Monday, November 26, 2007

Tapping Topic: Promises


Let’s take an example of a promise and parse it out.

“I promise this topic will be good.”

Does this sentence have a certain semantic content to it? If it does, can we thereby elucidate the content itself and judge this sentence as true or false? Is this sentence reducible to its semantic content? In other words, is the very utterance of this sentence a specific event, an event which relates to its own meaning, the meaning of a promise? If this were the case, would it be possible to separate the semantic content of the sentence from its particular context of its utterance? If we take this sentence to mean anything at all is the context of its utterance necessarily understood as its specific meaning, even though all the particular elements of context, namely the date, what exactly the topic is, who the “I” refers to, etc, are not ACTUALLY present within the sentence itself?

Let’s just say for the sake of argument that there has to be a shared context in order for a promise to be successfully understood as such. So what sorts of concepts are implicitly at work within the context of promising? If I promised that this topic would be good, and then the topic wasn’t very good, would the rupture of that promise reflect on me as a liar? If I am a liar is there some implicit concept of truth at work, or is it simply that I didn’t fulfill the conditions I created myself? If there was a concept of truth at work within promising, what kind of truth would it be? Say for example if my last few topics weren’t up to snuff, you wouldn’t have very much empirical evidence that I would be telling the truth by saying “I promise this topic will be good.” You might have to trust that the fact that my last few topics were not very good for reasons outside of my control. You might have to believe that I have some kind of intelligence contrary to the empirical or historical evidence. You might have to have faith that I was being truthful with you, but how could you know I was telling the truth if the actual discussion at tapping, which we might arguably claim as criteria for which topics may be judged, hasn’t even occurred?

Well all of this is very interesting from a sort f close reading perspective, but let’s broaden our horizons a little bit, shall we? What is the relationship of the promise to things like contracts? Are promises the foundation of contracts or are contracts a categorically different phenomenon? Is there a sense in which one proceeds through existence today, expecting certain things to work, like when you go to the grocery store to buy food? Whose promises are you accepting implicitly as true in the relatively benign act of eating lunch, and what are they? If the promise might be considered a linguistic phenomenon, what does this consideration suggest about the relationship between language and existence for human beings in the world today?

Finally, a classic and entertaining quote:

"Since it is necessary for the prince to use the ways of beasts, he should imitate the fox and the lion, because the lion cannot defend himself from snares and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves. Therefore, it is important to be a fox in order to understand the snares and a lion in order to terrify the wolves. Those who choose only to be a lion do not really understand. Therefore, a prudent leader will not and should not observe his promises, when such observance will work against him and when the reasons for making the promise are no longer valid. If all men were good, this precept would not be good; but since men are evil and will not keep their word with you, you shouldn't keep yours to them. Never has a prince lacked legitimate reasons to break faith. I could give you an infinite number of examples from modern times, and show you numerous peace treaties and promises that have been broken and made completely empty by the faithlessness of princes: these knew well how to use the ways of the fox, and they are the ones who succeed. But it is necessary to know how to hide this nature and to simulate a good character and to dissimulate: for the majority of men are simple and will only follow the needs of the present, so that the deceiver can always find someone he can deceive."


I hope to see all of you out on Thursday.

Love and Peace,

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Tapping is Art! Summary

Hey everyone,

Thanks to all who came tapping tonight. We won’t have tapping for a couple weeks, so I’m glad we were able to discuss art before break.

  • So were we able to define art? I am not sure, but I think we were able to at least say a few things to lead us in the direction of understanding how art “works.” Most of us were ready to admit that to attempt a complete definition of art would always fall short of encompassing all of what we understand to be or claim is art in our existence. Some attempts were made to define art objectively, but most of these were too limiting in nature, or that would somehow too strongly limit what we refer to as art in actuality. An attempt was also made as defining art as a subjective experience of something called art, which is a very productive idea of art that connects to the hermeneutic metaphor that I posited in the original topic. However, I think we would want to say that the object itself is also art outside of this sort of subjective holy moment where one “experiences” the art in a certain way.
  • I think that the most hotly contested way that we attempted to define art that I think bears on much of what contemporary art has to offer is the idea of authorial intentionality. At first I wanted to say that because the artist is going to present a piece of art as art, that this is the criteria for art. Then there was a story that Loretta related to us about people treating a bowl of salt that someone left near an exhibit as a piece of art, even though it was not intended in this way. Here I wanted to argue that the bowl’s presence within that context could be considered a statement of sorts, and if we are willing to grant that the bowl SAYS something, then it is not that much further to claim that the bowl is art. So I posited a criterion for art claiming that art is art if someone says it is art, or interprets the thing, whatever it is, as art. However a lot of people had problems with this definition of art, claiming that it wasn’t really a definition at all, and really relied too much on criticism to define art, instead of art having some inherent characteristics that defined it. I sensed that there was resistance to this idea of criticism being the totalizing definition of what art is, because there are a lot of examples of art that are not defined critically. Also, I think people wanted to avoid what I called the “emperor has no clothes” scenario, where a bunch of people look at something, say that it is defined in a certain way, when it is blatantly obvious despite popular consensus that the rumors of this something being defined in that particular way are greatly exaggerated, simply by observing the phenomenon itself. I can understand this response, but I think that the emperor’s no clothes scenario is actually a way that authorial intentionality can play a role in defining art. Even though the art could be considered a lacking of art, the authorial intention of art being art is still present enough to make the object or event art.

That’s all I got right now. Happy thanksgiving, if you’re into celebrating colonialism, and I’ll see you after the break!

Love and Peace,


Saturday, November 10, 2007

Tapping Topic: Art

Tapping Topic: ART!

Last Wednesday we veered into a discussion on art when discussing the criteria for civilization, so I decided, why not discuss art?

Is it possible to predicate any sort of definition on art at all? Is art a category among other categories or does it subsume all of these other categories by definition? Is art simply the notion of configuration and definition itself, or does art even move outside of those criteria as well? Can art only be defined through various instantiations of itself? Who is responsible for the meaning of art? Is there a necessary relationship between art and meaning, or does art allow us to slip through categories such as meaning as well? In hermeneutic style philosophy there is a tendency to view the world as a text which the subject, as the reader, interprets. Art in this metaphor has been made a text. What then would the relationship be between the subject as the reader of art, and the art itself as the text? What are the limits of this literary and hermeneutic metaphor with regard to its circumscription of art? Pursuing this line of thought, another widely discussed relationship that is central to understanding how art works, is that relationship between the artist and the art, which brings up questions of authorial intentionality, especially in the realm of text based art. Is art the fundamental form of human expression, or does art even question the boundaries between humans as beings as such, and go beyond the category of humanity? You can probably see the kinds of moves I’m going to make to define art if you’re following the pattern of my questioning. I don’t really want this to turn into a lengthy discussion in which we trace the history of art, unless you are citing a specific piece or movement in order to show how the way someone is predicating things on art might be true or false. I hope this is a fruitful discussion.

Civilization Summary

Civilization Summary:

I would divide our discussion into two parts.

  • First Part: Defining conceptions of civilization. We agreed for the most part that a civilization was something separate and above the less complex notion of society. For example, a society could be composed of a tribe, a group of hunter gatherers, or any group of persons. I saw civilization being something more sophisticated than this, but everyone was reluctant to load down the definition of civilization with too many specifications, as to not marginalize any organizations of persons that were in fact civilizations. Some criteria that were posited by various discussion members included.
    • Sophisticated abstract division of labor separated from subsistence economies
    • Socialization at higher levels
    • Art, Language, and mythology (Thank you Rory)
    • Excess of resources and time (Thank you Rob)
    • The city as the apex of civilization
  • Second Part: The historical trace of civilization. This dovetailed nicely with the first part, as we were able to provide empirical concrete examples from history as to the beginning of civilization, particularly Western Civilization. The table expressed a lot of concern with desire to concentrate on Western Civilization, however, I felt that it would be best to concentrate on what we were most familiar with first. I got the impression from the table that they didn’t want to commit the egregious error of claiming that Western Civilization was the only viable form of civilization, as Western civilization had done historically, and I respect this instinct. Some historical things of import to civilization:
    • The agricultural revolution
    • Mesopotamia, Egypt, 10th grade world history, etc
    • Rome
    • Modernity and mass communication.

After this the discussion became more fragmented, and I don’t remember what was said. If anyone remembers what was discussed after the historical critique, please make a comment, I think we mainly ironed out our definitions further, but I’m not sure.

Love and Peace.


Tapping Criticism: Part II (Manhood)

Tapping Criticism: Part II (Manhood)

Warning: In this post I am sort of violating my rule about soap-boxing. However, it’s in the interest of a discussion in tapping, and I feel it warrants attention, and I certainly got riled up when it was happening

I want to mention something that I found was interesting related to our manhood discussion a few weeks ago. I spoke to a friend of mine who goes to tapping, who was very interested in the topic of manhood that we had a few weeks ago, but wasn’t able to attend. She claimed that there were some criticisms of what went on that the discussion when she talked to people, one which was that the discussion was just penis jokes, and the other one which was that the discussion turned into “hippy dippy” feminism, and shied away from the topic of manhood itself. From the looks of the criticisms, and if I remember correctly from what my friend said, I’m assuming the first comment was made by a woman, and the second by a man, and I’d like to actually address both of them:

First point: I thought the genitalia jokes were minimal, and if you thought that they made up the majority of that discussions content, you either just weren’t paying attention or are fixated on the humor of male genitalia. Will I blame you for this? No, it’s not really that serious of a criticism to me, since it doesn’t really have anything to do with the actual content of what was discussed, it’s not really worth an in depth response, as I feel it is a way of dismissing the serious content of what was discussed, which I made a post on earlier when I summarized the discussion. I’m going to chalk this up to a sort of intellectual laziness that concentrates on sound-bites instead of real content. If you think differently, whoever you are, I invite you to respond to this post and tell me how you think my summary was false, how you aren’t an intellectual couch potato, and how we failed to engage anything outside of ball jokes. Defend yourself, if you know I am talking to you, or defend this person if you feel I am being unjust in my criticism.

Second Point: I am a lot more concerned with this point, because it questions the extent to which we engaged the topic on a serious level. In other words, this criticism claims that I conceded ground to what sounds like an outdated ideology in the form of hippy dippy feminism. I’m not exactly sure what hippy dippy feminism is, but if it has to do with Butler’s gender as a performative social construction, than I am willing to concede the point that these ideas of gender were central to our discussion. I like this criticism because it claims in a way, “You made the topic manhood, but instead of actually talking about manhood, you sidestepped it for a discussion of gender and sex.” To be fair, my intention behind the topic was to frame the idea of manhood within the relationship between gender and sex. Also, when I spoke to a certain professor, he claimed that the relationship between gender and sex was to an extent “old news” while philosophical notions of manhood were more intellectually cutting edge.

I was not necessarily aware that there was such a DESIRE to discuss manhood specifically, although I do understand it is something that is not talked about enough in the context of academia, which is why I made the topic in the first place. Therefore, I’d ask this person some questions namely: How can we discuss manhood outside of the context of gender and sex, if its even possible? Did you want me to discuss more specifically how manhood functions in society and what is expected of men today? Did you want us to evaluate manhood morally? I’ll admit we were not very specific in our discussions of manhood regarding positive or negative aspects of it, and only a few were posited. I do think we traced manhood historically, but I’m wondering if you were looking for a more in depth analysis of the modern man, or “what it means to be a man.” That phrase has a sort of connotation to it that to be a man is to have maturity and strength of character, which were aspects that I’m pretty sure were not discussed as being specifically related to manhood in discussion. In other words, we were talking about the differences between male and female gender roles, but maybe you wanted the discussion to be couched more in terms of the difference between boys and men.

While my friend and I were discussing these criticisms, I suggested that she might have wanted to talk about what her ideal man would be, you know, assuming she wanted to be with a man and not a boy. She sort of laughed it off, and said that it might not be an appropriate discussion for tapping philosophy. However, philosophical discussions are all about ideals, and Sean did mention manhood as a set of virtues, that we could perhaps posit separately from notions of masculine gender roles, even though we’d probably have to relate the two anyway.

So, who would be interested in the topic of the ideal man? If there’s enough interest I could write it and we could have manhood part II.

Love and Peace,


Tapping: Criticism

Hi everyone,
Thanks to all who came out on Wednesday, for the first John Harvard's tapping in almost 3 years if I'm not mistaken. I enjoyed the round table format, even though we did have some trouble keeping the conversation centralized. I am happy that everyone has so much to say, but I want to talk about the virtues of intellectual self discipline and also courtesy in order to smooth out our conversations. I think that in the beginning of the year we were doing fine with sort of this thing, but with this last tapping having occurred, I have to say a few things:

0) I apologize for my lateness to the last few tappings, I will try to be more on time in the future, but there is a certain extent to which I am not in control of my destiny when I don't have a car. I hope everyone understands

1) Firstly, take a deep breath. Relax. You're not in school. Take it EASY! People are getting very rabid in the first half hour of defining the terms of discussions. Remember, those terms are up for questioning the entire time, and they are often revisited during the more actively reasoning part of the discussion. If you want to question the terms, look for that brief lull and take advantage of it when it occurs.

2) Sort of in relationship to the last point, we all really need to practice our courtesy in discussions in allowing people a space in which they are able to enter discussion. Some guidelines I'd like to include, with the caveat that some of these guidelines may be waived in the case of a full blown argument.
  • Don't cut people off: Cutting someone off is a funny thing. Generally, If I cut Mark off while he is talking, I'm paying attention to what he is saying, but I find it so horribly offensive for whatever reason I can't let him finish expressing his thought. Mark and I have this habit of agreeing with each other, but if I cut him off to tear his reasoning apart, I'm really not looking at the complete picture of what he's attempting to say, mainly because he didn't finish talking. How do we remedy this situation, especially in light of Mark's long winded nature? Well, it's a matter of self discipline for both of us. For me, it involves working on my capacities of courtesy, by allowing space after Mark is finished talking to enter discussion politely. Then, for Mark, in this example it would be a case of intellectual self discipline, thinking before you speak, and expressing your thoughts clearly concisely. Both are paramount to a good discussion.
  • Side Conversations: Side conversations are a more nebulous thing. After the first hour or so, people are tend become frustrated with the discussion and want to have their own little side conversations, and that's acceptable, as things usually fragment with things like cigarette breaks. However, for that first part, it is RUDE and OBNOXIOUS when you start a side conversation and someone else is talking. Making a singular snarky wise-assed comment to the person sitting next to you is acceptable, especially because side comments like that actually do impact the main discussion, but going on a full on diatribe to the person next to you is not. The worst of this occurs when multiple conversations happen at once, which I find to be quite disorienting and unproductive, so let's try to avoid that if at all possible.
  • Don't tell people to shut up: Despite all the rules that I just enumerated on how to discuss and act properly, there is no one single person that is the arbiter of these rules and the judge on what counts as a side conversation. Telling people to shut up is silly and unproductive. If you think someone is out of line, then attempt to stop discussion and address what is going on directly, and reasonably through questioning. For example, if I think Rob and Tom are having a dumb side conversation, I would stop the discussion, ask what they were talking about, and if they defend themselves well, kudos to them, but if they don't, then they suffer the embarrassment of talking about nothing of significance in what is supposed to be an intellectual discussion.
You guys know I love you, but we have been getting away a little bit from having civilized discussion, and I want to avoid the things that I talked about in the first email I sent out this year. To mix things up a little bit, I would like to have one larger discussion at John Harvard's when we have tapping on Wednesdays, and I'd like to have 2 smaller discussions when Yeats is hosting on Thursday, obviously depending on the number of people. I think this variation in the format will help ease things along.
I will post the summary of Civilization separately.

Love and Peace,

Monday, November 5, 2007

Tapping Topic: Civilization

Tapping Topic: Civilization

What constitutes a civilization, and does the term civilization “stand for something” in particular? Are their objective criteria for establishing a civilization in the world? What does it mean to be a citizen within the construct of a civilization? How is a civilization related to concepts that we have of the nation state, culture, and society? Does term denote a certain complexity over an above the concept of society? Is there a sense in which civilization can be critiqued historically as a particular phenomenon, especially western civilization? What is the relationship of people who are situated outside of civilization to those who dwell within its boundaries? What types of boundaries does a civilization even have to begin with? What are the similarities and differences between civilization and other ways of organizing social structure such as familial organization or tribal organization? One might even be so bold as to ask, what does it mean to be civilized, and will it be possible for us to be civilized on Wednesday at John Harvard’s at 7:00? Why doesn’t Villanova have an anthropology major, and does it need one? What do we have to learn about the meaning of civilization from literary nancy-boy Oscar Wilde pulling a de Tocqueville in the quote below?

America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between.”


Love and Peace,

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Human Person Summary

Firstly, I want to thank everyone who came out for the Thursday discussion group. You all are very enthusiastic and have a lot to say, and have proved yourselves as quite worthy of a 50/50 split with Wednesday. I will actualize that in an email later.

I wanted to get this summary out of the way while it was still fresh in my head, so here it goes:
  • In the beginning we had some trouble getting off the ground with what a human person was without starting to talk about animals, robots, or space aliens in the form of a counter example, and therefore we bracketed animals, robots, and space aliens, which was very productive for discussion purposes.
  • We also realized the inherent difficulty of attributing any characteristics or categories that can be evaluated objectively to personhood, because this sets up a scenario where one human person could be considered to be "more of a person" than another person. This sort of objective evaluation of persons pops up all over history and is easily linkable to various social abuses, slavery being the one that seems most obviously linked to personhood.
  • We also differentiated between the concept of a human being and the concept of a human person. We thought of the human being as more of a biological category, namely that of the homo sapiens, where the person was more of a performative construction akin to gender, where one is a person in the context of recognizable participation in a larger society.
  • So what are some of the performatives that persons utilize in order to participate in this context of a lawful society, or even be able to relate to each other? Two characteristics came to the forefront of discussion:
    • Rationality: This one is for the thinkers. Rob mentioned the ability to use second order reasoning outside of one's "direct experience of the world" in order to objectively evaluate decisions that arise from situations, and I think this is the perfect criteria for rationality. When you are making a decision (we used the word choice) as a result of a situation, you posit a duality where you can use this second ("higher") order apparatus of rationality to aid you in seeing which choice will be of greater benefit to you. Rob and I differentiated this from the animal who "makes the decision" to eat as opposed to starving, because that's simply biology talking.
    • Empathy: There was a lot in the original topic about "feelings" and I'm not big on this touchy feely stuff, probably because of my relentless testosterone fueled manhood, but I'll give it my best shot. I stated initially that empathy has a sort of rational content to it, because you have to evaluate or understand someone as a person in order to empathize with them to begin with. However, Rory was careful to make sure that I didn't subsume empathy under the category of rationality entirely. What I think Rory was pointing to, was that rationality by itself is not enough to TRULY understand and recognize a person's personhood/humanity, because if you as a person don't at least have the CAPACITY for empathizing with another person, then you don't really UNDERSTAND and recognize that person the way you understand and recognize yourself as a person. I think it is also important to recognize the capacity for social abuses if rationality is not mediated by empathy, and I think Rory had this in the back of his mind as well.
    • Desire: The third element of personhood that we didn't flesh out as much as the others, but nonetheless an important one. The desire to learn for example, is not really a biological need, but it is something that a lot of humans desire on that "second order" level of things. Therefore, the desire to learn is already being mediated through rationality, and the desire to learn could easily be linked to an empathy about other people. The classic example of "getting to know someone" seems to apply rather well here, where one desires to learn things about another person in order to better empathize with them.
  • After these were fleshed out, the discussion of a priori reason came to the forefront, when I started talking about rationality as a performative construction. This prompted a discussion of subjectivity as a key aspect of personhood, with much said about Descartes' thinking thing, which dovetailed nicely with Rory's assertion of self-awareness as the defining element of personhood.
  • At this point there was a bifurcation in the conversation where I went to talk to the cool kids who were smoking at the bar. Cool kids that they were, they had some things to say:
    • Rob presented an account of determinism vs free will as important aspects of what we considered to be a person. Prosch disagreed with both these notions as being too absolutist, but Rob stressed the strength of the arguments for deterministic accounts of personhood within a sociological context of thinking. Rob seemed to hint at how these deterministic accounts of personhood haunted him as someone who recognized the existential truth of free will and the power of the individual as someone vested with free rational choice.
There. That pretty much sums up everything that I remember, and if anyone wants to add anything feel free, because you're a person too!

Love and Peace,

Manhood (gender and sex) summary

Hey Tappers,

I was somewhat late on this summary from last week, and I apologize, I have been behind. However, between popular demand, and the question, "Frank, how did that manhood thing work out for you?" I reached into that faculty of the soul that St. Augustine refers to as memory, and pulled this out from the depths of last week:

Manhood Summary:

  • I posited the notion of a standardized biological relationship of sex to gender, namely that sex determines gender, in order to help us analyze the narratives that don’t conform to this specific notion, in order to see if these groups are in any way marginalized by this standard notion of gender and sex, and how the standard narrative must be reconstructed in order to make cases outside of the standard narrative of gender intelligible.
  • Sean Malleck posited the notion of manhood and gender as a set of ideals or virtues that one strives for, and are not taken as given from solely the person’s existence. This construction of gender evokes Judith Butler’s idea of performative gender, as one fulfills gender roles through their actions. This is the notion of gender that we accepted as making the most sense.
  • John Veit politely critiqued our use of the word virtue in relationship to gender roles, stating that there are certain facets of masculinity as a form of gender that are not desirable, good, or eternal in the way that a virtue would be desirable, good, or eternal. Good point John, after you left, we came back to this question and decided that due to fact that there may be in fact negative roles in the ideological construction of gender, these roles are always being reevaluated insofar as how they are useful or beneficial to individuals and society.
  • Mark talked about the psychoanalytic implications of gender in relationship to the presence and absence of the phallus, albeit briefly. Also, Mark and I got into a spat about how gender roles are going to manifest themselves socially and politically. Mark claimed that the social was always involved in the political, in as much the political has to do with power structures (Prosch had his back), whereas I claimed that one could not reduce the social to the political, and that gender plays a huge role in how people relate to each other in ways that I would hardly describe as political. During this argument I learned how to think about the political in a much broader sense, and I understood the validity of his point. However, after the discussion was over, Mark expressed some disappointment that we did not discuss the relationship of gender to how the sexes relate to each other and themselves romantically and sexually, and I explained that it was that type of interaction that I was attempting to address as something that could be viewed as less political. Unfortunately, in hindsight, the fact that sexuality and romance could somehow be exempt from the political seems a little na├»ve and idealistic, especially if you look at the institution of marriage. So Mark, that point goes to you and Prosch, although I would claim that it depends on how far you want to stretch the definition of political.