I was leafing through the Tehran Times, Iran’s Leading International Daily…
OK, I was not leafing through this. Rather, I have just started Google tracking new articles that come up with “philosophy” and “philosopher” in them in order to flag potential things to blog about for you folks.
So I see that today there is an actual article in the Tehran Times called “Dialogue possible between Western, Eastern philosophers,” which is a short interview with Jody “Jawad” Azzouni, a philosophy professor at Tufts University.
The headline may give you the idea that the article will say something interesting about East/West dialogue, but the whole exchange re. that topic is:
Q: “Philosophy: theory and practice” is the main subject of the World Philosophy Day in 2010 in Iran. Can this subject help develop deep dialogue between Western and Eastern philosophers?
A: In principle, of course dialogue is possible. There are many different kinds of “Western” philosophers and many different kinds of “Eastern” philosophers as well. I have no doubt that there are a great many issues in ethics and metaphysics (for example) where cross-fertilization would be valuable for specific philosophers in the two “traditions” that you mention.
That’s it. Is dialogue possible? Of course! And then the interviewer moves on to his next prepared question, displaying not the least bit of curiosity regarding what specific issues might be aided by such communication, or the differences in approach (if any can be generalized) between East and West, or the challenges that such communications face.
I have to assume that the only reason this article made it into the Tehran Times is that relations between Iran and the U.S. are not so great, and intellectual exchange creates bonds that helps in some small way to stabilize these relations, but there’s certainly nothing actually in this article to further this goal. The questions are those of someone who has no familiarity with academia at all, e.g. “do you just write up your lecture notes into a book, or what?” All I get out of this bit of an interview is that Azzouni doesn’t yet know how to take notes in his Kindle and transfer them to his PC (a pretty cool feature, actually).
However, his book does sound interesting, i.e. how we refer to fictional objects. We discussed this in our Wittgenstein/Russell episode, i.e. according to Russell’s theory of definite descriptions, when we refer to a non-existent entity such as “a unicorn,” then that reference can’t be taken as just a name pointing at something, as that something doesn’t exist, but as an analyzable compound: “There is some X such that X is is a horse with a single horn on its head,” which is false (as opposed to merely nonsense).
Nelson Goodman gives a more complicated analysis of this to say that fictional entities are established by linguistic convention, so that we shouldn’t say that all claims about unicorns are false; in fact, it’s clear that “unicorns have horns” is true while “unicorns have chipmunk teeth” is false despite the fiction involved.
Glancing at the Amazon preview of Azzouni’s book, it doesn’t look ideal for people totally unfamiliar with the topic, but if you’re into this or just curious about one of the fetishes of analytic philosophy back to Frege (whom we’ll have an episode on around February), take a look.
Note that Azzouni also writes poetry and short stories.