Top News, Articles, and Interviews in Philosophy

Learning, Without Illusions, From A Nazi Philosopher

I do take seriously Heidegger’s claim that some of his key philosophical ideas provided the basis for his political commitments. I have tried to understand how he might have conceived of those connections and to trace some of his efforts to develop those lines of thought. I don’t think that this renders his philosophy irredeemable but neither do I think that one can afford to ignore just how dangerous his enmity to Modernity is. That’s Mahon O’Brien, senior lecturer in philosophy at University of Sussex, in an interview with Richard Marshall at 3:16. Dr. O’Brien objects to those who use Heidegger’s Nazism as a reason to not take his ideas seriously, but just as objectionable are those Heideggerians who deny or downplay the Nazism, both in his personality and in his philosophy: A further challenge for someone like me, who wants to try and face up to Heidegger’s Nazism and deal openly with the fact that he himself insisted that the motivation for his political commitments and activities lay in key elements of his philosophy, is that one has to contend as well with a number of Heideggerians who refuse to acknowledge that there is a genuine problem here. Again, we can divide these types of Heideggerians up into different categories. There are the ‘flat Earthist’ types (they are not as common anymore, but they do exist); they insist that Heidegger was neither a Nazi nor an antisemite and are quick to try and suppress any discussion of this issue. Then [More]

Triumphantly Breaking Free from Academic Philosophy, But Still…

In 2015 I received the National Humanities Medal at a ceremony at the White House. President Obama himself put the medal around my neck, and the rumor was that he made the final choice. In the speech he gave before awarding all the medals, in addition to citing my work on Gödel and Spinoza and Plato, he spoke of me as the philosopher who sometimes chooses to write novels. Again, the suggestion that I wasn’t any less of a philosopher for writing novels is what made me the happiest. That’s Rebecca Goldstein, in an interview with Clifford Sosis at What Is It Like To Be A Philosopher? The interview is fascinating throughout. One of its themes is the intensity of the pull of academic philosophy for those within its gravity. Goldstein was a philosophy professor at Barnard when her first novel, The Mind-Body Problem, was published, to critical acclaim. She says: I did something completely insane for someone who had her heart set on an academic career in philosophy, especially as a woman, meaning someone who really had to do everything right to have any chance of being taken seriously. I published a novel, called The Mind-Body Problem… Shelly [Goldstein’s husband then] was horrified, warning me that I’d ruin my nascent career in philosophy, and obviously he was right, but I didn’t have the ears to hear what he was saying… The book received attention out in the world. It was a bestseller. And if being a novelist had been something I’d set my heart on then [More]

“An Optimistic Bet”

The relationship between truth and social progress is then an optimistic bet. I hope that knowing the truth is part of what sets us free. But that’s an empirical hunch that could well turn out to be wrong. That’s Elizabeth Barnes, professor of philosophy at the University of Virginia, in a wide-ranging interview by Richard Marshall at 3:16. I draw particular attention to that line because I think it gets at an underexplored element of philosophizing: philosophers’ hopes or “optimistic bets” that certain things turn out to be true. The contents of these hopes aren’t assumed to be true, but they aren’t thought of as mere possibilities, either, as they have a kind of motivating power towards doing philosophy, and towards exploring some lines of inquiry and answers over others. The diversity and distribution of such hopes affect what people philosophize about, and what the overall picture of philosophy looks like at any time. Professor Barnes continues on the connection between truth and social progress, and what she takes to be her responsibilities as a philosopher: It could be that people aren’t motivated by the truth in any way, or that a noble lie would’ve been more politically effective. It’s also, of course, an open question that the truth could turn out to be politically inconvenient for people like me. I hope it’s not, but it might be. And I think any open and honest philosophical inquiry needs to countenance that otherwise it feels [More]

The State of Contemporary Metaphysics

“I think metaphysics is what it’s always been—and it’s hard to say what that is!” That’s Ross Cameron, professor of philosophy at the University of Virginia, answering a question from interviewer Richard Marshall about the state and content of metaphysics these days. He continues: I think it’s in a pretty good state: we’ve emerged from the darkness of logical positivism, ordinary language philosophy, and conceptual analysis, and are once again unapologetically trying to say something about reality! I suppose one thing that might surprise someone coming from near pre-Lewis/Kripke times is the variety of phenomena that are taken to be legitimate subjects of metaphysical theorizing. (Although it wouldn’t be at all surprising to someone from farther back in the history of philosophy.) People still do the metaphysics of time, possibility, existence, etc., but also the metaphysics of race, gender, disability, social groups, sexuality, etc. One sociological change is that it’s become absolutely standard to see these topics in metaphysics textbooks, being taught to undergraduates, being presented at mainstream metaphysics conferences, etc. I think that’s a very good thing. In the interview, Professor Cameron explains his views on a number of topics in contemporary metaphysics, including philosophy of time, grounding, mereology, and vagueness. His remarks are interesting and informative throughout. For example, in his answer to a question about grounding, he [More]

Expanding Philosophy By “Re-Appropriating the Slur that it Is to Be Called ‘Analytic'”

Anthony Booth, reader in philosophy at the University of Sussex, called his 2017 book Analytic Islamic Philosophy, yet he doesn’t think there is much to the division between analytic and Continental philosophy. In an interview with Richard Marshall at 3:16am, he says: Given the various historical ‘turns’ that ‘analytic’ philosophy has been through (such that it is now completely kosher and apparently not contradictory to talk about ‘analytic metaphysics’)I don’t think there’s anything left to the term ‘analytic’ than denoting adherence to the following very board norm: make your work understandable to others, via the use of accepted conventions for writing, such that its results can be assessed. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who is seriously working on a topic or a figure that is paradigmatically considered to be ‘continental’ (e.g. Sartre or Heidegger) who would reject that norm. They may abide by slightly different conventions for writing—they may put greater emphasis on historical scholarship, or to close reading—but they follow the conventions in order to be understood by peers and such that their work may fairly be assessed as scholarship.  He notes that this minimalist understanding of analytic philosophy “may leave some fearing that analytic philosophy is colonising other traditions in a domineering way. Hence why being an ‘analytic Nietzschean’ is often used as a slur.” (For one version of this view, see this post.) Why, then, give [More]

Agnes Callard’s List of “views that are considered controversial that shouldn’t be”

“There’s no such thing as being good or bad at philosophy.” That’s item #12 on a list of “views that are considered controversial that shouldn’t be” that philosopher Agnes Callard (Chicago) offered up in a new interview at What Is It Like To Be A Philosopher?. Interviewer Clifford Sosis (Coastal Carolina) asks, “How is it not possible to be bad at philosophy?” Callard replies: You can be good at something either by having mastered it or having a talent for it. Philosophy is unmasterable—there is no body of knowledge that could ground a claim to expertise. As for talents, the ones I can think of—being quick with distinctions, being a good writer, being good at learning formal or natural languages—are double edged swords, because they make you easily divertible from the project of philosophizing. I think we project a talent for philosophy into anyone we respect as a philosopher to protect ourselves against the scary thought that it’s our own fault we’re not like that. In fact, nothing’s stopping us but ourselves. Here’s her whole list: Socrates was not ironic. Plato wrote dialogues because that format is ideal for presenting arguments in premise-conclusion form. Aristotle’s enkratic person can (and, indeed, must) have phronesis. Aristotle’s pro-slavery stance runs deep into his ethics, not clear whether it can be excised. Kant’s ethics forms the basis of our strongest moral reactions. Nietzsche’s view of [More]

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