Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Some thoughts on a phenomenology of vegetal life

The second unit of our Environmental Philosophy class covers "Nature's Value and Moral Standing" where our current section of reading discusses "the case of the individual and the whole" with respect to the birth of ecology and subsequently deep ecology.  In order to determine who or what has moral standing and to what degree (moral significance) we began by discussing the continuum of consciousness and feeling (by looking at the work of C.S. Peirce), first in bacteria and amoeba but then also questioning whether and to what extent plants may warrant moral considerability The debate between biocentrism and ecocentrism in part centers on who or what exactly counts as a subject-of-a-life so as to be included in the "whole" (and whether anything really ought to be excluded from the moral circle simply because it supposedly lacks "sentience" or interests).  The question therefore arises whether it is a moral tragedy to cut the grass or fail to water one's houseplant if plants, too, are sentient.

Given this discussion I've been thinking about the philosophy of deep ecologists and ecocentrists (whether Arne Naess or Aldo Leopold) for whom value is intrinsic but for whom also there is value for species, ecosystems, or "wholes" which are not just the individual alone.  If advocating a rights theory (for example such as Regan does), would the value of one plant be equal to many if a plant is meaningfully sentient and feeling, perhaps even "conscious"?  Is killing one tree as morally impermissible as destroying a forest? Why?

Anthropocentric value sees the wrongness in destroying a forest as it relates to the effects produced affecting human beings.  Destroying a forest is wrong because humans think it an eyesore, or it affects what humans require to breathe. However both bio and ecocentrists locate value in specifically non-human terms as the bearers of value are the creatures, systems, and individuals themselves that possess the value - whether alone or in groups. Thus the wrongness of destroying the forest or tree is because those things are value-bearers and are to some degree sentient, or at the very least possess interests.  A side question may be: if the interests of non-humans are always related to other beings' interests (whether human or not), should we attempt to consider those interests alone or as they relate to others?  Is it possible to consider both?  Two titles come to mind: Eduardo’s: Eduardo Viveiros de Castro’s Cannibal Metaphysics, and Eduardo Kohn’s How Forest’s Think. See THIS post at angelaroothaan blog, for example.  Part of my argument during discussion was that perhaps the interests of the individual, the whole, but also how the individual relates to the whole (and vice versa) is important.  Tree to forest, forest to tree, and relationship between.

And so given the above, I must ask: are plants sentient and do we have a moral duty to plants? Are they worthy of moral consideration, and if so why?

An interesting article which offers some clues "Can Plants Think?", HERE. See also the After Nature post "Phenomenology of Vegetal Life" HERE. Also the After Nature post, "Can Plants Really Communicate with Each Other?" HERE.

Phenomenology often is dismissed these days for referencing always the human observer or assuming a transcendental plane of human consciousness - or of imputing consciousness and life upon a material nature that is itself devoid of it, and hence a so-called "hippie vitalism."  Rather than phenomenological plenitude or abundance we are told speculative philosophy requires the all embracing and devoid-of-the-living concept (the Hegelian Notion)  However, speculating non-human forms of consciousness and life that may be entirely different than our own may have positive ethical benefits and need not necessarily be or require anthropocentric valuation. There is still much work to be done in phenomenology and speculative, realist philosophy that does not assume a Husserlian idealism or Bergsonian vitalism but nevertheless is capable of exploring questions concerning non-human forms of consciousness and experience.

John Dewey reading group

For After Nature readers who happen to be my students (current or former) given that we've finished up earlier than expected our Merleau-Ponty reading group, for the next seven weeks until the end of the semester we'll be reading together some pieces by John Dewey, fyi.  Those interested should get in touch.

We'll mostly be looking at Dewey's metaphysics in Experience and Nature and Art as Experience, as well Dewey's essay "The Postulate of Immediate Empiricism."  This fits well with my current reading/teaching schedule of Environmental Philosophy and seems to fit with alot of our class discussions about the differences between so-called "shallow environmentalism" and "deep ecology" (a great book to read is John Dewey and Environmental Philosophy, .pdf HERE).

For summer Hegel's Science of Logic was a strong possibility (and still is), although topics for summer and fall are very much up in the air.  I was thinking to split the Logic between fall and spring, but we'll see because alot of students were interested to fit in reading some Fichte this year as well.  As always it depends on student interests at the time.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Embodied Emotions: A Naturalist Approach to a Normative Phenomenon (NDPR reviews)

Embodied Emotions: A Naturalist Approach to a Normative Phenomenon
// Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews //

Rebekka Hufendiek, Embodied Emotions: A Naturalist Approach to a Normative Phenomenon, Routledge, 2016, 189pp., $143.00 (hbk), ISBN 9781138100251.
Reviewed by Erik Myin, University of Antwerp

What is an emotion? Contemporary philosophical treatments of that question (almost) all basically agree that emotions are intentional, world-relating and evaluative. Many theorists further concur with Richard Lazarus' proposal of what emotions are intentionally related to, namely "core relational themes" (or CRTs, see Lazarus 1991). CRTs should be understood as different ways in which aspects of situations relate to the well-being of organisms -- for example, an organism's fear relates to the CRT that something in a situation can have harmful consequences for the organism. Philosophers who agree on the intentional and evaluative nature of emotions have nevertheless diverged widely in their further thinking about what emotions are. On one side of the spectrum stand those allied with cognitivism. Cognitivists tend to emphasize the...

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Saturday, February 25, 2017

For my office at Moravian

Na gave me this wonderful gift for my office. It says "Dr. Leon." Today in Philly Chinatown we'll purchase a frame for it.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Shame on Twitter: "Twitter Cut"

Nick Land reports he has been cut from Twitter. Yet the accounts that daily spew hatred (annoyingly complaining about Trump mostly; trust me, it's gotten old) remain. Oh, the public...  

Apropos thought of the day, in the words of Heidegger: "Only a God can save us now."  

I really had no faith in Twitter anyway, but this only reaffirms my thought that, like Facebook, the idea that Twitter is a platform for free-thinking and democratic communication is a ruse. Twitter is just another pasture for neuro-livestock.

Twitter Cut
// Outside in

@Outsideness has been zapped by Twitter without any explanation (as of yet). It's probably a useful hint that it's past time to look more diligently for a censorship-resistant platform.

This prompted me to give minds.com a look. It's still in beta, and will probably take a while to get used to, but there's an @Outsideness account now if anyone's tempted to experiment with exodus.
I've had trouble getting through to Gab.ai (might be a VPN / China Internet issue).

We'll have Urbit eventually.

ADDED: I haven't sought out a fight with Twitter, but had I done so it's hard to imagine there could have been a way to hurt it more than getting Outsideness banned in this way. There's simply no possible case to be made that this is about 'abuse'. There has been nothing remotely like harassment in the history of the account. It's naked thought control. The platform is an undisguised leftist ideological operation. First it collapses down to a partisan bubble with zero credibility beyond its own constituency. Then it dies.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The truth, beauty, and power of punk rock (mp3 audio)

From  ABC Radio's Philosopher's Zone...
It might not be beautiful but it’s aesthetic all the same. Punk music burst onto the scene four decades ago with a vitality that shredded standards—musical and otherwise. Yet punk has been largely overlooked in aesthetic analysis, even though it can reveal some discordant truths about the nature and meaning of art— as well as that somewhat abstruse school of continental thought: Existentialism.
Link HERE.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

the ontological dimensions of beauty

Two wonderful papers utilizing a Platonic conception of beauty as modified within the process-relational tradition of Hartshorne and Whitehead. Both papers written by Lars Spuybroek, HERE and HERE.

Monday, February 20, 2017

After Nature summer tour 2017: living abroad for two months and looking for colleagues in Europe!

As I wrap up editing the type-set proofs for Speculative Realism: An Epitome to be published through Kismet Press next month I begin to think about where my research trajectory goes from here.  I can flesh that out in a "pensive" post (which I owe to my readers) in the future, however I do know that this coming summer Nalina will be traveling to Europe for her job again and I'll be joining her (thankfully!).

I think it will be great to write my next book (and possibly at least one article) on the bank of the Neckar River in Heidelberg, Germany or in somewhere as idyllic as Lucerne, Switzerland. (It's interesting that I wrote/edited my last two books while staying in Maine where Na and I go each summer - so writing something away from home will keep with the tradition of doing so.)

It's been many, many years since I've been to Europe - the last time I stayed in Heidelberg being when I met Gadamer attending a seminar he gave on Plato and aesthetics (see this post HERE). It will be my first time in Switzerland however, and after doing Facetime with Na last summer when she went I was instantly hooked on going.  So glad I can finally go.

Needless to say, any German or Swiss After Nature readers who'd like to get together for conversation and/or collaboration should get in touch.  As Na will be working most days I will have plenty of free time to pursue research in what looks to be some of the most beautiful places in Europe.

I'd also be interested to attend any seminars that might be going on and make new friends while in either Germany or Switzerland, so if your institution is hosting anything that might fit with interests found here at After Nature please let me know. It'd be great to meet some of After Nature's European readers! We'll be in each country for about one month a piece.

stranger aliens

When we speculate about aliens, is it true we are doing nothing more than projecting images of ourselves?  Aeon video questions the anthropomorphism of aliens. Note how Xenophanes made this same criticism concerning the gods (see HERE).

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Critique of subjectalism - and an answer: Dewey's metaphysics and the question of whether quality is merely "in" the mind

Does the claim that nature itself is qualitatively pervasive merely read human traits and experience unnecessarily into the world? Ordoes it actually confirm a deeper naturalistic continuity between human and non-human by emphasizing generic traits of what is commonly real itself?

Tom Alexander discusses this in "The Problem of Dewey’s Metaphysics and the Generic Traits of Existence”  HERE.

Does Deleuze fall prey to the Meillassouxian critique of vitalism and subjectalism?

"Deleuze: Speculative and Practical Philosophy" by van Tuinen fleshes out an answer as it advances some related and interesting theses, HERE.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

what's with academics and anti-child culture?

As Valentine's Day just rounded the corner I just wanted to post a quick passing thought that I've noticed an unusually high degree of "anti-child"sentiment floating about in the blogosphere (and indirectly whatever Twitter filters through to blogosphere land).

Not that I have any children, but I do terribly want to begin a family.  Na and I have been wanting to begin a family for awhile now and when I see snide remarks throughout internet land about how having children and a family is nothing more than a serious encumbrance upon one's academic career, I become annoyed if not down-right angered.

It's strange how those academics without partners on Valentine's Day take to the airwaves decrying love, relationships, family, and yes, even having children. ("Who wants something long-term anyway when the probable result is the production of time-sucking little pests.")

Stereotypes such as: as an academic one is too "selfish" anyway; or, children just "get in the way"- those I could safely ignore because it's nonsense.  Even when fellow academics denounce partnership or marriage itself, or denounce having a long-term committed relationship of whatever kind, that always reeked of jealously to me.  But the outright anti-child business just broke the camel's back. Whether by adoption or however else, I can't understand being "anti-child" to such a degree that you outright insult those who do wish to have children.

As someone who is an academic teaching full-time yet desperately also longs to have a child and begin a family I know that even for a non-academic, for example, such as my wife, and how busy and tremendously ambitious she is having a corporate "power career" (sorry, but's the only way I can describe it with all of the hard work it entails for her), that sacrifices can be made and balance need not be forfeited by us both.  Indeed, so far, for me, marriage is not even a sacrifice in the pejorative sense of the term but rather just is selflessness.  I imagine children would be tremendously more difficult and demanding, but like marriage, life-altering in such a positive way as marriage is for me.

And bless my wife, as she came to this country where English was her second language and worked her way up the ladder to achieve the position she did - and we are both truly blessed to have the opportunity to begin a family.  I am blessed to have the stability that I do in academia.  But, different folks have different priorities.  And if you don't like children or want children, fine.  Maybe not for you.  But for my wife and I, wanting children is for us.  So chill with the negativity please.

Just a thought.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Moderately Motivated Gen-Xer for Hire (McSweeney's ad /spoof)

The below is hilarious. (Be sure to visit their site too.)

Moderately Motivated Gen-Xer for Hire
// McSweeney's

40-something professional seeks opportunity in an environment that is neither "fun," "playful," nor "collaborative;" minimal responsibility preferred but not required. Salary increase negotiable.
Candidate does not require assigned tasks to be amazing or even particularly interesting, and has been known to sidestep certain projects entirely as opposed to wasting time on a nonsense initiative that will, within weeks, be replaced by another nonsense initiative.

Strengths include the ability to work independently for years or even decades with minimal feedback and/or praise, as well as a marked level of comfort working with antiquated systems, outdated standards, and unending group email chains. Cumbersome processes will in no way detract from productivity levels, provided productivity is measured by way of exceedingly complex written reports.

Candidate is known as an excellent team player, provided that an organization's definition of "good team playing" involves neither unprofessional selfies posted on the company intranet, nor speaking animatedly about "emerging technologies" while standing directly behind someone who just wants to get his 3.5 hours of actual work done and get on with his life.

Communication skills via email are unimpeachable and degrade only slightly when telephone contact is unavoidable. Candidate prefers solitary lunches in an entirely average corporate cafeteria, but can be available for "midday work sessions" on a semi-quarterly basis.

Candidate understands that individual contributions often have limited value in the wider context, and is content to follow orders with no grasp of said orders' ultimate purpose or importance. Gratification on a severely delayed timetable is perfectly acceptable.

Candidate is accustomed to a reporting structure that includes multiple redundant levels of management. Visibility to and/or engagement with leadership figures will be ideally restricted to various "Fireside Chat" situations in which senior management pretends to have a casual, cardigan-sweater-and-loafers-type relationship with lower-ranking individuals.

Recognition need not exceed the annual "merit" increase, along with an occasional acrylic "outstanding effort" figurine. Opportunities for advancement should follow a largely sluggish career path outlined by a disinterested human resources department.

Interested parties may contact the candidate via telephone or email; candidate refuses to be available on WhatsApp, Snapchat, Viber, KIK, IMO, Line or WeChat until such time as the candidate's children make it impossible to ignore emerging communication methods.

Thank you for your interest — we look forward to hearing from you!

Fichte's Foundations of Natural Right: A Critical Guide (NDPR review)

Gabriel Gottlieb (ed.), Fichte's Foundations of Natural Right: A Critical Guide, Cambridge University Press, 2016, 272pp., $99.99 (hbk), ISBN 9781107078147.
Reviewed by George di Giovanni, McGill University

This collection of twelve uniformly instructive essays is intended as a guide to Fichte's Foundations of Natural Right (1796). It is a welcome contribution to the current burgeoning Fichte scholarship. Two issues run across the collection. One is the relation of Fichte's concept of right to the moral law as defined by Kant's categorical imperative. The other is Fichte's attempted derivation of the concept from the absolute I, in the course of which he introduces the further concept of "summon" to define the specifically legal relation of individual to individual in society. This "summon" is perhaps the most characteristic feature of Fichte's theory of right. In one way or another, all the contributors have to come to terms with it. But, precisely because they...

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Monday, February 13, 2017

Abstract Objects (SEP entry update)

SEP entry updated, may be useful for those teaching Plato early on in the semester as I am.
Abstract Objects (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Friday, February 3, 2017

Schelling's contributions to environmental philosophy: nature as process rather than thing

Iain Hamilton Grant wrote a great article "The Law of Insuperable Environment: What is Exhibited in the Exhibition of the Process of Nature?" covering the "nature as container" problem. Meaning, as a problem of nominalization and location how does one refer to nature if nature is no-thing. But even if nature is not any "thing" then nor could nature be a process nor multiple individuated processes. So what then *is* nature? Grant's response is that nature is process rather than processes, and while language often slips into the language of nominalization it is Schelling's articulation of the problem and its solution which works best.

I discovered this article in preparing my upcoming unit on philosophical ecology in the Environmental Philosophy class that I am currently teaching.  How does the whole relate to the parts if the whole is itself not a part nor a thing? Grant's article summed up alot of points I'd like to make in class.

Link HERE.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Philosophical developments and commitments (Greg Sadler video)

Greg Sadler has posted a wonderful and very interesting video on the story of the development of his philosophical interests and commitments.  Greg took his Ph.D. from Southern Illinois University Carbondale a few years before I arrived on the scene and so I did not know him personally while there, however his philosophical interests and how they developed is an interesting story by his account as seen in the video.

Aside discovering that we know many of the same people which is not a surprise, more interestingly perhaps is that the soil in which we both were nourished is pretty much the same - especially the breadth and depth, as well as rigor, of the preliminary and comprehensive exams - which I hear are being eliminated at many departments.  For us it was a requirement as it weeded out those who couldn't cut mustard.  I also feel that Greg and I have similar teaching styles which I am assuming comes from our mutual SIUC training.

Incidentally Greg divulges how he came to be interested in Hegel - and well, its just overall a very interesting video to watch (about twenty some minutes; definitely worth it ).

One thing while on my mind: while in graduate school I attended a seminar of Ph.D.s (tenured professors I should say) - a panel - who were discussing their careers and then taking questions from the audience of graduate students who had come to see them and ask questions.  When a question came up from a graduate student as to how the dissertation topic/subject that one chooses to cover might influence the rest of one's career, it was interesting to see that half of the professors did not even remember the exact thesis of their dissertation but rather just had only a vague idea of the topic they wrote on.  The general consensus was that it is indeed very possible to move away from your dissertation topic in terms of what you end up publishing about later on in your career. Your current work might be related to it, but it is not going to be the same.

I mention this because Greg's dissertation wasn't about Hegel exclusively but his "half-hour Hegel" videos have become a gold-standard scholarly source for Hegel studies and lead one to think that that was what he spent the 300-400 pages writing about.

Anyway, I was thinking about this while reflecting how, despite my dissertation covering mainly C.S. Peirce (also Heidegger and Schelling) that that is not where I remained and instead went other directions.  The connection is there - from Schelling to my current research interests in Hegel - but I never foresaw going there, especially because Peirce despised Hegel and Schelling was quite resentful of him.

Hegel is probably the most important philosopher for contemporary philosophy, eclipsing Schelling who had been popular up until only a few years ago.  In fact, I believe that Hegel has more influence over contemporary speculative philosophy than does either Schelling or Heidegger, and that's saying alot.