You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Philosophy’ category.

Obama is on the warpath about equality; this ultimately may be something like a mid-life crisis, as Barry O. tries to prove to his early supporters that he’s still “cool” after years of drone warfare — but it is at least leftoid, and worth considering a little bit. Verso had a book from Negri out a couple of years ago called Political Descartes, a hatchet job on “possessive individualism” as a result of the familiar externalist litanies. But what if there really was more to political equality than meets the philosophical eye?

“I have never understood the passion for equality”, said Peirce’s friend Oliver Wendell Holmes. Yet waves upon waves of metaphysical anti-individualism have done little to disturb the importance of droits de l’homme, even if Simon Blackburn takes it as ‘obvious’ that some people have the worth of others many times over. Perhaps pragmatism was a first inkling of something that appeared full-blown in Chomsky’s theoretical writings, the idea that the equality of abilities among human beings is, roughly, empirically verified by enlightened measures.

In a surprisingly comic line, Adorno doubted that running a trust was ultimately more complicated than reading a meter; and perhaps once the still-existing left gets over a Deleuzist fascination with flows and flesh and all that rhizomatic jazz the early-modern era will appear like something more than a time when “the rich were so mean” — the structures of capitalism yield political equality as a matter of something more than ‘onto-theology’, more than denatured Christianity, but rather as a corollary of modern praxis.

It’s been a while since I’ve been attending to the blog. In the meantime, I’ve seen that there are a number of much-needed translation projects that have come to fruition — things I had dreamed about translating myself. There is a “vernacular” translation of Heidegger’s Contributions to Philosophy and a more careful and accurate translation of Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception. But what I want to talk about is the initial volume of Luhmann’s Die Gesellschaft der Gesellschaft out in English. The title alone must have given people nightmares: “The Society of Society” says less in English than it does in German due to our diminished genitive, and following the format of the other “—- der Gesellschaft” translations and making it Society as a Social System would mangle the point of the book. So, instead we have Theory of Society, vol. 1, from one Rhodes Barrett.

Luhmann’s world stature as a sociologist has only continued to grow since his death in 1999, shortly after the publication of this 1200-page behemoth. But people who have dipped into Love as Passion or Observations on Modernity and fear a brain-melting stew of second-order cybernetics and Parsonsonian structural-functionalism can relax. Luhmann learned much since the hauteur of Social Systems, and the explication of the concept of society — the boundary our communications cannot transgress, since to adapt Derrida there is nothing outside society — is more genial and concrete. Especially valuable is Luhmann’s discussion of “symbolically generalized communications media”, otherwise known as ideology; his analyses of truth, money, love and power as structuring forces in our social interaction is far more “materialist” than the common run of Marxists. A must-have for the socially minded.

When it comes to philosophical logic, the University of Amsterdam and Stanford’s Johan van Benthem is the current ‘heavyweight champion’. His innovative approach to the mechanics of modal logic has been dazzling people since the 1980s: the most recent incarnation of his wisdom is a lecture course “Modal Logic for Open Minds“, which addresses Amsterdam topics like bisimulation in a friendly manner. Very cool.

It’s been a while since I posted anything, so I will put up some thoughts about Hegel that I have been kicking around. I recently re-read the Phenomenology of Spirit (the fifth or sixth time) and the role of Absolute Knowledge in relationship to Hegel’s ‘logical’ works seems clear to me, if counter-intuitive for the contemporary mind. Quine approvingly quotes the slogan “Ontology recapitulates philology” in Word and Object, and this is apt for considering the Hegelian doctrine that logical theory works in the metier of “absolute knowledge”. Brandom for one spends very little time talking about absolute knowledge, but the Hegel journeymen out there surely remember the sections where Hegel connects his metaphysical logic to absolute knowledge, and have wondered what this really meant.

I think what this means is that logic displays the tools the individual mind has for ‘taking over’ thought of the past and present. And, courtesy of the Phenomenology, there is a lot of ground to cover. I used to wonder what differentiated the material covered in the section on “Spirit” from that covered in “Reason”: and, for a couple of years, my answer has been (variously formulated) that the chapter on spirit introduces, in its meditations on the metaphysics of morals, the “Great Moral Fact”: the space opened up by a morality of intersubjective recognition includes all of humanity’s rational conduct, all the wonders of the ancient world and all the terrors of the modern world.

“Spirit” is the “Great Moral Fact” of the holistic importance of all literature for descrying moral prospects in the present. Whereas it remains controversial whether the Quine-Duhem thesis that ‘the unit of empirical significance is the whole of science’ really portrays scientific research correctly, Gadamer’s unpacking of Hegel’s account of Bildung should make us comfortable with Hegel’s gigantic span of world-history considered under the heading of Spirit, “The I that is a we and the we that is an I”. The roots of literature in the historical experience of peoples really offer the ultra-modernist no escape from an historical depth to complement and counter-act the spurting excitement of a collected present. (Dante and Jonathan Franzen are together on this track.)

Purifying the “natural” approach of religion to this whole of humanity’s doings, Hegel’s logic, in its ‘absolute’ character which merely reflects self into self, takes its myriad forms and topics addressed because the individual’s experience of the Great Moral Fact of world culture and literature necessarily takes the form of individual cogitations and velleities. In a Kantian spirit, Hegel’s logic “projects” world-history (which it cannot be innocent of) onto modernity (which it cannot escape). The secondary efforts at elucidating this connection, the “moral” or social sciences, require that this encounter between Man and Civilization be kept in mind more or less whole. (I do not think any of this ought to be too shocking to experienced Hegel hands, but it goes some of the way towards explaining seemingly baroque features of the Science of Logic).

Very interesting: the complete German text of Gottlob Frege’s Grundgesetze der Arithmetik (Basic Laws of Arithmetic) has been put online here. There have been some online projects to translate the entirety of these volumes into English for years, and this resource surely ought to help with that; however, for readers with some German the ability to nullify the paltry availability of the German text is tres cool. Take a look.

There is a fantastically interesting new leftist magazine, Jacobin. It shows the present to be quite different than us old duffers might think; the struggle for freedom and a decent living mightily animates younger people, and with top-notch contributors like Slavoj Zizek and Richard Seymour of Lenin’s Tomb the recent past is contextualized in a very interesting way. Check it out, at least online.

In my old age, I’ve become something of a naturalist about the mind. Now, even Hegel did not doubt the importance of the brain to mindedness, but “anti-naturalists” think that important facts about rational thought are elided by focusing on the neural apparatus. I used to think this for political reasons, but now the importance of Pavlovian research for the early Soviet Union has hit home; I do not doubt that it is the brain and the brain entirely that thinks, rather than an external armature of facts and norms.

There is really no doubt that a materialist theory of the mind can cope with all the rationally known truths cognized by the mind — and certainly if religious people have little difficulty with the importance of the brain, a certain modernist malaise about all we will be able to do in 70 to 90 years (less if you’re lucky?) must go. “Neurobabble” consists not of some kind of ‘junk’ science, as the anti-naturalist is prone to think, but an important re-weighting of modern discourses about the mind and personal responsibility; it of course works hand in glove with human values and goals to create a more ‘enlightened’ approach to thinking.

I would like to sketch just a brief picture of what an ‘enlightened materalism’ for the 2010s might look like. Jerry Fodor has been critical of scientific Darwinists who neglect “module-less” or general features of thought in their “massively modular” account of cognitive capacities; but I do not see why the suggestion of general features of mentation need upset the materialist. In fact, we might consider the best evidence for materialism as an insouciant attitude about thoughts more complex than can be handled by evolutionary mechanisms of cognitive control: that the brain can think them as a whole might well correspond to a catch-all philosophical category like “intentionality”.

What would this mean, tying the general face of object-directed thought to the neural apparatus as a whole? A “transcendental materialism”: in other words, a new impetus for the “examined life” which comes from realizing that certain products of reflection and meditation will never motivate us the way more primitive drives like hunger and sexual desire do; within the natural world, human thought is a closed but expanding loop that can never transcend its limitations to provide a “predatorily perfect world” absent the most complicated processes of human thought.

It can only meditate and ruminate more, not act outside the more tightly constraining bonds of sentiment. A unique feature, if you were looking for a “unique animal” —

The self is the model of a concept, Hegel said.

Oh yeah? Hegel said that?

Yes and no. Hegel’s model for a concept in this sense is the Kantian category, which he says is “both self and being”. That is to say, when reasoning categorially one is cognizing the world in a way that can easily become part of an apperceptive self. Concepts are the “selves” of objects, with “being-for-self”, insofar as they figure in a Kantian story about how the world is being open to rational cognition on the part of a human individual. Consciousness as we experience it can never leave the bounds of this kind of cognizability, nor does Hegel’s Seyn leave the ‘rational metrics’ of a subjective dialectic.

Frequently in the Phenomenology Hegel describes Für-sich-sein as equivalent to “being for us”, the rationally developed intellects. This is no monadological story about how everything has ‘wings’; rather, Hegel’s concepts show how close reason must stay to cognition for objects to ‘make sense’. Hegel’s own accounts of human action then build on this, where more complicated Sitten or “mores” have a ‘built-in’ grasp of the objective world. Perhaps Hegel’s system is “nothing but a new presentation of the Kantian” in this sense; the famous “contradiction in the object” is not really to be found in it.


Then you know you must leave the capitol
I laughed at the great God Pan
I didnae, I didnae
I laughed at the great god Pan
I didnae, I didnae, I didnae, I didnae
Then you know you must leave the capitol
Pan resides in welsh green masquerades
On welsh cat caravans
But the monty
Hides in curtains
Grey blackish cream
All the paintings you recall
All the side stepped cars
All the brutish laughs
From the flat and the wild dog downstairs

The Fall/Mark E. Smith, “Leave the Capitol” [!! – Ed.]

To descry a world —
And see what it might needs contain —
That is a task
Befitting all one’s days.

Philosophical Researches: New Times Roman [Norman Kemp Smith]

An Ovoid Esssence
[Not Exactly Something To Be]


Mr Norman Kemp Smith’s translation of Kant’s First Critique — *The
Critique of Pure Reason* — remains to this day the absolutely
trans-lation of Kant for the Anglosphere: Cambridge
changes just a little and Penguine latterly provided a Kant entire for
serious freaks of Imperial German *in nuce* but: dig this. Over a
period of roughly some decades — Mr Smith of Edinburgh and Mr
Wilson of Princeton University arrang-ed for this fine ‘Britishing’
of the futurist Kant to become available in a less ‘sleazy’ format than
had previously been provided by the capable hands of Müller and
Co. as an *entree* to serious labor on *Physik* social and other: said
simply — this is a *very fine* variant’e on a trad. “gold standard” of
rationality, Kant’s “idealism of material reality” (what you think,
and where it tends) which continues to be in print and is presumed
“ubiquitous” for the duration of people learning “old ways to be
young”. Perhaps they have improved its countenance some. I miss that
cosmic egg. Meanwhile, crackheads is talking. How Could That Be.


A Nixonism correct: