Philosophy & Thought

What happens when ‘agree to disagree’ doesn’t work?

Agnes Callard hits it out of the park again with another article over at The Point Magazine, Persuade or Be Persuaded.

Because “Socratic civility” takes refutation as its modus operandi, it makes people angry. People felt hurt and disrespected by what Socrates did to them, and eventually they killed him for it. One might argue, against Socrates, that it is more truly civil to live and let live.

The problem comes when you can’t: Abortion. Universal health care. Immigration. Taxation. Facebook privacy. Sexism. Racism. Transphobia. Prisons. Poverty. Education. Unions. When one of our perspectival differences becomes a load-bearing political question, the idea of agreeing to disagree doesn’t work anymore. If each of us accepts that at the end of the day we cannot change one another’s minds, and each of us also thinks that in this case things must go my way, we are in quite a bind.

-Agnes Callard
Books & Reading Philosophy & Thought

A Novel of Description and Attention

I haven’t read any Karl Ove Knausgaard, but Toril Moi’s critique of his multi-volume novel, My Struggle strikes a chord with me – particularly as it relates his work to a quest for presence, and ‘attention’. A question of one’s existence and an attempt to record or validate it. Might have to add My Struggle to the ‘to read’ list, though it seems like a behemoth.

Nothing is more ordinary than existence—than being there; nothing is easier to miss. This is the heart of the project of My Struggle: all these thousands of pages are attempts to pay attention. They arise from the realization of how easy it is to miss the adventure of one’s own existence, to live one’s life without noticing, without paying attention to that one thing: that I was there. But they also arise from the realization that we will inevitably miss much of that adventure, that our only hope is to recreate the moments of existence from memory. 

My Struggle is one man’s attempt to tell us how it is to be here, now. To show us existence as an ordinary phenomenon. But it is also an attempt to record his own existence. The book tells us that he, Karl Ove Knausgaard, was here. That he existed. That he struggled to be present in the world. This is why description is the key formal device in My Struggle. Description is precisely the literary form which unites the voice of the subject (of the narrator or writer) with his or her interest in the object of the description. Uniting the utterly concrete and precise with the question of existence, the description we just looked at achieves the “inexhaustible precision” which is Knausgaard’s aesthetic ideal.

Philosophy & Thought

On ‘Public Philosophy’

Came across the beginnings of what so far is a great series of articles on ‘Public philosophy’ over at The Point Magazine by Agnes Callard. In the first article, Is Public Philosophy Good?, Ms. Callard writes:

“Recently, there have been rumblings of a Great Escape, one that goes by the name of “Public Philosophy.” Public philosophy includes, but extends beyond, the pop philosophy found in books such as LogicomixSophie’s World or The Matrix and Philosophy. Pop philosophy, which has parallels in pop physics, pop history and pop psychology, presents philosophical figures or concepts in an accessible way; the “pop” genre more generally, informs nonprofessionals of developments in some field

I guess I would qualify as what she later goes on to detail as a ‘public philosopher’. I have the interest, but not (yet anyway) the academic background and training in the subject. Ms. Callard continues:

“It is one thing to share information about philosophy and another to offer non-philosophers a way of participating in the activity. Public philosophy aspires to liberate the subject from its academic confines: to put philosophy into action. Is that a good thing?”

I think it is. While obviously not a substitute for intensive learning and academic study, I think Public philosophy could only serve to inspire more thought and creativity within the public sphere and day-to-day life. In addition I would think the normalization of the practice of philosophic thought and inquiry could motivate future generations to engage with philosophy on a more serious, academic level.

In the second article in the series, The Emotion Police, Ms. Callard declares:

“Who could possibly have the gall to tell the entire human race what it should and should not feel? Philosophers, that’s who!” 

Ms. Callard goes on to detail four other philosophers who have targeted specific emotions that, in their observation, need to be dealt with in order to facilitate better living. Regret, anger, grief and empathy all get the once over with the commonality being that rational thought applied to each of these emotions would allow for better management thereof, and better society overall.

“These four thinkers rightly point to the variety of ways in which negative emotions turn our lives upside down, make us miserable and divert us from pursuing what is good.”

-Agnes Callard

Ultimately, to wrap up this excellent second article, Ms. Callard turns her sights on hatred as the emotion that we could probably all best do without and have difficulty justifying.

I will have to be content with my ‘amateur’ status in the philosophy game for now and hope one day for a shot in the ‘pro’ ranks. In the meantime, I’ll continue to absorb and enjoy what I can via the ‘public’ channels, and am looking forward to the rest of the articles in Ms. Callard’s series.