Volume 2, Number 1, Spring 1995
Rorty, Ironist Theory, and Socio-Political Control
In Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity, Richard Rorty courageously takes a stand against the public dissemination of ironist philosophical theory, such as that produced by Nietzsche, because he sees it as being socially undermining and irreconcilable in theoretical terms with liberal democratic values. And yet, the intellectuals in his ideal society would, privately, share many of the same views from which Rorty would desire that the general public be protected. Thus Rorty would appear to trade tensions between the individual and the state for tensions between the intellectual and the nonintellectual–a dubious improvement. By redescribing both the motives of the typical ironist theorist and his basic view of large-scale, socio-political structure I will try to reinstate the social value of ironist theory. Throughout the paper I will formulate perspectives and raise questions illustrative of such theory and aimed at trying to maintain as full and open a communication as possible between the individual, whether intellectual or not, and socio-political structures within which he finds himself.
Crisis and Narrativity
Despite the dramatic changes in international politics it appears that crises–episodes in which decision-makers hazard urgent, perilous choices–will remain a prominent and dangerous feature of international relations. This realization prompts the question that informs this paper: why do American decision-makers define a situation as a crisis in the first place? I argue that prevailing theories do not adequately account for crises: the same situation (or perception of the situation) may be interpreted differently by various decision-makers. Specifically, it may be construed as an endurable problem to be resolved in due course, or an unendurable crisis demanding immediate resolution at considerable risk. I entertain the possibility that crises occur because crisis discourse has become the lingua franca in the halls of power. Taking a semiotic approach, I argue that crisis narratives are read into ambiguous situations to render them meaningful and dramatically self-valorizing.
Cultural Diversity and the Systems View
While systems concepts had a tremendous impact on social thought in the 1950s and 1960s, they are increasingly under attack in the current postmodern climate with its emphasis on particularity and difference. The idea of the system is associated with technocracy, hierarchical forms of social organization, and the suppression of individual difference. However, there is a significant body of work within the systems tradition that fosters an appreciation of diversity through its ecological orientation, and supports more participatory forms of social organization based on its understanding of the self-organizing nature of living systems. While the issue of cultural diversity is often addressed in oppositional terms, I suggest that it might be more effectively served through an appreciation of the global interdependence between all peoples and between humans and nature that can only be sustained on a cooperative and participatory basis.
Emancipatory Social Science and Genealogy: Habermas on Nietzsche
I argue that Habermas’ critique of Nietzsche overlooks the similarities between his conception of an emancipatory social science and Nietzsche’s conception of genealogy. I conclude that it is necessary to disagree with Habermas’ contention that with Nietzsche the critique of modernity abandons its emancipatory content.
No Goddess Was Your Mother: Western Philosophy’s Abandonment of Its Multicultural Matrix
This paper begins with three observations: 1) At what is generally believed to be its origin in ancient Greece, “Western” philosophy is not sharply distinguished from poetry, science, or theology; 2) At what is generally believed to be its origin, “Western” philosophy is not Western; it is born in a multicultural matrix consisting of African, Asian, Middle Eastern, and Southern European influences; 3) As philosophy comes to think of itself as “Western,” it separates itself from poetry, science, and the rest of the world–particularly from its roots in Northern Africa.
In the first three sections, I examine each observation in turn. In the fourth section, I take up the implications of “Western” philosophy’s alienation from its roots for the contemporary controversy surrounding multiculturalism. If the roots of “Western” philosophy are multicultural, I propose a “radical” philosophy that reclaims them in our own multicultural context. More specifically, I propose to ask a question posed here in its most brutal (but also most honest) form: does “Western” philosophy depend on the abandonment of its friends and the murder of the indigenous peoples it encounters? If yes, then it is necessary to ask whether (in Virgil’s terms) “piety” demands that the West march on in any case. Colonialism and neo-colonialism join Aeneas in answering both questions affirmatively. If no, then it is possible to proceed with the kind of radical reclamation suggested above.
Volume 2, Number 2, Summer 1995
Thoreauvian Patriotism as an Environmental Virtue
In Walden Henry David Thoreau argues for and against patriotism. This paper argues that thoughtful environmentalists should do likewise. It explicates Thoreau’s accounts of “settling” and farming as efforts to rethink and deepen his connections to the land. These efforts define a patriotism that is local, thoughtful and moral. Thoreau’s economic philosophy can be seen as applied patriotism. Like other virtues such as courage or prudence, patriotism is liable to a skewed development and various kinds of misuse. Yet properly developed it is a part of a good human life. Thoreauvian patriotism provides a strong base from which to oppose militarism and xenophobia, which many intellectuals mistakenly equate with patriotism.
Ted Schoen on “The Methodological Isolation of Religious Belief.”
In this brief comment on Ted Schoen’s paper, I tend to agree more than I disagree. Methodological isolation has been widely and uncritically accepted by thinkers about religion and science, and Schoen’s dissipation of the isolationist discourse deserves positive notice. For too long, science has been the bully of the epistemic neighborhood, and religious thinkers have taken refuge in methodological isolation. As Schoen argues, neither religion nor science is isolated; rather, both are interacting in the same comprehensive and value-laden domain, which also includes art, poetry, ethics and metaphysics.
A Big Bang Cosmological Argument?
William Lane Craig has defended a modern First Cause argument based on 1) a principle of universal causality and 2) the claim that the universe must have had a beginning. But 1) is susceptible to counter examples from quantum theory. Moreover, Craig’s defense of 2) is open to serious question. He claims that an actual infinity (of time) is impossible; he also claims that 2) is in fact supported by big bang theory. I argue that both of these claims are mistaken, and that in consequence we have no particular reason to suppose that 2) is true. I conclude that the First Cause argument fails, but I suggest that a weaker inductive argument might be worth a try.
Kant and the Land Ethic
Does Leopold’s land ethic principle represent a break with traditional Western moral philosophies as some have argued? Or is it instead an extension of traditional Western moral ideas as Leopold believed? I argue that Leopold’s principle is compatible with an ecologically-informed Kantianism.
Philosophical Counselling: Bridging the Narrative Rift
Self-understanding is to a great extent defined by narrative: who we are as human beings is determined by the stories we, and others, tell about ourselves. Yet many are unable to compose coherent personal narratives, as their experiences do not fall within the scope of an accepted conceptual framework. Survivors of trauma are particularly apt to fall into this “narrative rift, ” where there can be no words to describe, and hence can be no assimilation of, their experiences. Using the example of child sexual abuse, and drawing on the work of Bass, Spence, Schafer, and Guignon, I propose an examination of the nature of narrative fragmentation itself. Philosophical counselling may succeed where psychoanalysis might not: for where the latter has theoretical commitments to specific narratives, the former, through its reluctance to force epistemological or metaphysical assumptions on the narrator, may well facilitate a more comprehensive self-understanding.
Volume 2, Number 3, Fall 1995
Human-Centered or Ecocentric Environmental Ethics?
Are ethical principles that guide human behavior suitable for the array of complex new environmental problems? Justice, nonmaleficence, noninterference, and fidelity seem by extension to apply. Conflicts between the principles of humanistic ethics and environmental ethics may perhaps be resolved, as Paul W. Taylor indicates, through the application of such “priority principles” as “self-defense,” “proportionality,” “minimum wrong,” and “restitutive justice.” Taylor suggests that these principles would forbid moral agents from perpetrating harm through direct killing, habitat destruction, environmental contamination, and pollution.
On The Alleged Uniqueness And Incomprehensibility Of The Holocaust
A number of philosophers have argued that the Holocaust is incapable of philosophical analysis and explanation. There are two arguments for this view: (1) that it is unique, and thus resists such analysis; and (2) that it is incomprehensible, and thus incapable of being understood. In this article, several versions of both of these arguments are considered and shown not to support the conclusion that the Holocaust resists philosophical explanation. An alternative route to philosophical explanation is then suggested.
The Kevorkian Challenge
Anthony Picchioni, Mary Ann Barnhart, & Joe Barnhart
The problem of self-determination in the dying process confronts a dilemma regarding clients’ desire to know and not to know. Ambivalence and guilt make “free choice” problematic in choosing the way to die. Telling dying clients the “whole truth” about their condition is an art or skill. The question of a meaningful death raises questions that philosophical analysis can help clarify.
Galileo and the Church: An Untidy Affair
Edward L. Schoen
In his recent review of the Galileo affair, Pope John Paul II confidently proclaimed the intellectual autonomy of religion, comfortably affirming that the methods and ideas of religion are cleanly separable from those of the sciences. Unfortunately, a close review of the actual details of the Galilean controversy reveals that the lesson to be learned from that famous case is not one of sanitary intellectual compartmentalization, but one of entangling interdependencies among scientific, religious, and philosophical thought.
Volume 2, Number 4, Winter 1995
Between Anthropocentrism and Ecocentrism
Noel E. Boulting
Three ways of relating the structures of human existence to the world are offered by ecological holism, moral extensionism, and biotic communitarianism. Leopold’s attempt to reconcile these three is examined in the light of Peirce’s categories, in order to ascertain how far Leopold’s final position is anthropocentric, ecocentric, neither, or both.
Earthday 25: A Retrospective of Reform Environmental Movements
Industrial growth and environmental protection have been in perpetual conflict. Reform environmental movements have attempted to address some of the worst abuses of nature by demanding government intervention to restrain pollution. Also, these reform movements have cooperated with corporate elites to obtain some controls on pollution. The 104th Congress attempted to destroy even weak pollution controls. New efforts to mobilize resistance are occurring. The deep, long-range ecology movement inspires resistance by affirming the joy of human participation in nature.
The Self Well Lost: Psychotherapeutic Interpretation and Nelson Goodman’s Irrealism
Peter J. Mehl
In this paper, I consider Goodman’s philosophy in relation to psychotherapeutic interpretation. Goodman argues that we should understand our knowledge as a creative symbolic construction, and not as a set of ideas that match reality. The notion of “the world” does no epistemological work. Using an example of psychotherapeutic interpretation found in Erick Erickson’s writings, I argue that while Erikson suggests that he discovers in the patient’s showings and tellings the patient’s message and its meaning, I argue (with Goodman) that Erikson creates a narrative identity for his patient. The self is not found but fashioned, and it is deemed the true self because it coheres with Erikson’s general theoretic standpoint and is found to be cognitively and practically helpful for the patient. The conclusion is that selves, like worlds, are largely creative constructs.