Saturday, 27 March 2010

Where is the 'the West'?

We often refer to 'Western Philosophy' or 'Western Culture'. But where exactly is 'the West'? Typically, by this term we mean more than a geographical area, as 'the West' includes not only Europe and the US but also Australia, New Zealand and possibly parts of South America!

But what about Japan? The reason that I ask this is that Japan seems in many ways more 'western' than 'the west'. It is arguably more technologically advanced; and if we view, with Heidegger, technology as the west's secret truth and 'historical destiny' then clearly Japan is part of this trajectory.

Moreover, the West is not only present in Japan, but Japan is now present in the West. Not only through the popularisation of manga etc either, but also through its industry - Britain has been the largest recipient of Japanese inward investment - and its management philosophies (such as just-in-time production, srong senses of corporare identification etc).

For centuries Japan was the west's cultural and intellectual other, but now it seems to defy the old occidental/oriental boundary. Japan is a cultural and philosophical hybrid.

So can we even legitimately refer to 'the west' anymore?

Neil Turnbull

Friday, 26 March 2010

Ecophilosophy interview

Hi Everyone

I am looking for participants for my ecophilosophy dissertation project. There will be 20 minutes interview sessions for each participant, and I will ask ten questions during this period. I will use phenomenological approach and all you need to do is reflect your opinions on simple questions about nature.

Please contact me if you are interested. The interviews will be strictly confidential.



Fred and Ed's 'Academocracy' Talk

Yesterday (Thurs 25th) Fred and Ed Aspbury gave their long awaited presentation of their blueprint for an organised and rational political system.

Fred and Ed did a really good job of presenting their ideas and fielding questions. Well done to both of them!

At the beginning of their talk Fred and Ed castigated neo-liberal capitalism for its enfranchisement of the superficial desires of the new middle classes and for the way that it reduces politics to an empty and meaningless spectacle. Contemporary capitalism, in their view, is predicated on the the theft of the future by fundamentally selfish and self-destructive people.

But they think that ths situation is curable - but only if people stop being armchair revolutionaries and realise there is another world beyond the bland and apathatetic world of the politically disengaged masses.

They believe that they have come up with a viable blueprint for an alternative to neo-liberal capitalism. This a a model of a prgamatic system of government that bypasses the self-important individualism of today's political culture. It is a system based upon ideas of the common good rather than individual utility maximisation (Fred and Ed's intellectual heroes seem to be Plato and Zizek). Here, people are ruled by a wise elite - the grand council - who are not democratically elected as such but chosen from a number of local councils on the basis of their virtues and technical expertise. These are people who due to their 'excellence' have earned the right to decide.

Council members should be self-confident, assertive, knowledgeable and trustworthy. They are not motivated by self-interest because they have been trained for public service is special academies. They both believe and have pride in their political system and the political constitution on which it is based. The model has other features as well, such as model of socialised economic development. But this was its most striking and important feature.
There were a number of questions at the end, most of which were directed towards questions of accountability, the psychological motivations of the council members and the obvious similarities between this model and those proposed by radical conservatives in the 1930s.

Overall, a really stimulating presentation and discussion (that continued in the student bar afterwards).

Neil Turnbull

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Sane in the Membrane

This morning our seminar discussion in Phil 301 touched upon the relationship between philosophy and madness. We talked about the idea that philosophers all seem to be mad or at the very least depressive. I thought it would be interesting to flip this around and think about the question of philosophy and sanity. This is a question which has, for better or worse, been omitted from recent philosophy. In contrast, it has been very fashionable to discuss the insane, as we see in Foucault’s History of Madness and Deleuze’s Schizo-Analysis, and indeed it is quite commonplace and even fashionable to suggest that everyone has a bit of madness in them. Why is this? Why is philosophy bereft of descriptions of sanity? What does a human have to be to be sane? It is very tempting to answer this question by resorting to clinical or negative definitions i.e. a subject is sane if they do not exhibit the symptoms of madness. If madness - which can be the result of many things, both internal and external - is not present, then the subject is sane. This would correlatively entail that when certain neurological patterns are present a subject is sane. While this may be true in a clinical sense, it remains unsatisfying for explaining why sanity does not have a rich conceptual heritage in our everyday existence and our philosophical heritage, and it does not explain why it is absent from our bank of cultural tropes and memes. I mean we could easily imagine an evolutionary account of insanity but not sanity. We just don’t see movies and great poetry made about sane people. Drama and excitement is probably always more interesting, which is why what the swashbuckler and adventurer does, would be considered mad in the ordinary sense. I’m not saying sanity is absent from culture, it just always seems more tacit. I can’t think of any great philosopher who has dealt with this issue in depth off the top of my head, at least in a positive sense. Erich Fromm did write the on the sane society but that was a critique of the illusion of sanity. Again, what does it mean to go sane?

Therefore, the question of sanity would make for a very interesting philosophical research proposal (second years? Dissertations? Any takers?). What does it mean to be sane? Adopting a provisional ordinary language approach we might mention the following positive features to get us started: stability, regularity, mental harmony, reasonableness, sobriety, coolness, judgemental, soundness. These would I suppose be some basic touchstones albeit internal human qualities; this would have to be compounded by external factors such as a flourishing society, an ability to keep friends, social stability and opportunity, and a low crime rate. All of these remain provisional of course, since one can easily show that the mask of the psychopath and sociopath is their ability to adopt the ‘reality’ of the sane; this would be where they would function best. The juridical definition of compos mentis (mental know-how or ability), although more attractive and useful, would seem to fall short in light of this also.

I think it is worth considering sanity outside of a hard rational approach. One of the first things that I think I would suggest would be a phenomenological principle. Sanity would, as Husserl suggest be intentional. It would always already be world-oriented. Sane existence would require the backdrop of a world to always accompany whatever conscious content we experience. This would entail that the world and not solipsism is always at stake for us. Once this is in place any other deviation from it can be accounted for, or have a base origin from which different content can be derived from. On top of this I think it would be wise to consider sanity in terms of moderation. [Kind of like leaving the radio on for the dog when you leave the house!] This would be compounded by an Aristotelian principle. Moderation requires a practical and measured orientation towards the world, one which is both habituated and open to new possibilities. In this sense, the human subject will have a degree of freedom and necessity, balance as well as the ability to cope with unpredictability. I do think that we can learn from Derrida’s deconstructive logic here also. The binary between sane/insane is both basic and overly reductive. If we looked at sanity from a deconstructive perspective we can see why sanity requires a smidge of, if not insanity, at least the very least some minimal deviance. If our lives always have some degree of undecidability and disjointedness, then this is absolutely necessary for a sane existence. This is because sanity requires an ability to engage in struggle and overcoming. The ability to cope with conflict signifies a distinct and world-oriented maturity; in a sense learning to live with the struggle that we are. In addition, we can thus we can say that sanity requires self-development. There is also a moment here where the deconstructive logic would trump Hegel and Freud. If consciousness is a demand for self-recognition, and a desire to possess the others self recognition, then this can lead to all types of mental deferrals and insurmountable neurosis. If human existence is disjointed, then the deconstructive approach would allow us to see the incessant demand for self-recognition [think of the myriad places this is evident in contemporary culture and market hyper-narcissism] overcome, since those who are sane are in less need of being recognized; again an example of maturity, unlike the child who always demands constant attention. To put in simple terms, people who are aware of their lack of control, and exist in relation to and are comfortable with this unpredictability, aware of the limitations that face us all, and who do not think the world owes them a favour, are the sanest of all. Sanity requires understanding how abilities and limitations are intertwined and that this is our normal condition. It is just absurd to suggest that we are essentially success or essentially failure. Sanity requires an attention for out amor fati. Humans are more ambiguous than that, we have the ability to cope with the fact that it is alright to be both good and bad at the same time. Politically, and this is another big question, this has to be matched and cultivated in a just society.

The question of sanity is an intriguing question? Can anyone think of representations in literature of sane people? Has there ever been a celebration of sanity? Brief Encounter is a movie that springs to mind. But that would not hold a candle in the canon compared to Hamlet’s teetering on the brink.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

When Philosophers don't like each other!

This is Deleuze being dismissive of Wittgenstein in his ABC of Philosophy. I wonder what got on his goat so much? Harsh, but funny!

Couldn't find any subtitles, translation requires vigilance.

Int: Okay, moving on to W. And, W?

Deleuze: There is nothing in W.

Int: If there is Wittgenstein, I know it’s nothing for you, but just one word?

Ah no, I do not want to speak of it...For me, this is a philosophical catastrophe, it is a type of ‘school’, which is a regression of all of philosophy, a massive regression of philosophy. The Wittgenstein affair is very sad. They have forced, where under the pretext of doing something new, a system of terror (chuckle), but it is, poverty dressed as grandeur. In French, there is no word for expressing this danger here; it is a danger that returns, this is not the first time, it is recurring. This is grave, they are nasty the Wittgenstenians, and since they destroy all, in this, there could be an assassination of philosophy; these are the assassins of philosophy.

Int: That serious?!

Yes, Yes... It is necessary for great vigilance. [Laughs]


What do you think it's all about?


Forthcoming Heidegger Movie

This will be of interest to everyone on Phil 201, Phil 204 and
Phil 301.

Wittgenstein's Contribution to Google

Here is a link to a link on how Wittgenstein was used to improve Google searches.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Starship Troopers: Paul Verhoeven

Paul Verhoeven’s film Starship Troopers (1997), is a science fiction story of a war between 'citizens' and terroristic monsters from another planet and can be read as a film about the ‘fascistic’ dimensions of postmodernity.

When seen in this way, postmodernity can be viewed as an age when an increasingly threatened global capitalist ‘Empire’ denounces all forms of moral ambiguity through a political rhetoric that headlines ‘either you are for us or against us’; that is, when captialism declares war on all forms of otherness.

The film touches upon many other philosophically important themes; especially the relationship between technology, the virtual and the posthuman.

Again, this film is an extremely prescient reminder of what is philosophically at stake in postmodern times: the future of a particularly western notion of what it means to be a ‘human person’.

Neil Turnbull