By Jon Cogburn
A fire broke out backstage in a theatre. The clown came out to warn the public; they thought it was a joke and applauded. He repeated it; the acclaim was even greater. I think that's just how the world will come to an end: to general applause from wits who believe it's a joke.
- S. Kierkegaard
- Institutional Virtue Ethics. Mark Silcox discusses four virtues manifest by people struggling within an academic bureaucracy:
- Υποκατάστασης (“substitutability”) – The capacity to piddle away hours of time filling out utterly useless surveys, sitting through non-desiderative meetings, or editing documents nobody will read, bolstered only by the thought that if you don’t do it, some other poor sucker will have to.
- Ετοιμότητα (“preparedness’) – A purely negative virtue: the inability to convince yourself that you can stand in front of a group 0f people and spew undiluted and highly contentful rhetorical brilliance without making notes beforehand, or at least giving a few moments’ thought in advance to the topic your audience expects you to address.
- Διαφάνεια (“transparency”) – Ability to resist the temptation to talk in managerial gibberish (about vital synergies, transformative experiences, proactive initiatives, etc.), even when semiliterate higher-ups are standing in the room waiting to be impressed.
- Προθυμία (“promptness”) – A professor of mine in grad school who had a habit of showing up for his own lectures half an hour late once informed a class he had thus tortured that “punctuality is the symptom of a slave mentality.” This one’s for you, bro.
- Randy Neumann - Louisiana 1927.
- Saturday Linkorama. We're going to make America so great again that. . .
- Remarks about Epistemic Modality, Part 4. Tristan Haze argues that in some modal contexts negation in some ways changes the implicatures concerning acceptable levels of defeasibility of evidence. [Might this be because we're more likely to negate claims involving universal quantifiers (or correctly analysed with those quantifiers, e.g. all possible worlds)? This is what led Popper astray I think.] Haze uses his thought to get into an interesting discussion of Dorthy Edgington's claims about two kinds of modality.
- rant about whatever's replaced New Criticism. Jon Cogburn exposes and excoriates the variety of interpretive vapidity characteristic of some new historicist critics. Fun , opinionated stuff about Jack Kerouac and the Eliots in there as well.
- A metaphysical reading of Aenesidemus’ 5th mode. Hilan Bensusan's first phil percs post! For the first time in my life I understood why Sholze used Aenesidemus as a pen name in his canonical criticism (taken up by Fichte and Schopenhauer) of transcendental idealism. The ancient Greek Aenisidimus not only helped raise analogous concerns about Greek skepticism, but also responded to them by suggesting that the skeptical arguments showed us something about reality (that it was Heraclitian). Ficthe, Schelling, Hegel, and Schopenhauer can be interpreted as making essentially the same move but with respect to Kant. We really are coming close to a canonical history of Speculative Realism. This is part of fidelity to the (Badiouan) event, the way the event exercises a backwards causation with respect to how the past must be interpreted such that it naturally leads up to it. The biggest moments in the history of philosophy always involve a guerrilla history leading up to them. Kant dividing his predecessors into rationalists and empiricists is probably the most significant such thing (at least according to the stories we tell where Kant leads up to what we're doing).
- When words are not called for. Duncan Richter reflects on responses and non-responses whenever yet another public gun murder in the United States dominates that afternoon's news cycle. But huge amounts of what people say either is or at least looks like this kind of recycling of ‘ideas’. When I took public transport to get to school it always seemed that I could tell what newspaper someone read by listening to the points that they repeated instead of actually thinking for themselves. Whole ‘conversations’ would consist of nothing but political cliches. I strongly suspect that I would be kidding myself if I thought that I was very different from the people who do this though. I don’t deny that real thinking or critical thinking or reflective thinking or whatever you want to call it is possible, but I doubt it’s the norm. A lot of what we say is more or less automatic, more or less thoughtless, more or less recycled. It’s more or less bullshit, except that real, Frankfurt-style bullshit is self-conscious. We aren’t all that different from Furbies (although we are different). Which is perhaps a good reason to say nothing in some cases.
- Charlie Patton - High Water Everywhere, Part 2. Jon Cogburn wanted to write a serious reflection on what happened in Baton Rouge and also all of the crap people said to him as he and his wife traveled to Minnesota the Christmas season after Katrina (e.g on the train, "who would build a city under sea water anyway?" Ha! Ha! and at a dinner party "well you got rid of all them blacks didn't you?") but didn't have the fortitude to do so. [A nice story at Vice explains why a little bit.] So I posted this song instead.
- The Consequential Argument Against Autonomous Weapons. J. Edward Hackett subjects a recent letter by techmology types to philosophical criticism. He reformulates their consequentialist concern and suggests that Kantian worries about human loss of agency constitute an independent reason to be wary of autonomous weapons. I wanted to write a longish comment about Iain Banks The Culture series of sci fi novels, but was so buried by first week of class stuff that I couldn't. In Banks novels humans do have radically less of certain kinds of agency, but things are far better from a consequentialist perspective. And, in certain ways, the great AI ships end up giving humans far more agency as they enable us to do so many things we could not do without them. Hegel's critique of merely negative notions of freedom/agency/autonomy is not far behind (google "Zizek health care" for an entertaining spiel about this).
- Ask Zhad Smith! Yoga Instructor to the StarsTM. Jon Cogburn refrained from posting something along the lines of his earlier satire of advice columns. The conceit of this one was that people ask normal advicey type questions that young academics might have (what to do about terrible older colleagues? should one attend a third tier graduate program? how to balance family and work? etc.) and the responses are just the kinds of things that Zhad Smith! Yoga Instructor to the StarsTM says to his clients during a yoga lesson. This involved several sanskrit names for asanas and baldly orientalist invocations of classica yoga texts. During the course of answers you see that Zhad is only able to get away with marketing himself this way because he has real power in Hollywood. The first two answers just namedrop big name actors but the final one is with an actual actor having a problem with a director. Zhad gets "Big Tony" on the phone and things are going to be straightened out. I didn't post it because: (1) it wasn't really very funny, (2) the bar for not being derivative was just too high since the Onion did exactly the same thing (my earlier post was different because the letter has a funny reveal about the letter writer's colleagues and the answer was kind of relevant, albeit obnoxious), (3) I worried that someone thought I might be trying to satirize daily nous' ought experiment, which I like very much.
- The amazing Belgian free preschool and other things you only realize are awesome when you’ve lived in more than one country. Helen De Cruz muses about the virtues of the different countries she's lived in.
- Belgium - Preschools
- The UK - National Health Service
- The Netherlands - Bicycling paths
- Counting Lives. Duncan Richter amends John M. Taurek's Amscombian anti-utilitarian view that we should not go quantititative when morally deliberating into the position that it's not the case that we must do so. And a related meditation near at the end of intrinsic interest: But there might be another place [why people find mightTaurek's view desirable] too. The number of lives does not matter if each one has infinite value, as some religious people believe. Saving a few does infinite good, saving many does infinite good too. So it’s a wash. (I still think that tossing a coin would insult this value horribly, but I think I see where the idea of arbitrariness here comes from.) This idea of infinite value, though fairly common (I think), is what you might call mystical though. It’s not hard to see why people object to it. And this is the kind of consideration that I think led Wittgenstein to connect ethics with nonsense. What he thinks of as the ethical view is “objectively nuts”. But from the nut-free (roughly, the economic) perspective there is little reason to save anyone. This is related to, for example, the act utilitarian argument why you should not vote. Richter hopes to see these perspectives as talking past one another. It's an arresting idea that the Kantian and utilitarian are simply talking about different things.
- Understanding Kenosis and the Possibility of Christian Zen in Catholicism. J. Edward Hackett elucidates the central Christian concept of kenosis and ties it to historical contemplative traditions, suggesting an ecumenical reading of John 14.6 along the way. It's lovely reading.
- The Problem of Humidity: Life in Louisiana and the Realization that God is Dead. James Rocha demonstrates an important enthymeme in traditional apologetics. You know what’s fun on a hot summer day? Frolicking around in water! You know what should be even more fun on a hot summer day? Frolicking around in air that is naturally infused with water all around you! Woo-Hoo, it is humid! I love it when the air’s moisture combats the sun’s heat rays! It combines to make the most frolicy of all situations! Let’s go play in the humidity!
- Good Hair Hour Weekend #4: Good Hair Hour at the Sydney Fringe Festival. Jon Cogburn packs his bags and starts googling to discern whether or not Vegemite is gluten free.