Notes on a New World Order

Would you like fries with your Universe?

AL&P: JJ Stuhr Chapters 1 & 2
2007-04-02 00:00

I’m playing a bit of catch-up here, as I was supposed to have written about John Stuhr’s introduction and first chapter of Pragmatism, Postmodernism, and the Future of Philosophy some time ago, and now should be writing on chapter two. My initial reactions to Stuhr’s ruminations on “liberalism” and “liberal democracy” put me off to his theories; it seems to me his project is to somehow justify outmoded political models, or at best to capitalize on positive associations with liberalism and democracy. He calls upon Dewey and Foucault, in turn, to attempt to reject static historical education, which ironically must be cited as an historical view. Stuhr seems to not even acknowledge that his attempt to remake liberalism is nothing short of exploiting the positive association between liberalism and political theory for many philosophers. His resulting proposal seems to resemble liberalism little, though there is little proposal to be had thus far (two chapters in). In chapter two, “The Defects of Liberalism: The Lasting Effects of Negative Pragmatism” Stuhr invokes an obscure philosopher named Hocking. He seems to spend most of the space he could have used to provide an in depth analysis of Hocking’s work to convince us that Hocking is obscure and was, in fact, a legitimate philosopher. It seems an unfair characterization of Hocking was done, specifically because there would be so few philosophers who would be attached to the ideas he presented. As Stuhr accused Hocking of making a caricature of pragmatism, so (it seems) Stuhr made a caricature of Hocking. Hocking’s arguments against liberalism are the only facet of his philosophy worth much, according to Stuhr. I am incline to agree, as it seems even Hocking, an idealist philosopher reacting against the philosophical fashion of pragmatism, could not reject the belief that rational behaviour and thought were the only legitimate kind. This is something that is at the core of almost all philosophy published today, to the extent that no one seems to dare say that irrational things can even happen in any real way. In my mind, rational thought to the exclusion of all else is a prejudice, not a virtue. If Hocking had accepted that simple idea into his philosophy, the arguments against pragmatism might have been seen as valid, though conditional on the existence of irrational things. (Irrational behaviour would include things like, as least tentatively, the Prisoner’s Dilemma.) I’m very sympathetic to Hocking’s notions (in a similar, but, I feel, different way) in as much as it seems that liberalism is a failed endeavor as it stands. Stuhr attempts to somehow bypass this failure by calling what he proposes “postliberalism,” but having never achieved liberalism as he defines it (just as Communism was never actualized as defined by Marx) I don’t see how we can push through to any postliberal ideal; it seems Stuhr is simply redefining liberalism, coining a new term, and attempting to push the agenda it produces as progress, when it is simply (another) attempt to enact a very old idea. (Again, the irony of enacting old ideas to serve the purpose of creating a past-independent future must be noted) As for the criticisms of liberalism Hocking provides, none are truly dire unless one assumes fixed values, or that universal values are the proper expression of a liberal democracy, so, while criticisms in the dialectical sense, their solution is in the practical: allowing plural values negates such problems.

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AL&P: The Art of The Beast
2007-03-29 00:00

I will admit, this post is coming out of order of the assignment of the readings. The reason why is, even after attending (and even participating!) in the discussion of the first bit of John J. Stuhr’s book Pragmatism, Postmodernism, and the Future of Philosophy wihout reading it. <gasp> I didn’t get the book until after the class was over. Ordering books online has its price. In any case, I’m going to talk a bit about Henry James The Art of Fiction and The Beast in the Jungle, probably with more after the discussion in class. First, in reaction of James essay on the “Art of Fiction,” I find myself drawn to like the work, but to not have found much edifying about it. James style is so fluid and he has such rich diction that I find myself carried off in the litany of the work, without thinking too hard on the content…which contrasts interestingly with his premise that one cannot separate the ’story’ from the ‘non-story’ in a novel. To an extent this is true, there can be no novel without story, the very definition of a novel seems to preclude it; though, as in most art, the forms are somewhat fluid in scope. Perhaps more tellingly, James dialetical fluency, and his apparent humility to Mr. Besant, throughout the piece seem to ring of a story (albeit with a single character and a fairly mundane plot) despite the guise of an essay. One could perhaps argue, as James himself alludes to, that this “Art of Fiction” extends to a certain “Art of Art,” or to appropriate a more appropriate phrase, the “Craft of Art.” It seems to me James is simultaneously chastising Mr. Besant for his lack of vision and praising his vision on the subject of the “modern English novel.” James both adores Besant’s premise and trivializes his particulars: “Mr. Besant has set an excellent example in saying what he thinks, for his part, about the way in which fiction should be written, …” p.3888 “I should find it difficult to dissent from any of of [Mr. Besant’s] recommendations. At the same time, I should find it difficult positively to assent to them, …” p.396 Though, in as much as James agrees with Besant, story is the key facet around which the novel hangs; I would ask, how far does story go? I cannot but wonder if story is, in some more postmodern sense (which I am almost sure James did not intend), story comes as one of the general laws of the novel, to be learned by writers as a part of the Craft, not an expression of their mastery of it. “There are only two kinds of stories: ‘A man went on a jouney’ and ‘A stranger came to town.’” Perhaps I’ll get some more insight after the discussion. Moving on the the most literary piece we’ve yet read in our Literature and Philosophy class, The Beast in the Jungle. Again, I have to say the diction and style swept me into the piece more than I would have expected at the outset, but perhaps my thinking is somewhat aligned with the Cicero-like length of James intimations. (As evidenced herein somewhat.) James can’t say a lot with a little, it seems, but he certainly says a great deal, with much aesthetic as well as ‘deeper’ merit. In all, the story, while interesting, stuck me as bland, but the execution left me intrigued at the front, engrossed through the middle, and at an agony of anticlimax at the finale, but what an agony! I found myself detaching from the story, stepping back, as I feel James guides the reader to do (perhaps to lessen the anti-cathartic denumount); the ending left me unsatisfied, though precisely unsatisfied in the way the protagonist was (although, graciously, less intensely). To step back, still further, from the content of the piece (if only for a moment), I feel it is important to note its length; it is not quite a novella, nor is it by any means a ’short’ story, it is (to use an expression that seems to suit it) a “long story.” In something of this length, I feel it becomes difficult for the author to find enough to say (though, with James it seems this would never be the case) or, if the scope is large, that the author must not say nearly enough, and the emotional impact is diluted or undeveloped, leading to, as James seems fond of calling things, a “stale” work. It takes a certain craft to condense a story so compactly as a short story (or even a short short story) must be, but it also takes craft (perhaps more) to expand (legitimately) a story to the length of a “long story,” craft which I think James, in both The Art of Fiction and The Beast in the Jungle exemplifies, demonstrates, and explains (if only in part).

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2007-03-29 00:00

Why does getting a job have to so ingrained into our culture? I know I picked RIT, of all places, to get a degree (or attempt to) from, but it seems like I should be able to eschew the traditional ‘job’ for an equally eduationally useful (and practical) experience. Maybe I just need to actually talk to someone who can help me, rather than rant to people who don’t care. (Like you. Sorry, I know you don’t.)

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AL&P: William James
2007-03-27 00:00

In response to Philosophy and it’s Critics and What Pragmatism Means by William James: James basically tackles (the dubiously useful) task of defending the word “philosophy” from critics with a narrow modern concept of it, then (in What Pragmatism Means) outlines what he considers a useful and…well, practical, philosophical method: Pragmatism. Rather than entirely rehash what I presented in class for discussion (as I was one of the student facilitators), I will simply provide a link to the handout I made for discussion, and proceed from there. Much of the class discussion focused on the apparent dichotomy between modern science and modern philosophy, which was not present in the past. This dichotomy seems justified only in that the quantity of knowledge extant exceeds any single individual’s capacity to posses that knowledge. This requires a certain specificity of focus among individuals pursuing these studies (philosophical and scientific) in order to not, in some sense, waste intellectual capacity. As such, philosophy, having pushed beyond the ken of any single individual, allowed the analytic disciplines to separate themselves from the body of philosophy (to an extent); this is what we now call “science.” As the analytic disciplines provide simple and elegant solutions (also practical, see below) to many problems, much of science is, in a sense, solved. What remains are only edge cases, minutiae, and detail too obscure to provide practical results. James posits this provides a false sense of progress in science and not in philosophy, as today the disciplines are often separated. What James would instead state is that philosophy has made those advances, and continues to do so. What, in my mind, directly follows from this argument is that the analytic branches of philosophy (science, mathematics, logic) must be reconciled with the rest (metaphysics and theology, according to James) in order to solve new problems. James still seems to have the characteristic optimism that problems can eventually be solved through rational means, but I hold no such belief. There can be, and I would say there are, problems where rational inquiry (through scientific and analytic reasoning) will fail to provide even an acceptable model. To an extent, this is realized by Pragmatism; by tossing aside everything which cannot make real difference Pragmatism throws aside everything which can not be observed. (Perhaps one could argue that belief in the Absolute can not be observed, but under a pragmatic definition of belief, I would posit it must be observable.) Thus, it seems Pragmatism provides a certain kind of answer to some problems in philosophy, or rather, provides a method by which an answer may be obtained without appealing to irrational things. This starts to bridge the gap between metaphysics and science, but it cannot solve problems that are unable to be put into practical terms. I would suggest these problems are also important and deserve our philosophical attention.

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2007-03-26 00:00

I don’t know why, but I really don’t feel like doing anything, even stuff that I want to do. Is that bad?

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AL&P: Further thoughts on Leaves of Grass
2007-03-21 00:00

After listening to, and participating in the class discussion yesterday (Tuesday, 20 March 2007), I feel I have a better grasp of the philosophical issues exposed by Whitman’s work, though I’m afraid I have no greater understanding of Whitman’s art. The student facilitator for this class (I apologize that I do not remember the name) started by asking the question, in relation to the poem “Song of Myself” of “What is the grass?” The question itself wasn’t definitively answered in either Whitman’s work or our class discussion, and aside from sparking some side conversations on the nature of grass as a metaphor or symbol of basic human-scale vitality, sparked the question of the difference between philosophy and literature, if it exists. The question of literature and philosophy, and their relationship, is a tangled one, not the least in part because philosophy is written in the same language as literature. In my opinion, philosophy looks upon mystery and wonder to solve them, to explain them, or otherwise make our mystery disappear into an appreciation of the aesthetic appeal of understanding; whereas, literature takes those same mysteries and wonders and embraces their aesthetic wholly, without qualification. Literature lets the unknowable be as pleasing as the knowable and understandable. Philosophy frustrates in the face of incapability. In some sense, if philosophy is restricted to mostly Western traditions, philosophy limits itself to the rational, and literature celebrates the confluence of the rational and irrational, the spiritual and the material. Following this discussion, the question was posed, with regard to Whitman’s idea of the open road (in “Song of the Open Road”), if we have culturally deserted the directly experiential in favour of mediated reality. This is particularly evident with regard to Internet communications (of which this very blog is a part) as, in some sense, the mediated experience of the Internet removes direct experience from the communication. As many of us in the class are rather attached to the idea of the Internet as a good thing, we attempted to grapple with Whitman’s notion and our own notion of the Internet. Whitman seems to propose the lack of control, the unexpectedness, and the equality of travel on the open road as the keys to the proper experience. The question then becomes, can we find the analogues of those forces in mediated reality, and what qualitative changes to they produce? Points were raised regarding the richness of a mediated experience, through something like instant-messaging or email; the communication is text-only, so many non-verbal cues are lost, such as tone and body language, but there are certain other stylistic cues that come into play in text-only communication, particularly instant-messaging which has a plethora of conventions that exist nowhere else to communicate, in part, what is lost from the non-verbal cues. The other important qualitative distinction is one of capability, with instant-messaging, sending links to web resources and images is easy, as is talking about highly technical or textual things (such as programming, mathematics, or scientific theories). The tools used to effect such communication can vary in quality and efficacy, and one of the more overlooked `features’ of this sort of communication is the capability to record it for later reference or reflection, which is usually disruptive or over-complicated in other media. One point to also consider is that mediated communication is usually much more intentional than unmediated, especially when non-verbal cues are removed and replaced by intentional symbols. The question then becomes, are the unconscious cues somehow better? I personally don’t think we can make a value judgement quite yet, thought I can certainly say from experience that the difference in extra-lingual cues leads to an entirely different communication experience, particularly with regard to play with the intentioned symbols that stand in for non-verbals. In closing, Whitman’s attempt to invoke the open road as a great personal force seems based simply on the fact that travel will always require traversing the intervening space (barring some great disaster in physics, at the least), and is, to an extent, and equalizer, even with our great technological capacity to mitigate the effects of distance.

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AL&P: Selections from Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
2007-03-20 00:00

Whatever aesthetic Whitman aimed for, he missed, in my opinion. These poems are long, barely cogent strings of poem-like imagery, albeit individualistic. They certainly don’t qualify as “songs” of any kind. The classical song/poems, (where the word was the same in Greek/Latin) at least had a recognizable metre. Whitman barely manages a cadence; he is no Homer, nor Virgil. (Though, having read Homer only in translation, I cannot attest to his metrical brilliance.) I find myself far too distracted by the form and ‘bumpiness’ of Whitman’s writing (I daresay, it’s not really poetry in the traditional sense) to even attempt to think his content through. Perhaps class discussion will help, but I am pessimistic to his ability to speak to a modern audience as effectively as to the audience of his day.To be continued…

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AL&P: Emerson's The American Scholar and Nature
2007-03-18 00:00

From Emerson’s The American Scholar:But colleges only highly serve us… when they gather from far every ray of various genius, and, … set the hearts of their youth on flame.This feels to me to be as true today as it must have been then. There is much education, in the sense that students are taught things, but there is little in the way of passion behind that knowledge. There is no flaming desire to learn, and having learned, create knowledge anew. We see in every age the seeking of safety by way of imitating the past, but we must also inspire those bold enough to wade into the future. Without them, we will soon have no past to imitate. Those, in Emerson’s mind, are the scholars.Emerson lays out, in broad sweeping strokes, the picture of the scholar. His examples are American, but the virtues hold across all traditions. It seems Emerson’s hoped for effect would be to inspire the American Scholar to be both a scholar in the traditional way, and more; the American Scholar would be a uniquely American ‘Rennaisanse Man.’ Capable in action, study, duty, and clarity of thought.Emerson’s Nature, by contrast, is a flowing florid appeal to experience, of both Nature as commonly definte, and Nature as that which is not self. Nature appeals to the individualistic spirit of the explorer, “Why Should we not also enjoy an original relation to the universe?” This individualism is also echoed in the opening of The American Scholar where Emerson equates knowing oneself to the study of Nature. Much of Nature focuses on the aesthetics of Nature, how one experiences it, how it changes oneself, and the human experience.

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AL&P: Something New
2007-03-13 00:00

Just a heads up to any readers of my blog, I’ll be posting a bunch of stuff for a class (where I can turn in the weekly-ish Journal-type writing assignments online in blog form if I so choose, and I do) here, though it’ll only be in this category, and will have post titles with AL&P in them, so if you read through RSS or something else, feel free to filter them, though there will be all sorts of stuff happening there, just because I’m required to write it.

Yes, this means there will be at least weekly entries on something. Scary, huh?

Also, welcome to my Professors! If you see this post, you’re in the right place.

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Financial Health: Not in Crisis Doesn't Mean You'r...
2007-02-27 00:00

So I was handed $50 dollars today.  This has got me into a lot of serious thinking, which, even considering that it is something like 20% of my current liquid assets, usually wouldn’t happen.  Not that I’m careless with money, but I always say “I don’t have any income,” so I can’t do any of the smart financial things to do with savings.  And since I don’t have any debt (lucky me), there’s not really any rush, as my situation isn’t degrading with time (although, if you think about it long enough, you’ll realize compound interest works both ways). I read Steve Pavlina’s “10 Reasons You Should Never Get a Job”some time ago (I’m not sure exactly when) and definitely agreed witheverything he said.  For a long time I’d been trying to figure out whatwould be my ideal job.  Nothing ever seemed to fit, so seeing not onlya way I could get by without one, but seeing an example of it reallyinspired me to focus on being successful on my own terms (job orotherwise).  So I’ve been a bit of a liar in that I do get income, in bits and pieces for random things, but I do end up with money from time to time.  That’s not the point I’m really trying to make (though I’ll say more about this in a bit.); however, the point is I really should have recognized this income a long time ago. It doesn’t come from a regular job, it’s not much, it’s irregular, but I don’t even know how much it has added up to, or what kind of investment I could have had if I’d done something more useful with it, or what terms I could have dictated in my life if I’d paid attention.That’s really the shame in all of it, as one of my friends has recently become really financially aware, started a blog, and got mentioned in the New York Times (front page even).  She’s been pushing everyone she knows to be financially aware, and I’ve been fairly content in my non-emergency situation and my lack of much to manage or have awareness.  That’s really the lie, that I’m doing alright just because I’m not in a financial crisis; everything but dead isn’t very good and shouldn’t be the goal, in finance or anything else.So, in honor of my link love for her, and inspired by her post about what to do if someone gave her X dollars right now, I’m going to figure out something financially smart (like opening a good account somewhere, or investing account, or whatever turns out to be the most useful) and do that.  I’m not going anywhere financially right now, but I’d like to be; this is the way to start.  I’ll keep all of you reader(s) up to date with what I do with it, and the rest of my somewhat stagnant assets.Go start something yourself.  Health isn’t just not being dead.

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