Philosophy Feed

End of Work?

In recent months I've seen a lot about the end of work, how automatization is reducing the need for jobs.  We already have fewer jobs than people and that problem is only going to get worse.  Of course people and governments have begun experimenting with what's next.  We had a really interesting three part series in First Forum at church on this topic.

Here is a provocative essay saying that the goal of full employment is wrong, as such a thing is not even possible anymore.  The essay invites us to consider the meaning of life once work has ceased, a radical change in our Western picture of the good life, dating back to Plato.

So this Great Recession of ours – don’t kid yourself, it ain’t over – is a moral crisis as well as an economic catastrophe. You might even say it’s a spiritual impasse, because it makes us ask what social scaffolding other than work will permit the construction of character – or whether character itself is something we must aspire to. But that is why it’s also an intellectual opportunity: it forces us to imagine a world in which the job no longer builds our character, determines our incomes or dominates our daily lives.

Two accounts of the self

Is there a way of reconciling these two accounts of the self – the relational, world-embracing version, and the autonomous, inward one? 

Asks this brief essay on Aeon. 

The 20th-century Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin believed that the answer lay in dialogue. We need others in order to evaluate our own existence and construct a coherent self-image. Think of that luminous moment when a poet captures something you’d felt but had never articulated; or when you’d struggled to summarise your thoughts, but they crystallised in conversation with a friend. Bakhtin believed that it was only through an encounter with another person that you could come to appreciate your own unique perspective and see yourself as a whole entity. By ‘looking through the screen of the other’s soul,’ he wrote, ‘I vivify my exterior.’ Selfhood and knowledge are evolving and dynamic; the self is never finished – it is an open book.

Non-narrative self?

I have focused so much of my ministry and thought around the idea of narrative as essential to who we are.  Here is a philosopher arguing the opposite.

But many of us aren’t Narrative in this sense. We’re naturally – deeply – non-Narrative. We’re anti-Narrative by fundamental constitution. It’s not just that the deliverances of memory are, for us, hopelessly piecemeal and disordered, even when we’re trying to remember a temporally extended sequence of events. The point is more general. It concerns all parts of life, life’s ‘great shambles’, in the American novelist Henry James’s expression. This seems a much better characterisation of the large-scale structure of human existence as we find it. Life simply never assumes a story-like shape for us. And neither, from a moral point of view, should it.

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."