Friday, April 24, 2015

How electric light changed the night (Aeon video)

Another reason why, practically speaking at least, preserving the darkness of our night skies is important...

Do fish feel pain?

"[F]ish had their lips injected with chemicals that would produce a painful sensation....Before they received the injections, the fish showed normal behaviors. After, however, the fish began to rub their lips against the gravel and walls of their tanks....It was also found that their breathing rate nearly doubled. The researchers then treated the fish with morphine....The fish began to rub their lips much less, and their breathing rate lowered significantly as well....The same research team did further studies on fish pain, and also found that when experiencing painful stimuli, the neurons of both humans and fish brains fire in the same way." 

"[In another study], one set of fish were given morphine, and another set was given saline. Then, they were exposed to hot water. All of the fish tried to escape the heat, but the ones that received the pain-relieving morphine had slower responses. After the initial exposure, the fish would avoid the heat source. 'The experiment shows that fish do not only respond to painful stimuli with reflexes, but change their behavior also after the event. Together with what we know from experiments carried out by other groups, this indicates that the fish consciously perceive the test situation as painful and switch to behaviors indicative of having been through an aversive experience.'"

Read full article HERE.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Are Animals People? (Talking Philosophy: The Philosophers' Magazine Blog)

 Visit the original of course, link to the the full post HERE...but I had to post at least some excerpts of this absolutely wonderful post.

While the ethical status of animals has been debated since at least the time of Pythagoras, the serious debate over whether or not animals are people has just recently begun to heat up. While it is easy to dismiss the claim that animals are people, it is actually a matter worth considering.

There are at least three type of personhood: legal personhood, metaphysical personhood and moral personhood. Legal personhood is the easiest of the three. While it would seem reasonable to expect some sort of rational foundation for claims of legal personhood, it is really just a matter of how the relevant laws define “personhood.” For example, in the United States corporations are people while animals and fetuses are not. There have been numerous attempts by opponents of abortion to give fetuses the status of legal persons. There have even been some attempts to make animals into legal persons.

Since corporations are legal persons, it hardly seems absurd to make animals into legal people. After all, higher animals are certainly closer to human persons than are corporate persons. These animals can think, feel and suffer—things that actual people do but corporate people cannot. So, if it is not absurd for Hobby Lobby to be a legal person, it is not absurd for my husky to be a legal person. Or perhaps I should just incorporate my husky and thus create a person.

It could be countered that although animals do have qualities that make them worthy of legal protection, there is no need to make them into legal persons. After all, this would create numerous problems. For example, if animals were legal people, they could no longer be owned, bought or sold. Because, with the inconsistent exception of corporate people, people cannot be legally bought, sold or owned.


Metaphysical personhood is real personhood in the sense that it is what it is, objectively, to be a person. I use the term “metaphysical” here in the academic sense: the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature of reality. I do not mean “metaphysical” in the pop sense of the term, which usually is taken to be supernatural or beyond the physical realm.

When it comes to metaphysical personhood, the basic question is “what is it to be a person?” Ideally, the answer is a set of necessary and sufficient conditions such that if a being has them, it is a person and if it does not, it is not. This matter is also tied closely to the question of personal identity. This involves two main concerns (other than what it is to be a person): what makes a person the person she is and what makes the person distinct from all other things (including other people).

Over the centuries, philosophers have endeavored to answer this question and have come up with a vast array of answers. While this oversimplifies things greatly, most definitions of person focus on the mental aspects of being a person. Put even more crudely, it often seems to come down to this: things that think and talk are people. Things that do not think and talk are not people.

John Locke presents a paradigm example of this sort of definition of “person.” According to Locke, a person “is a thinking intelligent being, that has reason and reflection, and can consider itself as itself, the same thinking thing, in different times and places; which it does only by that consciousness which is inseparable from thinking, and, as it seems to me, essential to it: it being impossible for any one to perceive without perceiving that he does perceive.”

Given Locke’s definition, animals that are close to humans in capabilities, such as the great apes and possibly whales, might qualify as persons. Locke does not, unlike Descartes, require that people be capable of using true language. Interestingly, given his definition, fetuses and brain-dead bodies would not seem to be people. Unless, of course, the mental activities are going on without any evidence of their occurrence.


Immanuel Kant took an interesting approach to the status of animals. In his ethical theory Kant makes it quite clear that animals are means rather than ends. People (rational beings), in contrast, are ends. For Kant, this distinction rests on the fact that rational beings can (as he sees it) chose to follow the moral law. Animals, lacking reason, cannot do this. Since animals are means and not ends, Kant claims that we have no direct duties to animals. They are classified in with the other “objects of our inclinations” that derive value from the value we give them.

Interestingly enough, Kant argues that we should treat animals well. However, he does so while also trying to avoid ascribing animals themselves any moral status. Here is how he does it (or tries to do so).

While Kant is not willing to accept that we have any direct duties to animals, he “smuggles” in duties to them indirectly. As he puts it, our duties towards animals are indirect duties towards people. To make his case for this, he employs an argument from analogy: if a person doing X would obligate us to that human, then an animal doing X would also create an analogous moral obligation. For example, a human who has long and faithfully served another person should not simply be abandoned or put to death when he has grown old. Likewise, a dog who has served faithfully and well should not be cast aside in his old age.

Given this approach, Kant could be seen as regarding animals as virtual or ersatz people. Or at least those that would be close enough to people to engage in activities that would create obligations if done by people.

In light of this discussion, there are three answers to the question raised by the title of this essay. Are animals legally people? The answer is a matter of law—what does the law say? Are animals really people? The answer depends on which metaphysical theory is correct. Do animals have the moral status of people? The answer depends on which, if any, moral theory is correct.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Alexander Bard on Network Metaphysics (video)

HT older post Matt / footnotes to plato HERE.

I actually met Bard for the first time at Ecstatic Naturalism 2015.  He is an interesting guy and very animated.

His viewpoint reminds me of Latour meets Whitehead as it knits together actor-network theory with agentialist ideas concerning the internet, and with his "syntheism" his viewpoint reminds me of Corringtonian ecstatic naturalist metaphysics, whose naturalist metaphysics is indeed theistic, and seems to be gaining some traction in circles of what has recently been called "radical theology."

I've been turned on to Corrington, Catherine Keller, but also Alexander Bard as new players in the radical theology circle. Although aside Corrington I haven't read enough of their work as I probably should have.  Definitely more to check out from them (one example would be Catherine Keller's Face of the Deep: A Theology of Becoming).

Sunday, April 19, 2015

"Will Teach for Food" (article on the Walmartization of higher education)

"The Walmartization of higher education is a better analogy: Hire cheap labor to cut costs. Colleges are modeling corporate America’s behavior and for identical bottom line reasons."

Fascinating article on adjuncts in higher education today.  A short read, well worth it, HERE.

I was talking about this to students the other day, actually - as it had come up at a recent conference I attended.  During the conference we were sitting at lunch, and I was with some close friends so I could say this in discretion, but I explained how having been on both sides of the isle I understood that adjuncts are exactly as capable as tenure track folks.  I was tenure track afterall, then had health issues take over my life (TIA and partial spinal stroke, central stroke pain in addition to a bad surgery, .i.e. lifelong chronic pain), and then left.  I have worked part-time teaching philosophy before and after that (and during, actually, which is ironic given the situation) and know that adjuncts are just as good as, if not better than, some or many tenure stream faculty.

Alas, if the money and security weren't an issue then mere status would be in the eye of the beholder.  But that's the whole point, isn't it?  Cheap labor, get the most out the most talented who happen to be the most hopeless.  VAP's are a step above, or faculty yearlong positions (and I've actually held both of those, too) really it appears that tenure stream positions will be phased out in our lifetime.  In the future instead of the median 70% adjunct rate going now (so seven out of ten professors teaching students are adjuncts) we'll soon see the full 100%.

Is higher education doomed?

Friday, April 17, 2015

Updated Program for New Realisms in Philosophy Summer School 2015


multi-species ontologies (quote of the day)

"The Epistemological Space of Translation" HAU Journal Special Issue (LINK)

"John William Miller's notion of 'midworld' can add something to philosophical ecology in this respect: one gains a better appreciation for how other agents interact with their own environments, and yet those smaller or larger environments affect other larger or smaller environments. Axiological value is one although the perspectives and relations between perspectives are many." (LINK)

HT Twitter items Adam Robbert @KnowledgEcology

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Is the nature of "wilderness" an incoherent concept?

Find out here, as the concept of "wilderness" is discussed in some depth on Philosophy Talk.  Special broadcast live on Soundclound from Lewis & Clarke College, Portland, Oregon.

Link to video of event:

Monday, April 13, 2015

"The Naturalistic Idealism of American Philosopher John William Miller: His Concept of 'Midworld' Applied to Philosophical Ecology" (conference abstract)

"Naturalistic Idealism: John William Miller and Philosophical Ecology" 

In this paper I attend to the naturalism (and idealism) of the American philosopher John William Miller (1895-1978).  I explore Miller's concept of the "midworld" and attempt to uncover its relationship to the notion of ontological "scale" within philosophical ecology.  Specifically, I argue that just as reality is ontologically flat - so "ordinal" and of "ontological parity" pace the ontologies of Justus Buchler and Robert S. Corrington - reality's ontological depth and breadth stretches to meet axiological value as well, most especially considering the reality of relational value. Relations on the level of the ant and its environment, for example, are not only "just as real as" but are also "just as axiologically ecologically significant as" the human relation to its world, thus forming a common world of environmental value.  To say that these relations are each as important as the other is not to say a.) that they are absolutely relative to the agents involved or b.) that relations collapse into the flat reality of one, univocal relation.  Rather, there are varying "scales" of ontological relation where each varying scale has just as much value as the next.  I think Miller's notion of "midworld" can add something to philosophical ecology in this respect: one gains a better appreciation for how other agents interact with their own environments, and yet those particular environments affect other particular environments within a larger scale of universal value. Axiological value is one although the perspectives and relations between perspectives are many.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Ray Brassier: Idioms and Idiots

In 2008 Ray Brassier was part of an improvisational musical quartet - where a CD was released of their performance.
We did something together: a concert. We want to try to explain it to ourselves: What happened exactly? How did it happen? And why? … We want to recount the story of the process, but not only that; we also want to recapitulate all the discussions that took place before and afterwards (right up to the present), articulating the questions posed by the concert – questions that are both abstractly theoretical and very concrete. Our hope is that in doing so, the experience of the concert will allow us to attain a better understanding of the representation of art in art.

Idioms and Idiots and its accompanying CD released on Mattin’s w.m.o/r label by the quartet of Ray Brassier, Jean-Luc Guionnet, Seijiro Murayama and Mattin himself. Ignoring the actual music for a moment, the text, which apparently took two years to develop, its a complex, often rather high-brow evaluation of an entire musical event, which took place as part of the NPAI Festival in Niort, France in 2008.

The leaning of the text towards quite heavy philosophical analysis clearly stems in part from the inclusion of Ray Brassier as part of the quartet. Brassier is a philosopher, a thinker and writer, and not a musician. Yet he has been brought into the quartet to play the guitar here, despite having had only a very distant past relationship with the instrument and having never improvised in front of an audience before. In doing this the group challenge the notion of the improvising musician, but also they were determined to separate him during the concert from what an audience might expect from a philosopher placed in this position – no speech, no reading, just trying to improvise alongside the others.

So all four musicians have contributed to the text, but I suspect the bulk has come from Brassier. I found the booklet easy to read in places, tough to penetrate in others, but at the heart of everything sits the notion of creating music that avoids the idiomatic, strives for something that the musicians hope to be as close to really improvised in the moment as possible, and avoids listener expectations. The end product of this process, the music recorded and released on CD (and also available for free here) does not seem to matter to the musicians as much as the process and thought that has gone into creating it.
One can see the original link to the Idioms and Idiots 2008 event HERE, or download the CD of the event, including Brassier's participation in the improvisation HERE.  More recently he was involved with the "Freedom is a Constant Struggle" improvisation, see HERE.

I write about this because Enemy Industry blog has a post up (HERE) covering "compulsive freedom," or the role of improvisation, freedom, creativity, and spontaneity in the work of Ray Brassier.  Citing for example the following, Brassier is quoted as stating,
The act is the only subject. It remains faceless. But it can only be triggered under very specific circumstances. Acknowledgement of the rule generates the condition for deviating from or failing to act in accordance with the rule that constitutes subjectivity. This acknowledgement is triggered by the relevant recognitional mechanism; it requires no appeal to the awareness of a conscious self...
Here we find that it is not subjectivity but the "subject" which is the aim of any desubjectivation. Or, according to Enemy Industry's commentary, "determinants of action become 'for themselves.' They enter into the performance situation as explicit possibilities for action."

To my mind, Brassier's naturalism has always been "process" oriented and such couldn't be more clear than in his writings on freedom and improvisation (see HERE).  When I say that he draws on the process tradition by speaking about and articulating the sort of creativity born within mechanisms of freedom, or "compulsive freedom" as it were, as it is found in process, pragmatic naturalisms, he is not drawing upon process philosophers such as Alfred North Whitehead or Charles Hartshorne (their theological commitments aside).  To make this point we find that Brassier's simultaneous retrieval and sharp critique of one Henri Bergson sets the stage exactly for what Brassier takes creativity, spontaneity, and freedom to be: a pillar of agency utilized by determinants of action who are constrained if not even themselves created by specific mechanism and rules of action. Yet Brassier's naturalism is not confined to a confrontation with Bergson.  For Brassier, freedom is "embodied, historical, and physical."  It involves concepts, language, and mechanism of concepts and language.  Again, citing Brassier in his process-naturalism,
The improviser must be prepared to act as an agent—in the sense in which one acts as a covert operative—on behalf of whatever mechanisms are capable of effecting the acceleration or confrontation required for releasing the act. The latter arises at the point of intrication between rules and patterns, reasons and causes. It is the key that unlocks the mystery of how objectivity generates subjectivity. The subject as agent of the act is the point of involution at which objectivity determines its own determination...
This is indeed a Sellarsian - not Whiteheadian - naturalistic account of subjectivity and freedom, one that inversely states that objectivity itself is process - a process that creates subjectivity which in turn takes itself to be a creating subject.  So, it is Sellars to whom we must turn.

Interestingly, then, it is a non-Whiteheadian process philosophy that seems to be informing Brassier's naturalism as it is currently stated.  But Brassier is articulating a process philosophy nonetheless.  The question is how best might we interpret it.

Hegel, Tillich, and Caputo

New friend Jacob Given has gotten in touch.  Jacob, who is a graduate student at Villanova, is the author of "Letting the Finite Vanish, Hegel, Tillich, and Caputo on the Ontological Philosophy of Religion" which I have linked before here at After Nature.  For those who haven't seen the paper, definitely check it out HERE.

Jacob tells me he is interested in the possibility of metaphysics after deconstruction and German idealism. My cup of tea.  One author I would suggest to those who enjoy his paper is Christopher Ben Simpson - a philosopher and theologian has written books on Deleuze and theology and Merleau-Ponty and theology.  Simpson also authored The William Desmond Reader.

While on topic, for those interested, William Desmond is another name to check out.  His trilogy of God and the Between, Being and the Between, and Ethics and the Between is top notch, as are his writings on Hegel.  There is a very nice interview with Desmond HERE, and he is endorsed by Creston Davis HERE.  Great reading for those interested in "radical theology."  It seems to me radical theology is on the rise in Continental philosophy of religion, mostly thanks to the Homebrewed Christianity crowd which has alot of influence due to their (fantastic) heavily followed blog and podcast.