New Year's Resolution: Exploring Philosophical Cultures
(December 2003 - January 2004)

by Ralph Dumain

27-30 December 2003: Wisdom & the American Philosophical Association

Saturday 27 December

On Saturday 27 December I initiated a public local discussion based on a paper I submitted on Wisdom and Abstract Thought. The results of the discussion were very disappointing. I think the type of people attracted to Washington are the worst and most unimaginative sectors of the educated professional class anywhere, and in some cases we are talking about highly educated people from some of the world's top universities. I surmise that there are two major reasons for this: the nature of petty bourgeois functionaries in general, and the unspeakable banality of Anglo-American philosophy. Most remarkable is the inability to process anything slightly unfamiliar, or to make sense out of any question that anyone but a British empiricist or analytical philosopher could understand. In sum, we are dealing with the bankruptcy of the intelligentsia and bourgeois professionalism.

Turning from the amateurs to the professionals: my gut-level aversion to academic philosophy rivals my growing contempt for middle class professionals as a class. My class hatred has mushroomed since my friend and colleague Jim's death, especially with the shabby way I have been treated by middle class leftist academics. The bourgeois mind is an increasingly useless one, even when that mind lays claim to radicalism. I have also grown to understand C.L.R. James's fanatical anti-Stalinism, and why his fanaticism was only exacerbated when he was imprisoned with Communists on Ellis Island, even though they behaved very well toward him. Now things that were murky have become crystal clear. Some people I met at the APA conference (see below) took a keen interest in James, completely ex officio—outside of a professional engagement with academia or with the left.

My whole intellectual campaign for 2003 took place without one word of feedback from people intellectually engaged in Continental philosophy. What is my campaign? In essence, a campaign against the very essence of bourgeois ideology which thrives on its split into the warring yet complementary camps of positivism and irrationalism. This divides not only academic philosophy but popular philosophy as well—pay attention, now—popular philosophy as well, as also constitutes the underlying logic of a huge swath of ideological phenomena in public life. I've heard not a word from any of the Frankfurt School people, whom I accused of reverting from critical theory to traditional theory as they cease to think original thoughts and become elitist footnote whores crossing the 'i' and dotting the 't's of other people's original ideas.

Per a friend's perceptive remarks about bourgeois professionalism in philosophy: "part of 'coming of age' within professional philosophy is honing one's ability to write intelligently about philosophers, subjects, etc. that one neither cares about nor finds convincing." Fragmentation and lack of systematicity—I will have much to say about this. But he is right to connect lack of imagination with lack of systematicity. Not many people will make this link, but it's clearly there. The nature of disintegration is just this—as the ability to engage the totality in a non-mystical way atrophies, so the ability to lift oneself out of the mind-deadening rut of daily existence weakens, and hence one sinks into an intellectual coma. As American society is numbed into unconsciousness, so too are its intellectuals. And this is the problem with public philosophy—it is an attempt to resurrect serious discourse in civil society which is objectively as well as subjectively limited—in its beautiful naiveté it cannot reflect upon the reason for its own existence or the nature of its own limitations and thence succumbs to ideology, which corresponds to its objective placement within bourgeois society. In public philosophy I face the same situation as I do with organized philosophy—even more intensely, though in an extra-institutional context—the split between positivism and irrationalism. Which is worse, the unmitigated banality of British empiricism and American analytical philosophy or the retreat into irrationalism? It's a stark choice. I am forced to side with the former against the latter, but only under protest.

Sunday 28 December

Sunday, the following day, I attended my first sessions of the Eastern Division Meeting of the American Philosophical Association. There is a linkage in that the discussion on Saturday was also advertised on the APA's web site and announced on the home page.

The experience of the APA meeting was somewhat more encouraging than my meeting on Saturday, though I am disturbed about the persistence of idealism in ways I will explain later. I also had a mixed reaction to books in the exhibits. First, I'll list the sessions I attended (only the specific speakers I heard), and report in more detail later on.

GIII-12. Society for Social and Political Philosophy
11:15 a.m. - 1:15 p.m.
Topic: Social and Political Philosophy Today
Speakers: Daniel W. Conway (Pennsylvania State University), "Memoirs of an Accidental Materialist: The 18th Brumaire of Karl Marx"
Fouad Kalouche (Albright College), "The Philosophy of Multiplicity and Indeterminacy: Nietzsche, Castoriadis, and the Politics of the Real"

GIII-3. Association for the Philosophy of the Unconscious
11:15 a.m.- 1:15 p.m.
Speakers: David Bachyryez (Georgetown University), "Not Knowing in Self-Consciousness"
Billy Lauinger (Georgetown University), "Not Knowing in the Moral Person"

I-B. Symposium: 100th Anniversary of W.E.B. Dubois's Souls of Black Folk
2:00-5:00 p.m.
Chair: Tommie Shelby (Harvard University)
Speakers: Robert Gooding-Williams (Northwestern University)
Bernard Boxill (University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill)
Commentator: Joy James (Brown University)

GV-3. Hegel Society of America
5:15 - 7:15 p.m.
Topic: Book Discussion: Frederick Neuhouser's Foundations of Hegel's Social Theory
Author: Frederick Neuhouser (Barnard College) [heard only tail end of reaction to critics]

GVI-6. Radical Philosophy Association
7:30 - 10:30 p.m.
Topic: Crisis and Responsibility: The Obligations of Philosophers
Chair: Brenda Wirkus (John Carroll University)
Speakers:
Joanna Crosby (Morgan State University), "The Honor Roll : HUAC Victims from the Field of Philosophy"
Ellen Feder (American University), "Professional Responsibility and Disciplinary Limits: Bioethics and the Case of Intersex"
Dianna Taylor (John Carroll University), "How to Behave Responsibly in a Crisis"
John McCumber (University of California-Los Angeles), "Ideology and Responsibility: The Crisis of American Philosophy"

I also heard just a few minutes of a session on Spinoza's alleged anti-humanism.

100th Anniversary of W.E.B. Du Bois's Souls of Black Folk

This program was given the biggest meeting room in the hotel—the International Ballroom—but only a handful of people showed up. Joy James didn't show up either. Someone else delivered her commentary, about which I will comment shortly. The session was also given the longest time slot—three hours.

The opening remarks were different from most—i.e. comments were made about how much had changed in the philosophy profession in the past two decades, though blacks are still underrepresented. In other words, the very status of black philosophers itself is an occasion for comment. Various people were credited for work that transformed this landscape—a list I would say includes some real philosophers as well as some mediocre charlatans.

I will begin with Boxill, the second speaker, as I have the least to say about him, partly because I missed part of his talk. It was mainly about Du Bois' broadsides against Booker T. Washington and the holes in his argument. The main themes discussed were the nature and goals of higher education and the role of moral suasion in the campaign against racial exclusion, and the role of the Talented Tenth in transforming folk culture into art as an effective tool of the struggle for equality. Towards the end of the talk Boxill labelled Du Bois a Romantic, noting Du Bois' remarks that the black community was united by "sentimental bonds", not the social contract. The Talented Tenth was needed to police the "poets", to keep them from being becoming corrupted by the terms of success in which they appeal to audiences, including white audiences who may find their cultural expressions of a certain type appealing. This relates to Du Bois' criticisms of the Harlem Renaissance. Folk culture may indeed elicit a sympathetic reaction, but as art basically serves a propaganda function for Du Bois, the "poets" must forge an effective tool to keep alive the community of black feeling and forge it into a coherent art. Boxill also suggested that Du Bois may have been too idealistic, and that Washington was very practical, expecting very little from moral suasion.

Gooding-Williams' talk was by far the most interesting. The title was "Intimations of Immortality and Double-Consciousness." He focused his analysis on the first five paragraphs of chapter 1 of Du Bois' book and its connections to Wordsworth's poem "Intimations of Immortality . . ." He began with an address Du Bois gave in 1898 on the sublimity of a liberal education, and connected Du Bois' experience of a glorious childhood and his descent into the constricting world of racial prejudice with the process that Wordsworth describes in his poem, except that Du Bois sees the ethical order rather than nature as the realm of sublimity. The demise of the sublime vision comes about via imprisonment in social assumptions that violate the ethical ideal—in this case the assumptions that generate racial exclusion. Du Bois' depicted his childhood as elevated, above the veil. There is the ideal of reciprocity: "I sit with Shakespeare, and he winces not." SOBF contains allusions to the violation of reciprocity, e.g. violations of Victorian "good form", such as the refusal to exchange business cards.

After awhile, my attention began to flag, but then perked up with Gooding-Williams introduced a tripartite analytical framework deployed by Du Bois:

second sight
double consciousness
twoness

'Second Sight' has its roots in folk religion and in the fad of Mesmerism. Those gifted with second sight see ghosts or the future: the upshot is that they see things others can't.

Implications:

Those gifted with second sight have the power to become self-conscious.

The exercise of second sight enables one to avoid the pitfalls of false self-consciousness, that is falling prey to the false consciousness instituted in contemporary American society, that is, internalizing the white world's racial exclusionary prejudice.

The sensation of seeing oneself through the eyes of others, or double consciousness, leads to false self-consciousness.

Twoness and double consciousness are not the same thing. Twoness is the result of double consciousness.

Second sight is not sufficient to ward off double consciousness, which comes about as a betrayal of the ideal of reciprocity. (My notes do not expand on this statement, which means I did not absorb this part of the argument.)

To be rejected is not the white world's perspective in toto, but its racial perspective. This is the war between Negro and American ideals. These are ideals which in essence should not conflict, but do because of the violation of the ethical ideal.

Self-conscious manhood = true selfhood = true self-consciousness, attained through the power of second sight. (Why is second sight then insufficient?)

Another implication of this is the potential for an unprejudiced perspective of a transformed white America.

Du Bois also addresses the problems of modernity and of black people absorbing the shock of modernization. He also suggests that Negroes need to judge themselves by American standards sans racial prejudice, to surmount their cultural backwardness, exercise second sight, and thus take on the mission of civilization. Hence a new self, a higher synthesis. There is something in here about assimilationism plus cultural expressiveness but my notes are unclear.

There is also something about the hucksterism of leaders and their relation to the masses. Du Bois criticizes Crummel for a lack of sympathy, criticizes Negro leaders for the inability to achieve a synthetic self.

Gooding-Williams referred to his earlier work and a paper "W.E.B. Du Bois and the Idea of Double Consciousness" by Bruce Dixon (?). He also made some critical remark about Adolph Reed's reductionism.

Joy James was absent, so her comments were delivered by the moderator. She is an exemplary lesson in the Stalinist mentality. Jim Murray and I were alert to implicit assumptions of her book on black intellectuals. As Jim once pointed out to me, the photos of Angela Davis and Nelson Mandela give it all away. Now this may seem harsh to you, to taint such heroic individuals with the brush of Stalinism. However, there are implications of Davis' Communist Party membership, and the ANC is regarded differently by black South Africans than the way it is worshipped by progressives on other continents. And, if you have not had experience of black Stalinists yourself, you will find out the hard way as I have how little they are to be trusted. (Jim and C.L.R. James were both fanatics in their distrust of anything connected with Communist Party types. And it is revealing how disturbed even certain Trotskyists are by James' attitude. Shall I name names? I think not.) The larger point is that all this is about fist-clenching activism and the political obligations of the committed intellectual. As admirable as all this is held to be, the salient point here—if you don't understand this you will learn the hard way—is that the very essence of the Stalinist mentality is an exclusive attention to the alleged efficacy of political action and a total disregard of the quality of ideas themselves. In Joy James' case, this means insipid platitudes about committed action, and a disregard for ideas. And I will remain appropriately vague in suggesting you think about what you will find at Brown University. Never ever ever ever trust left academics. Even a professional revolutionary is a bourgeois professional above all, and you can never ever ever ever trust bourgeois professionals.

In her response to the others' papers, Joy James emphasized the insurrectionary dimension of intellectuals like Du Bois. She cited David Roediger, and Du Bois' 1909 biography of John Brown, Du Bois's favorite of his books. James emphasized real material imprisonment, class and gender biases, and the lack of specificity about Negro and American ideals, neither of which are monolithic. James asks us to connect the evocation of sympathy (art as propaganda) with inducement to activism. If the Talented Tenth's role is to keep other people honest, what keeps the Talented Tenth honest? How does reciprocity relate to insurrection? How does the problem of the color line change over time? There is the role of the state, and a shift of the management of captivity to the state, i.e. the shift from slavery to penal servitude following Emancipation, and finally the prison industry now, populating the prisons disproportionately with blacks and related minorities.

My guess is you will find these points unobjectionable, and prima facie, these are all worthy considerations. However, James' analysis is no more than platitudinous. It is hardly a penetrating exercise in ideology critique. I don't know if her feminist work is just as banal, but I shudder to think . . . . I really disliked her book I mentioned above. One has to grasp at a deep level the underlying structure of the Stalinist mentality.

"The goal of Stalinism is to make yourself anonymous."
— R. Dumain to Jim Murray, 6/28/03

(Written 29 December 2003)

Monday 29 December 2003

GX-6. Radical Philosophy Association
7:00 - 10:00 p.m.
Topic: Author Meets Critics: Clarence Shole Johnson's Cornel West and Philosophy
Chair: George Carew (University of Jos, Nigeria)
Critics: Cynthia Willett (Emory University)
Albert Mosley (Smith College)
Robert Bernasconi (University of Memphis)
Author: Clarence Shole Johnson (Middle Tennessee University)

It is almost beyond belief that professors could be idiots of the magnitude I witnessed on this occasion. I think maybe excessive engagement with stupidity makes a person stupid. It even made me stupid, because I was so distracted by the unpleasantness of this experience I got lost on the way home, and there is no way such a thing could happen. Basically, what you have here are idiots (two of the four panelists) commenting on an idiot (Johnson) commenting on an idiot (Cornel West). What's even sadder is that the only panelist displaying any serious intellectual capacity was the British (he has the accent, anyway) white male. The white woman was the most incoherent of all. I am not suggesting this demographic breakdown has any particular significance other than that all well-meaning whites are gullible fools; however, those entranced by racial particularism need to undergo some serious self-examination of where this has got them. I believe the class dimension is the real culprit here: all bourgeois professionals are essentially alike, though they may disguise this through identification with particular ethnic, national, racial or other groups. But this identification, like the current infatuation with popular culture (which anyone can get through TV no matter where they live or whom they rub shoulders with), is just another form of slumming. I don't know why people can't see through this. One wouldn't know we were living in a post-apartheid society, even with all of its injustices, from what one hears. I get the feeling there is something disingenuous going on here, because I don't see the black working class, for all of its provincialism, as racially obsessed or as politically narrow as these middle class professionals. Perhaps my perception is distorted from living in a majority black city where most of the abuse heaped upon black people (other than biases in hiring and promotion practices—about which I could tell some stories—and bank loan administration) seems to be delivered by other black people. I had some pretty harsh words—not along these lines—for this panel, based on their complete misunderstanding of Marxism and their failure to recognize that Cornel West, while once a socialist of sorts, never had an ounce of Marxism in him nor ever produced any thoughts other than disconnected sloganeering. Bernasconi at least had a more complex idea of the race-class nexus and knew how to take Johnson's advocacy of liberal capitalism and race-based politics to pieces. One African fellow in the audience apparently agreed with my harsh remarks, and made a comment about the debasement of language prevalent in today's climate.

I was really bummed out after this experience, but even though going non-stop and sleep deprivation had me completely burned out on Tuesday, I was inspired nonetheless.

Tuesday 30 December 2003

VI-I. Special Session Arranged by the APA Committee on Blacks in Philosophy
1:30-4:30 p.m.
Topic: Race and Racism in Modern Continental European Philosophy
Chair: Andrew Valls (Oregon State University)
Speakers: Debra Nails (Michigan State University), "Race sub specie aeternitatis or Metaphysics at the Barricades: Spinoza and Race"
Bernard Boxill (University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill), "Race and the Idea of Progress: Rousseau and Kant"
James Winchester (Georgia State University), "Nietzsche's Racial Profiling"

I enter this subject matter with skepticism always. In this case I was more than pleasantly surprised. This was a top-notch symposium. All three papers were superb, and I learned a lot out of all of them. The Spinoza paper is subversive in ways that even the author might not be aware of; however, she picked up on every point I made both publicly and privately. And her paper was a succinct exposition of Spinoza's ontology and politics in a nutshell, with an argument on how Spinoza's system basically precludes any kind of racialism or collectivist organicism imposed on a group from outside or from within. Spinoza's approach is manifested in his treatment of the Jewish question. Afterwards, I suggested to Prof. Nails that there are profound implications of Spinoza's standpoint not yet discussed, as Spinoza was the first theoretical advocate of rootless cosmopolitanism. She didn't miss a beat: she picked up on this right away. She also told me that she had initially dismissed Negri's book on Spinoza until an Italian student, not held hostage by the English translation, explained passages from the book to her.

The talk on Nietzsche put everything about Nietzsche into perspective for me. Nietzsche was full of contradictions—that is, he employed racialist conceptions in his thinking but basically made hash out of all white supremacist claims. He believed in breeding superior races but he was an advocate of racial (in his terms) mixtures, and his notion of what made a race superior had nothing to do with racial purity of any kind, but of its exact opposite. The key to all this, I conclude from Winchester's own statement, is that Nietzsche saw thought as a direct product of physiology. I commented that the upshot of all this was clear to me—the real problem with Nietzsche was not in his specific offensive statements but with his world view in general. In essence, Nietzsche was the architect of a non-racialist fascism. He contradicted himself because he had no mediating sociological conceptions. His biologism was mythical in essence and a direct negation of historical materialism, the same sort of metaphysical thinking Marx opposed in the Young Hegelians. In fact, Nietzsche's retrograde biologism was the reason I dropped him two decades ago and found something more useful to occupy my time. And the postmodernists let Nietzsche off the hook (which puzzled Bernasconi), because their world view is as childish as Nietzsche's. Winchester did not disagree with a single thing I said, except for insisting that Nietzsche is not the big waste of time that I had suggested.

I shall have more to say about this sort of idealism later. The inability to understand the relationship between ideological forms of appearance and underlying realities is something I find pervasive. I noticed it in this conference—conspicuously, in connection with Kalouche's talk on Nietzsche.

Earlier in the day, without knowing who he was or his connection to this symposium, I picked up Winchester's book Aesthetics Across the Color Line: Why Nietzsche (Sometimes) Can't Sing the Blues (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002). I started to read the essay on Adorno and jazz, which promises to teach me something new. (The rest of the book turned out to be an abomination. See below.)

(Written 31 December 2003)

Aftermath: Soviet & American Philosophical Cultures (31 December 2003 - 17 January 2004)

At the APA exhibits I picked up a number of free journals and review copies of books. A happy coincidence was stumbling upon two articles which set the tone for my subsequent investigations. The first is

Van der Zweerde, Evert. "Soviet Philosophy Revisited—Why Joseph Bochenski Was Right While Being Wrong", Studies in East European Thought, vol. 55, no. 4, December 2003, pp. 315-342.

This is an article of the first importance. Even though I briefly corresponded with the author about his book, I don't think I fully realized that much of my endeavor of this past year really was all about the concept of "philosophical cultures". This is the frontier as far as I'm concerned.

The second article is:

McCumber, John. "Just in Time: Toward a New American Philosophy", Continental Philosophy Review, vol. 36, no. 1, 2003, pp. 61-80.

See section on McCumber below.

(Written 31 December 2003)

Tacitly Michael Polanyi

Title of a lost Bob Dylan song? Or, check out this web page:

Polanyi’s Concept of Tacit Knowing, Nina Abraham Palmer, September, 2001.

I decided to check out Polanyi as a follow-up to the topic of wisdom and abstract thought. I think that the paragraphs reproduced below encapsulate the pros & cons of Polanyi's philosophy. Polanyi also turned to religion, which arouses suspicions about his philosophy. Note for now Polanyi's reaction to Bukharin: very revealing of Bukharin, I think. No wonder he ended up as he did.

Polanyi, originally a scientist, turned his attention to philosophy after a discussion, in 1935, with a leading theoretician of the Communist party. During this conversation regarding the place of pure scientific research in Russia at the time, Bhukarin, the theoretician, categorically stated that pure scientific research was a soon to be extinct notion. He denied the justification of science as the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, stating that in socialist Russia the attention of scientists would necessarily turn to more practical concerns, such as the problems of the then current Five Year Plan. Bhukarin categorized pure science as “a morbid symptom of a class society.”[2]

Polanyi was taken aback by the realization that socialist theory wielded the persuasive power it did from its claim to strict scientific methodology and preciseness; and this very theory, supposedly backed by superior scientific strength, was now dispensing with the need for independent scientific thought altogether. Polanyi further observed that this paralysis of reason was not only brought about by scientific skepticism but was also driven by a strong moral force—in the case of communist Russia, the belief that organizing forces to meet material necessity was the only way to achieve universal justice and brotherhood.

Polanyi saw a parallel with what was going on in Russia in the western world. Unlike the perhaps more dominant opinion that scientific skepticism was responsible for the rejection of moral reason, Polanyi’s analysis of how moral reason had been largely overrun beginning with the Enlightenment, included not only scientific rationalism but its combination with a growing moral perfectionism/fanaticism that blasted the traditional mores of morality as being authoritarian, hypocritical and ideological.[3]

Polanyi believed that scientific rationalism and moral skepticism had combined to bring about two catastrophes—on the one hand, he perceived it had overrun the individual altogether and on the other hand it had produced a completely isolated individual. Polanyi sought to understand the roots of this condition. His search led him on a quest to develop a theory of knowledge that encompassed all kinds of knowing—scientific, moral, social and the like. A study of his theory reveals a possible motive for such a theory—to show how all kinds of knowing happen in essentially the same way, namely tacit knowing; as such, there is no such thing as purely scientific or moral thought. If it can be proved, as Polanyi attempts to, that there is such a harmonious theory of knowing and that all knowing is essentially the same, then there is no room for one branch of knowledge to overrun another or one way of knowing to be discarded for another. For instance, if scientific thought isn’t as rational as we assume, and if there is evidence that science, like moral reasoning, often proceeds tacitly then science cannot question the logical foundations of moral reasoning. Likewise, if pure scientific research, as Bhukarin suggested, was “a morbid symptom of a class society”, then so also was his more favored practical science in aid of the Five Year Plan.

(Written 29 December 2003)

Soviet Philosophical Culture

Studies in East European Thought, (Kluwer Academic Publishers), 55 (4): December 2003. Special Issue: Toward an Assessment of the Contributions of J.M. Bochenski.

Judging from my inspection of this journal from vol. 49 (1997) to the present, Eastern European thought was so stymied by decades of Stalinism, that these poor souls have spent the past decade and a half trying to recover and absorb all the intellectual junk food of the West as well as recover their own traditions of mysticism and irrationalism. Well, there are some interesting studies in this journal, but this issue is the one of the more interesting, perhaps the most valuable. I want to single out three articles of especial interest to the study of philosophical cultures. The article by van der Zweerde, which I mentioned before, is priceless. But one will also learn a lot about what made Bochenski tick from Swiderski. And there is much to be learned from the story of the Lvov-Warsaw school, where modern logic coexisted with Catholicism. Bochenski himself was a Polish Catholic counterrevolutionary of the first water. We can learn a lot from his formidable example in philosophy. I'll have more to say later. First, the abstracts of these key articles. The other articles in this issue are of interest as well.

Wolenski, Jan. "Polish Attempts to Modernize Thomism by Logic (Bochenski and Salamucha)", pp. 299-313.

Abstract. This paper reports some attempts undertaken in Poland in the 1930s to modernize Thomism by means of modern logic. In particular, it concerns J.M. Bochenski and J. Salamucha, the leading members of the Cracow Circle. They attempted to give precise logical form to the Five Ways of Thomas Aquinas. Other works concerned the concept of transcendentals, the levels of abstraction, and the concept of essence.

Zweerde, Evert van der. "Soviet Philosophy Revisited ­ Why Joseph Bochenski Was Right While Being Wrong", 55 (4): 315-342, December 2003.

Abstract. Josef Bochenski, pioneer of the discipline of philosophical sovietology and one of the first to criticize Eurocentric attitudes, emphasized the central role of logic and sound argument in academic philosophy. This helped him to demonstrate both the general flaws of and the differences in quality within Soviet philosophy. His endeavors and results are indispensable for the yet-to-be-written history of Soviet philosophy. By the same token, it made him less perceptive of the central political, not just philosophical, role of the 'partijnost'-principle. More recent developments have shown both Soviet philosophy and Bochenski's own, Neo-Thomist position to be part of a fundamentally outdated idea of scientific philosophy. However, the criteria of logical scrutiny and sound argument have not lost their force within globalizing philosophical culture.

Swiderski, E.M. “'L'homme et la société embêtent la philosophie …' Bochenski on the limits of 'philosophy'”, 55 (4): 343-366, December 2003.

Abstract. Following his retirement from University teaching in 1972 Bochenski focused increasingly on metaphilosophical issues. Some of these he considered in occasional papers, autobiographical essays, as well as interviews, often giving expression to views that are as refreshing as they are —sometimes —surprising. Bochenski in his later years became something of an iconoclast, sharply critical of, indeed hostile to, much of what is paradigmatically taken to be 'philosophy'. In this paper, I draw out and examine some aspects of Bochenski's virtually anti-philosophical attitudes and try my hand at an analysis of what appears to have become the Bochenski's main underlying motivation in this respect: the less than happy interplay of religious faith, Weltanschauungen, and philosophy caught between two seemingly persistent but conflicting inclinations of the human spirit to submit to the authority of some 'total' picture.

These articles clearly reveal the polarity of technocracy and idealism I've been discussing. I should also mention this article, which is far more intelligent than anything McCumber has to offer:

Simons, Peter. "Bochenski and Balance: System and History in Analytic Philosophy", 55 (4): 281-297, December 2003.

Abstract. Using the work of Józef Bochenski as a positive example, this paper sets out the case for a balanced use of historical knowledge in doing analytic philosophy. Between the two extremes of relativizing historicism, which denies absolute truth, and arrogant scientism, which denies any constructive role for the history of ideas in philosophy, lies a via media in which historical reflection on concepts and their history is placed at the service of the system of cognitive philosophy. Knowledge of the history of philosophy, while not a sine qua non, can empower analytic philosophy to push forward to new and more satisfactory solutions to old and new problems. Examples are adduced from Bochenski's oeuvre and from the author's own experience.

Bochenski's most reactionary philosophical side, other than his theology and politics, is his ethics—military, patriotic, etc.—as documented in another article in the same issue:

Porebski, Czeslaw. “Bochenski on Morality and Ethics”, 55 (4): 387-400, December 2003.

(Written 4 January 2004)

Now back to the article that inspired me:

Van der Zweerde, Evert. "Soviet Philosophy Revisited—Why Joseph Bochenski Was Right While Being Wrong", Studies in East European Thought, vol. 55, no. 4, December 2003, pp. 315-342.

The author contrasts sovietologists Gustav Wetter and J. M. Bochenski:

The Jesuit Wetter described, analyzed, and criticized, partly also appreciated Soviet philosophy from a distinctly Roman Catholic position, which measured dialectical and historical materialism, as well as the other elements of Soviet official ideology, such as political economy and scientific atheism, by the standards of Neo-Thomism. His interpretation thus relies on a philosophical position that plays virtually no role in the world today (although, of course, it may again do so one day).

The Dominican Boche’nski probably was no less of a faithful Catholic, and he was—at least in the earlier part of his career—a Neo-Thomist, too, but he made a much sharper distinction between the religious world-view he himself adhered to, and philosophy, understood as, at least ideally, an autonomous rational endeavor having its own, intrinsic criteria of truth and of quality. As a result, his reply to Soviet philosophy is much less outdated than Wetter’s, even if they share such points as, for example, the rejection of the core idea of dialectical materialism. Unlike Wetter, Boche´nski focussed not so much on the intellectual competition between two rival worldviews and political systems, as on the intrinsic intellectual and philosophical qualities of Soviet philosophy—or lack thereof, for that matter. His aim was not so much to demonstrate that the Soviets held different views from his own, as to drive home the point that there was something wrong with the way they argued. Rereading both of them, the overall reaction with respect to Wetter is “How could he take this so seriously?!”, whereas Boche´nski rather leads one to think “Yes, I can see what was wrong with it!”

In line with the difference just indicated, their blind spots are different, too: while Wetter did not seem to perceive the effects of a basic subordination of philosophy to politics, perhaps also was less allergic to dogmatism than his Polish-Swiss counterpart, but a master in outlining the “system” of Soviet philosophy, Boche´nski was acutely aware of the difference between party philosophers and “real philosophers,” often stressing the latters’ courage. It is not accidental, I think, that it was Boche´nski who was much better appreciated by Soviet philosophers . . . . [317-8]

But . . .

What, then, was Boche´nski’s blind spot? I think it is to be located in the notion of ‘partijnost’, an untranslatable notion usually rendered as “partisanship” or “party-mindedness”, and contrasted by Boche´nski with impartiality or disinterestedness. . . . [318]

Contrary to Wetter, who had a more explicitly “partisan” agenda, Boche´nski, while not denying the “spiritual challenge” represented by communism, and clearly opposed to it, opted for a politically neutral approach of Soviet philosophy: “Nevertheless, impartial study in Sovietology is possible. For one thing, it is a fact that even if the class of serious writers in this domain is small, it is still not an empty class. The existence of objective Sovietology is a fact; and ab esse ad posse valet illatio.” In the same programmatic text of 1961, Boche´nski made clear the epistemological basis of his endeavor: “. . . to know means to know the object as it is—objectively and impartially.” It is important, I think, to note two things: the first is that Boche´nski claimed that objective and impartial sovietology was not a mere aim, but a fact. Secondly, he linked very closely the notions of objectivity and impartiality, almost to the point of identifying them. At this point, I believe that Boche´nski was wrong while being right. The value of sovietology, including philosophical sovietology, as conceived by Boche´nski, was indeed its objectivity, an aim it realized to a great extent. But, in being as objective as possible, it was not impartial, on the contrary, it was partial and even partisan, only is was so not necessarily in favor of an opposite world-view. But it definitely had a political goal, as it systematically undermined the central claims of the Soviet regime and its Marxist-Leninist ideology, including the ideology it produced around philosophy.[319]

Now we come to the crux:

The notion of “partisanship” in philosophy was perhaps the most notorious element of Soviet philosophical propaganda. However, it should not too easily be identified as “partiality”—bias—, nor should its opposite, impartiality, be identified with objectivity. Indeed, objectivity and partiality are not the same: every theory, to the extent to which it claims to be based on empirical facts, has to be based on objective facts (meaning that their factuality can be established independently of the theory in question), but at the same time, in the choice of its facts, its objectives, and its methods, it is not, and cannot be impartial. Secondly, the fact that some theory, whether Marxism or Thomism or Sovietology, is not linked to a particular political party or position, does not make it impartial: the claim that there is a realm of theory which is not politically involved is, itself, just as partial, partisan, and political—of course, this presupposes the idea that science is not politically neutral or, one step further, that “the political” is a universal feature of everything human, including science and philosophy. Thirdly, the notorious notion of partijnost’ also has—or had—the down-to-earth meaning of “belonging to the party”: partijnost’ pointed not least of all to the institutional position of Soviet philosophers, . . . .

There is a striking paradox, here. At first sight, it would seem that while Soviet philosophical discourse explicitly connected itself to a political and ideological system, thus claiming to be partisan, its opponent philosophical sovietology might appear as explicitly denying a connection to any political or ideological system, thus claiming to be impartial and to be standing for philosophical truth as opposed to mere world-view. What the two have in common, however, is that they both deny their actual partisanship. The ‘partijnost’ of Soviet philosophy was not of the kind is was claimed to be: it was a matter of being subordinated, as an integral part, to the CPSU, rather than of a free alliance of philosophers with what they saw as a good cause (similar to the way in which Western intellectuals could be free in being Communists or Marxists); the impartiality of philosophical sovietology was, in fact, an exponent of a different political system, one in which the functional differentation of such areas as philosophy and politics tends to blur the fact that they are interconnected . . . ." [319-320]

While eagerly absorbing the works of Wetter and Bochenski, the author was never particularly inspired by them philosophically, considering their conception of philosophy as problematic as the one they attacked. The author thinks that "the idea of philosophy as a science is an illusion." (p. 321) This illusion, once shared by logical positivism, phenomenology, and Soviet philosophy inherited from Engels, has lost credibility.

[This] is not to deny the value of the work done in the analytical, the phenomenological, or even in the dialectical materialist tradition—think for example of Eval’d Il’enkov, whose work has continued to inspire philosophers and scientists at least as late as three years ago. What I do wish to deny is the claim that there is any such thing as a cumulative body of philosophical knowledge—the “knowledge,” if anything, of philosophy is negative rather than positive: as Aristotle began his Metaphysics, ‘All men naturally desire knowledge’—but in the meantime man has found out that philosophy is not the locus of positive knowledge—which is perhaps its wisdom." [p. 322]

Bochenski's importance was recognized by his Soviet counterparts. But his approach was flawed.

. . . in 1960 as in 1975, professional philosophers in the USSR were pretty much aware of what was wrong in their kingdom, and not because they accepted the critique of basic tenets of official dialectical and historical materialism by the philosophical sovietologists [of the West]. They knew that their work was being organized and supervised by party-philosophers like Fëdor Konstantinov, who reportedly could not “avoid mistakes in spelling even when silent,” they knew that heads of department were officers of the KGB, they knew that Mamardashvili and Il’enkov were silenced and not given the place they deserved, they knew that, in general, the development of free thought was not welcomed . . . . What was wrong with Soviet philosophy was not so much its untenable philosophical content, or the failing intellectual abilities of philosophers, but its form, the way it was organized, and the way in which it was reproduced ideologically. [p. 323]

The historical significance of Soviet philosophy cannot be ignored. It was part of worldwide historical developments, part of Russian intellectual history, and has created a unique situation with continuing aftereffects. From a transnational perspective . . .

. . . “Soviet philosophy” presents the unique phenomenon of a philosophical culture that was not only fundamentally subordinated to political ends—that has happened before, albeit not so explicitly—, but that, moreover, formed part of a political and economic system that claimed to be based on that very same philosophy, which forced philosophical culture to define itself reflexively as that basis. The expression “ideocracy” is to the point here, provided we do not fall prey to the rather naive belief that the Soviet leaders, or even the party, were actually “guided” by Marxist-Leninist ideas they “believed” in: both the flexibility of the official ideology and the fate of those who seriously attempted to engage in Marxist philosophical thought are sufficient proof of the cynicism at the heart of the Soviet system; moreover, ideology is not primarily a matter of subjective psychology, but first of all of social structure." [p. 325]

One of the lasting effects:

. . . a continuing boom, for the time being at least, in radically non-academic philosophizing, associated with such names as Merab Mamardashvili, Valerij Podoroga, and Igor’ Smirnov. In a recent article in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Felix Ingold has addressed this post-Soviet philosophical development. To label this current “post-modernist” or to state that it has not yet yielded any great names or highly original works is correct, but it also is to miss an important point, namely that it is part of the liberalization and emancipation of philosophicalthought itself. [p. 325]

For Russian philosophical culture to flourish will take, I think, at least two generations. First of all, the generation of philosophers who were either Soviet or counter-Soviet and who, first of all, must redefine themselves. This generation includes all Podoroga’s and Smirnov’s. The second generation is the generation of those who were educated by Soviet, post-Soviet, and counter-Soviet philosophers. Miracles aside, there is little reason to expect a philosophical genius to come from Russia, who entered primary school before 1986, i.e. who was born before 1980. This is not to say, of course, that nothing of value is coming or can come out of Russian post-Soviet philosophical culture, but for quite some time to come, Russian philosophy will be, and must be, either reconstructive or deconstructive, and in both cases parasitic.Moreover, it may have to begin at a basic level: now that high expectations about a philosophical underpinning of perestrojka or a revival of Russian religious philosophy have proved unfounded, Russian philosophy is back to basics. [pp. 326-327]

Totalitarianism itself created unofficial culture:

The Soviet single-party & ideology-state-system certainly aimed, and also claimed to be “all-encompassing,” but at the practical level not only the people, but the state also lived according to the “unwritten rules of life”. If we define a totalitarian polity as one in which there is no distinction between public and private life, we must realize that this identity of public and private can be read both ways: it explains both why the party-state apparatus entered, at least in principle and potentially, every facet of social reality, but also why at all levels, including the highest, private relationships overruled public ones, and personal ties were the rule, not the exception. It also explains why much of philosophizing in the USSR took place, not in the central institutions or journals, but existed, following “the unwritten rules of life,” in the niches of the system, where it could have been, but never was destroyed." [p. 327]

Post-Soviet ecological space does not have such ecologial niches for philosophy any more, it rather resembles a vast open steppe in which exhausted philosophers try to survive under harsh conditions they have never been used to. In such a situation, it does not help to look for Western models, because Russian academic culture is unlike Western academia, nor is it much help to look for pre-revolutionary models of philosophizing, because present-day Russia is similar to that era in some, but not in most respects. Also, one simply has to realize that a country with, a few years ago, the economic volume of Belgium, cannot accomodate the fantastic numbers of philosophers that were typical of the Soviet period (and I am not talking about the 25,000 teachers of Marxist-Leninist philosophy, but about the more the 500 sotrudniki at the Institut Filosofii Akademii Nauk SSSR/RAN). Which is another way of saying that individuals who try to do philosophy in Russia today have little to base themselves on. So much for the mitigation of optimism. The time needed for normalization depends on the degree of previous abnormality, and the future of Russian philosophy will depend on decent work done in historiography of philosophy, on increased availability of materials, especially texts, on critical appropriation of both Russian and non-Russian philosophical traditions, on overcoming “russocentrism” (Russian philosophy tends to be about Russian reality, not about reality), and on a schooling in critical thinking as such, in logical analysis rather than mathematical logic, in socratic questioning rather than mythological wonder, in skeptical dissection and ockhamian shaving brush swaying rather than in attempts to pin down Russian mental’nost’. The duration of this process of normalization is explicable only by something like the “nature” of philosophy, which I tentatively circumscribe as the attempt to achieve truth on the basis of the unassisted human mind. As the history of philosophy shows, this attempt to achieve truth more often than not has had to clear its ground first by criticizing all kinds of assumed truth and unsolicited assistance. That is how Greek philosophy began, it is how Modern philosophy began with René Descartes and Francis Bacon, it is how critical idealism began with Immanuel Kant, it is how Russian philosophy began with Vladimir Solov’ëv, Aleksandr Vvedenskij, Lev Lopatin, Gustav Shpet and others, it is how original and creative Marxist thought began in the Soviet 1960s with Eval’d Il’enkov, Merab Mamardashvili and others, and it is how Russian philosophy is having to restart.[pp. 328-9]

Finally, the author claims that philosophical culture has gone global. Philosophy inherently seeks the universal, not the culture-bound, which is why attempts to be inter-cultural are misguided. Hence the future of philosophy is neither with philosophical imperialism or nationalism. Bochenski criticized Eurocentrism and admired Soviet historiography of philosophy's internationalism. (p. 330-1) Globalization should not mean trying to create one philosophy for the whole world, as differentiation is also a typical feature of philosophical history. Rather, in a world where truly global interconnections are now possible (not just international ripple effects of major centers of power), the possibilities for global philosophical culture should be realized. Intercultural understanding as such is obsolete. Any kind of philosophy can now be done anywhere, and selectivity can be pursued along any lines. [p. 332] General criteria of sound reasoning, as Bochenski practiced (according to the author), regardless of philosophical affiliation, should be the watchword, not political correctness, irrationalism, mythology, or the "end of history." [p. 333]

Soviet philosophy is dead, but philosophical sovietology lives on as philosophical archaeology and should be a permanent part of global or comparative history of philosophy. Ninian Smart bypasses Soviet philosophy. Randall Collins in his 1100-page The Sociology of Philosophies devotes three pages to Russian philosophy and zero pages to Soviet philosophy. [p. 334] Sociologically, a great opporunity is being neglected. Even under stringent conditions, creative work was done in the USSR, and Soviet philosophical culture is an important object of study.

The author offers three conclusions. (1) Bochenski was alert to developing trends, insisted on clear logical reasoning, but could only point out what was wrong with Soviet philosophy, not why it was wrong. Soviet dialectical materialism was not in itself dogmatic or stupid, but was as it was as an "effect of the function of philosophy within the Soviet system". [p. 335] (2) Both Soviet philosophy and philosophical sovietology (and Neo-Thomism) were based on reactionary, 19th century notions of philosophy. (3) Philosophical sovietology will be indispensable for future attempts to place Soviet philosophy historically. [p. 336-7]

(Written 4-5 January 2004)

Zweerde's article made me realize, among other things, that what I have been doing this past year is very much dealing with the nature of philosophical cultures, both professional and amateur. I've been looking at various traditions, such as the Frankfurt School and American Philosophy, analyzing the way they defined their issues and how they reacted to their own intellectual patrimony as well as their interaction or non-interaction with other schools of thought. Also, I was groping after a conceptualization which I recognize—or think I recognize—in Zweerde's distinction in this article—which is the ideological organization of philosophical culture as distinct from its objective intellectual content. I believe this is the same distinction I've been striving to name, for example, in my dissatisfication with the culture of analytical philosophy, which is based not on a dismissal of its contributions to knowledge, but on opposition to the systematic blindness it induces in the people socialized into it. I have also been analyzing the realm of popular philosophy, which also frustrates me. And my experience of this conference over the past few days has given me more to think about. There is something incredibly exciting about this approach which demands further laboring and dissemination.

I performed a quick search of Philosopher's Index on the topic of "philosophical culture." From this I retrieved some references on Soviet philosophical culture, Bulgarian philosophical culture, one on Polish philosophical culture, several on Rorty's "post-philosophical culture", and some scattered references on the philosophical cultures of Mexico, Italy, and a few other countries. Perhaps a different terminology prevails. This search did not even pick up Randall Collins, whose book I have.

Zweerde's analysis in this article is very perceptive. I have one problem with it, though. He claims that the ideal of philosophy as a science is obsolete, and that there is no such thing as a cumulative body of philosophical knowledge (pp. 321-322). I don't see the basis for this view. Of course, Soviet philosophy was simple-minded about this, and could not be objective about the development of philosophy after Hegel, as it dogmatically postulated Soviet Marxist-Leninism as the unique solution to all philosophical problems. Yet it seems to me that the strength of the Soviet position, notwithstanding its crudity, was in its assertion of philosophical progress tied with scientific progress.

See my criticism of Principles of the Theory of Historical Process in Philosophy. See also my review of Oizerman's Problems of the History of Philosophy. Oizerman also has a perspective on the progress of philosophical questions that opposes both the positivist and irrationalist views. See the section on "Oizerman On Wisdom & Philosophy" in my essay Wisdom and Abstract Thought.

As I argued in my reviews of Oizerman's two books, Oizerman froze up and could not follow through on his own principles, and so did not look to recover the rational content of other contemporary philosophical trends, least of all non-Soviet Marxisms (which I would argue were more threatening to the regime than 'bourgeois' philosophy). If he had done this, he would have been able to delineate philosophical progress after Hegel more concretely, but he was locked into a monolithic conception of progress based on a single line of development.

I look forward to an elaboration of Zweerde's position regarding philosophy as a science and its (non)cumulative character.

I am now looking into what American philosopher John McCumber has to say about American philosophical culture and will have more to say about this.

(Written 31 December 2003)

Just a few stray notes on the contents of Evald Ilyenkov's Philosophy Revisited :

Bakhurst's article focuses on Ilyenkov's aesthetics, which are profoundly humanistic though prejudiced against much of modern art.

Zweerde's specialty is Soviet philosophical culture. In this article, he discussed how Ilyenkov interacted with Soviet philosophical culture, in terms of his own interests and original manner of expression, and both how he was curtailed by the Soviet regime while still permitted to function, and what this can tell us about ideological life in the USSR.

Silvonen's comparison of Ilyenkov and Foucault is based on Ilyenkov's conception of ideality—his conception of the relation of mind and matter/body—and a comparison with Foucault's notions.

Vartiainen makes use of Nonaka & Takeuchi's ideas about knowledge creation and M. Polanyi's notion of tacit knowledge, and presents a schema involving conversions between explicit and tacit knowledge.

Knuuttila combines Umberto Eco's semiotics and Ilyenkov's ideality.

The articles on the logic of Capital in relation to ideality (Jones, Chiutty, Honkanen) are fascinating and merit close study, as does this facet of Ilyenkov's work.

Honkanen discusses Ricardo, mathematical modelling, Uno and the Japanese school, and the history of historical vs. logical approaches to Capital.

(Written 16 January 2004)

McCumber Marking Time

McCumber, John. "Just in Time: Toward a New American Philosophy", Continental Philosophy Review, vol. 36, no. 1, 2003, pp. 61-80.

Later on I will tie this in to McCumber's presentation Sunday night. I know little about McCumber, but I approach him with admiration for his political concerns about the effects of McCarthyism and the state of the philosophy profession today with suspicion about his philosophical approach. In this article he discusses the still rigid divide between analytical and Continental philosophy, which he contends are essentially divided on the issue of time, and argues for the need to break down the wall between them. I am not too happy with his characterization of the problem. I don't think he was very happy with my harsh remarks Sunday night about the current infatuation with the likes of Derrida and Heidegger, as he affirmed an engagement with Hegel and Heidegger in response.

It only take a few minutes of introduction to McCumber to realize that time is his master trope. I never realized before that his book title Time in the Ditch was a form of wordplay. His talk Sunday night was basically political in nature, and in that realm, a public service. He did not present much intellectual content as did the other fine speakers. There was, however, some interesting philosophical content to his critique of APA, which allegedly scurrilously deep-sixed his proposal to pass a resolution commemorating the victims of McCarthyism in the philosophy profession, which was especially hard hit. He also made a remark somewhere along the line about logic being atemporal. The punning title of his article "Just in Time: Toward a New American Philosophy" also reveals his master theme; in this case, he asserts that the dividing line between analytical and Continental philosophy is the issue of temporality. McCumber also begins with time in this article:

McCumber, John. "The Temporal Turn in German Idealism: Hegel and After", Research in Phenomenology. 2002; 32: 44-59 .

Hegel's rejection of the Kantian thing-in-itself makes the "an sich" an ingredient in experience—that about a thing which is not yet present to us is what it is "an sich." Hegel bars thus any philosophical appeal to anything construed as atemporal, a path which I argue was also taken by Nietzsche, Foucault, Rorty, and Habermas. Unlike them, however, Hegel pursues a project of systematic philosophy, which now consists in showing how temporal things mutually support one another. The recent Continental philosophers I discuss do not share this systematic conception; hence, some of their most distinctive insights and problems.

In addition to addressing certain myths about German idealism, McCumber analyzes Hegel's treatment of time as central to his philosophy and treats it as revolutionary:

This is a sharp break with the philosophical tradition—a break so deep and stunning that it was not even noticed until Heidegger’s Being and Time claimed to have made it for the first time. It has been equally overlooked, for example, by those who view Hegel as a theologian of the Absolute, an eschatologist of presence, or even as the “secretary to the world spirit”—by those who at any point posit something perfected and eternal for Hegel. I will suggest here three ways in which subsequent Continental philosophy has continued on the other side of this break, in secret continuity with Hegel, each of which exemplifies one of the three traditional subfields of philosophy: logic, metaphysics, and ethics.

Logic loses its atemporality. Later on:

The idea that terms, having lost any purchase on essence, could support each other in this way was a casualty of the complicated invalidation of Hegel’s systematic thought in the second half of the nineteenth century. The result is that where Hegel had a logic, subsequent Continental philosophy has flirted with misology: the suspicion, often justified within its own horizon, that there is no rational support for thought at all.

There's a bit about Nietzsche. Then there is a discussion of the dissolution of metaphysics into natural science, the evolution of philosophy of science, and the question of scientific revolution—we come to Bachelard's epistemological break, with reference to Einstein. Then come Canguilhem and Foucault.

Then McCumber follows parallel developments in ethics, from which we get to Rorty and Habermas. In the shadow of Rorty comes more on Hegel's historicity regarding problems of the self, and:

The Hegelian self can instead be characterized as “a tissue of sometimes necessary relations, a web that stretches backward and forward through past and future time.” Hegel extends his systematic encounter to ancient Greeks and Hebrews not adventitiously, but because those peoples have helped make him who he is: they are necessary to his being Hegel. By so doing he, in turn, clarifies something about them: the Greeks were not just early European fishermen, and the early Hebrews not just another Semitic tribe, because thousands of years after they lived other people would owe their existence to them and would, like Hegel, recognize that fact. It is this emphasis on mutual support that enables Hegel to get beyond the boundaries of his own language community, without returning to quasi-Kantian “universal” imperatives.

Don't you think there is something suspect about the phraseology here? The keyword is "language community". This is not kosher.

This is McCumber's conclusion:

When Hegel rejects the Kantian thing-in-itself, he does so in a radically new way: he makes it an ingredient in sensory experience and hence something temporal. With that, there is nothing left within the generally Kantian framework of German Idealism to be outside of time, and so Hegel’s rejection of the thing-in-itself culminates in a radically temporal turn for philosophy—a turn that, I have suggested here, has been taken by much subsequent Continental thought. Examples include Nietzsche’s view of truth as a “moveable host” of rhetorical figures, Foucault’s approach to the history of social science (following Canguilhem), and Rorty’s and Habermas’ approaches to ethics.

But when Hegel turns to time, he remains guided by the ancient ideal of a systematic philosophy. This gives him the burden of showing that the various temporal things we experience around us are necessary to, and support, one another. “Mutual support,” however, is not just a nice idea for Hegel. As a major concern of systematic philosophy, it requires support of its own, and of a philosophical kind. Hegel’s attempt to vindicate his view that thought, nature, and human life all consist of pluralities of things that support one another was his system itself.

The failure of that system to win any credibility among philosophers at large, at least recent ones, means that today’s Continental philosophers agree with Hegel that all reality to which we can have any access whatever is in time, but disagree with him that beings can or need be shown to support one another in various ways across history. This partial convergence with Hegel’s version of German Idealism is, as I hope to have suggested here, the source of some of the greatest insights and greatest difficulties of recent Continental philosophy. It is that combination of insight and difficulty itself, then, that is the most important legacy of the most important German Idealist.

My grandfather died when I was 7, but my mother told me one of his favorite aphorisms was: "A dog never smells his own shit." And it seems that McCumber can't smell the steaming turd he has just laid. Note that for him the dissolution of metaphysics is not science as it was for Marx, but irrationalism—the linguistic turn. I can't call this dishonest, as dishonesty requires conscious dissimulation, whereas this is just blind and stupid. The non-viability of Hegel's system did not merely result in the dissolution of metaphysics into empirical science, as McCumber himself claims before he lays the linguistic turd. What was the nature of the problem of metaphysics in addition to its obvious a priori and thus atemporal nature? The answer lies in the nature of abstraction itself—the difference between scientific theory and philosophical categorial reasoning. Marx reacted explicitly against what all scientists instinctively react against in metaphysics. Marx had to ditch his fellow Left Hegelians because they could not escape the closed circle of philosophical categories which were in themselves on the inside of ideology, i.e. ideological forms of appearance that could not attain the status of science or generate scientific consciousness. This is how historical materialism was born. The negation of idealism is not irrationalism.

McCumber, John. "Problems and Renewal in American Philosophy", Philosophical Studies. Mr 02; 108(1-2): 203-211.

ABSTRACT. Time in the Ditch presents evidence that the politics of the McCarthy Era has distorted American philosophy, both institutionally and intellectually, ever since that time. It proposes a new paradigm, “situating reason,” which is free of those distortions. It is neither an account of the new “golden age” of philosophy outside philosophy departments (as Harding wishes) nor a general history of the rise of analytical philosophy (as Hollinger thinks). I defend myself against Cohen’s charges of factual error and historical misreading, and explain my critical views on the way the history of philosophy is generally taught in the U.S.

I knew it all along: "situatedness", the 12-step program for intellectuals. First step, surrender yourself to your higher power, Confess: "I am my context."

McCumber here responds to criticisms I have not read. His strong points are political: issues of peer review, inadequate understanding of the history of philosophy in the USA, refusal to acknowledge what really happened to American philosophy in the '50s, and the role of philosophers in public life good and bad. (Here he fesses up on Heidegger's negative political role.) There is also some obsessing over the use of the word "American" to refer only to the United States.

Here is an interesting point:

But my criticism of contemporary American philosophy is not that it should play a larger role in public life. That would simply buy me into the very traditional view that American philosophy has sacrificed relevance to rigor, and should become less rigorous in order to become more relevant. I think American philosophy—and not only analytical philosophy—needs to get more rigorous, rather than less. Analytical philosophy’s careful attention to truth, which to put my argument crudely is a matter of the present tense, should be enhanced by equally careful attention to the past and the future. Where, for example, did our philosophical categories really come from? How really did they get to be the way they are? Simply using them, with no attention to these matters, abandons an important dimension of self-critical thinking, and is to be less than rigorous."

It's about time, again.

Next, he reacts to Sandra Harding:

Sandra Harding agrees with Prof. Cohen that I am unduly grim about contemporary American philosophy, which is “much livelier and more hopeful than McCumber suggests.” However, she disagrees with him about where such philosophy is being done, arguing that it is to be found entirely (or almost entirely) outside philosophy departments, by people who often do not call themselves philosophers. I agree, though I wish those working on philosophical issues outside of philosophy departments had more access to what is going on in them.

Prof. Harding suggests that the reason I don’t see all this activity outside philosophy departments is because I see analytical philosophy’s Other merely as Continental philosophy, whereas in fact it embraces much more than that, including Queer and cultural studies, feminist studies, and race studies. Fair enough; but as I say on p. 60, those are stories I am not qualified to tell.

Sandra Harding out-p.c.'s McCumber: Hahahahahahaha!

Then:

David Hollinger largely agrees with my portrayal of the present state of American philosophy, but thinks I ascribe too much causal efficacy to the McCarthy Era in producing it.

Here McCumber has an interesting defense of his work, which I will gloss over.

I do give reasons why other disciplines may have been able to shake off the effects of the McCarthy Era, while philosophy has remained bound to them. I argue at length in Chapter One that philosophy was harder hit at the time than other disciplines; I also suggest, as Prof. Cohen notes, that philosophy has a uniquely troubled relationship to American society in general. Finally, I abstain in principle from claiming that other disciplines are actually free of the residues of the McCarthy Era; I rather doubt that they are.

Some remarks about bias against Catholicism in the '50s , and then this interesting remark:

While I recognize (on p. 56) that Jews were able to enter the profession only when it had been freed of its relationship to a specific religion, once again it is not my place to tell that story. Prof. Hollinger has, in other places, and I can only thank him. That American philosophy passed from a period in which it was importantly concerned with religion, critically or not, to one in which religion was a matter of indifference can plausibly, I think, be attributed to the McCarthy Era. Philosophy always needs to differentiate itself from religion, and from Xenophanes on most philosophical writing on religion has therefore been, in one way or another, critical (even the works of Thomas Aquinas were condemned by the Catholic church after his death). But during the McCarthy Era (when “under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance as part of the crusade against atheistic Communism) it became very difficult openly to criticize religion—which left most philosophers with very little to say about it.

Then, the politics of atemporality:

Raymond B. Allen plays two roles in the book, one causal and one exemplary. I suspect that the APA’s early tiff with him played a role in getting the APA to back off from support for philosophers in trouble, or from making even a generalized protest of what was happening. But as the primary American academic red hunter, Allen also played an important role in articulating and shaping the mindset of the day, and it is in that context that I discuss his claim that any philosopher who abandons the timeless selfless quest of truth “will lose his security.” That mentality was clearly out there, as Hollinger’s own example of Copi and Frankena indicates, and Allen was an important expression of it.

The view that I call “Allenian” is not the view that philosophy aims at timeless truth, which is indeed ancient and generic, but the view that that is all it does, which is pretty much restricted to analytical philosophers (most philosophers have traditionally held that aiming at timeless truth makes us better people, and so think philosophy’s ultimate aim is to make people better). I never credit Allen with “discovering” the view in question; I call it after him because he was its most important proponent during the time in question.

On the case of the ex-Trotskyist Copi:

What is stunning, however, is the ease with which Frankena could certify that Copi was free of any taint of Marxism, not only in his life but in his ideas. He could do this, of course, because Copi was a logician. Had he been an Hegelian philosopher, or even an existentialist, certification would have been much more difficult, and unpersuasive to those whom it had to reach. Here is the exact mentality I have tried to expose and criticize, and you can see how it would have worked across the country. How would a philosophy department justify to a worried dean or president the hiring of an Hegelian or an existentialist? Wouldn’t it be much easier, in those days, to hire a logician?

I would like, someday, to write the book Prof. Hollinger thinks I tried to write here: a book about the rise of analytical philosophy. But that book cannot yet be written, because too many facts are still hidden. This coverup, I have argued, leaves the American philosophical community today both morally compromised and intellectually crippled.

This I grant is a very important issue. Does it however justify McCumber's philosophical use of temporality?

Finally, his vision:

None of my critics discusses what I consider to be the most important part of the book: Chapter Five, where I develop a vision for American philosophy which moves it beyond the troubled heritage of the McCarthy Era. I hope that those who disagree with me about that heritage will take Chapter 5 as showing that, even on the gloomiest of views, there is still a way out and a future for philosophy in America: a paradigm that can illuminate important issues in our lives and communities without sacrificing rigor—indeed, while enhancing it.

In that paradigm, analytical philosophy is not thrown out, but comes to be part of a larger project—one which makes use of Hegelian techniques of dialectical reconstruction (discussed in my The Company of Words) and Heideggerean techniques of deconstructive demarcation (discussed in my Metaphysics and Oppression). I hope people will see that these philosophical approaches are not competing with the analytical project of telling us how various things are (or are presently), but are more performative philosophical modes of connecting us to our past and opening up our futures. All three approaches fit together—and it is important, I think, that we pursue this fit consciously. The result is a paradigm—I call it situating reason—which I suggest can be of use not only to philosophers, but to people in the many and varied fields that Prof. Harding mentions, and indeed across the board.

It is worth studying McCumber's program carefully. It is part of a larger intellectual/ideological movement of history, in which progressive politics has become melded with intellectual distintegration. This petty bourgeois conception of "situatedness" is neither Hegelian self-consciousness nor Marxian historical materialism. Mark well my words.

I engaged in a discussion some time ago on the politics of logical positivism in the USA. I think though that the leftist sympathies of European analytical philosophers is, no pun intended, a red herring. McCumber's defense is that the very subject matter of analytical concerns, removed from social and political affairs, made it easier for philosophers to use that as a shield against persecution. However, it was obviously not much of a shield when the chips were down. Sellars and McGill were interested in science, to be sure, as was the continental philosopher Farber, but they were not empiricists, they were materialists, and their joint work Philosophy of the Future was not spared the impact of McCarthyism. Sellars himself remarked on the limitations of the logical empiricists. Hence the scientific preoccupation of analytical philosophy does not explain everything about it or its social role. Its narrow technocratic mentality—its culture—is not merely a matter of the problems it addresses or even in the objective nature of its philosophical content.

I am getting the picture very quickly that McCumber cannot adequately address the limitations of this philosophical culture, on account of the limitations of his own project, which seems to be to infuse positivism with irrationalism rather than transcend the dichotomy he proposes to transcend. Of course the division between analytical and Continental philosophy is ridiculous. However, the demarcation of Continental philosophy is itself pernicious and if it is to be used in the colonizing mission of irrationalism, it is even worse than the analytical faction which narrowly restricts philosophical inquiry.

The question of McCarthyism aside, we should also examine the politics of the left-leaning logical positivists for possible intrinsic connections between their philosophy and their brand of socialism. Which, let me emphasize, is not a matter of judging the content of philosophies by their external political connections. This was the shortcoming of our previous round of discussions on this topic.

(Written 31 December 2003)

Once again:

McCumber, John. "Just in Time: Toward a New American Philosophy", Continental Philosophy Review, vol. 36, no. 1, 2003, pp. 61-80.

ABSTRACT: In spite of rhetorical disavowals, the "Analytic/Continental Split" has hardened and widened in recent years, and continues to be the dominant trait of American philosophy. It is also a crippling trait: philosophers on either side who do good work are doing it in spite of the traditions to which they have been assigned. The Split has previously been interpreted in terms of a contrast between "Analytical rigor" and "Continental relevance"; but this view, I argue, misses the point entirely. Seeing it rather as a split between those (Analysts) who seek a "timeless" version of truth by reducing their topics and methods to a set of invariant structures, and those (Continentals) who view everything as radically temporal, points the way to a rejuvenated American philosophy. Such philosophy takes us not merely beyond the "Analytic/ Continental Split," but beyond Analytic and Continental philosophy altogether.

The alleged detente between analytical and continental philosophy, according to McCumber, is an illusion. The war between the two is in stage two. Stage one was marked by open hostility. Stage two is marked by indifference, silence, and non-communication. There is also a silence surrounding the actual state of philosophy as a profession. McCumber cites statistics showing the closing of philosophy departments and the reduction in faculty, indicating that the philosophy profession is doing poorly. And continental philosophers still get no respect. McCumber decides to treat this problem as not merely an organizational dispute, but a philosophical issue in its own right. His thesis is that the two camps divide on the issue of time.

The Red-baiter Raymond B. Allen, in pursuing his McCarthyite academic purges, upheld the standard of scholarship as the pursuit of timeless truths.

There are quotes from Carnap and Quine supporting McCumber's contention about the analytical tendency's search for invariant structures. McCumber makes some interesting moves when he discusses continental philosophy's approach to time.

He begins with a quote from Hegel's Phenomenology relating truth and falsity to one another and to development.''"Truth" is an "identity which has come to be." (p. 69) McCumber places this unfamiliar notion in relation to Hegel's critique of Kant, for whom time is bound to appearance and appearances are never simultaneous (p. 70). McCumber alleges that analytical philosophers "tend to see truth in terms of the simultaneity between a sentence and whatever makes that sentence true." (p. 70-71) Hence the problem of self-reference arises. Continentals see truth as succession in time, events in stage of historical process. Nietzsche and Foucault are called in to support Hegel's view. Nietzsche suggests that truth should be seen as "a mobile army of metaphors, metonymies, and anthropomorphisms". (p. 71) Nietzsche is brought into community with Hegel.

Already we have a number of serious distortions in place. First, while the notion of Hegel's conception of truth (and relating it to other other ontological perspectives) is worth pursuing, McCumber amputates Hegel's project by reducing his concern to the time-bound, context. Secondly, with this nonsense about metaphors, McCumber hitches Hegel to Nietzsche's irrationalism. And in framing the philosophical questions in this way McCumber is attempting to colonize analytical philosophy for irrationalism.

This in itself is not so unusual in spite of its duplicity, for a strictly positivist, technocratic approach to philosophy is helpless against irrationalism anyway. I can still recall, after nearly two and a half decades, an article in Time magazine announcing new proofs for the existence of God using modal logic. I recall Rom Harré, at Catholic University, in answer to a question following his talk on varieties of realism, recounting how theologians were using his work. The upshot is that the reduction of philosophical method to micrological technique leaves the larger ontological terrain vulnerable to colonization by anyone who wants to use the technocracy of logical analysis as a weapon. Elsewise how would McCumber think to get away with his cheap tricks?

Next McCumber gives us Heidegger's disclosure of being, which is the disclosure of time and thus the disclosure of truth. (p. 71) And then there is Derrida, whose differance involves temporal sequences (p. 72). However respectful McCumber attempts to be, I don't think he could possibly gain the respect of any analytical philosopher by dumping this load of shit on him.

McCumber then abjures the untenable, rigid classification of philosophy under these two categories and suggests no philosopher can be unequivocally assigned to either one and that good philosophical practice includes elements of both. (p. 72) The different underlying assumptions about time propel adherents to these schools to reject the other on the basis of either subjectivism/irrationality/prattle or atemporal/ahistorical. There seems to be a war between universal, objective validity and temporality (p. 73), a war which is entirely unnecessary.

Note how the duplicitous, spurious framing of the issue builds the bridge for the irrationalist troops to storm over.

Analytical philosophers also of necessity exist in a temporal dimension, and a performative and institutional one that governs their intellectual existence. These factors which operate sub rosa should not be excluded from their philosophy, or else their own philosophical practice, and their relation to the past and future, becomes unintelligible. (p. 74) (With quotes from Peter Hylton, Rorty, Richard Hofstadter.)

McCumber also admonishes the continental school that historical geneaology is no replacement for argument and explanation. Curiously, Heidegger and Derrida are enlisted in McCumber's argument here. (p. 75) But lo, he finds a flaw in Deleuze (p. 75-6), who fails to provide a proper argument.

Both analytical and continental philosophy have to be overcome. American philosophy has to move in a new and radical direction and not merely peek across the divide to engage or critique but smash the divide. Continental philosophy is provincial, too, ignoring analytical philosophy except in rare instances. The good news is that the barrier can be knocked down at no intellectual cost. The theoretical framework of a new philosophy is here already, in the form of McCumber's forthcoming book Reshaping Reason. (p. 77-78)

I wonder: who is going to buy into this shit? At the APA conference I saw a book on deconstruction in mathematical logic at the beginning of the 20th century, so I assume this is the next wave in academic onanism. Still, how many people are going to take this puerility seriously?

I submit this article as an example fitting a consistent pattern of the degeneration of the intelligentsia, including the progressive intelligentsia. Its childishness can only be explained as the workings of ideology. The pioneer theorist of ideology was Hans Christian Anderson, who wrote the ur-text of ideology critique: "The Emperor's New Clothes." The obvious stares you in the face: why can't you see it?

One of the cheap tricks involved is that of the con game of interdisciplinarity: one presumes to overcome divisions, whose very formulation is predicated on the prior existence and maintenance of artificial, ideological and bureaucratic demarcations. So, of course, if one can mark out competing forces in childish, ideological terms, one can then pretend to overcome the dichotomy as one has characterized it. And what is it in this case but the new colonialism of irrationalism under cover of mutual understanding?

It is a disintegration of the progressive intelligentsia because it combines their political unhappy consciousness with regression to incoherence and irrationalism. It is the stage of a decaying liberal intelligentsia that sees all of society's ills but which can only confront them in cynical terms. The irrationalists among the progressive intellectuals pretend to act as the self-consciousness of society as a whole, unconscious of their real social determinants and hence are morbidly self-conscious —while remaining incredibly obtuse—about situatedness, context, historicity. Hence an advocate of Heil-Hitler-Heidegger becomes the motor of a campaign to reverse the effects of McCarthyism.

This is a pattern replicated multiply in various areas of inquiry. It is exactly the same pattern I have attempted to describe in the demographic diversification of philosophy itself. That is, all the books of African American philosophy I have recently criticized fall into just this pattern: the price of diversifying the field is the capitulation to irrationalism and incoherence, so each new claimant to inclusion can lay a claim politically without having to adhere to any universal rational standards. This is exactly what bourgeois society has come to as its pretense of running a civilization has collapsed. This is the OJ trial as the intellectual model for a whole society.

If McCumber weren't such a provincial American he would recognize the triviality of his particular attempt to bridge the divide. See my report on the history of the Lvov-Warsaw school, and the peculiar mediation of modern logic and Catholicism that went on within it. I also just read a fascinating article on J.M. Bochenski, a Catholic philosopher but also a rigorous analytical philosopher who played a role in the Krakow School before co-founding philosophical Sovietology.

(Written 4 January 2004)

Apparently I'm not the only one who has come to the conclusion about Anglo-American provincialism. From Philosopher's Index:

Smith, Barry. "The New European Philosophy" in Philosophy and Political Change in Eastern Europe (Open-Court: Peru, 1994).

Abstract: The paper seeks to indicate ways in which the crude distinction between Anglo-Saxon' and Continental' philosophy may have to be amended in light of recent developments in Eastern Europe. As is well known, the philosophy of science is to no small part a product of the universities of the Habsburg Empire (in Vienna, Prague, Lemberg/Lwow, etc.). Logic, too, has played a more significant role in Eastern Europe (not least in Poland) than in the philosophical cultures of Germany or France. For these and other reasons, a shift in the center of gravity of Continental' philosophy is currently being realized, as younger Eastern European philosophers in newly liberalized institutions begin to return to their roots in their native pre-Communist intellectual traditions.

(Written 5 January 2004)

Bogus Ethnophilosophy

Lott, Tommy L. African-American Philosophy: Selected Readings. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 2002.

The only thing wrong with this anthology is its title. Tommy Lott is a smart guy, but he should be more diligent about defining his subject matter. This textbook should have been titled: A Documentary History of Issues in the Black Liberation Struggle. There is not a single philosophical essay in this book. Arguments about social issues do not constitute philosophy per se, and the reduction of philosophy to the discussion of political and social issues without any methodology or approach couched or translatable into an abstract system of concepts symptomatizes the intellectual disintegration taking place in America today even as American intellectual life becomes more diversified and sophisticated in other respects. And there really are genuine African American philosophers or near-philosophers that could have been included in this book. Why not Adrian Piper on Kant and xenophobia? If one must venture into other genres, why not even excerpts from Richard Wright or Ralph Ellison that define abstract conceptual perspectives? And why not African-American philosophers who have something to say about philosophical questions other than social issues? In a post-apartheid society, notwithstanding the urgency of addressing its compound injustices, this provincialism is inexcusable.

I am reminded of Hegel's demarcation between philosophy and non-philosophy. While Hegel was uninformed and provincial about the philosophies of India and China, relegating them to the category of non-philosophical wisdom for the most part, the principle he erroneously applied is important to consider: philosophy has to be systematic and scientific. The germs of philosophy may be found in picture-thinking, but systems of representations have to be translated into systems of concepts or philosophy cannot fulfill its goal. We don't have to accept Hegel's framework or his rigidity to see that there is something to consider here. Vital contributions are to be found on either side of this demarcation, which may itself be a somewhat artificial and hazy dividing line. The purpose of drawing the line should not be to exclude areas of human enquiry but to facilitate the traffic between them. Eradicating the line is not the democratizing gesture it appears to be; it is in fact intellectually disabling and is doing a lot of harm to the development of young African-Americans who are now taking advantage of opportunities their grandparents could have only dreamed of.

Later on the same day, in another interchange, I wrote this:

It would be very silly indeed to insist upon a rigid, obtuse characterization of philosophy that would exile much of it to the realm of "literature." However, the reduction of philosophy to literature and other non-philosophical genres is symptomatic of the intellectual disintegration of our time, which itself is a product of social disintegration. The answer is not to discard picture-thinking but to enable both conceptual and picture-thinking to flourish and exchange ideas one with another without completely blurring the boundary between them to oblivion, which is already instituted the collapse of any coherent reasoning, which further compounds the loss of literacy in this country as all of human consciousness becomes reduced to advertising slogans.

There is quite a bit of profound philosophical content to be extracted from John Coltrane and various other cultural expressions, including various cultural figures who also had ideas and otherwise exhibited a profundity that exceeds today's channel-surfing mentality even with its vastly widened range of movement. There remains however the distinction between implicit philosophical content and explicit philosophical elaboration. The collapse of this distinction is in effect a form of intellectual repression that only interjects static into the relationship between abstract thought and the concrete empirical world. Now that jazz has come under scrutiny by the theory industry, its history and understanding are being falsified by the postmodernists.

(Written 31 December 2003)

Given what I think of American Philosophy, I suppose it doesn't have much to lose when it declines.

American Philosophies: An Anthology, edited by Leonard Harris, Scott L. Pratt, and Anne Waters. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2002.

Not that's it much of a loss, but one would not recognize what used to be called under American Philosophy from this book. It should be called the Handbook of Affirmative Action in Philosophy instead, as it is stacked with Amerindian, black, and feminist contributions of intrinsic interest but not conducive to the abstract conceptual structures that philosophy once meant, even in America, the land that gave hucksterism an abstract concept: pragmatism. Our national philosopher really is P.T. Barnum, and I don't see how any respectable anthology of American thought could exclude him.

Actually, this anthology is reasonably interesting. If only it had not been mistitled. I used to be interested in anthropology; I don't mind the opportunity to learn about Dakota epistemology. However, the heavily cultural and political emphasis of this multiculti volume not only leaves out many of the important white males, more significantly it shortshrifts the logical and scientific. I think that formerly excluded people should definitely be included, and the range of topics of philosophical reflection be expanded. But philosophy is supposed to rise toward abstraction and science, not be diluted to anthropology. As I've said repeatedly, our social vocabulary has been expanded while our conceptual power has weakened. Most of the books and articles I've reviewed here over the past week reflect this peculiar state of intellectual exhaustion our nation is in.

The best thing I can say about this is at least when American Indians were included, they were not all reduced to mystics awaiting spirit visions in sweat lodges. One of my favorite speeches by Red Jacket is included here, which, coincidentally, is also excerpted on my web site. (See Red Jacket vs. Christianity: The Native American as Rationalist.) It concerns Red Jacket's hatred of Christianity and his supremely rational discounting of the absurdity of Bible relief:

I have memories going back to early childhood of visiting the monument and graves of Red Jacket and his family or associates in Forest Lawn cemetery in Buffalo. I must have visited this site hundreds of times over the decades. We were never taught in school he told the missionaries to fuck off, but at least we learned of his existence, and those field trips to Forest Lawn got us out of the classroom. In the full speech not reproduced here, Red Jacket makes some comment about how the missionaries should civilize the white men in Buffalo. Given my experience of them growing up in Buffalo, I can only conclude that his recommendation was not taken up.

(Written 3 January 2004)

Nuccetelli, Susana; Seay, Gary; eds. Latin American Philosophy: An Introduction with Readings. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 2004.

Contents:

Preface vii
Note to Instructors ix
Acknowledgments x

Chapter I Knowledge and Reason in Pre-Columbian Cultures I
introduction I
Christianity Reaches Merida: The Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel -Translated and annotated by Munro S. Edmonson 5
The Birth of Philosophy Among the Nahuas - Miguel Leon-Portilla 8
Florentine Codex - Fray Bernardino de Sahagun 24

Chapter 2 For and against the Conquest 34
Introduction 34
Prologue to the Members of the Congregation - Juan Gines de Sepulveda 39
Biographical Addenda to The Only Way - Bartolome de Las Casas 43
On the Indians and the Law of War - Francisco de Vitoria 55
Against the Black Legend - Roberto Fernandez Retamar 62

Chapter 3 The Critical Tradition in Latin American Thought 68
Introduction 68
The Natural and Moral History of The Indies - Jose de Acosta 72
The Idea of Discovery of America - Edmundo O'Gorman 80
Reply to Sor Philothea - Juana Ines de la Cruz 86
The Erotic in Latin America - Enrique D. Dussel 92

Chapter 4 Problems of Political Philosophy in the New Latin Nations of America 99
Introduction 99
The Jamaica Letter - Simon Bolivar 105
The Physical Aspect of the Argentina and Ideas Induced by It - Domingo F Sarmiento 120
Bases and Starting Points for the Political Organization of the Argentine Republic - Juan Bautista Alberdi 132
Is Latin America Ready for Democracy? - Victor Raul Haya de la Torre 138

Chapter 5 The Influence of Positivist Thought in Latin America 143
Introduction 143
Positivism in Latin America Arturo Ardao 150
The Advent o Positivism in Brazil Joao Cruz Costa 157
Positivism and Porfirism in Mexico Leopoldo Zea 198
Ariel Jose Enrique Rodo 219

Chapter 6 Wealth and Poverty in Modern Hispanic America 227
Introduction 227
Our America - Jose Marti 232
Indians, Land, and Religion in Peru - Jose Carlos Mariategui 239
Science and Technology - Jose Comblin 255
Science, Technology, Power, and Liberation Theology - Leonardo Boff 265

Chapter 7 Latin American Philosophy and Latino Identity 270
Introduction 270
Man and Culture - Francisco Romero 275
The Cosmic Race - Jose Vasconcelos 279
Is There a Brazilian Philosophy? - Afranio Coutinho 287
Is There an Ibero-American Philosophy? - Risieri Frondizi 294
Can Hispanic Philosophy Flourish in the USA? - Jorge Gracia 302

Bibliography 308
Index 315

Surely the editors have made this textbook reflect their own agenda. It is not humanly possible that Latin American philosophy taken as a whole could be this wretched. Here we find the same condition that plagues the artificially concocted category of African-American philosophy: i.e. the reduction of philosophy to culture, politics, and group identity. This is what the American academy, in all its glorious tokenism, is giving us.

I decided to check further into the principal editor's views:

Susana Nuccetelli, Is ''Latin American Thought'' Philosophy?", Metaphilosophy, Vol. 34, No. 4, July 2003.

Abstract: A durable question in Latin American thought is whether it could amount to a characteristically Latin American philosophy. I argue that if, as is now widely conceded, there is a role for philosophical analysis in thinking about problems that arise in applied subjects, such as bioethics, environmental ethics, and feminism, then why not also in Latin American thought? After all, the focus of Hispanic thinkers has often been upon the issues that arise in their own experiences of the world, and they make up a diverse group of peoples related by very idiosyncratic ethnic and historical connections. I believe that, given some appropriate criteria, the existing corpus of works by Latin American thinkers is a part of a distinctive philosophy.

This is a well-articulated essay that considers all the angles, though I am not inspired by the conclusion. Among other things, the author considers the compatibility or incompatibility between the universalist character of philosophy and particularistic concerns, analyzing a variety of arguments. She is sensitive to the charge of culturalism—i.e. what I always complain about—and avoids making any such facile assumptions. She also addresses the distinction between "thought" and "philosophy", such as in Frondizi's view that while philosophy is embedded within Latin American thought, it is basically subordinated to non-philosophical concerns. Nuccetelli questions Frondizi's purism, which is a purism not only of content but of motive, claiming that it would exile a number of key thinkers of western philosophy from "philosophy." Ultimately, she argues, if there can be specific domains in which philosophy is applied, such as medical ethics, then it is inconsistent to exclude Latin American philosophy from the field. Fair enough, I suppose. I am actually far more restrictive than most: that is, I refuse to recognize recognized branches of philosophy as properly philosophical. For me, philosophy is essentially ontology, epistemology, and logic (broadly conceived; as strictly conceived, it might as well be part of mathematics)—I find nothing remotely philosophically interesting about ethics, politics, or aesthetics as branches of philosophy proper. In my view, she fails to make a distinction I believe Jorge Garcia—who is no slouch—also fails to make elsewhere, i.e. between the level of abstraction and categorization belonging to philosophy proper and the empirical content to which it is related.

In any case, her anthology, which also doubles as an introduction and textbook, depresses the hell out of me.

(Written 17 January 2004)

Vertical and Horizontal Discourses

On New Year's Day I read Basil Bernstein's article "Vertical and Horizontal Discourses: An Essay" (British Journal of Sociology of Education 20(2): 157-173). This kind of writing is very difficult to read. I would imagine it's hard to write as well. I think I got a lot more out of Karl Maton's work. I think I understand what is meant by the seriality of horizontal knowledge structures. There seems to be a distinction between horizontal and vertical discourses and strong and weak grammars, such that horizontal discourses could have strong or weak grammars, but I don't quite understand this. In the same issue, there is an interview with Bernstein. I find this difficult to decipher as well. However, I sort of get the gist of his goal, which is not only to generate a theoretical apparatus but to establish a testable body of empirical description that enables the construction of a vertical discourse for theory in his field. I think this concern with verticality and hierarchical organization of knowledge has some relationship with my concerns, but Maton's article on this subject goes more directly to them. Manipulation of the grammar of the field substitutes for real thought as the pomo people churn out more product, just like television. I am interested in the recombinant aspects of the manipulation of this grammar, and not just its weakening (yielding to insiderism), but too the weakening and distortion of the process of abstraction itself, to the interference with the mediation of the abstract and the concrete, and to the flattened relationship among the categories of abstraction, such that overall coherence becomes impossible.

(Written 3 January 2004)

This problem is exacerbated by the dubious practices of interdisciplinarity, as noted in a communication of mine from 23 May 2001:

There is a lesson to be learned about the selective importation of literature from what you call another discipline. In your own narrow specialty, you are presumed to be competent in having covered the literature of your field, to "have done the reading". But in the citation circle-jerk that comprises humanistic scholarship, it is so easy to poach on poachers who have incorporated viewpoints from elsewhere and then pretend that they are authoritative. Once you venture outside your specific area of competence, you can't claim to have done the reading and neither can anyone else. Having worked with many grad students while remaining mercifully free of the clutches of hackademia, I've seen how they get brainwashed and assume the authority of a very selective range of authors imported into their area. I once ventured to explain to one of my friends stuck in the academic rat race why his literature review, which combined a whole range of sources, was useless. I remember he incorporated into his study of Caribbean culture some of this social constructionist hackwork, in this case "feminist" philosopher of science Sandra Harding. He thought he had done the reading, but the fact is, people in this vein are only a drop in the bucket of philosophy of science, and there is so much more than people in cultural studies know or dare or care to know. If I were doing his literature review, I would have included a huge two-part literature review done by philosopher Mario Bunge demonstrating how flimsy the entire enterprise of social constructionism is and how intellectually corrupt. Bunge is a huge name in philosophy, though he has no idea either of the difference between Marxism and these other trends; and if authority matters, he carries as much weight as the pipsqueaks cited by the likes of the Social Text crowd.

My point is, in your little "interdisciplinary" excursions, what makes you think you know all that needs to be known? It is very easy to assume a false sense of security when the members of one restricted social network only read and cite one another. This works in physics because all of the relevant competence is contained within one narrowly defined area mastered by an easily ascertainable collection of individuals, but not where the object of study is culture. I've seen too many examples of the type of provincialism I've attempted to describe. People in the so-called humanities and adjacent social sciences are going to have to learn how big the world really is and that reality is not just who you know.

(Cited 9 January 2004)

Winchester Catharsis

There are a multitude of criticiques of Adorno's misguised views on jazz, some of which I've reviewed on various lists. I've missed some, but based on my experience, this one is different in some respects:

Winchester, James J. "Adorno, Jazz, and the Limits of Apprenticeship", in Aesthetics Across the Color Line: Why Nietzsche (Sometimes) Can't Sing the Blues (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002), pp. 99-199.

I met the author a few days ago at the APA conference, when he delivered a superb paper, "Nietzsche's Racial Profiling" (see above). There are some interesting features to this chapter, which I'll outline briefly:

(1) He discusses Adorno's aesthetic theory at some length, admitting some points at which he does not understand Adorno. There is a heavy influence of Hegel there, though Adorno's theory is different. Winchester clilams that the spiritual element in art that Adorno describhes is the point at which intercultural understanding could take place.

(2) As many other authors have, Winchester suggests that Adorno violated his own principles in his sterotypical view of jazz. He engages the subject only in general, and rarely gets into particulars or mentions particular figures.

(3) Winchester cites a wide variety of sources in which Adorno mentions jazz, including some I've not seen discussed. Adorno's opinions did not change with wider exposure, indicating a rigidity and stubbornness. In the beginning Adorno was mostly exposed to the watered down German version of "jazz". However, Adorno's increasing exposure to American jazz (Pre-bebop) did not alter his opinion, except that Adorno ddid make a distinction between commercially corrupted and non-commercial jazz. Simplistic dance music has been given the greatest exposure and hence popularity, not the most disruptive, nonconformist jazz (p. 113).

(4) Finally, Winchester addresses Adorno's conception of the culture industry, which he largely agrees with and finds even more applicable today. It is something we must think about with respect to all cultural products, and it even affects some jazz, though not all as Adorno had mistakenly assumed.

(5) A number of sources are cited. I'm not familiar with this book: The Unfinished Project of Modernity by Lorenzo C. Simpson (Routledge, 2001).

(Written 1 January 2004)

The problem with this book can already be seen from the blurb on the back cover, which begins: "Imagine Immanuel Kant discussing art with bell hooks and Cornel West." Immediately I'm impressed with how impressed the bourgeois intellectual is with authorities. Multiculturalism means multiplying spokesmen, authorities, and reshuffling the priorities of who's ass one must kiss in order to gain legitimacy. It's all about filtering one's judgments of the world through the alienated categories of bourgeois society, which has become more complicated as more cultural elements gain respectability and new elites come into play. But am I being too cynical about the author? I am sure I must be, but my quarrel is not with any opportunism on his part, but with his sincerity, his good will. Why do I always distrust people with good will who are gullible and clueless at the same time?

Had this book been written in the 1960s or even the 1970s, its underlying premise might have made sense. Nobody knew who bell hooks or Cornel West was then, of course, so anyone interested in intercultural understanding would have had to rely on other authorities, or better yet, directly engage with the people one was trying to understand without relying on intermediaries of any kind. There is something remarkably anachronistic about this book, unless my experience is so far removed from everyone else's I am missing something. But this is what I mean. I grew up in a society that was rigidly socially segregated by race and experienced the first explosive cracks in the system. The innocence of the time was that young people with the inclination might intermingle and only learn afterward how the background of the other person or one's own was influencing their interactions, without letting every mismatch mushroom into a federal case. That is, people's backgrounds were much more of a mystery then than they are now, and yet whether or not people got along, everyone was so innocent that the typical American's complaint—you don't know what it's like to be me—did not police everyone's interactions with one another, not even in the militant fist-clenching years, when in fact nobody had a clue what it was like to be anyone else. The way I learned about people different from me living in my time was not through reading but from direct interaction with the people themselves. What fool would think he could learn any other way? Of course if you want to learn about dead people, you have to read about them, as you can't socialize with them. But I cannot imagine anyone thinking that the primary way to learn about people living across town is to read about them, or for that matter even to consume their cultural products.

Another thing—youth culture—from the little of it I can tolerate exposing myself to—is a rather different affair from what it was four decades ago, especially in the realm of music. There was always music marketed to a crossover audience, and there was plenty of crossing over in spite of the market segmentation of the time. But I suspect that market segmentation has changed drastically over the past two decades. There is another paradox, though. However taste may have once reflected segregation, at this stage of the game generational differences are far more likely to divide taste than cross-cultural differences within the same generation. I would say that even people of my generation who were listening to very different things 30-40 years ago have far more in common with one another now than they do with the musical tastes of anyone under the age of 30.

Also, I would say that it is conspicuously anachronistic to worry in this day and age about the lack of appreciation on the part of Caucasians for blues or jazz, both of which would collapse economically without their support. It is much harder to find any black person under 30 who would tolerate listening to either one than it is to find a Caucasian over 40 who could groove on either one.

And, I might add, we are all Americans, not Europeans. What is the percentage of white Americans that maintains the slightest interest in European classical music, as opposed to some form of American popular music, most of which either has its roots in black music or was heavily influenced by it?

So much has changed, including the basis of culture itself. Mine was the first generation raised on television, but the television of the day offered a very limited version of reality—a sanitized version of the suburban ideal was projected and everyone was supposed to crave to become a part of it. In the urban areas of the United States of today is there any direct person-to-person cultural transmission that is not mediated through television as a primary socializer? Well, there are churches, of course. But what else is left of collective culture? And what solid foundation does cultural identity have—for which groups, in which geographical areas—other than the persistence of class differences and social segregation that are long overdue for demolition and can offer nothing new or interesting to culture any more?

Or maybe I'm just nuts. Very well, here's another thing that bothers me. Why is intercultural understanding a worthy goal to pursue? Is that what we are here for? It reminds me of tolerance, which is far preferable to intolerance, but isn't there something awfully limited, awfully status quo about it? Was the last person who gave you an orgasm just tolerating you, or pursuing cross-cultural understanding? If that were the case, I doubt there could have been much to the experience.

I can see the effort to understand the other as the initial gesture of the naive and inexperienced, in a setting of rigid separation that taught people little about their world. However, the very nature of individuality lies in selectivity, the rendering of judgment on impinging stimuli. Only a fool, a faux zen buddhist, or a postmodernist would pretend to treat all stimuli as of equal value. Exposure to a variety of input can shake up ingrown assumptions about what is valuable and change one's tastes and scale of values. Ultimately, though, as with tolerance, trying to be "understanding" of difference is just another way of keeping people at arm's length. It presupposes naivete and unfamiliarity. People may widen their frame of reference and hence their basis of judgment, but most people still judge according to what they think is good and bad, however deprovincialized their basis of judgment. Very few people's primary goal is to be understanding of others. My assumptions have undergone a number of changes in a lifetime, but I never wasted two minutes of my life thinking it was my obligation to respect other people's standards on first principles.

Hence I can't see that "understanding aesthetic judgements across cultural borders" is what anybody should take the trouble to strive for. I'm surprised anyone would still be invested in this liberal tolerance hoopla. Now I can see a purpose in subjecting the aesthetic principles of Kant, Nietzsche, and other Europeans to scrutiny based on an engagement with non-European forms, which I—completely indifferent to European culture as well as European aestheticians and philosophers—have been doing for decades. I'm an American, and I've never taken any constipated European as a cultural standard-bearer ever. Let's look at various cultural forms, see what's valuable, and then see whose aesthetic theories stand up in the light of experience. I've managed to do this for decades without ever worrying myself about intercultural understanding.

As for understanding others, only intimate engagement over a long period of time enables a deeper understanding of people to sink in, as there are layers and layers—like the proverbial onion—beneath what you see on the surface—and with time you begin to discern what is motivating people and where it came from. This principle applies to everyone you know, however, and it also applies to your experience of yourself, which should also become more profound with the passing years.

Well, I guess Winchester hasn't lived a sheltered life, because he did teach at Spelman, a famed black college, for 10 years. "I often think about my ability as a white male to understand art and aesthetic judgments across the racial divide between blacks and whites." (p. 1) "In my teaching and scholarship I have employed both 'classics' from the history of Western philosophy and works by Angela Davis, Patricia Hill Collins, bell hooks, Cornel West, and Patricia Williams, among others." (p. 2) Such statements tend either to depress me or make me fall down laughing.

We are dutifully informed that if "we want to understand Bessie Smith's music, then we must devote ourselves not only to learning about her art but also the social worlds out of which her art and life were formed." (p. 1) Interesting, though I must ask: who is we, and who isn't we. This injunction must apply to everyone in the world—regardless of race and culture—under the age of 65, at the least, I would say. As for the devotees of Bessie Smith's music, I would pose the embarrassing question: what is the demographic breakdown of Bessie Smith's actual and potential aficionados?

The thinkers Winchester has learned most from about understanding aesthetic judgements are the aforementioned Davis, Collins, West, Williams, and hooks—God help us—and Toni Morrison, Heidegger, Kant, Nietzsche, Adorno, and Derrida (p. 3). The Europeans are especially Eurocentric but there is much to learn from them even if one doesn't buy into their theories any more than their specific judgments. Having been schooled in this stuff, Winchester is trying to "widen his field of vision," God bless him.

This is what the professors have to offer us, so I guess we should pay close attention.

Winchester must have been seriously indoctrinated with European high culture aesthetics, for, as the introduction continues, we see that it is a big deal for him to oppose the notion of masterpieces and embrace folk arts and expressions of everyday life as genuine artistic, aesthetic enterprises. There's a lot of talk about quilts. I don't know why it is, but whenever anybody mentions the word "quilt", I want to punch him in the mouth. I think maybe I've had about as much homespun wisdom as I can stomach for one lifetime. Perhaps this counts for my aversion.

Chapter 1 is about "understanding aesthetic judgments across cultural borders", but more interestingly, it is about Kant and his limitations. Kant makes an distinction between the personal taste that is not to be disputed and the universality of the faculty of aesthetic judgment (which is not to say individual aesthetic judgments). Interestingly, Kant uses non-European peoples—making gratuitous, demeaning judgments about their values and priorities—as his foil to illustrate his differentiations with respect to the nature of aesthetic judgment. (p. 20-1) The basis of Kant's theory is the dubious conception of disinterested contemplation. (As one might expect from constipated, non-masturbating virgins of Teutonic extraction—my comment not Winchester's.) Shortcomings aside, Winchester finds much of value in Kant's principles, particularly the notion of reflective judgment. In his The Critique of Judgment, Kant shifts ground and searches for ways to ground is conception of the universality of aesthetic judgment. Winchester decides to delve into Kant's theory, based on a starting point that recognizes the "inner multiciplicity" of the subject (race, class, gender, you know the rest) (p. 28). We begin with our inner diversity to understand the diversity of others.

For Kant, disinterestedness is necessary so that aesthetic judgement will be compelled neither by reason nor by the senses (p. 29), sources of bias or partisanship. Winchester questions the very possibility of disinterested, ahistorical emotional response. Kant was interested to secure the communicability of aesthetic judgments, but Kant underestimates our ability to communicate our judgements to people different from us. Winchester then takes bell hooks' story of her reactions to houses and space in the South to illustrate his points (p. 31). Kant himself discourses on the pleasures of communicability (p. 32) and on the factor of socialibility (32-33). But Kant soon retreats from empirical aesthetics back to the a priori.

Winchester then acknowledges the non-uniformity of cultures and the tremendous differences in taste that occur within the same community, even within the same household. Not only does Winchester say so, but bell hooks says so (34-35). In principle, then, cross-cultural understanding is no more an insurmountable problem than cross-individual understanding. But the art world with its system of pigeonholing still serves as a barrier to the promotion of understanding. Cornel West protests against the exoticism that obscures commonalities among people (p. 36). More on bell hooks, Toni Morrison, and Amiri Baraka. Winchester is finally optimistic about the possibility of communication.

Footnotes contain lots of Kant scholarship, some Nietzsche and Derrida, black and feminist sources.

(Written 2-3 January 2004)

Pragmatism

The American pragmatism issue of Philosophy Now was mostly disappointing. Its one redeeming feature was the outline of Peirce's philosophy, which has something to offer as did Peirce himself, the best of the classic American pragmatists. It seems the quality of the articles coincidentally mirrors the nature of the philosophers treated, i.e. declining the further one gets from Peirce. I don't regret the fact that William James was neglected, then. Judging from the interview and article on Rorty, Rorty comes off as a complete imbecile, worse even than I thought him to be. And this is the problem with American pragmatism, perhaps reflective of American society itself: i.e. pragmatism is largely disconnected sloganeering, the philosophical equivalent of the advertising industry, bragging about the goods it can deliver without delivering a connected and coherent approach to understanding reality one can sink one's teeth into.

The overall presentation of pragmatism is also lacking. The fragmented journalistic style in popularizing philosophy may pique someone's interest in a topic, but ultimately it becomes little more than a publicity device. There's no serious thought or perspective in it.

If you are interested in fads, you might want to read more about the attempt to resurrect pragmatism in the USA, of which Rorty is just the tip of the iceberg. Pragmatically it's about finding an institutional niche for people who wouldn't have jobs under the regime of analytical philosophy. Intellectually, it is a haven for the new irrationalists, including minorities who now have a category under which to push their wares: African Americans, Native Americans, etc.

Pragmatism always was a bridge of sorts—especially William James as a bridge for the irrationalisms of two continents. However, the nostrums of pragmatism are too nebulous for me. Pragmatism seems like an intellectual program for small people with big ambitions.

The same person on the Philosophy Now list who thought my topic "Wisdom and Abstract Thought" was senseless is now complaining about my pejorative remarks about Rorty. Would I also then dismiss Nietzsche for disconnected sloganeering? Isn't it interesting how bourgeois thinkers manage to bury their differences and stick together in the crunch? I will have more to say about the basis of unification of different traditions as time goes on. I think it is also vital to address the issue of philosophical cultures, which is the organizational-ideological life that philosophies live, not to be equated with their objective intellectual content.

(Written 2 January 2004)

Brian Leiter, Nietzsche, and American Philosophy

I have the sense there are an increasing number of publications on Nietzsche, the sciences, and scientific method. I myself have Nietzsche's Philosophy of Science: Reflecting Science on the Ground of Art and Life by Babette E. Babich. I take it this is yet another effort towards the rapprochement of continental and analytical philosophy, which should not be controversial anymore, since both are in fact suitable vehicles for the advancement of irrationalism. The positivist aversion to "metaphysics" clears the way for any objection to mystification not based strictly in logical technique. Like lawyers, philosophers can argue for any bullshit they want just so long as they follow the rules. The strict, positivist use of logic as technique enables it to be wedded to any ontology ultimately. That is, the strictly technocratic approach to philosophy may in some cases enable contradictory ontological commitments to co-exist, as has occurred many times in philosophical history. The Lvov-Warsaw School is a case in point.

Brian's Leiter's list of publications includes Nietzsche on Morality (London: Routledge, 2002) and The Future for Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, forthcoming 2004), editor.

Bernard Reginster reviews Brian Leiter, Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Nietzsche on Morality (Routledge, 2002). Judging from Reginster's review alone, Leiter seems to be colonizing irrationalism for positivist technocracy, rather than the reverse. These two paragraphs esp. caught my eye:

The distinction, and the chief merit, of Leiter’s account is its emphasis on the naturalism of Nietzsche’s approach to morality. Leiter may not quite be the first to portray Nietzsche as a naturalist, but his characterization of Nietzschean naturalism in connection with morality is the most systematic and compelling to date. Chapter 1 carefully circumscribes Nietzsche’s naturalism, by way of some distinctions. According to Leiter, Nietzsche’s naturalism is primarily methodological—he believes that the methods of philosophy ought to be continuous with the methods and results of the empirical sciences—and qualifiedly substantive—he rejects any explanation in terms of non-natural causes (e.g., God), but, in contrast to many contemporary naturalists, he also opposes “materialism,” i.e. the reduction of all phenomena to physical phenomena.

In broad outline, Nietzsche’s naturalism implies that all human beliefs, values, and actions, including moral ones, can be explained by appealing to causal determinants in features of human nature. At the heart of this naturalistic account of morality, there is what Leiter calls the “doctrine of types,” according to which “each person has a fixed psycho-physical constitution, which defines him as a particular type of person” (p. 8). These type-facts, in combination with environmental factors, such as a prevalent moral culture, determine the actual trajectory of a person’s life.

Clearly the reviewer at least doesn't know what materialism is. And furthermore does not understand the nature of Nietzsche's biologism. But overall, there is something quite naive and stupid about all of this.

(Written 4 January 2004)

I read Lieter's essay on how to get a job after getting a PhD studying Nietzsche. Among other things he disparages sloppy "continental"-style Nietzsche scholarship. Perhaps he is right. There is a way to take Nietzsche seriously, as I did circa 1979, when I read him and had to figure out how to explain him to semiliterate black women attending community colleges. I failed miserably in this latter task, but I was extremely disciplined in my analysis, and I learned an awful lot about developing the habit of thinking abstractly without taking anything for granted—i.e. the epistemology of determining the underlying logical structures in texts. At this stage, I was no more interested in dismissing Nietzsche as an irrationalist (or, for that matter, a proto-fascist) than I was in worshipping him as one. And I only learned later that my take on Nietzsche as part-materialist, part-idealist, conflicted with what all the postmodernists were interested in. Maybe I'm just nuts.

However, there was something I eventually learned that was not evident to me at first. I did not immediately perceive the implications of Nietzsche's biological metaphors, i.e. what was implied in his attributions of health and sickness. Nietzsche to me was the Freud of philosophy: he had an acute sensibility as to the underlying unconscious ideological motivations behind traditional metaphysics and morality. Nietzsche's materialism, not his perspectivism, interested me. I don't think this is what the pomo people saw in him.

The problem with the health-sickness metaphor was in its amoral "innocence". The blond beast was tamed by the guilt-ridden passive-aggressive superego imposed as a mechanism of social control. But Nietzsche's glorification of violence and domination, on paper only as is the case with intellectuals as a rule, tipped me off as to his severe limitations.

(To a person raised on Blake, Nietzsche was just a piss-ant. And various specimens of this intellectual type always remind me of one another: that crypto-fascist shit D.H. Lawrence is another example. And the surrealist asshole—Breton?—who wrote about firing a revolver into a crowd at random as a revolutionary act. And some other French prick who once wrote that the Marquis de Sade was the freest spirit who ever lived. This is typical Caucasian goyischer thinking, and I've despised it for decades. It's about the glorification of being an unconscious beast—the wet dream of the white intellectual yearning to cast off his inhibitions. It is un-Black and un-Jewish [except for Norman Mailer].)

Also, the genealogy of morals was a superstructural analysis at best, imprisoned with the realm of ideology. It is not historical materialism. Its insights might be translatable and correlatable with a materialist sociological analysis of the forms of consciousness described, but this would require a transformation, as Nietzsche was not a sociological thinker, but an alienated petty bourgeois mystified by the very sickness of the civilization against which he rebelled. This is so obvious that every deconstructionist could use a good ass-whupping, as that smug, frivolous silliness of theirs needs to get knocked right out of them.

There is a tremendous gullibility to be seen in everyone who takes this stuff too seriously, without a sense of proportion and without the ability to see through layers of ideology. This is what perturbed me about a number of sessions at the APA meeting, starting with Fouad Kalouche presentation of his paper "The Philosophy of Multiplicity and Indeterminacy: Nietzsche, Castoriadis, and the Politics of the Real". The flatline gullibility and one-dimensionality of these smart-stupid people is stunning to me.

And this is what I was alluding to in my initial reaction to the APA conference that philosophers still have not learned what idealism and mythical thinking are all about. They don't know how to translate these ideological forms of appearance into a materialist—i.e. non-mythical—frame of reference. The self-indulgent childishness of it all is truly breathtaking.

Leiter apparently takes his textual and logical analysis seriously and won't have any truck with self-indulgent sloppiness, otherwise known as the free play of signifiers. However, there is the question of "wisdom" in all this—a sense of the true proportions of what one is dealing with. Here I am constantly frustrated. I feel as if I'm always dealing with children, and there are no adults left in this culture.

(Written 5 January 2004)

Compiled & edited 29 February 2004
©2004 Ralph Dumain. All rights reserved.


December Diary 2003

2003 Reading Review

The Partial Sociology of Philosophies: The Historical Perspective of Randall Collins (An Unfinished Review)
by Ralph Dumain

American Philosophy

Black Studies, Music, America vs Europe

Salvaging Soviet Philosophy (1)

Positivism vs Life Philosophy (Lebensphilosophie)

Theodor W. Adorno Study Guide


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