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.