Posts Tagged ‘philosophy’


So here we go again, another attack on the ‘white maleness’ of authors taught in arts and humanities university courses (this time philosophy courses), by a black woman feminist, who is touting a movement she claims is going round the US like wildfire, under the title “why is my curriculum white?”

Ok, so let’s unpack.

Why is she writing this?  B/c she wants to see the curriculum opened up so that we have a plethora of voices, which are representative of human diversity.  Fine.

She is also arguing that the curriculum is white because when they were set in the c19th and early c20th, all professors were white males.  Yes, ish.

She is also arguing that there are just as many non-white male philosophy masters out there who should be represented.  This might be true, in some contexts.

She is implying that resistance to this agenda is, deep down, due to racism on the part of white males or their unwitting supporters who have drunk the kool-aid.

She can partly get away with this, because the legacy of slavery in the US, coupled with Marxist and post-Marxist criticism in the mid and late c20th, has given self-identifying ‘minorities’ a way to link economic, political, racial, and sexual power, which is simple, clear cut, and, which has a lot of truth, but, which also after hardly any serious scrutiny tends to break down more than one would think.  We won’t go there now, it’s too much for one post.

But the long and short of it is, that, most cultures, when you know the history, have produced ‘sporadic’ philosophy, because they were monarchical, and there was nowhere safe for philosophical schools to hide, out from under the absolute rule of monarchs and their dogmatist enforcers.

It has only been in societies which contained a strong democratic/republican element, i.e., in the ancient Mediterranean, and in W. Europe from the high middle ages to the present, that we’ve seen ‘explosions’ of philosophy, where generation after generation, men (they were usually men, but, moreso than anywhere else, there were women trained in philosophy as well) were trained in rhetoric, so they could sit on the town councils, where a real culture of philosophy developed.

Thus, Athens, Florence, London, Germany at variuos times have produced more philosophy in one century, than any other culture apart from the others named above.  You can find Chinese philosophy:  a lot of it  but – not usually done in the same style of continuous revision, continuous dialogue, high standards of critical independent thought, free from monarchical influence, and continuous pushing of the envelope.  This becomes obvious when you compare the origins of the scientific history writing in China and Greece, as a recent book has done. (more…)


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Most people in the US, including college administrators, believe that the arts and the sciences are entirely different–basically opposite–fields of study.  Why in the Hades, then, are they always lumped together in the same “college”?  Throughout the US, the standard is to have a “college of arts and sciences,” a “college of engineering” and a “college of business.”  So what gives?  Why don’t they just separte the arts and sciences, since they are so radically different?  Many people suspect that the arts people just want to keep them together so that their college doesn’t seem entirely irrelevant, so that it gets phased out altogether.

A step backwards, and a longer term point of view, however, will help us to understand the relations between these fields which tend to remain hidden to people who accept current dogmas on the subject.  Once we have understood the relation between these two general fields of study, we can then properly relate engineering and business to the arts and sciences.  But to start with the arts and sciences.  Most people come to the conclusion that the arts and sciences are entirely different because the sciences are based on math, while the arts are based on language.  That is broadly true, and it is a signficant difference (though in reality there are many crosseovers).   However, the methodology employed by both disciplines is the same:  they both employ systematic logic, that is, the scientific method.  They both accumulate knowledge based on the gathering of facts, and subject existing hypotheses to peer review, which then allows them to advance understanding further.

In this way, we can see that the arts and sciences are basically two branches of the same methodology.  In the middle ages, scholars understood this, in part because the sum of knowledge was so much less that it was easier to see the forest for the trees.  As it explains in the Cambridge History of Renaissance Philosophy, both the arts and the sciences began life during the renaissance, as two branches of philosophy:  the arts were what we today call “philosophy” and the sciences were called “natural philosophy.” (more…)

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So the onion did a spoof on a day in the life of Noam Chomsky, in which he tries to have a relaxing day, but everything that he picks up reminds him of the foibles of the fallen world around him, so that he ends up just caving in and writing “just one” well-reasoned and scathing essay about the evils of capitalism, etc. 


The pathetic thing is, that I have been raised in enough of an Chomsky-ite intellectual context, that I find myself doing way too many of the things that poor Chomsky finds himself doing, in the context of just trying to relax.

Time magazine?

Price is right? 


A drive in the countryside?  (Which reminds Chomsky of the evils of big oil… for me, it has the effect as often as not of thinking about the horrible evils of overpopulation and overdevelopment, and of the greed of developers, and the foolishness of so many people who refuse to stand up for sustainable development, and meanwhile watch as their once-beautiful home towns are ruined by a few greedy wealthy people). 

So, yeah… the point being… no wonder no one likes to be around me anymore… every normal pleasure in life has become connected with a greater part of a “system” which is fuelled by so much silliness, and which could so easily be so much different if only people could just wake up just a little bit, or if the elites would stop being so self serving, and so deliberately manipulative to “the masses,” etc., etc.  (more…)

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This is going to be a bit of an apologia pro vita sua–an answer to my critics, and a response to those who have wondered, either directly to me, or in private, why in the world a person would do a PhD in medieval history.  A fair question, I suppose. 


Hey, at least they had great architecture back then:  my alma mater.

When people ask this, and perhaps 2/3 of the people I encounter outside of work are at least suspicious, if not outright scornful of my chosen career path, most of them are not asking ‘why a PhD in medieval history’ per se, but their concern is more generally about the utility of studying the arts.  Most people’s families would get just as bent out of shape if they majored in, say, English, or philosophy, or art history, or political science.  It’s just that, in many people’s minds, a PhD magnifies the problem, and the fact that my PhD was specifically in ‘medieval’ history, serves to make it even more ridiculous to them, than if I had at least studied modern history, and learned about things that they regularly watch on the hitler (history) channel.

The big question, then, is:  is it worthwhile to study the arts?  But I’m going to avoid that one here, for the most part.  In many ways, this entire site is an answer to that question.  I’d like, however, to address the more specific ways in which my education has personally benefitted me, and, I think, the hundreds of students who have studied with me thus far, in addition to my friends and family and community. (more…)

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So, the previous posts have made it glaringly obvious that we need a working definition of ‘the good life.’ 

The Platonist would argue that the good life starts with nature as its ideal environment, since we are evolutionarily attuned thereto.  Of course, that would usually mean ‘nature improved by art’ which was the eighteenth-century ideal.  The enlightenment, it would seem, had an awful lot of things pretty spot on, especially about the good life – the only things they didn’t quite get around to were the equalities that we’ve discovered since WWII – although it is arguable that with Woolstonecraft et al., the englightenment was even getting around to that, when Napoleon came and put a lid on everything for a hundred plus years.  So, we can agree that nature improved by art might be our ideal environment, or backdrop, for the good life (think Pemberley, or an Italian Villa, or the Lyceum).  Of course, books could be said about this alone, but we can bracket it for now.  But of course, we also need human society in order to have the good life (remember Tom Hanks in that UPS movie).  The problem is, if nature can stand a bit of improving here and there, then human society leaves a lot to be improved upon, since tradional society, both human and animal, is based on two very nasty principles, these being violence, and dominance.  And dominance is a subcategory of violence, so the main point in natural society, therefore, is violent competition.  And some champions of capitalism have jumped to the very mistaken conclusion that this means that the best way to order society, and/or an individual’s life, is to have it emulate the violent competition of nature.  (more…)

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