Tagged: philosophy

Cours de philosophie 2

Après une introduction assez substantielle (Cours de philo), un cours de mise en jambe avant du plus lourd.

Ce cours, tiré de mon activité de blogueur, est composé de quelques réactions qui furent les miennes à la lecture de textes philosophiques de deux autres blogueurs.

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Tout d’abord, une réponse à un blog qui n’a pas daigné ou osé publier cette réponse et dont j’oublie le nom, réponse à une présentation de la pensée du philosophe Hans Vaihinger (1852-1933).

Je ne suis pas certain – et cela rend d’autant plus intriguant pour moi le fait que ses sources soient « principalement Kant et Schopenhauer » – que l’espèce d’utilité cognitive que dessine Vaihinger ait vraiment un sens. De prime abord, je crois retrouver des échos du « Tout est bon » qui caractérise l’anarchisme épistémologique de Feyerabend (c’est-à-dire que c’est la pensée de Feyerabend qui en serait l’écho, car plus tardive, bien que Feyerabend ne me paraisse pas citer Vaihinger dans son Contre la méthode).

Kant, de son côté, souligne certes l’utilité des sciences positives (empiriques), ce qui a néanmoins chez lui deux sens qu’il convient de distinguer.

Le premier, le plus connu, est que ce terme d’utilité vise à souligner a contrario les fruits d’une critique de la métaphysique dévoyée – toute la métaphysique traditionnelle –, en indiquant l’intérêt d’un usage empirique de la raison dans les sciences positives, à savoir que cet usage est utile.

Le second sens est que la science empirique est utile même si en soi la connaissance empirique est à jamais incomplète dans la synthèse continue des connaissances relatives à la nature. (À cet égard, l’expression de « connaissances cumulatives » est une feuille de vigne, une pudeur de l’entendement, car la réalité est simplement qu’il n’y a rien d’apodictique et donc rien d’autre qu’une roue de hamster intellective dans ce domaine de la pensée.) Kant ne valorise donc pas cet utile, et la remarque de Carnap selon laquelle Kant, penseur des sciences, n’a pas cherché grand-chose dans les sciences et la méthode scientifique elles-mêmes (à part une théorie des nébuleuses dont les savants lui font encore crédit), est très pertinente, plus même que Carnap ne s’en doutait.

L’utile, en dehors de domaines particuliers considérés, ne peut être défini que par le biologique et est donc en philosophie une notion complètement bogus. La science n’est même pas utile : les primitifs se reproduisent tout autant et même plus, donc leur état est caractérisé par une plus grande utilité que l’état civilisé. – Et la rhétorique kantienne de l’utilité de la science est palpablement un artifice, une ficelle dans le projet de Kant d’éloigner les esprits de l’étude de la métaphysique traditionnelle.

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Les autres textes qui suivent, en anglais, sont tirés d’échanges avec la blogueuse maylynno (Lien vers son blog), professeur de philosophie et poétesse libanaise (qui blogue en anglais). Les citations sans indications d’auteur sont de maylynno.

Perhaps it’s secondary to the content, the length and the style in philosophical writings is still a dilemma. What are the reasons behind this issue and is there a mold to respect?

From Alain’s extremely short and concise Propos to Kant’s ponderous yet not verbose in the least bit Critique of Pure Reason, all formats may indeed do in philosophy.

Yet there’s a domain where long-windedness seems to be the rule, and a detrimental (but inevitable?) one:

‘’Dijksterhuis and van Knippenberg (2000) demonstrated behavioral effects of activation of the stereotype of politicians. In pilot testing, they had established that politicians are associated with longwindedness. People generally think that politicians talk a lot without saying much. In an experiment, Dijksterhuis and van Knippenberg activated the stereotype of politicians with the use of a scrambled sentence procedure for half of their participants. Subsequently, participants were asked to write an essay in which they argued against the French nuclear testing program in the Pacific (this experiment was carried out in 1996). As expected, participants primed with politician-related stimuli wrote essays that were considerably longer than did control participants.’’ (Dijksterhuis, Chartrand & Aarts, in Social Psychology and the Unconscious, 2007, John A. Bargh ed.)

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Whether global warming needs urgent and immediate actions, it is high time we let go of the past in order to face the future. What past are we talking about? Traditions and religions.

Let’s call tradition your ‘’traditions and religions.’’ Your programmatic call has already been taken up: By science – the very hard science that is burning our planet Earth to ashes. Science has assumed a dogmatic guise wholly uncongenial to its very essence; scientism is in truth the hopeless and embittered realization that the relativity of empirical knowledge (in the continuous synthesis of empirism) cannot fulfill the metaphysical functions of tradition.

In Heideggerian terms, science is not even so much relativism as outright nihilism. In that view, tradition would have to be re-understood, which means two things. First, tradition must be re-understood over the nihilism of hard science that has colonized modern Man. Second, to re-understand tradition means to understand its dialectics, which is to say that the actual tradition of our traditional past and present is not tradition yet.

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One might consider that thoughts or « a thought » is not a philosophical object to begin with, but a sociological one, what German psychologist Karl Marbe called a ,,Fremdeinstellung,’’ or borrowed attitude/disposition (ingrained, customary or transitive, through suggestion, priming, education, hypnosis and what not): More often than not a thought we call ours (‘’My thought is…’’) is a replicate of a thought from amidst the group we live in. These are thoughts in the sociological sense; philosophy being, in this context, meta-cognition, the way one deals with one’s sociological thoughts – which, as Heidegger stressed, is bound to remain impractical in every sense of the word.

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That there be any individual benefits in reading philosophy is a moot point, and my conclusion is that this is why it should be made compulsory reading at one stage or other of one’s schooling.

The most obvious answer to the question about what the benefits of reading philosophy are, is, following Heidegger, that there are none for the individual: He or she will be no worse a cog in the machine if he or she completely lacks philosophical culture (or even, plain and simple, culture, as philosophy is part of culture). Yet when one gets acquainted with culture and philosophy, one needs it as one needs oxygen. There are no benefits but only one more need, and this is the need to be a human in the full sense of the word. Were it not compulsory during one’s education to read philosophy and work on these readings, in most cases one would not wish to get acquainted with it, precisely because the benefits of it are immaterial on the monetary market that we tend to see as “our future” in this life. Even when compulsory at some point, philosophy is discarded by many when the subject is no longer required for grades (and for getting in the marketplace). One underlying reason may be that, as the Hungarian economist Tibor Scitovsky once put it, “Culture is the occupation of the leisure class.” Where one’s vocation is to be a cog in the machine, philosophy has no place.

That the activity of thinking should make some people roll their eyes is no surprise, as it comes as no surprise either that sometimes feathers fly when a wealthy bank manager hears his son telling him he wants a degree in philosophy or in other “humanities.”

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‘‘I think philosophy should be marketed in order to be read/learned. Philosophers never really market themselves because they are above this and I agree with them. However the world today functions with marketing. While some silly stuff are followed by millions, I don’t see why we should not market philosophy and make it (look) accessible.’’

It happens already – philosophy is marketed – and I’ll tell you how this is done, from what I see. There is that wealthy banker or industrialist; his son had his own way and studied philosophy instead of the business of trading bonds and securities. This son of his, not too brilliant as a matter of fact, has got his degree in philosophy anyway. What is he going to do now? His daddy picks up the phone, calls the manager of the weekly newspaper that his bank or holding owns, and tells him or her: “I want a column for my son in your paper.” Aussitôt dit, aussitôt fait! A new “influencer” is born, an abortive mind of rabidly conservative tendencies.

People who ask what the point of studying philosophy is, deserve no reply, or the reply of one’s shoulders shrugging. Among the very few things I find good in my country is that philosophy is (well, not sure that I shouldn’t have to say ‘’was’’ in fact, this is something I must check) compulsory for all students at least a couple of years till the baccalauréat.

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Xennials

Thank you for introducing this new object, Xennials, to my noetic sphere.

Albeit I am no buyer generally speaking of such overgeneralizations, I tend to see a statement like “Xennials are described as having had an analog childhood and a digital adulthood” as relevant, being under deep influences from the side of Marshall and Eric McLuhan (media ecology). Yet, although I understand that a characteristic such as multitasking skills may be logically inferred from statements about technological environments, I fail to see the link with “ambition,” or the alleged “unbridled optimism” of Millenials, an optimism I do not observe (especially since dispositions acquired during childhood are always subject to adjustments to current situations and in many countries such dispositions are bound to be blasted by events such as skyrocketing levels of poverty).

As to the present technological environment, my own view is that today’s kids are growing up along a virtual reality at the stage of the ”uncanny valley” (Masahiro Mori), that is, too realistic to be taken as the pixelated fairy tale it used to be when I was a kid (bordering with Xennials on the older side) and yet not realistic enough to be interchangeable with non-virtual reality. This uncaniness of computer-generated imagery (CGI), Actroids, etc, may be warping their tender minds, perhaps creating in the long run a deep-seated hatred toward all things virtual, and a willingness, so to speak from the cradle, to develop Blade-Runner tests for the ultimate sparks of uncaniness in the insurpassable Androids of the future, while, on the other hand, all animal life will have disappeared in repeated mass fires, animal life in the mirror of which human minds find a neverending spring of emotional upheavals. When nature won’t be surrounding us anymore but we will be surrounding nature, owning it like a fish tank in a living room furniture, we will have lost, as Kant would say, our sense of the sublime, all generations alike from that time on to the end of times. Paradoxically, when there is no nature (natura naturata) any longer but a ‘’fish tank’’ zoo, Man is bound to lose all sight of his supernatural vocation.

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Aesthetics 1

Colors are the antidote to a modern world of greyness. This especially has been, after years of classicism militancy in the fine arts, what led me to modify my appreciation of contemporary art, namely its colourness as antidote (as well as its abstractness as antidote to perceptual overload).

As often, though, Kant’s philosophy serves as a mitigating factor here again, as he describes the value of fine arts as being in the drawing, colours being the lure (inferior). Quoth:

“En peinture, dans la sculpture, et d’une façon générale dans tous les arts plastiques … c’est le dessin qui est l’essentiel : en lui, ce n’est pas ce qui fait plaisir dans la sensation, mais seulement ce qui plaît par sa forme, qui est au principe de tout ce qui s’adresse au goût. Les couleurs, qui éclairent le dessin, font partie des attraits : elles peuvent certes rendre l’objet lui-même plus vivant pour la sensation, mais non pas beau et digne d’être contemplé.” (Critique de la faculté de juger)

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Aesthetics 2

I used to worship Beauty. I was young.

Now whenever she shows up I am hurt.

Beauty makes me feel sad for the life I’m living.

Beauty, what have I done to you that I can’t look at you in the eyes?

It is a betrayal of Beauty when one feels called to it and yet withholds the offering, as with time passing by one looks ever more deeply into the inescapable. Sometimes, then, when a grown-up man hears a song, a simple song from a simple heart, he is deeply shaken, as he remembers the days when a song was all he needed and yet he turned his back to the song, letting the song pass by that was the meaning of his life. What’s worth the song, he asks to himself. He looks around and comes to the conclusion: None of this. Beauty blinds him again. Always.

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All in all, I don’t think this Covid-19 pandemic will change anything in depth, that is, we will not stand corrected. We’ll find a vax and then conclude that quarantines aren’t needed anymore, even though vaccination campaigns won’t prevent relatively high rates of yearly deaths in case the coronavirus becomes recurrent like the flu. The flu is killing between 300.000 and 650.000 people every year (10.000 in a country like France where the vax is available for free); did governements impose quarantines each year, the death toll of the flu would be far less (say 200 in France), but the economy would stand still. So the choice is made (although no one were asked their opinion about it) to sacrifice human lives each year so the economy can go on. We’ll simply add the death toll of Covid-19 to the figure (in case it too becomes periodic) and will have business as usual.

People who will have experienced hunger and participated in food riots, like in Lebanon and South Italy, and in lootings in the US, certainly are not likely to forget these days soon. But – perhaps because, as some social scientists would argue, I have an alienated personality – I don’t think the future will be shaped by the people themselves, unless a revolution occurs, as business interests are always in the mood of keeping things like they are. Of course even business interests will have to make some adjustments, for instance in the way they brace for such so-called black swan events like Covid-19 in the future (black swan event theory is a brainchild of Lebanese-American economist Nassim Taleb), or in the short run to the hyperinflation that some see coming, and if things go awry, then it means collapse, and then again, revolution.

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1 Philosophy and Psychology
2 ,,Universätsphilosophie’’ and Philosophy

1/ The main difference between philosophy and psychology is that psychology being a positive science it is empirical throughout, whereas there is no such thing as a philosophy empirical throughout.

2/ “Philosophy is the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence, especially when considered as an academic discipline.

True as far as the first part of the sentence is concerned, extremely dubious as to the rest.

As a matter of fact, the expression ,,Universitätsphilosophie’’ (university philosophy) reminds us that there is no congenial bond between the two. True enough, as early as the Antiquity philosophers taught at so-called Schools: Plato’s Academia, Aristotle’s Lyceum, the Stoics’ Portico… Yet at the same time, since Socrates they criticized the Sophists’ practice of having their teachings financially compensated. Which, I assume, means that a philosopher in, say, the Academia would not be paid. University professors being paid, they are the Sophists of our days. And the other distinction made by Schopenhauer, which overlaps the former, between those who live for philosophy and those who live of philosophy, stands. As was to be expected from these facts, Schopenhauer is hardly considered a philosopher by university “philosophers.” – All this bears no relation to anyone’s own personal situation, and I believe my readers are above taking my views as being personal regarding their situation. Kant was a professor too. (Schopenhauer explains that Kant could be a professor and a philosopher at the same time due to the ruling of an enlightened monarch in Prussia; and by this he was not meaning that in a democracy, then, university teachings would be free by mere virtue of a democratic Constitution.)

1 – I  may agree that psychology is not quite on par with physics, but this is only on a superficial level, given, at the core, the incompleteness of all empirical knowledge, its incrementality. As empirical sciences, both physics and psychology suffer from the same defect of being incremental knowledge providing at best an ,,analogon” of certainty.

Predictions based on exact sciences are in fact much more limited than usually acknowledged. True, when you start your car, you know it will go at your command, and this is due to scientific predictions upon which the apparatus is built up. Yet this is all we can do with exact science: to make technique out of it, that is, to harness forces in a predictable way — until the prediction is contradicted (by black swan events). It happens from time to time that a powder magazine explodes for no apparent reason, because of the particles’ Brownian movement which cannot be detected at the present stage of our technique; so these explosions are unpredictable, yet we are closing our eyes on the danger on which we stand. In the future we will find a way to predict these movements, but then still other events will escape our knowledge, ad infinitum, so progress amounts to nothing, it is only a change in conditions, not a progress in the true sense of the word, and that is true of the whole empirical field.

In this context, psychology is no different, and only ethical considerations have (allegedly) prevented us so far from designing apparata to predict and control human behavior based on the empirical knowledge of our psyche. Such apparata would, I believe, work as satisfactorily as a car does (only, we would have to deal with casualties there too, as we are dealing with road traffic casualties).

2 – When universities and schools are not free from all influences, philosophy professors are sophists because not only they hold a remunerated tenure but also they make believe philosophy is what the government, the authorities, the “Prince,” or any other interest-holding influencer, says it is.

If we look at the history of relationships between university and philosophy beyond the controversy involving Greek philosophers and sophists, we see that universities were created in the middle ages and that the philosophy taught in these institutions then was scholasticism, as the ‘‘ancilla’’ (maid-servant) of theology. Modern philosophy developed against Scholastics (Hobbes et al) and from outside the university. As far as modern philosophy is concerned, the connexion with university is therefore not foundational, but a late evolution, the turning point of which is Hegelianism. Yet the relationship remains shaky at best. To take only a couple of examples, Nietzsche left university at an early stage in his professoral life as an uncongenial environment, and Sartre, although his curriculum was the via regia to holding a tenure, chose quite another path (namely, a literary career and journalism), leaving no doubt,  in a couple of his novels, as to the paramount existential importance of this choice. Conversely, Heidegger made a brave attempt at justifying the position of tenured professor for a philosopher, namely, that “To teach is the best way to learn.” And I already talked about Kant. Kant and, in a lesser measure, Heidegger are the reason why I see the two distinctions, that is, between ,,Universitätsphilosophie’’ and philosophy, and between those who live of philosophy and those who live for philosophy, as overlapping greatly but not quite perfectly.

Thank you for your attention.