Philosophy Feed

A new Utopianism?

An interesting essay on why utopias have failed and yet why they might be necessary.  Can we craft a new utopianism?

There are reasons, however, to think that a fully modern society cannot do without a utopian consciousness. To be modern is to be oriented toward the future. It is to be open to change even radical change, when called for. With its willingness to ride roughshod over all established certainties and ways of life, classical utopianism was too grandiose, too rationalist and ultimately too cold. We need the ability to look beyond the present. But we also need More’s insistence on playfulness. Once utopias are embodied in ideologies, they become dangerous and even deadly. So why not think of them as thought experiments? They point us in a certain direction. They may even provide some kind of purpose to our strivings as citizens and political beings.


Chomsky on Philosophy's responsibility in the Age of Trump

Of course, ridicule is not enough. It’s necessary to address the concerns and beliefs of those who are taken in by the fraud, or who don’t recognize the nature and significance of the issues for other reasons. If by philosophy we mean reasoned and thoughtful analysis, then it can address the moment, though not by confronting the “alternative facts” but by analyzing and clarifying what is at stake, whatever the issue is. Beyond that, what is needed is action: urgent and dedicated, in the many ways that are open to us.

Read more of Professor Chomsky's discussion.

I needed this just now:

G.Y.: There are times when the sheer magnitude of human suffering feels unbearable. As someone who speaks to so much suffering in the world, how do you bear witness to this and yet maintain the strength to go on?

N.C.: Witnessing it is enough to provide the motivation to go on. And nothing is more inspiring to see how poor and suffering people, living under conditions incomparably worse than we endure, continue quietly and unpretentiously with courageous and committed struggle for justice and dignity.


Freud the philosopher of mind

A very good essay defending Freud's importance in the history of the philosophy of mind.  I was drawn to this paragraph:

Freud’s critique of dispositionalism began with the observation that our mental life is not a smoothly flowing stream of consciousness. It is an interrupted stream that runs through tunnels and under bridges, disappearing on one side and reappearing on the other. ‘The data of consciousness,’ Freud wrote in ‘The Unconscious’ (1915), ‘have a very large number of gaps in them … Our most personal daily experience acquaints us with ideas that come into our head, we know not from where, and with intellectual conclusions arrived at, we do not know how.’

William James and Sigmund Freud met once and went for a walk alone.  Neither man ever recorded the content of their conversation, sadly.


Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness

Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of ConsciousnessOther Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness by Peter Godfrey-Smith
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I did not enjoy this book as much as I had anticipated. It does lend support to the view of the mind I already hold. I think it was too analytical and not poetic enough. I had expected more of the latter I guess.

View all my reviews

Religious Tolerance

A fascinating analysis of religious tolerance in a liberal, pluralistic society.  The author distinguishes between ideological and non-ideological identities and the different ways tolerance interacts with each.

Non-ideological identities include race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.  Tolerance here is a matter of acceptance of diversity.  It is wrong to criticize a person for these identities.  That is bigotry.

Ideological identities include political and religious.  Tolerance here actually involved criticism and argument.  "We do not demean or degrade the standing or worth of fellow citizens when we reject or even ridicule their political or religious views and doctrines (although how and when we do this is always a matter of ethical judgment and good taste)."


Sandel on the Resistance

Disentangling the intolerant aspects of populist protest from the legitimate grievances it conveys is no easy matter. But it is important to try. Understanding these grievances and creating a politics that can respond to them is the most pressing political challenge of our time.

Writes philosopher Michael Sandel in a recent essay where he analyzes the resistance to President Trump and the need for progressives to develop a new message.

His core claim is something similar to what I've been saying and what we've read from David Brooks, "the Trumpian moment highlights the need to rejuvenate democratic public discourse, to address the big questions people care about, including moral and cultural questions."


Rational Choice & Cold War Philosophy

With market fundamentalism dominating the US government, and with phantasms being paraded in the media under the sobriquet of ‘alternative facts’ that you can choose or reject, forgetfulness of the McCarthy era and the Cold War philosophy it spawned is no longer a rational option.

This fascinating essay on Aeon discusses the rise of rational choice theory in the context of the anti-communism of the early Cold War and how its theory about the freedom of choice came to dominate American philosophy.

I have never heard this history and was glad to read it, though it is deeply disturbing.  As a pragmatist I had long been troubled by the abandoning of America's philosophy in the post-War period as analytic philosophy was embraced.  Twenty years ago, had I entered full-time into the philosophy profession, I had considered researching and writing a book on this history and recovering our philosophical tradition.  I did not then realize, nor did I realize until today, the role that Cold War politics played.

Nor did I understand how this philosophical shift underlies some of the political problems we currently endure.


Moderation

A nice essay on the ethical and social importance of moderation.

Although our democratic institutions depend on political actors exercising common sense, self-restraint and moderation, we live in a world dominated by hyperbole and ideological intransigence in which moderates have become a sort of endangered species in dire need of protection. Can we do something about that to save them from extinction? To answer this question, we should take a new look at moderation, which Edmund Burke regarded as a difficult virtue, proper only to noble and courageous minds.

 


Neutrinos

One reason I reject reductivist materialism is because it seems to be an empirically bad description of physical reality. Physical reality (as Whitehead noted long ago) is more complex than the reductivists claim. As this view about neutrinos demonstrates.

 


Panpsychism

When I was writing my dissertation almost twenty years ago and defending a panexperientialist physicalism, I was considered to be on the wild fringes.  Now it seems that an even more radical idea, panpsychism, is en vogue, according to this post by Marcelo Gleiser.

Is this coherence an accident or the product of something deeper, perhaps some kind of proto-consciousness that permeates the universe and gives it purpose? This is the question many physicists, cognitive scientists and philosophers have been asking lately, leading to a sort of reawakening of panpsychism.