Z: Hello Boethius, L_E, Otto, SK, and X1!
M is running a little late, but will join us as soon as she can.
In any case, I think it’s not only amazingly amazing, but in fact cosmopolitanly cosmopolitan, that seven philosophers on four different continents were able to get together for this conversation.
What I’d like to talk about is, What (the Hell) is Enlightenment?
I chose this topic, because I think it’s the deepest and most important topic in political theory.
Hell, it’s even more important than whether, in terms of his personal character, Donald Trump
most resembles Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes in “A Face in the Crowd”–
or Immortal Joe in “Max Max: Fury Road”–
I’m assuming that everyone has read Kant’s “What is Enlightenment?” (WiE) and has also taken a look at Philosoflicks 5, caesargodkantgoldman, which includes the most directly relevant text from Religion Within the Boundaries of Mere Reason (Rel). Here, again, are those references–
(i) Kant, “What is Enlightenment?” (in Kant, Practical Philosophy [Cambridge: CUP, 1996), pp. 17-22), and
(ii) Kant, Religion Within the Boundaries of Mere Reason, part 3, division 1, sections I-III, especially including section II, “The Human Being Ought to Leave the Ethical State of Nature in Order to Belong to an Ethical Community” (in Kant, Religion and Rational Theology [Cambridge: CUP, 1996], pp. 130-136).
Sidebar snarky comment about Rel:
Kant should have been shot, or at the very least removed from his professorship and imprisoned for the rest of his life, for sticking “mere” or “bloβen” into his original title, Die Religion innerhalb der Grenzen der bloβen Vernunft in such an incomprehensible way.
What the hell is “mere reason”? No one knows.
As he makes clear in the Preface to the second edition of Rel, responding to everyone who complained they couldn’t understand the title, what he’s actually trying to say is: Religion Only Within the Limits of Pure Practical Reason.
So why kant he just say that right from the start?
’Nuff snarked. So now, more seriously, I’ll kick things off with the following thoughts.
I’ve argued in an earlier post that there’s a fundamental distinction to be made between:
(i) what I call “enlightement lite” (EL) and
(ii) what I call “heavy-duty enlightenment” (HDE) aka “radical enlightenment” in the specifically Kantian (as opposed to, say, the Jonathan-Israel-style Spinoza-esque) sense.
EL says: Argue (and write) as much as you like, provided that you still obey Caesar, aka the King, aka the sovereign power/government of the State, i.e., “render unto Caesar.”
HDE says: You must exit your self-incurred immaturity, dare to think/know for yourself (Sapere aude), and then dare to act for yourself!
Or: Liberate your mind from mental slavery, and then become morally autonomous!
The confusion between EL and HDE has had huge, dire cultural and political implications.
EL is deeply misguided, because it leads to cognitive nihilism, and is totally complicit with Statism right up to totalitarianism, and also with fully exploitative, hegemonic capitalism, as per Horkheimer and Adorno in the Dialectic of Enlightenment.
Sadly, the primary historical source of the dire EL/HDE confusion is Kant’s WiE, which is really about HDE, but superficially appears to be about EL.
This is mostly Kant’s own fault. In WiE he’s being philosophically super-cagey and indeed duplicitous about what he really meant, due to (in fact, well-justified) fears about censorship and political repression.
In other words, and in effect, using Harry Frankfurt’s highly insightful conception of bullshit in “On Bullshit,” = a complex cognitive, practical, and emotional attitude expressing a deep disregard for truth and a pervasive phonyness—Trump would be a perfect example, Bullshit On Legs—Kant is philosophically bullshitting us.
His deeply conflicted and ultimately incoherent doctrine of “the private use of reason” vs. “the public use of reason” in WiE epitomizes this philosophical super-cageyness, duplicity, and bullshitting.
Rel was published in 1793, in the face of governmental religious censorship, and in 1794 Kant also published a very edgy essay in the philosophy of religion, called “The End of All Things” (Kant, Religion and Rational Theology, pp. 221-231).
Kant was officially reprimanded in 1794, as per this:
The … action against Kant finally took the form of an official letter from King Frederick William [II], dated October 1 and signed on his behalf by Wollner’s hand. It accused Kant, both in the Religion and in the shorter treatises, of “misusing” his philosophy to “distort and disparage many of the cardinal and basic teachings of the Holy Scriptures and Christianity”; and it demanded that the philosopher both “give an account of himself” and be guilty of no similar faults in the future, lest he be the object of “unpleasant measures” for his “continuing obstinacy.” (Allen Wood, “General Introduction,” in Kant, Religion and Rational Theology, p. xx)
In other words, Kant was being accused of “unprofessional conduct,” and threatened with disciplinary measures.
For better or worse, he caved in to the pressure, and stopped publishing and lecturing about religion until Frederick William II died.
OK, so Kant, personally, wasn’t very courageous.
But how many professional academic philosophers have actually been courageous enough to risk losing their jobs and being imprisoned for their radical beliefs, like Russell did for his pacifism during WW I?
In any case, from my own point of view, the most serious result of Kant’s caving-in was that his neo-Hobbesian liberal political philosophy in the first part of the 1797 Metaphysics of Morals, The Doctrine of Right (DR), is a really scandalous philosophico-political red-herring.
It starts from the enabling assumption, which Kant calls “the axiom of right,” that we’re all essentially egoistic/self-interested, i.e., decision-theoretic animals, perhaps even decision-theoretic machines.
As he himself says, his political theory would apply to a “race of devils,” and presumably their freedom would only be that of a compatibilist “turnspit.”
Therefore, we need to be protected from arbitrarily coercing/compelling each other (=external freedom) lest we fall back into the war of all against all/state of nature, and w/hack each other to death, Mad Max style.
So government is nothing but an executive control mechanism, plus a centralized power to coerce (e.g., police, army, the NSA, etc.), designed for guaranteeing mutual external freedom/pursuit of self-interest of all the citizens = a “leviathan” = a neo-Hobbesian decision-theoretic mega-machine State, made out of human beings.
But Kant’s ethics starts from the assumption—call it the “axiom of virtue”–that says the highest good is a good will, acting for the sake of the Categorical Imperative, that we can do so because we ought to do so, hence that we’re NOT essentially egoistic/self-interested, and that we’re practically free/autonomous and NOT machines.
So there’s a direct contradiction between Kant’s axiom of right and Kant’s axiom of virtue.
It’s as if physics were to “discover” empirically that actually, 3+4=6 (Cf. the axiom of right), as opposed to what the pure mathematics, i.e., the basic arithmetic of the natural numbers (cf. the axiom of virtue), says about that.
So, just as pure mathematics trumps physics, since Kantian ethics trumps Kantian neo-Hobbesian liberal political theory, the enabling assumption of Kant’s own political philosophy in the Doctrine of Right is false by virtue of Kant’s own ethics.
So again, Kant is being highly philosophically duplicitous and seriously bullshitting us in The Doctrine of Right.
The truly amazing thing is that, as far as I can tell, 200+ years of Kant scholarship on The Doctrine of Right has been completely taken in by this bullshit, and has never noticed either (i) the outright contradiction between Kant’s axiom of virtue and his axiom of right or (ii) the amazing fact that Kant’s ethics directly falsifies his political theory.
Only the hegemony of classical neo-Hobbesian/Millian liberal political theory in mainstream post-WW II European and Anglo-American political philosophy can possibly explain this philosophical idiocy.
It’s all about (neo)liberalism, from Rawls and Nozick to yesterday.
As serious alternatives, Frankfurt School neo-Marxism and social anarchism, e.g., never made it onto Prime Time.
–Yes, Adorno, Horkheimer, Marcuse, Robert Paul Wolff, and Chomsky have all had occasional late-night cult followings: but their collective impact on mainstream European and Anglo-American political theory, especially in professional academic philosophy, has been zero or sub-zero.
L_E: One major point that is really puzzling me is how to put together Kant’s proposal on his essay on Enlightenment, Z’s criticism of Kant, and the role of APP in current state of professional academic philosophy.
I confess that I’m sympathetic to some of Z’s criticisms, especially of the idea that HDE can be achieved by merely writing and publishing papers/books.
However, I find it extremely difficult to think of practical ways to promote HDE. What kind of actions, if any, would be effective towards this end?
This makes me think of APP in particular.
It looks like the best option for those of us who are “insiders” in the profession is to adopt the “double-life”, but in light of this discussion, it seems even more fragile to be a “double-lifer” than to adopt Kant’s bullshit proposal to “argue as much as you want, but obey.”
What I mean is that, as professional philosophers, we’re not even allowed to argue as much as we want, even if we decide to obey in our “office hours”.
The depressing point about this is that, even if we assume that HDE is progressive and takes time, we are not allowed to expect that it’ll be reached in the long run, for we cannot even achieve the “public use of reason” as professional philosophers, much less HDE.
This is not to say that the double-life strategy is not good.
In fact, I think it helps a lot at the psychological and individual level; but it is difficult to see how adopting it would help promoting the kind of radical free thinking that is so dear to philosophy.
In a nutshell, the questions I’m grappling with are: (1) are there any practical ways to promote HDE? , and (2) if there are, how would they apply to the particular case of current professional academic philosophy?
Z: Here are two very quick responses to L_E’s most excellent and difficult questions:
Re (1): Yes. We’ve got to do, teach, and publish real philosophy, and try to live according to our own moral principles, and not be pushed around by assholes.
Re (2): Yes. We’ve got to criticize and subvert contemporary professional academic philosophy, from both the inside and the outside; and if you’re inside, also be prepared to exit the PAS and do it all from the outside, if the assholes come after you.
I love Sartwell’s parting words:
to philosophy professors (i’ve got some nice exceptions, but i’m going to skip them): fuck all y’all, you fucking mediocrities.
OP: With regards to the double-life: I am a bit reminded of Soviet composer Dmitry Shostakovich here.
He had to adopt a double life, composing uninteresting pieces to satisfy Communist Party demands for music celebrating patriotism, communism, workers’ spirit etc., but wrote in addition a large corpus of music that is truly subversive.
Nowadays, no-one remembers his party pieces, and the Shostakovich that is being known in todays concert halls is the ‘subversive’ one.
The only reason we remember his double life and ethical commitment has to do with the tragic and slightly unsettling qualities of that permeate the subversive pieces, symbolizing the struggle for true freedom from oppression in a way that few 20th century composers achieved.
The widespread distribution of his music helped his cause enormously. Shostakovich’s 7th symphony (‘Leningrad’) was smuggled on microfilm to the west just after WW II, showing the western world something of the struggles that went on behind the Iron Curtain.
So, luckily, we live in a time where self-publishing is a possibility – even when professional environments do not always recognize real philosophy.
The Shostakovich case gives cause for optimism – where Marcuse, Adorno and Robert Paul Wolff had to contend with exclusion from mainstream media coverage, self-publishing might be helpful for the necessary distribution of subversive and creative ideas.
A few more thoughts on the discussion topic. I will focus mainly on Kant’s texts:
[I]t would be a contradiction (in adjecto) for the political community to compel its citizens to enter into an ethical community, since the latter entails freedom from coercion in its very concept. (Rel, p. 131)
This observation is I think timelier than ever.
Professional and to an extent social environments present themselves as ethical communities instead of political communities.
The recent discussions on SJWs (Social Justice Warriors) and student outrages at perceived racism, sexism, discrimination, etc. are a paradigmatic, yet somewhat ominous example.
Such social justice groups set themselves up as ethical communities, yet their rules and guidelines are more coercive and political than ever.
Professors, fellow students and those that hold a different opinion have to tiptoe around sensitive issues and be careful how they formulate their responses.
Note, again, that such SJW communities present themselves as holding the moral high ground.
They claim to represent those repressed groups and individuals that have no voice to protest against their unjust treatment, or those who are on the verge of being marginalized.
They claim to be on an ethical mission in an unethical world.
Yet, the means they employ to accomplish their mission stifle all forms of debate and silence all dissenting viewpoints.
If anything, such groups are political communities in their condemnation of dissent and independent thinking – right down to the totalitarian tactics they employ to tyrannize the debate.
This structure applies also to professional philosophy or the sciences.
One is almost reminded of the Cultural Revolution in China, where the members of the former establishment were forced to publicly “confess” their crimes: “Yes, I exploited the poor cleaners that I employed…” or “Yes, I ran a reprehensible capitalist business…”
Alternatively, picture one of the fake trials of dissidents in the Soviet Union: they were made to read bogus statements that emphasized the evil nature of their actions publicly.
In the same vein, today’s dissenters (and real philosophers…) have to surround every statement with further preliminaries not to be portrayed as racist, backward, un-academic, or intolerant: “Yes, I do also condemn those micro-aggressions, and I would like to stress that I fully support the inclusion of trigger warnings in study materials, although I do disagree with [some minor point the opponent was making]…”
Kant’s point that a truly ethical community cannot be coercive is closely bound up with the idea of HDE: where SJWs and professional environments try to progress towards a better world through policing actions, speech and sanctioning dissent, HDE cannot be forced. It has to develop on its own.
Everywhere there are restrictions on freedom. But what sort of restriction hinders enlightenment, and what sort does not hinder but instead promotes it? – I reply: The public use of one’s reason must always be free, and it alone can bring about enlightenment among human beings; the private use of one’s reason may, however, often be very narrowly restricted without this particularly hindering the progress of enlightenment. (WiE, p. 18)
This split between public and private uses of reason is probably not one of Kant’s best moves.
It opens the door for restrictions on one’s private use of reason. Kant tries to assure us that it will not particularly hinder the progress of Enlightenment.
The question that asserts itself here is if Kant really believed that, or if this is just a way to skim lightly over a problem in his argumentation.
I remember that Žižek somewhere said that in the later days of Eastern European Communism, dissidents were allowed to protest against the prevailing shortcomings of state-run communism.
One could complain about the shortage of everyday needs, long waiting queues, under-representation of certain groups, conservative politicians etc. – but not about structural changes in the communist system.
It reminds one a bit of Kant’s prince who essentially says: argue all you like, but obey. A little bit of obeying will not particularly hinder the progress of enlightenment….
The communist party leaders could have said the same thing: argue all you like, but do not try to change the structure of the communist system.
As long as you obey just enough, we remain firmly in power, despite the petty arguments about shortcomings.
Further, since the duties of virtue concern the entire human race, the concept of an ethical community always refers to the ideal of a totality of human beings, and in this it distinguishes itself from the concept of a political community. (Rel, p. 131)
If, however, the community is to be an ethical one, the people, as a people, cannot itself be regarded as legislator. For in such a community all the laws are exclusively designed to promote the morality of actions (which is something internal, and hence cannot be subject to public human laws) whereas these public laws (and in this they constitute a juridical community) are on the contrary directed to the legality of actions, which is visible to the eye, and not to (inner) morality which alone is at issue here. There must therefore be someone other than the people whom we can declare the public lawgiver of an ethical community. (Rel, p. 133)
Kant’s move is to charge God with the responsibility for guaranteeing the morality of actions as opposed to mere legality.
In other words, God guarantees that acts are actually good as opposed to allowed.
One wonders why Kant makes this move. In the beginning of this section, Kant stresses that the human race has duties towards itself.
Why then, treat human laws as concerned with mere legality?
Kant seems to have such a view of human nature that – in the absence of some further, divine ground – human beings can attain legality but not morality.
If he thinks that, how can one posit a duty towards the human race? It comes then all down to:
A) positing an ethico-(political) duty of the human race towards itself,
B) setting up a juridico-political state structure for it,
C) positing a God to ensure the morality as opposed to mere legality of the whole edifice,
D) claiming in the end that God is needed to make the whole thing work (through his human subjects…), thereby
E) closing the road to the use of one’s public reason as posited in “What is Enlightenment?,” and
F) re-instating the religious dogma that one is sick, yet commanded to be sound.
Kant will have some difficulty in answering why his so-called ethical injunction is not coercive.
If God gives one an assignment on pain of death and torture, it is coercive, and cannot be called ethical, even if the supposed lawgiver is constructed as divine and perfect.
The second thing one wonders is why Kant is so disdainful of mere legality?
What is it about morality that makes it higher than legality?
Of course, his classic answer is that one genuinely wills the action one is performing.
The structure that Kant so reveres in this passage (a people under God) is if anything modeled on our own nation states on Earth – including an all-vigilant system of observation.
However, this system is obsolete when people genuinely want to obey the law.
Why, then, do we want the State structure?
In addition, people have to do all the good work (as we cannot be idle, Rel, p. 133) but why should we?
The ultimate coercion here is in the injunction of making an essentially coercive assignment into an ethical duty – without consent of those involved.
Introducing a God-like overseer to complete the move from mere legality to morality is one of the things that seems rather problematic to me.
With regards to the structure of such an ethical community:
Its make-up (quality), i.e. purity: union under no other incentives than moral ones (cleansed of the nonsense of superstition and the madness of enthusiasm). (Rel, p. 136)
No other incentives than moral ones: the core of the anti-enlightenment problem is here I think.
Kant sees coercive laws as impure: the real community manifests itself as pure – i.e. without the need for coercion.
Apart from the question “who decides what is moral?,” Kant has perhaps opened the door to a much more insidious form of dictatorship: the one where people believe that they voluntarily follow moral guidelines, while in reality, these guidelines are just coercive laws.
All forms of social censuring, mind-control, and hidden rules display themselves as “prudence,” “the right thing to do,” “social sensibility,” “cultural respect,” “proper manners” – as is clearly portrayed in the case of SJWs.
The problem is not with prudence or proper manners themselves, but the way that they are used to keep people oppressed and immature by eliminating all alternatives.
Enlightenment is the human being’s emergence from his self-incurred minority. Minority is inability to make use of one’s own understanding without direction from another. This minority is self-incurred when its cause lies not in lack of understanding but in lack of resolution and courage to use it without direction from another. Sapere aude! Have courage to make use of your own understanding! is thus the motto of enlightenment. (WiE, p. 17)
Kant holds in WiE that this minority is self-incurred, and partially, I agree with him on that.
On the other hand, the current academic climate is not conducive to maturity.
If the focus is on logic-chopping and making minor points that are valid, yet not fundamental, one wonders how true responsibility in thinking is promoted.
With regards to making changes: this one got me thinking, although I do concur with Z’s ideas.
Y: “Argue but obey” reminded me of the faculty senate meeting I attended yesterday, in which it became clear that professors are willing to be critical of the college administration (both verbally and in writing) but do not seem very eager to do much more than that. (Disobeying can have serious repercussions, I suppose.)
So “Thinking for oneself” brings HDE.
Kant’s comments about how “easy” it is to be a “minor” and just let others do your thinking for you reminded me of Sartre’s notion of “bad faith.”
Does professional academic philosophy promote thinking for oneself?
It seems like it instead promotes writing about things that are trendy and that are likely to lead to publication. [One of the main criticisms I received on a recent journal submission was that “nobody is writing about that anymore.”]
Often this involves a rehashing of arguments and ideas that already have been rehashed a few dozen times.
So clearly writing and publication in and of themselves don’t lead to independent thinking.
Neither does possessing really strong analytical skills or being an expert logician.
Kant speaks of an ethical community.
And Z in one of his posts speaks of teaching students to “focus on all and only the things that intrinsically matter,” and maintains that this is one of the purposes of an authentic liberal arts education.
Earlier in this thread, Z also says that according to Kant (and presumably he agrees) we are not essentially egoistic/self-interested.
But certainly we have it in us to be self-interested, right?
Arguably, the human condition is characterized by egoistic tendencies as well as altruistic ones.
Is it reason alone that allows us to become part of an ethical community, focus on what intrinsically matters, and shed some of our egoism?
It seems to me that one element that is central to becoming enlightened is a certain kind of emotional stance.
Kant mentions having the courage to make use of one’s own understanding.
What other sorts of virtues, character traits, emotions, or concerns allow us to focus in on what intrinsically matters and/or to think for ourselves?
Is one of the goals of an authentic undergraduate liberal arts education to cultivate a certain kind of emotional intelligence and perhaps the capacity for empathy?
Can one ever become enlightened and exercise autonomous agency through the use of reason alone?
I am inclined to think not.
I also suspect that it’s not just reason that leads to my respect for the dignity of other human persons—some sort of genuine concern seems to be central as well, or what one might describe as “having the right inclinations.”
Perhaps some of Aristotle’s thoughts on moral education and virtue could build on Kant’s ideas and pave the way for an enriched conception of enlightenment, i.e., HDE.
L_E: I’d like first to follow-up on Otto’s claim that the current academic state is not conducive of maturity and Y’s question about whether reason alone is enough to secure HDE.
I’m inclined to agree with Y’s view that a certain emotional stance is required to fully promote HDE.
This is a bit of personal experience, but very often it is not enough to know that you are doing the right thing, but some sort of inclination towards doing the right thing also seems necessary (although not sufficient).
This is what strikes me as the most difficult part of any project aiming for HDE: while it’s relatively easy to appeal for reason in order to make a certain point, it looks like the motivations that trigger people to act are deeply subjective. I can offer two examples that (probably) illustrate this point well:
(i) while I know that, for instance, most of us contribute to APP because we more or less agree on the fucked-up state of contemporary professional academic philosophy, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that, at a personal level, we might have very different emotional motivations.
This leads to (ii) the current situation of many contemporary professional philosophers: i.e., it is not hard to find academics who are partially or fully on board with the criticism raised by APP, but it is very hard to find people that are really willing to do something practically, even if they rationally agree with us.
It is true that many of those individuals may risk their careers by speaking out, but it is not true of all of them.
Many senior figures in the profession have criticized the current state of affairs of philosophy, but I can’t think of any particular example who has really engaged in projects that have the potential to promote some change.
It seems to me that this also applies to other human affairs outside professional philosophy, which makes it extremely hard to find practical ways to promote change.
The second point I’d like to make is in relation to Kant’s and Z’s idea of a non-coercive ethical community, and Otto’s critique that this might open the door for more dangerous forms of dictatorship.
I think that one sensible thing to do is to think both in terms of the ends of a given community, and of how it relates to other non-coercive communities.
Of course there are many communities that are non-coercive but non-ethical, and those are easy to rule out.
But as for those that don’t clearly fit into this pattern, such as the SJWs, who are very certain that they are doing the right thing, one might look instead at how they relate to other communities.
In this perspective, it is clear that they are acting coercively, and as far as I can see, that they don’t fit into the initial definition of HDE advanced by Kant and Z.
Boethius: I found a particular passage in WiE to be particularly striking in light of the APP’s general outlook on HDE and the Professional Academic State (PAS).
Given what drives the ideology of the PAS today, there’s no surprise that Kant’s “argue but obey” doesn’t generate much HDE, real philosophy, or action to promote change. Kant says:
I have put the main point of enlightenment, of people’s emergence from their self-incurred minority, chiefly in matters of religion because our rulers have no interest in playing guardian over their subjects with respect to the arts and sciences (WiE, p. 21)
But of course they do! Our rulers have plenty of interest in playing guardian over the arts and sciences.
If one accepts the general line of argument in Schmidt’s Disciplined Minds, that is—the argument is that through various subtle and not-so-subtle means, most members of the PAS are selected for their tendency to obey.
Evidence includes subtleties like biases in tests like the GRE (which emphasize the ability for rule-following and disciplined memorization over deeper critical thinking), less-subtle selection methods like grad school comprehensive exams (which again emphasize disciplined study/memorization over independent thinking), and even less-subtle selection methods like hiring practices that seem ideologically/politically driven.
Why these types of gates for entry to the professional world?
Answer: Because it’s what the rulers want in their employees. This includes employees like professional academics, including of course professional academic philosophers.
Schmidt’s best case for this involves his own field, physics (a field driven by its corporate and military applications), but professionalized analytic philosophy seems not to be far away.
E.g., Z has pointed out the scientism that infects contemporary philosophy in ways completely out of proportion to the influence science ought to have on philosophical practice.
If this picture is right (and I’m only 2/3 of the way through Schmidt’s book), then I’m thinking that HDE is an even harder goal to reach.
I wonder if it might be especially hard for professional philosophers.
We rock the GRE, it’s been shown.
We celebrate this fact, yet what should we think if philosophy graduate students and professional philosophers seem to be really good at exactly the skills and habits of obeying that Kant’s prince prefers?
This makes for even more trouble for the “argue but obey” maxim.
For the “arguing” part will be by members of the PAS that have already been selected for their capacity to obey!
Y points out quite rightly that academic bodies like Faculty Senates give us lots of bold arguments with little serious civil disobeying.
I see LOTS of that too.
I wonder what kinds of complaints might be raised if members of the PAS were selected with a more genuine capacity for independent critical thinking in mind.
The upshot of this, if it’s a correct line of thought, is that reforms to the PAS constitute a much larger task than one might think at first (or at least that I thought at first).
Z: I’ll focus on Y’s really important point, and also L_E’s follow-up, about HDE and the emotions, also try to connect these to Otto’s remarks about SJWs and to Boethius’s points about the mechanisms of ideological control in philosophical academic professionalism.
YES, I totally agree with the point(s) about the emotions!
But one of the real historical-interpretive difficulties in this area is about how to read Kant’s ethics. Almost always, it’s read in a hyper-intellectualist way.
But for many reasons too boring to describe, I think that a non-intellectualist, “sensibility first” reading of Kant’s ethics (not to mention his epistemology & metaphysics) is in fact INFINITELY the best reading.
On this view, our primary grasp of moral principles is via non-conceptual emotional awareness of the basic values expressed by moral principles–e.g., respect for the dignity of persons.
Correspondingly, people never seem to have really noticed that the faculty for practical reason is the faculty of DESIRE, i.e., the will.
So, ethics and HDE are all about the heart.
And Kant says explicitly in Rel that emerging from our self-incurred immaturity requires a “revolution of the heart,” which is also a “revolution of the will.”
OK, enough Kant-scholarly blah blah blah.
Leaving aside Kant-interpretation, my own view is this:
Pursuing HDE is essentially a matter of getting one’s emotions, desires, and will configured in the right way, to respond to the Highest Good = the rational idea of God = the meaning of life (see Wittgenstein: “To believe in God is to believe that life has meaning”) = feeling, thinking, and acting with a good will, hence motivated essentially by respect for the dignity of persons, both individually and in families, etc., and also as belonging a cosmopolitan/worldwide ethical community, God’s ethical Church on earth.
Now as applied to professional academic philosophy, what does all that mean?
Obviously, it’s completely inconsistent with respect for the dignity of persons to coerce them into changing their lives for the better.
Hence the SJW/maoist approach, or coercive moralism, is completely unacceptable and it’s fucking up professional academic philosophy, bigtime.
The task for anarcho-philosophers pursuing HDE, then, is to feel, think, talk, write, and act in such a way that others might be inspired to change their lives too.
That means lots and lots of creative and very edgy, “shocking,” new philosophical projects and works that are disseminated as widely as possible, going under the professional philosophy radar systems, or around them, or behind them, or whatever.
How do you wake someone up from their hyper-disciplined, coercive/dogmatic slumbers?
It may be that the mechanisms of ideological control are just too strong, and that as Boethius noted, the pre-selection and self-selection systems like the GRE, will make it almost inevitably the case that successful professional academic philosophers are going to be hyper-disciplined minds.
But here’s where the emotions/heart/the will can come back in.
The kind of anarcho-philosophy that will promote HDE will have to be heart-grabbing, life-changing stuff.
It has to be totally passionate not in the sense of coercive moralist/witch-hunting/maoist frenzy, like something out Fritz Lang’s M or Fury, but instead like great poetry, great movies, or great classical music, great jazz, great rock-&-roll, rap, or hip hop, whatever.
It’s got to be like dancing–Emma Goldman said that a revolution without dancing is not a revolution worth having, etc.
I actually can’t dance but totally feel that feeling, and I also know that truly great real philosophy is like falling and being in love.
Anyhow, my point is that effective resistant, subversive activity inside and outside professional academic philosophy, in pursuit of real philosophy and HDE, has got to be totally cogent, critical, and clear-thinking.
But it ALSO has to be totally motivated by passionate respect for the dignity of persons, and in effect, by love.
And it ALSO has to be super-edgy, super-shocking, rock & roll, rap, hip-hop.
E.g., it would be truly great thing to be able to do real philosophy in a presentational format that rocked and shocked like John Lee Hooker’s super-classic “Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom.”
Or like OUTKAST’s “Gasoline Dreams.”
Or like The Roots’s “It’s in the Music.”
Or whatever. Pick your fave.
X1: Here is something I’ve been thinking about, drawing on an idea that both Y and L_E brought up earlier in the conversation.
I agree here with the general spirit behind most of the comments, especially that Kant should have pushed harder for HDE in WiE.
When I read this piece, I frequently think about the weird position we academics are in.
Most jobs, unfortunately, are just jobs – i.e., they suck, because people have to sell themselves just to get by.
Probably all of us at one point or another thought that an academic job would be the opposite of this; it would be a way out.
But, of course, that’s just a pipedream.
In some ways it’s a lot better than working 9-to-5 in a cubicle, and that’s because we get to spend at least some of our time doing meaningful work on our own terms.
So, our job is both a professional jail sentence and also an opportunity to get to do more of what is intrinsically valuable.
If that’s right, then we have confusing and messy lives.
We have to know which aspects of our lives are more open than not to HDE — even though on the whole it is overrun by the norms of the Professional Academic State — so that we can focus as much as possible on doing as much real philosophy as we can, loudly and “in the open”, to the extent that we can.
Of course, to the extent that we can’t do that, we make up for it by being subversive in the APP way.
But where and when to do what can be confusing.
So, in a way that differs slightly from Kant’s own formulation of this claim, we contingently find ourselves in a position where we must argue but obey.
And to the extent that we want to shift the profession closer in the direction of real philosophy, it’s probably an imperative that we obey to some extent – i.e., by not throwing too much anarcho-philosophy at our colleagues when we know that it will only make our goal that much harder to attain.
As L_E points out, there are many philosophers whose stature would allow them to say some of the things we say in APP (if they wanted to), but also many who would be risking their careers.
To the extent that one is in the latter camp, it seems like what I’ve said here is applicable.
But to the extent that one wants to see more real philosophy and is reasonably capable of taking steps in that direction openly and loudly, he/she should be flying the APP flag more openly.
In the late ‘60s/early ‘70s, when the Zodiac killer was still doing his thing in San Francisco, he threatened the life of the SF Chronicle reporter Paul Avery.
Supposedly (according to the movie) people began wearing buttons that said “I am not Paul Avery,” including Avery himself.
We should make buttons that say “I am not APP!”
I should also point out that when I said we find ourselves in a position where we must argue but obey, the obedience I refer to is not True Obedience, but some kind of surface-level “obedience-with-a-middle-finger” which I suppose isn’t really obedience at all.
Of course we are never required to whole-heartedly obey our masters, and we are required to whole-heartedly disobey them.
Z: Yes!, I totally agree that the double-life strategy is probably the only sustainable one for most people.
But one question that has to be asked is: why do all those high-status philosophers who COULD say things like APP is saying, never do?
Obviously it’s because they know that in the hyper-disciplined atmosphere of professional academic philosophy, they’d damage/risk their reputations and status, that they’ve worked for decades to achieve.
The other thing that must also be said is that the current and foreseeable future in professional academic philosophy is that it’s really, really difficult to get and keep jobs, be promoted, etc, etc.
And the ideological pressure in the profession keeps building and building–e.g., who would have imagined, 20 years ago, that professional philosophers would have to be scared shit-less about micro-aggressions, trigger warnings, safe space, climate, etc, etc, etc?
The SJW impact on the daily lives of professional academics is REALLY oppressive and absorbs more and more of their time and energy just being careful and obedient, tip-toeing around, and mouthing the (neo)liberal platitudes, inside and outside the classroom.
And that’s not even mentioning getting good teaching evaluations, doing research, publishing, getting grants, getting doing college/university and professional service, etc, etc. etc.
And of course they’ve all got families, partners, or whatever, who rely on them for regular income and a stable personal life.
So people who are succeeding in professional academic philosophy are using up ALL their available time and energy playing the game, being good little do-bees.
The bad little don’t-bees end up in time-out, and having letters sent home to their Moms and Dads. Maybe even suspended.
Ms Pratte told it like it is:
We have a classroom management chart in our classroom. The students begin each morning on the color green. If rule-breaking occurs, the child is given a warning and must move his/her name to the color yellow. This means to be careful and watch your behavior. If rule-breaking continues, the child must move his/her name to the red section of the chart. This means a five minute timeout at recess time. For each rule broken after that, the child receives additional timeout and a note home to mom and dad.
Chalmers, the arch-player and hyper-smart bullshit mondo that he is, never even mentioned the professional academic punishment system.
This may mean that unless you’re super-humanly energetic and super-motivated to subvert and resist, or you’re a totally in-your-face badboy/badass like Sartwell, it isn’t really psychologically possible to sustain “the double life,” if the double life includes subverting and resisting in any OVERT way.
Now what Schmidt recommends is “radical” (read: “anarcho-“) professionalism, including forming alternative communities, taking public action, being collectively overtly subversive and resistant, demonstrating, wearing “I’m not APP” buttons as it were, etc.
OK, great. But Schmidt never got a permanent academic job, obviously because he was branded as a “trouble-maker,” and it even got him fired from his physics JOURNALISM job.
So right now what I’m thinking that people in pursuit of HDE inside professional academic philosophy can do, is basically what we’re doing, covert activity, only more and more of it, with more and more people quietly on board, step by step.
We’ve got to create, develop, and use the “weapons of the weak,” at least for the time being.
Classic strategies include foot-dragging, rule-breaking whenever you can get away with it, ideological sabotage/vandalism ditto, non-compliance ditto, fingers-crossed-behind-your-back minimal compliance, or (best of all) third-finger-raised-behind-your-back minimal compliance, and so-on.
And that’s just what oppressed ordinary peasants and proletarians do/did, at least when the control-&-surveillance system isn’t/wasn’t too efficient.
Now it’s true that the control-&-surveillance system of the PAS is really good.
And the SJW people have no compunction whatsoever about being maoist collaborators and informers–indeed, they even think they’re being really, really “liberal” and “progressive” and “socially just” by snitching on, outing, shaming, and punishing their big bad don’t-bee colleagues.
But all those who covertly or overtly “are APP” are the creative, feeling-for-ourselves, thinking-for-ourselves, non-enslaved-minds, and (at least potentially) acting-for-ourselves philosophy folks.
And we’ve got the will to resist and subvert, because we love real philosophy wholeheartedly, and because we hate what academic professionalization and neoliberalization are doing to it and to us.
So my feeling is, that we haven’t even BEGUN to be sufficiently creative about forging and using the weapons of the weak.
OP: The idea that a certain emotional stance is a precondition for HDE is certainly intriguing!
To adopt this stance, I would suppose that a decision is necessary – a decision to relate differently to the world, to adopt a different attitude that is maybe as much emotionally experienced as rationally comprehended.
What intrigues me here is how this decisional moment is actually reached: it cannot be forced – one cannot be ordered to reach enlightenment. It has to be a decision that comes form the inside – in a Kantian way: to assume the necessity and desirability of adopting a certain stance towards the world.
Instrumental reason enforced though rules (I believe Adorno coined this one) and moral policing will not yield true enlightenment. In the best case it will yield obedience, and in the worst case a tyranny.
On the other hand, some form of reason is needed to give people an insight in their predicament – to awake them from their dogmatic slumber.
I would suppose that this process is a form of moral education.
Maybe it involves providing reasons to explore their own predicament, exposing the pitfalls of instrumental reason, or exposing where communities that present themselves as ethical are in fact political…
With regards to the ideological pressure building up – professional environments are getting better and better in making the ‘arguing’ part harder, and the ‘obey’ part more demanding.
A part of the effectiveness of the PAS rests on the fact that academics have their hopes set on getting published; getting a tenured post etc. – in short, on demands that are not unreasonable when one aspires to have an academic career.
The PAS responds, however, by demanding more and more. A quota for publications is bad enough as it is, but in fact, thresholds for acceptable levels of dissent emerge.
The administrative mindset has not only invaded academic environments on a practical level, but also on the level of content. It is as if the administrator decides how debates should be conducted and what the appropriate content is.
With the level of ideological pressure building up, I expect to see more tip-toeing around sensitive issues and more scholastic hair-splitting in philosophical areas that are unlikely to effectuate fundamental changes.
At that point, anarcho-philosophy comes in, I think.
There is in fact a wealth of philosophical territory that under the current academic climate remains unexplored for the reasons cited above.
If we have ethical duties to the human race (as Kant holds) then arguing marginal points while leaving fundamental issues untouched is in fact neglecting a duty we have to ourselves – to think freely using our own understanding.
Z: Yes!, I’m totally on board with what Otto said.
As to the decisional moment, I think that Kant’s terminology here–a revolution of the heart, a revolution of the will–is really illuminating.
And here are some other analogies/parallels:
Augustine on religious conversion in the Confessions;
Pascal’s reasons of the heart, and what the so-called “wager” is really all about;
Kant’s own Copernican revolution in metaphysics;
Stendahl on falling in love;
Kierkegaard on transitioning from the ethical stage to the religious stage, and the leap of faith;
Niezsche on becoming who we already are in Ecce Homo, and the “transvaluation of all values” in Beyond Good and Evil;
William James on the varieties of religious experience;
Wittgenstein in the Tractatus on all the facts remaining the same but the world waxing and waning at the mystical limits as we transition from the world of the unhappy to the world of the happy;
Rilke on Du muβt dein Leben ändern;
multistability phenomena in sense perception, e.g., duck/rabbit, Necker cube, etc.;
Kuhn on paradigm shifts, and so-on.
But since it’s HDE it’s got to be autonomous, cogent, and critical too, hence exactly the reverse of:
what Kant called “enthusiasm”;
of Emma Bovary-style hyper-infatuation;
of Fury-like witch-hunting frenzies;
of thought control and “brain washing,” not to mention Stockholm syndrome, etc, etc.
How to enable the revolution of the heart and will?
Self-evidently!, you can’t force it, you can only go through it yourself and then try to inspire people to do it too for themselves.
That having been said, I do think there are some life-changing strategies you can try to impart to others, along the lines of Augustine’s spiritual autobiography, and playing around with multi-stability phenomena using meditation techniques, etc, etc.
But ultimately, it’s got come from within the person herself. In that sense, all real education is actually self-education.
Re real education as self-education: There is a great book by the Brazilian radical philosopher of education Paulo Freire, called The Pegagogy of the Oppressed, which stresses the radically political nature of all real education.
OK, now what about–
Otto: At that point, anarcho-philosophy comes in, I think. There is in fact a wealth of philosophical territory that under the current academic climate remains unexplored for the reasons cited above. If we have ethical duties to the human race (as Kant holds) then arguing marginal points while leaving fundamental issues untouched is in fact neglecting a duty we have to ourselves – to think freely using our own understanding.
Yes! and yes! again. But how to set about doing this?
First, we have to get over being scared shitless that big-ass or little-ass professors might say cutting things about our work, as per
Sartwell: to philosophy professors (i’ve got some nice exceptions, but i’m going to skip them): fuck all y’all, you fucking mediocrities.
Second, we try our damnedest to create some really edgy, self-expressive, fundamental-issues-grappling philosophy, for ourselves and for the rest of humanity, and not for the PAS.
Even if we fail, at least we tried.
L_E: One thing that came up to my mind in the past couple days, and this relates to the coercive mechanisms that X1 mentions, is that one way to start thinking about practical ways to advance HDE is to apply some sort “reverse engineering” educational strategy.
What I mean is basically to identify the coercive mechanisms, such as the GRE, and look for the way that they help “disciplining” the minds of academics.
Once we understand the functioning of those mechanisms, we can start acting by doing things in the exactly opposite way.
For example, if the GRE favors a hyper-obedient, “rule-following” education, then we, as professors/tutors/instructors, can teach philosophy in a way that is exactly the opposite of this model.
I reckon that this is not an ideal model, but it gives us at least some real world power on promoting real philosophy and HDE.
Quite relatedly, I’d like to add something to the emotion debate.
I think that the “sensibility first” approach to HDE that Z mentions is, well, very sensible.
And this also relates to the “presentational hylomorphism thesis” that we’ve discussed.
In particular, I think that different styles of philosophy can motivate different kinds of emotional reactions, but this is overlooked by the idea that “good” philosophical work is either of the form of a journal paper or of academic books.
So perhaps one way to put things into motion is to start pushing people to produce different kinds of philosophical work, in the way that Z has already pointed out.
Perhaps this is what senior philosophers who care for real philosophy should be doing: producing unorthodox philosophical work along these lines.
This is one way to covertly promote change and not cause damages to your career/reputation.
Z: Two very quick follow-up thoughts to L_E’s thoughts.
(i) There’s a fascinating section in Schmidt’s book on the ideology of qualifying exams.
Relatedly, it would be VERY good for someone to do a similar critical analysis of the GRE from an anarcho-philosophical standpoint.
I think what we’d find is that it implicitly or explicitly selects for people who are really, really good at narrowly-ingenious, rule-applying, chess-type, puzzle-solving tasks, work very quickly, have really good memories, and are very logically/mathematically adept.
Something that has always driven me crazy about professional academic philosophy is the really obsessive valorization of thinking that’s “super-smart, super-quick, logically/mathematically brilliant” over slower, ruminative, deeper, more broadly creative thinking.
Roughly, it hyper-valorizes Russell as the model of the ideal 20th/21st century analytic philosopher, whereas (to take close-by examples) in fact, Whitehead & Wittgenstein were infinitely greater philosophers.
Russell was trained as a mathematician in perhaps the most mathematically strenuous, test-driven atmosphere, and the most difficult math test, in the history of the world, the Cambridge mathematical tripos.
All Cambridge math people trained for three years for the “tripos” (a three-legged stool on which medieval Cam students sat when they were being examined, apparently) which totally valorized amazing memories and tremendous speed at solving hundreds of extremely tricky set problems in a few hours.
All the brilliant boys—G.H. Hardy, Frank Ramsey, etc, etc–competed to be “first wrangler.”
The strain of preparing for this exam just about killed Russell, and he was 7th wrangler in his year, which he took to be a great personal failure on his part.
He still got his Trinity fellowship because Whitehead and McTaggart thought he was much better than his exam results showed.
But I also think that the whole “wrangler” system totally warped Russell’s philosophical mind/spirit in certain ways.
His attack on the foundations of mathematics and logic looks to me like a truly manic-obsessive way of showing everyone how he really was the first fucking wrangler in the history of the world.
David Lewis, John Hawthorne, Williamson, and Chalmers, e.g., are extreme examples of this kind of hyper-valorization of the first-wrangler/Russell model. But it pervades the profession.
So an effectively subversive anti-GRE strategy for teaching would be to de-valorize the first-wrangler/Russell model and strongly emphasize the Whiteheadian and Wittgensteinian philosophical virtues.
Real philosophy is not a fucking math contest.
Please note that it’s NOT the math I’m objecting to. Philosophy of math in various ways gets to the essence of philosophy itself.
It’s the be-the-first-wrangler-or-die-contest aspect I’m objecting to. In short, the GRE.
–Of course then your best students would all get low marks on the GREs, be professionally pre-labeled as “stupid,” and never get into the top philosophy PhD programs….
(ii) Yes yes yes!, to the idea about senior philosophers setting out to produce unorthodox work.But I think we should be realistic about the impact this would have on their careers/reputations, which is why the high status professional academic philosophers never ever do this.
Roughly, if, e.g., Chalmers started foaming at the mouth about presentational polymorphism and then started producing, e.g., philosoflicks, everyone would say that he had “mental health issues”:
“Hey, did you see that weird shit Chalmers is doing on his website now? Presentational what? Philoso-whats? Wtf. I was already a bit worried when it took him 16 years to do another book after The Conscious Mind. But this stuff is really fucking crazy. Totally bizarre.”
SK: I’m going to make a few comments on HDE and also about our current situation in the academic world.
First of all, I wanted to agree completely with the thesis that every personal turn or “revolution of the will” towards HDE has to start with a psychological disposition (Stimmung) that could be understood as emotional.
Z presented some examples from the history of philosophy, e.g., Pascal with his raison du coeur and so on.
In fact, Schiller in one of his Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man states precisely this idea, that enlightenment needs to be guided by heart and will power:
It is therefore not going far enough to say that the light of the understanding only deserves respect when it reacts on the character; to a certain extent it is from the character that this light proceeds; for the road that terminates in the head must pass through the heart. Accordingly, the most pressing need of the present time is to educate the sensibility, because it is the means, not only to render efficacious in practice the improvement of ideas, but to call this improvement into existence. [Letter VIII]
This seems to be, in some way, a version of what we are trying to claim.
Once we recognize the fundamental importance of perceiving the enlightenment-education-striving as something valuable, but we also recognize the shipwreck that could happen if we tried to pursue an exclusively intellectualist conception of reason (and here we could consider Adorno’s “instrumental reason” or Sloterdijk’s “cynical reason”).
The moment we abandon Schiller’s “education for sensibility,” then we realize that “naked reason” on the one hand an “pure heart” on the other, could each be an opening door for hideous monstrosities: e. g., well-educated Nazis who loved Beethoven, read poetry (even Rilke!) in their spare time and slaughtered people in the meantime.
[Writing poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric].
What I’m trying to say: we should be very careful about how we frame this “emotional” dimension in HDE, however essential that it might be.
And we should also be careful about this educational ambition.
This does not invalidate all the important things that were pointed out by all of you!
It’s just a proposal about qualifications.
The emotional disposition towards HDE– that I will call pathos – can’t be predetermined or laid down in advance by us.
What I mean is that we can’t predetermine or micro-manage either a) its precise goals, or b) its precise nature.
Taking “b” point first. Any precise definition of human nature will tend to make our conception of HDE a mere mechanism or instrument for serving that definition.
E.g., if we say that all people are essentially bad and barbaric, then HDE is a mechanism for “molding” them into something better and less barbaric.
If we say that all people are superstitious and fearful, then HDE is a mechanism or “compass” for leading them out of the cave.
If we say that all people are “fallen,” then HDE would be a mechanism ensuring their salvation.
Defining human nature in advance, even when determined as “rational”, “spiritual”, “creative” and so on, would be a needless limitation of the field of possibilities for human pathos/passions.
HDE, therefore, – and our corresponding conception of human pathos/passions – should not be understood as a mere mechanism for “fixing” us but instead as the radical creation and actualization of a continuing opening, i. e., human potentialities.
That brings me back to a).
I think that there are no predetermined goals for HDE.
Every time we postulate such a goal, that tells in advance what is “to be enlightened” we end up undermining HDE itself.
This means, in particular, that HDE does not lead to hyper-rationality or hyper-intellectuality.
Ironically, this criticism was a standard response to Kantian enlightenment and it points inthe direction of a genuinely radical enlightenment.
In a letter to Christian Jacob Kraus, Georg Hamann, commenting on WiE pointed out an important problem: the “self-incurred immaturity” is strange.
If this is “the human condition,” then how can we be blamed for it, or guilty? Either one is guilty through some choice or act of her will, or one is guilty as a result of some pre-existing flaw or sin.
This makes Hamann ask: “but who is the indeterminate other which appears twice anonymously?”
We, ourselves, are the other, and also Kant must be the other in the sense that this guilt must be assumed not as an accusation made by an already-Enlightened person but as a confession or mea culpa held by someone who wants to pursue this humanizing aim.
No tutors, no masters, no oppressors.
Only people acting sincerely with an aesthetic/ethical pathos or passion where every creative action can be the inspiration for other creative actions.
Any action that shuts down further potentialities for HDE is contrary to HDE.
We could use the Kantian “aesthetic idea” in § 49 of Critique of Judgment and simply modify K’s characterization of it as a representation that “evokes much thought” to “evokes many possibilities for human existence”.
In practical terms – and assuming professionalism as an unfortunate reality – this should produce a double movement.
(i) Everyone refuses to predetermine a personal goal for HDE if it would convert the process of enlightenment into a mechanism for imposing some sort of coercive control on HDE’s development.
(ii) Everyone makes every possible effort to undermine oppression and the predetermination of HDE by others.
This means always being critically suspicious of those who are prepared to TELL us what our nature is, and to TELL us what pursuing HDE “really” means.
Here I find Deleuze’s “line of flight” idea helpful, as implying that HDE always involves moving towards non-oppression.
Finally, taking an awfully crazy and horrible academic world, like Brazil happens to have (equal to other places but with an absurd State control), we can always manage to create some resistance.
And this is the point where I can finally make a positive suggestion.
There’s always a possibility of thinking about strategies for action that subvert any move towards oppression.
Let us take “irony,” for example.
Irony cannot be imprisoned.
That is because irony always slips out of the hands of stupid people and turns back against them.
The best way to “use” irony is the old “give them enough rope, and they’ll hang themselves” approach.
As Kierkegaard says:
When it comes to a silly, inflated, know-it-all knowledge, it is ironically proper to go along with it, to be enraptured by all this wisdom, to spur it on with jubilant applause to ever greater lunacy, although the ironist is aware that the whole thing underneath is empty and void of substance.
So, one strategy is to display the nonsense and the absurdity by giving the professionalizing idiots enough rope to hang themselves with.
In practice, this would mean that whenever the professionals try to apply ideological discipline, you say, quietly, in a Bartleby-the-scrivener way: “No sorry, I would prefer not to. I’ll just stand over here and watch”.
This is never completely safe, of course, since the professionals will then often try to threaten you implicitly or explicitly.
But, to the extent that it’s possible without reprisals, it is at least capable of producing some white noise in the system, white noise that will make it possible for us to pursue real philosophy.
Boethius: Here’s one comment on SK’s comments, and another on Z on Russell:
I’m not very familiar with the figures SK cites, so all of that was good for me to hear.
I agree that trying to formulate some principles for HDE runs the risk of undermining HDE.
If we say HDE includes independent thinking, then the natural question is “independent from what?”
Just what is real philosophy independent of? “Independent from what is oppressive” seems to be part of it, and then we have a nice meta-HDE question about what philosophical oppression is.
There’s the oppression from the credentialing process. There’s oppression from within philosophy by way of what methods count as legitimate.
This might make for some significant disputes: Some argue that logic is oppressive. Others claim a bivalent logic is oppressive.
Still others—maybe others like me—would be happy with a bivalent logic and constraints like following modus ponens over modus morons.
Helpfully, Z had a post (or maybe it was an e-mail) about the extent to which adherence to correct logical form is required for real philosophy: One should be suspicious of fetishized rigor, but arguments ought at least minimally be capable of a rational reconstruction.
The latter allows for alternative forms of presenting arguments. The former makes that less likely. There’s much more to say here.
On Z on Russell: I see two Russells.
One Russell is the one Z describes, the Russell of the Principia and the fellowship and indeed a founder of mathematical/analytic philosophy.
The other Russell is the more metaphilosophical Russell of ‘Philosophy for laymen’ and other later writings, as well as the political Russell that got denied the fellowship and spent time imprisoned for opposing Britain’s involvement in World War I.
I see that same Russell embedded in the first one: Analytic philosophy at first was aimed at undermining the idealism as an ideology. That’s philosophical agitating.
The Russell of 1912’s ‘The value of philosophy’ (which defends the affective goods of philosophy on the person) fits better with the later post-WWII Russell than the “wrangler” Russell Z describes.
Was Russell leading an “argue but obey” life early on? Not if early analytic philosophy should be viewed as disobeying the ideology of idealism.
Perhaps a “double life” kind of Russell, where that second Russell comes out much more strongly once he’s out of professional academic philosophy?
Z, do you think this this a reasonable take on it? I tend to valorize both Russells.
I haven’t decided just yet on a topic for my turn to lead the ongoing conversation, but I was thinking from the start that it would have something to do with this “double life” view of Russell and his general views on philosophy’s value.
The double lives of people who “are APP” seems to be a common theme here.
Z: I totally agree with SK that dogmatic, noumenal metaphysics about human nature, and instrumentalizing/mechanizing the process of enlightenment are completely inconsistent with HDE.
I also totally agree that HDE is essentially non-oppressive and radically critical, creative, and free–and that the most we can do for others, is to try to inspire them to do it themselves in their own unique ways.
But at the same time, I do also think that without a substantive metaphysics of human nature, the concept of enlightenment is always on the verge of slipping back into EL and/or nihilism.
So, we have to do a real, human-faced, non-dogmatic, non-noumenal metaphysics of human nature to provide foundations for HDE.
The apparent paradox here is resolved by doing a metaphysics that explains precisely how it is our nature is to pursue HDE in an essentially non-oppressive and radically critical, creative, and free way.
As to Boethius’s most excellent points about logic: yes!, and the whole question of the role of logic in HDE and real philosophy vs. professional academic philosophy is super-interesting and super-subtle.
My own view is that human rationality and thus HDE/real philosophy alike, are all partially grounded on an innate, categorically normative minimal logic that prevents nihilistic Explosion (every sentence is both true and false), but also dialetheically/dialectically allows for localized contradictions that are systematically insulated against Explosion, an this minimal logic is presupposed and used in the construction of every other logic.
Blah blah blah. You’ve all heard or read me ranting about this.
But anyhow, how could such a logic be oppressive when it’s constructively pluralistic and also non-trivially dialectical?
But on the other hand, logic requirements and the teaching of logic in the “credentialing” of professional philosophers, and the hyper-valorizing of first-wrangler-ian/Russellian abilities in logic, have been and are being used as major instruments of ideological hyper-discipline.
Yes!, the case of Russell is totally fascinating for all sorts of reasons, and I also totally agree that there’s a huge and in some ways almost schizophrenic difference between principia-Russell pre-1914 and political-Russell post-WW I.
Russell himself said he gave up serious philosophy in 1912 or 13, when Wittgenstein convinced him that there were fundamental errors in the philosophical foundations of his logical theory.
But there were also lots and lots of other things going on Russell’s inner and outer life that drove the huge changes between 1912 and 1920.
According to Ray Monk’s biography of Russell, sadly, the only thing that remained fixed before and after was that Russell was always, personally, an arrogant self-absorbed asshole….
But anyhow, it would be amazingly cool if Boethius led a conversation on Russell.
Relatedly, I think it’s amazingly hard now for us to grasp what a truly radical and APP-like thing it was for early Russell and Moore, super-charged by early Wittgenstein, to break out of late 19th century/early 20th century dogmatic neo-Hegelianism/neo-Kantianism.
And, correspondingly, equally amazingly hard to over-stress how infinitely far the Russell-Moore-Wittgenstein early 20th-century logico-philosophicus-driven philosophical radicalism and rebellion is from the post-Logical Empiricist, post-Quinean, post-Kripkean, post-Lewisian intellectual rigor (mortis) and glass-bead-gaming of 21st century “analytic metaphysics” in The Fortune 500 Philosophy Club….
OP: Here are some (belated) reflections of mine on comments made earlier:
SK: Taking “b” point first. Any precise definition of human nature will tend to make our conception of HDE a mere mechanism or instrument for serving that definition.
E.g., if we say that all people are essentially bad and barbaric, then HDE is a mechanism for “molding” them into something better and less barbaric.
If we say that all people are superstitious and fearful, then HDE is a mechanism or “compass” for leading them out of the cave.
If we say that all people are “fallen,” then HDE would be a mechanism ensuring their salvation.
Totally agreed here! I tend to think that these ‘definitions’ are not so much definitions, but ways to smuggle some presuppositions into the debate. This does not always happen on purpose – many philosophers do this unconsciously. Kant’s idea of human nature, for example, seems to have been influenced by his religious upbringing.
SK: This means always being critically suspicious of those who are prepared to TELL us what our nature is, and to TELL us what pursuing HDE “really” means.
The link between ‘definition of human nature’, and the ‘measures’ proposed to improve human nature or rescue humans from the dark side they possess end all too often in some form of political correct speech restrictions, moral policing or the informal definition of ‘taboo’ topics that are we should tiptoe around.
Part of the problem seems to me that a lack of real philosophy has impoverished our moral and conceptual languages to address these issues. It is as if political correct, management-style type of thinking defines the space in which we can think about topics like enlightenment, emotions in the public domain, and moral education. The spaces for thinking about moral are as it were made to fit a conception of moral statements as mainly rational statements, easy to manage and subsume as a domain for administration. MacIntyre works this idea out in After Virtue, and I broadly agree with his worries.
SK: Here I find Deleuze’s “line of flight” idea helpful, as implying that HDE always involves moving towards non-oppression.
Agreed! I was thinking of his idea of smooth (non-oppressive/open/haptic/creative) spaces and striated (structured/segmented/regulated/procedural) spaces. It seems that Deleuze elevated the interplay between these types of spaces to a metaphysical principle – something that I doubt a bit – but as political observation it is great.
Z: I also totally agree that HDE is essentially non-oppressive and radically critical, creative, and free–and the most we can do for others, is to try to inspire them to do it themselves in their own unique ways.
This idea of inspiring could indeed avoid forms of moral/methodological policing. Instead of prescribing what real philosophy should look like, one could demonstrate the point by practical example.
Here, I am all for making the shift from a state of “knowing what” (specialized knowledge, hyperspecialization, competence in an extremely limited field) to a state of “knowing how” (ways to think about many philosophical topics, seeking out critical presuppositions in arguments that maintain the status quo, detecting political influences in how problems are framed etc.).
Gilbert Ryle deployed this distinction in a different context but I think that it holds for anarcho-philosophy as well.
Z: I’m especially interested in Otto’s last comment about real philosophy in its inspirational mode, shifting us from an overemphasis on knowing-what (or knowing-that), towards knowing-how.
I’d also want to add that there would also be a commensurate shift from believing-that, to believing-in, two sharply different senses of belief or Glauben.
But that would bring us back to the religious dimension in HDE, about which there’s amazingly much to say, especially from a Kantian point of view….
M: My apologies to all for being late!
As to the “double life” strategy and the idea that senior professional philosophers should change the style of their philosophical work from mere standard journal publications to more creative, daring, or otherwise unorthodox forms of expression, from a German perspective, the Swiss philosopher Peter Bieri comes to my mind.
He is best known to the German public as a romancier, author of best-selling novels under the pseudonym of Pascal Mercier, e.g. of the tremendously popular ‚Night train to Lisbon‘ which has also been transposed into a film starring Jeremy Irons.
The epigraph in Bieri’s 2013 book on human dignity (and already in his 2000 book on freedom of the will) is a quote in Portuguese with an added German translation of the (putative) philosopher Pedro Vasco de Almeida Prado, Sobre o que é importante / Über das, was wichtig ist, Lisboa 1991:
A dignidade não é uma coisa, mas muitas. O que importa é compreender como, na vida de um ser humano, estas muitas coisas se relacionam entre si. Se uma pessoa tenta dizer o que dela julga perceber, torna-se, involuntariamente, alguém, que traça um extensor mapa da existência humana. A falta de modéstia que isto implica é inevitável, e portanto, assim espero, pode ser perdoada. / Würde ist nicht eine einzige Sache, sondern viele. Es kommt darauf an zu verstehen, wie diese vielen Sachen im Leben eines Menschen zusammenhängen. Wenn einer zu sagen versucht, was er da zu verstehen glaubt, so wird er, ohne es beabsichtigt zu haben, zu einem, der eine weitläufige Landkarte der menschlichen Existenz zeichnet. Die Unbescheidenheit, die darin liegt, ist unvermeidbar und deshalb, so hoffe ich, verzeihlich.
To my knowledge, this is a fictitious figure invented by Bieri who thus combines and interweaves his philosophical and literary personae, the one corroborating the other. I mention this because it seems a very interesting (and at least with most (?) philosophical and literary German audiences) a well-respected way of doing “real philosophy.”
The decisional moment in life is a theme taken up from the “Night train story” in which a Gymnasium (= high school) professor in Basle all of a sudden leaves his job/apartment/town to follow an unknown girl he saw on the road to Lisbon and dig up her (and his) past.
To cut things (very) short: Bieri insists on the necessity not only of moral education but also of emotional or sentimental education (éducation sentimentale in the best sense of the term) – in particular in view of the many forms of human dignity he himself distinguishes (dignity as a manner of encountering and dealing with other people and oneself).
I guess in our over-emphasis of intellectual stringency and rational reasoning these emotional aspects of our moral life and – here – in particular of human dignity are way under-appreciated.
De facto, we are eager to teach our kids to be good, to learn assiduously (the GRE-theme), etc., but hardly transmit any know-how (is it about a knowing how?) of expressing, controlling and creatively shaping emotions.
So we leave them exposed and abandoned to their emotional vicissitudes instead of guiding them to serenity and poise.
If HDE is about a self-assured, autonomous, non-conform stance to the world, the emotional persona should be part and parcel of it (here, my claim is also based on empirical, psychological grounds).
Adding to SK’s remarks I guess this ties in very well with the Schiller quote that “the most pressing need of the present time is to educate the sensibility”.
Taking up the idea of decisional moments in life again: Z has already mentioned William James’s Varieties of Religious Experience
–Here, James introduces the notions of “once-born” and “twice-born” characters and discusses how access to such a change (a second birth? a resurrection? to allude to the recent Easter theme) is gained, how these decisional moments are being brought about.
The upshot is, and in my view this fits nicely the discussion you have had, that this cannot be triggered externally even if there may be certain favorable conditions.
One cannot even prepare oneself for such a moment but has to either passively give way to it or actively seize it once it’s there.
However, James mentions a few aspects which make one more predisposed to experience such a fundamental change, including emotional ‘receptivity’ which, in turn, may be ‘trained’ or made more or less predisposed to certain experiences.
On the double life of Russell: One of my current projects is to write a comparative piece on Russell and Whitehead on education.
The fact that Russell helped run Beacon Hill, probably one of the most fascinating ‘alternative’ school projects in the 20th century, (very roughly) a kind of pre-Summerhill, and that he fundraised for the school by lecturing in the US probably does not render impossible his being an asshole.
(Compare the case of Germany’s leading contemporary “Reformpädagoge” Hartmut von Hentig and his “buddy,” the pedophilic headmaster Gerold Becker–I guess Becker’s crimes make it possible to call him an asshole as well.)
To come back to our topic: I am really puzzled by what “real education” might mean, imply and entail both from a philosophical and from a developmental psychology point of view.
Some of my personal tenets on this can be read as a reply to what SK said:
(i) Education (in some form) is necessary for humans to grow up to become full-fledged, self-governing persons.
(ii) Education may be non-oppressive. (I.e. it is possible that education is non-oppressive.)
(iii) Education should be non-oppressive.
This also accounts for education in terms of HDE.
Would (iii) be in contraction to (i)? Interfering with autonomy to – ultimately – enable to achieve autonomy?
One could argue that as long as the recipients of the educative effort are non-autonomous, not (yet) self-governing persons, an educational intervention does not interfere with their autonomy, autonomy merely being the goal of the educative process.
Even if the latter is not my own position at least the possibility to advance such a view should be mentioned. (As some, e.g., would argue that there is on conceptual grounds no possibility of paternalism vis-à-vis children as not yet autonomous persons.)
I am not yet sure, however, about the metaphysics required for (i) and the premises which (ii) relies on …
Z: I just wanted to add one last thing that, to some extent, combines themes in Otto’s (most recent) remarks and M’s remarks.
Traditionally, the means of a moral education has been religious training, and the means of an emotional/sentimental education has been aesthetic education–learning to play a musical instrument, or whatever.
Both religious training and aesthetic education obviously can be distorted into something oppressive (I refused communion and quit the Church when I was 14, and only God knows how much I hated piano lessons), or a mere boot camp for becoming a “disciplined mind”–a bourgeois professional.
E.g., nowadays, in North America and the UK, many professionals and captitalist bosses regard the moral and aesthetic education of their children as primarily a means of creating an impressive kiddy-&-teenage CV for them (i.e., their children) so that they can get into the Ivy League or equivalent top-ranked undergraduate institution, that will then virtually guarantee their smooth entrance into a professional life.
And of course, not only in North America and the UK.
E.g., Luxembourg (and other European countries) have perfected this system of not-so-sentimental/mental-slavery education into a well-oiled nation-wide machine.
Virtually all professional academic philosophers in North America and the UK (and presumably in continental Europe, and Australia, etc., too) are products of this not-so-sentimental/mental-slavery education system, the boot-camp for professional life.
Now what about real education and HDE?
I think that all authentic education, at any level, should be intellectually and emotionally liberating.
But putting ourselves and our children through boot-camps for professional life isn’t going to do it.
At the same time, I can’t see how the existing system of education as boot-camps for professional life could be significantly changed from within.
E.g., I can’t see how undergraduate and graduate education in the PAS, which are just the “higher education” phases of boot-camps for professional life, could be significantly changed from within.
This means that authentic education for HDE, inspiring people to change their lives and exit the not-so-sentimental/mental slavery system, is going to have to come from
(i) subverting the system from inside, to the extent that this is possible, and
(ii) from OUTSIDE the system.
Correspondingly, anarcho-professionals now have an educational calling or vocation of their own, which is to inspire liberation and exiting, at any level.
How can this happen, in practical terms?
You can give your children or students “dangerous” books to read, expose them to “dangerous” films, “dangerous” music, etc.
You can say very critical things about the system while they’re listening, or collectively laugh at the absurdity of it, and then when they ask questions, talk with them about all this stuff.
You can be super-tolerant when they experiment with rebellion, and also be there with safety nets to make sure they don’t kill themselves.
Of course you can’t MAKE people be intellectually and emotionally liberated–that’s just another form of oppression.
But you can provide the inspiration by example, and the means, by which they can liberate themselves, if they so choose.
And I’m thinking that this holds at every level, from pre-K and kindergarten right up through the PAS and beyond into the professional world(s).
Every professional world.
Every profession should have its own APX, where we substitute for “X” the name of a profession: Against Professional Architecture, Against Professional Law, Against Professional Medicine, etc, etc, etc.
Then every profession could have its own alternative community of people who “are APX,” covertly or overtly.
So I think there’s LOTS for anarcho-philosophers, for anarcho-professionals, and for anarcho-educators more generally, to do. Call it “rebel education.”
At the end of the day, however, the really hard things for people engaged in rebel education are:
(i) figuring out how to survive inside the professional State, once you’ve become a subversive, and
(ii) figuring out how to survive outside the professional State, once you’ve become a renegade.