Saturday, December 6, 2008

Tapping Summary: Death

  • Rory described death as an experience that was both communal and radically subjective.  Death is communal for humans to the extent that everyone dies, but also radically subjective in the sense that no one can experience death with you.  
  • Rory also seemed less concerned with an actual experience of death than our relation to death.  Several different relations were suggested, including fear, anxiety, anticipation, and welcoming.
  • We also stumbled onto the topic of the deaths of others.  Avni asked how we feel about massive deaths, and I replied that I think people feel the same way about massive deaths as they do when the stock prices drop.  Reports on massive numbers of dead people remain purely quantitative in comparison to the experience of losing a friend.  Perhaps a little less harshly put, being indignant about genocide, being sad about the loss of a friend, and indifferent towards the prospect of your own death, are all different ways of relating to death.
  • Sam argued that different cultures conceptualize death differently, and that the fear of death was not something present in all cultures, making reference to buddhist treatment of death as reincarnation.
  • I argued against this point claiming that there is an experience of fear that is foundational to human existence when confronting death.  It is this experience that actually drives this cultural phenomenon to be constructed in the first place, so that people are able to operate efficiently without fear in a societal context.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Tapping Philosophy is Dead. Long Live Tapping Philosophy

Hi Everyone,
First of all, I hope everyone enjoyed their break, as I know I did.

Secondly, thanks to everyone who came out last week to talk about whiteness. I know there was some discomfort over the topic at different levels, which I think is good overall.

Tapping Philosophy will be this Thursday, 8:00, at Yeats Pub, with rides leaving from Connelly at 7:30.

This is sort of a welcome back and goodbye email at the same time, mainly because this week's tapping is the last tapping philosophy of the semester.

Rory felt that death was an appropriate topic for this time of year, and I agreed. There is a long version and a short version.

The topic:


Shorter Version : Part III

Part I - Break Down Melt Down


What is death?

What does it mean to die?

Four times now writing this topic my laptop has failed, blacked out, and with a stroke returned to the screen, the irresponsive cursor hanging like dead weight, and I have been forced to put it down. Putting the writing down, closing the window of the screen, out of mind, out of memory—I press the requisite buttons, hold the requisite time, and at a stroke regain the recovered file—the question persists. The document that turns against me like this, that covers over each attempt like a pile of leaves or width of water, as my left arm goes repeatedly numb, looks like:


What is death?

What does it mean to die?

* * *

As I wonder what you think of this pretension that is/was actually, factually so (it really did go out four times), and what reception death will receive in two days—did you die in order to see me wondering? Would you consent to such a self-sacrifice? Is there room for consent? A painting without perspective? Saving, shoving, this file in the virtual file cabinet of my defective and recovering laptop (think of that word, resolve it into its elements, what is being covered over again, what topped, toppled—did you consent? was there room for consent?)—I wonder why this version will be sent, if it is sent? Why, especially, already, this version which I might have found specious a year ago and even now… The other versions were not like this one.

Part II – The Surrounding of Death

Can we conceive of our own death? (as if we died together)


If you find your frigid body under an iced-water that you do not feel—does that… count? And another corpse, is it recognizable?

Imagining death is oddly akin to following the test or limit of subjectivity (from Schopenhauer): to imagine a world that you are not imagining.

A body that you are not inhabiting.

We think, and experience seems to tell us, that we can imagine, even realize, another's death. We have all been to a funeral. But, at a funeral, is it really someone else that dies; is it not rather a part of us that dies? Which is just to ask whether we imagine the other as a self in the first place. Perhaps only a life with the real world (ontological and inaccessible) as a dead world could contain the death of the other that dies as a self—precisely because death is the condition of life's perspective. The true self looks out of a dead body…

And more immediately for us, perspective, already a complex of perspectives, is the condition upon which/toward which inspection turns. Thinking looks out at the contradiction of perspective, through the maze of perspective, at a dead truth.

Death is meaningful only to the living, yet to the living only as the spot at which life vanishes, the vanishing point. If we look at life from outside of it, only then can we see the whole. The whole is foreclosed, vanishes to itself, and only thereby has a point—for any other point would be a point within, for or against, that whole. So, then (afterwards), a holistic life can only be lived out of death. Does this make sense? Or is death only an imponderable, invisible side of life, not outside it? Is death merely the starting point (as limit) for finitude, contained within finitude—can the limit belong to the limited? If we always presume to live past our own deaths: we always act anyway, by chance, or is it situation, or will, or is it construction, or is it the alignment of the stars—what does it matter to ask such questions?

To sum this up, if life belongs to death as delimited (originated or determined) by it, and death belongs to life as its condition and conditionality, even as its contingency as such (contingency is nothing determined)—what does this do? Where do we end up? Or since, at the very extreme-st edge of place this has become a discussion of what "place" is at all—since this most superficial surface of the edge of a place is no different from what it would be to be a place… a not impossible but unthinkable and unthinking place—… 'one' 'could' under the force of such a force that it repeals itself, encounter the question: "how come here?" Not that it is. Not what it is. (Which with death become: that it is in reserve, how it reserves itself.) Rather only a question of the composite and composition of the two. But composition as such is all-referential, all-sided, all-posing. The question then returns, regains itself, recovers (miraculously, with resurrected flesh)—having heard our say to the full, as an echo, that questions and challenges us, asking what we are that this could come up, or better, "who is death?"

Simultaneously inevitable and accidental (most necessary and most possible) death asks the fatal question: "how come?" i.e. both why? and where/when? and each as the other. Irretrievably singular death pulls with its own space-time and dark-reasons. It is a black hole that—somehow, and only always utterly inexplicably—makes light possible. To approach is already doom, and of course we have already approached.

Belonging to being, beginning, determination, diction would be death.

Belonging to condition, middle, contemplation, meter would be life.

Belonging twists / no longer belongs to anything else/ but calls to itself: be-longing.

Without subject. Without object.

Death is the content of love (both its contention and its content, satisfaction)… but only because it is no different, gives room (all of it) for love's in-difference.

So outside it is superficial, so superficial it is outside—death is the Archimedean point, that lifts from a distance, by applying no pressure. It is grace.

But then I have not been talking about death at all, only the thinking of it (which is nothing like it), in the body of which it is redeemed. How is there thinking of death then? That can only be in love, which responds to no such questioning. It is always on the other side.

Part III – A Definition is Born…

Perhaps, then, for thought—death is the unstable mixture of solitude and sickness.

Solitary because unable to move, unable to connect, enclosed, as if one (always already seeing, acting, deciding itself)

Sick because insinuating emptiness, always forecasting malfunction, yet unable to see, act or decide for itself.

Unstable because solitude and sickness are invariably opposed, as the same they would not exist.

Solitude makes up for sickness' lack of finality, of occurrence, even logic.

Death ends something; it corresponds in that we can anticipate it…

Sickness makes up for solitude's definitiveness, possible inwardness, or phenomenality.

    …Yet death has already anticipated us; its contribution to correspondence is the static of the void. Abandonment.

So then, the sickness of solitude…

that we cannot be one

…and the solitude of sickness

that this inability to be one cannot be shared.

And of course, the solitude of sickness

that there is no consolation

…with the sickness of solitude

that this inconsolability dies its own death.

Part IV – …And it Slips Away

Death as radioactive particle.

What cannot be shared (as one), then, is the redemption of the inconsolable (irresistibly)

Death as afterlife.

It is then, the wholeness of radiation which exists only at its own vanishing point, resonance and then its echo—a voice that is no different than this pure difference, and thus in-difference, which at the eclipsing of death, can only mean, hyper-transcendence.

But then…

I have not really been talking about death at all…

not even in thinking…

the inability to die


the most inconsolable affliction

abandonment without end

is also…to end with abandon

or love.

Tapping Philosophy Whitewashed

White People and Whiteness

What does it mean to be a white person today? What sorts of assumptions are implicit within the term "white people"? Is there a homogenous body of white people or are white people as disparate a demographic as any other? What sorts of practical phenomenon are people referring to when they use the term white privilege, white flight, and white man's burden, and are any of these terms still applicable today? Where is it a beneficial to be white, and where is it problematic, and what are some common characteristics of either group of locations? Is there a shared culture of white people, or is the term simply a biological, racial qualifier? Does the term "white people" have a normative dimension, and how would the historical situation of the term's use, including the person using it, affect its meaning?

It seems to me that the term white people, or whiteness if we want to lean towards an essentialist term, can be used various different ways. One way whiteness can be used is as a description of a person behaving in a way that is considered by their peers to be inauthentic to their race or culture. One recent occurrence of this was the criticism Barack Obama received before the election from some members of the black political community for not being "black" enough. It seems then that these criticisms define separate criteria for whiteness and blackness, which are defined normatively in opposition to each other. In other words, Barack Obama's lack of blackness is determined as whiteness. What problems arise when defining whiteness, and perhaps race in general, in both positive terms, and negative relational terms? I think particular attention should be paid to the negative relational use of whiteness as a normative absence, as this is arguably how it is most often implemented in contemporary political discourse.

I wrote this topic a while ago, and since then "stuff white people like" has written a book and gone on tour, and Barack Obama has been elected president, and was obviously embraced by most of the black political community, which we would imagine occurred because of his politics, and not necessarily the question of race. Bill Clinton was also embraced by the black political community, and a comparison of the two politicians might be helpful for examining a concept of whiteness or race in gneneral. If we like, we can turn this into a discussion about race in general, but whiteness is interesting because it can link us whiteness as a value standard of social and cultural capital. I'm open to alternative paths of discussion.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Tapping Summary: Competition

Wow. What a night. I'm still recovering even 3 days later from the amazing tapping that just happened. Wow. Best tapping EVER? Maybe.
  • First we started talking about competition in terms of sports, which brought up issues of rules, fairness, and cheating. I tried to set up some conditions of possibility for competition to occur, such as a plurality of actors, rules, fairness, etc., but others wanted to talk about competition was in itself. Some felt that in a competition cheating was inherent to the system, and that in a certain sense the rules are made to be broken. This insight was interesting because in a way it absorbed cheating dialectically into the phenomenon of a competition itself. Others were none too thrilled with this idea, because the whole idea of a competition was for there to be an aspect of fairness at work.
  • At this point people began to talk about survival of the fittest, evolution, nature, social darwinism, etc. The main line of thought here was that animals compete for limited resources, but there's no concept of fairness at work. Spencer claims this kind of competition, which drives the evolution of animals, is at work in the evolution of the human being, and what is good for the best of the human race is good for the species as a whole.
  • In order to prevent ourselves from spiraling into Spencerian confusion, I pointed out that we were disscussing two different types of competition. The first type of competition is governed by the physical laws of nature, and the second type of competition was artifically constructed by humans based on the principle of fairness. I thought that the first type of competition was simply a struggle of opposing forces, where in the second case brought in questions of humanity, intentionality, and interpretation. I also thought that the second case was more relevant to our day to day lives, and I encouraged a discussion of these.
  • Once the dust was settled around the competing definitions of competition, Rory spoke up about how in contemporary society competition functioned essentially as a distraction from questioning the values that are offered, with Ryan likening competition to a drug of self affirmation. I countered that organized capitalist competition resulted in material gain, including increasing the standard of living, literacy rates, and life expectancy. However, others also cited the increasing social inequality that occurs as a result of competition. I noted that if a competition was supposed to be operating on a principle of fairness, that this was not always at work within the system of capitalism, which essentially promoted exploitative relationships. Prosch also mentioned the game of monopoly, in which actors don't really see themselves at fault, but merely competing on the terms of the rules of the game. The game itself is problematic because configures the players to behave in a certain way, and they may not be this way inherently.

Tapping Philosophy: Competition

Hi Tapping,
Thanks to everyone who came out last week for voting, both actual and theoretical. This week's topic will be competition, as written by Michelle McNamara. Of course, tapping philosophy will take place at Yeat's pub at 8:00, meeting for rides at Connelly around 7:30.

The topic:

Competition, is it beneficial to society? To humanity? To the world economy? Is competition rational?

Is competition a never ending struggle or strife between two opposing forces? Does competition end if there is a victor? Or can it continue in another form?
Is competition necessary to life? To survival? Darwinism believed that competition leads to improvement through evolution. Is this necessarily a good thing? If something is becoming extinct, is that good?

Adam Smith thought that competition created incentives for efficiency, but do we lose something critical in the process of competition? Are the ends worth the means?

"Co-operative competition" is a form of competition in which everybody wins ie: Adam Smith's invisible hand. Is this aspect of mutual benefit or gain an aspect of all competition or is having a winner and loser necessary to life? How might we differentiate the competition operative a conception of life success, from that of the competition operative in evolution or even progress? Is it possible to have competition within these categories as mutually beneficial?

Can an individual compete within him or herself? Is it necessary to have separate actors for a scenario to qualify as competition? Is internal competition necessary to self-improvement? What other motivators are there for improvement among people? What other incentives does a person have for self improvement besides competition?

We talked about competing ideologies at one of the earlier tappings, are competing ideologies a positive thing for people? Can this be destructive for people to have two contending ideologies?

Competition originates from the Latin word "competere" which means "to strive together" or "to seek together." The latin word from which we derive competition seems not to have a loser and victor as a necessary aspect of its definition. Can this form of competition be successfully applied to all types of competition?

Can there ever be a victor in sports competition or is competition in sports a never ending attempt to achieve excellence?

Are we driven to compete internally? Is competition always instinctive? Take the example of two people isolated from society with ample resources. Will they compete if their basic needs are provided for them?

"With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to smallpox. Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed." - Charles Darwin

"Competition is a sin" - John D. Rockefeller

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Tapping Philosophy: Loretta bashes theory

Hey Frank,

Indulge me. I want to finish my point. It is inappropriate to see science as the epitome of rational thought and all speculative "narrative" thinking as a sad imitator that cannot uphold scientific rigor. Science, as practiced today, makes the positivistic claim that nothing can be considered true unless is can be proven empirically. Yet, for science to be conducted at all there must be starting point- premises that are merely accepted (without proof otherwise the line of cause and effect would extend backward forever and there would be no way to make an approach.) In math these premises are called axioms. A good example is the fact that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. There is no mathematical proof for this statement. It itself is taken as a given on the basis of which other claims can be proven (nearly all of Euclidian geometry is extrapolated from this fact.) This axiom, while not proven, is rationally compelling. It is self-evident. At the base of math (called the pure science by some) is the human capacity to apprehend realities without empirical proof. Science's claim to deal merely with empirical realties is self-contradictory. Science must affirm the capacity to apprehend self-evident realities. This ability to be moved by rationally compelling statements is what we use when we conduct speculative thought about non-physical realities. While science also depends on this capacity, it typically narrows it view to the merely physical in order to avoid error. It accepts existence because it has to, not because it can prove existence. Likewise it can neither prove nor disprove anything that cannot be defined in strictly physical terms, ie. God, the soul, etc. Since both science and speculative philosophy have a basis in the immediate apprehension of reality, I submit that they are both valid. I would further submit, that since speculative philosophy attempts to understand what science merely accepts, it is in fact the more important study, and must not be confined to the evidential limits of science.

Forgive my spelling errors. All add as epilogue, (since I can hear your objection) that speculation is not nearly so neat and tidy as science, not because it is deficient, but because while there are many things that are rationally compelling, human reason can only process them so fast. Often, under examination, apparently contradictory statements can be reconciled. Heidegger called this circular logic, not to imply that it didn't get anywhere, but point out that one must often retread the same path each time getting a clearer understanding of something that is in many ways too big for human reason. The fact that the question is never closed is what makes it worth asking in the first place.


Monday, October 27, 2008

Tapping Philosophy: In Theory

Hi Tapping,

Thanks to everyone who came out last week for friendship. I wish I could tell you it was great personally, but I took the night off.

Moving on, this week tapping philosophy will be at Yeats brew pub in Ardmore at 8:00 on Thursday, with rides leaving from Connelly around 7:30.

The topic: THEORY!!

What are theories? What do they do? How does a person make use of a theory? Why do people have theories? What is the relationship of theory to different kinds of discourse, such as philosophy, science, and narrative? Is theory a type of parasitic or critical discourse that can only exist in relation to other modes of thinking, or does theory have its own domain?

But I hear you mumbling in the background, "There is no theory, only different theories!" It's this type of criticism that hopefully we can address using a specific example.

Let's take a look at positivism, the whipping boy of philosophy of science. With positivism, the basic idea is that one can only gain TRUE knowledge from empirical evidence. So how do you get empirical evidence? The scientific method of course!

If you don't remember, it basically works like this: Assuming an already existent body of scientific knowledge, one picks a theory and uses it to operationalize his or her hypotheses for testing or research. The results of the testing will determine whether or not the theory is true.

Contrast this sort of truth with historical fact, where historians pride themselves on the notion that there is plurality of interpretations for any given historical event. These two different methodologies seem to contrast directly in terms of how they set up truth claims, with the former seeing truth as the foundation, and the latter seeing truth as contingent upon other various factors, such as power relations, geography, socio-economic structures, etc.

Because of this methodological conflict, and skepticism towards totalizing narratives, in science today people tend to talk about theories being "falsifiable" in order to show they make no claims at an absolute progressive positivistic/enlightenment conception of truth.

This aforementioned conflict raises the question, are theories types of narratives, or are theories an entirely different category of discourse from narratives? Is "falsifiability" just PC drivel for those who can't handle intellectual rigor, or can narratives play an important role in shaping the operations of theories? What about Kuhn's Paradigm shifts? Etc.

Even in light of contemporary philosophy of science, theory in practice seems to function differently from narrative, and a theory that works seems to have properties that are absent from any interpretation, because of its relative utility and repeatability despite different conditions. One simple way to put it might be that theories can beget interpretations, but interpretations cannot beget theories.

The question of theory is important because what may ultimately be at stake is our intellectual integrity. It's easy to repeat the sounds you hear other people making without ever taking a step back to really think things over.

I look forward to seeing everyone this week.

Francis Prior

Monday, October 20, 2008

Tapping Philosophy: Friendship

Hi tapping,
Welcome back from your break. I hope you all enjoyed yourselves, took some time off, and in the words of the author of this topic, "failed a little" at least in doing your schoolwork. Or maybe you even achieved a sense of boredom. If this was you, I am happy for you.

As always, we will meet for rides at 7:30 in Connelly, and at 8:00 in Yeats' brew pub in Ardmore, on THURSDAY

I also wanted to remind everyone that Dr. Carvalho is having a get together in the philosophy department lounge on Friday. Please do try to show up, it will be a lovely time.

And without further delay, by Rory Scanlon: FRIENDSHIP.

“Love is blind; friendship closes its eyes.” - Nietzsche

What is friendship?

For the sake of alienation (to be as abstract as possible about something so near to us all) it could be understood as the intersection of two idea: “the personal” and “the limit”—or finitude. Friendship is something like a personal limit. It is always a matter of a direct, face to face, relation of some sort, which is limited. More than this… it presents its own limit as itself.

Thus family relations will not do for friendship for we are always our mother’s little boy or little girl. We are anticipated by the family such that if the relationship is limited, it never shows itself as such. And wider political relations (citizenship, being a student, being a camp councilor, “card-carrying” anything) will not do for they are essentially impersonal and thus can remain simply composed of limits (rules).

These relations are not mutually exclusive; they are perhaps becoming harder and harder to distinguish as the openness yet caring (if not involvement?) of friendship becomes the model for the political and familial. In fact many things we call friendship border on contradicting my definition (as hopelessly vague as it is!): friending and unfriending on facebook, mutual friends, friend of a friend, friends with benefits. The personal moment in a facebook friendship can be (and is structurally) reduced to a moment of choice—choice in a far from personal context. Similarly: is it inevitable that a friend of a friend will become your friend if you meet him or her? close to inevitable? If BFFs were already, at present, friends forever—would their friendship last? would it not become something else? And friends with benefits seem only to remain friends as long as the benefits are not quite spelled out—not entirely known.

Yet all of these examples are still examples of friendship (? Question 1). There is a core of friendship that still pertains to each of them making the limits of the relation potentially personal and the personal quality of the relation—one could almost say, its own personality—eminently limited: independence (? Question 2)—a bizarre relation of independence, mutual independence.

The (counter-)examples of new sorts of friendship may affirm the independence of the relation to triviality (friends with benefits—as if it were a business transaction) or deny it outright (BFF, as if the friendship is as necessary as blood), but they never escape this trait. So friendship is a relation that comes on top of independence as a sharing of independence. It is both gratuitous, and in some essential sense, superfluous.

There is something in the idea of “a facebook” that gets at this gratuity and superfluity very well. We can pick and put down our friendships; we can devise special sub-communities of friends; we can browse our memories of friendship; flip throw our friends; begin a friendship, and be finished with one. Yet I think “the facebook” idea is actually a reactionary impulse to the gratuity and superfluity of friendship that would exist on a deeper, more radical level, if we did not have a book to mark it by (? Question 3). With “a facebook” the book itself is gratuitous and superfluous but the reading of it need not be. The marks of friendship—in lovely dialectical contrast—however, are often the very opposite of free and open, precisely in that we are free to depend on our friends, open to sharing secrets with friends. The freedom and openness of friendship exists in its closure upon some content that makes the friendship happen; something needs to make the friendship happen—we need not make our citizenship or family ties happen. Friendship is not gratuitous and superfluous for us as individual participants, as “the facebook” makes it out to be—it is not so self-composed—rather it is the gratuity and superfluity of the relation. In other words, we only get to have this gratuity and superfluity in friendship. So friendships bind by way of being on a deeper level, in the process of the real, accidental. Friendship requires independence of us in order to give that independence back to us; we receive the image of our own freedom in another and thereby we are even freed from ourselves; the accidental play of independence is also the core of independence, gratuity and superfluity: a free gift with your purchase of existence: an extra prize.

Here we can speak of friendship in the wider sense, the Greek Philia. One can have a friendly disposition, or be friendly towards nature, politics can become the collective reasoning of friends (Aristotle), erotic love sublimated—or, if you will, deferred—by friendship (Plato).

Friendship could even be correlated with being; the thought that things exist at all could be called a friendship for things (? Question 4). Mere existence would not really be kinship with things for then this existence as such would not exist (i.e. for us, in mind) there would be only relations of kinship. Mere existence would not really be erotic love for then this mereness itself would be charged, excessive, tense. … And we do often see erotic love emerge from a tension in friendship; or inversely lovers at the end might often say but for Eros (--pretend they’re being poetic--) we would have been friends. … And friendships are always prefigured and predestined by the order of the family. Friendships inevitably simulate the originary links of childhood, etc. etc.

Thus we could have a transcendent understanding of love in those terms: Friendship and Being, Eros and Action (or Opposition), Family and Order. But here I have really gone too far.

Closing Consideration: Friendship is an independence that appears to itself and thus a void, an accident—the relationship of freedom because it can only be presumed, as an extra. …If this is true (useful, pleasurable or good, even) then friendship is the most paradoxical of relationships. For what would a relationship of independence look like!? (? Question 5) Friendship is even more paradoxical then erotic love (which could be understood as a dependence which appears to itself and yet desires itself, its own dependence)—it goes unthought! For where would one find the lever or tension with which to define or question friendship, if it is a relationship of independence? The family and the state invoke themselves in the relation; erotic love invokes itself ceaselessly (but also always on the edge of disappearance, in danger of mistake); but when do we invoke friendship? what could we say about it? Can one speak of friendship at all (and I mean in a particular case, “our” friendship) without negating it? Or is the possibility to be free with another, to not speak, at all, friendship already?

Here are some quotes that led me to link Friendship and Being –

Montaigne (free 400 year old e-text) -

“It is not in the power of the worlds discourse to remove me from the certaintie I have of his intentions and judgments of mine: no one of its actions might be presented unto me, under what shape soever, but I would presently linde the spring and motion of it. Our mindes have jumped so unitedly together, they have with so fervent an affection consideredof each other, and with like affection so discovered and sounded, even to the very bottome of each others heart and entrails, that I did not only know his, as well as mine owne, but would (verily) rather have trusted him concerning any matter of mine than my selfe.”

Simone Weil -

“For when two beings who are not friends are near each other there is no meeting, and when friends are far apart there is no separation.”

“Learn to reject friendship, or rather the dream of friendship. To want friendship is a great fault. Friendship ought to be a gratuitous joy, like the joys afforded by art, or life (like aesthetic joys). I must refuse it in order to be worthy to receive it”

Aristotle -

“What is a friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies”

“O my friends, there is no perfect friend”

(or in Derrida, “O my friends, there is no friend”)

Francis Prior
Villanova Philosophy Club Website
Villanova Phi Sigma Tau Minutes:
Villanova Phi Sigma Tau Conference Website:

Self Absorption: Summary

Self absorption:
Me me, it's all about me!

I thought the most important point made during the discussion was that of Rob McNamara, namely that the term we were using was already value charged negatively, and that a more neutral fair term might be self interested. However, this point fell by the wayside as we continued to talk about self absorption.

There was some contention over whether a self absorbed person cared what others thought of them or not; I maintained that a person who was truly self absorbed would not care what others thought because other people are less important to them than themselves. However, others maintained that within a culture of images, a self absorbed person might be concerned with other's perception of this images as a manifestation of their self. In other words a self absorbed person is a person absorbed in how they are perceived by others.

This didn't exactly fit with the self absorbed artist or philosopher example, excluding andy warhol, who only cares about developing their own perspective on the world, not the perspective of others towards some ego image concept. This seem to lead us to the notion that there were different levels of self absorption, but there were hardly any meaningful criteria that were put out on the table for qualifying these different levels. Overall there were a lot of unanswered questions and disjointed positions with relation to this topic, perhaps because of its ego driven nature.

Rory did mention an interesting point that the self absorbed person would think of the world as themselves, much the same way a child associates their ego with the world. An interesting point for the philosopher's self absorption, due to philosopher's fascination with perspective and the world.

Tapping Philosophy: Self Absorption


“I like cry when I listen to it… it’s that good.” –Paris Hilton on her new album (and so does everyone else)

Humanity could only have survived and flourished if it held social and personal values that transcended the urges of the individual, embodying selfish desires - and these stem from the sense of a transcendent good.” - Arthur Peacocke

“I think it all comes back to being very selfish as an artist. I mean, I really do just write and record what interests me and I do approach the stage shows in much the same way.” – David Bowie

“Every writer is a narcissist. This does not mean that he is vain; it only means that he is hopelessly self-absorbed.”- Leo Rosten

What does it mean to be self-absorbed? Does being self-absorbed mean concern for oneself over the concern for others categorically? Can self-absorption be a tool used to develop an identity, concept, or goal? Is self-absorption an overall bad thing in that the bad aspects of self-absorption outweigh any good qualities it can bring?

Is self-absorption a consequence of our American individualistic society? By focusing on the self through individual happiness, have we created an obsession with how the individual feels which supersedes an acknowledgment of collective whole?
Is self-absorption fleeting, perhaps exacerbated by an overwhelming emotion or drama? Is everyone capable of self-absorption and how does it become a permanent flaw or trait?
Could you argue that all great thinkers needed to use self-absorption as means to achieve their greater goals?

“It is a cursed evil to any man to become as absorbed in any subject as I am in mine.”- Charles Darwin

Are philosophers doomed for self-absorption by the very nature of self-examination? We could point to Plato’s endoxic method of looking within self to examine the soul. Or what about Descartes discovering that he, himself exist because he thinks?

On that note, I look forward to seeing you guys at tapping

Now I’m gonna go lock myself in my room and indulge my inner spoiled brat lacking all perspective.

Love and Peace,

Tapping Philosophy: Self Absorption

This topic brought to you by Christina Bernardo:

“I like cry when I listen to it… it’s that good.” –Paris Hilton on her new album (and so does everyone else)

Humanity could only have survived and flourished if it held social and personal values that transcended the urges of the individual, embodying selfish desires - and these stem from the sense of a transcendent good.” - Arthur Peacocke

“I think it all comes back to being very selfish as an artist. I mean, I really do just write and record what interests me and I do approach the stage shows in much the same way.” – David Bowie

“Every writer is a narcissist. This does not mean that he is vain; it only means that he is hopelessly self-absorbed.”- Leo Rosten

What does it mean to be self-absorbed? Does being self-absorbed mean concern for oneself over the concern for others categorically? Can self-absorption be a tool used to develop an identity, concept, or goal? Is self-absorption an overall bad thing in that the bad aspects of self-absorption outweigh any good qualities it can bring?

Is self-absorption a consequence of our American individualistic society? By focusing on the self through individual happiness, have we created an obsession with how the individual feels which supersedes an acknowledgment of collective whole?
Is self-absorption fleeting, perhaps exacerbated by an overwhelming emotion or drama? Is everyone capable of self-absorption and how does it become a permanent flaw or trait?
Could you argue that all great thinkers needed to use self-absorption as means to achieve their greater goals?

“It is a cursed evil to any man to become as absorbed in any subject as I am in mine.”- Charles Darwin

Are philosophers doomed for self-absorption by the very nature of self-examination? We could point to Plato’s endoxic method of looking within self to examine the soul. Or what about Descartes discovering that he, himself exist because he thinks?

On that note, I look forward to seeing you guys at tapping

Now I’m gonna go lock myself in my room and indulge my inner spoiled brat lacking all perspective.

Love and Peace,

Friday, September 26, 2008

Tapping Summary: Temptation (and Desire)

Some points:

We actually sort of skipped the hermeneutical question to begin with, and we went straight to evaluating whether temptation was good or bad. Loretta posited early that temptation was that bad thing that you do, but it feels oh so good. So there's a certain ambiguity in temptation in that there's a bad to it and a "good" side to it in that there's some aspect of desire being fulfilled. The bad is namely that one generally ought not to do the thing that one is tempted to do.

Ryan and Seth hotly contested this point, claiming that one can be tempted to do thing that society deems morally good, and that whenever temptation is at stake in the logic of a decision, there is always a twofold aspect of temptation for the two objects of the decision. They did not think that the fact that authority figures in effect determine what is a "temptation" and what is the "right" thing to do, changes the feeling that one has towards either option of the decision. I tended to disagree, claiming that what is operative in the definition of temptation, and what gives its unique semantic content is the fact that it goes against some kind of normative structure. As I understand it, the "feeling" of temptation that one gets for two aspects of a decision is really the desire of rational choice. This differs from temptation, which does not necessarily have anything to do with a decision, and when it does, it will always refer to sort of normative dichotomy.

And that was about most of it.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Tapping Philosophy: Temptation and Call for Papers

Hi Tapping,
Thanks to everyone who came out last week, we had a great discussion on democracy. If you want to check it out, the link is in my signature. This week Tapping Philosophy will be Thursday at Yeats at 8:00, meeting at 7:30 in Connelly for rides.

Firstly, I must warn you. This email is lengthy, so I will reinstate the "Short version" concept. The email has two components. The first part is the topic, temptation. You know you want to. 'Nuff said.

Secondly, for you academic types, there is a call for papers in the undergraduate journal Stance. Papers are due in December. You can contact Cassandra Reid, the editor in chief, if you have questions at
So now for the long version.

Temptation (and Desire)

"I have no problem not listening to the temptations… which is weird."

-Mitch Hedberg, R.I.P.

So what does it mean to be tempted, or to tempt someone? Is temptation simply desire's cousin, or is there something more insidious about temptation that is damaging to either of its participants? In other words, does temptation have to be wrong somehow, in order for it to be temptation as such? Admittedly in a religious context or moral context it may take on a certain negative connotation, but temptation seems to be a part of life, that might even be valorized by someone with a more Dionysian outlook. Could temptation be seen this way as a form of rebellion against outdated social mores? If so, does the word temptation really even apply anymore?

One important distinction to draw between temptation and desire is the difference in agency. In desire, agency belongs to the desiring subject that seeks its object of the desire, whatever it may be. Of course this is not to say that the object of desire is SOLELY an object, but it is the force that drives the subject, very similar to Aristotle's unmoved mover. In temptation, however, the action is not on the part of the desirous subject, but in fact of the object so desired. In this way, the object of the desirous subject is in fact a subject in its own right, as its agency allows it to create the desirous subject as such, through the act of temptation. Therefore, temptation inverts the schema of desire by placing agency in the hands of the object.

So what can we derive from this logical difference in the agency of desire and temptation? If we say something tempts us, does that mean that we are not taking responsibility for our desires? If so, what does that say about the psychology of moral and religious schemas of thought, if they create a category that moves the responsibility of desire to outside forces? To use an example, someone might say to you, "I lost my book" or "The book was lost." What is the significance of the passivity of temptation versus the activity of desire, and which of these narratives do we think are more applicable to the way people conduct themselves in society today?

And a message from Sally Scholz regarding a call for papers in the Philosophy Journal Stance:

Hi! would you mind sending this with your next tapping email?

Thanks! Sally

Dear Colleagues,

Please find attached a Call For Papers for Vol. 2 of Stance: An International Undergraduate Philosophy Journal. Stance is a peer-reviewed, peer-produced, academic journal that publishes papers by current undergraduate students.

Authors of published papers will receive a free print version of the journal and their article will be in the Philosopher's Index. Stance has a full digital presence: Via the website, you can reach past issues in an open source format.

Please encourage your students with superior work to submit a paper. Also, please distribute this CFP widely.

I will be happy to answer any questions you might have.

Cassandra Reed

Call For Papers

An International Undergraduate Philosophy Journal

Submission Guidelines:
Stance welcomes papers concerning any philosophical topic. Current undergraduates may submit papers between 1500 and 3500 words in length (exclusive of notes and bibliography). Papers should avoid unnecessary technicality and strive to be accessible to the widest possible audience without sacrificing clarity or rigor. They are evaluated on the following criteria: depth of inquiry, quality of research, creativity, lucidity, and originality. For more specific guidelines see the website at

Submission Procedures:
• Manuscripts should be in Microsoft Word format and sent as an attachment to
• Manuscripts should be double spaced (including quotations, excerpts, and footnotes)
• The right margin should not be justified
• To facilitate our anonymous review process, submissions are to be prepared for blind review. Include a cover page with the author's name, affiliation, title, and email address. Papers, including footnotes, should have no other identifying markers.
• Footnotes should use the author-date format found in The Chicago Manual of Style.
• Please use American spellings and punctuation, except when directly quoting a source that has followed British style.


Deadline: Friday, December 19, 2008

Call for External Reviewers

Stance: An International Undergraduate Philosophy Journal

Stance is looking for interested undergraduate philosophy students to serve as external reviewers for this year's issue. This is an exciting opportunity to gain experience working for a groundbreaking journal in the field of philosophy, as well as a chance to hone your skills in writing and reviewing philosophy papers.

Participation in this project will require a moderate level of experience in philosophy, strengths in writing and editing, as well as a sufficient degree of self-motivation necessary to complete the work by the given deadlines. We anticipate that each external reviewer will be sent one or two papers to review in late December or early January. It is possible that a reviewer will be asked to review one or two further submissions later in the spring if a particular piece requires further consideration. If accepted as an external reviewer, training material will be provided that will explain what is expected in the formal review. Reviewers will also be credited in both the print and electronic versions of the journal.

If you are interested, please provide us with the following information:

Name of School:
Year in School:
Philosophy Courses Taken:

Your specialty, or concentration

What experience do you have that would qualify you for this project?

What goals do you have that working on Stance will support?

What, in your opinion, are the makings of a good philosophy paper?

Along with this application, we have provided a further application form to serve as a letter of recommendation from a philosophy professor with whom you have worked. Please have both items returned to us by e-mail or by mail at:

Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies
Ball State University
Muncie, Indiana 47306-0500

Postmarked By: November 3

Thank you for your interest. We look forward to working with you.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Tapping Summary: Democracy

So democracy went a little something like this:

The first question that we addressed was essentially if there has ever been a true democracy in history, which led naturally into the question of what a democracy is. I kept using the example of athens, in which the citizenship participated directly in the political process, and this participation served a twofold effect of education. In this way, athens served as a useful example to critique other candidates for the title of democracy, including the United States and India, even as the democracy itself did exclude a majority of its populace from its citizenship, a fact which cannot be ignored. It is difficult to say if we ever arrived at a specific analytic definition of what a democracy was outside of a government that recognized and reinforced the will of the majority.

Another question that was circulating around the table, concerned the relative worth of Democracy. In other words, is Democracy a good thing? When is it a bad thing? There was some discussion of the use of propaganda by those in influential positions to trick the masses into thinking that they operate in its best interest, when really the masses are simply reifying already established power structures through what essentially amounts to a facade of participation. Of course this would not be democracy per se, but perhaps this set up does characterize certain nations that might present themselves as democratic. Along the same lines of this critique is that the masses are stupid and they do not know what is good for them, and therefore they must be told what it is by those who have the right knowledge. It seems however that in this case knowledge is tantamount to authority, a la Michel Foucault. There was also a question of whether democracy's success depends on a certain economic and social context, such as economic growth and homogeneity in the case of Norweigian countries.

There was more, but I felt we drifted off topic into economic quesions.

Tapping Philosophy: Democracy

Hello Tapping,

Thanks to everyone who came out on a Thursday night to talk about suicide. Last week's discussion was a smashing success in terms of both attendance and content. If you want a more in depth summary, look on the tapping philosophy website in my signature. This week's topic is brought to you by Christina Bernardo.


What is democracy? The greek word dimokratia simply means "popular government." By popular government, we often mean actualizing a common will of the people. Is the average person able to truly participate effectively in government? Many argue (Schumpeter, Plato, Aristotle) that the average person is too stupid or wrapped up in their immediate needs to have any real concern about politics.

In Henrik Ibsen's play, An Enemy of the People, the main character tells the mayor about the bacteria laden bath water, and the people (led by the mayor) choose to do nothing about it due to cost and disbelief. At the town meeting, when he realizes he is fighting alone, the main character shouts:

"Dr. Stockmann. The majority never has right on its side. Never, I say! That is one of these social lies against which an independent, intelligent men must wage war. Who is it that constitute the majority of the population in a country? Is it the clever folk, or the stupid? I don't imagine you will dispute the fact that at present the stupid people are in an absolutely overwhelming majority all the world over. But, good Lord!--you can never pretend that it is right that the stupid folk should govern the clever ones I (Uproar and cries.) Oh, yes--you can shout me down, I know! But you cannot answer me. The majority has might on its side--unfortunately; but right it has not. I am in the right--I and a few other scattered individuals. The minority is always in the right. (Renewed uproar.)"

What do we think of this? Can we go against the ideals of equality and still maintain a democracy?

Today Democracy has varied extensively in definition and context, but two of its facets that remain relevant are the idea that all citizens have equal access to power and that all citizens can enjoy certain liberties and freedoms that the government will protect.

With these parameters in mind can we say that we live in a democracy (where 30% of the population votes)? Has there ever been an effective democracy or is it simply a utopian ideal? What would an effective democracy look like? According to Dahl, a political scientist, 5 criteria necessary for a democracy are:

1. Effective participation

2. Voting Equality

3. Enlightened Understanding

4. Control of the Agenda
5. Inclusiveness

So, if we can't think of a democracy that holds these ideals, can we think of any other form of government where every citizens has the same stake in the decision making process? Am I being too obvious? Prosch, help me out.


Francis Prior
Villanova Philosophy Club Website
Villanova Phi Sigma Tau Minutes:
Villanova Phi Sigma Tau Conference Website:

Friday, September 12, 2008

Tapping Summary: Suicide

A few key points for our discussion of suicide:

First I presented Camus thesis, which essentially claims that life is inherently absurd and meaningless, but it is still worth living because you can attain relative happiness. For Camus, sacrificing this relative happiness due an imperative from or a failure of a system of meaning derived from society, culture, or ideology.

Loretta made a very interesting point radicalizing Camus thesis, in that as soon as one ascribed to ideology, one was already on the path towards suicide, or at least that any ideology worth its salt includes the possibility of a just suicide within it. Because of the dangers of ideology, Loretta proposed not taking ideology seriously, much in the way Camus enjoins us to commit philosophical suicide, in order to avoid actual suicide.

Jess found this point to be very unsavory, claiming that ideology is a pervasive force and it is impossible to live outside of ideology, because it dictates so much of what we are. I proposed that Loretta and Jess were operating with two different conceptions of ideologies, but that I was more concerned with Jess' pervasive ideological superstructure, than say a set of personal beliefs. This conception of ideology is especially important to the notion of suicide, because if ideology really determines what we mean when we say or think, then it is not so far-fetched to see ideology's role both emotional and rational paths to suicide. In other words, someone could kill themselves because they were sad or because they thought life was meaningless, but both sadness and lack of understanding both trace back to ideology. I suppose my cards are on the table about rationality and emotions being inextricably linked.

Charles made a point about Aristotle's nichomachean ethics claiming that suicide was still a crime against the others in society. Indeed, suicide from many perspectives is viewed as the highest act of selfishness. Tim made an individualistic point about the right to die, claiming that really no one should be able to prevent another person from taking their own life. Tim's point is interesting because it seems to suggest that life is something akin to private property, and that we should respect other people's desire to do what they want with their life, so long as it is not at the expense of others. I think Camus would agree with this basic sentiment, but would want to make the argument for WHY one shouldn't kill themselves. Ben and Candy also made some important historical and psychological points related to the evolution of Camus' thinking, from subjectively based free will, to solidarity reducing the suffering of the absurd.

Much of the remaining conversation revolved around the concern of belief systems and suicide, with a few people claiming that if they found something they believed was worth killing themselves over, that they would have done it. Others respectfully shied away from their own finitude.

The conversation split into two, so I didn't get the other half. If anyone wants to fill in the gap feel free.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Tapping Philosophy: Suicide

Welcome back everyone,

I missed you. I didn't send out an email for the first couple of weeks because I felt as though it would be best to give everyone some time to adjust to being back at school. We will be having our weekly discussions this semester on Thursdays at Yeats brew pub at 8:00. Meet for rides at Connelly on the first floor at 7:30. I started out last year with Truth, or truth if you prefer, which has been a perennial subject in philosophy. However, Albert Camus once wrote that the only serious philosophical question is suicide. I know some of you are Camus fans out there, so let's entertain his proposal for a moment.


For Camus, people commit suicide because of an attachment to philosophical logic and reason. One might be tempted to ask, how is it logical in any way to commit suicide? Well, what if someone told you that your life was inherently lacking in meaning? Would you take it personally? Maybe. But if you step back there's a certain way in which "meaning" is an ultimately artificial construct, a tool which humans use to communicate and function within the context of a society. If you think about meaning in this way, perhaps it is possible to conceive of meaning as an unnatural phenomenon. For Camus, the natural capacity of life to flout the schemas of philosophical logic and reason is what constitutes the absurd. His hypothesis is that when people recognize this inherent tendency of lived experience, they give up because they no longer understand life. His point is that life is inherently valuable, and that one can achieve relative happiness, without complete understanding, which seems relatively impossible, and attempts towards such an understanding may be detrimental to both your mental and physical health.

So how do we as philosophers, or human beings if you prefer, understand this claim? Life is meaningless, but don't kill yourself because it's all you're ever going to experience. It doesn't seem outlandish, but why do you suppose people actually kill themselves? Socrates committed suicide for the sake of his ideals, what do you suppose Camus would say to this? Is there a time when death is philosophically appropriate, or should we commit philosophical suicide the way Camus enjoins us to do so? Are we concerned with ritual suicide, or is this outside of the scope of Camus' actively willing subject that takes his own life? Is it possible for a person without ideals to kill themselves?

This topic might be conceived as a little depressing, but the centrality of the question cannot be overlooked. On a lighter note, a quote from an older article of the New York Times, which I know many of you read:

"Jenna Schaal-O'Connor, a 20-year-old sophomore who is majoring in cognitive science and linguistics, said philosophy had other perks. She said she found many male philosophy majors interesting and sensitive.

"That whole deep existential torment," she said. "It's good for getting girlfriends.""

So ponder that for a moment. Here's the article:

I look forward to seeing everyone out on Thursday.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Philosophy questions itself: Summary

First, Rob introduced the topic of the possibility of the usefulness of the philosophy degreed, and was immediately ridiculed for exploiting the existential anxiety of subjects in a world that does not appreciate the brilliance of philosophers. Gracing us with his presence tonight was Tapping president emeritus, Chris Continanza who assured the table that no matter what you end up doing, you will have a wider and deeper appreciation of the purpose of your task. Much patting on the backs of fellow philosophers ensued, and continued throughout the discussion as we weighed the merits of being able to “think outside the box,” how much we hated that term, and see the larger issues facing society and the economy. Finally, I delivered a poignant message of reassurance from Dr. Carvalho which amounted to the statement that if you do happen to be one of the 90% of undergrad philosophy majors who does not pursue a Ph.D., the knowledge you gain will give you a better and wider perspective on whatever your calling turns out to be. The next task, however, is finding the calling.

Edit: This Tapping Summary was brought to you by Mark Kasten, a recent victim of realpolitik.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Rob's Last Tapping: Philosophy

My Fellow Philosophers-in-arms,

This week will be the final Tapping Philosophy of the semester (and for some of us the final Tapping of our collegiate careers). We will meet at Yeat's Pub in Ardmore this Thursday at 8 and I will be running rides from Connelly at 730. If you have never been to Tapping, haven't been to Tapping in awhile, or are a Tapping-alumnus whose been meaning to stop by (you know who you are), this is the week to come out. The last Tapping of the year is a lot of fun and is a nice way to put the past few months (or years) into perspective, hope to see a lot of people there.

The Topic:

Essentially this week's topic is rather selfish as I am a Senior philosophy major who is about to graduate with a total lack of confidence that the last four years of rigorous philosophic discourse have been of any use to me at all. This being said, this week's topic is: is philosophy really valuable...I mean, come on!

Sure philosophy has done great things in the world; it has fathered more offspring than Abraham on Viagra: political science, aesthetics, cognitive science, ethics, and sociology just to name a few. But now isn't philosophy nothing more than a hallowed out husk which has yielded all possible fruits? Anything left within the legitimate grasp of the discipline of philosophy seems to be of little or no practical value; or is even talking about strict disciplines even a valid question in the swirling, murky swamp of a post-modern age? Philosophy has done some great things in the world and acted as the foundation to innumerable worthy causes and institutions, but hasn't it been the bedrock of a equal number of genocides and dictatorial regimes (see Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, the Bush White House [low blow, I know])? What is the value in a discipline whose cannon can be as easily appropriated by the Nazi's as it can the Carmelites? Finally, is it really better to know something rather than nothing? Sure its good to know how gravity works and that you can't cross the street when the "Don't Walk" sign is flashing, but is it really a good thing to search for answers to the deeper questions of life or would it just be better if we all quieted our worried minds and watched American Idol? Simply put, is ignorance really bliss?

Hope to see a lot of you there on Thursday so we can hash some of this out and maybe make me feel better about the $160,000 I just spent.

Anarchy and Love,

Tapping Philosophy: Progress Summarized

First we discussed the possibility of progress in the discipline of philosophy itself--and basically decided that there isn't any. If anything philosophy progresses in size, the number of philosophies, and sophistication, but someone pointed out we still read Plato and that was that. Although philosophy as it is linked to the various sciences was proposed, sort of, as a possible counter-category. Let me say extremely after the fact that Schelling's conception of a "universal organism" (the projection of the self onto itself) is a great way to synthesize there being bits and appearances of progress--or some hidden real progress--but no apparent, and no ideal, essential progress.

Second we covered the possibility of social/political progress. Some people (namely myself) wanted to dismiss this outright again assigning the title "progressive" to numerical variety only, but this argument was almost solely the product of sub-rational distaste. On the other hand, the possibility of a basic scientific-technical progress, a la Social Darwinism, was discussed thoroughly as well. Some also wished to point to liberal democracy as an example of political progress, oddly enough. Rob thought there was a threshold before which progress is real and beyond which all that would manifest itself as progress becomes decay. Perhaps progress could then be placed as the unfolding of this threshold. We would want to say that penicillin is progress--and perhaps genuine novelty in thinking can be progress. It all got very hairy and we gave up. Progress was largely abandoned and again oddly enough, there was much rejoicing (and that is not merely a stylistic point).

As can be immediately glimpsed (ezaiphnas, in Plato's flash) this was a shorter meeting.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Tapping Philosophy: Progress

Hey all,

In his infinite wisdom, Frank has allowed me to coordinate the last two Tapping Philosophy meetings of the semester. This week, we will be discussing progress.

Basically I would like to break our question into two parts which are undoubtedly interrelated: progress within philosophy and social/human progress.


Utilizing the generally accepted Western narrative that Plato and Aristotle are the founders of philosophy, has philosophy progressed in any real way since its Grecian roots? Is the discipline of philosophy any closer now to obtaining any more real or more practical truths about the world or life, itself, than it was in its infancy? Is this the way in which we should be judging philosophical progress, or should progress be judged in some other way, or does philosophical progress even make sense as a theory? Philosophers such as Hegel and his dialectical reasoning would undoubtedly assert that actual progress can be and is made, while Kant would say that philosophers can only talk of how things appear to us and we can make no progress towards a more complete understanding of things-in-themselves.


In today's society, we constantly hear about progress, the progress of global democracy, the progress of medicine, the progress of technology; in the second half of our discussion I would like to discuss what this progress is and why it is considered a stock Good. Is total human progress possible, or can progress only be understood in terms of groups of people gaining an advantage over other groups? Does having three TVs, two cars, and a Nintendo Wii really make one's life better, or does our assumption that commercial and technological progress is a stock Good cloud our capability to reflect on whether we are actually better off newer, 'better', and fancier stuff? Is progress an essential human need, or is it a contrivance, I suppose is the essential question here.

Let's plan to meet at Yeats at 8 o'clock, I can run rides from Connelly at 7:30. Hope to see many of you there.

Anarchy and Love,

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Tapping Philosophy: Censorship Summary

Tapping Philosophy: Censorship summary
• This one got a little heated.
• Almost immediately into the discussion it became apparent that there was a schism at the table, regarding the meaning of the term censorship

• Censorship A: Borrowing from Chomsky and Herman’s conception of the media with a propaganda model, it was argued that self censorship occurred within the media framework, and that there might be implicit and specific political and economic reasons for information not being brought to the public’s attention, or being considered culturally taboo. In this way censorship can be diffuse and widespread, without a specific censoring agent.

• Censorship B: These folks argued for a more specific and limited definition of censorship where there is an agent who attempts to speak and is then deliberately suppressed. Also, the Censorship B coalition argued for a freely willing subject that was separate from the structure of society, and one of the more uppity B’s argued that society didn’t configure subjectivity at all!

• The censorship A people argued that the propaganda model of the media effectively served to censor the facts or the truth, while the B people argued that agency was absent from this definition of censorship and was therefore untenable. The A’s argued for the insidiousness of the propaganda model’s effectiveness, because of its presumptions of liberal objectivity and the relative difficulty in accessing the facts and the absence of accountability. The B’s argued that this definition of censorship was in fact too broad, and needed a different name, such as widespread corruption or delusion as opposed to censorship, which requires an agent and occurs ex post facto a particular instance of expression. Furthermore the B’s argued that the question in the broader sense became an issue of culture in general

• I attempted to bridge the gap between an overdetermined materialist model of subjectivity as offered by Censorship A (which I was admittedly a part of) and the free subject of Censorship B by implementing Ranciere’s model of the anarchical political subject that alters the distribution of the sensible, basically the field of expression, through radical aesthetico-political action, but the B’s wanted to preserve the abstract freedom of the subject separate from any social structure, such as the distribution of the sensible.

• At a certain point the conversation moved toward the issue social and cultural structure in general, or the lack thereof, which I felt moved away from the topic and became far too abstract.

• Overall, good discussion.

Tapping Philosophy: Censorship

Tapping Philosophy: Censorship
Gross Generalization: People like often like to say what they cannot or should not say. Hence, for as long as there has been culture, or at least the idea of social expression and norms, from negative theology to (the very entertaining) South Park, there has been the idea of censorship.

We should certainly examine the merits of this assumption, to see if culture is possible without censorship, but I think we will have trouble finding any historical examples of such a culture. If censorship is inseparable from culture, and thus at the limits of what can be said in a culture, is it that radical of a move to claim that censorship defines culture? If we look at censorship as the limits of a culture, is censorship the condition of possibility for culture to begin with? Is a culture of censorship compatible with a culture of democracy, or the first amendment? Perhaps culture is constituted by more elements than communication and expression, but this is a possibility that I think should be examined nonetheless.
Some other, perhaps less problematic questions that can be addressed include: Who are those that traditionally hold the capability of censorship within a given culture, and what are some possible motivations that they could have in the use of censorship? What have been some consequences of those who have been historically censored? What are some of the traditional methodologies of censorship, and are there any particular case studies of large silences within history that are worth examining?

So far, most of this topic has been about censorship as a form of cultural and social suppression. Freud examines a form of repressive censorship where the value systems derived from the conscious subject repress hidden desires of the unconscious subject, and the tension between these two forces results in the distorted and fragmented expression of the unconscious, which are dreams. Would it be possible to implement this model of distortion to understand how some people participate in their culture in ways that could be objectively understood as irrational and destructive, and are their any historical examples that might fit this schema?

Edit: I thought it prudent in light of one of my recent readings that we open the possibility of engaging Herman and Chomsky’s criticism of the media in the 80’s with the propaganda model. Herman and Chomsky claim that the media has a vested interest in propagating the status quo, primarily due to the large financial investment required to begin a corporation, corporate investment of advertisement as a primary income source, and close ties with the government. As a result, the news is configured in such a way that only certain stories receive benefits of exposure due to repetition on a large scale. I’ll end on a quote so that it’s apparent how this better fits within the context of the topic:

“Most biased choices in the media arise from the preselection of right-thinking people, internalized preconceptions, and adaptation of the personnel to the constraints of ownership, organization, market, and political power. Censorship is largely self-censorship, by reports and commentators who adjust to the realities of source and media organizational requirements, and by people at higher levels within media organizations who are chosen to implement, and usually have internalized, the constraints imposed by proprietary and other market and governmental centers of power”

-Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky in Manufacturing Consent

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Tapping Philosophy: Dialectic Summary

Dialectic: Summary
• First we attempted to differentiate between the different varieties of dialectic, namely the ideally driven Hegelian dialectic, and the practically driven Marxist dialectic.

• Both philosophers, because they are using the dialectical method depend on notions of the absolute in order to ground their inquiry. Also, for both philosophers this absolute is self-consciousness, deriving from the project of German Idealism.
o However, we discussed how Hegel’s dialectical absolute was the self-consciousness of the divine being that creates the world so that it is able to be ultimately conscious of the world as a part of itself.
o Marx’s dialectic is different due to its basis in the material practice of human beings. As a result, the absolute for Marx is the actualized self-consciousness of humanity as a socialized species being, in the practice of communism. Thus, Marxist dialectical materialism and praxis is rooted in humanism, as opposed to transcendental idealism.

• We briefly addressed the relationship between deconstruction and dialectic, only to say that there is a sort of binary opposition operative in both of these ways of thinking, and that while the dialectic leads to something, deconstruction works from a deferred instability, and ultimately fails on its own terms in its attempts to avoid binary thought.

• Finally we addressed the question of whether dialectical thought was still viable today. Certainly versions of dialectical thought were complete failures, such as Fukuyama’s interpretation of liberal democracy and capitalism as the end of history. Also the appropriation of dialectical thinking by the Stalinist regime could be considered a failure of a much more drastic variety. However, most people were in support of the notion that dialectical thinking could be used for progressive ends, although there were very few people in support of Hegelian abstract dialectic, even though it’s a useful object of study when engaging in thinking about thinking.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Tapping Philosophy: Dialectic

Hey everyone,

Tapping Philosophy will be on Thursday this week at its regular time at 8:00 at Yeats' Pub. Meet me in Connelly at 7:30 if you need a ride. This one's for you Dr. Prosch. I don't have any lengthy quotes this time.

Tapping Philosophy: The Dialectic

Dialectical thinking is often characterized as a movement from a logical hypothesis, to its contradictory counterpart, to a synthesized principle (thesis, antithesis, synthesis). Dialectical thinking has been around since ancient Greece, and is implemented by thinkers including Hegel, Marx, and Nagarjuna. My concern is with the dialectic's more (relatively) contemporary manifestations, although other crusty old thinkers are certainly open for discussion.

What has been the historical impact of the practice of dialectical thinking? What do Hegel's dialectic and Marx's dialectic share, and where do they differ? Is there a space in the historical determinism of dialectical thinking for the subject as constituted by free will? Is it possible to have dialectical thinking without creating a philosophical system, or is the gesture of dialectic always a constructivist gesture?

We could also examine the relationship between dialectic and deconstruction. Dialectic seems to proceed towards a notion of the absolute, in a process of actualization, while deconstruction proceeds by opening up new possibilities of understanding a given text in terms of an implied text, which is the condition of possibility for all text. What separates this notion of the implied text from a philosophical absolute? Is deconstruction simply an anti-teleological way of thinking dialectically and is such an understanding of dialectical thinking even intelligible?

The question of the dialectic's intelligibility in general could also be an investigative concern. Do the basic premises of the dialectic simply flout the law of non- contradiction? Is the Hegelian synthesis ultimately going to provide us with claims that are true in the sense of being verifiable? Can an idealistically synthetic claim serve as that which grounds the sciences? Is Hegelian dialectic simply "reason gone mad" in search of an unconditioned principle, as Kant might say?

So is dialectical thinking still useful or relevant today, if we assume its intelligibility? Many of those critical of narratives that posit an unconditioned philosophical absolute might give an emphatic "no," claiming that history has no underlying theme or spirit, and abandon the dialectic as modernist garbage. Are there ways of thinking dialectically that avoid the dangers of thinking absolutely, or is the dialectic a lost cause?

I look forward to seeing everyone there.

Love and Peace,
Francis Prior
Villanova Philosophy Club Website
Villanova Phi Sigma Tau Minutes:

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Tapping Philosophy: Soul

Hello everyone,

I welcome you all back from your breaks, even though I am preemptively sending this email out before break is actually over, which is a minor technicality. As a reminder of what I said last week, Tapping Philosophy will be meeting on Wednesday at 7:30, at Yeats' Pub, with rides leaving from Connelly at around 7:00. I encourage everyone to attend this lecture:

Start Date: 3/27/2008Start Time: 7:00 PM
End Date: 3/27/2008End Time: 8:30 PM
Event Description
"The Media's Service in Selling the Wars in Iraq, Iran, and Beyond" lecture given by Professor Emeritus Edward S. Herman.
Location Information:
Villanova University Main Campus - Bartley Hall
Room: 1011 - Ampitheater

And now for some quotes and of course the topic:

"It is manifest that not every principle of vital action is a soul, for then the eye would be a soul, as it is a principle of vision; and the same might be applied to the other instruments of the soul: but it is the "first" principle of life, which we call the soul. Now, though a body may be a principle of life, or to be a living thing, as the heart is a principle of life in an animal, yet nothing corporeal can be the first principle of life. For it is clear that to be a principle of life, or to be a living thing, does not belong to a body as such; since, if that were the case, every body would be a living thing, or a principle of life. Therefore a body is competent to be a living thing or even a principle of life, as "such" a body. Now that it is actually such a body, it owes to some principle which is called its act. Therefore the soul, which is the first principle of life, is not a body, but the act of a body; thus heat, which is the principle of calefaction, is not a body, but an act of a body."

St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica


They don't know nothing,

About my soul,

Oh they don't know."

-Jeff Tweedy from Wilco in "Theologians" on A Ghost is Born


A standard theological definition of the soul is the separate immaterial unchanging substance that defines the individuality of a specific person, particularly insofar as they relate to God. This substantial conception of the soul has been philosophically criticized by many; nevertheless the term still holds currency in popular discourse, albeit in various different forms. Has the term soul been completely evacuated of analytically descriptive potential in its popular use, or has the term simply evolved in meaning due to the arguable failure of theology as a project that can adequately contribute to explaining the human condition? How might the contemporary use of the term soul have a counterpart in what is often referred to as subjectivity, and where might these terms differ? What ambiguities can arise with contemporary use of the term as a result of its relationship to theological discourse, and what assumptions can we unpack from this relation?

Where does the soul stand in relation to the mind body problem? Is the soul simply a synonym or part of the mind, vice versa, or a third independent part? Is it possible to separate the soul from the body or the mind? Can other people know something about each other's souls, or are they strictly off limits to others in the manner of traditional subjectivity? How do people associate the soul with cognitive functions, such as emotions and thoughts, and how have theologians traditionally made these associations? Is it possible for a human being to not have a soul, or is concept soul already tied up with what it means to be a human being? If the former is possible, are there relative degrees of soul that are attainable on a scale going from soulless to soulful, and if so, what are the problems with the practical implementation of such a scale? And of course, the ever popular: do animals have souls?

I look forward to seeing everyone there.

Francis Prior
Villanova Philosophy Club Website
Villanova Phi Sigma Tau Minutes:

Monday, March 17, 2008

Tapping Philosophy: Globalization

I apologize for posting the topic after the summary.

And now for the topic: Globalization

First some quotes

"Simply put, globalization denotes the expanding scale, growing magnitude, speeding up, and deepening impact of interregional flows and patterns of social interaction. It refers to a shift or transformation in the scale of human social organization that links distant communities and expands the reach of power relations across the world's major regions and continents. However, as the rise of anti-globalization protests demonstrates, it should not be read as prefiguring the emergence of a harmonious world society or as a universal process of global integration in which there is a growing convergence of cultures and civilizations. Not only does the awareness of growing interconnectedness create new animosities and conflicts, it can fuel reactionary politics and deep-seated xenophobia. Since a significant segment of the world's population is either untouched directly by globalization or remains largely excluded form its benefits, it is arguably a deeply divisive, and consequently, vigorously contested process."-Held and Mcgrew, an Introduction to the Globalization Debate

"The new dogmas took root in the 1980s amidst the decaying rot of developmentalist dreams. They flourished in the 1990's bathed by the sparkle of the "new economy" in which the United States and Eastern Asia were suppesed to be leading the world to its economic glory. But, alas, the sheen began to tarnish. The currency crisis in East and Southeast Asia in 1997, (which spread from Russia to Brazil), the slide Downward of the World Trade Organization from Seattle to Cancun, the Fading of Davos and the Spectacular Rise of Porto Alegre, Al-Qaeda and September 11, Followed by the Bush fiasco in Iraq and the current accounts crisis of the United States—all this and more leads one to suspect that the globalization as rhetoric may be quickly going the way of developmentalism. And hence our question—After Developmentalism and Globalization, What?"-Immanuel Wallerstein, After Developmentalism and Globalization, What?

These two quotes will help us frame the discussion for Wednesday in an efficient way. What does globalization mean? Is globalization solely a descriptive term, or is it also a world-view that has normative and ideological implications? If the latter is true, would it be possible to separate the descriptive elements from globalization from its normative components, to arrive at some true propositions, or facts about the world, that globalization as a framework of thinking, offers? In globalization, what are the new agents of power, and what agents of power are being compromised? Who wins with globalization and who loses? What is the relationship of globalization to other contemporaneous phenomena such as postmodernism, or consumerism?

A few of my questions have already assumed that globalization is something that exists and is happening, but the Wallerstein quote above calls this assumption into question. Wallerstein fits into the category which Held McGrew use of a skeptic of globalization, specifically of the Marxist variety. Acknowledging that there was at least talk of something called globalization, Wallerstein cites several recent events that may end the use of this term. However, Wallerstein does not claim the ability to predict the future, despite his Marxist leanings, and claims merely that the structures implicit within globalization are failing, and that a new structure will take its place. Is Wallerstein's analysis of the failure of globalization on its own terms accurate, or will the structures implicit within globalization continue to adapt and proliferate in ways that Wallerstein has not anticipated? What are the consequences of globalization continuing?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Globalization: Summary

I want you all to know I realize the strangeness of posting the summary before the actual topic itself, just understand that for some reason I am unable to copy and paste things successfully into this text box on a macintosh, and I haven't had the presence of mind or time to post the topic itself while using a PC.

Some Key Points
  • We examined the multifaceted manifestations of globalization.  We concluded that globalization had strong cultural, political, economic, social, and communicative dimensions, and a reductive analysis of globalization was not possible.  However, in traditional Marxist fashion, everyone at the table seemed to agree that the economic aspects of globalization were the conditions of possibility for its proliferation in other dimensions.
  • Paul mentioned the fact that this already plays into the theory of globalization, as the economic actors of the corporation are considered to be principal agents of power over and above the nation state.
  • Chuck argued for a conception of globalization as an organic evolutionary inevitability, claiming that the proliferation of technology and mass communication as a result of the spread of free market capitalism translates into a more easily and efficiently globally run community where quality of life is generally increased, an argument which within Held and McGrew's framework of the neo-liberal free market globalist, much like Francis Fukuyama.
  • Others at the table were not as satisfied with this thesis due to its analogical naturalization and universalization of the infrastructure of capitalism and technology, when these structures are not necessarily appreciated in a universal fashion.  Examples which Rockhill cited of this failure to be universal included: a majority of the earth's population living on less than a dollar a day, the unused technological capability of being able to feed the world eight times over so that american farmers can stay in business, and the comparative lack of internet access in Africa, in order to demonstrate the benefits of globalization are often one sided, and at the expense of third world countries.
  • Mark made an extremely important point regarding the relationship between Marxist dogma and globalization.  Both of these terms actually share the same historical determinism, where Marx predicted communism as the end of history, while neo-liberal globalists like Fukuyama uphold political and economic liberalism as the end of history.  In fact, Mark claimed that we hadn't really left Marxist dogma at all, because Marx himself predicted that global capitalism would lead to a global revolution of the proletariat.  Rockhill expressed his skepticism towards Mark's unabashed Marxist optimism.
  • Zack made a really important point that I thought deserved more attention, and spoke to the question that I was the most concerned with, namely the relationship between the normative and descriptive elements of globalization.  Zack claimed, if I understood him correctly, that the normative dimensions of globalization are important insofar is how the term is used in discourse, but as far as understanding a PHENOMENON of globalization, one needed essentially to look at "the facts," some of which were enumerated already by Rockhill, in order to come to a working definition of globalization.  I guess I wanted to see if we could somehow tease out the analytic distinctions, or otherwise facts of globalization, from the normative baggage of globalization.  However, it seems though that as the term is used in discourse, the facts of globalization are subject to shifts, and these facts will redetermine the normative constitution of the term.  One could also make an argument for the dialectical relationship between the normative and analytically descriptive dimensions of the term globalization.  I would want to privilege the facts as the basis for sound rational judgment, over a normative ideology determining the constitution of the facts as such, but the dialectical nature of this relationship seems to be unfortunately real.
  • Blueberries are my favorite fruit