Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Philosophy questions itself: Summary

First, Rob introduced the topic of the possibility of the usefulness of the philosophy degreed, and was immediately ridiculed for exploiting the existential anxiety of subjects in a world that does not appreciate the brilliance of philosophers. Gracing us with his presence tonight was Tapping president emeritus, Chris Continanza who assured the table that no matter what you end up doing, you will have a wider and deeper appreciation of the purpose of your task. Much patting on the backs of fellow philosophers ensued, and continued throughout the discussion as we weighed the merits of being able to “think outside the box,” how much we hated that term, and see the larger issues facing society and the economy. Finally, I delivered a poignant message of reassurance from Dr. Carvalho which amounted to the statement that if you do happen to be one of the 90% of undergrad philosophy majors who does not pursue a Ph.D., the knowledge you gain will give you a better and wider perspective on whatever your calling turns out to be. The next task, however, is finding the calling.

Edit: This Tapping Summary was brought to you by Mark Kasten, a recent victim of realpolitik.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Rob's Last Tapping: Philosophy

My Fellow Philosophers-in-arms,

This week will be the final Tapping Philosophy of the semester (and for some of us the final Tapping of our collegiate careers). We will meet at Yeat's Pub in Ardmore this Thursday at 8 and I will be running rides from Connelly at 730. If you have never been to Tapping, haven't been to Tapping in awhile, or are a Tapping-alumnus whose been meaning to stop by (you know who you are), this is the week to come out. The last Tapping of the year is a lot of fun and is a nice way to put the past few months (or years) into perspective, hope to see a lot of people there.

The Topic:

Essentially this week's topic is rather selfish as I am a Senior philosophy major who is about to graduate with a total lack of confidence that the last four years of rigorous philosophic discourse have been of any use to me at all. This being said, this week's topic is: is philosophy really valuable...I mean, come on!

Sure philosophy has done great things in the world; it has fathered more offspring than Abraham on Viagra: political science, aesthetics, cognitive science, ethics, and sociology just to name a few. But now isn't philosophy nothing more than a hallowed out husk which has yielded all possible fruits? Anything left within the legitimate grasp of the discipline of philosophy seems to be of little or no practical value; or is even talking about strict disciplines even a valid question in the swirling, murky swamp of a post-modern age? Philosophy has done some great things in the world and acted as the foundation to innumerable worthy causes and institutions, but hasn't it been the bedrock of a equal number of genocides and dictatorial regimes (see Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, the Bush White House [low blow, I know])? What is the value in a discipline whose cannon can be as easily appropriated by the Nazi's as it can the Carmelites? Finally, is it really better to know something rather than nothing? Sure its good to know how gravity works and that you can't cross the street when the "Don't Walk" sign is flashing, but is it really a good thing to search for answers to the deeper questions of life or would it just be better if we all quieted our worried minds and watched American Idol? Simply put, is ignorance really bliss?

Hope to see a lot of you there on Thursday so we can hash some of this out and maybe make me feel better about the $160,000 I just spent.

Anarchy and Love,

Tapping Philosophy: Progress Summarized

First we discussed the possibility of progress in the discipline of philosophy itself--and basically decided that there isn't any. If anything philosophy progresses in size, the number of philosophies, and sophistication, but someone pointed out we still read Plato and that was that. Although philosophy as it is linked to the various sciences was proposed, sort of, as a possible counter-category. Let me say extremely after the fact that Schelling's conception of a "universal organism" (the projection of the self onto itself) is a great way to synthesize there being bits and appearances of progress--or some hidden real progress--but no apparent, and no ideal, essential progress.

Second we covered the possibility of social/political progress. Some people (namely myself) wanted to dismiss this outright again assigning the title "progressive" to numerical variety only, but this argument was almost solely the product of sub-rational distaste. On the other hand, the possibility of a basic scientific-technical progress, a la Social Darwinism, was discussed thoroughly as well. Some also wished to point to liberal democracy as an example of political progress, oddly enough. Rob thought there was a threshold before which progress is real and beyond which all that would manifest itself as progress becomes decay. Perhaps progress could then be placed as the unfolding of this threshold. We would want to say that penicillin is progress--and perhaps genuine novelty in thinking can be progress. It all got very hairy and we gave up. Progress was largely abandoned and again oddly enough, there was much rejoicing (and that is not merely a stylistic point).

As can be immediately glimpsed (ezaiphnas, in Plato's flash) this was a shorter meeting.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Tapping Philosophy: Progress

Hey all,

In his infinite wisdom, Frank has allowed me to coordinate the last two Tapping Philosophy meetings of the semester. This week, we will be discussing progress.

Basically I would like to break our question into two parts which are undoubtedly interrelated: progress within philosophy and social/human progress.


Utilizing the generally accepted Western narrative that Plato and Aristotle are the founders of philosophy, has philosophy progressed in any real way since its Grecian roots? Is the discipline of philosophy any closer now to obtaining any more real or more practical truths about the world or life, itself, than it was in its infancy? Is this the way in which we should be judging philosophical progress, or should progress be judged in some other way, or does philosophical progress even make sense as a theory? Philosophers such as Hegel and his dialectical reasoning would undoubtedly assert that actual progress can be and is made, while Kant would say that philosophers can only talk of how things appear to us and we can make no progress towards a more complete understanding of things-in-themselves.


In today's society, we constantly hear about progress, the progress of global democracy, the progress of medicine, the progress of technology; in the second half of our discussion I would like to discuss what this progress is and why it is considered a stock Good. Is total human progress possible, or can progress only be understood in terms of groups of people gaining an advantage over other groups? Does having three TVs, two cars, and a Nintendo Wii really make one's life better, or does our assumption that commercial and technological progress is a stock Good cloud our capability to reflect on whether we are actually better off newer, 'better', and fancier stuff? Is progress an essential human need, or is it a contrivance, I suppose is the essential question here.

Let's plan to meet at Yeats at 8 o'clock, I can run rides from Connelly at 7:30. Hope to see many of you there.

Anarchy and Love,

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Tapping Philosophy: Censorship Summary

Tapping Philosophy: Censorship summary
• This one got a little heated.
• Almost immediately into the discussion it became apparent that there was a schism at the table, regarding the meaning of the term censorship

• Censorship A: Borrowing from Chomsky and Herman’s conception of the media with a propaganda model, it was argued that self censorship occurred within the media framework, and that there might be implicit and specific political and economic reasons for information not being brought to the public’s attention, or being considered culturally taboo. In this way censorship can be diffuse and widespread, without a specific censoring agent.

• Censorship B: These folks argued for a more specific and limited definition of censorship where there is an agent who attempts to speak and is then deliberately suppressed. Also, the Censorship B coalition argued for a freely willing subject that was separate from the structure of society, and one of the more uppity B’s argued that society didn’t configure subjectivity at all!

• The censorship A people argued that the propaganda model of the media effectively served to censor the facts or the truth, while the B people argued that agency was absent from this definition of censorship and was therefore untenable. The A’s argued for the insidiousness of the propaganda model’s effectiveness, because of its presumptions of liberal objectivity and the relative difficulty in accessing the facts and the absence of accountability. The B’s argued that this definition of censorship was in fact too broad, and needed a different name, such as widespread corruption or delusion as opposed to censorship, which requires an agent and occurs ex post facto a particular instance of expression. Furthermore the B’s argued that the question in the broader sense became an issue of culture in general

• I attempted to bridge the gap between an overdetermined materialist model of subjectivity as offered by Censorship A (which I was admittedly a part of) and the free subject of Censorship B by implementing Ranciere’s model of the anarchical political subject that alters the distribution of the sensible, basically the field of expression, through radical aesthetico-political action, but the B’s wanted to preserve the abstract freedom of the subject separate from any social structure, such as the distribution of the sensible.

• At a certain point the conversation moved toward the issue social and cultural structure in general, or the lack thereof, which I felt moved away from the topic and became far too abstract.

• Overall, good discussion.

Tapping Philosophy: Censorship

Tapping Philosophy: Censorship
Gross Generalization: People like often like to say what they cannot or should not say. Hence, for as long as there has been culture, or at least the idea of social expression and norms, from negative theology to (the very entertaining) South Park, there has been the idea of censorship.

We should certainly examine the merits of this assumption, to see if culture is possible without censorship, but I think we will have trouble finding any historical examples of such a culture. If censorship is inseparable from culture, and thus at the limits of what can be said in a culture, is it that radical of a move to claim that censorship defines culture? If we look at censorship as the limits of a culture, is censorship the condition of possibility for culture to begin with? Is a culture of censorship compatible with a culture of democracy, or the first amendment? Perhaps culture is constituted by more elements than communication and expression, but this is a possibility that I think should be examined nonetheless.
Some other, perhaps less problematic questions that can be addressed include: Who are those that traditionally hold the capability of censorship within a given culture, and what are some possible motivations that they could have in the use of censorship? What have been some consequences of those who have been historically censored? What are some of the traditional methodologies of censorship, and are there any particular case studies of large silences within history that are worth examining?

So far, most of this topic has been about censorship as a form of cultural and social suppression. Freud examines a form of repressive censorship where the value systems derived from the conscious subject repress hidden desires of the unconscious subject, and the tension between these two forces results in the distorted and fragmented expression of the unconscious, which are dreams. Would it be possible to implement this model of distortion to understand how some people participate in their culture in ways that could be objectively understood as irrational and destructive, and are their any historical examples that might fit this schema?

Edit: I thought it prudent in light of one of my recent readings that we open the possibility of engaging Herman and Chomsky’s criticism of the media in the 80’s with the propaganda model. Herman and Chomsky claim that the media has a vested interest in propagating the status quo, primarily due to the large financial investment required to begin a corporation, corporate investment of advertisement as a primary income source, and close ties with the government. As a result, the news is configured in such a way that only certain stories receive benefits of exposure due to repetition on a large scale. I’ll end on a quote so that it’s apparent how this better fits within the context of the topic:

“Most biased choices in the media arise from the preselection of right-thinking people, internalized preconceptions, and adaptation of the personnel to the constraints of ownership, organization, market, and political power. Censorship is largely self-censorship, by reports and commentators who adjust to the realities of source and media organizational requirements, and by people at higher levels within media organizations who are chosen to implement, and usually have internalized, the constraints imposed by proprietary and other market and governmental centers of power”

-Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky in Manufacturing Consent

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Tapping Philosophy: Dialectic Summary

Dialectic: Summary
• First we attempted to differentiate between the different varieties of dialectic, namely the ideally driven Hegelian dialectic, and the practically driven Marxist dialectic.

• Both philosophers, because they are using the dialectical method depend on notions of the absolute in order to ground their inquiry. Also, for both philosophers this absolute is self-consciousness, deriving from the project of German Idealism.
o However, we discussed how Hegel’s dialectical absolute was the self-consciousness of the divine being that creates the world so that it is able to be ultimately conscious of the world as a part of itself.
o Marx’s dialectic is different due to its basis in the material practice of human beings. As a result, the absolute for Marx is the actualized self-consciousness of humanity as a socialized species being, in the practice of communism. Thus, Marxist dialectical materialism and praxis is rooted in humanism, as opposed to transcendental idealism.

• We briefly addressed the relationship between deconstruction and dialectic, only to say that there is a sort of binary opposition operative in both of these ways of thinking, and that while the dialectic leads to something, deconstruction works from a deferred instability, and ultimately fails on its own terms in its attempts to avoid binary thought.

• Finally we addressed the question of whether dialectical thought was still viable today. Certainly versions of dialectical thought were complete failures, such as Fukuyama’s interpretation of liberal democracy and capitalism as the end of history. Also the appropriation of dialectical thinking by the Stalinist regime could be considered a failure of a much more drastic variety. However, most people were in support of the notion that dialectical thinking could be used for progressive ends, although there were very few people in support of Hegelian abstract dialectic, even though it’s a useful object of study when engaging in thinking about thinking.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Tapping Philosophy: Dialectic

Hey everyone,

Tapping Philosophy will be on Thursday this week at its regular time at 8:00 at Yeats' Pub. Meet me in Connelly at 7:30 if you need a ride. This one's for you Dr. Prosch. I don't have any lengthy quotes this time.

Tapping Philosophy: The Dialectic

Dialectical thinking is often characterized as a movement from a logical hypothesis, to its contradictory counterpart, to a synthesized principle (thesis, antithesis, synthesis). Dialectical thinking has been around since ancient Greece, and is implemented by thinkers including Hegel, Marx, and Nagarjuna. My concern is with the dialectic's more (relatively) contemporary manifestations, although other crusty old thinkers are certainly open for discussion.

What has been the historical impact of the practice of dialectical thinking? What do Hegel's dialectic and Marx's dialectic share, and where do they differ? Is there a space in the historical determinism of dialectical thinking for the subject as constituted by free will? Is it possible to have dialectical thinking without creating a philosophical system, or is the gesture of dialectic always a constructivist gesture?

We could also examine the relationship between dialectic and deconstruction. Dialectic seems to proceed towards a notion of the absolute, in a process of actualization, while deconstruction proceeds by opening up new possibilities of understanding a given text in terms of an implied text, which is the condition of possibility for all text. What separates this notion of the implied text from a philosophical absolute? Is deconstruction simply an anti-teleological way of thinking dialectically and is such an understanding of dialectical thinking even intelligible?

The question of the dialectic's intelligibility in general could also be an investigative concern. Do the basic premises of the dialectic simply flout the law of non- contradiction? Is the Hegelian synthesis ultimately going to provide us with claims that are true in the sense of being verifiable? Can an idealistically synthetic claim serve as that which grounds the sciences? Is Hegelian dialectic simply "reason gone mad" in search of an unconditioned principle, as Kant might say?

So is dialectical thinking still useful or relevant today, if we assume its intelligibility? Many of those critical of narratives that posit an unconditioned philosophical absolute might give an emphatic "no," claiming that history has no underlying theme or spirit, and abandon the dialectic as modernist garbage. Are there ways of thinking dialectically that avoid the dangers of thinking absolutely, or is the dialectic a lost cause?

I look forward to seeing everyone there.

Love and Peace,
Francis Prior
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