Why is Augustine so cruel? His argument for free will rests on absolving God of responsibility for evil in the world, ultimately for the suffering of evil that is occurring around him, and to make...Read more
I've gotten pretty serious about running. I'm climbing my way to 60-mile weeks this spring. (Yes, I know #beepboop, I can't stop.) As I've been getting more and more serious, I've been immersing myself more...Read more
The important thing here, I believe, is that truth isn't outside power, or lacking in power: contrary to a myth whose history and functions would repay further study, truth isn't the reward of free spirits,...Read more
I'm teaching a senior seminar on Plato's Republic this semester. One skill I have been focusing on all semester is close reading. I have students do several short assignments in which they have to offer...Read more
This morning, the family of Breonna Taylor held a news conference in which they expressed their anger and frustration with Kentucky AG Daniel Cameron's grand jury investigation that ended with charges for only of the...Read more
Last semester, when I had only heard of coronavirus in a conversation with a senior biology major reporting on some developments of novel viruses around the world, I began the semester using Kahoots in all...Read more
I am in my tenth week of an intens(iv)e training program to run a half marathon in November. Perhaps running the race is wishful thinking, but the training is keeping me focused during the pandemic....Read more
The first references to nature or physis in Athens* were made by those supporting aristocratic partisans against their perception of a rigid democratic establishment in the 420s BCE. Nomos was considered the embodiment of popular...Read more
Is "social distancing" a step on the road to tyranny? Arendt captures the concern of many that forced isolation and empty public spaces during the current shelter-in-place orders that most U.S. state governors have issued...Read more
I was supposed to have one of the busiest semester's of my academic life on the conference circuit this semester. Three invited panels, one Paris workshop, one interdisciplinary conference, one Italy workshop, one development workshop....Read more
These comments were originally presented at the Eastern American Philosophical Association in Philadelphia on January 9, 2020 at the satellite meeting of the Society for Philosophy in the Contemporary World.
My colleague at Denison University, Barbara Fultner, and I received a Themed Course grant from the Great Lakes Colleges Association to incorporate transnational feminist perspectives into our feminist philosophy courses. We are teaching shared texts...Read more
I love Anaïs Mitchell's album "Hadestown," (2010) which I blogged about in 2015. I was thrilled to learn that the album, which was composed as a folk opera, had been turned into a Broadway show...Read more
In some ways Walton really captures the sense in which the point of philosophy is to engage in a life of questioning and examining and dialectically following the conversation where it leads. There are insights into Plato and into philosophy to be found here. It isn't a substitute for reading Plato's Republic, but perhaps the novel--like good public philosophy--could be an on-ramp.
I'm curious about the current run on novels of teenage coming-of-age and how these novels aim to capture this contemporary #metoo moment. Anna Burns' The Milkman captures the peculiar attentiveness of a late adolescent to...Read more
It's Election Day in the United States. It's a national civics lesson in which we celebrate democracy and the role of the people in governing themselves. In the United States, this civics lesson describes our...Read more
Ryan Johnson contacted me after my posts (here and here) on teaching Aristotle through active teaching exercises to tell me about his own active Aristotle classroom. I think you will share my enthusiasm for his creative...Read more
The last several weeks have been difficult for many women. We saw a Senate accept weak lies from a self-entitled man. We saw many many people including for many of us, people we know, excuse accusations from...Read more
I'm on a roll folks. After I did the last group activity, I was inspired to do another, and I think this one was even more successful in getting students to think about Aristotle's Metaphysics. For this...Read more
I am a little more than one week in to teaching my ancient survey. This is my second time starting with Aristotle's Metaphysics. I know that sounds wild, but I think Aristotle sets up principles...Read more
Heidegger famously said of Aristotle's biography, "He lived, he worked, he died." While many scholars take that to mean that Heidegger was dismissing the significance of biography in considering a philosopher's work, Iain Thompson has...Read more
Last Wednesday, we went with friends for a fifteen-course traditional Slovenian meal in the small town of Skaručna outside of Ljubljana. Gostilna Skaručna has been run for forty years by the same family, one brother runs...Read more
Today we walked from our place in The Mets to Plato's Academy, about five kilometers - it's about 1.5 miles from the Agora. My colleague Lew Cassity is working on a book on Plato's Laws and...Read more
I have been listening to Matthew Desmond's Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (the book website gives a pretty good overview of the book). Desmond followed I think 11 different people around Milwaukee...Read more
It's Teacher Appreciation Week in the United States, which frankly seems like a scheme to make the appreciation come in the form of useless cards and treats rather than cost of living raises and the...Read more
One of my favorite yoga teachers likes to say after particularly difficult poses in Bikram, have no reaction, just stand still. I've been thinking about how "having no reaction" seems like good Stoic practice for...Read more
I recently learned of people who think that Facebook is listening to them through the microphones in their phones. This weekend someone told me a story about how she was reading a book out in...Read more
I saw Kimberlé Crenshaw speak at Indiana University - Purdue University Indianapolis tonight. Crenshaw's work on the unique legal and political situations that Black American women faced led her to coin the term intersectionality. As...Read more
In Trump's State of the Union he tried to take back the "dreamers" language from recent immigrants, saying, "We have dreamers in this country, too. You can't forget our dreamers." He went on to say:
I didn't want to watch. The tickets had typos (I know, this is the least of our worries). But then I listened to David Harvey's A Brief History of Neoliberalism on Audible on the way into work...Read more
In Aristotle's account of how a person becomes virtuous, he argues that a virtuous action is done in the way a virtuous person would do it. This account often appears circular to those who first...Read more
Trump spoke at the World Economic Forum at Davos yesterday (full transcript here) about "America First," saying, "I believe in America." Trump seems to think it is obvious who he means by America, and many...Read more
I have never been so convinced that reviewers have missed the central theme of a film than in the case of "Phantom Thread," the new film by Paul Thomas Anderson starring Daniel Day-Lewis. It is not...Read more
Why is Augustine so cruel? His argument for free will rests on absolving God of responsibility for evil in the world, ultimately for the suffering of evil that is occurring around him, and to make the case, Augustine again and again notes that God punishes but God punishes justly and so God cannot be responsible for the suffering caused.
I have taught Augustine’s On the Free Choice of the Will so many many times. I used to teach it in every introductory course because it was such a fitting transition between ancient thinking and modern thinking. It stages Descartes’ Meditations nicely since many of his arguments can be found in inchoate form in Augustine, and it shows precisely that to which Nietzsche is responding in On the Genealogy of Morals. I’m teaching it now in a course on medieval philosophy. It’s been some time since I taught it. In the meantime, I’ve encountered alternative possible readings of the sacred texts upon which Christianity is based in the work of people like Ted Jennings who makes the case that Christianity offers a political philosophy of exposing the injustice of empire by exposing the cruelty at the heart of its efforts at law and order (Transforming Atonement, 221). Adam Kotsko similarly makes a case in The Prince of Darkness for the genealogy of the devil who went from being associated with empire by those who were oppressed to being associated with the rabble-rousers once Christianity becomes the empire. When this happens, as Jennings shows, God is supposed to be on the side of systems of domination and division, “the one who condemns and afflicts with suffering and death” (21).
I’ve gotten pretty serious about running. I’m climbing my way to 60-mile weeks this spring. (Yes, I know #beepboop, I can’t stop.) As I’ve been getting more and more serious, I’ve been immersing myself more in the running world – reading books, listening to podcasts (Running Rogue is my favorite, driven as they are by the commitment to elite principles for the everyday runner; I also enjoy the Clean Sport Collective, and Indiana native Lindsey Hein gives great interviews on I’ll Have Another), buying gear (so many things, but this and this are my fave). As I’ve been getting more and more serious about running, I’ve realized that the language, commitments, and ideology of capitalism extend even to running. I mean of course they do, but it isn’t immediately obvious.
So I’ve been thinking about what it might mean to run like a socialist. What I have concluded is that the capitalist funding structure of running in which athletes seek corporate sponsors to ‘go professional’ does not serve the sport well. As a philosopher I like to look for the root of problems. I think you can see what’s happening in an institution or a community by the problems it faces. One of the perhaps defining problems of running as a sport is doping and the question of which technologies to make athletes faster are fair. These problems, I maintain, can be traced back to the profit motive upon which capitalism rests. I think it is clear that the sport of running, and perhaps sport in general, will struggle to deal with pressures to dope as long as the funding structures for athletes are corporate sponsorships, a structure specific to a capitalist regime. Further, the arguments in the service of anti-doping fall short as long as they appeal to principles that perpetuate the ideologies of capitalism: hard work not resources is the source of success alongside a recourse to the natural.
The important thing here, I believe, is that truth isn’t outside power, or lacking in power: contrary to a myth whose history and functions would repay further study, truth isn’t the reward of free spirits, the child of protracted solitude, nor the privilege of those who have succeeded in liberating themselves. Truth is a thing of this world: it is produced only by virtue of multiple forms of constraint. And it induces regular effects of power. Each society has its régime of truth, its ‘general polities’ of truth: that is, the types of discourse which it accepts and makes function as true; the mechanisms and instances which enable one to distinguish true and false statements, the means by which each is sanctioned; the techniques and procedures accorded value in the acquisition of truth; the status of those who are charged with saying what counts as true. –Foucault, “Truth and Power,” in Power / Knowledge, 131
Any conversation about the circulation of ideas online has to understand the material power at work in how ideas circulate, whose ideas circulate without obstacles and whose ideas encounter obstacles. Moreover, this conversation has to recognize that the circulation of ideas involves material questions about who holds what positions where and who is able to set the agenda for what areas of philosophy should be covered in departments and who should be considered worthy for filling those lines, who should be read, who should be cited, who should be appointed editor of prestigious journals, which journals should be considered prestigious, and so on.
A little more than five years ago there was a robust conversation online about how the philosoblogosphere had influenced the material circumstances of what is considered good philosophy in the United States. Ben Alpers the historian of ideas gathers some of the reflections on the sociology of philosophy, concentrating on the way that online voices and rankings amplified particular views of what philosophy is in a way that influenced what kind of philosophy was considered more or less rigorous. In particular, I’m thinking about how continental philosophy programs were excluded from early rankings and how those rankings centered analytic philosophy and analytic approaches to the history of philosophy, but also the way that feminist philosophies and post-colonial philosophies and critical philosophies of race were sidelined.
I’m teaching a senior seminar on Plato’s Republic this semester. One skill I have been focusing on all semester is close reading. I have students do several short assignments in which they have to offer close readings of the text. But in our class discussions, conversations tends to become more general and less tethered to specifics of the text. I want students to make their claims rooted in the text and to see that arguments over how to interpret are a key part of the philosophical work in the history of philosophy.
This morning, the family of Breonna Taylor held a news conference in which they expressed their anger and frustration with Kentucky AG Daniel Cameron’s grand jury investigation that ended with charges for only of the officers involved in the shooting of Breonna Taylor. Taylor was shot as the result of a botched drug raid through a no-knock warrant when officers entered the wrong apartment. Taylor’s boyfriend shot thinking that the apartment was being burglarized. One officer involved, Brett Hankison, was charged with three counts of wanton endangerment for bullets that went into another apartment. The facts of the case are not disputed. No drugs were found in Taylor’s apartment.
At the press conference, Bianca Austin, Taylor’s sister, said, “What [Daniel Cameron] helped me realize is that it will always be us against them. That we are never safe.”
Last semester, when I had only heard of coronavirus in a conversation with a senior biology major reporting on some developments of novel viruses around the world, I began the semester using Kahoots in all three of the courses I was teaching: an early modern survey, a philosophy of race course, and a seminar on the work of Hannah Arendt. Kahoot is a quiz / game application faculty can use to track student understanding and engage students in the in-person or virtual classroom. When I was using it in person, Kahoot! was a fun way to review material and to jog students’ memories about the current day’s reading. I would purposefully include in the multiple-choice wrong answers that represented typical misunderstandings of a position under discussion so that we could put it on the table to consider without anyone feeling called out for saying the wrong thing (the answers are anonymous, so you don’t see who answered which answer). In this way, it helped me organize the class meeting and remember to address possible confusions.
When we went online, it was a great way to keep students whose faces I often could not see engaged and focused throughout the class meeting. In both scenarios, my students got into it and I’m using it again this semester to good effect when I’m back and forth between in-person and virtual class meetings.
Sims’ claim based on her own research as an exercise physiologist and nutrition scientist is that people who have more estrogen and progesterone and other hormones we have traditionally called “female” cannot be trained as small men as they have been for decades. During the high hormone phase of the menstrual cycle for those who menstruate, the body has a harder time taking up protein. If you don’t get significant protein within 30 minutes of a workout, the body recovers by taking protein out of muscles — basically eating the muscles instead of building them. In addition to the different needs brought about by different hormones, the different physiology, specifically for example broad pelvic bones, lead to less stability in the knees and thus more of a likelihood to be knock-kneed — and in running to have less stability and a tendency for knees to collapse in — unless glutes are significantly strengthened. Even really strong women athletes can have strong quadriceps and still buckle their knees when they jump if they aren’t working on building all three gluteus muscles.
The first references to nature or physis in Athens* were made by those supporting aristocratic partisans against their perception of a rigid democratic establishment in the 420s BCE. Nomos was considered the embodiment of popular sovereignty. Before physis, “to eon” or just “that which is” or easier “the fact” was opposed to nomos. The sophists chiefly served–for a fee–the aristocratic youth whose parents’ wealth and good birth had ceased to give them the power to which they thought they should be entitled. The distinction the sophists offer between physis and nomos justifies the aristocratic claim against entrenched democratic interests.
Physis was associated with one’s birth, so it allowed the aristocrats to associate their own power with their birth, and thus with physis. The aristocrats thought that by virtue of their birth they had a claim to rule. The sophists give them the language of physis to justify this claim through birth, which points to ways that the reference to physis in its beginnings was in the service of a kind of eugenics, those of better birth were those whose rule was more natural. Nature itself was of those who were better born. To be better born was to be on the side of nature. From that claim, the oligarchic interests take up the sophistic view that physis is just what is against the nomos or convention that changes and is thus without ground–a charge familiar to us as a criticism of democratic approaches to justice from Plato. If those who are better born whose claim to rule is natural, and returning to the ancient customs wherein the well-born ruled, then nature is just what had always been, and the changes wrought by the increasingly democratic regimes were suspect. Nature gets put on the side of “things remaining the same,” and convention on the side of constant change and radical disruptive power of the commoners. The sophists introduce arguments that further put physis on the side of intelligence against wealth. Those who newly make wealth still do not have the intelligence that comes with being well-born.
I’m teaching an Arendt seminar this semester and well, this is all happening, so I’ve been thinking a lot (see here) about what it means to be natural living beings and what it means to treat those beings as human. I have no interest in weighing in on the Agamben public statements, but I do think that he is thinking about the Arendtian question of the dangers of reducing human life to mere questions of survival and living. Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said, “There are more important things than living,” and the thing is, he isn’t wrong. Aristotle suggests that some acts we should be unwilling to do even in the face of death (EN 1110a25-26). What Patrick is wrong about is what those things are. He thinks that workers should be willing to die for the economy, ie., the production of wealth for others.
But maybe what is worse than death is reducing the other to biological life who is here only for the production of increased life of others, or who as biological life is expendable. My husband and I have been having a long-running debate about cannibalism. My initial response to it is that I don’t really have a problem with the idea that in dire straits, one might have to eat another human. He keeps insisting that there are some things worse than death, and that we should be willing to die for the idea of the dignity of the human. This flusters me and makes me worry that I’m more invested in living than dignity. But I have watched his concern about the loss of the chance to mourn the dead that seems to be really happening in New York and around the world. And I’m reminded how fragile is the line between treating other life as for us and treating it as for itself. The line depends on the treating.
Is “social distancing” a step on the road to tyranny? Arendt captures the concern of many that forced isolation and empty public spaces during the current shelter-in-place orders that most U.S. state governors have issued serves tyranny when she writes in The Origins of Totalitarianism:
It has frequently been observed that terror can rule absolutely only over men who are isolated against each other and that, therefore, one of the primary concerns of all tyrannical governments is to bring this isolation about. (474)
Isolation seems to make tyranny possible because it allows governments to replace the shared understanding that citizens can achieve by judging a world that appears in common to all with an ideology that fits the ends of the tyrant.
Just as terror, even in its pre-total, merely tyrannical form ruins all relationships between men, so the self-compulsion of ideological thinking ruins all relationships with reality. The preparation has succeeded when people have lost contact with their fellow men as well as with the reality around them; for together with these contacts, men lose the capacity of both experience and thought. The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist. (474)
Arendt argues in The Life of the Mind that the end of metaphysics–of the idea that a world beyond this one can be accessed, or that any access to it can be judged by one who has can stand outside this world (or that we could have access to such a judge)–requires things to appear and beings to whom the world can appear, “guarantee[ing] their reality” (19). Or as she writes in The Human Condition, “For us, appearance–something that is being seen and heard by others as well as ourselves–constitutes reality.”
I'm Chair and Associate Professor of Philosophy at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana. I work on ancient Greek--mainly Plato and Aristotle--and contemporary European philosophy inflected by social and political concerns. I'm particularly interested in the concept of nature and how historically nature, understood in relation to its apparent opposite of reason, nature, and artifice, has led to conceptions of community that require a founding exclusion. My first book argues that Aristotle's Politicsdraws on a conception of nature that is not opposed to these things and thus not exclusive. My second book considers Aristotle's conception of nature in his account of generation to show the ways that form and matter seem interdependent in the model of a Möbius strip.
I am serious about running. I care about justice, feminism, opposing racism and resisting neoliberalism. I think Socrates was on to something when he suggested thinking was a practice of living. I teach students to think--and to live. I delight in the pleasures of doing the difficult thing.