Author Archives: Rupert Read - Page 3

WITTGENSTEIN AMONG THE SCIENCES

My new book, WITTGENSTEIN AMONG THE SCIENCES, is out today. I am feeling pretty excited; it looks GREAT. Have a look, here: http://ashgate.com/default.aspx?page=637&calcTitle=1&title_id=11016&edition_id=14506
What is the book about? I would describe it as a broadly post-Schutzian attempt to understand the nature of science, through working through and from the work of Wittgensteinians such as Kuhn and Winch. One of the aspects of it that may be of especial/broader interest is that I seek to inform policy-debates around science through it: e.g. to argue that science-policy ought to be relatively free of government direction, unlike technology-policy which should be subject to tight social constraints. In Part 2 of the book, I seek to employ Wittgensteinian thinking to help in the practical business of understanding the nature of psychopathology. Including the pscyhopathology of unrestrained economism… That is: I argue for instance that, while Friedman’s celebtrated monetary treatise on the U.S. economy and the Great Depression put the latter down in significant part to a failure of monetary policy to make enough money available, one key factor behind the 2007-now economic and financial crisis is a dubious thingifying attitude to money that was _encouraged_ by Friedmanian monetarism and that can be implicitly seen writ large in Friedman’s famous and hugely-influential article, “The methodology of positive economics”.
Enough tasters. See what you think. Let me know here?
(There is an ebook version available, btw.)

Thanks to everyone who helped me with the book, especially my editor Simon Summers. I’d like to mention particularly that the book was also greatly influenced by Wes Sharrock (a Winchian genius) and Bojana Mladenovic (whose work on Kuhn I bow to, which is not the kind of thing I say very often!).

Guardians of the future – Your chance to try it out

Reader of TP may already be familiar with my ‘guardians for future generations’ proposal. James Garvey gave a nice account of his evneing at the Parliamentary launch of the idea, here: http://jamesgarveyactually.wordpress.com/2012/01/11/guardians-of-the-future/
If you want to have a read of my speech that evening, you can do so by going to: http://rupertsread.blogspot.com/2012/02/parliamentary-launch-of-my-greenhouse.html
[And here is the message of support for the proposal from the world’s foremost official rep. of future generations anywhere in the world, the Hungarian Ombudsman for Future Generations: http://rupertsread.blogspot.com/2012/01/green-house-report-on-guardians-for.html ]
My reason for writing today is to let readers know that there will be an opportunity to come and not only debate this idea in person, but to have a mini-trial at the concept itself. I.e. We will STAGE a micro-mock-version of the guardians ‘super-jury’ concept, at the public meeting that will take place on April 25th, at 6.15pm, at King’s Place in London, in the Scott Room. Also speaking alongside me that evening will be Polly Higgins, on her proposal to make the prevention of ecocide part of international law.
Do come along! The meeting is hosted by the GUARDIAN newspaper, and I’m sure that a good time will be had by all… This will, hopefully, be philosophy in the public sphere in action… (James Garvey will be on the panel too, btw.)

The Heidegger and his McGilchrist

I’ve been reading Iain McGilchrist’s book The master and his emissary: The divided brain and the making of the Western world, and I wanted to blog about it. I’m going to be reviewing it for a journal. Here are some of my main thoughts so far…
This book, it seems to me, isn’t just a brilliant work; it’s an event. McGilchrist not only lays out a startling, novel account of the importance of the right hemisphere of the brain; he turns this into a gripping and dizzying account of the trajectory of the whole of human (but especially of western) civilisation, and offers in the course of this the most powerful argument penned by any living author of the importance of the arts and humanities. An argument – helpfully, by a scientist — for how and why the arts and the humanities offer an entire different and essential way of visioning (and reclaiming) our world, and for how and why science alone cannot do this but endlessly risks being part of an imperial take-over of the world by the scientistic world-picture that naturally emerges from the left hemisphere of the brain once it is off the leash.
The ‘master’ of the title is the right hemisphere; the ‘emissary’, the left. McGilchrist’s basic thesis is that most neurological events and processes need to begin (with the ability to assimilate — to see — the new) and end (with the ability to relate, vitally, humanly, and as a part of a whole(s)) with the right hemisphere. That the left hemisphere is essentially there to be the right hemisphere’s servant or emissary. But that the left hemisphere, with its great capacity not only for analysis but also for denial, is reluctant to give back to the right hemisphere the power it is lent with the result that, increasingly, and especially over the last 200 years, the master has been betrayed by its emissary. (N.B. It is crucial to appreciate that McGilchrist is NOT particularly committed to the nowadays-somewhat-ill-reputed view that the two hemispheres are above all the locations for different things or even different activities…That, he suggests, is itself an overly left-brained way of seeing the brain… What McGilchrist thinks centrally differentiates the two hemispheres is precisely rather: their ways of seeing, their styles…)
McGilchrist sees the (increasingly-dominant) left hemisphere world-view as seeing the world as if from the perspective, as we might put it, not even of a brain in a vat, but of a left hemisphere of a brain alone in a vat… We are in danger, then, of being even worse off than Descartes would have it.
Here is a remarkable passage from the latter part of the book, from which the reader will be able to get a sense of the scale of McGilchrist’s ambition hereabouts, and a scent of the grand originality with which, to a very large extent, remarkably, he delivers on it:

“[W]hat if the left hemisphere were able to externalise and make concrete its own workings – so that the realm of the actually existing things apart from the mind consisted to a large extent of its own projections? Then the ontological primacy of right-hemisphere experience would be outflanked, since it would be delivering – not ‘the Other’, but what was already the world as processed by the left hemisphere. It would make it hard, and perhaps in time impossible, for the right hemisphere to escape from the hall of mirrors, to reach out to something that truly was ‘Other’ than, beyond, the human mind. // In essence this was the achievement of the Industrial Revolution.” (p.386)

Building on broadly Heideggerian thinking here, McGilchrist takes the measure of the world-picture that the left hemisphere has delivered to us. The re-grounding that the right hemisphere could bring, by way of reconnecting us to life on Earth (as with other ways in which it could do so, for instance via the arts, or via religion), is according to McGilchrist increasingly closed off to us, with the left hemisphere’s changing the very character of the Earth to be something like a ‘standing-reserve’ of ‘resources’ – one giant filling-station, to employ Heidegger’s terrifyingly apposite metaphor – and moreover one increasingly and actively patterned into the form of invariance, of mechanicity, of straight lines, of lifelessness, and at best (!) of ‘management’ of all this and of ‘nature’ itself. The fabric of the world is becoming fabricated, such that even the mirror ‘of nature’ no longer appears to us natural…

This book has already proved enormously controversial. (For example, Anthony Grayling somewhat slated it, in The Literary Review: www.literaryreview.co.uk/grayling_12_09.html . This is somewhat ironic, given the magnificent defence mounted in the book of the humanities, when juxtaposed with Grayling’s attempted launch recently of his own ‘New College of the Humanities’; it seems to me that Grayling hasn’t got the hang of McGilchrist’s book…) This controversiality is hardly surprising, for many reasons, but above all because the book goes against the grain. By saying that, I don’t mean for a minute to deny that the book has been appreciated by leading figures in neuroscience: such as Ramachandran, Panksepp, Hellige, Kesselring, Schore, Bynum, Zeman, Feinberg, Trimble, and Lishman. No; rather, my point is that the forces of the left hemisphere, deeply-culturally-hegemonic, are bound to resist it and indeed in many cases to have a profound difficulty comprehending it at all. As already intimated above: McGilchrist suggests that the very way we come to understand the right and left hemispheres is itself among the topoi distorted by our left-hemisphere-dominated world-view. (Thus for instance the way that the right hemisphere has for so long been deemed the ‘minor’ hemisphere.) He argues that there is a spiralling ‘dialectical’ relationship between the way in which our brain both limits and facilitates the way we ‘take’ the world, and between the way that the world’s (changing) nature influences but can constrain the way in which our brain is, and thus the way in which our brain both limits and facilitates…

The ‘foundation’ of the work, in neurology, may offer an unusual bridgehead, a way into our culture and in particular into the world of science, that historically most such defences and articulations of humanity as opposed to the dominance of technology etc. have lacked, however much (consider for instance the project of Hegel) they may have coveted it. As I shall shortly explain, however, McGilchrist’s authority and knowledge as a neurologist (and as a psychiatrist) may end up being a double-edged sword.

The master and his emissary is a work of extraordinary erudition. McGilchrist seems to be a polymath, who has managed to feel his way into a vast array of different ‘literatures’ (The book’s bibliography is so huge that the publishers refused to include most of it in the paperback version, and one has to go online to a special full bibliography to check many of the references). One of his influences is Lakoff and Johnson; he leans on their account of metaphor, and explores further its implications, thus expanding the account intimated by them in their masterly Philosophy in the flesh. This is congenial to me. (Like McGilchrist, I would be inclined to kindly draw a veil over those fairly-numerous moments in which the content of their important book is patently deformed by a grandstanding scientific imperialism.) I also warmed to McGilchrist’s hostility to much else of ‘Cognitive Science’: there is a powerful argument in the first Part of the book against the disastrous and ubiquitous ‘information-processor’ metaphor for the mind. McGilchrist shows how ‘information’ is a concept that only suits the left hemisphere, not the right. Again: McGilchrist in effect suggests that it is as if the brain that much mainstream Cog.Sci. envats is in fact only half a brain, and not even the most crucial half…
But McGilchrist’s greatest influence of all, also explored in a novel way in the first half of the book, is phenomenology in general, and Heidegger in particular. McGilchrist frequently in this book plays emissary to Heidegger, his ‘master’…
I mean that metaphor in a tongue-in-cheek way, just to raise perhaps a wry and friendly smile; but I also mean it somewhat in earnest. I had a niggling sense, repeatedly, as I read this book, that McGilchrist’s way of working is actually rather less ‘right-hemispherical’ than is that of his great heroes, who he often explicates to us grippingly in the course of the work: Wittgenstein, Nietzsche, Scheler, Merleau-Ponty, Heraclitus, Goethe, Wordsworth, Blake, and (above all) Heidegger. To give a key for-instance; there is an obvious danger that his neuro-story involves a homuncular fallacy. For most of the book, McGilchrist writes almost as if the left and right hemispheres really were separate people, with intentions, wills, personalities, etc.
True, McGilchrist does deal with this point reflectively and explicitly at some length in the book on more than one occasion (see especially pp.98-99), pointing out that one perhaps in his game cannot escape having some model or other, and that the available alternatives are either the machine or the person (We might add also: the text, as in Ricoeur). He submits that the model of the person is far more accurate for something that on its own does have the capacity to form intentions, have goals, have values, sustain attention, etc. . Nevertheless, the extent to which McGilchrist buys into this ‘model’ could I think be regarded as dangerous: For, by splitting the human by hemisphere, he risks in the process occluding the very (holistic etc.) insights that he wishes to underpin. . .
It would be possible to give examples of undue left-brainedness in The master and his emissary even in relation to McGilchrist’s ‘master’, Heidegger. For instance, one might worry that when McGilchrist says, very helpfully (p.151), that truth is a process or a progress more than it is an object, still he does not go as far as Heidegger’s own analysis does: for Heidegger ultimately stresses that truth is what he calls an event rather than a process, because he takes a process to be something that takes place in time, whilst the event of truth is internally related to the very possibility of temporality and thus is that which facilitates a temporal sequence in which any process might take place.
One might also highlight McGilchrist’ss perhaps-regrettable failure to consider the contribution made by much of the growing political resistance to industrial-growthism etc. (e.g. it might have been worthwhile for him to have looked at the green movement, and/or perhaps at organisations such as ‘La Via Campesina’, the international peasant movement with 400 million members), a contribution that powerfully manifests the kind of thinking and being that he wants to recommend.
The great remaining objection others are likely to bring against McGilchrist’s work is probably that his detailed neuro-story is not needed in order to give his account of human civilisation and of the grave threat which it is now under, In other words, that there is (allegedly) insufficient connection between the first Part of McGilchrist’s book (which focuses primarily on the brain and on philosophy) and the second Part (which tells us a new history of the present). In other words, that the term ‘left brain’ and ‘right brain’ in the end function for McGilchrist largely metaphorically, rather than literally. At the very end of the book – the quotation that follows consists of its final two paragraphs — McGilchrist deals with this objection extremely disarmingly:

“If it could eventually be shown…that the two major ways, not just of thinking, but of being in the world, are not related to the two cerebral hemispheres, I would be surprised, but not unhappy. Ultimately what I have tried to point to is that the apparently separate ‘functions’ in each hemisphere fit together intelligently to form in each case a single coherent entity; that there are, not just currents here and there in the history of ideas, but consistent ways of being that persist across the history of the Western world, that are fundamentally opposed, though complementary, in what they reveal to us; and that the hemispheres of the brain can be seen as, at the very least, a metaphor for these… // What [Goethe’s Faust, Schopenhauer, Bergson, Scheler and Kant] all point to is the fundamentally divided nature of mental experience. When one puts that together with the fact that the brain is divided into two relatively independent chunks which just happen broadly to mirror the very dichotomies that are being pointed to – alienation versus engagement, abstraction versus incarnation, the categorical versus the unique, the general versus the particular, the part versus the whole, and so on – it seems like a metaphor that might have some literal truth. But if it turns out to be ‘just’ a metaphor, I will be content. I have a high regard for metaphor. It is how we come to understand the world.” (Pp.461-2; cf. also p.7).

Again following Lakoff and Johnson as well as various great literary authors, then, McGilchrist to the end defends the absolute importance of metaphor (a phenomenon which only the right brain understands), and moreover of metaphor that remains metaphorical, and does not have to be ‘cashed out’. This could be a partial answer also to my worry, expressed above, about the ‘reification’ of the left and right brains into quasi-homunculi. It will however still leave a nagging twinge with some readers about how necessary all the detail about the brain in the early part of the book was to the real ‘cash-value’ of it: the account of these two, coherent, different ways of being in and molding (or not) the world, that comes to a head in the brilliant account (offered in the final 100 pages of the book) of the growing triumph of the left hemisphere in the Industrial Revolution, Modernism and Post-Modernism. All I can say in response to this worry is: read the book. For me, McGilchrist actually does a remarkable delicate job of ensuring that there is a genuinely historical dimension to his story of the faculties: for example, he has a fascinating discussion in Chapter 7, “Imitation and the evolution of culture”, of the possible biological routes through which neurology may respond to culture. The routes through which the very structure of the brain may be substantially responsive to and molded by — and not merely foundational for — the fabric of any given culture. That discussion crucially feeds into the story he then tells of the development of Western culture as a kind of battle of the hemispheres.
Whether what McGilchrist is telling us is a set of fascinating scientific truths about the brain, or a metaphorical history of the present inhabiting the reasons why the human race has reached the desperate near-ecocidal condition it now inhabits (and why it is – why we are — in denial about this), or both, what I found in reading his book is that there are gems on virtually every page, and that, whether or not it is ‘just’ a metaphor, the way of thinking and of seeing that McGilchrist here offers is itself compelling, rich, and fertile.
I’d be interested to know what other readers of this blog and of this book make of it.

Six and a half theses on ‘structure vs agency’.

• The 2nd paragraph of ‘The 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon’ surely sums up the whole of the so-called ‘Structure vs Agency’ debate. Men make history, but not under circumstances of their choosing. Er, that’s it. What Marx says here is a truism, basically, albeit a beautifully-expressed one. http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1852/18th-brumaire/ch01.htm

• The whole ‘debate’ is a historically-unfortunate result of the felt need to marry two traditions, one in which there is explanation by means of class etc., another in which there is explanation by means of events, individuals, etc. . But it’s not as if these two traditions necessarily disagree with each other, any more than two novels about the same topic necessarily disagree. Rather, they frequently talk across each other. (Because, following Lakoff and Johnson: They have different founding metaphors. But they don’t recognise them as metaphors: they tend to treat them as if they are insights into the hidden structure (!) of reality itself. That social reality is at core social structure, or that social reality is at core individual agency. But to think that either of these ideas could express quasi-factual truths is itself already a grave mis-move.)

• It is ludicrous to expect a definitive outcome to the ‘Structure vs Agency’ debate, as if one side or another could win. As if there were a matter of fact being debated here; as if it weren’t simply a choice of methodologies that was being debated.

• Does anyone really believe in pure agency, pure voluntarism; does anyone believe that human beings face no constraints, that they can do whatever they want? No. Ethnomethodologists are accused by mainstream sociology of being pure-agency-ists, but this is a complete misunderstanding, a kind of category-mistake, very roughly. For ethnomethodologists, like Wittgensteinians, reject the whole debate as misconceived: a methodological/philosophical debate wrongly cast as a quasi-factual one. (For this subtle and deft rejection, see for instance Wes Sharrock and Graham Button’s “The Structure Problem”, in Martin and Dennis’s book (http://trove.nla.gov.au/work/37405494); and Jeff Coulter’s essay, Chapter 2 in Schatzki et al’s interesting collection (http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=RfaVpJBB5lgC&pg=PA6&lpg=PA6&dq=jeff+coulter+micro+macro&source=bl&ots=BC0eiQZyCb&sig=t1qkXw0EPzvfMVnC6Y2_ptq7P2w&hl=en&ei=AnWMToiuH8LA0QWNzYXgBQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CCUQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=jeff%20coulter%20micro%20macro&f=false ).)

• Does anyone really believe in pure structure, pure constraint; human beings as dopes, robots, puppets of history and nothing more? Again, no. What talk of the importance of “Structure!” often amounts to is in fact a kind of part-time determinism. But it would be less misleading to express this in terms of actual constraints in actual situations. ‘Structure’ and ‘agency’ are at best thoroughly contextualised concepts. (See on this Nigel Pleasants’s relevant work.)

• Of course we can speak of structures, and of course we can speak of agency. But such talk will usually spin idly and misleadingly in a void, unless concretised. And, when concretised, usually the terms ‘structure’ and ‘agency’ and their immediate-cognates will disappear completely…

[Thanks with the thoughts underlying these theses to Wes Sharrock. The thoughts here are in part an oblique response to “Practical metaphysics: The case of free-will and fatalism”: http://blog.talkingphilosophy.com/?p=3281 . As may be gathered from what I have written here, while very interested in the topic, and in the actual effects on life of philosophical stances, I am sceptical of the alleged ‘practical consequences’ of ‘believing’ in free-will or fatalism. Because it seems to me that such ‘belief’ is never and could never be complete, ‘total’, to use the Marxist term. ‘Free-will’ and ‘determinism/fatalism’ thus do not express real positions.]

Against ‘time-travel’

This is really just an announcement, of a new piece of mine that is coming out that I think many readers of this site may find of interest:
This my piece against-time-travel has been pre-published online in one of my favourite journals… 🙂
Comments welcome. (The full-length version will be forthcoming in my next book, and will contain more explicit stuff in it about Dr. Who…)

Happy birthday, _Tractatus_!

As many readers/users of this site, will be aware, it is exactly 90 years since Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus was published (in German).
It’s also 60 years since Wittgenstein’s death.
And just over a decade since my collection The New Wittgenstein appeared in print.
Yesterday, I received in the mail my publisher’s free copies of my new book, Beyond the Tractatus Wars: The New Wittgenstein debate, in which my own piece argues that we need to take the ‘new’, resolute Wittgenstein very seriously indeed: I suggest that Conant and Diamond themselves have not been ‘severe’/’austere’ enough in their presentation of Wittgenstein’s first book. That it really does not say anything at all…

Enough said?

Check the book out: http://rupertsread.blogspot.com/2011/08/my-new-book.html

If you have thoughts or comments about it, it would be interesting to hear them here.

Future people!

I received a pleasing email today: My first paper to appear in THINK has appeared.

This short piece of mine (on overcoming prejudice against future people), is now in print in _Think_, volume 10, issue 29, pp. 43-47.

You can read it at this link (cut and paste the link into your browser):
http://journals.cambridge.org/repo_A83AqV93

Let me know what you…think!

Rawls rapped

“I know why u homies want to make like John Rawls
You just wish that u were Marxists but u haven’t got the balls”

[Gilbert Ramsay et al, The Philociraptor Rap]

This post is in part a good excuse to cite the epigraph above, which deserves to be much better known. In a somewhat (ahem) direct way, it touches and encapsulates much of my attitude to Rawlsian liberalism.
For a more _academic_ presentation, you might want to read my two papers that, by a bizarre coincidence, came out on the same day last week:
“Why the ecological crisis spells the end of liberalism: The ‘difference principle’ is ecologically unsustainable, exploitative of persons, or empty”, in Capitalism, Nature, Socialism.
and
“The difference principle is not action-guiding”, in CRISPP 14:4 (pp.487-503).
(Also, my shortly-forthcoming piece on “Beyond an ungreen-economics-based political philosophy: Three strikes against the difference principle”, in the International Journal of Green Economics (2011) Vol. 5, No. 2, pp.167–183. And, of related interest, my “Religion as sedition: On liberalism’s intolerance of real religion”, in Ars Disputandi vol.11, just published last month: http://http://www.arsdisputandi.org/publish/articles/000394/article.pdf .)
For a more popular, shorter, political ‘bloggish’ presentation of the same ideas, see my “No red without green: why any socialism must be an eco-socialism” in the Compass ebook ‘Good Society/Green Society? The Red-Green Debate’. One place that you can find this is 1 scroll down, at: http://www.compassonline.org.uk/news/item.asp?n=13232.
Finally, if you want to see how annoyed all this kind of thing makes Rawlsians, then have a read of my http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/rupert-read/philosophical-and-political-implications-of-spirit-level-response-to-gerry-ha – and the comments thereto. What I point up there is that the Rawlsian difference principle is willing to allow substantial inequalities, because doing so will allegedly be best for the worst off. But if Richard Wilkinson, Kate Pickett, Michael Marmot, Danny Dorling et al are right, then the more substantial the inequalities, the worse off _everyone_ will be, _especially_ the worst off.
We might call this an empirical refutation of the difference principle…

So, homies, where do we/you go from here?

Democracy – what does it mean, and how can we all get some?

2011: Because of the ongoing democratic revolutions in the Middle East, this feels a hugely-exciting time to be alive and to be a thinking person. As I write, in the wake of the victory of the rebels over the appalling Gaddafi regime in Libya, the situation in Syria seems to be tipping a little further in the favour of the incredibly-brave protesters there…
As a philosopher, one thing that I think these revolutions do quite powerfully is throw into greater disrepute the arguments that are periodically made against democracy, or at least against democracy ‘for them’, as opposed to for ‘us’. Such arguments are arguments against trusting (the / ordinary) people with power and responsibility; and this is just very implausible, in an age in which we have comparatively distributed employment, an age in which traditional sources of authority are less sacrosanct, etc. . For my detailed arguments against such distrust, see my recent review essay “Economist-Kings?”, in the _European Review_ (19:1; pp.119-129)…
. (I would love to know what readers of this blog make of my argument there.)
Democracy is in itself a gigantic gamble. But I take it that we take it to be a gamble worth taking. And, furthermore, the alternative is hard to see: for it is increasingly obvious (cf. once more the democratic Arab revolts of 2011) that democratic legitimacy is a _practical requirement_ of governance in a world that values self-expression and is increasingly sceptical of dictatorialism (See on this the argument of R. Inglehart and C. Welzel in their Modernization, Cultural Change and Democracy (Cambridge: CUP, 2005)). Democracy, now: There is no alternative.
The possibility that seems to be increasingly real, in the continuing light of the ‘Arab Spring’, is that pressures for democracy will grow elsewhere in the world too: such as in Africa; …and in Britain… For, as a philosopher, one has of course to ask the question: What does democracy actually mean? One clue of course is etymology: Do the people (the demos) really rule, in this country? See on this…

I believe, as I have recently argued at length in a ‘call to arms’ on the ‘Green Words Workshop’ blog (
– again, I’d welcome readers thoughts on my line of thinking and suggestion for action there), that democracy in its true sense might just be about to start coming to this country too. It will depend on exposing, as I aim to help to do in that piece, the somewhat (ahem) corrupt state of our current democracy; crucially, the way that our current system is dominated by money. As a rare beast, a philosopher who is politically active, I have real experience of this. In the 2009 Norwich North byelection, in which I stood as the Green Party candidate, we raised almost £20000 with which to fight the byelection. This is far far more than the Green Party had ever raised in a byelection previously. But it was only a small fraction of what the LibDems, UKIP and the Conservatives each spent in the byelection campaign. Their access to rich donors and corporate donors made it easy for them to drown voters in paper on the doorsteps (and in billboards) and to crowd the Green Party voice in the campaign out. The Conservatives and Labour moreover moved whole staffing operations out from London to fight the campaign; something which just wasn’t possible for the Greens to do.
If we are to have real democracy as opposed to merely formal democracy (On which, see Norman Daniels’s important criticism of Rawls…
), then the power of big money to deform politics, which is a serious problem in this country and even more serious in some other countries such as the U.S., must be addressed.

And of course, Libya and Egypt and Tunisia and so on will discover this too, soon enough.

[p.s. Forgive the funny formatting of my links here… Still getting used to blogging for myself on WordPress! As I’ve done it here, each link _follows_ the piece of text that introduces it.]

Greening the future with the help of the 20th century’s greatest philosophers

It’s great to be joining the TP blog as a regular blogger. I thought I’d start by mentioning what my main philosophical research is about, right now.

So; my current project is a particularly small and easy one 😉
…I’m working to find a solution to the central problem of our time: our (humans’) fairly-rapid and at-present seemingly-inexorable collective destruction of our collective life-support mechanism…

One of my proposals, being developed along with my main co-author Phil Hutchinson, is that Wittgenstein and the Pragmatists can help – that these are in fact ‘environmentalist’ philosophers (To read more, see my book PHILOSOPHY FOR LIFE, chapter 1).

It can seem shocking to suggest that James, Dewey and Wittgenstein be cast as (everyday) environmentalists. For we are accustomed to thinking of ‘environmentalism’ as a political category, and of philosophers as above politics. That widespread notion is however multiply-flawed. Firstly, the whole point of the suggestion in the previous paragraph is that one cannot make any sense of supposing creatures such as ourselves to exist except as utterly dependent upon and in an important sense therefore utterly immersed in our environing circumstances. Secondly, the merest common-sense for the species, of survival, ought to make ecologism, i.e. the sense that everyone is ‘downstream’ of everyone else (See Helena Norberg-Hodge’s marvellous film and book, ANCIENT FUTURES, for detail on this notion), into something that is genuinely basic for all politics, rather than being politically controversial. It is their not yet being common-sensical that makes things appear ‘political’ in some problematic and controversial way; what is needed is a politics that successfully acts so as to render the ideology of ecologism – an Earth-based ‘ideology’ – part of the ground, rather than figural. ‘Hegemonic’, in Gramscian terms. Thirdly, given that our societies are so tragically far from such far-sightedness, there is no way that being ‘politically controversial’ can be avoided – in making the transition to a thinking and a conducting of ourselves as if tomorrow truly mattered. And fourthly, it is in any case misguided to fantasise philosophy as would-be politically-neutral. This fantasy, fairly widespread in the English-speaking world, but much less attractive on the Continent (and directly contested in Dewey’s corpus, and also in Cornel West), is based upon a resistance to thinking deeply about the ‘therapy’ that our culture needs to go through, the changes that are required if it is to be truly assertible that we love wisdom and act accordingly. The drive toward depoliticisation of as much as possible is itself an aspect of the ‘liberal’ philosophy of mutual indifference that precisely requires challenging, if these changes are to occur.

How is this kind of thinking to become reality? How does the transition get made from philosophy to political action?

This writing that I am doing in itself could not possibly be enough, however brilliant it was and however widely read it might be. It needs to be ‘completed’– by you, and many more. In part, in action, including in actions that we do not anticipate and perhaps would not in some cases even welcome. (For Wittgenstein, the deepest meaning of philosophy being a ‘therapeutic’ enterprise is that the reader / listener needs truly to enter into the conversation.)

A truly Wittgensteinian solution to our problems, compatible I/we suggest with the best of the spirit of Pragmatism (with for instance the Jamesian right-to-believe; the Deweyan emphases on human animals as through-and-through environed, as through-and-through not subjects facing objects, as through-and-through not in need of a quest for certainty conceived of as knowledge-immune-to-doubt; the Peircean suggestion that belief is not really belief unless it be articulated into action (so long as this is not a tacit behavioristic claim, but rather a kind of moral or political one: On what basis are you (and are you not) prepared to act?); and so forth), _depends_ on the reader; and, ultimately, on there being a decent number _of_ such readers.

Which is one reason why it seems appropriate to canvass it here on this blog.