Monday, November 24, 2008

Plato's Republic

by Hanno

As part of my series setting up my talk on Dec. 5th, I will describe some key features of Plato's thought in his masterpiece, The Republic. Last time, we saw how Plato understood the origins of war and the need for an army. Earlier, he set up the origins of the state in the production of material goods and the need for the division of labor. The people who produce goods are allowed to become wealthy, but not to the extent that they cease to have a motive to work. The poor are allowed to be poor, but not to the extent that they become unable to work. Crafts will be mastered, and many will hire themselves out as wage laborers, those who do not or cannot master a craft. All of these people desire the luxuries of life, and as we saw, that desire has no limit. Using money as a symbol for this desire, the desire for money also having no limit, Plato calls these producers/consumers money-lovers. This group of people will be the largest part of the state.

The army is to be made of professional soldiers, in some sense volunteers. A good part of the beginning of the republic goes into the proper education of a soldier class. They need to be loyal to the people they defend, yet full of martial spirit towards the enemies of the state. For this group of people, to use the common expression, it is not the size of the dog in the fight that is important, but the size of the fight in the dog. The will to fight the right enemies is everything. Hence the education Plato conceives, the developing of the right habits, shapes those who will defend the state. These people do not seek wealth. They seek honor, and hence are called "honor-lovers." You do not need to reward them with money for a job well done, but with honor. Parades, medals and praise go a long way. Indeed, this can quickly reach contempt for those that value money above honor. Interestingly, as women have the same soul structures as men, Plato thinks women can love honor as well, and hence make excellent soldiers. In Plato's Republic, women are to be found as part of all three classes.

Some of the honor loving soldier class will show dedication to protecting the city above all else. From these, the leaders of the society will emerge. So the leaders come from the soldier class. Knowing what is in the interest of the society, who the enemies properly are, and how to accomplish the goals we might call wisdom. Wise leaders know what is best for the state. The key feature of the leaders is that they consistently and throughout their live put the good of the community above their own. Knowledge of that good will the essential to that task. Hence, the leaders will love wisdom as they love the society. It is the lovers of wisdom, then, that will lead the state, and develop wise laws and practices. Of course, the love of wisdom, in ancient Greek, is philos sophia, or philosophers.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Pattern is Movement.....

"Punk's not dead
It just deserves to die
When it becomes another stale cartoon
A close-minded, self-centered social club
Ideas don't matter, it's who you know
If the music's gotten boring
It's because of the people
Who want everyone to sound the same
Who drive bright people out
Of our so-called scene
'Til all that's left Is just a meaningless fad
Hardcore formulas are dogshit
Change and caring are what's real
Is this a state of mind
Or just another label
The joy and hope of an alternative
Have become its own cliche
A hairstyle's not a lifestyle
Imagine Sid Vicious at 35" - Dead Kennedys

I would have posted this as a comment, but I felt that Hanno should be forced to read it

- Mikey C

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Movement is Officially Dead...And For Sale!

Christie’s New York Pop Culture: Punk/Rock will feature a collection of memorabilia from the Ramones to The Clash and The Sex Pistols, including posters, records, clothing, autographed material and ephemera, as well as rare guitars owned by Bob Marley and Kurt Cobain, studio tapes with written orchestration notes by Jimi Hendrix, and the original artwork for the cover of Beastie Boys License to Ill album.

The sale will also feature such items as:

The Sex Pistols
A promotional poster for the 1977 Virgin Records' single God Save The Queen, designed by Jamie Reid. Opening bids: $2,000 - 3,000

For those of you who don't know:

Christie’s is the world's leading art business with global art sales in 2007 that totalled £3.1 billion/$6.3 billion. This marks the highest total in company and in art auction history. For the first half of 2008, art sales totalled £1.8 billion / $3.5 billion. Christie’s is a name and place that speaks of extraordinary art, unparalleled service and expertise, as well as international glamour. Founded in 1766 by James Christie, Christie's conducted the greatest auctions of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, and today remains a popular showcase for the unique and the beautiful. Christie’s offers over 600 sales annually in over 80 categories, including all areas of fine and decorative arts, jewellery, photographs, collectibles, wine, and more. Prices range from $200 to over $80 million. Christie’s has85 offices in 43 countries and 14 salerooms around the world including in London, New York, Los Angeles, Paris, Geneva, Milan, Amsterdam, Tel Aviv, Dubai, Hong Kong and Zurich. Most recently,Christie’s has led the market with expanded initiatives in emerging and new markets such as Russia,China, India and the United Arab Emirates, with successful sales and exhibitions in Beijing, Mumbai

Christie's will attempt to answer this age old question on November 24th, 2008: How much is a movement worth?

You can access the full press release here

You can access the Christie's site here

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Upcoming Philosophy Conferences

At the last philosophy club meeting, several students expressed interest in attending a professional conference. The following conferences all accept students from undergraduates. In addition to attending, some of you may want to dust off your best philosophy paper and submit it for presentation. Here are some upcoming conferences of interest for students:

  • Members of the LSU Philosophy department are currently planning an international conference on Mind, Metaphysics, Language, and Epistemology, to be held annually during Mardi Gras. Check this website for updates. Last year, the graduate students held a philosophy conference at LSU on April 11-12, 2008. I believe they are hosting the second annual conference in 2009.

  • The thirty-third annual MidSouth Philosophy Conference is scheduled for Friday afternoon and Saturday, April 17-18, at The University of Memphis. Papers in any area are welcome. There will be a $20 registration fee, payable at the conference. This includes an undergraduate conference as well. Dr. Bulhof will be presenting at this conference.

  • The Second Annual Southeast Philosophy Congress invites submissions from undergraduate and graduate students in any area of philosophy. The Congress, hosted by Clayton State University in Morrow, GA, runs February 13-14, 2009, with keynote speaker Jack Zupko from Emory University. Presented papers will be published in online and print proceedings.

    Talks should run 20 minutes, and will be followed by a 10 minute question/answer period. Please email papers, accompanied by a brief abstract, to Dr. Todd Janke: Submission deadline is December 15, 2008. The registration fee of $45.00 includes lunch both days and a print copy of the proceedings.

Monday, November 17, 2008

War *huh!* What is it good for?

by Hanno

So I am working on my presentation for the MSU philosophy club's next installment of Filmosophy, where we take a movie and discuss its philosophical implications. The film I choose, with boggled looks to whomever I tell, is "Starship Trooper," directed by Paul Verhoeven. Yes, the movie about killing bugs. Really big ugly bugs. Lots of them. Certainly, no one expects much from Verhoeven. (Upon hearing of my talk, my little sister declared "I thought that it was truth universally acknowledged that Paul Verhoeven has the depth of a metaphysical and proverbial puddle." But, my dear sister, as Locke knew, there are no universally acknowledged truths, and he pointed to children and idiots as counterexamples. Be that as it may, and it may be...)

I will write a bit more about my talk next week and the week after (talk is Dec. 5th, called Starship Troopers: The New Republic), but there are side issues in the film that I wanted to address. I did not know, until I did a little research, that the movie was based on a book written in 1959. The book is quite different from the movie, and one of the key differences is its approach to war. The book was written by
Heinlein, a former graduate of the Naval Academy, and officer in the US Navy until forced out by health reasons. He left the Navy in the mid '30s. The book is also a clear reaction to the anti-militancy of the Left in the 30's and beyond. Three features to which I will point: 1) Heinlein seems to belive in the character building of boot camp. This is an extensive part of the movie, as selfish person gets transformed into citizen, where "a citizen accepts personal responsibility for the safety of the body politic, of which he is a member, defending it, if need be, with his life." The citizen puts the safety of the whole above her own. Combat and boot campe are the vehicles for this transformation. 2) War is a solution to problems, argues Heinlein. "Naked force has settled more issues in history than any other factor. The contrary opinion 'violence never solves anything' is wishful thinking at its worst." The radicals of the '60's were criticized for much the same view. No social advance, they argued ever came without violence. 40 hour work week, abolision of slavery, woman's sufferage, etc., etc. and 3) War is inherent in human society. The war with the bugs has no real beginning, and it is a constant struggle in the book.

Here the movie is quite different. On Verhoeven's interpretation, the humans start the war by moving into bug territory with the purpose of expansion. The bugs respond to human aggression by unleashing meteors that slam into the earth, and by wiping out the colonies.

Plato argued in the Republic that a state can either be healthy, and keep its needs to necessities, or it can give into its desires for more, limitless desires which are symbolized in the Republic as the love of money. This requires, eventually, seizing of the land of neighbors to feed our insatiable appetites. Our neighbors will want to seize our land, too, "if they too have surrendered themselves to the endless acquisition of money and have overstepped the limit of their necessities."(Rep. 373d) This in turn requires the formation of an army, both to defend the society and to agressively take from others. This, Plato writes, is the origin of war. "It comes from those same desires that are most of all responsible for the bad things that happen to cities and the individuals in them."(Rep. 373e)

War is not an essential feature of man, but an essential feature of man that has given into the insatiable desires of the luxourious life. War is not a good thing, but the creation of the worst elements in human nature. Human expansion into bug territory is thus a classic example of how Plato sees the origins of war.


Friday, November 14, 2008

The Problem Of Consciousness

The Edge Foundation has posted a video interview with Alva Noƫ, Professor of Philosophy at UC-Berkeley, on the problem of consciousness. From the Web site:
The problem of consciousness is understanding how this world is there for us. It shows up in our senses. It shows up in our thoughts. Our feelings and interests and concerns are directed to and embrace this world around us. We think, we feel, the world shows up for us. To me that's the problem of consciousness. That is a real problem that needs to be studied, and it's a special problem.

A useful analogy is life. What is life? We can point to all sorts of chemical processes, metabolic processes, reproductive processes that are present where there is life. But we ask, where is the life? You don't say life is a thing inside the organism. The life is this process that the organism is participating in, a process that involves an environmental niche and dynamic selectivity. If you want to find the life, look to the dynamic of the animal's engagement with its world. The life is there. The life is not inside the animal. The life is the way the animal is in the world.

What is at issue is whether we can apply an objective causal model to explain our subjective conscious states to meaningfully explain the mystery of consciousness.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Public Intellectual 2.0

Daniel Drezner's article on public intellectuals and blogs was recently published in The Chronicle of Higher Education. In this article he bemoans the idea that public intellectuals are no longer in existence. More often than not, the internet is pointed at with an icy finger as the culprit in the demise of the public intellectual. Andrew Keen's book, The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet is Killing Our Culture, is a good example. The general thesis is that good, intelligent commentary and discourse is lost amongst the immature, uneducated masses composing blogs, webpages, and facebook pages. However, the underlying assumption is that traditional media and publishing outlets (books and magazines) are somehow superior and conceal no hidden agenda or bias. Mother Jones is still published in print and the bias is quite obvious.

The argument becomes misguided when the focus becomes the disease of the internet. The real argument should focus on the definition of a public intellectual. As Dezner points out, a public intellectual is someone who writes serious-but-accessible-essays on ideas, culture, and society. I believe most critics forget the public part of public intellectual. When social and intellectual curmudgeons bemoan the lack of public intellectuals they really mean private intellectuals with wider distribution: someone affiliated with a university, publishing in an academic press or journal. However, these works are often written for fellow scholars and the discourse is narrowly focused and inaccessible to the uninitiated. Hence, the public does not read these works (even when the ideas are great and in need of wider dissemination).

The turf war is over intellectual territory. Intellectuals writing for the masses with jargon-free prose but unaffiliated with universities find the internet (blogs in particular) to be the easiest and best form to disseminate their ideas to the masses. Moreover, you don't need a pricey subscription to access the information. Private intellectuals (those affiliated with universities) largely disdain amateurs writing on their topics and won't play on their turf (the internet). Why would they? The history of scholastic publishing is well documented in the university and they hold the monopoly. However, Drezner points out that even academics in the ivory tower have something to gain from blogging:

For academics aspiring to be public intellectuals, blogs allow networks to develop that cross the disciplinary and hierarchical strictures of academe. Provided one can write jargon-free prose, a blog can attract readers from all walks of life — including, most importantly, people beyond the ivory tower. (The distribution of traffic and links in the blogosphere is highly skewed, and academics and magazine writers make up a fair number of the most popular bloggers.) Indeed, because of the informal and accessible nature of the blog format, citizens will tend to view academic bloggers that they encounter online as more accessible than would be the case in a face-to-face interaction, increasing the likelihood of a fruitful exchange of views about culture, criticism, and politics with individuals whom academics might not otherwise meet. Furthermore, as a longtime blogger, I can attest that such interactions permit one to play with ideas in a way that is ill suited for more-academic publishing venues. A blog functions like an intellectual fishing net, catching and preserving the embryonic ideas that merit further time and effort.
So what do you think? Do you think the internet (blogs in particular) continues to erode the idea of a public intellectual or does it define him/her?

- JF

Monday, November 10, 2008

Possible Worlds III - Actualism

by Hanno

Lewis held that possible worlds exist exactly like this one. His view entails that there are uncountably many things that exist in "uncountable infinities of donkeys, protons and puddles, of planets very like earth... small wonder if you are reluctant to believe it." Actualist possible worlds tries to use the power of modal logic using actual objects to ground talk of possible worlds. Actualists reject Lewis's view precisely because it is unbelievable.

There are at least three versions of actualist possible worlds semantics. According to Stalnaker, possible worlds are uninstantiated properties. Like the property of being a unicorn, the property exists even if there are no examples of unicorns. In logic-speak, an instance of the property is its instantiation. So uninstantiated properties are properties that nothing has. But for many philosophers, like Plato, the property can exist even if there is no instance.

Alvin Plantinga holds that possible worlds are complete states of affairs. These exist as abstract entities and have properties. The state of affairs "Quine's being a philosopher" has the property of obtaining, while the state of affairs "Quine's being a politician" has the property of not obtaining. Some states of affairs have the property of being possible, and others do not (though Plantinga does not state whether he thinks the imposible states of affairs non-the-less exist). Plantinga has a technical way of defining complete, but basically, for any state of affairs S, a complete state of affairs either includes either S or not S.

According to Robert Adams, possible worlds are not states of affairs, nor abstract objects, but complete, consistent sets of propositions. Propositions are actual intensional abstract entities, and these propositions have the property of being either true or false. A proposition like "Aristotle is tall" contains both the individual Aristotle and the property of being tall. Consistency in complete sets of propositions is inherently modal: It is consistent if it is possible to be true together.

Other philosophers will use a logical notion of consistency, ie, it is consistent iff there is a model which satisfies the set of sentences which mean the propositions. In such a case, anything that is logically consistent is possible, and vise versa. Adams was trying to avoid that conclusion. But the more empiricist philosophers (Hume, Quine, Carnap, early Wittgenstein) all accept that kind of view.

Finally, there are the fictionalists: possible worlds are fictional entities. Just as there are truths about Superman, fiction can ground truth. Just as the fiction of the ideal gas law gives us important truths, so fictional truths can be important. Talk of possibility is grounded on these kinds of important fictions. David Armstrong (not the one at McNeese) holds this kind of view, and cites Wittgenstein as his inspiration.

So possible worlds are: complete consistent states of affairs, complete consistent propositions, complete consistent sets of sentences or made up entities, each version grounding the truth of our modal claims and justifying modal logic.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Living History

Today, November 5th, 2008, I decided to cancel my class. I sent this out to my students explaining my decision:

"Tonight's results are historic, and this isn't a platitude. You have witnessed a profound moment in American history - this is a moment that will be more than a historical footnote. Whether you agree with the election's outcome or not, I encourage you to consider the shift that has occurred in society in the past five decades.

Fifty years ago, segregation was enforced and part of mainstream culture. Blacks and whites had separate bathrooms, separate water fountains, separate lives and citizenry. While slavery had been abolished, we were still living the legacy of reconstruction and Jim Crow laws, in which race relations were at a nadir. Lynchings and persecution of minorities were accepted practice in many communities that viewed race as a legitimate reason to denigrate others and relegate them to second class citizenship.

Fifty years ago mixed-race marriages were unacceptable, and "miscegenation" was the cause of scandal in communities. Fifty years ago people were killed for encouraging minorities to vote. Fifty years ago towns would encourage minorities to leave before sundown, so that they wouldn't be killed.

Fifty years later we have elected Barack Obama to the position of President of the United States. Fifty years later we have shown that leadership is not to be identified with race, but by national mandate and governing ideology. Fifty years later we have seen the most significant step in race relations occur in the history of the United States.

This is living history. All too often we identify history with events far in the past, associating the idea with a list of names and dates that we memorize for a test and quickly forget. We ignore the fact that history begins at the end of this sentence. History is not dead - it informs the present and shapes the future. History is one of the most important things we have. This moment will live in history, and I want you to remember it.

Learn from the next four years to see if it is possible for us to overcome the acrimony of the presidential race. Learn from the next four years if it is possible for us to overcome the profound ideological divide that had us at each others' throats. Learn if we can find a common identity as Americans, rather than red states or blue states. This is history you can tell your children, as you experienced it first hand. This is history the likes of which we as a nation have never seen before, and will define our character for the foreseeable future.

I am cancelling class tomorrow - abortion too easily serves the politics of division. I will be on campus and will hold normal office hours, but I will not teach on this issue. We will resume lecture on Monday. Use tomorrow for what purposes seem best to you, but remember that these moments are few, and far between. Use them wisely."

This is my generation's moon landing - an unparalleled event in the history the United States. This represents the best the United States has to offer. This is the kind of event that restores faith in the voting public and is a resounding blow against the politics of division. There are times when I am ashamed for what has been done in the "national interest" and our legal obfuscations attempting to rationalize the most horrific of practices. There are genuinely times when I question whether we, as a nation, have forgotten the political ideals that informed our sense of national identity.

Then there are days like today, when I remember the good that we as a nation can do. From his first words, we have someone seeking optimism and ability. We have someone who recognizes that 50,000,000 isn't a mandate when there are 50,000,000 who voted against him, and recognizes that his political obligation is to all Americans, and not just his base. This makes me proud to be an American, through and through, and the recognition that leadership is not a partisan issue, and that times of need requires a willingness from everyone to assist.

I donated blood with hundreds of others following 9/11. I was part of a line that stretched around the block of people willing to give of themselves when the nation as a whole was attacked. I watched this sense of national identity, of collective existence, wither under puerile criticism and attack over the following seven years. I watched us return to our partisan feelings and sense of schadenfreude when some self-appointed moral paragon revealed himself to be just as human and fallible as the rest of us.

Tonight was the first time in a long time that I felt the same possibility of genuine American identity and mutual support. I hope the next four years is not more of the same. I hope that we use this time to remember that we are a pluralistic nation, not "real Americans" and "fake Americans". I hope we can remember that sense of common identity we realized during 9/11 and its aftermath. I think tonight we've all earned the right to hope.


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

V for Voting

By Hanno

Yesterday in the Philosophy club, several people voiced the opinion that early polls were anti-democratic. The argument goes something like this:

If you believe that the candidate you are going to vote for will lose, you are less likely to go vote for your preferred candidate. Polls let people know that their candidate is likely to lose. Therefore, polls make it less likely for you to go vote for your preferred candidate.

This was separated into two separate arguments, first simply polls, and second calling the election (even when right) early, so that people in CA find their votes irrelevant, since the issue is already decided.

If this is right, then in suppressing the vote, polls function anti-democratically.

It must be granted that turnout is lower when you know your candidate will lose. How much lower is very debatable, but excitement about voting leads to higher turnout, and close elections and knowing your going to win lead to excitement, and hence higher turnout. That is why campaigns try to make people excited about voting, flags waving, bands playing, balloons flying, etc.. So let us grant the argument.

The error is in the beginning. People are told they should vote "to make a difference" "so their voice will be heard." This is simply an anti-democratic view. The only time your really make a difference is when your vote is the deciding vote. The will to make a difference is therefore an anti-democratic will, the will to be the one making the decision. The will to be heard is similar, but also misses the basic point in a modern democracy: your voice will never be heard as an individual. You are 1 of 300,000,000 in the country. Your voice as an individual is the squeak of a mouse at a Rolling Stones concert. If you vote to make your voice heard, do not vote, it will never happen. It is the view that your vote must effect something, that your vote must make difference which is the anti-democratic spirit, and suppresses the vote more than anything else. With that view, your vote really does not matter, so why vote?

Now if your voice is part of a choir, a large choir, and the choir is only large when each individual sings her part, then your voice is heard, but not as an individual voice. We hear the choir, not the individual. That is the role of a vote in a modern democracy. And hence polls, or previous outcome, or it already having been decided is irrelevant. Whether the choir you join is the winner or the opposition, you are being heard. And if you have that in mind, the arguments above are beside the point. You vote win or lose, and as you vote, you take your place among the 300,000,000. When you vote, you become a citizen, a part of the body of the United States of America. Isn't that good enough? No, isn't that better than anything else? If you are not content to be one of 300,000,000, then you are not content to be a citizen of this country. It is that simple. And then what would you be content with? Your vote making the difference, your vote deciding, you being the decider... you being the dictator, which will never happen.

So the choice is yours. Do not choose to vote because your candidate will win or lose. Either choose to vote and be an active citizen of this country as it is, or choose not to vote and be a bystander with empty dreams of unachievable anti-democratic power.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Ethical Issues in International Business

Through the Faculty Colloquia series, one faculty member from each of the university's six colleges presents a topic in a specific area of expertise. The presentations are held from 2-4 p.m. on Thursdays throughout both semesters in the Stream Alumni Center and are open free to the public. This informative program is sponsored by the McNeese Alumni Association and the McNeese Write to Excellence Center.

On November 20th, Dr. Cam Caldwell, the director of the Master of Business Administration program at McNeese will give a presentation on the ethical issues in international business.

You can access the rest of the Faculty Collquia series here


by Hanno

Exhausted from a trip, so I got nothing today. Will try to have something tomorrow.

Why is it that everyone at funerals and in churches all refer to the people who have died as if everyone knows they are in Heaven, enjoying all of its glories?