IAI Video Debate: Did the Linguistic Turn Take Us Down the Wrong Path?

Watch an intriguing debate by top philosophers on how language relates to reality. John Searle, Hilary Lawson, and Michael Potter face each other in this epic war of words.

realityOur friends at The Institute of Art and Ideas have posted a new video debate on the philosophy of language. The panel includes John Searle, post-postmodernist Hilary Lawson and logician Michael Potter. Their website describes the debate as follows: Language has been the focus of philosophical enquiry for the last century. But was the 'linguistic turn' a wrong turn, leading to a barren discipline without 'real world' influence? Is it time for a fresh approach to the big issues, or would this be a capitulation to intellectual fantasy?

Check out the debate and visit IAI for more philosophical discussion.

 

IAI Video Debate: Is Integrity Still Relevant?

Is personal integrity still a valid idea or is a quaint idea from a bygone era? Pioneering thinkers debate this question in an engaging video on IAI.

 

Debate HeadsOur friends at The Institute of Art and Ideas have posted a new video debate on ethics. The debate features award-winning novelist Joanna Kavenna, philosopher and Closure theorist Hilary Lawson, and UCL neuroscientist Parashkev Nachev and they debate the limits of integrity in a modern world. Here's the description of the debate from their website:

Personal integrity is still respected, but it has a Victorian quality, and is less valued in our dissembling age. Might this be a fundamental mistake? Could integrity be a basis for morality in a relative world, or is being true to oneself an anachronism?

Check out the video and see more at IAI.

New Blog by David Papineau

Professor David Papineau of King's College London has launched a new blog focusing on philosophy and sports. The posts will no doubt be both informative and entertaining. Check it out!

David PapineauProfessor David Papineau (Department of Philosophy at King's College London), who has written extensively on philosophy of mind and philosophical naturalism recently launched a new blog titled, More Important Than That focusing on the relationship between philosophy and sports. He explained that the title is based on quote from the famous Liverpool soccer manager Bill Shankly who responded, when accused of thinking football was a matter of life or death, ‘No, no, it’s much more important than that."

He writes that in this blog he is, "Aiming to write about a range of topics that will be of interest to both philosophers and sports fans, from countries all around the world.  Tricky.  Future topics may include Mutual Aid and the Art of Road Cycle Racing and Why You Can't Just Decide to Support a Team."

Recent posts include:

Choking, The Yips and Not Having Your Mind Right

Mutual Aid and the Art of Road Cycle Racing

Why Supporting a Team isn't Like Choosing a Washing Machine

Civil Society and why Adnan Januzaj should be Eligible for England (Though He Isn't)

Why Does Test Cricket Run in Families?

If you'd like to be informed of future posts, you can sign up for email notifications at his blog. Congratulations to Dr. Papineau on this new venture and we at Philosophy News wish him best of luck!

Dr. Papineau's latest book, Philosophical Devices: Proofs, Probabilities, Possibilities, and Sets is an attempt to provide simple explanations to some of the more technical terms used widely in philosophical literature.

IAI Interview: Logic and the Linguistic Turn

An IAI interview with philosopher Michael Potter on the origins and limits of modern logic

Our friends at IAI spoke with Michael Potter, Professor of Logic in the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Cambridge about his forthcoming book, Wittgenstein 1916. In this engaging interview, they talk to him about Wittgenstein, the linguistic turn and the importance of logic to the study of language. In the interview, they discuss the period called "the linguistic turn," Wittgenstein's view of the role of language in philosophy, and the impact modern logic has had on the linguistic turn.

Check out the interview here.

What Can Be Learned from Bertrand Russell’s Life as a Philanderer? Part II

This second of four articles on Bertrand Russell's relationship with women surveys some of the relationships Russell had with women icnluding Ottoline Morrell, Dora Black, and Constance Malleson. His relationships provide an interesting and provacative insight into his complex personality.

Bertrand Russell DrawingII. The Women in Russell's Life

The years that followed saw Russell deluge himself in womanly company. The ladies Ottoline Morrell and Constance Malleson headed the ensemble; and despite Lady Constance’s eminence as an extolled West-End actress, it was the belletristic touch of Lady Ottoline that engrossed Russell’s thirst for self-estrangement. The affair was kindled in 1911, the dawn of a fiercely intense relationship that lasted more than five years. If tradition and conformity lied at the heart of his marriage to Alys, it was surely literature that ran through the veins of his and Ottoline’s liaison. She was a beautiful and well-established aristocrat, known for her influence within the intellectual and artistic circles of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Through the course of her youth Ottoline had befriended a number of the era’s illustrious writers, including Aldous Huxley, Siegfried Sassoon, T.S. Elliot, and D.H. Lawrence—together with a number of others whose work had been bolstered generously by her patronage.[1] Given the high regard in which Ottoline held the arts, and Russell’s longing to become that which he could never be, it comes as no surprise that he spent much of their relationship coveting the gifts of those who occupied her guestbook. He envisaged himself in the grip of an intellectual incarceration, the result of a lifelong pursuit of technical perfection, which left him wretchedly inept to express himself artistically. Pen in hand, he sought to release himself by way of Ottoline’s experience and ‘gentle’ guidance.[2] She, too, felt Russell needed saving: ‘I suppose,’ she wrote him in February 1912, ‘in some mysterious manner I do help you to free the gods and goddesses within you—and to help them all sing together well in tune.’[3] He held the banner of the tragic prodigy, faced with a destiny he could not fulfil, falling short time and time again of his own lofty expectations. Once again Russell had insinuated himself into an atmosphere that smothered him, and in consequence found himself isolated behind towering ramparts of disparity. This peculiar dynamic infused every aspect of the Russell-Morrell relationship, and in time Russell’s determination to become a new person for Ottoline’s sake brought their gluttonous amour to an end. He simply ‘could not turn himself into a writer of fiction,’[4] and in this deemed himself a failure, leaving his once ablaze affections for Ottoline to wither into a tepid cocktail of resentment and laxity. From the remnants of this sour beverage of an affair, however, the pair maintained a lazy friendship that lasted to her death in 1938.[5] Russell, meanwhile, continued his transatlantic rampage: woman by woman the female population was all but consumed by the maw of his libidinous appetite.[6]

Amidst the marrow of the First World War Russell encountered his second wife, one Dora Black, an industrious bluestocking endowed with the progressive philosophy of Britain’s new left wing. They joined forces in 1916 to combat military conscription, an ambition which left Russell held in a six-month incarceration (this time of the physical kind) at Brixton Prison.[7] Upon his release in 1918 he and Dora embarked on something of a travelling splurge, visiting Russia, China and Japan. Illustrated was the pair’s comedic affinity throughout their Japanese sojourn: upon false reports of Russell’s death at the hands of pneumonia, Dora quite satirically informed the press of her companion’s inability to grant an interview on account of his being dead.[8] They travelled together for a number of years, more a cultural investigation than a deluxe retreat, writing regularly on their experiences. Having previously denied Russell’s nuptial advances on the grounds that matrimony restricted the liberty of women, Dora finally ceded to Russell’s wishes upon their return to England in 1921. Given the strength of Dora’s character, and the interests she and her husband shared, one would be forgiven for presuming Russell’s problems here at an end. She fulfilled a role in Russell’s life to which those who precede her would have balked. Together they wrote The Prospects of Industrial Civilization, a feat of collaboration Russell had failed to perform alongside any of his former lovers,[9] and opened a reformist boarding school in West Sussex, an institution which strove to instantiate the educational philosophy of Dora’s In Defence of Children. Dora’s successes came at an expense, however, namely those virtues one could presume attracted Russell to the likes of Alys and Ottoline—ease and normality. Having met more than his match in terms of the progressive ideas of his parents before him, Russell appeared to view Dora’s very liberality as a barrier that stood between them. For the extent of their relationship both Russell and Dora continued to spark relations with other people, a quirk with which he was unlikely to take immediate umbrage; but upon Dora becoming pregnant with another man’s child, the marriage seemed to fall prey to its own progressiveness.[10] The weir of liberal thinking gave way to intense jealousy and bitter resentment, resulting in Russell’s writing of boastful letters describing his youthful conquests across the Atlantic, and his eventual leaving of Dora for their children’s governess, Patricia.[11] He abandoned the campaigns he and Dora had together founded (including their beloved boarding school) and threw himself into the next chapter of his life with bags haphazardly packed.

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[1] Simkin, J.. (1997). Ottoline Morrell. Available: www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/Jmorrell.htm. Last accessed 31/01/14.

[2] Moran, M. (1991). BERTRAND RUSSELL MEETS HIS MUSE: THE IMPACT OF LADY OTTOLINE MORRELL (1911-12). McMaster University Library Press. 182-3.

[3] Ibid. 184.

[4] Ibid. 187.

[5] Ibid. 181

[6] Coffey, R.. (2008). 20 Things You Didn't Know About... Genius. Available: http://discovermagazine.com/2008/oct/01-20-things-you-didnt-know-about-genius#.UwdJWPl_usU. Last accessed 01/02/14.

[7] Simkin, J.. (2013). Dora Russell. Available: www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/TUrussellD.htm. Last accessed 31/01/14.

[8] Russell, B. (2009). Autobiography. London: Routledge. 365-6.

[9] Simkin, J.. (2013). Dora Russell. Available: www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/TUrussellD.htm. Last accessed 31/01/14.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Monk, R. (2001). Bertrand Russell: 1921-1970, The Ghost of Madness. New York: Free Press. 115.

Press Release: "The Deepest Human Life: An Introduction to Philosophy for Everyone" (Chicago, April 2014)

Press release on an upcoming book by Scott Samuelson. This new introduction to philosophy is written for everyone, not just academics. Samuelson explores the thought of history's most impactful thinkers to bring philosophy to us an accessible and personal way.

The Deepest Human Life Cover Sometimes it seems like you need a PhD just to open a book of philosophy. We leave philosophical matters to the philosophers in the same way that we leave science to scientists. Scott Samuelson thinks this is tragic, for our lives as well as for philosophy. In The Deepest Human Life he takes philosophy back from the specialists and restores it to its proper place at the center of our humanity, rediscovering it as our most profound effort toward understanding, as a way of life that anyone can live. Exploring the works of some of history’s most important thinkers in the context of the everyday struggles of his students, he guides us through the most vexing quandaries of our existence—and shows just how enriching the examined life can be.

Samuelson begins at the beginning: with Socrates, working his most famous assertion—that wisdom is knowing that one knows nothing—into a method, a way of approaching our greatest mysteries. From there he springboards into a rich history of philosophy and the ways its journey is encoded in our own quests for meaning. He ruminates on Epicurus against the sonic backdrop of crickets and restaurant goers in Iowa City. He follows the Stoics into the cell where James Stockdale spent seven years as a prisoner of war. He spins with al-Ghazali first in doubt, then in the ecstasy of the divine. And he gets the philosophy education of his life when one of his students, who authorized a risky surgery for her son that inadvertently led to his death, asks with tears in her eyes if Kant was right, if it really is the motive that matters and not the consequences. Through heartbreaking stories, humanizing biographies, accessible theory, and evocative interludes like “On Wine and Bicycles” or “On Zombies and Superheroes ,” he invests philosophy with the personal and vice versa. The result is a book that is at once a primer and a reassurance—that many have trod the earth before us, and they have insights into our very souls. 

William B. Irvine, author of A Guide to the Good Life

“Scott Samuelson is a philosopher with a knack for storytelling.  As a result, The Deepest Human Life is a book that humanizes philosophy and that relates grand philosophical themes to the lives of ordinary people. Not only that, but Samuelson writes in a manner that ordinary people—meaning those without a philosophical background—will find inviting. Readers will come away with a better understanding of some of philosophy’s fundamental concepts and in many cases will also have taken important first steps toward conducting an examination of their own lives.”

Christopher Merrill, author of The Tree of the Doves: Ceremony, Expedition, War

The Deepest Human Life is a splendid book for students, writers, philosophers, and anyone interested in exploring the human condition. Samuelson wears his considerable learning lightly, addressing the enduring questions—What is philosophy? What is happiness? What is the nature of good and evil?—in an engaging and accessible manner, reminding readers that the quest for meaning is indeed a matter of life and death. What a marvelous professor he must be. And what good luck to have his wisdom here on the page.”

Stephen T. Asma, author of Against Fairness

The Deepest Human Life is charming and upbeat, but it’s also very poignant in places. Samuelson weaves his personal story of teaching at a community college into the philosophical adventure and shows how philosophy is an approach to life—a practice of self-knowing and self-forgetting—rather than a professional career. The result is a unique introduction to philosophy, composed with a rare voice of humane literary sophistication.”

Pre-order your copy on Amazon

http://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/D/bo17888850.html

http://scottsamuelsonauthor.com/about

IAI Video: Thinking the Unthinkable

A new video by the Institute of Art and Ideas discussing the limits of knowledge. The power of our thought has transformed the world, and some claim a theory of everything is just around the corner. Others see limits to understanding, things we cannot think. Is there a richer world that lies beyond thought, or is this an empty mysticism that leads nowhere?

croppedimage608342-thinking-the-unthinkablePhilosophy News recently has been introduced to a website with some intriguing videos on philosophy as well as science, politics, and art. This London-based organization is producing  high-quality content that is will inform in an engaging and entertaining way. Here is their mission from their website:

The Institute of Art and Ideas (IAI) is committed to fostering a progressive and vibrant intellectual culture in the UK. We are a charitable, not-for-profit organisation engaged in changing the current cultural landscape through the pursuit and promotion of big ideas, boundary-pushing thinkers and challenging debates.

This sample video features hosts Hannah Dawson, Mark Rowlands, Simon Saunders. Robert Rowland-Smith and focuses on the following topic: The power of our thought has transformed the world, and some claim a theory of everything is just around the corner. Others see limits to understanding, things we cannot think. Is there a richer world that lies beyond thought, or is this an empty mysticism that leads nowhere?

The Panel

Oxford philosopher Simon Saunders, international bestselling author Mark Rowlands and historian of ideas Hannah Dawson attempt to say what some believe cannot be said.

Get To Know Versatile PhD

The Versatile PhD has a wealth of information for those pursuing graduate work in a variety of disciplines and is worth checking out if you're in academia as a student or professor, you're advising those working towards a graduate degree, or if you're consider graduate work. Check out the site!

VersatilePhD_logoWe at Philosophy News recently have had the pleasure of being introduced to and getting to know Dr. Paula Chambers, Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Composition, Founder of WRK4US (1999) and The Versatile PhD (2010). Her website, The Versatile PhD has a wealth of information for those pursuing graduate work in a variety of disciplines and is worth checking out if you're in academia as a student or professor, you're advising those working towards a graduate degree, or if you're consider graduate work. Dr. Chambers describes her mission this way:

The Versatile PhD is a web-based, woman-owned, socially positive business that helps universities provide graduate students with non-academic professional development. Our mission is to help graduate students identify, prepare for, and excel in possible non-academic careers.

We want graduate students to be informed about academic employment realities, educated about their non-academic career options, and supported in preparing for a wide range of careers, so that in the end, they have choices. The key concept here is versatility: the ability to apply skills, abilities and interests in a wide variety of positions and fields.

In our brief interaction with Dr. Chambers we've found her to be the real thing. She's caring, tenacious about helping those who need it, and aggressive about accuracy in her data and attention to detail. While we're just getting to know the site and its manager, we think this resource can be extremely valuable to anyone involved in higher education. We've also found a kindred spirit. Our Placement Reports are designed to help prospective students better prepare for graduate school and the job market and Dr. Chamber's work aligns perfectly with this goal.

Check out the site at The Versatile PhD. Learn more about Paula and her team here.

Review of Caputo’s Philosophy in Transit

Caputo has done a fine job of clarifying and classifying the postmodernist approach to truth and reality. His readable and eloquent book is an excellent guide to the outlook common in a certain strain of Continental European philosophy. His neglect of other areas of philosophy is disappointing.

Tim Crane reviews the book for the Times Literary Supplement.

Caputo is quite right, of course, that we apply the idea of truth to things other than propositions. We speak of true friends, living in truth, and the true – along with the good and the beautiful – being the objects of the search for wisdom, and so on. These ideas cannot easily be reconfigured in terms of the truth of propositions. To attempt this would be like objecting to Keats’s remark that beauty is truth by pointing out that there are many true propositions which are not beautiful.

On Philip Seymour Hoffman

I was saddened today by the passing of Philip Seymour Hoffman. There was a broad reaction both in the news and on social media. There was praise, shock, and sorrow. Someone on Facebook oddly noted that this is another bad sign for 2014 while another, a  religious conservative, used the event to evangelize. Even in light of the tremendous Super Bowl win by my hometown Seahawks this evening, I found the death of one of my favorite actors an odd juxtaposition and one that was very much a part of my consciousness all day. The obvious comparison might be that the victory by the Seahawks represents success. The football team showed tremendous discipline, they functioned as a team going deep on their roster to pull out the win. The QB is a professed Christian thanking God for the opportunity to play with the media talking about the bright futures of all the players, the coach, and the team praising their hard work and unrelenting purpose. This is an organization of individuals coming together to be the best at what they do and pulling it off.

Hoffman, who apparently died of an overdose alone in his Manhattan apartment seems the antithesis of this success. Overcome by whatever demons were chasing him, he left this world on what many might rightly say "the bottom." The money and fame apparently were not enough. In the end he was taken out by a needle that, as far as we know, was being used to silence some unspoken pain or existential angst.

But my thoughts did not immediately go there. While Hoffman's passing is upsetting, I have an overall sense of gratitude and found myself actually envying his accomplishments rather than fixating on his death. I suppose my mind goes there first because of this almost indisputable fact: he left us something great and he used his finely-honed skill as an actor to show us something about the world and about ourselves. That's not trivial. Few of us, even if we live to a ripe old age, will have either the talent or the opportunity to do what he did. Spending decades on this planet is certainly something we all hope and strive for. But as I age, I'm less convinced that it's the number of years we live that really matter in the end and life is more about how we use the years we have. Yes, that sounds like something you'd see on a motivational poster but there is something substantial there I think. 

I watched the game with friends and family and Hoffman's death came up. We discussed how a man who clearly seemed to have skills that far exceeded many of his peers and the ability to get to the root of the human condition could be so "disturbed" as to take his own life by giving it over to substance abuse. But we noted that this so often is the case with artists and philosophers. Those who have the ability to see more deeply and are able to unearth the frailties of the human condition so acutely tend to be much less able to paper over them with all the adornments and facades that are used with such aplomb by the rest of us.

While I admittedly know very little about what Hoffman was dealing with (he may have well just loved or become addicted to being high and went too far), there is a thread of truth to the idea that many who go out the way of Hoffman did haven't given up, they've given in. They haven't bypassed the despair that seems so inevitable but they've gone headlong into it. Some figure out how to make it through (or better, live in the midst of it) but many don't. Still, it is the embrace of despair that gives the artist and philosopher the power to see it for what it truly is and provides that unique lens for examining the human condition. In films like Before the Devil Knows You're Dead and Synecdoche, New York Hoffman explores the side of being human that leads to despair and we know as we watch that he really gets it. There's something authentic there. You don't get those insights by reading self-help books or watching a lot of reality television shows.

Which is the better life?  Russell Wilson is a football player who appears to be at the top of his game at 26, who loves God, his family, and his team, who visits children at a local hospital and gives to the needy and Hoffman is an artist who died alone at 46 with a needle in his arm and left the world deep insights into our nature and who brings us to the edge of despair so we can peek inside. This is not an answerable question of course because "the good life," whatever that may mean, is both person-specific and complex beyond what any course-grained analysis could possibly penetrate. But to ask the question is at least to say that an answer isn't cut and dried.

A colleague who watched the game with us sent me a short blog post in which the author, Alissa Wilkinson, attempts to reflect on Hoffman's influence on her life. She has more familiarity with Hoffman's stage work than I do and her insights resonated with me (and inspired me to write this). She observes,

In Hoffman's performances (from Along Came Polly to Capote to Synecdoche to Mission Impossible to the entire PT Anderson oeuvre and everything besides), I always had the keen sense that this was not "just acting" to him. He was, emphatically, not a movie star. Acting was less job, more vocation or calling, almost a cross to bear, as wild as that may sound. He said as much in interviews - talked about how painful the work was to him, how it hurt to inhabit another person that way.

Well said. Great art and the best philosophy, when it attempts to be authentic, is a cross, a burden. It demands that its creator not take the easy way out. You have to embrace the subject matter entirely, darkness and light. And this may mean (and generally seems to mean) that what comes out of the other side of the creative process is not going to be popular or "palatable" to a larger audience. It may mean one ends up alone—or at least more alone than one otherwise would be—perhaps misunderstood, and most certainly rejected at some level. For few of us have the stomach to see our worst parts as they are with no adornments or sugar coating. When one truly comes to understand that, it's impossible not to view "populist" as compromise. The dilemma then truly becomes an ugly one: authentically stay true to the craft and all it demands or inauthentically create what people will consume. Either may lead to despair because neither gives us everything.

Hoffman may have been at just this fork in the road. Certainly many other artists have been. I only wish he could have figured out how to live another day to show us a way through. Maybe in what he left us, he already has.

Thanks to Ben Olsen for the link.