I was listening to the DoubleX podcast this morning because I promised awhile ago to blog my reflections on it more often. They were talking about the “tampon tax” and how there’s a new “period feminism” about owning your period, and wow, isn’t it weird how menstruation seems to somehow capture men’s fears about women? I was annoyed. And I realized, I was annoyed for the same reasons from the last time I blogged about this podcast–they aren’t experts on a subject that does in fact have experts. There are people (like my new fave, Helen King) who work in gender theory who talk about how menstruation going back to the ancient Greeks captures something of the male anxiety about women’s reproductive capacities and death–you know, the whole shedding of blood bit.
I haven’t been blogging much this month because I haven’t felt like I was an expert on the various issues and ideas that I’ve considered in the last month or so (though, I gotta tell you, once I thought about how I really should blog, all of a sudden, I could think of four different posts I had to write, so I think thinking-towards-the-blog is itself productive of thinking). The political moment we live in seems to be one of a general disparagement of those who claim to be experts, and mocking the experts is something of an American pastime (consider the glee directed at Nate Silver’s fails). I might be chagrined that Trump has benefited from the decline of respect for expert knowledge, but I share this skepticism of the rising class of technocrats. When economists say we are the experts, we can fix the economy, and only we can figure it out because it is so complicated, I start to worry. Whenever anyone says, this is just a matter of the right knowledge, and the one with the right knowledge, that is the person who gets to rule, their claim is more of a political one than an epistemological one. Read more
Yesterday, Leigh Johnson posted at The Philosophers’ Cocoon in their “Real Jobs in Philosophy” series. She says something in the piece that brought me up short (honestly, she often does that). You should go read the whole thing; I want to focus on this one passage, the one under the heading “Research”:
I don’t get much time to do extended, concentrated, article-generating research—see above—though I am slowly realizing that I have exponentially more time for research, broadly-speaking, than I did at my previous position. That’s partly a consequence of not being buried in departmental business and new preps and the TT grind, but more so because I’m older now and I think about research much differently. I read a lot more and write (mostly digitally) a lot more than I used to, I do a lot of collaborative work, and I have more time to engage interests and concerns that are not primarily aimed at turning out peer-reviewed publications. I do some sort of research every day.
Johnson says she does some form of research everyday, but this research is not focused on peer-reviewed publications and it’s mostly digital. I’m going to go out on a limb and speak for the philosophical community when I say that philosophers generally don’t think that our digital work is research. Further on the limb, we don’t think this work is research, not only because we tend to think that whatever is meant for public consumption can’t be that good, but also because we tend to think public philosophy is either popularizing philosophical concepts developed in the quiet corners of the ivory tower or applying these same concepts
same to some relevant area of public life. Both popularizing and applying tend to be viewed as not as rigorous philosophy, not really philosophy itself but a possible use for philosophy.* When Johnson says she does some sort of research every day and that this research is not aiming toward peer-review academic publication, she seems to be saying that her public philosophy is itself the production of philosophical ideas, not just the application of those ideas to contemporary issues. Read more
The APA Committee on Public Philosophy hosted a panel yesterday entitled, “Navigating the Perils of Public Cyberspace: Toward New Norms of Public Engagement.” Read more
At HASTAC2015 at Michigan State in May, then-soon-to-be-new Dean of College of Arts and Letters at MSU, Chris Long, and I hatched a plan to have my students engage his book, Socratic and Platonic Political Philosophy (Cambridge 2014). Students would read the book online and engage the digital platform Cambridge set up to encourage a living relationship to the text. As a follow up and to enhance the dialogical engagement, Long agreed to videoconference into class. This week, we did it. Read more
In Pensees, Blaise Pascal writes:
Justice, Force.—It is just that what is just be followed; it is necessary that what is strongest be followed. Justice without force is impotent; force without justice is tyrannical. Justice without force is contradicted, because there are always bad people; force without justice stands accused. So justice and force must be put together; and to do so make what is just, strong and what is strong, just.
Justice is subject to dispute; force is easy to recognize and is indisputable. And so one could not give force to justice, because force contradicted justice, and said that it is was unjust, and said that it was force that was just. And thus, not being able to make what is just, strong, one made what is strong, just.
The week that Sandra Bland died in police custody, I was working through this passage that Derrida quotes in The Beast and the Sovereign with friends, colleagues and students in Italy. Today, two days after another young black man was shot in Ferguson, MO, I have been recalling this passage. Pascal recognizes our problem: we need justice to have force, but if all we have is force, there will be no justice. What is the just way of giving force to justice? Read more
Since Rousseau expressed his concern that government, established to carry out the general will of the people, might become a separate body with its own distinct general will, members of the polity have worried from one end of the political spectrum to the other, that government is imposing its will on the people, rather than executing the people’s will. It’s not even correct to date this concern to Rousseau, since we could argue that such a concern is encapsulated in Thrasymachus’ realpolitik definition of justice — we all know, let’s be honest Socrates, that the laws serve the powerful and not those who are supposed to follow them. In these cases, government is understood to be against us, treading on us with its laws and impositions, limiting our freedom rather than protecting it.
Government and Constitution in Aristotle
Eric Schwitzgebel refers to Aristotle to talk about blameworthiness for implicit biases in his talk at the Pacific APA next week. I’m pleased to join in the appeal to Aristotle to think about contemporary political and ethical problems. My argument is that Aristotle addresses this problem of thinking the government as an imposition by arguing for an account that drives politeuma, or government, closer to an identity with the politeia, constitution or regime. Read more
Neoliberalism: What is it?
I’m currently teaching a course on the Philosophy of Commerce. I think of this course as an effort to get students to challenge the notion that everything could be economized. Following Arendt, I’m trying to get students to see what is lost when pursuits of living or living large (when the pursuit of living becomes excessive) crowd out any consideration for living well, which is to say, for organizing and determining how life ought to be in conversation and contestation with others. This determining how life ought to be is in contrast to just determining what to do in order to live. This concern has been with us for some time, but in the last several decades a new and even more far-reaching economization of life has occurred, wherein individuals have come to think of themselves as entrepeneurial capital projects.
This development is neoliberalism, which is the subject of Wendy Brown’s new book, Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution. Read more
This week I was the guest curator-at-large for the Public Philosophy Journal. The Public Philosophy Journal is a website and blog that aims to facilitate public philosophy in the many ways that term could be understood. One way we understand public philosophy is that public issues and concerns can be served by philosophy’s input and analysis. Part of that work is bringing content of note to the attention of both philosophers and public servants or others who are working on these issues. I understood such content to concern public issues that philosophy can and does address such as an article in The Globe and Mail about a new study that locates the causes of anorexia nervosa in the passions and suggests a passion-based cure. The Greeks were themselves very interested in how the care of self was a matter of fostering the passions in the right way, so this convergence of old philosophical ideas and health seemed a good example of public philosophy. This content also includes references to issues or events that have had influence on philosophy, like Alison Bechdel winning a MacArthur genius award for the Bechdel Test she invented as a standard to expose how films rarely depict women as characters in themselves unrelated to the men their roles support. Not only was that important in its own right as a provocative strategy for raising feminist concerns, but Bechdel also influenced the field of philosophy itself, prompting Helen de Cruz to suggest a Bechdel test for philosophy papers. Another kind of notable content includes philosophers and theorists discussing public issues, such as Avi Alpert’s interview with Gabe Rockhill and Nato Thompson about art and politics and Lisa Guenther on television discussing protests against prisons and the death penalty in Tennessee. Finally, there is the discussion of public issues within the field of philosophy, issues like being differently-abled in the field or the persistence of rape culture in philosophy departments. Sometimes public philosophy can even be philosophers taking their work to more public arenas or philosophers being discussed in those arenas, as when Gregory Fried wrote about Heidegger’s Black Notebooks in the LA Times. I wasn’t focusing on any one of these in particular, but all of them together. Read more
Why I started blogging and how its been more of a benefit that I expected.