i've created the pantheon as a web page, adding emerson, thoreau, margaret fuller, and the quite amazing lydia maria child. i will begin to add links to texts by these folks and other materials, some of which i'll be typing in.
meanwhile, the paper keeps growing. in connecting the radicals to the transcendentalists, i've got emerson, from the journals, approving non-resistance and its attendant anarchism.
Of 'the principle of non resistance,' he says "Trust it. Give up the Government without too solicitously inquiring whether roads can be still built, letters carried, & title deeds secured when the government of force is at an end" (vol 1 711). He too saw Mott preach. He praises her courage and says "she makes every bully ashamed (vol 2 508-509).
you know, research can be amazingly stimulating and fun. just had a nice moment with regard to the new pantheon (see entry immediately below). so, one thing i am doing is putting emerson and thoreau (as well as alcott and fuller) in this group as a single political movement. now i think my best score up to this point has been documenting lucretia mott's anarchism; she is emerging as an important inspiration and directly linking figure. i think you could say that anarchism arises out of feminism as well as vice versa (cf. godwin and wollstonecraft). i notice that a number of thoreau's formulations in 'civil disobedence' resemble mott.
as it happens, we can document that thoreau saw lucretia mott preach, and can even more or less know the sermon she preached. he actually calls her a transcendentalist. she was born a decade before emerson.
from the emerging paper:
Indeed, the influence was direct. Thoreau saw Lucretia Mott preach in 1843, and wrote to his sister about it.
I believe I have not told you about Lucretia Mott. It was a good while ago I heard her at the Quaker Church in Hester St. She is a preacher, and it was advertised that she would be present on that day. I liked all the proceedings very well. . . At length, after a long silence, waiting for the spirit, Mrs. Mott rose, took off her bonnet, and began to utter very deliberately what the spirit suggested. Her self-possession was something to say [see?], if all else failed - but it did not. Her subject was the abuse of the Bible - and thence she straightaway digressed to slavery and the degradation of woman. It was a good speech - transcendentalism in its mildest form. (July 21, 1843, The Correspondence, 128)
'Mildest' here I believe is used in a somewhat Christian, lamb-of-God-type sense, because there is no doubt that Mott's preaching was fierce; we have a fair example of what Thoreau heard in her sermon of the same year "Righteousness Gives Strength to its Possessor" (Complete Speeches and Sermons, 35-52). But it is certainly significant that he regards her as preaching transcendentalism, throughout.
i am going to try to type in part of mott's 1843 sermon and post a link.
a few remarks on paul horwich's wittgenstein thing in the nytimes. first of all, in my experience, philosophers talk in hushed tones of reverence about wittgenstein rather than hating on him, but this may be my particular milieu coming up: uva was center of wittgensteinianism; i was more worried about the cult than the haters. also, the whole damn century was dedicated to the end of philosophy, the grand metaphysical project: nietzsche said it was over, carnap, dewey, heidegger, rorty, derrida; philosophy in the twentieth century was an interminable declaration of its own end. so wittgenstein wasn't alone in that.
now, we ought to think of philosophy not as a science but as an art (however, i also don't think you can do science without philosophy, and science too has aspects of art). so, you wouldn't say that we've been doing that sculpture stuff since the greeks and we haven't come up with the sculpture that makes all other sculptures ridiculous: the final irrefutable sculpture, so we should give that crap up. the point is definitely not to put the thing to rest, but to make the next interesting move. the point is precisely for it not to come to an end, and just practice it and become absorbed in it. art has to be sufficient to the full extent of many long lives.
as to the nature of truth: well, i have knocked this sucker down once and for all in the grandest non-deflationary style. horwich will just have to wait for entanglements haha!
honestly, i have no idea what's supposed to be at stake in the currently raging individualism/collectivism debate. it's not like i can choose not to be an individual, and it's not like i can cease to be in relation/connection to other people. i can't become everybody, but on the other hand i can't cease to be part of everybody or indeed everything. maybe we basically mean selfishness vs. generosity? oh i am for generosity. or maybe we mean liberty against coercion? i am for liberty. anyway, i actually don't think that practical politics can turn on these gigantic woolly abstractions, and if you make, say, your position on 34.6% or 39% in the marginal tax rate turn on your view about fundamental ontology or the locus of human consciousness, you are being very silly. but it does make a seemingly relatively minor debate like that insanely fraught, so that corporate and personal identities are apparently at stake in every little adjustment. that's one reason you have so much trouble compromising.
but really, we're chumps to be throwing around these categories without trying to get clear on what they could possibly mean. they have the typical qualities that gigantic abstractions display when they enter the discourse of politicians and pundits: neither has any clear or non-contradictory content, and if you'll excuse my saying so, you need philosophers (specialists in big woolly abstractions) to try to set up an actual taxonomy or at least provide some clarifying definitional/historical work that would lend the debate some meaning aside from the evident power of these terms as manipulative tropes.
it's not like you could achieve the collective good without doing good for any particular person, and it's not like you could do good for each particular person and not help everybody. there just cannot be this opposition as it's being framed right now. any position that tempts you to deny the existence of individuals or the existence of groups is obviously ridiculous, and then the work is to try to figure out the relations in some realer or thicker way that doesn't expunge either of these realities.
if you removed the individuals there would be no connections, and if you removed the connections there would be no individuals. for that matter, individuals are not atoms; each of us is a complicated web of relations as well. indeed, each of us is individuated precisely by our connections: no one else has the same relations to the same people and other things in the world as i do, and when you do this over time, each of us is massively unique precisely by the history of our relations. well that's the metaphysics of my big next book entanglements.
photo credit: jane sartwell
in honor of the late james buchanan: my refutation of his argument for the necessity of state power. as a free bonus feature you get my (then-)little daughter running about behind me trying to mess up my video because it's taking my attention!
one thing that is typical of our scientistic moment, as in the late nineteenth century, is the idea that we can derive morality or moral values from evolution. now, i am afraid not, and i will briefly state the overwhelming problems.
(1) the classical is/ought problem: evolution cannot account for normative force or moral claims. so let's say it was counter-evolutionary to take your stuff. is that a reason not to take your stuff? you might have many good arguments that it's wrong to take your stuff, but the idea that i am swimming against the tide of evolution might be met with a mere shrug. what if it turned out that some forms of violence or crime were adaptive? would that show that they were right? also evolution makes use of counter-adaptive behavior as much as adaptive behavior. acting counter-adaptationally is necessary to the progress of the species, and i and my offspring will pay the price if in fact i am so acting.
(2) the basic inference has to be from actuality to etiology: arguments from evolution start by presuming that we are what evolution made us. so look: staring squarely at the data, we ought to speculate that both what we would think of as good behavior and bad have been selected for, insofar as we so stubbornly display both. insofar as evolution has selected us, it has, obvioously, selected both cooperation and competition, good and evil, happiness and pain, and so on. it appears, like the rest of nature, to be morally indifferent. if it was really selecting against theft or individualist philosophy or something it should have done better than it has so far in weeding out thieves and individualists.
in short if you want ethics without god you are going to have to find it elsewhere.
watcha readin, crispy? well i'm working on the nature of human freedom, if any, and i keep coming back to friedrich schelling. he's a wildly problematic figure, and in many ways, starting from idealist assumptions, he refutes idealism. if schelling's philosophy stood in the pantheon where his college friend/fierce rival hegel's stands, we would have had a better last couple of centuries in philosophy, in my opinion. on the other hand, i don't think his work could quite bear that kind of weight. he's very mercurial. and whereas hegel's prose is often just sludgy and unbelievably pretentious, schelling's at times just seems contradictory or even meaningless.
now, i'm reading zizek's book on schelling, the indivisible remainder. this zizek person, at his best, is really really good, and i think schelling has not, in at least a century, had so intent and creative an interpreter. now were it me, i would not throw in lacan (indeed, i would construct the world's largest catapult in order to launch lacan into deep space; who's with me?), but it's a more natural pairing than some, and characteristically, zizek gets into some good nooks.
maybe i've done this before. i greatly admire zizek, even though i think his politics is unbelievably wrong. he's always flirting back and forth with totalitarianism, if you ask me, though he says not, and such a thing is always inspiring to the academic left. but what an incredibly smart nut. he has the gift for provocation that seems to elude me no matter how hard i try. and that begins to register the fact that i also envy zizek his success; he's the taylor swift of philosophy, our pop princess. where do i get a little slice of that attantion? but the fact that you resent someone's success, unfortunately, doesn't mean he doesn't deserve it.
i solved the free will/determinism/moral responsibility problem last night. sheesh! that was a long few millennia. here's a wee slice, super-rough, from entanglements:
I think we should experiment with the notion of detaching moral responsibility from freedom. First of all, we should appreciate that our practices of blame are quite equivocal in this regard. As research in a variety of areas proceeds, and just as a matter of human common sense, we know that the more carefully you examine the antecedents of an action and the agent who performed it, the less free it appears, and in general that the sort of agency constructed in certain legal and philosophical segments of Western culture does not appear very aptly to describe things such as ourselves. We keep learning about the effects of geneology or environment on the formation of character, for example. Then we might approach the question of responsibility from the point of view of the configuration and connections of the agent: does the act emerge in the right way from the right sort of self? Only I want to emphasize that if we start in this direction, I will not tolerate an account of the right sort of self according to which it consists of a rational commander and a slave body. Freedom might be one dimension to explore, but it is not the only dimension. I do think, as well, that we had better reconceive psychological afflictions as well as capacities as at least often intrinsic to the person who possesses them, even in cases where they eventuate in 'compulsive' action; in such cases, it seems to me, a person should be deemed responsible for the acts that eventuate.
I myself on a bad day more or less blame everything for everything. I often blame information-processing devices, and informally atribute to them a malevolent agency bent on thwarting my desires. I often hold plumbing fixtures or cabinetry responsible for various balky or malfunctioning episodes, and I often punish such things by smacking them. It's often said that no one is stupid enough to blame inanimate objects for things, but I doubt I am alone in doing just that. Now presumably the sticky silverware drawer is not directing the various physical parts of itself by a rational will etc. Still I do not think blaming stuff for shit is entirely wrong or irrelevant. I blame the drawer for being what it is: old, shoddy, flimsy, and so on. It doesn't strike me as evil, only as configured so as to frustrate the function for which it was manufactured. I blame and punish it for that, and I may even have to go to Home Depot in a serious effort at rehabilitation. If I judge the drawer incorrigible, I might even issue a death sentence. The other day I rodneykinged my vacuum cleaner, which after having wrestled with the damned thing for three years I found extremely satisfying. It constituted a kind of justice.
One thing I would like to articulate as an important principle of my philosophy: things are at fault. Things suck. They are constantly getting in the way. Things wear you down, you know? This is meant as a cure for the tendency, manifested in the ontology chapter, to treat the material univese like a beautiful and holy thing. Perhaps or certainly so, and yet much of the material universe is almost unbelievably stupid. The idea that we don't hold things, or maybe time and so on, responsible, because those things aren't agents because those things can't do otherwise than they do is just silly. We do it all the time. Maybe we oughtn't. But I think we are in fact well within our purview. But then this suggests in the most radical way that moral responsibility needs to be detached from the whole complex of freedom, agency, action, goal, decision, deliberation. Now, I do not want to suggest that this detachment of responsibility from freedom rests on the claim that inanimate objects are responsible for stuff; it's a queston of about human moral responsibility. Still the first move is usually just a perfunctory appeal to our intuitions, as in the 'argument' that knowledge requires something more than true belief. And I am saying that the inanimate object case shows that our actual practices are very far from what philosophers represent as our obvious intuitions. To some extent, their account of out intuitions is captured in our practices: in the murder statutes that require deliberation for maximum culpability, for example. But that an intuition is enforced does not necessarily show it to be widely shared, and I'm not sure that, all things considered, an impulsive serial killer will be regarded by most folks as less culpable than a serial kiler who is a master of Aristotelian practical rationality.
When I moved into my little schoolhouse here in Adams County, I realized I had a rather serious poison ivy problem: there were vines growing up into the trees, up the walls of the house, crawling out of the underbrush into the yard with those glossy green leaves. I came to think of the thing as one huge organism or vine that had my house in its clutches like a hand. I fought back with Roundup, but the thing delivered many rashes. The skirmishes continue. I'm at war with the brown marmorated stinkbugs yet again this year: stupid agents, but sort of relentless. My car deserves the junkyard. In short, we or at least I blame all sorts of things for all sorts of things, or on the other hand credit them for their smoothness or slickness or effectiveness or their goodness after their kind. We credit them with beauty or hilarity or strangeness, in virtue of being what they are.
And I think that, fundamentally, this is what we do to each other. If you were a victim of sexual abuse, do you think that the alleged fact that the action was compulsive actually make you blame the perpetrator less? Now that we've learned that you're a psychopath, it's no less rational, putting it mildly, to blame and punish you more rather than less harshly in virtue of what you are; but maybe psychopathy is more instrinsically connected to personality than some other mental conditions, at least it is in the sense that there don't seem to be good treatments so far. Our practices are at least equivocal in this regard. So the fact that one is an alcoholic, even where this is supposedly exclusively conceived on a disease model, is not a defense against a charge of drunk driving. Now maybe this is just meant to have a utilitarian deterrent effect, but it's also not out of keeping with our actual practices of holding people responsible.
Various philosophers - Chisholm, for example - have argued that people who are 'naturally' good, generous without effort, and so on, are less praiseworthy than those for whom generosity is a terrible struggle. I just don't think that lines up with our practices, and a naturally good person is a kind of saint, and is liable to be widely admired and credited with her good works. He quotes Thomas Reid quoting the Roman historian Velleius Paterculus on Cato the Younger: "He never did a right action solely for the sake of seeming to do the right, but because he could not do otherwise" (Loeb p. 126). Chisholm approves Reid's remark that this "strictly, is not the praise of Cato, but of his constitution, which was no more the work of Cato than his existence" (Chis in Pereboom 145, Essays on the Active Powers of Man, essay iv, ch. 4). Obviously, however, Velleius Paterculus uses this as the highest praise imaginable, and indeed in a Cato-style Stoic worldview, the moral praiseworthiness of one's actions cannot depend on their voluntariness. Indeed, I would think that the idea that Cato is not morally praiseworthy because his character is not his own doing is something that would only occur to someone laboring under a theory; it surely does not correspond at all to our natural reaction or our practice with regard actyually to dealing out praise.
We are not constantly pressing people whom we praise or blame for the antecedents of their actions or proof that they are free much less for proof that they are responsible for the excellence of their own character - and I just do not think that freedom plays the sort of role in attributions of responsibility that various philosophers believe it does. We might entertain the idea that there are many sources of responsibility, or many circumstances under which we attribute responsibility, or many factors that are relevant to the question of whether someone is responsible and to what degree and for what exactly. Chisholm's view of free will - which is sort of beautiful in its reactionary perversity - is sometimes called the 'agent causation' view: an act is free and the agent responsible for it when the agent is the cause of the action, when the agent genuinely chose the action and brought it about. And then Chisholm distinguishes the agent from the agent's beliefs and desires; if the agent is caused to act, even by her own beliefs and desires, she is not acting freely. There is insight at the heart of this: one is responsible in part in virtue of how the self is configured at the time of action. Or: if the self is the right sort of causal factor in the act, then one is responsible for it. But on my view we need not pass the relation of agent-causation through the concept of freedom: all we need for moral agency is responsibility, and the two can be severed.
Now, on my view, the human self is a real thing that has real causal effects. I think it is a material thing, if it is anything, and I think that it is volatile, and I think that it is composed of other things. Now, I do think that whatever the human self is doing at any given time is whatever all the pieces of that self are doing at that time, but the reduction of the self to particles or faculties or whatever is no more or less justified than the production of the self out of particles, and the particles are no more real causal agents than is the whole self/situation. So I think in some cases human selves are real causal factors in events, and if they are the right sort of factors, then those selves can be held responsible. There may be no entirely clear or systematic way of characterizing the circumstances under which a self is in the right sort of configuration and relations, or there may be a wide variety of such configurations and relations that could support a reasonable attribution of of the act to that self, or any particular degree of responsibility for it.
But I want emphatically to distinguish the sort of self I am countenancing or declaring myself to be from Chisholm's, which has the problem we see arise again and again: the self is always receding, is an extensionless point: in short, is a soul, monad etc. My self is a congeries, no more or less a single real thing than a table or possibly a heap. And obviously I am not going to trace any causal chain in some ultimate sense to an origin in a self, conceived thinly or thickly; the self I am saying I am is fully, entirely embedded in the ongoing flood of physical causation. The question isn't whether the causal chain originates in the agent; the question is whether it runs through the agent in the right ways, whether the action was indeed something you did.
In other words, more or less accepting some form of determinism or at least declaring it to be obscure how freedom actually does or could emerge in a natural universe, it is open to us what approach to take. We could start to suggest that our attributions of responsibility should be attenuated or even eliminated. They are not necessary, for example, to a utilitarian justification of punishment, and in any case toning down the blame might be appropriate. This actually does seem to be proceeding in many arenas including the criminal law, which is in a slow transformation to what we might think of as a medical model or the self as beset by illnesses and treatable by pharmaceuticals, for example. Or one could take the compatibilist approach of continuing to regard responsibility as important and even as underlain by freedom, but a freedom compatible with physical causation. Or one could take the approach of decoupling responsibility from freedom, as I am suggesting.
This reflects, as I have said, for one thing a desire to myself take responsibility even for acions in which I did feel compelled; I think that even if certain sorts of compulsion constitute legitimate excuses, others do not. In the familiar way (familiar at least since Austin's "Plea for Excuses") we need to carefully distinguish different sorts of cases. Perhaps doing somehing because you're being blackmailed and doing it by accident, by sheer inadvertence in the prosecution of your normal activities have in common that you could not have done otherwise, sort of, but that doesn't mean they are the same sort of case or that either should be expanded willy-nilly to include all 'involuntary' acts. As the Frankfurt cases tend to show, the question turns on whether the agent has the right sort of relation to the act, not on whether various counter-factuals obtain.
 "Rocket" Rod Chisholm, "Human Freedom and the Self," anthologized, for example in Free Will, Derk Pereboom, ed. (Indianapolis, Hackett: 1997), 144.
Beauty on the Comeback Trail
By Crispin Sartwell
Like monarchs, angels, and comedians, concepts fall, and rarely has a concept taken a more tragic or comical tumble than beauty. Once, it inhabited the sphere of ultimate value, glittering in the empyrean along with truth, goodness, and justice (all of which were considered by Plato or the romantic poets to be the same thing). Long about 1910, it got kicked downstairs to the department of hairstyling. From eternal essence it got demoted to superficial appearance.
Beauty’s pratfall was registered both in the arts and in philosophy. Picasso or De Kooning didn’t paint to make beautiful things; they painted to transform the world. And probably the last great treatments of the topic in philosophy – at least until recently – were Santayana’s Sense of Beauty (1895) and Benedetto Croce’s Aesthetic (1902).
The reasons for the indignities heaped on beauty are complex. One of them is that, beginning in the eighteenth century (for example in Hume and Kant), beauty was conceived more and more as a subjective matter, and as conceptually connected to pleasure. By the time Santayana wrote his dissertation, he could argue that beauty was actually a kind of mistake: the person who experiences beauty attributes his own subjective pleasure to the object that causes it. If beauty is entirely subjective or in the eye of the beholder, then not only is it not an eternal concept, it is not a concept at all: ‘beauty’ means whatever anyone thinks it means, and hence it means nothing.
In Romanticism and Modernism, the artist – think Beethoven, Van Gogh, Giacometti – was conceived as a genius, his works emerging inexplicably from his superhuman-but-ill skull to re-make human experience. The idea that someone like that was working to bring people pleasure would have seemed in the era an intolerable trivialization of art; we could leave that task to the entertainment or cosmetics industry. So beauty, conceived as a source or even a variety of pleasure, came to seem an unworthy goal.
And it came to be associated with what we would now call right-wing politics: with the architecture and visual expressions of the Catholic Church, with the French monarchy and its rococo kitsch, with capitalism and its robber-baron art patrons, with the Third Reich (for example in Leni Riefenstahl’s undeniably beautiful film Olympia). The left turned against beauty as a whole, and in the realm of concepts beauty was pitted against justice, luxurious ornament or conspicuous consumption against subsistence for the poor and education for the masses.
Indeed, the association of beauty and pleasure with fascism is one of the darkest episodes in the history of human consciousness. Arthur Danto, in The Abuse of Beauty, one of several important recent philosophical treatments of the topic, quotes Max Ernst, recalling the dadaists after World War I: “We had experienced the collapse into ridicule and shame of everything represented to us as just, true, and beautiful. My works of that period were not meant to attract, but to make people scream.”
Yet even after the fall, beauty has never ceased to be a fundamental human experience or even one of the reasons life is worth living. And if the beauty of a rose or a sunset seems exhausted or clichéd as a subject of art, poetry, or philosophy, we have never ceased to experience such things as beautiful, perhaps with as much purity as ever, with as much of a sense of a renewal of commitment to life and to the world.
And though such a venerable dimension of human experience and of the arts could never be entirely neglected, beauty seems to be in revival both in art and in philosophy. The first steps in making beauty viable would be to detach it conceptually from pleasure and to treat it as more than merely subjective.
Indeed, to hold that when I find a flower or a song beautiful, I am delectating my own internal states, is a horrendous solipsistic distortion. If I say that the night sky is beautiful, I want to celebrate it, not myself, and though I may be registering pleasure (though also perhaps, many other things: awe, love, freedom, fear), I am talking about the night sky, not me, or else the point of the thing is completely lost. Indeed, the idea that I am fundamentally pursuing my own pleasure in seeking out or making beautiful things is, I would say, not only obviously false, but sad: love of things outside myself is not the same as love of myself, or else it is essentially meaningless.
We ought to re-connect beauty to the experience not of pleasure, but of love and longing, which has been traditional since the Greeks. Plato made that connection in the Symposium, and Sappho famously said that the most beautiful thing is what one loves. But love and longing are ways of reaching out into the world: ways of devoting oneself to things and people. In love or longing, one moves toward what one loves or longs for, not into oneself, or else the love is a delusion. In the words of the Everly Brothers’ beautiful song, love hurts, and to account for love merely in terms of pleasure is extremely wrong.
Though pleasure seems fairly straightforward, human beings have dark and twisted longings, and much of the art of the twentieth century might even be beautiful in a dark or twisted way.
Alexander Nehamas makes some of these points in his book Only a Promise of Happiness. And Elaine Scarry, in Of Beauty and Being Just, tries to answer the political objections: the Greeks conceived justice as a harmonious or symmetrical arrangement of elements or forces, which is also the way Aristotle or the architect of the Parthenon conceived beauty.
In short, beauty is being re-enriched as a concept, and insofar as we still long and still love, we still seek beautiful things. Perhaps beauty is not eternal. But it appears to have picked itself up from its pratfall, bruised but ready for more.
Crispin Sartwell teaches at Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA. He is the author of Six Names of Beauty (Routledge 2006).
well, i'm grateful to the times's stone blog, just for throwing philosophy into the popular press. and unlikely as this seems, one fermin debrabander seems to occupy a position that i once did at mica. however, this, i feel, is not the stone's best moment. the freud stuff with which he starts is a useless argument for general determinism: the worst sort of argument because you'd have to accept freudianism to agree with it. and if you think anti-individualism follows from sheer determinism, you are not a competent philosopher. of course the basic opinion is just this week's leftist whinge: he's just lifting his little voice in chorus. one should expect no better from a collectivist, i suppose; on his own view, no better is possible. debrabander makes the argument that none of us actually think for ourselves, then illustrates it as well as he can. just one more time: when such people say 'the interdependence of us all,' they mean 'coercion.' i mean, the interdependence of us all is both sort of a reality and what could be an inspiring aspiration, but judt etc just effortlessly use it synonymously with increasingly comprehensive state power. that's why the vision is chilling and the argument extremely insincere or self-deluded as well as demonstrably dangerous. it would be more dangerous if it were more plausible; it's just a tissue of elisions.
the reason that the argument is so bad is because the group is so unanimous; everyone loves the conclusion, so they're not too particular about the premises. it may be that debrabander has hardly interacted with anyone, or been edited by anyone, who might disagree. each time someone says it, it becomes more autonomic for everyone to say it. like i say, the argument is not only an example of that, it is an argument for it.
draft of preface to entanglements: a system of philosophy: a philosophical autobiography.
54 is a good age for a person in my line of jive to transform his hopes for sudden recognition of his transcendent genius to hopes for transcendent posthumous success. really when i was but a wee philosopher i thought i could be a transformative figure. insofar as i am in contact with reality, i'd have to be convinced by now that such a thing is not likely, possibly due to insufficient talent. princeton and stanford aren't calling; indeed, it's more like i'm lucky to have a job. i fantasize about a macarthur or something, but i didn't even get the grants i applied for for my sabbatical. i keep writing books and they get published, but putting it mildly they don't launch a discussion, much less whole new lines of actual inquiry, ecsatic worldwide acclaim etc.
now i might tell myself things like this: oh they just don't see how incredible i am because they're too...narrow-minded, conventional etc. however, one would have to notice that radical or unconventional figures often do extremely well. so then it oscillates to: well you must just suck, you pathetic fuckhead. it's hard to tell about yourself how smart you are, or how good you actually are at your job , isn't it? at least, it's hard for me.
so i tell myself that all i can really do is to try to keep plugging away, or doing the best work i can. i berate myself: are you doing this because you believe what you're saying and because you love what you are saying it about - are you doing it for it - or are you doing it to be loved and admired? i want to be intrinsically committed to the material, not the career: that's how i feel i could do meaningful work. but then: i am writing a 'system of philosophy.' it might be tending to become massive. and i have to ask myself: who would read something like that from you? ok if some famous dude at harvard or the sorbonne was doing something like that, someone might publish it and people might read it. but the world surely is not begging for that from crispin sartwell. i do think about audience/success enough to ask myself, stongly enough to make me take the day off, whether anyone will actually read this stuff i spend years typing. and then i find myself in a fantasy: oh you know in 2075 somebody will casually find my book in the stacks of an academic library and go: wow that's amazing! revolutionary! let's write some dissertations about this. i portray myself in my own head - in what i cannot but regard on reflection as really a pathetic attempt to bolster a repulsively saggy ego - as a van gogh, etc: someone laboring away in obscurity in his own time only to sell for $100 million a hundred years afterwards. i waver between crazed grandiosity and useless defeatedness.
just possibly these reflections are somewhat heightened by the news that my ex-wife - with whom, pathetically, i am still in love - is dating an academic who just got a 200k advance on his next book, and whose divorce decree states specifically that should he win the nobel, she gets a third. i am so far from worrying about your pathetic nobels! he sobbed.
my favorite moment in the history of philosophy is g.e. moore's "proof of the external world" or "proof that there are things external to the mind": here is one hand, and here is another. it's decisive, baby.
on the other hand, one of my least favorite moments in the history of philosophy is wittgenstein's treatment of moore's proof: on certainty. now it was assembled after his death into a simulacrum of the investigations. so it's rougher than it might appear to be. but it's wittgenstein at his worst; i'd say he never takes a clear position on moore's proof, though he obviously thinks something is wrong with it. but he never says clearly what, and the basic idea that 'here is a hand' - spoken by moore as he delivers a lecture and waves his hands around - is a 'grammatical' or 'logical' statement, is question-begging and also sort of obviously false. but a typical passage is something like #218: "Can I believe for one moment that I have been ever been in the stratosphere? No. So do I know the contrary, like Moore?" well (a) yes, and (b) you're the frigging philosopher; you tell me.
wittgenstein definitely has his moments, and i don't evaluate the whole authorship as negatively as i once did. and yet i do feel that one of the basic goals of that authorship is to convey the impression of the genius of its author. now actually answering a question like that - 'do i know?' - is too primitive for a genius, and neither direct answer is amazing enough to make you gasp or grope for the meaning. thus the hemming and hawing, the backandforthing, the 'this thing is much more difficult than we ever thought,' etc. when you get down to it, the heart of the sort-of objections is just the oldest nostrum: to have knowledge, you have to have a justification. the whole thing doesn't amount to a hill of beans. the contrast with moore's own essential egolessness and comparatively straightforward and genuinely radical positions is instructive.
perhaps after the entry below, i should clarify my thinking on collective agency. now, i do not conceive human individuals as hermetically sealed distinct souls: i think that we are in constant interchange and actual merger with other persons (but note: also with all sorts of things, including animals and inanimate objects, far far underrated by 'social constructionists'). i think our thinking takes place to a large extent (but not exclusively) in language or in relation to language, which is a collective continual creation. however, we are also distinct from one another in a variety of ways, and in a literal sense consciousness is centered in specific human bodies: you can't exactly feel my pain, e.g. so we're in this constant interchange between the intrinsic and the relational, between distinctness and merger.
the political applications of the idea of collective consciousness, however, have been obscene. the government is nearly always conceived as the will of 'the collective': it's how we all take care of each other, put into effect the values that make us one. the basic falseness - the extreme disingenuousness - of this view is demonstrated by the fact that the state rests on coercion. in reality, collective consciousness in this sense (which could be right-nationalist or left-socialist/communist) is something its advocates do not actually regard as an underlying reality; it is something that has to be forged by force operated on individual bodies. if the state was really an organic expression of our underlying real identities, you wouldn't have to hold a gun to someone's head to force them be what you claim they essentially already are.
also when someone is putting forward a conception of collective agency, i often basically hear them saying: you have to agree with me, you can't genuinely disagree, because this is who we are. in other words, it's a disguised form of self-inflation - ironically enough. what it means is: i speak for you. if you disagree with me, you can't be one of us, etc.: the vision is at its heart tyrranical. whatever the truth about our non-distinctness from one another, i will insist that with regard to absolutely anything most or even everyone believes, dissent is possible. even if what everyone else believes is our very collective essence, even if it is the very best that humanity has ever thought, it is always possible for you to disagree. we need to respect that, for one thing, because otherwise people will collectively accept any old fad or slop or propaganda. maybe opposing obamacare is a monstrous betrayal of who we really are all together. but when people say crap like that (and if the people you hang around do not say things like that, you are not a professor) all i hear them doing is trying to twist my arm to believe whatever's fashionable at the moment in their demographic. the claim is itself at best manipulative. and where sheer coercion fails, we resort to what we might call draconian peer pressure.
so the basic objection is: you're saying this is our very nature, but your every action gives that the lie.
here's a rough sketch of a life of walking stewart, eventually to be extended into an introduction to the life and thought. this at least gives a rough idea of the astonishing itinerary.
true, i'm in the nytimes.
walking stewart's realism:
It burst upon my intelligence with a blaze of light the following momentous and natural notion, That all facts, relations, or analogies of things, were totally independent of all human opinion, and its forms of logic or language. Fire, light, matter, motion, mind, exist now with al their qualities, as they existed at all times of antiquity; and no errors of language or opinion can give any alteration to their different qualities, or degrees of relations, or analogies in real existence. (Philosophy of Sense, 166)
De Quincey puts Stewart "among the armies of Hyder-Ali and his son with oriental and barbaric pageantry," in Paris during the revolution, Lapland, "the solitary forests of Canada," "the deserts of Asia and America," etc. John Taylor - "Oculist to the Prince of Wales" - places him in Persia, Armenia, and walking to Edinburgh to talk to Dugald Stewart. Rumor adds Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Meanwhile, he was simultaneously present in various locations in London. De Quincey:
In 1812 it was I think that I saw him for the last time; and by the way, on the day of my parting with him, had an amusing proof in my own experience of that sort of ubiquity ascribed to him by a witty writer in the London Magazine: I met him and shook hands with him under Somerset-house, telling him that I should leave town that evening for Westmoreland. Thence I went by the very shortest road (i.e. through Moor-street, Soho--for I am learned in many quarters of London) towards a point which necessarily led me through Tottenham-court-road; I stopped nowhere, and walked fast; yet so it was that in Tottenham-court-road I was not overtaken by (that was comprehensible), but overtook Walking Stewart.
That is, there is the vague suggestion of X-Men-like mutant superpowers (teleportation? time-bending? or perhaps ubiquity itself), no doubt of advantage to a philosopher.
ok an update on walking stewart (1749-1822), the outsider philosopher who walked home to london from madras, from abyssinia to siberia, and around america. etc. he was a pro-french-revolution radical in the 1790s, i believe, and a pro-british militarist in the napoleonic wars. (among other things, he promises that the if we realize the truths expressed in his aptly-titled the philosophy of sense; or, the book of nature, revealing the laws of the intellectual world founded on the laws of the physical world, forming the sun or source of moral truth or sensitive good, as the physical sun, the source of light, heat, and motion to this planet of the earth (1815), we'll kick napoleon's ass.) (honestly, one could be forgiven for thinking that stewart was a hoax perpetrated by tom de quincey and percy shelley, or even by crispin sartwell. i'm working on the theory that he was fully actual, or actual in the same sense that you are.)
as that title indicates and as a moment's contact with anything he ever did will demonstrate, he was an extremely eccentric thinker and person, with a particular aptitude for tortured expression. "He has generally been treated . . . as a madman," writes de quincey. "But this is a mistake; and must have been founded chiefly on the titles of his books." later de quincey takes back the 'mistake' bit: "certainly, when I consider every thing, he must have been crazy when the wind was at N.N.E."
also he was continuously, comically, grandiose; i guess you could say i wish passages like the following, from the first page of opus maximum, or the great essay to reduce the moral world from contingency to system (1803), were intended to be funny, but either way they are.
I shall open this stupendous Essay of intellectual energy with the
most important discovery of the moral laws of nature that was ever
made by human intelligence, viz.
That the word knowledge signifies no more than a capacity of mind
to conform the relations of thought to the phenomena or appearances of
things, whereby we conceive the course or order of nature's action
independent of its essence or unknown causes.
now, on the other hand, there are many interesting features of his philosophy. he is a materialist, indeed some passages are close to quotations from lucretius. human consciousness is a little material bubble in a big material universe, which we can and do know; he is a realist. but he has an almost hindu vision of the oneness of all material things, really a mystical vision in which each of us lives in and as the whole which is in constant redistribution. death is the dispersal of a material body, and also the extinction of consciousness (he is an atheist; de quincey: "In many things he shocked the religious sense, especially as it exists in unphilosophic minds. . . . And indeed there can be no stronger proof of the utter obscurity in which his works have slumbered than that they should all have escaped prosecution."), but it is not our selves we should be concerned about; rather, the good of the whole through all of time. here is one way (among myriad) that he expresses his "great parent idea": "the incessant transmutation of matter from one human body into all the surrounding bodies of nature, both in life and death" (philosophy of sense, xv)
he is a pragmatist in his way:
It is most certain that the utmost limits and speculatios of practical or theoretical good must be brought to the measure of experience; for, whatever systems of policy, moralist, or philosophy the mind may form in imagination, they must all be brought to the test of practical institution, to prove their result of utility or good. (Philosophy of Sense, xvii)
but he also rails at the scientism of his day, which is extremely rare in the period and place of his early authorship, and which may have actually influenced the shape of british romanticism (wordsworth knew and admired stewart; de quincey loved the guy, and regrets that for the last ten years of stewart's life, he de quincey was too pre-occupied with taking opium to see him stewart); he keeps saying that there's plenty you can't prove by experiment, and you should free yourself to reason analogically, or in whatever manner is appropriate to the material under consideration.
The doctrine of experimentalism pervading the whole continent of Europe, can exist only as the fashion of the season among thoughtless wits and scientific idiots: it stands in direct opposition to the laws of intellectual power; for, what can prohibit the process of thought to follow the necessary laws or course of its own actions . . . that is, ideas, experimental sentiments, notions of analogy, and phantasms? (philosophy of sense, xviii)
he explicitly rails against enlightenment french thought, and indeed the french to last atom of their very being, and holds that logic, while ok in its place, is an arid landscape where ideas shrivel up and die; you've really got to use your imagination, to paraphrase the pips. he's very in the rousseauvian cult of nature.
also he is, as you would expect, deeply cosmopolitan, in a certain way, though also by the end of his life a british chauvinist. so he says, for example,
Before I began my travels I was of a very irritable disposition; but,
after a very short period, I had found so much opposition to my will,
and so much to offend my feelings, in the censure and curiosity of
strange nations, that I at length acquired a temperance of toleration
that has ever since formed the greatest cause of happiness in my life.
(opus maximum, xxiv)
he is insistently autobiographical but also not. he actually does not reveal much about specific adventures serving the nabob, etc. supposedly he wrote 30-odd books; i've been able to identify by title about half that so far, and i've got five or six things sitting around; the pile is very intimidating. one title i like: roll of a tennis ball through the moral world, a series of contemplations by a solitary traveller.
at any rate, this seems to be the project right now. so maybe i'll try to publish a selection of his writings with an intellectual-biographical essay, the de quincey, and scholarly apparatus.