Showing posts from May, 2022

Philosophy Defined

A friend of mine asked me to explain what "dialectics" means.  Many, many paragraphs later, I realized I had not begun to even answer the question.  Oops. Well, what about this?  Maybe dialectics is the same as philosophy.  Oh, I know, I'll get some angry letters about that. And then the question becomes: what is philosophy?  Eventually everybody comes around to taking a stab at answering that question.  And they usually produce very boring, awful books, like Deleuze & Guattari's "What is Philosophy?"  Yecchhh. I can't help it.  I'm going to be one of those boring people.  Okay!  My definition of philosophy.  Ready?  Here goes: Philosophy is whatever I find interesting. Note: philosophy is not whatever anyone finds interesting.   It's not what you find interesting.  It's only what I find interesting.... and, I suppose, people like me. But, you say, that's cheating!  It's too nebulous, and subjective, and based on em


  The greatest postmodern writers were the Marquis de Sade and Miguel de Cervantes.  Jan Potocki was also a genius.  When one considers these and many other authors (even Shakespeare has a postmodern side, but I hate to reduce him by trying to contain him within this category), it becomes clear that postmodernism preceded modernism. I'm speaking a little tongue-in-cheek, but my real point is that there is no clear or unambiguous division between modernism and postmodernism.  The idea that we are living in a "postmodern age" that is characterized by the "postmodern condition" is simply nonsense.  Actually, it is not even nonsense - that would be a bit of compliment.  It is simply false.  Art textbooks nowadays will say something like postmodernism began in the 60s or the 50s or the 40s - some time in the mid-twentieth century.  Well, if we look at "postmodern culture" before and after these dates, what we discover is that... nothing changed.  There is n
  Does anyone actually have any power?  That is a question worth asking, and it is a difficult question.  Anyone who jumps in too quickly with a "yes" or a "no" reveals themselves not to be worth listening to.  I think Nietzsche would have liked this question, and would have insisted that this question be ruminated upon, not as a topic of idle speculation, but as a pain felt in the very depths of one's very being - and also, perhaps, for those who deserve it, as a pleasure.  But in the final analysis, this profound question has absolutely no bearing on the will-to-power.  Whether power exists or not, the will-to-power has absolutely nothing to do with it.  Indeed, the will-to-power has nothing to do with any existence, with any "is", with any fact.

Most of History Looks Like This:

  Most of history looks like this: there are humans living along a river.  They spend most of their time nearby the entire river system, including the river's tributaries.  The river system provides drinking water, and it is also where many of the plants that are good to eat grow; therefore it is also where many of the animals that are good to eat graze.  Groups of humans compete with each other over different parts of the river system.  Extended families of humans have lived around the river system for thousands of years.  There are people who live in the upper part of the river, closer to its source, in the mountains.  There are people who live near the mouth of the river, where it empties out into the sea.  And there are people who live along the river somewhere in between. Down in the lowest parts of the river, the water may be brackish - that is, partly salty, and probably not good to drink.  There may be a delta, and it may respond to the tide.  Different kinds of fish may sw

More Thoughts on Ritualism

  Rituals are evocation of power by the powerless.  In general, rituals arise when an old form of power no longer exists in any real de facto sense, but before a new form of power has announced itself de jure, and cleared away the vestiges of these old norms.  As Gramsci said, "The old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born; now is the time of monsters."  There is an implied optimism there - sometimes the new world can take centuries or millennia to arrive, and sometimes it never comes.  And so culture becomes covered with layer upon archaeological layer of ritualistic detritus of centuries of dead power.  Carcasses of monsters, washed up on the shore, never going away.  At the end of the Merovingian dynasty, the Martels had begun to rule in everything but name, but it took over a hundred years for Charlemagne to officially announce his empire.  The period the Tokugawa Shogunate in Japan, also known as the Edo Shogunate, was one in which there was a de facto
I just posted this elsewhere, but it pertains to tomorrow's (today's) class so I'll put it here:    The history of European (especially German) philosophy from the 15th century on is the history of a growing and changing movement of anti-theology. Writer after writer attacked theology, yet wrote in a manner that was unmistakably theological.    First you have Catholic mystics (and also Jewish mystics) who reject theology in favor of a more immediate, inspired, visionary experience of God.    Then you have the Protestant reformers (Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, etc.) who argue against Catholic theology for obvious reasons, but who, like the mystics, desire a more immediate communion with God, not mediated by theology or priestly hierarchy. This climaxed with Pietism.    Then you have science and the Enlightenment, which cleared away (Aufklärung) the argument from authority that supported theological writing (but many early scientists and even some Enlightenment philosophes, as
Think about it this way: Imagine trying to teach a dog calculus.   Not only will the dog not understand calculus, not only will he not understand why he doesn't understand calculus, he won't even understand that he doesn't understand calculus.  He won't even understand that he doesn't understand.  He won't understand that you're trying to teach him something, and if he has any inkling, for a fraction of a second, of what you are trying to tell him, it will look to him like meaningless nonsense.  The calculus is fully valid - the calculus works, but the dog has zero comprehension of it. Imagine trying to explain Einstein's Theory of General Relativity to a chimpanzee, or read one of Shakespeare's sonnets to an ant.  (That might actually be kind of fun.  Try it sometime.) When you think along these lines, inevitably it will occur to you that it's possible that there are truths that are as far beyond human comprehension as calculus is to a dog.  Th