Thursday, 31 December 2009
January 16, 2010
New York City
From Lifeworld to Biopolitics: Empire in the Age of Obama
In the context of a dramatic reorganization of the relationships among state, market, and society, the 2010 Telos Conference will turn its attention to competing accounts, both theoretical and empirical, of the new modalities of administration, domination, and power. Facing the authoritarian state and a politicized market, how does one “defend society”? Has the strong state and a repoliticization of society returned in the name of left populism in the United States? How does international power operate in new forms of empire? How will Obama’s foreign policy and the economic crisis affect the structure of global relations?
The conference will address the extension of politicized control into ever greater realms of social life. What theoretical tools are available? How can we trace the process historically? Classical Critical Theory of the mid-twentieth century described a “totally administered society” in which an elaborate bureaucracy combined with a “culture industry” in order to eliminate spontaneity. Yet some viewed the era of deregulation (and the paradigms of postmodernism) as a rollback of administration and homogeneity. Do we now face the return to the strong state and a repoliticization of society in the name of left populism in the United States? Or has it been the transition from the old mass media to the Internet that has reshaped the dynamic of politics and culture?
Meanwhile, the brief moment of a presumed single superpower and unilateralism is shading into an international disorder of multiple power conflicts among strong states, no longer confronted with human rights expectations or a democratization agenda. The resurgent control of society has taken on global proportions: China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, and Venezuela. How does international power operate in new forms of empire? Have “military-industrial complexes” been replaced by cultural hegemonies, defined by the spread of languages and religions? Do developments such as political Islam or Chinese nationalism indicate that “society” has been the hidden driver of state power all along? What about the shared “liberal” and “realistic” assumption that economic liberalization will produce political opening and democratization? Has state capitalism in the East responded better to the global economic crisis than market capitalism in the West?
Conference Registration Fee: $115, which includes a one-year subscription to Telos. For current holders of individual subscriptions to Telos, the registration fee is $55. Please add $50 to the registration fee if you will be joining us at the conference dinner. To register, visit us at www.telospress.com.
Monday, 14 December 2009
Ok, everybody. Seeing as it’s the time of year for lists and ‘best-ofs’ etc. and all types of E4 and Channel 4 hackery I thought I would add my tuppence to the pence. Below are the top three books that influenced me most this year. You might find some of them interesting and some of them not so interesting. Of the books I have read here, I think the following made the most impression on me. Unfortunately, I didn’t get through many novels this year, which is a shame. If I did this last year, I think it would have been a Nabokov only top 6!!!
1. G.W. Leibniz – Philosophical Essays, trans. Roger Ariew and Daniel Garber, Cambridge, IN: Hackett, 1989.
OK, to me Leibniz is one of the most underrated of all philosophers. For me at least, he would probably edge out Nietzsche and come a close second behind Hegel in an all time list. He was probably one of the last universal geniuses we had. As well as being a philosopher of note, he was a diplomat, mathematician, inventor of the calculus, engineer, technological innovator, inventor of binary, and if only for the lack of technology quite possibly would have invented the computer (Look up the ‘Stepped Reckoner’which was and is a mechanical calculating machine!!! ), and general all round polymath. This collection is just brilliant; it contains the ‘Discourse on Metaphysics’ as well as the ‘Monadology’. You can learn tonnes about Metaphysics by reading any of the essays here, and also many of the essays are short if dense. Also much of his texts are in the form of letters which are quite dramatic once you get into them. On many an occasion Leibniz is downright insulting. It is worth looking at his letter to Queen Sophie of Prussia where he patiently explains the history of philosophy to her, in as basic terms as he can muster, through gritted teeth. I guess what I found valuable about Leibniz is that he presents a Metaphysics that can be construed in a radical light. Much has been made in the academy of the critique of metaphysics in recent years, that metaphysics is a dead end, that it is only ever a static enterprise, that it arrests the flux of the world and differences. In no way can one make this claim with Leibniz. Like Heidegger, metaphysics is a much more radicalized affair; Leibniz’s system presents a dynamic and active realization of the nature of reality. He allows us to ask the most traditional philosophical questions - what does it mean to be human, what is reality, what is the nature of existence – in the most radical and innovative way. Highlights in this text for me were his account of force and its relation to inertia. While most people get hung up on Leibniz’s theodicy and his justification of God and this as the best of all possible world, for me these would not be possible without the dynamic of force and inertia between monads. This is something often overlooked in historical summaries of Leibniz’s place in philosophy. Another highlight is Leibniz's meditations on the relativity of space, time and objects. What is most attractive for me is that Leibniz is such an imaginative philosopher; he forces you along with his journey. Reading Leibniz is just downright trippy at times; he places a huge demand on the reader to get a sense of his whole system is discernible in the minutest part. In short, how every monad potentially contains the entire universe!
2. John Milton: Paradise Lost, Harmondsworth, 1996.
It is always dangerous talking about Milton without skirting the danger of going into cliché about rebels and existential angst. While Milton’s Lucifer is certainly a proto-genitor for the tortured existential hero railing against all odds there is so much more to this rich text. Anyway, what I can say in a few words hopelessly fails to do justice to the richness of Paradise Lost. What I took from this stunning work was Lucifer as the essential figure of the human; brooding and vain, stuck somewhere between a desire to be human and a desire to be God. In an odd way, Milton makes humanity the hero of the text. Lucifer knows he will lose his fight with God, but getting his claws and a stake in human beings will alleviate the pain of hell. Nothing is worse than hell after all. The human therefore is his end; it is what gives his existence purpose, in a sense what he aspires to, something lesser than the Gods. For this reason the human is seen as a cosmic battle ground of good and evil. It is never a case of a clear demarcation of the two for Milton. There are no binary opposites here. The human is caught between the stars and the dirt. Milton dialectically presents the best and worst of humanity: a being with a foot in both camps and a home in neither. Milton’s work presents a meditation on the capacity and futility of man’s ambitions at one and the same time. The notion of fruit at the core of this poem presents us with the definitive metaphor of the human condition. Fruit, fruition, power, capacity; these notions, what they achieve and what they fail to achieve, are the heart of any human endeavour. This is why ‘fruit’ is so omnipresent in the arts from poetry, art and drama; fruit presents the perfect metaphor of decay, growth and flourishing and beauty and achievement at one and the same time. Satan’s advises Eve to eat the apple which sets in motion the necessity of human development. Right at human’s inception is a play between freedom and necessity. Without this, humans would not be what we are, we would remain reposed and comfortable in the Garden of Eden without struggle or challenge, safe and harmonious; a mere adornment to the divine. This is Satan’s paradoxical logic, by getting Eve to eat the apple, it opens us to the possibility of challenge and struggle and the attendant wisdom that comes with such experience. Without eating the apple, we would never have grown, we would never reach maturity nor would we ever recognize the limits of our ambitions. Correlatively, Satan is both Sophist and Philosopher at once. Without challenge and struggle we would never reach any form of wisdom about the world, we would only remain in a state of innocence, conversely without keeping ourselves in question and maintaining a sceptical stance to our wisdom we would only revert to an ignorance masquerading as innocence. Other highlights of Paradise Lost include Satan’s speech convincing the populace of hell to rise up once more after their defeat; never a finer sophistic oration will you get in the history of literature. Another highlight would be Milton’s presentation of the irreducible tension, jealousies, insecurities and class war between demons, angels in their relevant hierarchies. One of the most striking scenes is when Satan gets on the archangel Gabriel’s goat, by accusing him for being no more than an obsequious and servile middle manager. I know Milton will never be taken for a feminist but Eve’s eating of the apple, well what can you say, only ‘Good for her’! Milton’s Satan does us the service of showing us truly what we are, caught between the divine and the dirt, between Heaven and Hell.
3. Lucretius: On the Nature of the Universe, trans. Ronald Melville, Oxford: Oxford U.P., 1997
I think this is also a bit of a neglected gem. Although I think Deleuze has made some efforts in rehabilitating it. It is also quite an oddity in the history of philosophy. It has been neglected because its scientific metaphysics obviously seems arcane and twee to the modern world view. Moreover, and as Alain Badiou points out it does not really get a mention on Heidegger’s list in the history of philosophy. This is relevant given Heidegger's long shadow on the humanities. Badiou rightly sees this as somewhat suspect given that Lucretius presents a dynamic metaphysics which does not fit so easily with Heidegger’s history of the metaphysics of presence. Another oddity about this text is that it is an epic poem; one of the few great attempts to salve the difference between philosophy and poetry the sibling rivalry that Plato argued put them both forever in tension. With regard to second claim, and without wanting to downgrade modern science, Lucretius’ brand of stoic philosophy makes a metaphysical claim about the nature of reality in terms of Being qua Being. He was not doing science as we nowadays conceive it i.e. experiments, trial and error etc. Lucretius wants to present an ontology from first principles, one that gives expression to the place of human beings as effects of the the nature of the universe. The modern separation between the ontological and the ethical ala Kant was not an issue here. So what is it that merits reading Lucretius work? I think Lucretius is valuable as a materialist metaphysician, he presents a radically dynamic and strife ridden view of reality. There are only two things for Lucretius, Being and Void. Being is only the collision and contact of atoms in the Void or space. Everything that is the case comes from the inertia of the atomic collisions. This is to say, if there is an event, if something happens, there has to be a collision of indivisible and infinite atoms. While the atoms are small and of varying sizes, they are multiple and generate the events that we take to be real; objects in the world are thus only ever what they are because of their relationality and minimal contact with other objects. Highlights of De Rerum Natura for me would be the alleviation of human mortality in the face of death, also, stylistically Lucretius is up there with the great stylists in philosophy (he would be on a par for me with Nietzsche had he only written more works) Lucretius offers a viscous account of the nature of the universe, it is thick with the sensuality and sensuousness of material experience. Also, I admire the poetic unity of De Rerum Natura , it moves from life to death, from the most high to the most low; death and life are held in fine balance at all stages of existence as well of the cosmic relation of all Beings. In effect, Lucretius has one metaphysical principle that explains all things: that of Being and Void. There is a strange egalitarianism to this; everything from the most high to the lowest is a result of singular instances of the same principles. Thus the human is no more centre of the universe than sheep in a field, fish in the sea or scales on a fish. All of this and 1600 years before Galileo!!
4. Tony Harrison: V. Bloodaxe: Newcastle-on-Tyne: 1989. Tony Harrison’s epic meditation on the letter 'V' presents an exceptional account of class war, internal and external and cultural tensions during the Miner’s Strike.
5. Philip Pullman, His Dark Materials. London: Scholastic Books, 2000-2007. Pullman’s trilogy is special. He sets himself the daunting task of asking how one has a soul in a materialist universe!
6. Ullrich Haase, Starting with Nietzsche, London: Continuum, 2008. This is a brilliant little book. The best and most imaginative introduction to Nietzsche you will find. Clear, concise and original; Haase presents you with an existential Nietzsche who’s ultimate concern is giving expression to our ‘historicity’. Mercifully, it forgoes the usual Nietzsche as proto-fascist and frustrated over man type of stuff.
Sunday, 13 December 2009
Here's my attempt at compiling a list of the current top 100 intellectuals!! Do you agree with my listings? Have I overlooked anyone?
Noam Chomsky (Linguist, US, 72).
Jürgen Habermas (Social Theorist, German, 76)
Niklas Luhmann (Sociologist, German)
Karl Otto Apel (Philosopher, German)
Rem Koolhaas (Architect, Netherlands)
Umberto Eco (Semiotician, Italy)
Hayden White (Historian, US)
Philip Lacou-Labathe (Philosopher, France)
Robert Brandom (Philosopher, US)
Michael Dummett (Philosopher, UK)
Jean-Luc Marion (Theologian, US)
Regina Schwartz (Theorist, US)
Ian Hacking (Philosopher, UK)
Anthony Giddens (Social Theorist, UK)
Paul Rabinow (Anthroplogist/Theorist, US)
Manuel de Landa (Philosopher, US)
Serge Eisenstadt (Sociologist, Isreal)
Julia Kristeva (Philosopher/Theorist France/Bulgaria)
Luce Irigaray (Philosopher, Beligium)
Slavoj Zizek (Philosopher/Theorist, Slovenia)
Ulrich Beck (Sociologist, Germany)
Michael Hardt (Theorist, USA)
Antonio Negri (Political Theorist, Italy)
Richard Rorty (Philosopher, US)
Georgio Agamben (Philosopher, Italy)
G. Vattimo (Philosopher/Theorist, Italy)
Jean-Luc Nancy (Philosopher, France)
Jean Baudrillard (Theorist, France)
Jerome Bruner (Psychologist, US)
Bruno Latour (Social Theorist, France)
Stephen Shapin (Historian of Science, UK)
Nicholas Rose (Psychologist/Theorist UK)
Nancy Fraser (Social Theorist, US)
Richard Bernstein (Social Theorist, US)
Marshall Berman (Theorist, US)
Benedict Anderson (Social Theorist, UK)
Tom Nairn (Political Scientist, UK)
Charles Taylor (Philosopher, Canada)
Iris Marion Young (Political Theorist, US)
Stanley Cavell (Philosopher ,US)
Gaytri Chakrvorty Spivak (Theorist, India)
bell hooks (literary theorist, US)
Cornell West (philosopher, US)
Douglas Kellner (Theorist, US)
Frederick Jameson (Theorist US)
Carol Gilligan (Psychologist, US)
Theordore Roszack (Theorist US)
Helene Cixous (Theorist, France)
James Der Derian (Political Theorist, US)
Homi Bhabba (Theorist, UK)
Manuel Castells (Social Theorist, US)
David Harvey (Geographer, UK
Peter Berger (Sociologist, US)
Thomas Luckmann (Sociologist, US)
Alain Badiou (Philosopher, France)
Regis Debray (Theorist, France)
Sherry Turkle (Theorist, US)
M. Maffesoli (Social Theorist, France)
Marvin Minksy (Cognitive Scientist, US)
Seymour Papert (Cognitive Scientist, US)
Donna Haraway (Theorist, US)
John Searle (Philosopher, US)
Paul Gilroy (Theorist, UK)
Serge Moscovici (Psychologist, France)
Francis Fukuyama (Political Theorist, US)
Arthur Kroker (Theorist, US)
Daniel Bell (Sociologist, US)
Amartya Sen (Economist, US)
Joseph Sieglitz (Economist, US)
Bernard Stiegler (Theorist, France)
Daniel Dennett (Philosopher, US)
Paul Virilo (Social Theorist, France)
Hubert Dreyfus (Philosopher, US)
Zygmunt Bauman (Sociologist, UK)
Richard Kearney (Philosopher, Eire)
Martha Nussbaum (Political Theorist, US)
Andre Gorz (Political Theorist, France)
Paul Churchland (Cognitive Scientist, US)
Patricia Churchland (Cognitive Scientist, US)
Herbert Schiller (Political Theorist, US)
John Gray (Political Theorist, UK)
Saskia Sassen (Sociologist, US)
Stanley Fish (Philosopher, US)
Mike Davis (Geographer, US)
Richard Sennett (Sociologist, UK)
Judith Butler (Theorist, US)
Paul Rabinow (Anthroplogist, US)
Ernesto Laclau (Political Theorist, UK)
Chantal Mouffe (Political Theorist, Belgium)
Immanuel Wallestein (Political Theorist, US)
During his imprisonment, he wrote his most famous work, “De Consolatione Philosophiae” (The Consolation). This took the form of a conversation between Boethius and 'Lady Philosophy' in which she tries to console Boethius the fallen statesman. She does this by highlighting the transitory nature of all earthly splendour and greatness with the superior greatness of things of the mind and virtue. Although he was a Christian, this work bears no Christian references and draws from the Neo-Platonists and Stoics such as Seneca.
Friday, 11 December 2009
belly as well as your soul! Here are some famous, and relatively
famous people, who hold or held philosophy degrees.
Woody Allen -- Director and Comedian
Matt Groening --Creator of The Simpsons
Bruce Lee -- martial arts & actor
Stephen Colbert -- Comedien
John Chancellor -- News Broadcaster
Harrison Ford -- Actor
Chris Hardwick -- MTV Host
Jay Leno -- Comedian and Host The Tonight Show
Amy Madigan -- Actress
Steve Martin -- Comedian, Actor
Dennis Miller -- Comedian
Stone Phillips -- News Broadcaster
Brad Roberts -- Singer, songwriter Crash Test Dummies
Susan Sarandon -- Actress
Gene Siskel -- Movie Critic
Jeff Smith -- Frugal Gourmet
Steve Thomas -- Host for TV Show, This Old House
Alex Trebek -- Host for TV Show, Jeopardy
Mark Hulbert -- financial columnist FORBES magazine
Carl Icahn -- CEO, TWA Airlines
Gerald Levin -- CEO, Time-Warner, Inc.
George Soros -- Financier & Money Manager
Moses Znaimer -- Owner of CITY-TV and MUCH-MUSIC, Toronto
Gertrude Himmelfarb -- Historian
Herbert Simon -- Economist, and Nobel Laureate
William Bennett -- Secretary of Education and Head of the Drug Enforcement Agency
Patrick Buchanan -- Presidential Candidate and Political Columnist
Angela Davis -- Social Activist and Political Philosopher
Thomas Jefferson -- U.S. President
Vaclav Havel -- former President of Czeckoslovakia
Robert MacNamara -- Secretary of Defense and Head of the World Bank
David Souter -- Supreme Court Justice
Mary Higgins Clark -- Mystery Writer
Joseph Chaikin -- Theatre Director
Ethan Coen -- Film Maker
Umberto Eco -- Novelist and Semiologist
Ken Follett -- British Writer
Northrop Frye -- Literary Critic
Iris Murdoch -- Novelist
Susan Sontag -- Writer
Martin Luther King, Jr -- Minister & Civil Rights Leader
Pope John Paul II -- Vicar of Christ
Phil Jackson -- Coach, Chicago Bulls
Michael McKaskey -- Owner, Chicago Bears
Aaron Taylor -- Offensive Tackle, Green Bay Packers
John Elway -- Quarterback, National Football League
Mike Schmidt -- former Philadelphia Philly
Beverly McLachlin -- Canadian Chief Justice
Ed Broadbent -- leader of Canada's federal NDP1970's and 1980's (Ph.D in philsophy)
Pierre Trudeau -- Former Canadian Prime Minister
Dave Thomas -- one of the "Mackenzie Brothers" on SCTV
Rick Salutin -- columnist for THE GLOBE AND MAIL
Steve Allen -- writer & comedian
David Duchovny -- actor on X-FILES
Kate Millett -- author of SEXUAL POLITICS
Patricia Rozema -- film-maker, I'VE HEARD THE MERMAIDS SINGING
Neil Peart -- drummer for rock group, RUSH
Susan Block -- Host, HBO's RADIO SEX TV, THE DR. SUSAN BLOCK SHOW on Radio, cable TV, and the internet
Thursday, 10 December 2009
Guest Lecture II: Is there anything that could not count as a moral issue?
Guest Lecture II: Is there anything that could not count as a moral issue?
Trevor Curnow, Reader in Philosophy from
He delivered his lecture in traditional philosophical style by standing and delivering an entertaining, fluent, and at times digressive talk without recourse to technology of any kind (not even a pen!). By drawing upon, amongst other things, biographical details concerning his early philosophical training in analytical philosophy, (in particular what passed for moral philosophy in the 1970s), and contemporary philosophy’s issue based approach to ethics, Trevor demonstrated his overall thesis: that contemporary moral philosophy has been impoverished by its refusal to incorporate all aspects of everyday life as the Ancient Greeks did.
Moreover, Trevor suggested that this state of affairs has been exacerbated by the academicisation of philosophy and the consequent lack of philosophical role models, deploring a society which appears to be in thrall to celebrity culture and hysterically mourns a princess who had little relevance to most people’s lives.
In contrast, the Ancient Greek Schools offered philosophers as role models. For them, how one comports oneself in everyday life, whether alone or with others, constitutes the bedrock of one’s character. In this way, we constitute ourselves. It is only on death that a person can be judged to have lived a moral life or otherwise, when all of one’s actions can finally be accounted for.
In Trevor’s view, it is pointless to corral off “moral issues” when everyday existence itself is an ongoing ethical project. We are responsible for what we are and what we may become.
Trevor is clearly a convert to the ethical ways of the Ancient Greeks, and his talk reflected this, managing to be simultaneously provocative and laconic. No ranting to be had here and all the better for it.
After all, if we accept that we are the sum total of our actions in everyday life, then that is a thought that has the potential to change the way we live. And philosophy doesn’t get much more relevant, or radical, than that.
Tuesday, 8 December 2009
Monday, 7 December 2009
With regard to our Speculative Realism reading group, this week’s topic, Quentin Meillassoux’s After Finitude , proved to be a very thought provoking affair. Meillassoux’ dynamic little text offers some very interesting notions and insights. It is one of those texts which is hard to leave go; there is something about it, or there is something in there seems immensely valuable. What this something might be is another matter. I will thus restrict this blog post to the aspects that I find most attractive and the some of the problems that I think are inherent to the text. What I find attractive about Meillassoux’s text is the clarity and unity of exposition. There is something refreshing about reading a text that is concise whilst simultaneously, indeed ruthlessly staking out a new philosophical frontier. Philosophically, and we discussed this in the group, the notion of utter contingency, or the contingency all entities is a very alluring position. Meillassoux presents a type of Leibnizianism without God minus the pre-established harmony of the best of all possible worlds, Meillassoux presents us with an ontology of multiple worlds as radically contingent. Every world, all that is thinkable is contingent. This is the condition of anything happening or being-there at all. In a sense this is axiomatic. We do not need the ‘correlationism’ of a subject, in order for reality to be there. It is thinkable in itself as utterly contingent. It is for this reason I entitled this post ‘The Ubiquity of Nothing;’ since all identities are in themselves conditional they must also be open to negation. If this was not the case then they would absolute beings; something akin to Leibniz’s monads. As Neil put it well yesterday, there is something ‘gleefully nihilistic’ about After Finitude. Hence, the ubiquity of nothing; the actuality of nihilation in everything. It is for this reason that Meillassoux can assert that all things are possible, even impossibility itself. In other contexts, he talks about ‘redeeming the dead’ and the ‘existence of God’, indeed the existence of an absolute God that could transgress the bounds of all possibility. As I mentioned I find this idea of contingency quite attractive. Presenting it in a new way, as a thinking of Being qua Being to use Alain Badiou’s term. Where I am less clear, is how the leap is made from the contingency of identities to the infinity of being. I can see how a notion of infinite contingency could be read into Meillassoux, where all identities come to nothing perpetually and therefore infinitely; but to presuppose contingency would surely demand activity, demarcation and delimitation. Such concepts are not absolute. If there is some kind of activity which makes entities or objects contingent, then this presupposes that some part of Being qua Being is not absolute or infinite. We thus need to hear Meillassoux’s response to the old problem of the one and the many.
One other aspect that struck me about the idea of radical contingency which Meillassoux endorses, is its essential absurdity, absurdity at least in the existential sense. Indeed, one might even wager that it is a type of absurdity that far surpasses the absurdity of existentialism. If all things are possible, then all manner of identities can come into being. No object is exclusive from becoming any other object. Since any possible mutation of any identity is always possible therefore all types of mixture may come into being. Again I think this rests on the question of finitude. A finite being is limited and demarcated to what it is, the point is, that finitude is coextensive with contingency. Therefore an identity can be contingent and finite yet relatively appropriate and stable; it can be stable to such an extent that it cannot create unions with anything whatsoever. It is relatively appropriate to its singular identity. There are no absolute transformations of its being even if there might be minimal ones. With the thought of radical possibility and radical contingency this rules out the possibility of appropriate identity. If all things were possible then we could have all types of mixtures and abominations!!! Meillassoux brings a vision of a depiction of reality as utterly monstrous, torrid and grotesque; he presents a reality that has the capacity to be a carnival of deformed identities, aborted possibilities and deformed entities. After Finitude still seems fixed in the throes of subterranean romanticism rather than that of a refined rationalism.
Wednesday, 2 December 2009
However, there is an alternative. We should stop thinking in such black and white terms and realise that just because the Bolshevik attempt at utopia failed miserably that it will always fail. Bolshevism failed because it tried to operate in the same way as capitalism and ultimately refuted itself.
The idealist should never stop trying to envisage a better world and has a duty to attempt its manifestation. Following in the footsteps of idealist (in the ambitious not philosophical sense) Marxists such as Lukacs we have began to systematically design a utopian society, merging the ideas of various and sometimes contradictory philosophers of the past; from Plato to Zizek. What we have come up with is the Academocracy. A society ruled by intelligent civil servants with unprecedented and centralised power equalling only their sense of duty to the people and the state. An elective dictatorship that ends petty bourgeois squabbling and destructive self interest. Private business is allowed but marginalised; suffrage is limited to those who deserve it. A fleeting lust for mere things is relegated to an adoration of life and state. Nobody goes cold or hungry because what is put into the state is given out tenfold to those who need it most. Marxism meets Platonism in this, the most ideal of utopias. This account, however, is unfair in its brevity. For this reason Fred and Ed Aspbury offer you the chance to come and listen to us as we outline our critique of modern society and this, our solution. We look forward to your constructive criticism.
Date and venue to be announced.
- Modernity’s New Dogmatism: Quentin Meillassoux’s After Finitude
After Finitude is a very interesting and highly stimulating read, but an infuriating one for a philosopher because it offers us an ‘argument’ without any clearly defined premises. In fact, the book’s main thesis amounts to a dogmatic assertion of a new ‘metaphysics’ - of the radical contingency of the Kantian ding an sich - and it cleverly tries to see off all possible philosophical objections to this claim, especially the idea that this claim is in fact an impossible one, via a very intricate weave of daring intellectual leaps and highly suspect and at times clearly sophistic conceptual turns.
As a work that connects to the contemporary zeitgeist, where metaphysics has returned ‘after a fashion’, the book may be seen as an attempt to articulate the tacit metaphysical ground of modernity itself - a metaphysics of contingency as ‘pure possibility’, where everything, even possibility itself, might turn out to be other than it is. Any metaphysics of possibility is of course at the same time a metaphysics of ‘radical hope’, and this is perhaps why the book has registered an intellectual appeal with progressives looking for a metaphysical home after the demise of Hegelianism.
The book also introduces a new concept: correlationism. In essence, correlationism is the doctrine of the ‘primacy of the unseparated’ - that the object as such cannot be separated from the way it is thought and/or experienced. Thus according to correlationism, ‘existence’, ‘reality’, ‘being’ - whatever you want to call it - is a product of the correlation between ‘subjective’ and ‘objective’ realms. Without both of these realms, interacting in some way or other, there can be no ‘world’ as such. The question for Meillassoux is that if thought is necessarily correlated with its object, and that this is the condition of possibility for knowledge of the object per se, how can thought think and ultimately know the object in itself - that is, the object in its absoluteness? He thinks that it can and that science has already achieved this in many ways.
It is of course nice to have new concepts - and Deleuze reminds us that conceptual innovation lies at the heart of the modern philosophical enterprise - but the broader questions that we need to ask here are legion. How new is this concept really? Is it simply another name for post-idealist ‘modern philosophy’? Why did so many people take correlationism so seriously in the first place? If we reject correlationism, especially the idea of the ‘for us’, can we really say that thought it possible, given the fact that thought is something that delivers something, an idea, a conclusion, for us?
However, Meillassoux believes that knowledge of the absolute is possible and that modern science has allowed thought to transcend its ‘imprisonment in correlationalism’ because it allows us to think a time before the advent of the ‘correlation’ itself and thus, in the correlational scheme, a time before the very condition of possibility of thought and ‘the world’. How can thought think a time prior to its own conditions of possibility; that is ‘think a time’, an event, when there was no thought? This is what Meilassoux terms the paradox of the ‘arche fossil’, a paradox that in his view can only be resolved if we accept that the arche fossil represents an absolute. As he puts it, science is able to discover the science of its own absoluteness - slick philosophical rhetoric, but what exactly does this mean? I guess, that 'science can think itself, can think that conditions of its own possibility'. This is a radical statement of anti-phenomenological intent, and After Finitude rails against phenomenology in both its Heideggerean and Wittgensteinian forms.
In rejecting correlationism, and thus the Kantian critical turn that denies thought’s accessibility to the ‘in itself’, Meillassoux asks whether this implies a return to pre-Critical metaphysics. He answers this question in the negative and in order to defend the rejection of the metaphysical as classically conceived, he makes an important distinction between ‘metaphysics’ and ‘knowledge of the absolute’.
How then can thought think and ultimately ‘know the absolute’ in Meillassoux’s view? How do we give a philosophical account of how this mode knowledge is possible in the teeth of the Kantian objection that we cannot know the absolute as it transcends our finite human cognitive capacities? Here, Meillassoux draws on the ontological argument as deployed by Descartes in the Third Meditation; especially the idea that a concept, by virtue of one its essential properties, must necessarily exist as an object; and that given the necessary existence of this object with this property, then thought can legitimately reach out beyond itself into the in itself and render it an object of possible knthinkableowledge. However, as the ontological argument is in Meillassoux’s view invalid, it is only the overall telos of this argument, the attempt to provide a metaphysical ground for epistemology, that must be mirrored in any attempt by thought to think the absolute. The argument is invalid according to Meillassoux as there can be no examples of necessary existence because there is ‘no contradiction in a determinate entity not existing’ - and so we must be able to think an absolute necessity that does not posit itself as absolutely necessary. Therefore, we need to be able to articulate an ontological argument for a ‘non-metaphysical absolute’ - an absolute that is not necessary but contingent.
How do we do this? With Kant the absolute is ‘thinkable’ but ‘unknowable’. For Kant as it is thinkable it cannot be self-contradictory. However, in saying that it cannot be self-contradictory to what extent is Kant conceding that the 'in itself' is in fact is some sense knowable? Logic, the logical, is the basis of what Meillassoux terms ‘facticity’, of the existence of ‘facts’ as such - and as such there is an important relationhship between logic and knowing. Without logic, there can be no facts - this is why logic is factical and thus for Meillassoux something ontological. In saying that the ‘in itself’ must obey this aspect of our ‘facticality’, are we postulating a necessity de re? Meillassoux clearly seems to think so. But a question emerges here that the author never really addresses - what is necessity for Meillassoux? For most analytic philosophers - who also agree that the world is radically contingent - there are no de re necessities; only cognitive or conceptual necessities; that is necessities at the level of intellectual principles not at the level of the world in itself. Necessity is ‘in the mind’ and, as Meillassoux points out, in many ways correlationism begins with the idea that we cannot postulate necessity of things in themselves. Meillassoux never really addresses this question, the question of how to conceive of necessities de re without them becoming mere conceptions, although it is in some way implicit in everything that he says.
One of Meillassoux's targets is the return of religion. In what Meillassoux terms ‘strong correlationism’ it is unthinkable that the unthinkable be impossible. For him this means that, paradoxically, everything becomes thinkable and the absolute is relativised and rendered ‘religious again’, albeit in a radically non-metaphysical way. As unthinkable the in itself could be anything, every interpretation is as good as any other and this supports the spread of what the author terms ‘religiosity’ - something that he thinks is the result of the de-Christianisation of philosophy; that is the stipulation of the ‘absolute out of intellectual bounds. Thus his book attacks the forms of postmodern fideism that seem to grant an irrationalist legitimacy to religious belief of all varieties, so that all are rendered cognitively equivalent, and he stands upright against 'the immunity of conceptual rationality that religious belief seems to enjoy'. In this way, for him, modern man has been re-religionised precisely to the extent that he has been de-Christianised. The falling away of Christian metaphysics has given rise to a pious celebration of mystical conceptions of the 'in itself' over and above those derived by real, authentic, thinking. As he puts it in another pithy phrase ‘the more thought arms itself against dogmatism the more defenceless it becomes against fanaticism’. However, this, again does not mean that we need to return to the old ‘dogmatic’ metaphysics that argues that the absolute can be understood because it has a rational support. For him, the absolute is absolutely irrational - it is without reason, based upon what he terms the principle of ‘unreason’.
Overall, for Meillassoux what underlies correlationism, its absolute as an ontological presupposition, is radical contingency; or the idea that the absence of reason can only be the ultimate property of any entity. In radical inversion of Leibnzian rationalism, correlationism in this way ‘absolutises’ contingency and this absolute, the absolute of facticity, when properly conceived, is not only thinkable, but a necessary postulate of all thought. Radical contingency is akin to the law of non-contradiction, all correlationists have to assume it on pain of non-contradiction. It is simply self-contradictory to claim that things might not have been other than they are if we accept that the 'facticity of facticity', that is the facticity of the world (that cannot itself be thought of as a fact and thus represents something speculative). In this way, anything can be other than it is - at the level of being itself. Even being itself might not be. This radical open ended ontology ‘materialises’ Hegel in a new way and its relationship to Marxism is intriguing - but it needs more argument if it is to be rendered convincing. It seems to remain something of a dogmatic assertion and thus much more akin to the pre-critical metaphysics than the author would obviously care to admit.
How though do we get from here to the Cartesian understanding of being as mathematical? This will be a subject for the next instalment....
Monday, 30 November 2009
(NB this is a similar lecture to last year's which some of you may have attended)
I look forward to seeing you there!
Is there anything that could not count as a moral issue?
Wednesday 9th December from 2-4pm
George Eliot 089 (GEE 089; LT3 Clifton Campus)
Trevor Curnow, University of Cumbria
In this lecture, Trevor will consider why he became interested in ancient philosophy, his experiences of moral philosophy before he did, and why he thinks ancient philosophy is in many ways superior to modern philosophy in its approach to life.
Enquiries may be directed to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thursday, 26 November 2009
In a session which managed to be simultaneously informative and highly entertaining, Neal’s discussion ranged from Heidegger’s notion of Being and his ideas about technology through to superheroes and the post-human cyborg.
In doing so, Neal made the relationship between philosophy and everyday life explicit, deploying, for example, the everyday object of the pen as Heideggerian tool to illustrate the distinction between the ready-to hand, and the present-at-hand and the significance this has for Being as lived in the world.
Similarly, Neal drew on his own experience of the everyday, namely his emotional trajectory whilst writing the lecture, to illustrate Heidegger’s concept of emotion as a way of being-in-the-world, that our perceptions of the world are inseparable from the emotions generated by it.
While Heidegger might not be most people’s idea of an accessible philosopher, Neal managed to make him so through accessible examples and careful explanation of sometimes obscure philosophical terminology. At the same time, he highlighted the concrete significance that philosophy has for everyday life by taking philosophy out of the ivory tower of abstract concepts and daunting jargon into an everyday reality where people have to grapple with the pressing questions of everyday lived experience (as well as sometimes recalcitrant technology).
The session concluded with a lively and wide-ranging debate, in part generated by Neal’s sometimes provocative approach as well as the thought-provoking nature of Heidegger’s ideas. The deployment of a Youtube music video, for instance, might have raised a few eyebrows in the more hallowed portals of the philosophical community, though its purpose was explicitly philosophical—to demonstrate how we busy ourselves, throw ourselves into the world, in order to escape from the anxiety generated by the abyss of nothingness.
That the discussion ended on the superhero might be surprising given the ostensible topic at hand, but perhaps less so for those who were in attendance at a lecture which offered something for everyone in the audience.
Wednesday, 11 November 2009
In the few years that I have been studying Philosophy the same question has come to mind a number of times. Why did we never study Philosophy in school? Or rather, why was it not an option? Some would say that Philosophy is wasted on the young, and that they haven’t the experience or character yet to feel its full worth, and to a extent I would agree with them. Children with little experience of the world would struggle to grasp the very adult matters with which Philosophy is often concerned. However I am not suggesting that we gracelessly chuck the kids in at the deep-end knowing full well they can not swim, but instead that we could prepare them with the skills they will need to meet these problems head on later in life.
While exploring this debate I found the following in an article at
Within a few months, my class's ability to listen and respond appropriately improved almost beyond belief. The children were able to challenge each other's ideas in anassertive and non-aggressive way. They began to show respect for each other as contributors and there was a more co-operative feel to the class. Empathy displayed regularly in the classroom, continued to be displayed in the playground and the children were in trouble outside much less frequently than previously.
This is the testimony of a Primary School teacher from London, who introduced philosophical debate to her 7 and 8 year-olds Personal and Social Health Education classes. She was initially concerned that some disruptive pupils would sabotage the debate, but as you can see above, they eventually responded positively to the situation and their classmates.
What is important is for children is to be encouraged to think for themselves and then be able to express those thoughts. To be able to have a discussion and listen to each other, understand each other and teach each other. Only Philosophy can deliver this.
Monday, 2 November 2009
Neal Curtis from University of Nottingham is coming to Trent to talk about the intersections between Philosophy, Technology and Everyday Life. The event is happening as part of the Philosophy and Everyday Life second year module, but is being widely advertised throughout the university. All are welcome to attend what should prove to be an interesting and lively session.
Wednesday 25 November from 2-4pm
George Eliot 089 (GEE 089; LT3 Clifton Campus)
Neal Curtis, University of Nottingham
Today we are surrounded by stories regarding new technologies such as genetics and nanotechnology that are accompanied by fears that life as we know it is about to be changed and that the life of the human being as we have known it has come to an end; soon we will all be post-human.
Philosophy has its own problematic relationship to technology and has often envisioned it as monster about to engulf us. This is generally the reading of Martin Heidegger's view of technology, but I would like to argue that using Heidegger's analysis of our everyday use of tools in Being and Time could help allay our fears and apocalyptic visions and refocus our relationship to the technological and to our world.
Queries may be directed to Ruth Griffin
Friday, 30 October 2009
In April 2009 I travelled to Leuven, Belgium for the annual Phenomenology conference at the Husserl Archives (part of the Catholic University of Leuven). The event is a opportunity for people to go and listen to world class academics give lectures on Edmund Husserl and his particular philosophy of Phenomenology.
Following an introduction on Husserl and his continuing influence, the renowned lecturer Robert Sokolowski gave a lecture entitled ‘Husserl on First Philosophy.’ Sokolowski stood, rather pertinently, in front of a large portrait of Thomas Acquinas in a room covered in Catholic imagery. One could see (and due to the University’s Catholic status, understand) the religious emphasis placed on Husserl’s writings from the start. The lecture was thoroughly interesting, if a little difficult to follow in parts; I would discover that most of the lectures would be equally interesting and yet very challenging. After attending lectures entitled ‘Method or Metaphysics, the Transcendental project’ and ‘Self Responsibility and Eudaimonia’ I realised that I was the only undergraduate in attendance. The rest were all professors or at least post grad students. I now understood why I had so much difficulty following the lectures. They simply were not designed for anyone with a lesser experience in Husserl than Phd level. This was very intimidating and I attended no more lectures.
I would, however, that the content that I was able to follow was very interesting and enlightening. I was introduced to themes involved in Husserl’s works that one simply cannot cover in short, undergraduate lectures and they certainly served to improve my understanding of one of the most influential philosophers of the twentieth century. The moral and aesthetic implications of Husserl’s works are often overlooked in favour of epistemology and, arguably, metaphysics (though I believe that Husserl took a negative, Kantian
view of ontology).
I would, due to the nature of the audience, not recommend a trip to the next conference for anyone who is not incredibly interested in Husserl and with a level of understanding to match. Though I would sincerely recommend the beautiful city of Leuven and its awe inspiring university library (it has over 3,000 titles on philosophy alone).
Wednesday, 30 September 2009
The Philosophy Teaching and Research Group, based in the School of Arts and Humanities, will be running a series of reading based seminars this year on the theme of Speculative Materialism. Associated with the work of Quentin Meillassoux, Graham Harman, Ray Brassier and Ian Hamilton Grant, Speculative Materialism is fast becoming a new thought-style in contemporary philosophy and increasingly influential in a range of other humanities and social science based disciplines.
The first session will discuss a classic paper that is often cited as one of the forerunners of this new philosophical dispensation – Wilfred Sellars’ 1963 paper Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man. In subsequent weeks we will go on to discuss Ray Brassier’s book Nihil Unbound and Quentin Meillassoux’s recent and highly acclaimed work After Finitude.
These seminars should appeal to all those who want to keep abreast of conceptual innovations in contemporary philosophy.
The first seminar will take place on Wednesday Oct 28th, 1-2 pm, in ICAn 215. All are welcome.
For further information please contact Neil Turnbull, Ruth Griffin or Patrick O’Connor.
Tuesday, 24 March 2009
Wednesday, 11 March 2009
Please make your voice heard and contribute to the debate (but if you do, please be respectful and polite!).
You can find this at:
Tuesday, 10 March 2009
The society also intends to offer mini lectures on various issues from Eastern philosophy to phenomenology.
We also organise movie viewings and socials where philosophy discussions are optional but welcomed.
The society is still young and we hope to expand and offer events on a bi-monthly basis. The NTU Phil Soc operates from the ground up and we encourage all members to suggest ideas for the future events...
you can find our current blog at:
Monday, 9 March 2009
Sunday, 8 March 2009
Wouldn’t this be an improvement on the current situation, where ‘word processed’ assignments are typically ‘produced’ without much thought and effort?
Might handwritten essays prove to be more thoughtful and, in the end, engender a new appreciation of the craft of essay writing?
Although perhaps rather quaint on first inspection this idea does have a very respectable philosophical pedigree. Wittgenstein, for one, suggested that he thought with his pen. Can we really suggest that we think with our PCs? Doesn’t the computer engender an instrumental attitude towards thought and language, where the truth and significance of ideas are subordinated to their overall efficiency and effectiveness?
Heidegger, too, would have been very suspicious of the idea that words should be ‘processed’. For him, those who claim that word processing makes writing more efficient are simply wrongheaded. Heidegger would have objected that any attempt to sever writing from the hand will also sever writing from thought.
I think that Heidegger was onto something here. With the word processor thought is mechanically forced and it ceases to dialectically flow.
Thinking is tied to the body in ways that we no longer appreciate.
Friday, 6 March 2009
The Philosophy and Everyday Life Research group is based in the ICAn Centre in the School of Arts and Humanities at Nottingham Trent University.
The group is dedicated to exploring ways in which both ancient and modern philosophy can inform and improve everyday ways of thinking and living in contemporary societies.
Through seminars and taught courses, group members will be developing a range of projects in order to facilitate an awareness of the significance philosophical thought-styles and modes of questioning for both personal and professional activities.
Group members include
Neil Turnbull – Science and Technology, Phenomenology, Heidegger and Wittgenstein.
Ruth Griffin - Film-philosophy, philosophy and contemporary media/culture, existentialism, literary philosophy, Foucault.
Chris Farrands - Global ethics/justice, Linguistic Philosophy; Wittgenstein, Gadamer, Levinas.
The first seminar will take place on Weds May 13th at 2pm in ICAn 219. Neil Turnbull will be speaking on 'Wittgenstein and the Meaning of Life'
Philosophy and Everyday Life Research Group