Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Ron Paul

If you're trying to make up your mind, read TPM's coverage against Slate's. I'm not going to make your mind up for you, but you've got to decide whether you want, on the one hand, someone who's personally disgusted at homosexually but politically committed to not imposing a law regulating it or, on the other, someone who happens to be comfortable with homosexuality and believes the law should be an expression of his or her own "comfort level" with it.

I think it's time to consider the possibility not just that racists and homophobes "are people too", but that they are (like so many of us) in the minority. And one thing that a Ron Paul presidency would be good for is minorities. Obama's "liberal" alternative is to let (and perhaps force) everyone to join the majority.

Friendship and ...?

If wisdom is excellence in understanding, then love is excellence in obedience. The lover excels at obedience, just as the wise man excels at understanding. This homology suggests the need for another: what is to friendship as wisdom is to love? I think it was Aristotle who suggested that ethics reduces, ultimately, to an appreciation of true friendship. (Poetry, of course, is what correspondingly reduces to an appreciation of true love.) Moreover, if I was right in my earlier suggestion, then whatever it is will also be to friendship as bigotry is to loyalty. We are talking then about a certain kind of attitude that takes its place, provisionally, in the following set of supplements:

knowledge / power
philosophy / poetry
epistemology / ethics
wisdom / love
bigotry / loyalty
_______ / friendship

Sunday, December 18, 2011

We, Passionate Beings

Having resolved (more or less) to abandon my last hopes of becoming a professional philosopher (i.e., someone whose job it is to philosophize), I feel comfortable reacting immediately to the passing remarks made by philosophers on their way to larger points of great, indeed, unfathomable, profundity. Robert Brandom's monumental Making It Explicit is a book I've so far left unread on my shelf out of the kind of professional humility I'm alluding to. The problem is that I begin to disagree with him over the inaugural gestures he makes on the first few pages. After begining his argument with the question of what "we" might mean, he offers the following answer, already on page 4:

What is it we do that is so special? The answer to be explored here—a traditional one, to be sure—is that we are distinguished by capacities that are broadly cognitive. Our transactions with other things, and with each other, in a special and characteristic sense mean something to us, they have a conceptual content for us, we understand them in one way rather than another. It is the demarcational strategy that underlies the classical identification of us as reasonable beings. Reason is as nothing to the beasts of the field. We are the ones on whom reasons are binding, who are subject to the peculiar force of the better reason.

Later on, he'll talk about us as "discursive beings whose characteristic activities are applying concepts, giving and asking for reasons, taking-true and making-true" (46). I don't actually disagree with this characterization; rather, I disagree with the one-sided emphasis on reason over passion. We can call this simply a philosophical bias. It is the "we" of a philosopher who doesn't know his place in the larger scheme of things. It is true (in a manner of speaking) that we "have our being in a space structured by norms". But norms, I will insist, do not fall back on reasons. I'll try to say something specifically about norms (and institutions) in later posts. Right now, I just want to suggest that we're as passionate in our being as we are reasonable. Or perhaps that we become as much as we are (indeed, that we are what we become).

Riffing explicitly, then, on Brandom's question, I want to say we are distinguished by capacities that are as broadly affective as they are cognitive. Our transactions with other things, and especially with each other, do in a special and characteristic sense mean something to us, but in large part because they have an emotional context: we obey them in one way rather than another, even when we do not understand them. My demarcational strategy, then, identifies us as passionate beings as well as reasonable ones, or perhaps more precisely as reasonable beings who are passionately becoming. Passion is as nothing to the beasts of the field. We are the ones on whom passions are binding*, who are subject to the peculiar force of the larger passion.

Indeed, it is precisely more accurate to say we are subject to passion, even though many of the things around us may well become the objects of reason. As I work through Brandom's "normative pragmatics" I will not be denying what Cavell called "the claim of reason". I will only be trying to measure this claim against the counterveiling force of passion.

*"Indeed, his passion would be general." (Hamlet, Quarto I, Scene 7)

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Loyalty and Bigotry

Here's a pangrammatical supplement that occurred to me today. It started with the observation that loyalty and truth are often opposed, as are loyalty and honesty. We need only imagine the simple situation of someone asking you what you think of someone you're loyal to or, still more simply, of having the opportunity to report on a friend's crimes. Loyalty presumably trumps truth and honesty.

So, what is to justice and decency (truth and honesty's supplements) as loyalty is to truth and honesty? (It is interesting to note that loyalty is on the power side of power/knowledge, along with justice and decency.) What can make us deny justice and decency for the sake of belief just as a loyalty can make us deny truth and honesty for the sake of desire? (Loyalty is a configuration of desire.)

The answer appears to be bigotry, i.e., the obstinate holding of a belief. Loyalty is simply obstinate desire.

I once wrote, "The informal, personal, and often violent networks of loyalty that run the world in the background of [hard-boiled detective] novels are arguably fascist." We can now talk about the discontented, reified, and often obscure networks of bigotry that also operate there.