Saturday, January 28, 2017

In this item of unusual length I give a survey of his blog, where the items are bundled according to theme. I do this also on my website, where you can download the bundles.

Items with more than 100 views are printed in bold. Items with more than 400 views are also underlined. Trust is  the most popular subject. Note that, of course, older items have had more time to accumulate views.

26 pieces on Knowledge, truth and invention: 7. Geometry and finesse, 23. From inside and outside, 24. Body and mind, 25. Forms of truth, 26. Pragmatism, 28. Realism?, 29. Object bias, 31. Invention, 35. The scripture of invention, 57. The value of difference, 104. Truth as argumentation, 106. Relativism, 157. What is rational?, 169. Truth on the move, 172. What do you have in mind? 173. Where does argumentation stop? 216. Theory, concept and fact, 245. Forms of realism, 246. Is it wrong to be right?, 260. What is an intellectual, 263. Order and disorder in thought, 264. Useful, warranted, or workable?, 270. Rationality unravelling, 271. Dumping the deep, 273. Philosophy, science and literature, 274. Is pragmatism conventional?, 294. Sceptical idealism, 295. The commons of truth. 

27 pieces on Ethics and morality : 5. Free will?, 38. Morality, 39. The good life, 40. Being in the world, 42. Fragility of goodness, 43. Justice, 48. Immorality of the group, 71. Judgements of good and bad,117. Habermas, 118. Debatable ethics , 119. Moral animals?, 120. Does reading literature make people better?, 125. Private and public virtues, 162. Obligation and virtue, 163. Virtue: emotions, nature and others, 164. Trust as virtue, 166. Guilt of unintended harm, 171. Realism and empathy, 174. Moral realism, 175. Morality of causes, 176. Moral failure, 177. Tolerance and forgiveness, 178. Moral instinct, 179. Moral robots?, 180. Economics is not free from values, 224. Ethics and justice, 230. The virtue of distinction. 

Eleven pieces on Nietzsche, nihilism and beyond: 19 Beyond nihilism: imperfection on the move 60. Nietzsche's error, 63. Nietzsche and Levinas, 64. Nietzsche, Levinas and me, 143. Forms of nihilism, 144. Response to nihilism 1, 145. Response to nihilism 2, 146. Meaning nihilism, 147. Beyond nihilism: Nietzsche, 148. Imperfection on the move, 149. Nietzsche as a pragmatist, 285. Nietzsche and Aristotle.

21 pieces on Self and Other: 6. Love, 46. Intolerance and altruism, 52. History of the self, 53. Narcissism, 54. Self interest, 55. Self and other, 56. Humanism, 57. The value of difference, 60. Nietzsche's error, 61. Levinas: Philosophy of the other, 65. Otherhumanism, 66. The value of collaboration, 76. How much community?, 108. The self as work in progress, 121. How does love work, 122. Commitment and choice, 124. Art, love and God, 134. Notions of the self, 205. Parochial altruism, 209. Identity and altruism in networks, 233. Constructive alienation.    

Thirteen pieces on Trust: 68. Trust, what is it?, 69. Sources of trust, 70. Forms of identification, 72. Uncertainty and openness, 73. Psychology of trust, 74. Roles of a go-between, 75. Horizontal control, 107. Hope and trust, 123. The destruction of distrust, 164. Trust as virtue, 196. Trust under stress, 292. The virtues of trust, 293. The rhetoric of trust.   

Nine pieces on Evolution: 27. Evolution, 28. Realism?, 29. Object bias, 30. Evolution in society, 46. Intolerance and altruism are instinctive, 82. Evolution in nature and art, 161. Play, invention and evolution, 195. The mystery of mathematics, 205. Parochial altruism.

Thirteen pieces on Puzzles in philosophy: 1. What philosophy, 2. Philosophical questions, 7. Geometry and finesse, 16. The problem of universals, 17. Universalism, 18. Change, 28. Realism?, 29. Object bias, 106. Relativism, 158. Analytical and continental philosophy, 184. Unity in diversity, 222. Forms of universals, 234. What is postmodernism? 

Nine pieces on Democracy, autocracy, and fascism: 47. How Nazist is present populism?, 127. Beneficial imperfection, 153. Response to authoritarianism, 160. History goes on, 165. Absolute terror, 181. In the face of terrorism, 227. The cultural roots of ISIS success, 236. The problem of multiculturalism, 241. Response to fascism? 

Fourteen pieces on Eastern and Western philosophy: 128. Eastern and Western philosophy, 129. What to make of East and West, 130. Confucius, 131. Neo-confucianism, 133. Religion and pragmatism, 133. Substance and appearance, 134. Notions of the self, 136. Productive ambiguity, 137: Yin and Yang: contrasts and complements, 138: Cycles of change: Yin/Yang and discovery, 139. Nietzsche and Eastern philosophy, 140. Montaigne on the move, 141. The soft power of Yin, 142. Limits of language  . 

Fifteen pieces on The human condition: 15. The human condition, 20. The Enlightenment, 21. Problems with the Enlightenment, 22. Romanticism, 24. Body and mind, 39. The good life, 40. Being in the world, 56. Humanism, 65. Otherhumanism, 77. Beyond Enlightenment and Romanticism, 116. Reason in the rise and fall of civilization, 197. Back to Enlightenment values?, 257. Liberal communitarianism, 283. What answer to populism , 286. Creative conflict and criticism, 296. Acting as in nature, 297. The citizen customer is king.

Eight pieces on Exit and voice:  123. The destruction of distrust, 164. Trust as virtue, 219. Voicetwitter and barking, 231. The temptation of exit, 232. Will robots have voice?, 233. Constructive alienation, 259. Voice and parrhesia, 286. Creative conflict and criticism.

Seven pieces on System tragedy:  109. Conspiracy, incompetence and system tragedy, 159. System rebellion, 187. System tragedy, 190. The script of financial crises, 206. Ideology and language games in the Greek crisis, 266. Rebellion, 268. Heidegger, Foucault, Wittgenstein, andhow to rebel. 

Nine pieces on Time, duration, and discontinuity: Bergson, Derrida, and Bachelard: 248. Connections with Bergson: The linguistic U-turn, 249. Duration: The whole and the parts,
250. Duration, process and invention, 251. Deconstruction, 252. Hermeneutics and literature, 253. Jamming time, 254. How stable is reality?, 255. Continuity and discontinuity, 256. Rest and restlessness.

Fourteen pieces on Art and Literature: 80. Art, 81. Serenity or exuberance?, 82. Evolution in nature and art, 83. Art and nature, 84. The universal and the specific in art, 88. Wabi Sabi, 89. Aesthetic judgement, 90. Ethics and education, 91. Stability and change, art and sex, 92. Free will and literature, 120. Does reading literature produce good people?, 124. Art, love and God, 252. Hermeneutics and literature, 273. Philosophy, science, and literature. 

Twelve pieces on The politics of virtue : 280. Plato and Aristotle, 281. Principles for combining virtue and freedom, 282. Policies for combining virtue and freedom, 284. Which virtues?, 285. Nietzsche and Aristotle, 286. Creative conflict and criticism, 287. The crisis of liberalism, 288. The politics of virtue, 289. Multiple causality of virtues, 290. What virtue debate?, 291. Need for a virtuous elite, 292. Virtues of trust. 

Five pieces on God and religion: 13. Which God?, 14. Religion without a God, 115. The success of theistic religion, 124. Art, love and God, 182. God as a goal?.

Two pieces on Basic income: 154. A basic income, 226. A basis for independence.

Two pieces on Robots: 179. Moral robots?, 232. Will robots have voice?

Eight pieces on Identity: 8. personal identity 9. cultural identity , 10. culture is not essential, 11. European identity?, 12. Tracing identity, 134. Notions of the self, 265. What is identity?, 272. How do you find your selves?

Five pieces on Culture: 236. The problem of multiculturalism, 237. The container of culture, 238. What universality in culture?, 239. Ideas, work and integration, 240. Flattening culture.

Six pieces on multiple causality: 96. Multiple causality, 97. Proximate and ultimate goals, 98. Science and policy, 99. Role models, 100. Explaining history, 289. Multiple causality of virtues. 

Eight pieces on meaning: 32. Meaning, 33. Prototype, 34. Practical prejudice, 36. Hermeneutics, 37. Meaning change,  105. Wittgenstein, 167. Word and object, 168. Word as process.  

Eight pieces on Power, Foucault: 50. Power, 51. Will to power, 212. Pervasive power, 213. The causality of power, 214. Language games of power, 215. Ideology, power and knowledge. 217. How power can destroy itself, 244. Zizek and Foucault.

Five more pieces on Foucault: 258. System power and self-indoctrination, 259. Voice and parrhesia, 260. What is an intellectual?, 261. The truth of Foucault, 262. The banality of evil.

Six pieces on A way out for socialism?: 150. Equality on the move, 151. New individualism, 152. New solidarity, 154. A basic income, 192. A way out for socialism?, 226. A basis for independence.

Six pieces on Levinas: 61. Levinas: philosophy of the other, 62: Levinas: justice?, 63. Nietzsche and Levinas, 223. Levinas and Lacan, 225. Rebellious capitalism, 242. Heidegger and Levinas. 

Three  pieces on Montaigne: 140. Montaigne on the move, 155. Scepticism, relativism and conservatism in Montaigne, 156. Montaigne and the mask of convention. 

Seven pieces on Heidegger:40. Being in the world, 90. Ethics, art and education, 108. The self as work in progress, 146. Meaning nihilism, 170. Wittgenstein and Heidegger as ethical opposites, 242. What response to fascism?, 243. Heidegger and Levinas.  

Five pieces on  Baudrillard: 110. Hyperreality, 111. Hyperidentity, 112. Loss of information, differentiation, and life, 113. Loss of responsibility, 114. Remedies?

Six pieces on Wittgenstein:  105. Wittgenstein, 170. Wittgenstein and Heidegger as ethical opposites, 172. What do you have in mind?, 174. Moral realism?, 214. Language games of power, 217. Language, nature and ethics.

Thirteen pieces on Fallen foundations, language games and crossing cultures: 260. What is an intellectual?, 261. The truth of Foucault, 263. Order and disorder in thought, 264. Useful, warranted or workable?, 266. Rebellion, 268. Heidegger, Foucault, Wittgenstein, and how to rebel, 272. How do you find yourselves, 273. Philosophy, science, and literature, 274. Is pragmatism conventional?, 275. Science and politics: how different are they?, 276. Habermas and Lyotard, 277. In search of a supergame, 278. Talking to the natives. 

Saturday, January 21, 2017

299. Loyalty and mutual responsibility with and without God

Here is what I learned from consultation with a PhD scholar Jan Jorrit Hasselaar. He is engaged in a PhD thesis connecting insights from theology and economics with ways of thinking about environmental issues. In particular, he finds inspiration from the work of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, which he combines with ideas from my 2002 book on trust.

Sacks and I both study relationships with bonds of loyalty and mutual responsibility, and we share the following views.

First, the pragmatic view that truth arises from practice, from being lived. You develop ideas by engaging in the world.

Second, a shift away from the universalism of much Western philosophy (in Plato, and Kant, for example) towards a recognition, indeed celebration, of particularity, individuality. Sacks used the felicitous phrase ‘the dignity of difference’.

Third, acceptance of radical uncertainty in relationships. Precisely defined (my definition, not one of Sacks): we do not know all that could happen (events, actions, threats, opportunities, consequences), so that we cannot attach probabilities and calculate risks (as economists insist on doing). You don’t even know in advance how people and indeed yourself will respond to events and each other. Another good phrase from Sacks is that this radical uncertainty is constitutive. From it, dealing with it, we develop, constitute our identity.

Fourth, as a result of this uncertainty one needs faith, courage and hope. Faith in the positive potential of a relationship, hope that it will indeed be realised, and courage to engage in it. Trust requires a ‘leap of faith’. Here, hope is not hope for the realization of some specific outcome that one has in advance. That would not leave room for the surprises, positive and negative, that radical uncertainty yield. Here, surprise is welcome, with the hope that it will be positive.

But what is the basis or source of that? Isn’t it merely wishful thinking? An act of desperation? Here, Sacks and I seem to diverge radically. For Sacks, we need the grace of God for faith and hope. For me, we can do without. As discussed in several places in this blog, here I am inspired more by Levinas. My reasoning is as follows.

Institutions support trust, with the security offered by rule of law. That provides the platform for the leap of faith. Classical virtues of reason, moderation, and justice also support it, and need to be taught in education.

But that is not enough. The crux is this. If indeed relations with others, with their radical uncertainty, are constitutive, needed to form our identity, then not taking the leap of faith, hope and courage would mean spurning the development of identity, of being in the world. One would squander the opportunity of life, leave fallow the grounds of being.

Now, some people might say that there is no fundamental difference between the God of Sacks and my godlessness. That depends, of course, on what one means by ‘God’.

I think Sacks does not see God as some entity beyond the world, as its creator, or ‘first mover’. Not God as the totality of nature, as with Spinoza. Not a providential God, perhaps.

He does not constrain or guide the free will of people. He does seem to intervene in the world, but only obliquely, so to speak, or implicitly, through people not on people. Perhaps, as Jan Jorrit Hasselaar suggests, for Sacks God is only implicit, living in relationships and in the perspective of loyalty and mutual responsibility. In that case the difference with my perspective is indeed small. But I still not see the added merit of calling that ‘God’, which I see as a source of misunderstanding, given the many meanings of it.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

298. Against brain reductionism

There still is debate on whether ‘we are our brain’. Can our choices and thoughts be ‘reduced’ to what happens in our brain? This is one example of the perennial debate on reductionism. It is silly to argue whether choice is rooted in brain activity or in conduct and interaction with other people. Of course both apply.

While choice and thought are based on activity in the brain, we cannot, at least not yet, understand and explain conduct by looking at neural circuits or firing patterns in the brain.

Similarly, while causality ‘ultimately’ is based on atomic and subatomic phenomena, we cannot understand it by looking at that level. Molecules are composed from atoms, which in turn arise from underlying forces, but chemical knowledge cannot be reduced to quantum mechanics.

We knew about Boyle’s law of the pressure of a gas in a vat as proportional to temperature and inversely proportional to volume of the vat before we knew that pressure was caused by gas molecules bumping into the walls of the vat.
We know about laws of supply and demand without explaining the psychology of choice.

How a car works enables and constrains how it can be driven, but we cannot understand driving behaviour by looking at the motor of the car. But electrical failure that causes the motor to stall can explain an accident.

To understand choice we need to see how choices are made in action. To understand cognition and language we need to see how it arises in action. However, while these phenomena cannot be reduced to how the brain works this does not make it irrelevant to look at how the brain works. A renewed discussion of the old issue of free will arose from the experimental finding in brain research that awareness of choice often comes after the choice rather than before it, as a rationalization after the act. Does this prove that ‘we are our brain’ and there is no free will?

As I argued in item 5 of this blog, subconscious choice is fed by conscious deliberation and the execution of choice is based at least in part on conscious deliberation.

So, what is the relation between brain activity and action in the world? Earlier in this blog I adopted the perspective of ‘neural Darwinism’, from the work of Gerald Edelman, that neural networks develop from felt success of activities triggered by neural networks. They guide choice but are  also formed by its results. In this way what happens in the brain reflects experience.

Looking at actions helps to understand how the brain works, and looking at the brain helps to understand how choice and action work. This fits well in the pragmatist perspective that I take: ideas orient action, but action feeds back in formation of ideas.   

Saturday, January 7, 2017

297 The citizen customer is king

It is now becoming politically correct to say that the resentment that feeds current populist revolt has legitimate grounds. It arises among people who have lost out in globalization, in loss of jobs and work conditions. Low-educated, locally rooted people with traditional values feel loss of recognition, disdain and ridicule of their values, views, and ways of life, from a cosmopolitan elite. They feel unattended to, by a distant politics that has lost contact with ‘ordinary’ people, betrayed by liberal politics of globalization, with a surrender of society to markets, and a surrender of national, cultural and racial identity.

All that seems true and valid. However, there is another way to look at this. For many years, market ideology, aiming at privatization of public services, has cast the citizen as a ‘customer’ for the ‘product’ of public service. At the same time business schools developed a marketing aimed at ‘customer value’ and consumer sovereignty, where ‘the customer is always right’ and ‘is king’. Customers have no duties to producers or to each other.

No wonder, then, that the citizen demands its customer rights towards government. Government needs to cater to citizen demands unconditionally and immediately. Democracy means doing what the customer demands. Producers provide goods, do not make demands on customers. If dissatisfied, the customer citizen takes its custom to the next best salesman.

Civilization has become consumption. Civil servants are producers and salesmen. Politics is a market, where politicians maximise their visibility and popularity, to increase their share in the market for popular vote. Consumers don’t elect representatives to deliberate for them on the planning of production, they take direct action in consumer societies that demand their rights. In populist parties. Policemen, firemen, ambulance personnel have no say, no authority. They are waiters that dish up the service. If it is not to the liking of citizens, or just for fun, they throw cobblestones.

Like consumers, citizens demand instant gratification. In business the short term reigns supreme, in demands from shareholders, which jeopardizes long term interests and investments in innovation and preservation of the environment. The citizen consumer also has no business with the long term, such as future financial interests of the young, the environment, and the seeds that culture sows.

Parents put their children to school to receive a diploma, they expect to be served, and it is not up to teachers to judge and decline. In some families, children are customers to be served by parents, a nanny, and day-care, and grow up into lack of resilience, lack of experience with adversity, and are out of their depth when their environment fails to serve.

Culture, in theatre, art, music, literature, news reporting, and science have become entertainment. Celebrities rule, selling vicarious fame. Scientific research becomes a shop for useful knowledge. Researchers have to outsell their competitors, with publications priced by popularity, called impact. With citations like the likes on Facebook. In media and politics intellect is trumped by emotion. Truth is a matter of perspective, and that can be crafted and pimped to outshine the competition.

Is all this over the top? Perhaps. It is the nightmare I currently have. A glimpse of truth, perhaps?