Philosophy & Consciousness

2 07 2013

I have been thinking about philosophy a lot these days. The value of speculative philosophy has been at the forefront of that. I’ve talked a little around that topic with mention of a philosophy of error, but that only captures part of the thrust of speculative philosophy. Alongside the concern with error and its capacity to deepen our understanding, there is also a concern with consciousness.That concern with consciousness provides a counterpoint to the concern with error and, moreover, provides philosophy with a foundation and direction that error alone cannot. I want to talk toward and around that point a little.

Philosophy is famously (or infamously) amorphous. Sometimes it means little more than having to do with some folks we call philosophers; other times, it seems to be an opinion about the nature of this or that thing. I can be philosophical by reading Nietzsche, wondering if quarks really exist, talking about the virtues of capitalism or communism, explaining why I think a certain medical procedure is ethical or not, considering whether human nature is altruistic, and talking about what makes me happy or sad. Questions or statements of meaningfulness often find their way to the philosophical banner, whether they are about living a meaningful life or making sense of what a statement or idea means. Philosophy abuts both religion and science, sometimes in competition with them, sometimes cooperating with them, sometimes serving as the middleman negotiating between them. Go very far with this, it starts to seem like everything has to do with philosophy.

Of course, if something has to do with everything, there is a danger that it itself is nothing. After all, if it can be applied to any subject, doesn’t that imply that it, in fact, has no proper content of its own? Like the skeptical neuroscientist who suggests consciousness has no real effect on the world, that it is merely an epiphenomenon of strictly determined biological and chemical processes, might philosophy be just the epiphenomenon of ‘real’ knowledge? Or, perhaps, might we wonder if what we call ‘philosophy’ is nothing more than a too-big-for-its-britches word that refers to just thinking about stuff in a deliberately peculiar fashion?

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Marx, Marxism, the Wilds of History

27 06 2012

Marxism played an important role in my intellectual and spiritual life. It was through Marx and Marxists that I acquired a clear sense of the interdependence of thought and matter, concept and habit, politics and economy. It was through that tradition, supplemented with the thinking of Simone Weil, that I came to grasp the value, spiritually and economically, of labor. Nonetheless, I feel little sense of affinity with most people who identify themselves as Marxist, or with the political project that Marx endorsed as a consequence of his philosophic values.

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Descending Forward

27 06 2012

If we take the dangers of peak oil (and gas, and coal, and water) seriously, we face a difficult challenge of imagining life through it. While we have an easy time imagining worlds that are like out own or fantastic expressions of our own, it is much more difficult to imagine worlds unlike it. A world without the easy energy of petrochemicals, though, cannot look much like our own. The easiest way to imagine it, then, is to look backward toward the past when such fuels were unavailable. This past often has the advantage of being more familiar, rooted at least in part in our shared history, but it can be misleading.

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Faith is not a supplement for politics

14 06 2011

So, I came across this article over at Religion Dispatches which led me to an article by Melissa Harris-Perry in The Nation in which she articulates her view of religion’s place in politics. It makes for interesting reading in light of her response to Cornel West’s criticisms of the President. While she espouses support for the sort of theological views endorsed by Cornel West, she does so in a way that doesn’t commit her to them.

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Sacred Environments

4 02 2011

I am a big fan of environmentalism, by which I mean the responsible engagement with our world with an appreciation for the value of diversity in our ecosystems and the dangers our present way of living in the world threatens that. I am also, no surprise, religiously minded. I do not think those two things are dependent on each or other, nor do I believe they should be too tightly joined together. That holds for them as personal convictions, but also for them as political-social communities.

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Park51, or when it’s virtuous not to have an opinion

10 09 2010

I have dipped in and out of discussions about the proposed community center, Cordoba House/Park51, in Lower Manhattan.  All in all, I’m struck by how hollow the discussion feels.  It’s either about sweeping political virtues (‘freedom of religion’ or ‘freedom of speech’ or ‘sacred remembrance’ or ‘defending our culture’ or etc.) or narrow personal feelings.  The reality of the situation seems hopelessly lost between those two poles.

It’s a combination toxic to healthy society because, without the mediating concrete situation, people tend to either identify more and more intensely with their political position for its own sake, absent its results or they disengage from political activity in general, abandoning the civil sphere to the ideologues.

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