2010 Fall Proseminar Class Notesb

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October 12, 2010

Suggestions for finding contributions to Existentialism seminar

  • Track the main tenets or principles that come up in authoritative reference sources.
  • Pick a figure based on your browsing of the range of existentialisms. Try to represent their thought in a post or provide a link or resource to read.
  • Existentialism has many critics. Research the reactions of existentialism thought from the mid-20th century. Report briefly.
  • Research "existential psychology"
  • Read a work of existential literature, such as a story from Camus, or Sartre's "No Exit"

Some discussion points on Sartre and Nietzsche

Following Sartre's essay, Existentialism is a Humanism

  • Concerns about quietism, human degrad., and lack of support for human solidarity.
  • Part of S's reply: "it's gloomier to assume human nature is fixed."
  • Major Principle: Existence Precedes Essence.
  • Christian vs. Atheistic Existentialism -- problem.
  • Social Philosophy in Sartre - problem -- Do you choose for all persons?
  • Anguish / Forlorness / Despair
  • Demonstration of inevitability of choice.
  • Last 20% answers different questions. Less a defense, more about what existentialism does or makes possible.
  • acknowledges that the starting point of subjectivity creates some problems. but benefit is that existentialism is the ONLY theory that can give man dignity. moral choice like work of art -- we can make judgements, -- quest for freedom is a kind of general structure.
  • Existential humanism


Simone de Beauvoir

In my 301 class we discussed Sartre, and my professor said that SdB was possibly as (if not more) responsible for Sartre's most influential work as Jean-Paul was himself. Here is a link to the Wiki page on her. She also had a super weird life.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simone_de_Beauvoir --Jlacasse 22:03, 12 October 2010 (UTC)

Free books on Camus and Sartre


I would recommend Sartre work Intimacy it is a collection of short stories including


The Wall

The Room


The Childhood of a Leader

Particularly the last listed is very interesting and I think little read. 
Also the entire book is only around 130 pages, so it is, if not an easy read, at least a quick read.


Human, All Too Human : Nietzsche (1999) http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-184240591461103528&hl

Sartre the road to freedom http://video.google.com/googleplayer.swf?docid=3552873038348468860&hl

Martin Heidegger http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-858369328131624007&hl=en

F. Nietzsche

This is an interesting thought experiment given by Nietzsche in The Gay Science:

The greatest weight.-- What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: "This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence - even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!" Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus?... Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal?

from Nietzsche's The Gay Science, s.341, Walter Kaufmann transl.

This is a similar thought experiment undertaken by Bill Murray: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T_yDWQsrajA


The Myth of Sisyphus

So i decided to take a look at Camus', "The Myth of Sisyphus." In this book, Camus seems to assume Sarte's maxim: Existence precedes essence. For Camus, the implications of this statement are clear. With the lack of an a priori meaning to human existence, there leaves no real justification. Therefore, Camus concludes that the notion of human life is "absurd" and thus completely devoid of justification. Early in this book, Camus poses two scenarios that one may choose in response to the absurdity of life... either to make a leap of faith in God or to commit suicide.

For Camus, suicide seems like a rational approach to this problem. However, he offers a third explanation: to defy the absurdity of life. For Camus, this third option suggests that man is capable of recognizing the absurdity of life. In recognizing it, he is capable of actively choosing to defy it and live life to its fullest. One such way that we can live life to the fullest is to collect as many diverse experiences as one possible can throughout their life.

Camus illustrates what he means using the myth of Sisyphus. In mythology, Sisyphus is damned to perpetually push a large rock up a hill. Day in and day out he toils at it. For Camus, human existence is much like Sisyphus' fate. Doomed to habit and monotony without any real discernible or justifiable goal, Sisyphus realizes that he can never reach his goal. However, he recognizes it and live with it. He defies his fate by living with it and finding happiness. This is what Camus believes we should do as beings.

Camus is an existentialist because he assumes many of the fundamental credos of human subjectivity and lack of an "a priori". For Camus, it is an existential "choice" for everyone to find meaning in life. He places the burden of meaning solely on the human individual rather than on any other entity.

Please feel free to add anything or change anything if you feel that i may have misrepresented Camus in any way.Kobywarren 06:23, 7 October 2010 (UTC)

Karl Jaspers

I decided to do a little research on Karl Jaspers because I just stumbled on his name. I have never heard of this philosopher before and thought it would be interesting to learn about. Most of the videos and stuff that are online are in German so I can't really understand them. I found an article about him in which I will pick out what I think are the main points. (I would have bought the book, but I wouldn't have received it until Wednesday)

Karl Jaspers (1883-1969) first went to college to become a doctor and graduated in 1908. He went back to school in 1913 for psychology. Jaspers became interested in philosophy in his 40s. Most of his publications were under a ban in 1938 and he was constantly at risk for his life and works while Hitler was dictator.

In one of Jaspers' books, "The Idea of the University" the third edition, he talked about the relationship between science and philosophy. At one point he says science and philosophy "differ by nature in their origins, methods and understanding of truth."

After understanding his view on science and philosophy, it seemed easier to understand his "all-embracing" idea. This idea comes from his lectures on "Reason and Existence" in 1935. The example that he uses to explain this thought is "an invisible horizon from which all new horizons emerge rather than as something that is itself directly perceptible." I'm not sure if I am reading this correctly but I believe by this he is talking about being and that it is not possible to completely understand being (human being) but it is possible to understand parts of it because we can look into and study other beings. I think that he wants us to be more open to all beings not just looking into one kind of being in order to be able to find some self-discovery.

I could be completely wrong about this, so if anyone has any ideas or knows anything about Jaspers, please add it.--Jjohnson9 19:30, 9 October 2010 (UTC)

Lincoln Swain

While looking up Christian Existentialism, I happened upon the name “Lincoln Swain”. Apparently, Swain is an American Christian Existentialist. However, when I attempted to research him, I came up with almost nothing (apparently this is because Lincoln Swain may be this philosopher’s pseudonym)! I was able to find a couple excerpts from his work Dare to Defy, though, one of which is called “A Birthday Party for Whores” (I would have tried to buy the book but it would not have arrived soon enough). In it, he discusses the dangers of objectification and how society has found this tool useful and necessary in order to destroy others and isolate ourselves from the rest of the world. Not like this is anything new, per se, to any of us. But he argues that a turn to agape will “short-circuit” this objectification. He has the reader recall how Christ, when he was crucified, invited the thief up to heaven with him. At the end of this short article, Swain claims that agape is the agent through which humanity can stop “hate, fear and isolation”. (One quote in this excerpt stuck out to me in particular: “You are born a human being, but you must fight for your humanity against savagery at all times.”) The full excerpt can be found at: [1]

The other excerpt I found from this book was called The Anti-Purpose Driven Life. In this section, Swain specifically addresses the existentialist idea that people are in charge of creating who they are. His Christian version of this, as opposed to Sartre’s atheistic version, is that “God wants us to create ourselves as we live, to create our own purpose for existence.” This is the test that God puts humans through, that they must create themselves through their own lived experiences. Circumstances, such as being born illegitimately or being told by the media that you aren’t good enough how you are, are not what define you as a person. Swain tells of the kinds of people who live in their past so that they can either avoid the present/future, or so they can use it as an excuse for their present situation. But that is not an excuse for him, since it is not allowing yourself to act, and it is by acting in the present that you define yourself. Despite his belief in God, Swain also mentions that he does not believe in predestination. To him, “free will is a gift from God” and that humans should not use fate as a crutch for their lives. The full excerpt can be found at: [2] --Scobb 00:46, 11 October 2010 (UTC)

Fyodor Dostoyevsky

While Dostoyevsky's personal status as an existentialist is questionable, his contributions to the existential thought are widely agreed upon. The first part of his Notes From the Underground has been called "the best overture for existentialism ever written," and his novel, The Brothers Karamazov, specifically the section within it called The Grand Inquisitor, is also cited as a premiere existential work.

From what I've been able to gather, when approaching Dostoyevsky's contributions to existentialism, it's important to keep in mind that Dostoyevsky himself wasn't necessarily an existentialist (but rather, perhaps, a religious mystic), but the characters in his novels are. In Crime and Punishment, for example, its been argued that the main character - Raskolnikov - experiences an existential crisis - his realization of the lack of a priori morals or values, his decision to act without the constraint of these values (i.e. to kill), and afterwards, his crisis resolves itself with his subsequent decision to adopt the moral framework of Orthodox Christianity.

It seems to me that Dostoyevsky's contribution to existentialism stems mainly from his creation of characters for whom existence is a problem. In other words, their problem is that they aren't sure how to exist, or how to use the freedom that existence brings. I think this is why Notes From the Underground is cited as such an important precursor to existentialist thought - its main character (known as the Underground Man) obsessively struggles to cope with the freedom allotted to him in a world with no predominant or reliable religious or moral imperatives. (I'm not entirely sure if I can substantiate this, I only skimmed over Notes From the Underground, and found it similar, but even more difficult to understand, than the Kaufman chapter we read on Nietzsche...)

[From my understanding of Notes From Underground, it seems as though the character felt he was the only person, in St. Petersburg at least, with freedom. It is incredibly confusing when read in bits in pieces, but as a whole it reads as a parody of rational egoism. The narrator opposed the idea that the entirety of human nature can be explained by reason, but instead focused on human irrationality (which, as you mentioned, he exemplified with the character of the Underground Man). He claimed that a man with everything good may do something bad just to feel as though he is still a man with free will, or at least freedom. He also claimed that the greatest profit for man may be something that is also very harmful to him (it is my guess that by this he meant suicide, or at least the freedom to commit suicide, although he did not candidly express that). Just wanted to add a few thoughts, hope it helps. ---- Nkornblum 19:21, 12 October 2010 (UTC)]

Anyways, that's me trying to synthesize Dostoyevsky's existential ideas on my own. Here's a link to a website called the Existential Primer, and Dostoyevsky's page specifically. To get to his existentialist thought, ignore the bio and scroll down to commentaries. The author discusses how one of Dostoyevsky's most famous works, The Grand Inquisitor (which I personally love) exhibits powerful christian existentialist thought, claiming that the work "explains that free will is the single greatest burden placed upon any individual." Sounds pretty existential to me...

[ http://www.tameri.com/csw/exist/dostoevsky.shtml]

And here's a link to an online text version of The Grand Inquisitor. If you haven't read it already, you really should. [ http://www.online-literature.com/dostoevsky/2884/]Mharmond 06:35, 11 October 2010 (UTC)

Existential Psychology

Background on existential psychology, which has a large emphasis on existential psychotherapy.

Rollo May

Rollo May was an American existential psychologist whose works are often related to existentialism as well as humanism (especially relating to psychology).

May proposed that existentialism is not at odds with psychology, or other sciences, but instead it adds a new dimension to the knowledge we already have on those subjects. Rather than try to understand humanity solely from a "dehumanizing" scientific viewpoint (which he understood as similar to a deterministic viewpoint), May advocated for approaching humans in a exceptionally individualistic light. Even by using such an approach, he maintained that people will never fully understand one another.

"As a practicing therapist and teacher of therapists, I have been struck by how often our concern with trying to understand the patient in terms of the mechanisms by which his behavior takes place blocks our understanding of what he really is experiencing."

He gave six essential characteristics, which he called principles, for humans:

  • 1. Each person is centered within oneself. (True for all living beings)
  • 2. Every existing person has the character of self-affirmation, the need to preserve his centeredness. (The will and, for example, courage, are necessary for a person to preserve their existence)
  • 3. All existing persons have the need and possibility of going out from their centeredness to participate in other beings. (By this he meant human encounters, which always involve risk)
  • 4. The subjective side of centeredness is awareness. (For animals this might be vigilance, whereas for humans it is anxiety)
  • 5. The uniquely human form of awareness is self-consciousness. (This is the first distinctive human principle - it is one's ability to know oneself as the one being threatened)
  • 6. Each person must experience anxiety, which is the state of the human being in the struggle against what would destroy his being. (He viewed this as the state of being in conflict with nonbeing and, similar to Dostoevsky, sees the "agonizing burden of freedom" as the possibility of ending one's own existence)

“I, for one, believe we vastly overemphasize the human being’s concern with security and survival satisfactions because they so neatly fit our cause-and-effect way of thinking. I believe Nietzsche and Kierkegaard were more accurate when they described man as the organism who makes certain values – prestige, power, tenderness – more important than pleasure and even more important than survival itself."

May, Rollo. "The Discovery of Being: Writings in Existential Psychology." London: W.W. Norton &, 1983. ---Nkornblum 06:22, 11 October 2010 (UTC)

Criticisms of Existentialism

Criticism by Marxists

Herbert Marcuse argued that existentialists, especially Sarte, generalize the anxiety of their societies and the feeling of meaningless that their culture gave them as a natural and universal experience. Marxists prior to Marcuse had argued that Existentialism argues that people should, as Sarte puts it in his response to it, "dwell in quietism of despair". Sarte responds in a lecture in 1946 that existentialists are just saying you should only try to do what you can do yourself, and that they say you are responsible for your actions and so they are encouraging people to act against situations they dont like. Skolmes 00:05, 11 October 2010 (UTC)

Criticism of Heidegger and Sarte

A philosopher named Robert Scruton wrote criticisms of Sarte and Heidegger. He points out a contradiction in both Heidegger's theory of "inauthenticity" and Sarte's theory of "bad faith." For Scruton, the contradiction lies in the fact that both concepts seem to pass judgement on lifestyles. In their conceptual framework, both philosophers scrap the concept of a priori meaning to human life. As a result, it would seem that the implication of this is that you cannot pass judgement on anyone. Therefore, concepts of "inauthenticity" and "bad faith" seem to inadvertently suggest that there is indeed a "correct" way to live one's life.

in my opinion, i think that this is a bit of a stretch to make, especially when dealing with Sarte. Sarte basis his idea of Bad faith on the rejection of one's existential responsibilities. Sarte doesn't really pass judgement. Its more like he is just pointing out that these people are rejecting the nature of their own existence. Besides, whether or not one finds this reprehensible isn't necessarily a contradiction. For Sarte, the individual decides for himself what has meaning. Sarte is simply acting in accordance to his own definition of meaning. He applies this standard to others because according to him, that is what man does when he chooses. He choses not only for himself, but for everyone.

Kobywarren 01:18, 10 October 2010 (UTC)

A friend posted this on my Facebook wall, I thought it was pretty appropriate to share after last week's topic [3]

October 19th, 2010


On this topic, it would be good to get some reconstructions of their basic arguments.

O'Brien, Chapter 11, "Naturalized Epistemology"

  • Failure of traditional epistemology -- projects of Descartes and Hume have failed.
  • Naturalizing epistemology means, at root, that you shift from "justifying" epistemic concepts to giving "a description of the causal nature of our belief-forming mechanisms"
  • Quine on scepticism -- only through science can you detect errors and defects in our knowledge. Scepticism is an overreaction.
  • There is no "1st philosophy." No analytic/synthetic distinction, no apriori/aposteriori distinction. (see "Two Dogmas" FAQ below) no reduction of theory to sense experience
  • Example about "bachelor" "blond" and "unmarried male" --
  • 133: "Philosophy does not "occupy a perspective outside science from which to assess the latter's /methods."
  • Criteria for Theory selection are unavodable normative. 134
  • Criticism: Maybe epistemological problems don't really go away as Q suggests. Question of justification persistent.
  • Other ways to naturalize epistemology (135ff)

Brief FAQ on "Two Dogmas of Empiricism"

Q: What are the two dogmas of empiricism, according to Quine?
A: The two dogmas of empiricism are: 1. the belief that we can distinguish two sources of true propositions, those which are true by virtue of the meaning of their terms (analytically) and those which are matters of fact (synthetic). 2. the belief in reductionism, which holds that all meaningful sentences can be “reduced” to immediate sense experience by replacing their terms with logical constructs. In “Two Dogmas of Empiricism,” Quine tries to show that each of these beliefs are indeed unwarranted and that abandoning them “blurs the distinction between metaphysics and natural science” and moves philosophy closer to pragmatic method.

Two examples of a shift to naturalized epistemology

  • Rebecca Saxe video -- this is mostly about a cool discovery in neuroscience, but notice how it alters the traditional philosophical problem of solipsism and knowing other minds. The question changes from "Do we know other minds?" to "How do we know other minds?"
  • Dennett reading, "Redesigning Morality," again involves shifting question from "What are the foundations of ethics (question of justification)? to "How do we actually engage in decision making (moral and otherwise)?" "What's the design problem and current solution?"
  • Discussion of how "algorithmic" a moral theory's "decision model" should be.
  • Problem of real time decisionmaking -- example of picking the best essay in a competition.
  • Shift to figuring out how we actually make decisions leave the search for the idealy rational agent looking vacuous.
  • In moral experience, we need some "conversation stoppers" -- part of our "Moral First Aid Manual"

Here are links to the Wiki Articles on Quine, and the Vienna Circle, which provide some context to Quine's argument, and really helped me understand what he's trying to do in the article. These articles also link to articles on Logical Positivism, Rudolf Carnap, and Wittgenstein, which help provide even more context. They aren't reconstructions, I know, but I do think they are helpful for browsing.

Quine: [4]

Vienna Circle: [5] --Mharmond 06:27, 19 October 2010 (UTC)


WT Jones, "Phenomenological Method"

  • Contrast with Natural standpoint.
  • Bracketing -- involves "not relying on" or "invoking" the natural standpoint as a means of bringing forward the structure of consciousness. "suspending judgement"
  • Claims a superior kind of knowledge will result. (Also fulfillment of project of modern philosophy.) -note quote on 268.
  • How Husserl reads Descartes -- 271. For H, self is not a thing, but a flow of intentional acts.
      • Note--in postphenomenology there is doubt as to whether the <epoche> or bracketing can really occur or take place. So post-phenomenologists have done away with the pure idea of the <epoche>.

This is according to Dr. Besmer, an expert on Maurice-Merleau Ponty. (Dempsey)

Let's try for some posts to introductory resources that convey the diversity of methods and approaches to phenomenology.

The Oxford English Dictionary presents the following definition: “Phenomenology. a. The science of phenomena as distinct from being (ontology). b. That division of any science which describes and classifies its phenomena. From the Greek phainomenon, appearance.” In philosophy, the term is used in the first sense, amid debates of theory and methodology. In physics and philosophy of science, the term is used in the second sense, albeit only occasionally. (Dempsey, from SEP "Phenomenology" page)

Phenomenology Resources

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy page on [Phenomenology]

[Massive online portal to web-based phenomenology resources... ]

[Lecture notes on phenomenology]

[Historical video on phenomenology]


Rebecca Saxe

The video posted with the readings for this section was quite interesting. For those that did not have time to watch the video, here are the notes that I pulled out of it. First off, the point of the video was to introduce the problem of other minds. She explains that there is a region in the brain that has the function to think of other people's thoughts. She called this section the RTPJ. This part of the brain takes a long time to develop, according to Saxe. In the video she showed three children, a 3 year old, 5 year old and a 7 year old, being confronted with the same problem. The 3 and 5 year old did not come up with a moral judgment that the 7 year old did. This experiment showed Saxe that the development of this part of the brain does begin to function the way it does with adults until the age of 7. Another part of the video that was interesting was the magnetic force that could change or alter the moral Judgments of people. TMS is what allows this to happen. TMS only works when the person knows about it, so it can not be involuntary. TMS can only change the moral judgments of the individual, not their physical action. The last interesting point came from the short question and answer period at the end of the video. Saxe basically said that we do not know what would happen when we will be able to understand the human brain completely. She seemed to say that she does not believe that this will ever completely happen, but if it did the consequences are unknown. The only back ground information that I found on Saxe was that she received her PH. D. from MIT and is now an assistant Professor there.

If anyone has more information on Saxe, please add it. --Jjohnson9 17:28, 19 October 2010 (UTC)

October 26th, 2010

Some notes on Culler, Writing and Logocentrism

This reading is one of the shortest "routes" to postmodernism in my experience, and it takes you there through Derridean deconstruction, at least by introducing some of the concepts.

Derrida has some uncanny readings of the history of western philosophy. So the entre is one of those readings, which asks: Why do philosophers have (structurally) such a strange relationship to writing? Why does philosophy "have to" cancel itself as writing? (In some of my grad work, I was interested in a similar question: Why does philosophy have to avoid thinking of itself as a representation?)

90: "If philosophy is to define the relation of writing to reason, it must not itself be writing." Note how speech is less of a threat than writing (and correspondingly philosophers love live "dialogue"). Phonic signifiers "disappear" as sound waves diminish. The gaze of interloctors might be thought of as arresting the drift of meaning. Intuitively, we can "check" meaning in face to face interaction. But Derrida argues that the worries philosophers have about writing really do "infect" speech. In fact, the whole idea that language can be reduced and eliminated in the philosophical model of logocentrism, comes up for critique in Derrida. Why should we think that meaning has a pure origin in the mind and that meaning can be communicated "without remainder" -- without loss, disruption, or change?

Derrida found a kind of transcendentalism of meaning (a "metaphysics of presence," p. 92) in the text of philosophy which could be exposed as uncritical in light of structuralist linguistic, which defines linguistic value in terms of structural difference within a system of signs. This uncritical belief in the presence of meaning to mind takes the form of a series of structured oppositions (see 93)

So what's Derrida's beef with presence? One form it takes is looking at texts in philosophy which attempt to attempt to defend the idea of this moment of presence and through a careful reading, showing how the whole moment of origin is really highly constructed". This kind of reading might be thought of as "deconstructing" (among other things) the illusion of simplicity in the oppositional structures of western philosophy, especially essence / accident and reason / speech. For Derrida, there are only "nonoriginary origins", which is a fancy way of saying that origins are an (maybe necessary) construct of the text of philosophy.

Differance refers, as Culler discusses at 97, to both the deferral of meaning which is a characteristic of language, as well the "paradox of structure and event".

Digression on Saussure: 98ff: purely relational theory of meaning. Derrida borrows this, but also finds logocentrism in Saussure's model of the sign.

In the "logic of the supplement" Derrida shows that the supplement, which begins as an inessential addition, is still added to make up for a lack in the origin. The supplement "completes" the essence. Writing supplements speech because speech is already lacking presence, already lacks stability of meaning.

Alfino 01:27, 26 October 2010 (UTC)

Rorty, Contingency of Selfhood

  • Philip Larkin poem, "Continuing to Live" -- theme "pathos of finitude"
  • -what sort of fear is it -- not just annhiliation or being forgotten, one could also be remembered as not very remarkable.
  • "what Harold Bloom calls "the strong poet's anxiety of influence," his"horror of finding himself to be only a copy or a replica."
  • on a Bloomian reading, goal is to be a "strong poet" - to have the sort of self-knowledge that would allow you to say what you had become, because it was distinctive.
  • But the poem rejects this reading. Not enough if the "blind impress of all our behavings" turns out to be simple uniqueness. (24) need to strive for something universal.
  • Rorty connects this to dispute between Philosophy and Poetry. distinguishes "effort to achieve self-creation by the recognition of contingency and an effort to achieve universality by the transcendence of contingency." 25
  • Rorty claims that important 20th century philosophers (Wittgenstein and Heidegger?) "accept Nietzsche's identification of the strong poet, the maker, as humanity's hero — rather than the scientist, who is traditionally pictured as a finder. More generally,they have tried to avoid anything that smacks of philosophy as contemplation, as the attempt to see life steadily and see it whole, in order to insist on the sheer contingency of individual existence."
  • 26: in the traditional story of philosophy it's universality that counts. our unique, but contingent existence is relatively insignificant.
  • 27: Nietzsche brings in the idea of the abandonment of truth as an ultimate goal. "truth is a mobile army of metaphors" "self-knowledge is self-creation" (hearing Sartre here already?)
  • 29: "To put the same point in another way, the Western philosophical tradition thinks of a human life as a triumph just insofar as it breaks out of the world of time, appearance, and idiosyncratic opinion into another world - into the world of enduring truth. Nietzsche, by contrast, thinks the important boundary to cross is not the one separating time from a temporal truth but rather the one which divides the old from the new. He thinks a human life triumphant just insofar as it escapes from inherited descriptions of the contingencies of its existence and finds new descriptions. "
  • Rorty tells a bit of history of philosophy on 30. Kant, the "inward turn", Romantic appropriation of the inwardness of the divine (Kierk)
  • distinctiveness of Freud isn't in saying that self sets up parents and society in conscience (Plato/Hobbes said something like this), it in what he brings into the account of the conflicts and forces that go into the setting up. That's what was shocking about it. see 32
  • "Freud thus helps us take seriously the possibility that there is no central faculty, no central self, called "reason" - and thus to take Nietzschean pragmatism and perspectivalism seriously. Freudian moral psychology gives us a vocabulary for self-description which is radically different from Plato's" (but also not quite Nietzschean in exhaltation of will or flesh.

Alfino 15:36, 26 October 2010 (UTC)


Here is an interesting video introduction to Derrida [One Minute Explanation of Derrida]

...and here's one for Lacan [One Minute Explanation of Lacan] Kobywarren 02:47, 22 October 2010 (UTC)


"Monsters cannot be announced. One cannot say: 'here are our monsters', without immediately turning the monsters into pets." -Derrida

Well, since we are looking into Postmodernism this week, i figured i would post some stuff on Deconstructionism. Deconstructionism is in many ways a continuation of the subjective tradition of Hiedeggar in that it calls into question the fundamental ability for us to know anything with any level of certainty. Championed by Jaques Derrida, Deconstructionism is a philosophical method which seeks to identify (or "deconstruct) the fundamental structures and assumptions that are implied within the language that we use to communicate ideas.

Deconstruction uncovers that every word or phrase used to communicate ideas is loaded with cultural and individual biases. Basically, this means that there is no one way to interpret one particular phrase, only a multitude of subjective or cultural perspectives on the phrase's meaning. By calling language, our primary means of bridging the gaps between individual minds, into question this theory advocates for an extreme form of subjectivism. WIthout a universal medium to communicate an objective reality, that objective reality either doesn't exist.... or we will never be able to collectively know or verify it (because the means of communicating that idea are fundamentally subjective).

I've read some pretty interesting critiques of Deconstructionism. One particular theory is that deconstructionism, because it is a product of the Neitzschian and Heideggerian traditions, is basically an anti-semitic attempt to destabilize the traditional old testament views on morality, etc. I think that this dismissal seems pretty ridiculous (especially since the jury still seems to be out on Heidegger's "nazism"). Another, more interesting theory is that deconstructionism represents a postcolonial rebellion towards Eurocentric understanding of meaning. I think that this is a pretty interesting explanation, given the way that deconstruction destabilizes many traditional western understandings of truth. Given the predominance of Eurocentrism in the past centuries (and even today), it would make sense that deconstructionism represents an attempt to shed these bonds. Perhaps it could even be argued that deconstructionism is a necessary approach in an increasingly globalizing society.

i plan on elaborating a bit later on a few parts... but overall i think this is a fair introduction. This is not meant to be an exhaustive account.... Of course, i'm not entirely sure that my understanding is accurate so if you think i got something wrong, please point it out..... Kobywarren 02:36, 22 October 2010 (UTC)

Deconstruction Follow Up

I found your post really helpful, Koby. I think an example will spark a good discussion, too. A structuralist, who came before deconstructionists, would say that there is a signifier-signified-sign. For example, the word "cat" is a signifier (a spoken word) which we use to describe the mammal cat. The use of the word "cat" is arbitrary- but it becomes impossible for us to separate the word "cat" from the animal cat. In connecting the animal (signified) with the word (signifier), we create the sign which is the signifier/signified so permeated into one another that they cannot be separated. For example, here is a photo: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Signified-signifier.gif.

But, as we all know, the word "cat" does not just mean the animal (and even thinking of the animal "cat" does not bring us all to the universal and common signified cat). The meanings behind the signifier "cat" begin to multiply and multiply. So the static word of "cat" begins to take on more and more meaning.

It is also really interesting to look at what deconstruction does beyond the meaning of words. Many gender studies, sexuality studies, race theorists, etc will find very important implications in deconstruction concerning identity. For example, the following shift was a shift in the feminist movement made possible by deconstructionists: from essentialists to anti-essentialists (or people who viewed the development of identity as based heavily in experience). For a long time, many feminists saw something universal in the female experience; the opposition would say that these feminists reduced what it meant to be a female to some basic essence. In fact, an interesting argument against the Vagina Monologues (other than that which are administration gave - or failed to give....) is that the play reduces women to some essential component. In doing this reduction, the essentialist ignores the experience that is unique to women of different backgrounds. -Peter Henggeler

Postmodern Art

We were talking about looking at Postmodern culture as a way to understand what Postmodern philosophy is related to, and so I did some research on Postmodern Art. Postmodern Art is kind of a vague term, but the best definition of it that I could find was:

"Postmodernism was a late 20th century movement that opposed the Modernist preoccupation with purity of form and technique, and aimed to eradicate the divisions between art, popular culture, and the media. Postmodern artists employed influences from an array of past movements, applying them to modern forms. Postmodernists embraced diversity and rejected the distinction between "high" and "low" art. Ignoring genre boundaries, the movement encourages the mix of ideas, medias, and forms to promote parody, humor, and irony."

Other definitions of postmodern art include that it was a reaction to what they saw as elitism in art and a blurring of the definition of what 'good art' means, including performance art, installation pieces, and art that is not using traditional techniques. Jackson Pollock's paint splatters as well as in some cases Andy Warhol style Pop Art and performance art. This seems like it is connected to the postmodern philosophical idea that definitions (such as what artists think 'true' or 'great' art is) do not mean just what the word signifies, and that Postmodernist artists think that the words artists had used to use to describe good art had elitist overtones, which connects to the Postmodernist interest in nontraditional and 'low' art. Postmodernist art is in some ways an attempt to expand the definition of what 'art' is and to escape the limitations that the word art implies. The distinction between structuralism and deconstructionism can be correlated with the distinction between modern and postmodern art.

Skolmes 23:08, 25 October 2010 (UTC)

Postmodern Architecture

First, the wikipedia entry on postmodern architecture as taken from the "Postmodernism" wiki-page: The movement of Postmodernism began with architecture, as a response to the perceived blandness, hostility, and Utopianism of the Modern movement. Modern Architecture, as established and developed by people such as Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier, and Philip Johnson, was focused on the pursuit of a perceived ideal perfection, and attempted harmony of form and function,[17] and dismissal of "frivolous ornament."[18][19] Critics of modernism argued that the attributes of perfection and minimalism themselves were subjective, and pointed out anachronisms in modern thought and questioned the benefits of its philosophy.[20] Definitive postmodern architecture such as the work of Michael Graves rejects the notion of a 'pure' form or 'perfect' architectonic detail, instead conspicuously drawing from all methods, materials, forms and colors available to architects. Postmodernist architecture was one of the first aesthetic movements to openly challenge Modernism as antiquated and "totalitarian", favoring personal preferences and variety over objective, ultimate truths or principles. It is this atmosphere of criticism, skepticism, and emphasis on difference over and against unity that distinguishes many postmodernisms.

Postmodern architecure, then, is a reaction against "perceived ideals" and, essentially, all limitations that went along with following any strict historical form. One of the methods postmodern architects use in coming up with designs then, is known as "pastiche". Pastiche refers to art in a particular style that imitates that of another work, artist, or period. Here, the key word is "imitate". By not declaring a specific style for our own time period, pastiche attempts to adopt and then modify the styles of the past by molding them to the subjective value judgements of the designer. In doing so some very unique and variable heterogeneous things are created.

[Postmodern Architecture wiki]

A good way to understand what postmodern architecture is reacting against is to look at some historic styles such as victorian architecture or art-deco architecture. In New York, there are literally dozens of (mostly) older buildings in the "art-deco" or "art moderne" style. The most characteristic of these is the Chrysler Building. The Empire State Building, the GE Building, and the rest of the buildings mentioned on this very informative site : [Art Deco Architecture]. (Incidentally the Golden Gate Bridge is also considered art-deco). We can say from looking at these buildings that there are several characteristics the buildings have in common. The structure is based mostly on mathematical geometric shapes. Additionally, it's opulent and lavish characteristics are a reaction against the "forced austerity" of WWI styles (was most popular during the Roaring Twenties). It is often called eclectic, but the broad design features of art-deco still had to fall within the bounds of what was considered "art-deco".

One of the interesting things about post-modern architecture, is that it is self-referentially undermining. Perhaps this has something to do with Habermas' objection. If the point is to open itself to all subjective forms of architecture, then it, itself, becomes a category, which it chiefly wants to avoid. But if I say my subjective taste leads me to want to design an art-deco foyer of my house, then am I excluded from a post-modern category of design. Does post-modern design have to be a variation, a "tweaking", or a completely original design idea; or can my subjective tastes still be post-modern but rigidly follow a style.

Some examples of postmodern architecture:

[Mississauga city hall] The Mississauga city hall is a good example of postmodern architecture because it is the designers idea of what a futuristic farm looks like.

[Taipei 101 (world's tallest building from 2004-2010]

Frank Gehry is still alive and is one of the most famous architectural "desconstructionists", you will probably recognize some examples of his work because they are incredibly unique and unconventional.. [Frank Gehry wiki].


Postmodern Music

Not to be obvious but Postmodernism is the movement against Modernism, and so Postmodernist music was created in opposition to Modernist music. However, it is also in some aspects an "extension" of Modernism. I have found clips from several Postmodern composers, each bringing to light a different aspect of the nature of Postmodern music. I don't expect you to listen to each song start to finish, since some of them are nearly 10 minutes long, but even a couple minutes of the song can give you an idea of the themes in music that are derived from Postmodernism. Some of the key elements of Postmodernism incorporated into music were: an embrace of the concept of contradictions (which results in discord within musical pieces), considers music important to social, political and cultural contexts, and finds meaning more in its listeners than in its performers or even composers.

One such composer is John Adams. [6] This piece is a bit of a response to the September 11th attacks and memorial to some of the victims. It won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Music and the 2005 Grammy Aware for Best Contemporary Composition. It showcases a combination of repetition and blending of sound, including voices, to create an ethereal tone. The main aspect of Postmodernism represented in this piece is the social commentary, since he goes after such a traumatic event and creates a sound that evokes emotions similar to those felt by many on that day. Another composer who was important to the development of Postmodern music is Henryk Gorecki. Gorecki's song has a similar feel to the Adams piece, in that it creates a more ethereal sound from the timbre (tone color) and dynamics of the instruments. A difference in this piece is that it uses a chorus, incorporating a more human element into the song: [7]

There is also Luciano Berio. Berio has songs that are similar to the aforementioned ones however this song showcases an entirely different musical feel. It really shows the other side of postmodern music, such as a combination of harmony and dissonance (mainly incorporating dissonance in this work though). Before you listen to this piece, be forewarned - it is not what many would call music. In fact, when you first listen to this you will probably think it's just a horrible mess of notes tangled together that someone slapped on a page and decided to call a song. A really stupid, ugly, harsh song. But if you really focus on the song and not on what we are automatically tuned, socially, to think about it, you'll find one of the other characteristics of postmodern music - a depth to the song that requires the listener to really think about it, that makes the listener decide for themself what the song is about :) Something I found interesting was all of the comments below. The comments on this video have become a portal for a discussion on postmodern music which I found quite useful! The link: [8]

Last but not least, I chose composer Brian Eno. I chose his music because he has made a noticeable (though not as obvious as you would think) contribution to the industrial world: Microsoft 95. Postmodern composers are crucial to the postmodern world in so many ways we do not even think of. For example, Brian Eno was chosen by Microsoft to create the 6 second (originally 3 1/4 second) startup sound for Windows 95: [9] Enjoy! --Scobb 07:59, 26 October 2010 (UTC)

A History of the World in 10 and a Half Chapters

Our Book Group for the Seminar is reading Julian Barnes' A History of the World in 10 and a Half Chapters, a novel that arguably takes a postmodern approach to history. The best (or perhaps, at least, most famous) example of Barnes' argument is found in the novel's first chapter, where Barnes tells the traditional biblical story of Noah's Ark from the viewpoint of a stow-away animal: a woodworm. The woodworm - a tiny, seemingly insignificant animal, who was certainly not present in Genesis, and, according to his story, not even meant to be on the Ark, challenges the readers' preconceptions of the biblical tale by offering a different (and, as he claims, more accurate) version of the story. According to the woodworm, Noah was a drunk and a sycophant who mistreated the Ark's animal passengers. The woodworm also calls into question the necessity of God placing of beast beneath man, man's authority over animal (which the worm maintains is an illusion), and the authority of God in general.

More importantly however, by challenging the accuracy of the traditional (and arguably wholesome) story, and offering a vastly different account. Barnes attempts to call into question the idea that we can have any notion of certainty where history is concerned. This notion of total uncertainty extends not only from how events took place, but an uncertainty of lessons, beliefs, and values that can be drawn from those events. Highly postmodern! --Mharmond 23:22, 26 October 2010 (UTC)

Critique of Postmodernism

As far as any critique of Postmodernism goes, German Philosopher Jurgen Habermas is thought to be "the most prominent and comprehensive critic of philosophical postmodernism" (according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, at least). I'm going to stick with what the SEP says about Habermas' argument, since they can obviously relay far more effectively than I. According to the SEP, Habermas' critique "argues that postmodernism contradicts itself through self-reference, and notes that postmodernists presuppose concepts they otherwise seek to undermine, e.g., freedom, subjectivity, or creativity. He sees in this a rhetorical application of strategies employed by the artistic avant-garde of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, an avant-garde that is possible only because modernity separates artistic values from science and politics in the first place. On his view, postmodernism is an illicit aestheticization of knowledge and public discourse. Against this, Habermas seeks to rehabilitate modern reason as a system of procedural rules for achieving consensus and agreement among communicating subjects." Super interesting stuff. --Mharmond 17:57, 26 October 2010 (UTC)

November 2, 2010

Comments on the Enviromental Readings- Light/Katz, Henning

If you read this reading, then you noticed the same thing I did, which is that it quickly moves from, "Basically we haven't done anything useful." to "Even if we could, there is no absolute certainty." Naturalism! Again, we see the poisonous fangs of postmodern philosophy sunk into an otherwise perfectly fine field.

However, in this case it might be a good thing, because it's being mentioned as something which will help to remedy the problem, "Basically we haven't done anything useful." A focused, practical approach is what is needed to solve real life problems, which seems obvious to me, but apparently is not.

Their approach, which they name environmental pragmatism, seems like it is going to the right places.

Dr. Henning basically picks up there in his beginning, and explains that because there is no absolute certainty, (though in this situation we might simply say that humans aren't perfect) we can have no moral theory which is infallible amidst some such thought experiment as involves tracks or burning houses. Thus, we can have to moral theory that applies to environmental concerns which is infallible and so we must try to find (or make out of someone else's philosophy, as he says) an ethical theory which is flexible enough to handle lots of situations, i.e., a messy one. --Jlacasse 23:00, 31 October 2010 (UTC)

Comments on the Land Ethic from the Sand County Almanac

This article begins with the suggestion that we adopt a 'Land Ethic' as a way of treating the environment-- that we do not look in other ethics for why we should take care of the land, but that the ethic we should adopt is that what is bad for in general the land and biotic community is bad, and what is good for the land is good. Leopold argues that wanting to take care of land cannot be economically motivated, because you cannot always justify very well why endangered species can be preserved, but that the justification has to come out of caring for the land for its own sake. He points out that few farmers preserve the land on their own, despite the fact that it does not necessarily harm them economically. Although he says out that land is more useful than just dirt in that it is part of an ecosystem that produces things that we might not know are valuable now-- his example is that of wildflowers helping to return topsoil to the dustbowl--, Leopold ends his essay with the assertion that to understand how important it is to protect the land you must love the land.

Although this is a really good argument for environmentalism, I would like to hear him connect his Land Ethic to other systems of ethics so that we don't have to just take it at face value. I realize he says this is not possible but I think in a broader sense it might be interesting in making this argument something other than him saying that the land is valuable for its own sake and we have to agree or disagree. Skolmes 04:50, 2 November 2010 (UTC)

Comments on Environmental Pragmatism / Environmental Philosophy

Personally, I dig environmental pragmatism & the philosophy that stems from it...

Aldo Leopold's Land Ethic - 'A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise' is mentioned in the Light/Katz reading and, I think, gives a great idea of what it means when they say environmental philosophy needs to have elements of 'non-anthropocentrism' (which basically means that human beings should not consider themselves central to, or primary components of, the universe...)

One of the things that makes environmental pragmatism, as an approach to environmental philosophy, so interesting for me is that it seems to have the possibility to provide a way for philosophers to step away from pure academic pursuits and interact with civilization in a positive way...

On that note, one of the biggest issues to me in this subject is this: An open ended enquiry into the specific real life problems of humanity's relationship with the environment (Light & Katz idea), environmental pragmatism seems to imply that we have the standing to participate in a relationship with nature that is almost symbiotic... that civilization has the power to influence nature, both positively and negatively... modern science seems to support this point (CO2 levels in the atmosphere reaching 380ppm and showing a direct correlation to the growth of industry)... This seems to me to be counter-intuitive, however, because it seems nature is infinitely larger then the scope of our influence... What i mean by this is, for example, that we can, in the short term, influence our planet's climate, maybe accelerate a warming process, or instigate a cooling effect, but is it not presumptuous to think that we can have a lasting effect on something that is as infinite in its essence as nature? Does it not seem that logically we must believe that something as infinite and complex as the system of nature itself will at some point simply start to correct itself? Thoughts? --Lars

I really like Lars' point; I've wondered that myself. If environmental philosophy challenges us to move away from anthropocentric thinking, then shouldn't we be more critical about the actual scope of the impact of our industry on the environment? It seems, to me at least, anthropocentric to believe so radically in the scope of our negative impact on the environment, especially when considering events in Earth's history - like the meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs. Didn't the Earth eventually correct itself in that situation? Sure, tons of species went extinct, but the Earth itself trudged along just fine in the end. The more I think about that, the more I wonder if our true motive behind environmentalism and environmental philosophy isn't to simply ensure that we don't end up like the dinosaurs - that perhaps our concern for the state of the earth is merely just a manifestation of our fear of extinction or our biological drive for survival... Perhaps, ultimately, there is no way to truly escape anthropocentric thinking... --Mharmond 06:38, 2 November 2010 (UTC)

I think that Mike raises an interesting question in his post. Can we escape the anthropocentric view? While the environmental philosophy explored in Lars' post does challenge us to move away from this view, is that something that we can actually achieve? I'm skeptical as to whether we really can. My perception of the environmental philosophy challenge is that it urges us to move out of the subjective and into the objective. While this is a fascinating view that definitely has numerous merits, I remain unconvinced that we can ever actually achieve this. No matter how hard we try to leave our anthropocentric views, there is one fact that will never change: no matter what, we are still humans perceiving reality through our unique mental faculties. Thus wouldn't any attempt to move away from anthropocentrism be inevitably stunted by the fact that our only way of knowing is inherently anthropocentric? I guess the question im posing is: can humans ever really think without using a human mind?

If the planet explodes, and no one is around to hear it.... does it make a sound?

Kobywarren 19:07, 2 November 2010 (UTC)

Who is Alfred North Whitehead, and what is Posses Philosophy?

Alfred North Whitehead was a mathematician, a logician, as well as a philosopher. Whitehead gained notoriety after his co-authorship of Principia Mathematica (1910,1912,1913) With his friend and former student Bertrand Russell. The set of books were based on Logicism, the theory that math can be (in an important way) reduced to logic. After these books were published Whitehead looked to the philosophy of science. He thought that it is impossible to conceive of a simple spatial or temporal location. Real positions would have to involve the whole cosmos of extended volumes. In a way all things are everywhere all the time, because all locations necessarily involve a feature of itself in every other location. This is where we come to see Whitehead in his Process Philosophy. Whitehead suggests that it is process rather than substance is the basic metaphysical component of world.

[More on Process Philosophy]

November 9, 2010


We'll follow the Papineau audio, mapping out his arguments and then we'll discuss.


This one will be more open-ended. It should provide a good challenge to our ability to do philosophy collectively and make progress. I'll mention a few "method" challenges that seem right for our group at this point, and we'll see what you all come up with.

November 16, 2010

Barrett, CSR

  • "Cognitive science of religion (CSR) brings theories from the cognitive sciencesto bear on why religious thought and action is so common in humans and whyreligious phenomena take on the features that they do."
  • -piecemeal, interdisciplinary, 15 years of research, method. pluralist.
  • -2: cognitive structures such as "domain-specific inferences systems / Mental tools
  • -Theological Correctness -- on-line vs. off-line tasks show switching bet correctness/incorrectness
  • -Minimal Counterintuitiveness -- in online env only minimally counterintuitive concepts will take off.
  • -Sperber: "epidemiology of representations"
  • -God -- df. - a counterintuitive agent that motivates actions, provided it is believed in.
  • -old work: Guthrie, Faces in the Clouds, anthropomorphism. Newer work on HADD
  • -HADD -- hypersensitive agency detection device -- (evolution may have favored overdetection). religious concepts help make sense of HADD experiences.
  • -"natural born dualists" (also Bloom's work should be included here, Descartes Baby)
  • -Actions: ritual, prayer, spirit possession.
  • -Whitehouse's theory of "imagistic" and "doctrinal modes"
  • -Boyer - costly signal theory.

Atran, in Gods we Trust reading

Atran basically describes how difficult and complicated understanding the evolution behind specific traits is, and why evolution creates things that are useful but also many traits that are not. He begins by explaining that traits like a panda's thumb, although it looks similar to a primate's thumb, come from an entirely different source and so are very different structurally and are for different uses. Between this and the trade-offs that species often make, such as smaller fingers for more tool use but less tree swinging in monkeys, it is hard to see what structure an adaptation comes from. Atran points out that if the evolutionary pressure on the animal no longer exists it would be very hard to see that it had caused the adaptation-- because the adaptation worked the pressure is no longer evident. The final complication is that some adaptations create 'by products' that have no use but came from other adaptations, which may later seem to have a certain use or even gain one. The chin was one of these, adapted by necessity because of our changing jaws, but later became a feature in sexual selection. He explains that our explanations for features on ourselves therefore can be very wrong and hard to prove, and that this problem increases exponentially as we get to more complicated features like the brain.

Human brains are incredibly difficult to explain, for many of the reasons he describes earlier and also because it is hard to prove which other species have mental constructs like grammar or a sense of perspectives of others. Some monkeys appear to have these structures but the way we test them may be reading into behaviors that are entirely different. Atran outlines some hypothesis for societal structures like monogamy and explains that some of our emotional and social structures may be responses to evolutionary pressures that no longer exist-- he explains that a fear of snakes is no longer useful but is much more pronounced than our more useful fear of an atom bomb. Atran says that evolutionary psychology is difficult because it is so hard to see what a feature of our brains was useful for initially and what features of our brains were incidental, especially since higher thinking has yet to be mapped in a brain. He says he will try to explain the cognitive structures that support religion and how these would have been useful but this section seems to me to be more of a warning about easy answers than proof he is correct. Skolmes 18:31, 16 November 2010 (UTC)

Boyer, Pascal What is the Origin?

  • Chapter 1: What is the Origin?
  • Why do people have religious thought?
  • ref to mysteries/ problems (Chomsky?) -- explaining religion has gone from a mystery to a problem.
  • -explanation of religion lies in the way the brain works.
  • How can we explain the diversity of religion in terms of a brain which is the same everywhere?
  • Natural selection vies us "particular mental predisposition" p. 3 nomral brains don't have to have religion (but they can realize it because of the kind of brain we have)
  • Review of various theses explaining the origin of religion.
  • -Claims that religion provides explanations, comform social order, or is a cognitive illusion.
  • -6ff: diversity of religious belief, diffculties of classification (ex. animism?) Congo might be christian, but they may still worship ancestors.
  • -diversity of supernatural agents: abstract vs. down to earth, salvation not always the goal, official religion vs. unofficial, "relgion" not a word everywhere, not always about faith
  • -example of Fang (African) -- how the thought of spirits; exemption for the white guy (good example of theological correctness).
  • -explanation origins assume 1) explanation is universal goal; 2) religious explanations not like ordinary ones.
  • -interest in particular evils, not always generl prob ove evil. '
  • -p. 14: Shaman story (with the stauettes) -- different kind of explanation.
  • -Sperber -- religion creates "relevant mysteries." We need to ask, "What makes a mystery relevant?"
  • -minds are not general explanation machines, but particular ones. (16) "inference systems" rleigions do make use of inference systems. in normal explaatnion we reserve bio explanations for biological events, etc. not so in religion.
  • -religious thought involves distinct predictiabl inferencnormal (Categories are violated.)
  • -positive thesis: religious concepts are influence by a distinct inference system.
  • -problem with "religion as comfort" explanation -- rituals might create the need they satisfy (p. 20). also, rleigions with reassuring explanations tend to come from wealthy environments.
  • -assurance about mortality just isn't always an issue.
  • -positive thesis: emotions -- our evolutionary heritage might explain how "emotional programs" affect religious concepts.
  • -religion as social glue -- crit. p. 24 - religion not always in charge of the social order.
  • -functionalism --- out in anthropology since 60s --- problem: some institutions have no clear function, explanations seemed increasingly ad hoc, social not a "whole", necessarily.
  • -yet, wants to bring back some notion of functionalism -- claims that the discovery of the "social mind" helps explain how we choose representations that promote social cohesion (27).
  • Religion as an illusion -- sleep of reason -- criticism: need to explain specific contours of religious concepts. What do people accept these concepts over others?
  • 32: Turning question around: religoius concepts we observe are relatively successfull. We should see religion as a "reduction of concepts"
  • 33: "Does this mean that at some point in history people had lots of possible versions of religion and that somehow one of them proved more successfiil? Not at all. What it means is that, at all times and all the time, indefinitely many variants of religious notions were and are created inside individual minds. Not all these variants are equally successful in cultural transmission. What we call a cultural phenomenon is the result of a selection that is taking place all the time and everywhere."
  • memes -- problems with memes
  • example of the fate of two memes: "meme" and "selfish gene"
  • our minds select and work on membes not just transmission.
  • -concepts and templates.

More readings if anyone is interested form Evolutionary Religious Studies

beginner readings Other books and articles

November 30, 2010

Questions/Observations on Fair Trade ethics

Potential Criticisms

Here are some potential criticisms of fair trade co-ops. They don't criticise the existence of such porgrams, but rather they focus on the ways in which they are currently organized.


Pros and Cons of Fair Trade Coffee this is a particularly interesting column especially towards the end. It focuses on so much on the ideology of fair-trade ethics, but on the practical real life results that these fair-trade alliances are achieving. For example: Peruvian fair trade farmers and workers are actually found to earn less than the countries minimum wage. Just some details to keep in mind.

These are just some examples of criticisms that people have about how the system works right now. Perhaps this is more concerned with practicality than theory, but i doubt anyone is really contesting the principle of free trade coffee. Kobywarren 02:56, 30 November 2010 (UTC)

The article that Julian posted <http://omanhenecocoa.com/?page_id=378> from Omanhene Cocoa Bean Company's website has similar criticism's of the conventional fair-trade third-party overseers explaining why Omanhene Cocoa has cut-out fair trade organizations from their sustainable business. I don't believe this article questions the ethics of fair-trade organizations-- the intentions of fair-trade organizations seem perfectly in line with the company's own-- rather, he is questioning the methods they are using which render their intentions superfluous.

Omanhene is a cocoa company based out of Ghana. The core of the problem with the fair-trade authority, notes the author and founder of the company, Steven Wallace, is two-fold:

1. the most recognized fair trade cert. agency requires the purchase of cocoa beans exclusively from farmer cooperatives.

why is this a problem: Ghana has, by Omanhene's estimation, 600,000 family owned cocoa farms, 90% or more of which are not members of any cooperative.

2. the audit procedure of the fair trade agencies is too narrow and focuses only on the price paid to farmer cooperatives. The fair trade price paid to a cooperative amounts to a 'unilateral' SUBSIDY rather than a market-based premium.

why is this a problem: at this point, the company's founder declares, "where do I begin." this ignores other important issues such as environmental sustainability, value-added manufacture in-country (BIG ONE), child labor issues, and corruption. Not to say that the price paid to farmers directly is unimportant, but the method of a subsidy for doing this depends on the good will of the buyer (which, the founder of Omanhene asserts, is unsustainable). Also, by ignoring where the goods are manufactured they are cutting out a massive amount of revenue that would help out the country significantly more than keeping Ghana primarily an agricultural economy. If the cocoa beans were manufactured in Ghana rather than outside of Ghana it would be more environmentally friendly (not having to ship the beans to and fro), as well as a huge boon to the economy of Ghana, far more important than any subsidy would be to the farmers.

He goes into quite a bit more detail in a more ordered and systematic way, so I recommend reading the article. But, I think to summarize, he asserts, the philosophy of his company is far more valuable than fair trade agencies because they want to implement the WHOLE economies of these countries into the picture and put them in charge of their own futures, rather than keeping them in the position to be the beneficiaries of rich-people's good graces (i.e., sustaining their place as almost exclusively agrarian economies).

Ian Dempsey