Tag Archives: philosophy

Death of philosophy greatly exaggerated

hawking-philosophy-is-deadSleep medicine categorizes different types of insomnia by the part of the sleep cycle that’s “troublesome.” For example, there’s difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep, and waking up too early. I can fall asleep in five minutes, but I wake up at four AM. I don’t consider this insomnia, but a normal expression of two-part or segmented sleep (also known as bimodal, bifurcated or divided sleep). This is the way we used to sleep before industrialization.

Four AM is when I listen to what used to be called “books on tape.” Recently I listened to a series of lectures by philosophy professor Lawrence Cahoone called The Modern Intellectual Tradition: From Descartes to Derrida. The presentation of this potentially difficult subject matter — Kant, Hegel, Heidegger, Wittgenstein — was excellent. Cahoone made philosophical ideas interesting and (relatively) easy to understand. The lectures kept me awake rather than putting me to sleep, and I came away thinking I’d be happy to spend the rest of my life reading nothing but philosophy. Read more


Technology and New Challenges for Privacy: Journal of Social Philosophy Special Issue


The good news: The new issue of the Journal of Social Philosophy is a special issue on “Technology and New Challenges for Privacy.” The less good news is that it’s entirely behind a paywall.

There are no abstracts per se, but the first page of each of the seven articles (including the introduction by editor Leslie P. Francis) is available. I used my snipping tool to place the text below. (Note that the emphasis has been added by me.)

What looks especially interesting here:

  • The use of large-scale sets of health data raises questions of social justice that are often obscured by the way they are framed. (Privacy, Confidentiality, and Justice)
  • Continuous surveillance can place individuals at risk of physical, economic, political, or other damage. Just being aware of how susceptible we are to objectification by anonymous watchers can feel belittling. (Continuous Surveillance of Persons with Disabilities: Conflicts and Compatibilities of Personal and Public Goods)
  • The interests aligned against privacy are often defined in terms of their larger social value, and the protection of privacy often has lower political priority than other social interests. (Privacy and the Integrity of Liberal Politics: The Case of Governmental Internet Searches)
  • Weighing the value and the harm of anonymity (The Ties That Blind: Conceptualizing Anonymity)

Read more


Would we be better off if we took ourselves less seriously as selves?

Gary Gutting (G.G.), a philosophy professor at Notre Dame, has been publishing a series of interviews on religion in the New York Times “blog” The Stone, which features the writing of “contemporary philosophers and other thinkers on issues both timely and timeless.” Recently he interviewed Jay L. Garfield (J.G.) on the subject of Buddhism (Garfield is a philosopher, currently at Yale-NUS College in Singapore). What follows is the concluding question and answer in this fairly long and quite interesting interview.

G.G.: Won’t the fundamental denial of a self be hard to maintain in the face of the modern emphasis on individuality?

J.G.: I don’t think so. For one thing, note that the view that there is no substantial self has a history in the West as well, in the thought of Hume, and of Nietzsche. For another, note that many contemporary cognitive scientists and philosophers have either rejected the view that there is such a self, or have defended some variety of a minimalist conception of the self. So the doctrine isn’t as secure in the non-Buddhist world as one might think. Read more


Bibliography 1.0: Can I escape the judgment of psychology?

da-vinci-the-selfI decided to make a list of the books I’ve recently read, browsed, or added to my reading list. This turned out to be a thought-provoking process. Although this may sound naïve, when I first imagined this blog, I didn’t anticipate that psychology would be such a major category in my bibliography. My main interest, after all, was the social and cultural history of the self. But of course the self is a subject of considerable interest to academic psychologists these days. The ‘psy’ disciplines – psychology, psychiatry, psychotherapy, psychoanalysis — have been incredibly influential in how we think of ourselves. That’s something I’m now beginning to appreciate more fully.

Recurring questions from my Chinese horoscope

The actual process of making the list was probably more valuable for me than the list itself. And the list may not be particularly valuable for anyone else, since I can’t recommend these books the way I recommended books on the history of self-help. That’s because I’m not sufficiently familiar with most of them. Plus, the categories turned out to be imprecise and unsatisfying: Should Jerrold Seigel’s The Idea of the Self: Thought and experience in Western Europe since the 17th century go under Self, Philosophy, or History? Read more


The philosophical value of a no-self perspective

self-no-selfI went looking for interesting reading material on the Buddhist concept of no-self and found one that sounded promising: Self, No Self?: Perspectives from Analytical, Phenomenological, and Indian Traditions. When I started reading it, however, my first impression was that the subject matter was over my head. Within the first few pages I was looking up the definitions of soteriological and diachronic (a word I’ve repeatedly looked up (diachronically), maybe now for the last time). A book that assumes I’m familiar with the distinction between thetic and non-thetic awareness – interesting as that may be – suggests I should be more philosophically informed before proceeding.

My interest was piqued, however, by a suggestion in the introductory chapter that the narrative self (the self as the author and central character in one’s life-story) might be – in effect – a cop out. And that it is precisely the no-self philosophical view that allows us to see this. In fact, it appears that the no-self view occupies the rational high ground when it comes to conceptions of the self. Or so the editors of this collection of essays (Mark Siderits, Evan Thompson, and Dan Zahavi) would argue. So I decided to take it more slowly, try a little harder, and give the introductory chapter another read through.

No self vs the narrative self

I had recently read Kenneth Gergen’s An Invitation to Social Construction, which included a discussion of the narrative self. Gergen advocates using a social construction approach to practical life problems, including its use by practitioners of narrative therapy. Narrative therapists, he writes, should help people “escape the imprisoning grasp of the dominant discourses of the culture, to create an ‘insurrection’ against injurious but prevailing assumptions.” Read more


Philosophers ask: What do we mean by “self”

problems-of-the-selfPsychology is a relatively recent discipline (late 19th century). With a few notable exceptions (William James, neo-Freudians, humanists), psychologists largely ignored the self until the late 20th century. Only with the decline of behaviorism and psychoanalysis did the self emerge as a topic worthy of consideration.

Philosophy, on the other hand, has a long history of examining the self. In the East we have the Upanishads, the Tao te Ching, and the teachings of Gautama Buddha. In the West, we have Plato, followed by pre-Enlightenment religious philosophers who were concerned with the sinful qualities of the self (egotism, pride, selfishness). During the Enlightenment, various philosophers — Descartes, Locke, Hume, Leibnitz, Berkeley, Kant — weighed in on the subject. Ever since that time, philosophers have continually disagreed on the nature of the self.

Philosophers refer to “the problem of the self.” This “problem” includes such questions as: Is there a self? Can we know it? What is the nature of self-awareness? How does the self relate to the mind and the body? What (if anything) does the self have to do with the brain? Read more


Why the self?

As I mentioned in the last post, it was my personal experience of healthism that motivated me to start a previous blog. When I now ask myself why I want to start a blog on the self, I find multiple motivations.

I decided to write a few initial posts where I talk about this. I’m admittedly not aware of all that motivates me, but I should at least be able to reveal some of the personal prejudices I bring to the subject matter. As it turned out, the idea of a “few initial posts” got a bit out of hand, and I now have 24 “introductory” posts. To help you locate what might be of interest, I’ve summarized those posts below.

Washing hands

The self-conscious blogger
Blogging makes me uncomfortable, but it’s a discomfort I find interesting. To blog – to participate in social media — is to be a self in a public space. This creates self-consciousness and stimulates reflection on self-presentation. It turns out what I needed to do to alleviate my self-conscious discomfort about blogging was to acknowledge that learning in public is the best way for me to learn new things. That doesn’t make it any more comfortable, but – I tell myself – it’s only a blog.

Learning in public
For me, writing is a way to pursue new interests and incorporate new knowledge – a type of active learning. As an ex-academic, however, am I willing to be seen learning in public — warts, insufficiencies, and all? After considerable initial hesitation, I’ve changed my mind about this. Read more