girlish-----it contributed to opinion rather than knowledge much like literary criticism. Rorty says:

"..analytic philosophers would like, above all else, to feel that they are adding bricks to the edifice of knowledge...That sense of definitiveness and finality is what analytic philosophers yearn for." This is "deeply ingrained in the culture of analytic philosophy" and it leads to "the ideal of the pursuit of non-time-bound, unrevisable, truth."

Consequently, analytic philosophers dismiss histories of philosophy as being more like literary criticism than genuine philosophy " because it invites intellectual historians to tell another competing story about the same trends, just like setting up a literary canon invites the next generation of critics to revise that canon."

Rorty argues that the division between analytic and non-analytic philosophy roughly parallels C. P. Snow's contrast between the scientific and literary culture. Rorty says that:

' Most people who go in for what analytic philosophers call "Continental philosophy" are willing, and often eager, to fuzz up the boundaries between philosophy, intellectual history, literature literary criticism and culture criticism.They are relatively indifferent to the results of the so-called hard sciences....The typical reader of Heidegger and Derrida views the hard sciences as handmaidens of technological progress, rather than as providing windows through which to glimpse reality unveiled."

Most of these readers would concur with Nietzsche giving priority of art and literature to science, the need to view science through the eyes of art, and the emphasis on an art-centred education rather than a science-centred education. In an art centred-culture the poets determine our ends whilst the scientists merely provide the instruments and means to realize these ends.

Rorty's use of C. P. Snow's two cultures thesis is useful because it highlights the differences between analytic and continental philosophy in a way that is readily understandable. So what do those in the humanities do? According to Rorty they tell stories about past transformations in human culture:

"these are stories about, for example, how the Greeks got from from Homer to Aristotle, how literary criticism got from DR., JOhnson to Harold Bloom, how the German imagination got from Schiller to Habermas, how Protestantism got from Luther to Tillich, and how feminists got from Harriet Taylor to Catherine MacKinnon.These narratives tell us how human human beings managed to change their most important self-descriptions. All such narratives are endlessly contestable, and endlessly revisable in the light of more recent changes."

Such narratives are then woven together with one another and the resulting tapestry is what Hegel called 'holding our time in thought'. Rorty says that this alternative understanding of philosophy gives us a plausible understanding of what humanities department in our universities offer their students:

" By telling stories about past transformative encounters members of these departments hope to put students in a better position to have similar encounters of their own...Holding one's time in thought is the humanities what puzzle-solving is to the sciences."

What they are doing is making things hang together by telling stories about how past transformations do or do not hang up. Rorty says the "greatest non-analytic philosophers of our centurry, Dewey and Heidegger, spend a lot of their time telling stories about decline and about progress, stories which led their readers to reconceive themselves and their surroundings."

This account by Rorty opens a doorway into an other way to write philosophy to the analytic conception of system building scientific knowledge by professionals through solving deep philosophical puzzles within a materialist program of scientific research. It opens up a doorway through which you step through to make contact with people trying to put the old and new together, trying to make sense of historical and cultural change, trying to make human life hang together in a rapidly changing world.