Sep 042014

A short but fruitful conversation between Robert Paul Wolff and I begin when he posted comments about a New York Times review of a new book on the historical Eichmann. The new book is Eichmann Before Jerusalem: The Unexamined Life of a Mass Murderer by Bettina Stangneth, and neither of us have read it. But our dialogue about this book we haven’t read was fruitful because it highlighted some of the problems with the Arendt-Eichmann debate that are insufficiently discussed.

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Jul 162014

Luciano Floridi tries to make an analogy between computer systems and philosophy, calling for a “reboot” in philosophy, while promoting his new book here (linked to from here). He says:

Philosophy is a bit like a computer with a memory leak. It starts well, dealing with significant and serious issues that matter to anyone. Yet, in time, its very success slows it down. Philosophy begins to care more about philosophers’ questions than philosophical ones, consuming increasing amount of intellectual attention. Scholasticism is the ultimate freezing of the system, the equivalent of Windows’ “blue screen of death”; so many resources are devoted to internal issues that no external input can be processed anymore, and the system stops. The world may be undergoing a revolution, but the philosophical discourse remains detached and utterly oblivious. Time to reboot the system.

Echoing the always popular sentiment that philosophy is “detached” from something important (politics, history, life, etc.), and riding the wave of cultural optimism about information technology, this analogy sounds smart and relevant. Just what philosophy may need–except if you have any knowledge of actual computer systems, Floridi’s analogy falls flat.

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Apr 252014

Reading this article on “The White Tourist’s Burden”, I couldn’t help but think of Žižek. Or rather, I thought of Hegel, and Žižek was the occasion. What is it that strikes us as not quite right about the idea of voluntourism? Why is it that the fact that there are other things going on (a vacation, for example) along with volunteering takes away from the altruistic act? And why does it matter? Isn’t the school built or the relief aid given the same whether or not the volunteer is acting as part of a tourism package?

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Mar 092014

The question is one of framing, en-framing, positioning, placement, and coercion of life and discussion. It is raised at the intersection of human freedom and technology, of justice and war, and of thought and action. It spills over from the halls of academic philosophy and into the mainstream of public concern and news media headlines. The question is: Is Heidegger’s philosophy connected to his support for the Nazi regime? Is he a Nazi philosopher? Is his philosophy fascist?

With the release of Heidegger’s notebooks from the 30’s and 40’s, this is the question that everyone expects to be answered. But the question, innocent as it sounds, already forges a path toward certain possibilities of answering. We do not ask this question disinterestedly but with focused interest in the answer, because we suspect, even fear, that our own projects depend on it. What I am talking about here is the attempt to pathologize the philosopher for fear of infection–something I discuss in Philosophy and Ethical Life. Such a desire to coax the texts, the notebooks, and the life into offering up an answer, and not just any answer but our answer, is a kind of framing of the conversation, and of all the people involved, beginning with the very formulation of the question. This should be obvious to everyone, especially philosophers!

Surely if we are going to frame a person for their philosophy, or rather, frame a philosophy for the person, the minimal requirements of justice prescribe that we give the philosophy under suspicion a chance to respond to the charges. The objection will be that Heidegger was already given a chance to respond and he remained silent, and this silence now convicts him. Let me clarify that we are not here concerned with a defense of Heidegger any more than his conviction. The court has already ruled, and we are here in the aftermath, looking for the best way to move forward. It is now to the philosophy and the texts which are being implicated in the crimes, we ask: what of this framing? As we know, Heidegger talks often about framing, most explicitly in the 1953 lecture The Question Concerning Technology. The word is Gestell, and we find it, in the intersection of forces mentioned above, translated as “enframing,” which suggests the meaning of ordinary objects like frames and bookshelves but also something more abstract like orientation and positioning. Indeed, as the essence of modern technology, Heidegger wants to bring to mind both the threat of the phenomenon of enframing and at the same time its familiarity as something essential.

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Philosophy and Ethical Life

 by on January 17, 2014
Jan 172014

Is Professional Philosophy Pseudo-Philosophy? This is how Eric Schliesser poses the perennial question of the crisis of philosophy in academia. (( As Schliesser hints, the question is really part of the two-fold larger issue of how philosophy progresses–in a society in which the standard for the relevance, even truth, of any discipline is ‘progress’–and what is the relationship between philosophy and its larger societal context. About the former, I’ve written a bit here. As for the latter, what is at stake, apparently, is the severance of philosophy from ethical life.

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