Join the office party, where Mark holds mini conversations on philosophy, art, and life with all PEL and PMP co-hosts, plus Ken Stringfellow, Jenny Hansen, and the members of Mark Lint’s Dry Folk, whose 12 tunes are presented in succession with nary a partridge in sight. Will these 12 spirits turn you (or Mark) from errant ways? BYOB!
On the first half of Book II of John Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689).
How do we get our ideas? Simple ideas must come in through perception, but this doesn’t just mean the senses; also reflection on our own minds, and this added layer of complexity allows us to bring in memory, concepts, time, and more.
On Book I of John Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689).
How do we know things? Locke thought all knowledge comes from experience, and this might seem uncontroversial, but what are the alternatives? We consider the idea that there are some ideas we’re just born with and don’t need to learn. But what’s an “idea,” and how is it different from a principle? Clearly we have instincts (“knowhow”) but is that knowledge? We consider occurrent vs. dispositional nativism, the role of reason, and what Locke’s overall project is after.
Continuing on Peter Kropotkin’s The Conquest of Bread (1892).
If Kropotkin is right that mutual aid is a natural tendency and so communism is very much feasible, why hasn’t it happened already? We consider K’s version of the “you didn’t build that” argument, plus guaranteed minimum income, identity and criminal justice in a stateless world, religion, and more.
On Peter Kropotkin’s The Conquest of Bread (1892). If we want an egalitarian society, do we need the state to accomplish this? Kropotkin says no, that in fact the state inevitably serves the interests of the few, and that if we got rid of it, our natural tendencies to cooperate would allow us through voluntary organizations to keep everyone not only fed and clothed, but able to vigorously pursue callings like science and art.
Is this naïve? Can we concretely even “imagine no possessions” and “there’s no countries”? Kropotkin has actuarial tables to show you that sure, we can feed everyone, and he presents examples of group action that he think show that we’re perfectly capable of mass organization without the state.
Continuing on the Chinese 5th century B.C.E. military classic with guest Brian Wilson, who can apply Sunzi’s strategic advice to real-life tactical situations. How might these strategies apply to business?
On the Chinese military treatise from around the 5th century BCE.
How does a philosopher wage war? The best kind of war can be won without fighting. The general qua Taoist sage never moves until circumstances are optimal. We talk virtue ethics and practical strategy; how well can Sunzi’s advice be applied to non-martial pursuits? With guest Brian Wilson.
Mark, Wes, Dylan, and Seth continue the discussion on The Tyranny of Merit to talk further about how social values can and do change, and whether these changes can be engineered in the way that Sandel seems to want. Must such “engineering” involve tyrannical methods? Does it require that everyone become philosophers?
On The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good? (2020).
Do people get the wealth and status they deserve? And if they did, would that be good? Michael critiques the meritocracy: It’s not actually fair, leaves most people feeling humiliated, and makes those on the top arrogant and disconnected. The commitment to meritocracy is shared by both political parties and helps explain our current dysfunction.
Continuing on Gottfried Leibniz’s Theodicy (1710). What is the metaphysical necessity for evil? It’s a privation (a lack), not a positive, caused thing: the absence of the good that is God. Also God’s antecedent vs. consequent will, eternal verities, monads, God as “conserver” of the world, and more.
On Gottfried Leibniz’s Theodicy (1710).
Why does God allow so many bad things to happen? Leibniz thought that by the definition of God, whatever He created must be the best of all possible worlds, and his theodicy presents numerous arguments to try to make that not so counter-intuitive given how less-than-perfect the world seems to us.
We get into the details on the validity claims built into speech, how this provides the foundation for society, and Habermas’ the multi-layered “life-world.”
On Jürgen Habermas’ “Actions, Speech Acts, Linguistically Mediated Interactions, and the Lifeworld” (1998), with guest John Foster.
What’s the relation between individuals and society? Habermas says that language has ethics built right into it: I’m trying to get you to agree with me, to engage in a cooperative enterprise of mutual understanding.
On “Theoretical Picture of a Free Society” (1934).
What’s the ideal living situation for us all, given the peculiarities of human nature? Weil describes fulfillment as coming from being able to picture goals and plans and knowingly put them into effect, so social groups need to maximize that power by being small and cooperative.
End song: “Libreville” by Bill Bruford, as interviewed for Nakedly Examined Music #25.
On “The Needs of the Soul” from The Need for Roots (1943) and “Meditation on Obedience and Liberty” (1937).
What are our needs that should then drive what kind of society would be best for us? Weil says we need liberty yet obedience, equality yet hierarchy, security yet risk… and none of these words mean quite what you’d think. And to start off, why do the many obey the few?
End song: “Even Though the Darkest Clouds” by liar, flower. Mark interviewed singer KatieJane Garside on Nakedly Examined Music #127.
On John Dewey’s How We Think (1910) ch. 1 and Democracy and Education (1916) ch. 1, 2, 4, and 24.
What model of human nature should serve as the basis for education policy? Dewey sees learning as growth, and the point of education as to enable indefinite growth. With guest Jonathan Haber.
End song: “Too Far to Turn Around” by The Ides of March, whose leader Jim Peterik appears on Nakedly Examined Music #126.
On Alia Al-Saji’s “A Phenomenology of Hesitation” (2014) bits of Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception (1945) and Linda Martín Alcoff’s Visible Identities (2006), plus Alex Vitale’s The End of Policing (2017).
Is there subconscious racism, and how might we root it out and fix our policing problems? Ex-cop Phil Hopkins joins to look at how phenomenology can help.
End song: “Every Man’s Burden” by Dusty Wright, who appears on Nakedly Examined Music #89.
On the Rhetoric (ca. 335 BCE) book 1, ch. 1–6 and book 2, ch. 1–5, 18–24.
What role does persuasion play in philosophy? Aristotle (contra Plato) argues it can and should be used for good: in law courts, political debates, public speeches. He describes the arguments forms used in rhetoric (“enthymemes”) and analyzes the emotions that an audience might have so that speakers know what points are worth dwelling on and how to best argue them.
End song: “Reason with the Beast” by Shriekback, whose leader Barry Andrews was interviewed on Nakedly Examined Music #107.
On Sontag’s essays “Against Interpretation” (1964), “On Style” (1965), and “The Death of Tragedy” (1963).
What is it to understand a work of art? Sontag objects to critics’ need to decode or translate literature into it’s “meaning” or “content,” divorcing it in the process from how this content is embodied. She argues that this content vs. form distinction isn’t tenable; that the style of a work is an essential part of experiencing it. Like Nietzsche, Sontag thinks we’re too analytical, too divorced from our instincts, and a direct encounter with art is essential to enliven us.
End song: “Mela” by Julie Slick, as interviewed on Nakedly Examined Music #115.
On Jacques Derrida’s “The Animal That Therefore I Am” (1999), Michel Foucault’s “The Ethics of the Concern of the Self As A Practice of Freedom” (1984), Susan Sontag’s “On Style” (1965), and our guest Shahidha’s book Dressed: A Philosophy of Clothes (2020).
Philosophy devalues appearance in favor of depth and soul, but our changing dominant metaphysics (there is no “underneath” but rather a complex built out of appearance itself) should have changed this. Our guest Shahidha Bari provided us with readings that elaborate this change, arguing for our continuity with animal nature (Derrida), the ethical importance of care of the self including appearance (Foucault), and the illegitimacy of the distinction between style and content (Sontag).
End song: “Clothe Me in Ashes” by K.C. Clifford, interviewed for Nakedly Examined Music #121.