Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Kant and de Maistre; Kant, Rawls, and Panofsky

Kant, What is Enlightenment
Thus we observe here as elsewhere in human affairs, in which almost everything is paradoxical, a surprising and unexpected course of events: a large degree of civic freedom appears to be of advantage to the intellectual freedom of the people, yet at the same time it establishes insurmountable barriers. A lesser degree of civic freedom, however, creates room to let that free spirit expand to the limits of its capacity. 
de Maistre
Everything that constrains a man, strengthens him.
Kant, Public Reason, What is Enlightenment?
On the other hand, the private use of reason may frequently be narrowly restricted without especially hindering the progress of enlightenment. By "public use of one's reason" I mean that use which a man, as scholar, makes of it before the reading public. I call "private use" that use which a man makes of his reason in a civic post that has been entrusted to him. In some affairs affecting the interest of the community a certain [governmental] mechanism is necessary in which some members of the community remain passive. This creates an artificial unanimity which will serve the fulfillment of public objectives, or at least keep these objectives from being destroyed. Here arguing is not permitted: one must obey. Insofar as a part of this machine considers himself at the same time a member of a universal community--a world society of citizens-- (let us say that he thinks of himself as a scholar rationally addressing his public through his writings) he may indeed argue, and the affairs with which he is associated in part as a passive member will not suffer. Thus it would be very unfortunate if an officer on duty and under orders from his superiors should want to criticize the appropriateness or utility of his orders. He must obey. But as a scholar he could not rightfully be prevented from taking notice of the mistakes in the military service and from submitting his views to his public for its judgment. The citizen cannot refuse to pay the taxes levied upon him; indeed, impertinent censure of such taxes could be punished as a scandal that might cause general disobedience. Nevertheless, this man does not violate the duties of a citizen if, as a scholar, he publicly expresses his objections to the impropriety or possible injustice of such levies.
Rawls, The Idea of Public Reason Revisited
The idea of public reason, as I understand it, belongs to a conception of a well ordered constitutional democratic society. The form and content of this reason -the way it is understood by citizens and how it interprets their political relationship- is part of the idea of democracy itself. This is because a basic feature of democracy is the fact of reasonable pluralism - the fact that a plurality of conflicting reasonable comprehensive doctrines, religious, philosophical, and moral, is the normal result of its culture of free institutions. Citizens realize that they cannot reach agreement or even approachmutual understanding on the basis of their irreconcilable comprehensive doctrines. In view of this, they need to consider what kinds of reasons they may reasonably give one another when fundamental political questions are at stake. I propose that in public reason comprehensive doctrines of truth or right be replaced by an idea of the politically reasonable addressed to citizens as citizens.
The "politically reasonable" is not reason; it's situational and as such even its definition is political.   Kant assumes forms of basic civility that Rawls spends volumes trying to nail down into a program. Most importantly Rawls focuses on conflicts among people and assumes a unanimity within the self. Kant describes the conflict in the mind of the soldier as citizen. He describes the divided consciousness of moral responsibility foundational to democracy.  Following Kant, technocratic reason, as rule following, is private reason.

PanofskyThe History of Art as a Humanistic Discipline 
Nine days before his death Immanuel Kant was visited by his physician. Old, ill and nearly blind, he rose from his chair and stood trembling with weakness and muttering unintelligible words. Finally his faithful companion realized that he would not sit down again until the visitor had taken a seat. This he did, and Kant then permitted himself to be helped to his chair and, after having regained some of his strength, said, ‘Das Gefühl für Humanität hat mich noch nicht verlassen’—’The sense of humanity has not yet left me’. The two men were moved almost to tears. For, though the word Humanität had come, in the eighteenth century, to mean little more than politeness and civility, it had, for Kant, a much deeper significance, which the circumstances of the moment served to emphasize: man’s proud and tragic consciousness of self-approved and self-imposed principles, contrasting with his utter subjection to illness, decay and all that implied in the word ‘mortality.’ 
Kant was a humanist in the older, Renaissance (pre-Enlightenment), definition of the word.
My first reference to the essay (but not to Panofsky). etc. etc.
Reading and taking notes...

Geuss, from his introduction to The Birth of Tragedy and Other Writings
Reading Nietzsche from a distance.
The idea specifically derived from The Birth of Tragedy which has become perhaps most influential in the twentieth century is the conception of the 'Dionysiac' and its role in human life, i.e. the view that destructive, primitively anarchic forces are a part of us (not to be projected into some diabolical Other), and that the pleasure we take in them is real and not to be denied. These impulses cannot simply be ignored, eliminated, repressed, or fully controlled. As Euripides' Bacchae shows, they will have their due one way or another and failure to recognize them is just a way of, eventually, giving them free rein to express themselves with special force, destructiveness, and irrationality. In some sense higher culture rests on coming to terms with them, but that does not mean simply letting them play themselves out in a direct and unmodified way. The primitive Dionysiac orgy is not an Attic tragedy, and not a form of 'higher culture' at all in this sense, although tragedy is in some sense a development of the orgy. The construction of a higher culture requires both a sympathetic recognition of the existence of the Dionysiac and an integration of it into an alliance with what Nietzsche calls 'Apollo' and what he calls 'the daimonion of Socrates'. Different cultures are different ways of negotiating and renegotiating the terms of this 'alliance', probably a never-ending process.
What did you want, wicked Euripides, when you sought to force this dying figure to do slave's work for you once more? He died at your violent hands; and now you needed a copy, a masked myth who, like Hercules' monkey, could only use the old trappings to deck himself out prettily. And as myth died on you, the genius of music, too, died on you: however much you might plunder all the gardens of music with greedy hands, all you could manage was copied, masked music.
Sartre, in Being and Nothingness, describing, inadvertently, a version of a Nietzschean ideal.
Let us imagine that moved by jealousy, curiosity, or vice I have just glued my ear to the door and looked through a keyhole. I am alone and on the level of a non-thetic self-consciousness. This means first of all that there is no self to inhabit my consciousness, nothing therefore to which I can refer my acts in order to qualify them. They are in no way known; I am my acts and hence they carry in themselves their whole justification. I am a pure consciousness of things, and things, caught up in the circuit of my selfness, offer to me their potentialities as the proof of my non-thetic consciousness (of) my own possibilities. This means that behind that door a spectacle is presented as "to be seen," a conversation as "to be heard." The door, the keyhole are at once both instruments and obstacles; they are presented as "to be handled with care;" the key-hole is given as "to be looked through close by and a little to one side," etc. Hence from this moment "I do what I have to do." No transcending view comes to confer upon my acts the character of a given on which a judgment can be brought to bear. My consciousness sticks to my acts, it is my acts; and my acts are commanded only by the ends to be attained and by the instruments to be employed. My attitude, for example, has no "outside"; it is a pure process of relating the instrument (the keyhole) to the end to be attained (the spectacle to be seen), a pure mode of losing myself in the world, of causing myself to be drunk in by things as ink is by a blotter in order that an instrumental-complex oriented toward an end may be synthetically detached on the ground of the world. The order is the reverse of causal order. It is the end to be attained which organizes all the moments which precede it. The end justifies the means; the means do not exist for themselves and outside the end.
Sartre's Bad Faith ends where Nietzsche's Bad Conscience begins.

Sartre's "authenticity" is a fantasy ideal audience for Euripidean irony; self-aware and aware of himself or herself among others; the sort of cosmopolitan that would horrify Nietzsche. But at the same time, Sartre's ideal would make such irony unnecessary, since as viewers all we could feel is pity for the poor blind saps on stage. The point of irony in art, unlike philosophy, where only teachers have the right to indulge , is that art doesn't presume anyone's superiority. We're watching those who could be ourselves, allowing ourselves to sense their desires while still understanding their mistakes.

The absurdity of Nietzsche and Sartre both is their fantasies of an ideal or authentic self.
Repeats again.
In a passage from one of the Five Lectures on Psychoanalysis Freud says that as the result of a successful treatment repression is replaced by 'a condemning judgment'. He doesn't explain the difference between the two. What's the difference between "I don't want to kill my father and sleep with my mother" and "I don't want to kill my father and sleep with my mother." Is the first, louder and more nervous? More declarative? More cocksure? I don't know but it's a question conceptualists can't answer.
What kind of freedom is possible in a social world? We're creatures of relation. Sociopaths and gurgling infants are free.
"Hence from this moment "I do what I have to do." No transcending view comes to confer upon my acts the character of a given on which a judgment can be brought to bear. My consciousness sticks to my acts..."
Both Nietzsche and Sartre are describing characters, not people. They make art that they claim mirrors the world.

Monday, June 29, 2015

What an idiot. Mostly repeats but since I'm reading him, rewriting the paper.

We live at a moment when it is clear that art can be made of anything, and where there is no mark through which works of art can be perceptually different from the most ordinary of objects.
If a character in a novel lights a cigarette, the cigarette is part of a work of art. In a play the cigarette is a prop. In the older definition of art objects the craft supplied a formal logic internal to the piece. The iconography supplied a formal logic external to it. For relics as opposed to artworks the logic was external only: absent its place in a narrative a thighbone is a thighbone, a cigarette is just a cigarette, a madeleine... etc.

The critics and other who mock contemporary art as the painted word have a point, but you could just as well call it the literature of objects. The response is to say that they're witnessing a long distance conversation, in short sentences, haikus and one liners, where one person may be responding to something someone else said a year before. If all you hear is the punchline you won't get the joke. If they say that's not enough, tell them to go watch a movie. But Danto can't admit that film is visual art as he defines it,  for the same reason he can't see Socrates as an orator, or as a character in Plato's dialogues.

I always thought the argument was silly, but I never read it in his own words. He just doesn't look.
Duchamp's Fountain is, as everyone knows, to all outward appearances a urinal- it was a urinal until it became a work of art and acquired such further proper ties as works of art possess in excess of those possessed by mere real things like urinals (the work is dated 1917, though it would take research into the history of plumbing to determine the date of the urinal, which made it possible for Duchamp to use urinals dated later than Fountain when the original was lost: the work remains dated 1917). In his own view he chose this particular object for what he hoped was its aesthetic neutrality. Or pretended that that is what he hoped. For urinals have too strong a cultural, not to say amoral identity, quite to allow them selves to be without affect. They are objects, to begin with, highly sexualized through the fact that women are anatomically barred from employing them in their primary function, at least without awkwardness.  [a urinal is an inverted triangle a man sticks his cock in!] So they show their arrogant exclusivity through their form. (The fear of equal access to all johns was a major factor, it will be remembered, in the defeat of the ERA.) They are, moreover, given the cultural realities, objects associated with privacy (though less so than stools) and with dirt. But any object that lies at the intersection of sex and secretion is too obviously charged by the moral boundaries it presupposes simply to stand as a culturally neutral object picked out just for its aesthetic neutrality. Duchamp was being disingenuous when he asked: "A urinal-who would be interested in that?" It would be like taking the filthiest verb in the language as one's paradigm for teaching conjugation: possibly the word's moral energy will go submerged as one ponders it from the perspective of gerunds and pluperfects, but why struggle when there are plenty of innocent words? It is, meanwhile, ingenuous to treat the urinal merely as an aesthetic object, rather like the Taj Mahal in its elegant gradients and dazzling whiteness. But then what is the conceptual fulcrum of this still controversial work? My view is that it lies in the question it poses, namely why-referring to itself-should this be an art work when something else exactly like this, namely that -referring now to the class of unredeemed urinals- are just pieces of industrial plumbing? It took genius to raise the question in this form,since nothing like it had been raised before, though from Plato (sharply) and unimaginatively answered on the basis of the accepted art world of the time. Duchamp did not merely raise the question, What is Art? but rather why is something a work of art when something exactly like it is not? Compare Freud's great question regarding parapraxes, which is not simply why do we forget but why, when we do forget, do we remember something else instead? This form of the question opened space for a radically new theory of the mind. And in Duchamp's case the question he raises as an artwork has a genuinely philosophical form, and though it could have been raised with any object you chose (and was raised by means of quite nondescript objects) -in contrast with having been capable of being raised at any time you chose-for the question was only historically possible when in fact it was raised- it perhaps required something so antecedently resistant to absorption into the art world as a urinal so as to call attention to the fact that it after all was already in the art world.

There is a deep question of what internal evolution in the history of art made Duchamp's question-object historically possible if not historically necessary. My view is that it could only come at a time when it no longer could be clear to anyone what art was while perfectly clear that none of the old answers would serve.To paraphrase Kant, it seemed to have an essence without having any particular essence. It is here that Hegel's views come in.

For Hegel, the world in its historical dimension is the dialectical revelation of consciousness to itself. In his curious idiom, the end of history comes when spirit achieves awareness of its identity as spirit, not, that is to say, alienated from itself by ignorance of its proper nature, but united to itself through itself: by recognizing that it is in this one instance of the same substance as its object, since consciousness of consciousness is consciousness. In the portentous jargon of the Continent, the subject/object dualism is overcome.
The collage shows the narrative context for Duchamp's "joke", "relic", "punchline".
There is a deep question of what internal evolution in the history of art made Duchamp's question-object historically possible if not historically necessary.
No. Art is a means through which we look at the world and our desires. Media and techniques rise and fall in use as they become more or less appropriate to our sensibilities. People from one generation or trained in specific form will stay loyal to what they know, even as they respond to the present.
Today there is no denying that narrative films are not only “art”—not often good art, to be sure, but this applies to other media as well—but also, besides architecture, cartooning and “commercial design,” the only visual art entirely alive. 
Panofsky, “Style and Medium in the Motion Pictures”
Porcelain figurines like urinals are mass produced, but the originals are made by skilled craftspeople.
repeats: Duchamp, Warhol, Hitchcock, and Manet, Picasso etc.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Danto. The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art 
...why is it so widely subscribed a political attitude that art is dangerous? The history of art is the history of the suppression of art, itself a kind of futility if that which
one seeks to cast in chains has no effectiveness whatever, and one confers upon art the illusion of competence by treating as dangerous what would make nothing happen if it were allowed to be free. Where, if Auden is right, does the belief in the dangerousness of art come from? My own view, which I mean to develop here, is that it does not come from historical knowledge, but rather from a philosophical belief.
If art weren't dangerous, Athens wouldn't have condemned Socrates to death.
There are two stages to the Platonic attack. The first, just sketched, is to put across an ontology inwhich reality is logically immunized against art. The second stage consists so far as possible in rationalizing art, so that reason bit by bit colonizes the domain of feelings, the Socratic dialogue being a form of dramatic representation in which the substance is reason exhibited as taming reality by absorbing it into concepts. Nietzsche refers to this as "aesthetic Socratism," the philosopher having so identified reason with beauty that nothing could be beautiful that is not rational. This, Nietzsche proposes, marks the death of tragedy, which finds a terrible beauty in irrationality: but it also marks the death of comedy, which Socrates assures us comes to the same thing. And ever since this complex aggression, as profound a victory as philosophy has ever known or ever will know, the history of philosophy has alternated between the analytical effort to ephemeralize and hence defuse art, or to allow a degree of validity to art in treating it as doing what philosophy itself does, only uncouthly.
Rationalists argue with each other about whether or not irrationality is good for you. Empiricists admit that it's a given and try to work with it.
I am not sure that the structure of rhetoric and the structure of philosophy are of a piece, since it is the aim of philosophy to prove rather than merely persuade...
Again and again: philosophy is anti-political.


Little Richard is a performer. He's "acting crazy". And that black man standing on the piano has a great big horn.
There be many shapes of mystery.
And many things God makes to be,
Past hope or fear.
And the end men looked for cometh not,
And a path is there where no man thought.
So hath it fallen here. [Exeunt.]
Euripides, The Bacchae
Sinan Antoon and Zaid Al-Ali at "The Monkey Cage" at WaPo:
Who is to blame for Iraq’s problems?
The rise of the Islamic State, formerly the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and its recent military gains in Mosul and elsewhere in Iraq have refocused attention on the situation in the country as it faces the threat of disintegration and the outbreak of another bloody civil war. But the debate, especially in U.S. mainstream media, is obsessed with individual culpability and finding a convenient villain (preferably an Iraqi).
About The Monkey Cage
H.L. Mencken said “Democracy is the art of running the circus from the monkey cage.” Here at The Monkey Cage, we talk about political science research and use it to make some sense of the circus that is politics. We were named 2010 Blog of the Year by The Week and a 2012 Best Blog by Time. Our archive of previous posts at themonkeycage.org is here. Our roster of contributors includes:
The list is all white. Farrell is the second one down. It's hard to get more mediocre then this
The larger point that comes up is in relation to the centrality of the United States in the maintenance of Arab authoritarianism. I think the blame-Washington claim has been overemphasized...
Antoon is a novelist and poet. Al-Ali is a lawyer.

The act of digging in the dirt is physics. The desire to dig in the dirt -for gold or a lost watch or weapons of mass destruction- is metaphysics.  There is no end to metaphysics. There is no value free science. There is no end to tragedy. Philosophy is fiction for rationalists. If political "science" existed there would be no need for Antoon and Al-Ali to make their case.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

"It’s a cliché to say that we fell in love, but we did. Its words became necessary for us; they became our Declaration. Through reading them slowly, we came into our inheritance: an understanding of freedom and equality, and the value of finding the right words"

Perhaps the only escape from this kind of situation is a kind of grace. I was, for several years, an untenured, divorced man who had my kids half time. An easier situation than a single mom with no man on the scene, and perhaps easier than what the author faced. I fell head over heels in love with the kids. That saved me. I’m not saying she ‘should have done’ this, because I didn’t do it. It just happened.
The first is a quote from Danielle Allen's book. The context for the second is discussed here.

The post linked in the first refers to Ayn Rand and Kurt Vonnegut as critics of egalitarianism; the references to literature are still to the pop crap "speculative fiction" read for pleasure by technocrats who read the speculative fiction of philosophers at work. But the first quote above is in a post, in 2015, though it won't get much response, and the second is in a comment in 2007 that was ignored almost entirely, though I never forgot it.

Drift: Technocratic liberals trying to come to terms with moral responsibility; the tension between Liberty and Equality slowly being reframed as the tension between Liberty and Obligation.

Republicanism is anti-individualist. Liberalism vs Republicanism, Aristotle vs Montesquieu

The post quotes two sentences from Tocqueville; the second is the first sentence in this passage.
When I survey this countless multitude of beings, shaped in each others likeness amidst whom nothing rises and nothing falls, the sight of such universal uniformity saddens and chills me, and I am tempted to regret that state of society which has ceased to be. When the world was full of men of great importance and extreme insignificance, of great wealth and extreme poverty, of great learning and extreme ignorance, l turned aside from the latter to fix my observation on the former alone, who gratified my sympathies. But I admit that this gratification arose from my own weakness: it is because I am unable to see at once all that is around me, that I am allowed thus to select and separate the objects of my predilection from among so many others. Such is not the use with that almighty and eternal Being whose gaze necessarily includes the whole of created things, and who surveys distinctly, though at once, mankind and man. We may naturally believe that it is not the singular prosperity of the few, but the greater well being of all, which is most pleasing in the sight of the Creator and Preserver of men. What appears to me to be man's decline, is to His eye advancement; what afflicts me is acceptable to Him. A state of equality is perhaps less elevated, but it is more just; and its justice constitutes its greatness and its beauty. I would strive then to raise myself to this point of the divine contemplation, and thence to view and to judge the concerns of men. 
It would take a philologist to study how Tocqueville reimagined an aristocracy he was born too late to know.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Bertrand Russell, the urge to touch the absolute.
Real life is, to most men, a long second-best, a perpetual compromise between the ideal and the possible; but the world of pure reason knows no compromise, no practical limitations, no barrier to the creative activity embodying in splendid edifices the passionate aspiration after the perfect from which all great work springs. Remote from human passions, remote even from the pitiful facts of nature, the generations have gradually created an ordered cosmos, where pure thought can dwell as in its natural home, and where one, at least, of our nobler impulses can escape from the dreary exile of the actual world.

...Philosophers have commonly held that the laws of logic, which underlie mathematics, are laws of thought, laws regulating the operations of our minds. By this opinion the true dignity of reason is very greatly lowered ; it ceases to be an investigation into the very heart and immutable essence of all things actual and possible, becoming, instead, an inquiry into something more or less human and subject to our limitations. The contemplation of what is non-human, the discovery that our minds are capable of dealing with material not created by them, above all, the realisation that beauty belongs to the outer world as to the inner, are the chief means of overcoming the terrible sense of impotence, of weakness, of exile amid hostile powers, which is too apt to result from acknowledging the ail-but omnipotence of alien forces. To reconcile us, by the exhibition of its awful beauty, to the reign of Fate —which is merely the literary personification of these forces—is the task of tragedy. But mathematics takes us still further from what is human, into the region of absolute necessity, to which not only the actual world, but every possible world, must conform ; and even here it builds a habitation, or rather finds a habitation eternally standing, where our ideals are fully satisfied and our best hopes are not thwarted. It is only when we thoroughly understand the entire independence of ourselves, which belongs to this world that reason finds, that we can adequately realise the profound importance of its beauty.
Russell, "The Study of Mathematics", in Philosophical Essays, most of the above quoted, in reverse order, in a review by Santayana.

"Mathematics seems to have a value for Mr. Russell akin to that of religion. It affords a sanctuary to which to flee from the world, a heaven suffused with a serene radiance and full of a peculiar sweetness and consolation."
I am the last to deny the need of insisting, in ethics, on ethical judgments in all their purity and dogmatic sincerity. Such insistence, if we had heard more of it in our youth, might have saved many of us from chronic entanglements; and there is nothing, next to Plato, which ought to be more recommended to the young philosopher than the teachings of Messrs. Russell and Moore, if he wishes to be a moralist and a logician, and not merely to seem one. Yet this salutary doctrine, though correct, is inadequate. It is a monocular philosophy, seeing outlines clear, but missing the solid bulk and perspective of things. We need binocular vision to quicken the whole mind and yield a full image of reality. Ethics should be controlled by a physics that per- ceives the material ground and the relative status of whatever is moral. Otherwise ethics itself tends to grow narrow, strident, and fanatical; as may be observed in asceticism and puritanism, or, for the matter of that, in Mr. Moore's uncivilized doctrine of retributive punishment, or in Mr. Russell's intolerance of selfishness and patriotism, and in his refusal to entertain any pious reverence for the nature of things. The quality of wisdom, like that of mercy, is not strained. To choose, to love and hate, to have a moral life, is inevitable and legitimate in the part; but it is the function of the part as part, and we must keep it in its place if we wish to view the whole in its true proportions. Even to express justly the aim of our own life we need to retain a constant sympathy with what is animal and fundamental in it, else we shall give a false place, and too loud an emphasis, to our definitions of the ideal. However, it would be much worse not to reach the ideal at all, or to confuse it for want of courage and sincerity in uttering our true mind; and it is in uttering our true mind that Mr. Russell's essays can help us, even if our true mind should not always coincide with his.
You'll never understand hate unless you've felt it. It's best to have felt it and transcended it, but better never to have felt it than never to have transcended it.

Russell on James and Santayana in his esssay on James in A History of Western Philosophy
His warm-heartedness and his delightful humour caused him to be almost universally beloved. The only man I know of who did not feel any affection for him was Santayana, whose doctor's thesis William James had described as "the perfection of rottenness." There was between these two men a temperamental opposition which nothing could have overcome. Santayana also liked religion, but in a very different way. He liked it aesthetically and historically, not as a help towards a moral life; as was natural, he greatly preferred Catholicism to Protestantism. He did not intellectually accept any of the Christian dogmas, but he was content that others should believe them, and himself appreciated what he regarded as the Christian myth. To James, such an attitude could not but appear immoral. He retained from his Puritan ancestry a deep-seated belief that what is of most importance is good conduct, and his democratic feeling made him unable to acquiesce in the notion of one truth for philosophers and another for the vulgar. The temperamental opposition between Protestant and Catholic persists among the unorthodox; Santayana was a Catholic free-thinker, William James a Protestant, however heretical. 
Letters of William James Vol. II
...The great event in my life recently has been the reading of Santayana's book.[Interpretations of Poetry and Religion] Although I absolutely reject the platonism of it, I have literally squealed with delight at the imperturbable perfection with which the position is laid down on page after page; and grunted with delight at such a thickening up of our Harvard atmosphere. If our students now could begin really to understand what Royce means with his voluntaristic-pluralistic monism, what Münsterberg means with his dualistic scientificism and platonism, what Santayana means by his pessimistic platonism (I wonder if he and Mg. have had any close mutually encouraging intercourse in this line?), what I mean by my crass pluralism, what you mean by your ethereal idealism, that these are so many religions, ways of fronting life, and worth fighting for, we should have a genuine philosophic universe at Harvard. The best condition of it would be an open conflict and rivalry of the diverse systems. (Alas! that I should be out of it, just as my chance begins!) The world might ring with the struggle, if we devoted ourselves exclusively to belaboring each other.I now understand Santayana, the man. I never understood him before. But what a perfection of rottenness in a philosophy! I don't think I ever knew the anti-realistic view to be propounded with so impudently superior an air. It is refreshing to see a representative of moribund Latinity rise up and administer such reproof to us barbarians in the hour of our triumph. I imagine Santayana's style to be entirely spontaneous. But it has curious classic echoes. Whole pages of pure Hume in style; others of pure Renan. Nevertheless, how fantastic a philosophy!—as if the "world of values" were independent of existence. It is only as being, that one thing is better than another. The idea of darkness is as good as that of light, as ideas. There is more value in light's being. And the exquisite consolation, when you have ascertained the badness of all fact, in knowing that badness is inferior to goodness, to the end—it only rubs the pessimism in. A man whose egg at breakfast turns out always bad says to himself, "Well, bad and good are not the same, anyhow." That is just the trouble! Moreover, when you come down to the facts, what do your harmonious and integral ideal systems prove to be? in the concrete? Always things burst by the growing content of experience. Dramatic unities; laws of versification; ecclesiastical systems; scholastic doctrines. Bah! Give me Walt Whitman and Browning ten times over, much as the perverse ugliness of the latter at times irritates me, and intensely as I have enjoyed Santayana's attack. The barbarians are in the line of mental growth, and those who do insist that the ideal and the real are dynamically continuous are those by whom the world is to be saved. But I'm nevertheless delighted that the other view, always existing in the world, should at last have found so splendidly impertinent an expression among ourselves. I have meant to write to Santayana; but on second thoughts, and to save myself, I will just ask you to send him this. It saves him from what might be the nuisance of having to reply, and on my part it has the advantage of being more free-spoken and direct. He is certainly an extraordinarily distingué writer. Thank him for existing! 
Santayana, "The Genteel Tradition in American Philosophy"
But there is another distinguished man, lately lost to this country, who has given some rude shocks to this tradition  and who, as much as Whitman, may be regarded as representing the genuine, the long silent American mind—I mean William James. He and his brother Henry were as tightly swaddled in the genteel tradition as any infant geniuses could be, for they were born in Cambridge, and in a Swedenborgian household. Yet they burst those bands almost entirely. The ways in which the two brothers freed themselves, however, are interestingly different. Mr. Henry James has done it by adopting the point of view of the outer world, and by turning the genteel American tradition, as he turns everything else, into a subject-matter for analysis. 
"A gentleman never lets politics get in the way of a friendship."

All of it included in the rewrite.
J Post: Former deputy director of the CIA says Israel shouldn't make deals with Al Qaeda.
“Don’t make deals with them. Pressure them. Fight them. Turn against them, otherwise they will turn against you.”
Haaretz: One Syrian killed in Druze attack on IDF ambulance carrying wounded rebels.

David Rothkopf, Oren Agonistes
Israel's former ambassador to Washington has ignited a firestorm of controversy over his criticism of Barack Obama. Has he gone too far...or have his critics?
Southern mythologies and Zionist mythologies are collapsing for the same structural reason and also at the same time.

Duncan Black:
You aren't an oppressed, and you didn't have a noble cause in the Civil War. Deal with it.
The poorest states, first to last: Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, West Virginia, Louisiana, Montana, South Carolina, Kentucky, Alabama, and North Carolina. etc.
The New York Times vs Analytical Marxism, updated.
Economic segregation is a problem in preschool classrooms across the country. Decades of research show that poor children do much better academically in economically mixed classes than they do if they attend school only with other poor children. Research also shows that well-off children are not harmed academically by going to school with poor children.
For the Rengiers, the decision was clear: Their son would go to public school.
“It was not the question if we could afford it or not,” said Ms. Rengier, whose husband was transferred to the city because of his job as a lawyer and tax consultant. “It was a question of whether it was real life or not.”
I wrote a book called "If you're an Egalitarian How Come You're so Rich?" And the final chapter discusses fourteen reasons people give for not giving away their money when they're rich but they profess belief in equality, twelve of which are, well, rubbish. I think there are two reasonable answers that a person who doesn't give too much of it away can give and one of them has to do with the burden of depressing yourself below the level of your peer group with whom you're shared a certain way of life; and in particular, depriving your children of things that the children around them favor. 
follow the link for the history. It ends up here, with links to the sources.

Monday, June 22, 2015

The letter and the spirit of the law.

"Lawyers... are the rule of law." Lawyers and comedians.

I forget how many times I've written this: When Leiter was at Austin he held the Joseph D. Jamail Centennial Chair in Law.
"It is no secret that contemporary philosophy is under the spell of the Other"

The entirety of a comment, not mine.
People being what they are, anything is possible. Sordid, secret affairs of the heart, driven partly by ambition and partly by lust, being what they are makes this at least doubly true. Frankly, I wouldn't give 0 credence to either a scenario in which G's allegation of rape is part of an elaborate ass covering narrative on her part. Nor would I give 0 prior credence to the proposition that it was Ludlow who was doing the ass covering. Heck, I wouldn't give 0 prior credence to the thought that it was not G herself who first chose to frame their relationship in terms or rape. Could be, for all the evidence shows, that it was the folks G sought counsel, solace or advice from who first said to her, "Don't you realize that you were raped by him?" Perhaps only then, sometime after the fact, she herself came to see this as rape, not out of some hidden or nefarious motive, necessarily. Who knows? 
The point I keep wanting to make is that sex and power and self-doubt make for extraordinarily fraught situations. And you combine that with the complexities of human psychology and you get, well, a mess. Which is one reason I disagree with those who think that this story is uniquely G's to tell (or, heaven forbid, Ludlow's to tell.) I wouldn't trust either of them as teller of this tale. Their stories would be likely full of self-deception, dishonesty and self-serving confabulation. You'd need a story teller willing to take a completely honest, possibly brutally so, look into the psychology of each party. You'd need a story teller with no interest in choosing sides, One that was willing to state hard truths about each. Only then could you get a story you could begin to trust. Or so it seems to me.
Yes, I'm commenter "anomalous". Leiter rejects everything under my own name now and he's blocked me on twitter.

He's never understood that the hermeneutics of suspicion applies even to those who use the term. The irony is he gets the line from Ricoeur, without understanding his point.

Naturalism undermines individualism, but not republicanism. It undermines philosophers' pretensions but not lawyers' trade.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The pathology of "liberal Zionism" at TPM and Tablet

Today’s terrible news of the shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, reveals that innocent African Americans, yet again, have fallen victim to unprecedented violence and hatred. This time, it took place in a church—a place of prayer, community and worship. I have written and re-written drafts of a call to action, but I have thus far held my tongue. I cannot remain silent any longer.
Is It That Hard
I get that conservatives want to downplay the existence of racism,
cut to the chase

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Craft is a social activity. Craftsmen take pride in their abilities, defined as something other than acquiring wealth, because their audience respects them for their skills and at their best for their refusal to pander. The integrity of craftsmen relates to the integrity of those who respond to them. Structural integrity is "the state of being whole, the condition of being unified, unimpaired, or sound in construction." But this isn't absolute, since absolute integrity would mean indifference, so the result is a divided consciousness, integral but looking outward. And the relation of craftsmen to their craft and to their audience becomes the model for lawyers' relation to their clients and the bar, and by extension again of individuals to one another: loyal to themselves but responsive to others. Laws are formal in the sense that democracy is formal, and structural integrity becomes a form of moral integrity. The rule of law is the acceptance by individuals of their being bound by social process and through that to each other.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Two in a row, from Leiter. He's pathological. 
Disability rights activists want philosopher Peter Singer to lose his job...
...since, after all, if your views are offensive, you are not entitled to be employed, right? Peter Singer is, by my lights, a pernicious presence in philosophy, but my lights or the lights of disability activists are irrelevant to whether he should be employed. This is what academic freedom means: academics can hold views that you think are appalling, stupid, worthless. Maybe you are right, and maybe you are not. But the lifeblood of the academy is insulation from such outbursts of indignation. 
This latest outburst doesn't really matter, of course--Singer has weathered worse. But it is symptomatic of something dangerous. 
European Court of Human Rights upholds website owner liability for defamatory user-submitted comments
An important decision, striking a small blow for making cyberspace less of a cesspool than it presently is. See esp. page 44 of the opinion. As is so often the case, American law is an outlier here, providing the maximum protection for defamation and hate speech, including especially in cyberspace.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

I've gone back to work on the damned thing. It needed it, and not just because the references are becoming dated. Starting from the beginning. Adding things, not starting over.


On April 16th, 2009 The New York Times published a review by the critic Roberta Smith of  Picasso: Mosqueteros, at the Gagosian Gallery in Chelsea. The review begins
In the main, Picasso only got better…
When I read those words I laughed. I thought the argument was absurd and still do, but I jumped on reflex. That’s not always a problem; there are limits to the human capacity for recall. Years after an argument we remember the result not the details. But that means that no matter how hard we fought our response now is based on received opinion, even if received from our younger selves, so it’s good occasionally to revisit the past in detail, especially in cases where our relation to the past is the thing under debate.

And for me this begins in childhood, in the 1960s, as the witness to arguments over literature and law, high culture and left-wing politics, not among the students but their teachers and advisors. I grew up between the old left and the new, in a milieu of politics and classical esthetic conservatism, of Henry James and political action, both legal and illegal. My parents risked arrest and the loss of their children to the state while being elitists of the first order. I understood how odd that was in the context of the world at large, but not -and this stays with me- in the context of the intellectual world. It took a long time for me to realize that I understood the contradictions more than my parents did, when all I remember for myself is knowing that contradictions were inevitable and that articulated contradiction is the goal of intellectual as opposed to mechanical life.

Propaganda was disdained in our house as art but not as politics; Eisenstein and Brecht made beautiful hybrids. When I first encountered contemporary intellectual arguments for artistic prescription I thought they were strange. And later reading “Art and Objecthood” Michael Fried’s description of what was then the new theatricality in art seemed to me as brilliant as his argument against it was absurd. I was surprised that someone would make such demands (defending in a effect a “prescriptive grammar”) as late as 1967. But the more I read the more examples I found. Laura Mulvey’s “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”, from 1975, struck me as similarly perverse. How was it possible to argue for the “destruction of pleasure” -pleasure currently defined and definable by male eyes- without risking the prospect of the pleasure of destruction? And isn’t such pleasure at the heart of capitalism? I was reading in the early 80s. I really had not been paying attention. And this was in art school, where I was told for first time that I couldn’t be a leftist because I worked with my hands. It was years before I saw the full comic absurdity of that claim, directed against any notion of “mastery” but so obviously throwing out the proletarian baby with the bourgeois bathwater. At the time my only reply was that none of us could be leftists because we were artists, and that the mastery thrown away was the mastery of craft, provisional by definition and thus open to debate, to be replaced by ideas that in the minds of those who held them were beyond question. At the center of all this conceptualized art and politics was a moralizing snobbery. Activism, until the AIDS crisis, was minimal, and later among the self-appointed vanguard was in defense of the vanguard itself, as seen more recently, with both vanguardism and AIDS crisis in decline, in The Trouble with Normal, and Against Equality. My parents’ politics by comparison were high bourgeois, almost aristocratic, founded in a mix of noblesse oblige and democratic responsibility, as shown in a decades long engagement with street level issues of law and policy, and which for a few years meant serious risk of arrest. They were far more radical in their beliefs than many who claimed to be, but they were never vanguardist.

You can mourn the death of what you love, or dream of a new object of that love, but you can’t replace the world with a fantasy without the ideal ending up as parody, as kitsch. I’d thought that was a truism, not something worth arguing. Intuitively I’d understood Eliot in his poetry to be writing desperation as art and as a sullen teenager loved Prufrock the same way I’d loved the drawings of George Grosz and the lyrics of Brecht: as decadence against decadence, a moralism acknowledging itself as a symptom of everything it claims to oppose. But when I made a comment to my mother about Eliot and his High Church bourgeois misery, her startled reply, that the poems were “about language,” threw me for a loop. She quoted Eliot on Henry James and I’d like to think she remembered the context and was just responding to what she assumed was a vulgar interest in biography, gossip, or “content” but I can’t be sure. As I said, we re-fight old arguments in shorthand, and sometimes miss the point.
James’s critical genius comes out most tellingly in his mastery over, his baffling escape from, Ideas; a mastery and an escape which are perhaps the last test of a superior intelligence. He had a mind so fine that no idea could violate it.... In England, ideas run wild and pasture on the emotions; instead of thinking with our feelings (a very different thing) we corrupt our feelings with ideas; we produce the public, the political, the emotional idea, evading sensation and thought.... Mr. Chesterton’s brain swarms with ideas; I see no evidence that it thinks. James in his novels is like the best French critics in maintaining a point of view, a view-point untouched by the parasite idea. He is the most intelligent man of his generation.
My parents didn’t give their children credit for much, including anything resembling an understanding of what Eliot called “the objective correlative” or the relation of communicative form to ideas or emotion, but I’m not sure still they themselves even when they were younger acted on anything more than a highly tuned sense of reflex.

I’ve never had a problem seeing Eliot’s work both as brilliantly complex craftsmanship and as a desperate defensive mechanism propelled by fears of political, social, and sexual failure: impotence of every sort. To separate one from the other -form from subject- would be like separating sadness from the blues, or militarism from marching bands. But that separation is something Modernism demanded, either in terms of “pure” form, or of subject matter reformulated as “ideas”, “content” and reducible to ideology.

We need now, finally, to separate Modernism from modernity. They are not synonyms. Modernism is an ideology and modernity merely a situation: it’s where we’re at. The dream and lie of Modernism was the fantasy and the nightmare of disenchantment, of the fiction of the scientist or revolutionary vanguard as instrument of reason alone.
Consider a discipline such as aesthetics. The fact that there are works of art is given for aesthetics. It seeks to find out under what conditions this fact exists, but it does not raise the question whether or not the realm of art is perhaps a realm of diabolical grandeur, a realm of this world, and therefore, in its core, hostile to God and, in its innermost and aristocratic spirit, hostile to the brotherhood of man. Hence, aesthetics does not ask whether there should be works of art.
The words of a moralist.

The field of Aesthetics as a product of the Enlightenment is the theory of art in the shadow of production, art as something to be taken or left, optional, superfluous or “parasitic”, as if Weber’s ideas were somehow less German than his hats. Why do military men wear uniforms? They’re the outward manifestation of an ethos. And the record shows that every ethos precedes its clear articulation in language or labor. By the time anything becomes known as an idea, it’s been around for awhile.

Modern art, the art of modernity and nothing more, is at its best (like that of any age) the most honest observation of its time. All the products of modern culture are modernist in this limited sense, but what we call art does so knowingly: aporias and contradictions are a given. Modernism celebrated the range of fantasies that modernity inspired: Marx was a Modern, Marxists were Modernists. But all the fantasies have aged badly, devolving from idealism into reaction and now farce.

Most of this is history, but we’re still in the process of coming to terms with it. Modernism is dead, its defenders aren’t. Roberta Smith’s Picasso is Picasso after Clement Greenberg. Like contemporary defenders of reason, revolution, and enlightenment, she’s not describing the works she’s defending a fantasy of what they’re supposed to mean.
The day man at the desk in my cheap hotel in London was an Iraqi Kurd, 15 year resident in the UK. He said he used to get £17 an hour, and now he gets 8. "It's the immigrants from Eastern Europe. I don't blame them. It's what happens with capital."  
In late May, about 35 technology employees at Disney/ABC Television in New York and Burbank, Calif., received jarring news. Managers told them that they would all be laid off, and that during their final weeks they would have to train immigrants brought in by an outsourcing company to do their jobs.

The training began, but after a few days it was suspended with no explanation. In New York, the immigrants suddenly stopped coming to the offices. Then on June 11, managers summoned the Disney employees with different news: Their layoffs had been canceled.

“We were read a precisely worded statement,” said one of the employees, who was relieved but reluctant to be named because he remains at the company. “We were told our jobs were continuing and we should consider it as if nothing had happened until further notice.”

The layoffs at Walt Disney World and at other companies have added fuel to a debate about temporary visas, including H-1B’s, that outsourcing firms use to bring immigrants, mainly from India, for technology work. The visas are meant for foreigners with specialized skills to fill discrete positions when Americans with those skills are not available. In the applications large companies must file for the visas, they have to confirm that no American workers will be displaced.

Monday, June 15, 2015

6/18 It's getting worse and worse.
A simple explanation of why the "seminar" is sinking like a rock.
The titles of four posts, the first and last are in response to Danielle Allen's book.
Reading Our Declaration in Support of Black Radicalism
To help poor people, give them money (Draft excerpt from Economics in Two Lessons)
Justice for Janitors Day
The craft of interpreting the Declaration of Independence
Theorizing at Crooked Timber is rigorous even of the formalism is only that: they're skillful engineers of air castles. When they get down to practical matters they like to keep things simple. They want to help. And why would you want to undermine the good intentions of the best and brightest? The first post above is getting the drubbing it deserves. At the same time the whole thing reminds me how the language of concern at CT is almost always the language of us and them. And although I've used many different examples of where their self-described enlightenment is illusory, the best example, for them as for liberals in general, is the relation of Zionism and Palestine.
political theorist discovers constitutional law. And Henry does too?
Heather Gerkin (Yale and Balkinization)

The craft of interpreting the Declaration of Independence
In Our Declaration, Danielle Allen writes neither as a philosopher’s philosopher, a historian’s historian, nor as a textualist’s textualist. She writes instead a dazzling scholar in the midst of a full-blown academic obsession. And, strangely enough, she writes like a lawyer.
Lawyers, not philosophers


Gordon S Wood in the NYRB
Allen, who is a professor of social science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, came to this extraordinary conclusion when she was teaching for a decade at the University of Chicago. But it was not the young bright-eyed undergraduates whom she taught by day who inspired her. Instead, it was the much older, life-tested adults whom she taught by night who created “the single most transformative experience” of her teaching career.
A philosopher changed by experience. I thought of linking to to Healy's wife directly, but roundabout is better

Also relevant to recent discussion of research vs teaching.
Also this: "Not the idea of democracy, or the meaning of democracy, but democracy."

The geek rediscovery of humanism continues apace.
more, 6/24

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Comment is Free: There is no comparison between transgender people and Rachel Dolezal.
The author's blog is titled, A Self Made Woman. Sexual neoliberalism. [archive.org]

repeats: Justine Tunney, narcissism and self-hatred, fascism; the demand that the world see you as you see yourself; the desperate need for approval.

Eminen did not "choose" his modes and manner, and he doesn't claim to be black. Neither did my brother, and neither did I. The few times in my life I was told that I was black it was meant as a compliment, and it didn't give me the right to call myself black, say I was cool, or give myself "the gold star". Compliments by definition are given by others, and people who give them can take them away. That's the fucking point.

My father never called himself white. He was a Jew who looked like a Jew: a Semite. "Are Jews white or black?" etc.

nothing but repeats. it must be summertime.
[if the video goes: I Wanna Be Black, Lou Reed]

The two links: here and here

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A friend from London, on Facebook: "eros obscured. I'm loving it."

One shot, with some color work. It reminded me of a kind of technicolor British surrealism, Powell and Pressburger; color maybe a bit dark, and the blue sky still seems off. I didn't notice the relation of the sculpture, the McDonalds ad and the image of RuPaul. Did I see the sex first mostly through its cinematic references? But I caught the fleeting reflection of the London Eye and The Gherkin. Powell would approve.

Back in NY, my own provincial backwater.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Holbein and Irony

Sunday, June 07, 2015

In the distance: Kurds protest yesterday, with communists and others, against Erdogan and the AKP, outside the National Gallery. I made my usual comment to a couple of the marchers, that I would have voted for him the first or second time but like Churchill and Moses, after the job is done it's time to go. "Thank you, and goodbye."  I wasn't sure if they were in the mood for a joke but they were. They nodded and laughed. Erdogan changed the game but the change will outlast him.
see also Tunisia and the tragedy of Egypt

Thursday, June 04, 2015


Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Duane Hanson at The Serpentine

"I imagine CT readers will be particularly interested in CB’s excellent chapter on philosophical defenses of the humanities,..."


People are more complex than their ideas. Preferring people come what may, regardless of their ideas and opinions, is anti-intellectual or vulgar, but following their ideas and their contradictions, their tastes, the preferences that defeat intention, the gamut of their and our behavior and our record of behavior, is the only model of intellectualism we have. The rest is formalism and technics, and in pure reason the conflation of one with the other.

Ideas are flat; people are not.

Brighouse, out of the past: "I would say, in fact, that the first amendment tradition has a terribly distorting effect on American public discussions of free speech."

Google it. I don't have the patience. Please, God, give us an end to the intellectualism of priests.

Monday, June 01, 2015


Posted elsewhere. Typed into a mobile.
I came here via an approving link from an academic philisopher (Leiter) who nonetheless has concerns over the "harm" following Waldron, of hate speech. "I know it when I hear it" seems to be the logic. All I can hear is cognitive dissonance. The author here is known for arguing that some people should do us all the favor and not vote; I doubt he was referring to any members of the Bush family, since even George W is the product not only of one of the most prestigious preparatory academies, Andover, (fellow alumnus David Graeber) but also both Yale and[!] Harvard. And now he's writing on a libertarian website. My favorite bit of libertarian wisdom comes from Peter Thiel, who opines:

"I must confess that over the last two decades, I have changed radically on the question of how to achieve these goals. Most importantly, I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible."

Freedom of speech is the inseparable counterpart to freedom of inquiry. Citizens in a democracy have the obligation to be informed in order that they may govern. The freedom of the individual serves the freedom of the people, the self-governing community of equals. Individualism for its own sake is anathema, though with a wry smile. There's no democracy without irony, just ask a lawyer. Better that than the dictatorship of the self-righteous. And really, is there any other kind?
Fucking idiots. Search for Jason Brennan on my page. [here] I made the same obvious points on his posts at the Princeton Press blog.

Related, on the contemporary academic definition of "knowledge" that would include the above, and so much else. The last comment, by commenter T, on D Davies' absurd post. DD: "Bankers have had their day under scrutiny." He ignores the fact they've come away unscathed.
“Between the 1960s and the early 1980s, higher education began to serve a more diverse population of students, with many students having greater work and family commitments. At the same time, faculty interest in teaching declined as colleges and universities increasingly emphasized their role in producing new knowledge through research and scholarship. We began asking less of our students during this period, and their performance fell to meet our expectations. The good news, such as it is, is that the steep decline arrested itself in the early 1980s.”

Brighouse's indignant defense of Davies is hilarious. Rationalists rationalize.

The confusion of reason and knowledge. Discussion of the number of angels that can fit on the head of a pin is not a discussion of and does not result in knowledge. Political and philosophical formalisms, "I have come to the conclusion that anarchism is true" (Robert Paul Wolff) Jon Elster's claim to be a scientist, Rawlsian liberalism, economic "science" etc. The "research" model of art-making. The poetry of high purpose.

We're all more complex than our ideas. If you don't accept that, you're headed for a fall.