Not So Humble Pie

The NYT has just announced the finalists for its essay contest on the ethics of meat eating (here). Alas, my entry is not there, so I may as well stick it up for people to see (here).

This is one of those topics on which people are even more liable to disagree with me than usual, and even potentially to take offence at my opinions, so I should probably add a few qualifiers. The piece is very short (600 words), which is a very small space in which to express an argument. If you think it’s glib, well, that’s the reason. It also makes appeals to a few important notions: action, value, beauty, art, freedom, that I have almost no space to define adequately, though I give it my best shot. They’re all used fairly precisely, so, if in doubt, read it a couple times (it is short after all!). Finally, although I’m arguing for the ethical soundness of eating meat, I’m arguing for a general principle, not for the specifics of its application. There are all sorts of exceptions and qualifications that could usefully be added to what I say, but again, there’s no space for them.

Those points aside, I’m fairly pleased with the piece, and rather enjoyed writing something short for a change. May try more of it once my current standing commitments are out of the way. Till then, enjoy!


The Demands of Thought (Book Outline)

I must once more apologise to anyone waiting for things from me. I’m snowed under with writing commitments still, but I managed to discharge one of them today, and it’s one that some of you may be interested in. I’ve harped on about a lot of things since I started this blog several years ago, but perhaps the most mysterious of these has been the systematic philosophical methodology I’ve been working on, occasionally (and perhaps tantalisingly) referred to under the heading of ‘fundamental deontology’. I’ve said a little bit about it now and again (see here and here), but I’ve not gone so far as to really explain it in detail. This is largely because the ideas are complicated, and I haven’t had the time to do the work necessary to flesh them out.

However, the ideas have slowly built up over time, and I have now been handed the excuse I needed to work on it. My girlfriend is studying Chinese/English translation, and has asked me to provide her with a piece of work for a translation project. Despite my prodigious writings on here, I don’t have anything I consider either polished or accessible enough to warrant translation, so I have decided to write something with this purpose in mind. I’ve wanted to write a small book summarising my ideas about fundamental deontology for a while, but haven’t had the excuse. Now is the time.

Today I finished writing the outline of the book. Following the subtitle of the blog, its working title is: The Demands of Thought. It’s going to cover quite a lot of ground, but I hope it’ll still be concise. It’s also going to deal with some pretty abstract concepts, but I hope it’ll nonetheless be accessible. These are tough constraints to meet, but I think that it’s best to aim high and revise downward. Moreover, I hope that by posting the outline here I’ll tie myself to the project in such a way that I can’t extricate myself from it. I have too many ideas for projects like this, and at some point they need to be given a fixed form and pushed out into the world. So, please do hold me to this commitment! It’ll be good for me, even if I can already see myself regretting it. Also, if you happen to know somewhere that might fancy publishing it, do let me/them know!

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No Givenness Please, We’re Sellarsians

Dan Sacilotto over at Being’s Poem has just put up an excellent post discussing some issues that myself and Ray Brassier have been working on, in the light of a comparison between the two titans of Hegelianism in contemporary philosophical world: Badiou (the paragon of mathematical ontology) and Brandom (the paragon of inferentialist semantics). As Dan was so generous in the complements with which he opened his post, I feel I should say a little something in return. The pleasure in our correspondence has been entirely mutual. Dan is an incredibly enthusiastic and sincere interlocutor, and he’s consistently challenged me to improve both the content of my ideas and their form of expression. He’s also patiently and valiantly attempted to explain Badiou to me, and has been very helpful, in spite of my persistent inability to grasp what Badiou means by ‘presentation’. Dan exemplifies a lot of the virtues of a good philosopher: he’s intensely autodidactic, philosophically omnivorous, he doesn’t pull his discursive punches, and he refuses to write about things unless he thinks he understands them. All in all, a top chap.

Now that that’s out of the way, I’d like to address a few of the aspects of Dan’s post. I’m not going to cover everything, as it’s filled to the brim with interesting content. However, I do think that I can present my own point of view on several issues in a bit more detail, and provide some additional context for those who aren’t aware of the way mine and Ray’s Sellarsian projects have been developing of late. To this end, I’m going to carry on my recent practice of quoting from my own correspondence, and post a few snippets from my correspondence with Ray.

However, before I get down to this it’s useful to quickly summarise the central point of Dan’s post. His basic idea is that, although their rejection of the primacy of phenomenal givenness is highly laudable, both Badiou and Brandom end up going too far in minimising the role of experience, especially in their rejection of the role that sensation plays within it. Although the way this happens within each philosophical system differs, he takes it that they both seem to collapse back into something like Hegelian idealism, albeit from opposite directions. He sees myself and Ray as attempting to avoid this danger by championing the work of Sellars, ameliorating the Hegelian dangers of Brandom and Badiou by returning to a more Kantian approach to the relation between thought and Being. The aim here is to give experience its due, without collapsing back into the Myth of the Given, and thereby establish both the principled separation and effective connection between mind and world. However, Dan also suggests that Ray’s greater interest in Sellars’ account of sensation (and the associated notion of picturing) keeps him safer than my own more Brandomian proclivities. Needless to say, I’ve got a few points I’d like to make about this.

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Back From The Dead

Hello everyone, I can confirm that I am still alive. I recently realised that it’s been over 3 months since I’ve posted anything, for which I must apologise. The reason for this is the usual – I’ve been trying (unsuccessfully) to finish my thesis. There’ve been several points at which I thought about posting up ideas on the blog, but told myself not to for the sake of getting thesis work done. However, this strategy hasn’t resulted in a great deal of thesis progress, and so I think I’ll take a different tack and see if writing some stuff on here will help speed up my writing elsewhere. As such, I’m going to write up some of the ideas I’ve been having about normativity of late, and hopefully clear up some confusions my earlier writings on the topic may have engendered.

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