Friday, October 03, 2014

Watching academic philosophy tear itself apart.
A repeat from 2011.

I added a new comment on Leiter's thread, [see below] posting the passage quoted here. Read Seaford for Romano and the reviewer for Jason Stanley.
It may not appear. I can never tell.

I'll post the passage again. From a review of Money and the Early Greek Mind at NDPR
Overall, Seaford’s book is interesting, insightful, and combines expertise in ancient sources with careful reasoning. It certainly offers an invaluable discussion of the origins and cultural contexts of early Greek philosophy. But Seaford’s concern with the historical explanations of Greek philosophy suggests that his book may not appeal to scholars interested exclusively in the philosophical content and argumentation of Presocratic texts. The author often explicitly minimizes intellectual explanations of a philosopher’s views in favor of socio-political, religious, and psychological factors (219; 253–4; 273). In fact, he insists that comprehending the relevant cultural factors is necessary for understanding Presocratic metaphysics. We must, he maintains, avoid treating ancient philosophy as if it were created in a “historical vacuum” (10), even if this threatens most Presocratic scholars’ “control of their subject and the autonomy of ’doing philosophy’“
Stanley writing about his father [new link here]
I recently spent two years writing a book review. So I’m not quite the one for the task of summarizing, however briefly, the legacy of life and work that my father has left behind. The task is made more difficult by the differences in our lives. He was raised in Berlin, under the shadow of Hitler, and first experienced this country as a refugee. The path he took, first to the academy, and then within the academy, was largely determined by these experiences. I was raised in a secure setting, surrounded by other children of academics, and my work is not related to the experiences of my past. Finally, my father was not a typical academic, content (as I am) to master a small area, and rule over his academic fiefdom with an iron fist. Specialization was not for him. Indeed, he wrote a whole book about its dangers.

That book, The Technological Conscience: Survival and Dignity in an Age of Expertise, [Stanley doesn't supply a link] tries to do many things. But fundamentally its topic is human dignity, a topic that is perhaps the theme of my father’s life and work. As a person, my father was steeped in myths that usually accompanied a more religious cast of mind. He lived his own life as a calling, and was not one to let others live as they thought they wished. He could not understand how anyone could live without a deeper purpose or meaning. Like many a religious soul, he was suspicious of mechanistic explanations whose purpose he suspected was to remove the mythic purpose of our journey. It is presumably for this reason that The Technological Conscience is occasionally found on the syllabi of courses taught in Christian colleges, which concern the conflict between religion and science.

But it would be a fundamental misunderstanding of my father’s life to construe him as religious. Religions run certain risks my father was never prepared to take. They run the risk of rejecting the truths of the past, of the moral lessons of the Holocaust, and they run the risk of rejecting the truths of the future, that we are, unless all of us make it our callings to intervene, doomed. Religion conflicts with the humanistic impulse to face directly the hard truths that emerge through the study of human interaction. Once we have recognized these truths, we will see our future, and may function as agents in altering its course. Dignity is achieved in recognizing our agency in this task. The purpose of myths, morals, and meaning is to motivate us towards this purpose.

At the end of The Technological Conscience, my father moves to the topic of education. Education was the battleground that my father believed the war over the soul in the mechanistic, consumerist age would be fought. Without intervention, education was bound to become the domain of technocrats, seeking to instill in us tools for survival, but not the means by which to flourish. (There is an unfortunate tendency, in the book, to view this grim future as one in which we are all forced to learn some math; we are darkly warned that “We may expect that mathematics, statistics, and computer related symbol skills will spread as a nationwide focus of curriculum revision and elaboration”.) The topic of education was one that occupied my father through the rest of his career. In particular, he wrote about the role of the university in providing the means by which to achieve dignity. The way we academics function as agents in history is by bestowing the gift of autonomy upon our students.

Again, religious themes emerge in this work. My father’s reading of the Adam myth, in his paper “The Educator’s Conscience: From Paradise to Disneyland”, was that autonomy was God’s gift to Adam and Eve. Through eating from the Tree of Knowledge, Adam and Eve acquired self-reflection, and thereby became autonomous moral agents, capable of forging their own paths through the world. The function of the university is to play God, by awakening critical self-reflection. At our best, according to my father’s work, we academics grant our students the gift of autonomy along with knowledge of the mistakes of the past, in the perhaps vain hope of securing the future.
It wouldn't be fair to say Stanley's father is echoing Panofsky; they share a tradition.

Jason Stanley [2006]: In Defense of Baroque Specialization

Marcus Stanley, and my response
"The sociology of modern knowledge production empowers the scholar over the humanist, and the collective / communal enterprise of scholarship over the inspiration of the individual thinker."

You have that precisely backwards. The humanist is embedded in culture by calling, the mathematician only by default, while embedded by choice in a private world of universals.
Reading Davidson again and Quine, what becomes clear is the Puritan moralism behind the logic; that it would be preferable to have Mozart without the performances of Wilhelm Kempff or Alfred Brendel. Or perhaps there's no difference because the "content" is the same. The dream of a language reduced to the essential. A desire to collapse of the space between image and object. The impossible desire precedes reason. Values precede logic and then return to impose it.
There could be no more poignant contrast to this confidence in the spells of art [in the perceptual "objectivity" of hieroglyphs] than a passage from Plato's older contemporary Euripides that also deals with tomb sculpture. When Alcestis is going to die, her grieving husband Admetus speaks of the work he will commission for his solace:

And represented by the skillfull hands
Of craftsmen, on the bed thy body shall
Be laid; whereon I shall fall in embrace
And clasp my hands around it, call thy name,
And fancy in my arms my darling wife
To hold, holding her not; perhaps, I grant,
Illusory delight, yet my soul's burden
Thus shall I lighten...

What Ademtus seeks is not a spell, not even assurance, only a dream for those who are awake; in other words, precisely that state of mind to which Plato, the stern seeker after truth, objected.
Plato, we know, looked back with nostalgia at the immobile schemata of Egyptian art.

Gombrich, Art and Illusion, p.126
Marcus Stanley: "The sociology of modern knowledge production empowers the scholar over the humanist, and the collective / communal enterprise of scholarship over the inspiration of the individual thinker."

The question is whether we want the communal enterprise of Athens and Euripides or of Plato and technocratic pharaohs.

"When fascism comes to America..."
Leiter quotes Sinclair Lewis, and links to Rick Perry. I reply, sending him a link to Richard Posner. Leiter thinks that content separates his ideas from those of his friend, but form unites them. The formal relation of elitism and authoritarianism is more important than the difference between the "content" of legal realism and law and economics. The focus on content is a waste of time. Content or "meaning" is private; all that is public, all that we share, is form.

Rosen contra Brendel It's in the paper [PDF]

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