Since the beginning of the Emancipation as Navigation Summer school, I have had numerous discussions with people about the state of contemporary philosophy, and the state of contemporary academia more generally. Some of my thoughts on the matter are expressed in the posts on the Transmodern Philosophy blog accompanying the Summer school, and others were expressed during the first public panel. I’ve had numerous questions put to me about the perspective out of which these thoughts were developed, as people have rightly surmised that there’s a certain systematic account of academia underlying them, but this is an account that I’ve never actually published in any public forum. I did begin writing something on this topic just over two years ago, an essay somewhat ambitiously titled ‘The Systemic Problems of Contemporary Academia and their Solution’, but, although I was quite happy with my analysis of the problems, it turned out to be much harder to articulate their solutions (somewhat unsurprisingly). This isn’t to say that I didn’t (or don’t) have some ideas about this, but rather that the amount of effort required to seriously think them through within the framework I’d laid out was too great to justify spending the time on it (ironically, for reasons well explained in the problems section). Despite some abortive attempts to rework the material with the brilliant Fabio Gironi, I haven’t done anything with the portion of the essay that was completed. It seems to me that now is as good a time as any to put it out here, to give some background to the things I’ve said elsewhere, and to encourage some more discussion about the predicament we philosophers and academics find ourselves in.
For those of you who don’t yet know, I have spent the last few months organising a Summer school at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin with Armen Avanessian and Reza Negarestani. The revised program for the Summer school with links to the recommended readings is now available (here). I can now also reveal that there will be a blog (Transmodern Philosophy) on the 60pages curation platform that is beginning today (Navigating the Philosophical Landscape), and which will provide some opening thoughts along with ongoing commentary on the various seminars over the course of the school.
UPDATE: I accidentally updated a draft version of the new programme rather than the finished one. The link has now been changed.
For anyone who hasn’t come across it yet, I have recently been involved in organising a Summer school in Berlin this July (1st to 12th): ‘Emancipation as Navigation: From the Space of Reasons to the Space of Freedoms’ (see here). I’m also due to discuss some of the themes of the school with Anthony Paul Smith this coming Thursday (see here). I’m afraid that applications for places at the Summer school have already closed, but there should be some outputs from it that I will be sure to flag up here as they appear. In the meantime, here are the abstracts for the two sessions I will be leading:
Freedom and Reason
This first session aims to outline the connection between the concepts of freedom and reason. We will begin by tracing the dialectic of the concept of freedom, beginning with Spinoza and Leibniz’s attempts to make free will compatible with the principle of sufficient reason, and showing how this debate is refracted through Kant’s account of rational agency. We will see how this refraction splits the Kantian tradition into an authentic Spinozan form (Hegel, Marx, Foucault, and Sellars) and a vulgar Leibnizian form (Schelling, Sartre, Badiou, and Žižek). We will then outline Sellars’ authentic reconstruction of Kant’s account of individual agency, and use this to delineate two strands of post-Kantian thought about collective agency (Hegel-Marx and Heidegger-Foucault), before integrating them with Brandom’s Hegelian extension of Sellars’ Kantianism.
Navigation and Representation
The second session aims to approach the connection between freedom and reason from the opposite direction, by providing an account of the specifically linguistic capacities that a rational agent must possess to count as a rational agent. We will begin by tracing the dialectic of the concept of language in the 20th century, focusing on the analytic tradition that grows out of the philosophy of logic at the end of the 19th century. We will do this by framing the development of this tradition in terms of Brandom’s logical expressivism – the idea that logic is the organon of semantic self-consciousness, or that the role of logical vocabulary is to make explicit what is otherwise implicit in what we do. This will allow us to see the various blockages in the tradition’s development as forms of semantic false-consciousness engendered by fixation upon a particular logical vocabulary at the expense of the more complex pragmatics of which it expresses a fragment. We will then attempt to show how Brandom’s inferentialism aims to explain representation in terms of the pragmatics of dialogical reasoning, and how this identifies the capacity for dialectical navigation as the crucial connection between freedom and reason.
It’s been a while since I’ve managed to put anything up here. However, I recently gave a short presentation at the Incredible Machines conference in Vancouver – via google hangouts – on the intersection of the ideas of technocracy and classless society. The conference was very interesting, and a really impressive experiment in teleconferencing, though it was hit by a few technical problems. The audio cut out during my presentation, but I was very graciously given the chance to re-record it. The result was somewhat longer, but also somewhat clearer than the original. It is now available online here. Enjoy!
As anyone who has been reading this blog for any length of time knows, brevity is not one of my virtues. I’m quite pleased with the whole project of Deontologistics, and still plan to continue posting the sorts of long pieces that it’s known for (albeit less frequently than I used to). However, I’ve come to realise the benefit of having a space to express thoughts that are too long for twitter (@deontologistics) but too short or ill-formed for me to be comfortable posting them here. At the same time, although I have occasionally touched on topics that extend beyond pure philosophy, this blog is very much a philosophy blog, and I’m reluctant to use it to take positions on questions of politics, art, and other issues.
For these reasons, I’ve opened up a new tumblr blog, Dialectical Insurgency, with the aim of encouraging myself to share (and thus formulate) shorter and more in-progress ideas on a variety of topics. I’ve just put up some thoughts on cognitive economics and stress that’ve been floating around in my brain for a while now. I hope some of you might find it interesting.
I’ve read a couple interesting posts over the last few days on the topic of the analytic/continental divide. The first was Jon Cogburn’s post linking to Ray Brassier’s talk on Sellars’ Nominalism at the Matter of Contradiction conference in London in March (the video unfortunately cuts out before the Q&A that I was involved in). Jon presents some interesting remarks on the ‘divide’ from the perspective of someone with analytic training who has subsequently attempted to enter the world of continental philosophy, at least in its American form (the centre of which seems to be SPEP). The second was Roman Altshuler’s post on the importance of dialog between continental and analytic philosophy. Roman’s post is a fantastic contrast to Jon’s insofar as it seems to come from the opposite direction: someone with loosely continental training coming to analytic work later, albeit from a European perspective (in which the ‘divide’ is configured quite differently). In addition, the comments on Roman’s post raise some very interesting issues, such as the problems caused by differences in the way AOS/AOC distinctions are configured between the traditions (i.e., thematics vs. history) . This is something that causes me serious headaches when trying to put my own CV together. I usually find discussions of the divide to be severely worn and uninteresting, but these were exceptions and are very worth reading.
Still, I think I should probably briefly state my own view of the issue here, as it has mutated quite a bit over the years. In short, I think the ‘bridging’ metaphor in terms of which these debates are usually configured has become part of the problem labelled by the word ‘divide’ and that it must be burned if we are to solve this problem (or any subset of problems that constitute it). I studied both analytic and continental philosophy at undergraduate, did an MA in Continental Philosophy with a dissertation on Deleuze’s metaphysics, did a PhD on Heidegger’s account of the Question of Being and its relation to metaphysics, and am now heavily bound up in work on Quine, Sellars, Brandom, and a number of self-identifying analytic thinkers. I have discovered time and time again that I simply do not fit in to the neat set of categories that the divide/bridge framing sets up. Continue reading