- What Exactly IS Philosophy? (Open Discussion, Multiple Readings)
This question has been bothering me for some time. But who better than philosophers to try and answer it, and where better than at our own philosophy meetup? Let's get META. "What exactly IS philosophy?" To spur the discussion, there will be texts from three different sources. The first reading is from Joseph Campbell's 4-volume historical survey of world religion and mythology, called The Masks of God. In two sections of Volume 3, Occidental Mythology, he discusses what made Ancient Greece new and different—among other things, "an unprecedented shift in loyalty from the impersonal to the personal that I characterize...as the Greek—the European—miracle...comparable to an evolutionary psychological mutation." The second reading is very short, from the Friesian website of our very own member, Kelley Ross. (see link to readings below). The third reading is from the joint authors Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari's 1991 book, What Is Philosophy?, which gives a brave, modern (and French...) take on the answer. Kudos to Deleuze and Guattari for even trying. All the texts can be found on the following link. Please let me know if there is any trouble accessing the files: https://sites.google.com/view/zach-philosophy-texts/home/what-is-philosophy I look forward to seeing all of you there. Bye!
- "Know Thyself" Philosophy-Theater Fringe Show (MUST BUY TICKETS YOURSELF)
Kismet Cowork Spring Arts$25.00
KNOW THYSELF is a game-based philosophy salon which will be part of the Philadelphia Fringe Festival: https://www.ikantkoan.com/know-thyself.html Its creator, Jessica Creane, reached out to the Philosophy Meetup and she and I have agreed to make 8:30 pm on Saturday, September 7th our special show night. As the final show of that night, Jessica will be free to host a post-show discussion for us. The catch is that tickets for Fringe Festival shows tend to sell out fast, and our meetup cannot guarantee enough attendees to fill the 24 seats for a Saturday show. So if you know you want to go, please buy a ($25) ticket as soon as possible. Some advance tickets can be bought before Fringe tickets officially go on sale on August 1st, at this link: https://knowthyself.bpt.me/ The main link for Fringe tickets, after August 1st: https://fringearts.com/9649 If you're a latecomer and you still want to go, it's not impossible that Jessica can make a few exceptions for our group, adding a few seats at the end just for us. But avoid that extra inquiry and buy your tickets before they sell out. From the show's description: “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” - Plato Philosophy is both familiar and mystifying. “I think therefore I am,” “Tyranny of the Majority,” “Know Thyself.” Who’s words do we live by? Why? How? If philosophy was something we played rather than read, would we be better equip to engage with our own minds? In this immersive, game-theater salon, participants explore philosophy- historical and personal- through playful, multiplayer games and interactive experiences. KNOW THYSELF transforms abstract philosophy into a series of playful and challenging analog games. Participants explore agency and sense of self by exploring philosophy through social, multiplayer games, contending with the good, the bad, and the confounding of each.
- Special Event: The Lawn Chair Philosophy Conference
The next event of the Philadelphia Philosophy Group will be something of a special occasion. Instead of focusing on a particular work of philosophy, classic or modern, there will be short presentations of original work by a number of our members. This event was developed in partnership with Keli Birchfield, adjunct philosophy professor at St Joseph’s university, and her non profit organization, the Lawn Chair Philosophy Foundation, which is concerned with providing wider access to philosophical literature and education for the non academic public. The event will involve 5 to 6 speakers who will take the floor for 5-15 minutes to exposit on a piece of philosophical work they are passionate about. There will then be a discussion running 20-30 minutes long concerning each speakers’ work. While the final order and number of presenters is still being fully finalized, the current lineup includes: Keli Birchfield, who will be reading an original philosophical poem. Dan Dalmonte, who will be exploring the value of faith esp. Viz a viz empirically justified belief. Zach Tollen, who will be presenting a pictorial slide show entitled "Geometry and Morality", inspired by our own recent discussion of Plato's Gorgias, but mixed in with his own personal imaginative vision. Jesse Opie, your narrator, who will be speaking on Philosophy as a Humanistic Discipline. Note this event will be on Saturday, August 24th, and will run an extra hour, from 6 PM to 9 PM to accommodate all our speakers.
- The Perfect World: On Plato and Moral Idealism
For about as long as western culture has developed articulate accounts of itself, it has been haunted by the idea of a better and more perfect world. The concept goes roughly like this: this world in which we exist, is mundane, often ugly, rough, practical, imperfect, ceaselessly changing, and governed by animalistic goals of self interest, force, pleasure and power...but related to this world, upholding it, there is a stable world or reality of beauty, order, harmony and consistency. From this other world we get conceptions of Justice, Goodness, Friendship, Truth, Compassion, and the brotherhood of humanity. The universe and its order and natural beauty is a great expression of these same ideals of justice and harmony. Because of this, the pursuit of order, harmony, temperance, and self discipline are moral and spiritual ideals with support in the metaphysical structure of things. But because there is great gap between this mundane world and the ideal world, the pursuit of the ideal world often comes at a great renunciation of pleasure, success, power and prestige. Such ideas have had a haunting sway over the western imagination, whether that imagination has belonged to 12th century Christians, 18th century Free Thinkers and Revolutionaries, or even 20th and 21st century Activists. The origin of such ideals is hard to trace, but the first great non- religious articulation of this notion in the west is found in the generally acclaimed father of Western Philosophy, the Greek Plato. Drawing on the spirituality inherent in ancient greek speculations about the order of nature, and his own fascination with ascetic practice and rational ideals, Plato developed a conception of the meaning and order of human existence which has continued to influence our moral compass up until the present day. In this meetup I want to discuss the roots and implications of this moral idealism of Plato. To do so we will focus on two key texts, the Gorgias, in which Plato sets forth his belief in the moral order of the universe, and the renunciation of selfishness, and the famous allegory of the cave in the Republic, in which Plato sets forth his vision of the conflict between the ideal world of goodness and reality and the everyday mundane world of pleasure and appearance. texts can be downloaded here: https://sites.google.com/site/philosophymeetuptexts/plato-meetup
- Metaphors We Live By: Or on the Role of Thought in the World and in Life
Two of the most basic questions, both for the self image that we have of man, and the self image we have of philosophy, are these: “What is thought?” and it's follow up: “What is the value of thinking?” If we look to traditional philosophy, we find that one of the most important themes has been the notion of thought as a picture of reality, and of the ultimate value of thought consisting in the the way this picture accurately maps onto reality. (objective truth). However this viewpoint has been in a state of crisis that has seemed to get acute in the last 70 years, though it stretches back considerably further. For over the last two hundred years, there has grown a large undercurrent of western thinking that has presented a very different notion of the value of thought. The thinkers attached to this current, argue that the value of thought does not primarily consist in an accuracy of mapping with reality. For they even disagree that the nature of thought is primarily pictorial. Rather they tend to say that thought is an activity, (sometimes a tool) and this activity is oriented towards development and satisfaction of human needs, values and purposes. The value of thought is tied to the way it serves these ends. Probably the height of this conflict about the nature and value of thought has been the movement of post modernism in continental philosophy, but anxieties about the image of thought as objective picture are present in most major currents of modern philosophy. Still, for the average English speaking person with an interest in philosophy, the positions and statements of post modernism and cultural relativism can have an exotic character which makes them hard to interact with, or form a response to. For this reason, I think the work of two american social scientists has peculiar value, as an introduction to the themes and considerations which have motivated a good deal of our current intellectual landscape. For while it is questionable whether their work is post modernist, it does express the general trends of which post modernism is the most extreme example. These scientists, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, wrote a book together, metaphors we live by, which captures the major technical themes of the view of thought as instrument and expressive resource, with considerable clarity. Starting with the post kantian notion that all our ability to deal with the world is filtered through a conceptual system, Lakoff and Johnson come to argue that this conceptual system is fundamentally non literal, and therefore based upon metaphors. These metaphors allow us to understand abstract and obscure phenomena(which are nonetheless the most important parts of our understanding of the world) in terms of dimensions of our immediate experience. It is in terms of such metaphors that we structure our activities and lead our lives. These metaphors, however do not apply to these experiences, literally, but highlight certain features of them and hide others. What’s more they are often based upon our cultural and physical experience, and therefore have a subjective character. They refer to properties that these objects have only in relation to our purposeful and cultural patterns. This subjective, non literal and selective character of thought prevents us from being able to speak of an unconditional, completely accurate truth concerning the most important concepts and problems of life. Instead we have to speak of conditional, provisional, partial truths, and our notion of the value of thought has to be less about a perfect accuracy than a more obscure concept of workability for human needs, purposes, values, etc. It is this rather haunting notion of the inexorably fuzzy and non literal character of thought, and it’s ensuing notion of partial, subjectively conditioned truth that I wish to discuss in this group. Our main reading is posted here: https://sites.google.com/site/philosophymeetuptexts/metaphors-we-live-by
- Varieties of Humanity: Jungian Types and the Appreciation of Human Difference.
One of the great problems that has emerged in western thought over the last two hundred years, is that of tolerance, and how far mutual respect can be extended to those who are radically different from us. It seems that as western society has become more and more a patchwork of different cultures, this has come to seem more and more urgent. Tolerance has become a great buzzword. If it is to be more than a buzzword though, or more than a means of quietly acknowledging the existence of humans one wants nothing to do with, it seems that it must become integrated with images of human difference. This implies a framework for thinking about human difference and similarity, and a framework which portrays this difference as having a human value. This great problem of human understanding seems to be still in its infancy. If we wish to understand it, we must begin by consulting the frameworks which have been worked out already. I think the personality psychology of Carl Jung, a European psychologist, provides as good an introduction to this question about tolerance as any. Drawing on ideas with roots in western literature, (both philosophical and artistic) psychoanalysis, and both eastern and western mysticism, Jung developed a dynamic and living image of how human beings might be thought to differ from each other while existing within a common framework of humanity. The basic element of this theory was an essentially dynamic and ethical conception of personality, influenced by Freudianism but hearkening back to Plato. It was the conception of the soul as being a place in which there is a chorus of universal conflicting forces, processes, voices. If there is to be any sort of integration or harmony within the soul, (and therefore adaptation to life) some of these drives or processes must dominate over the others and establish order. From this conception arises the idea of radically different personalities evolving based on the way that one of these processes was favored over the others. Jung and his successors saw this process as creating highly distinctive types of humanity, types with a natural tendency to misunderstand and be misunderstood and misjudged by each other. For these personalities types all have their strengths and their weaknesses. It is this conception of how human differences evolve out of the specialized development of universally human processes of adapting to life that forms the heart of the Jungian type theory. It is this conception above all else, that I want to analyze and discuss. For this conception is one particular and rich image of the cognitive process of empathy (the understanding of how a peculiarity arises out of something universally human). We will use Jung’s own texts on the type theory and some supplementary readings concerning how others have used the type theory to explore this notion of appreciation and empathy further. Readings are linked here: https://sites.google.com/site/philosophymeetuptexts/jung-meetup
- Beginning Hegel's Phenomenology of Mind: Truth and Objectivity from Subjectivity
Hegel’s Phenomenology of Mind - Sense Perception and Understanding Chapters 1, 2 and 3. The development of Knowledge, Truth and Objectivity through Subjectivity. The goal is to experience the radical method of inquiry created by this philosopher. We will attempt to step through the first two or three Chapters of Hegel’s The Phenomenology of Mind taking a naïve but rigorous approach, striving to be true to what the author claims. We will discuss the contents, polarities, and breakdown of the three stages presented, each seen as containing its own contradictions and the seeds of dialectic progress to a higher stage. We may consider the historical context as shedding additional light on the state of Western Philosophy after Descartes, Hume, and Kant which were well known by Hegel and yet left questions open he was compelled to address. ==================== Source Material: The entire Phenomenology of Mind in translation by J.B. Baillie, is available in chapters at: https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/hegel/phindex.htm Our focus will be three chapters: Section A - Consciousness I. Sense-Certainty, This, and Meaning II. Perception, Thing, and Deceptiveness III. Force and Understanding The Preface and Introduction are helpful to contextualize the work. We will not get to Self-Consciousness. DETAILS up to Ch. 3: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1f5mO6JDSaag85LdmkIQIsO0GtJECieK2wGR7rF---eo/edit?usp=sharing ==================== This is an opportunity to take a hardcore first look at Hegel starting at the beginning of his quest in the seminal work Phenomenology of Mind to find what can be clarified about Truth and Knowledge by examining Consciousness. Not Consciousness in a test tube or neural net, but firsthand from within. How can we, turning into our own experiencing of our own mind in this very moment, parse the buzzing-booming confusion of appearing, believing, true, present, etc which in the very next moment has moved on to its next awareness, appearing, believing, etc. and expect to extract a view of such completely unlike-the-momentary things as Truth and Knowledge? Hegel offers this question and poses the dilemma. If we are going to proceed and achieve in our task a foundation for belief (whether in Science or Religion or whatever truth), that implies we will measure our success against our criteria for believing anything. But where does said “criteria” get its certainty and footing? In the same mind which is looking to build its criteria! That is problematic; so, where to begin? HEGEL INVENTS PHENOMENOLOGY – via firsthand first-person narration Instead of presenting an answer, and in the shadow of the amazing success of Newton who invented a new mathematics, Calculus, to describe the physical science of the material world, Hegel presents a new form of description with which epistemological answers can be demonstrated: Phenomenology. As the method to overcome this dilemma, GWFH painstakingly looks at the growth of Consciousness from its simplest forms to the most complex and observes what constitutes Belief, Knowledge and Truth in each distinct stage. This path allows that what is true at one point in the process may be seen differently in a subsequent stage. Moreover, if this revelation is common to every aspect of our living and experiencing (if it is universal), it may provide the path to the fullest grasp of all possible experience of which Mind is capable. If successful, this program ambitiously would bring us as close as possible in our relationship to the Universe and in the end Absolute Truth. This work, then, is the narration of the immediate experience of consciousness. It is expressed as though we are travelling within his narrative in the very act of being a mind in vivo as it grows/learns. As a proviso ---of course, Consciousness (e.g. as sense, as thought, …) is neither words nor language, so the compromise is to read Hegel’s narration text actively as though it were our own experience.
- Kierkegaard: On the importance of becoming subjective
One of the fundamental ideals of Western Intellectual Culture has been that of Objectivity. Most philosophers have held it to be almost axiomatic, that the important questions of life must be investigated by a procedure that removes every aspect of personal interest, bias, emotion or prejudice. Only in this way can one arrive at truth, the Objective Truth. At the same time western culture has been deeply impressed by a sort of self consciousness, which feels instinctively that you must take the observer into account in one’s report of all observations. Thus it was that when Descartes sounded the battle call of modern philosophy by speaking of the removal of all prejudices, he also came to the conclusion that the only thing that was immediately certain was his own self consciousness. It is from such a self consciousness, that ideas of “subject” and “object” seemed to have arose to such prominence in the first place. From this acute self consciousness arose one of the great and profound challenges to “Objective Truth” in the history of western Philosophy. The works of Soren Kierkegaard. Where previous philosophers had spoken of an abstract and perfect sort of truth, which resulted from pure theoretical speculation and annihilation of self interest and passion in pursuit of objectivity, Kierkegaard argued that for all the most important questions, subjectivity is so close to the essence of the matter that to be objective is to falsify things more essentially than any passionate interest could. In articulating and developing this concept, in part through his deep engagement with protestant spirituality, he developed his own profoundly personal idea of what a book of philosophy could and should be, and of what the art of thinking really consists in. At the heart of this conception was that what is really hard in thinking is not the thought itself, but the internalization of it, so that it becomes a part of the entire passional and intellectual life. When a thought of the right sort has been internalized in this way, it carries a sort of truthfulness of its own, an inner truth, as powerful and serious as any outer one. Cultivating this sort of inner truth and authenticity was as Kierkegaard put it, “the highest task for any human being.” For Kierkegaard this problem was embodied in it's most profound form in religion-for he was among the most religious of great philosophers. In his most extended ironical ode to subjectivity and religious faith, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, Kierkegaard laid out the essential case for the importance of the pursuit of inner truth and subjectivity. I would like us to get together to discuss this concept of subjective truth and subjectivity, as Kierkegaard lays it out in key passages from the postscript. In the process I hope to address the significance of this concept for the practice of philosophy and of thinking. Readings from Concluding Unscientific Postscript are attached here: https://sites.google.com/site/philosophymeetuptexts/kierkegaard-meetup
- Collective ideas, collective soul: Durkheim’s understanding of religious life
Every philosophy wrestles, consciously or unconsciously with religiosity. Often the relationship is like one between a difficult, loved and sometimes despised parent. This was obvious since the beginning of western philosophy with Plato, Heraclitus and Socrates, and it is no less true today, with Wittgenstein, Derrida, and Sartre. It is therefore incumbent upon the philosopher to clarify what he thinks about religion; it is a matter of “knowing one’s roots.” And this is true even if one has no religious commitment, and has never had any. The first step to knowing what we think as philosophers is the survey of our traditions. In the history of the struggle of the western intellectual to rationalize his experience of religion, the debate has usually taken the form of a struggle over whether religion, perhaps particularly our western variety, is a “illusion” or whether there is some kind of “truth” behind it. This truth is usually conceptualized in terms of “a supernatural reality”, and the opposite approach has generally been to conceive religious falsity in terms of hallucinatory, delusional states, or more sympathetically, in terms of a mistaken theory of the facts of life. It was left to Emile Durkheim, a 19th century free thinker and positivist, to most decisively break through this “two party system” and develop one of the most fascinating, idiosyncratic and thought provoking conceptions of religious practice in western thought. For this reason his thought is of some use in trying to develop our own thoughts on this most challenging of subjects. Durkheim, a founder of sociology, started out with the fundamental presupposition that religions “express the real.” But as a positivist, he was set with the puzzle of how to conceive this reality in naturalistic and human terms. Durkheim believed he had found the answer to this puzzle in the idea that religion is the first form in which collective self consciousness expresses itself. Therefore it is essentially man’s basic consciousness of having a collective, social life which is expressed in religious practice and symbols. And religion’s vitality and staying power, likewise, is due to the fact that it strengthens and maintains this collective consciousness. This fact of collective consciousness, characterizes the special power that society has over the individual. It follows that religion is the social institution par excellence. And since, as a sociologist, Durkheim conceived human life as basically and inexorably social, this gave religion, a peculiar place, naturalistic, but at the same time of nearly supernatural meaning and importance. In his book, the elementary forms of the religious life, Durkheim developed these views in the context of ethnographic studies of the religious practices of the tribes of Australia, believing their totemic religions to be the most primitive existing in the world. In developing his views on totemism, Durkheim elaborated the idea that the basic categories of thought, (the ideas of cause, force, power, time and space) which Kant had made so much of, where essentially elements of collective self consciousness, born out of religious experience and practice. In doing so, he paved the way for the social constructivism of much future sociology and anthropology. For this meetup, I would like to get together to discuss Durkheim’s conception of religion as the most basic expression of collective life, and the role that this makes Durkheim ascribe to religion in the development of culture, philosophy, science and social life in general. To this end we will focus on some key passages of Durkheim’s elementary forms of the religious life. Readings are linked here: https://sites.google.com/site/philosophymeetuptexts/durkheim-meetup
- Why do Ideas Matter? Erik H. Erikson on Worldview and Identity
It has become almost a cliche of our intellectual culture over the last 200 years that thought happens in a human context of culture which influences and sometimes may even be said to “determine” it. This anthropological perspective seems to have become a permanent part of western self consciousness, like Cartesianism and empiricism before it. Even those who are not particularly sanguine about it’s insights have to admit it is a force to be reckoned with. But like any new conception, this image creates significant puzzles and problems for the philosopher. Perhaps one of the most basic of such questions is this: granted that there is this world of culture, which influences and directs the path of a people and their world image, how does this world of culture actually gain influence over people and become important to them and why does it take the shape that it does and not another shape? Philosophers, first wrestling with this conception, have spoken of the evolution of spirit and consciousness or, if otherwise inclined, have spoken of the machinations of the powerful in the struggle for wealth and position and material well being. And they tend to attribute the importance of ideas and cultural patterns to one or the other of these forces. It seems it was left, at least in part, to a neo-Freudian psychologist to ask “How is it that a culture becomes important to a person?”, in the sense that it becomes a condition of of their mental stability, vitality and sense of being at home in the universe. That psychologist was Erik H. Erikson. Famous for coining the term “identity crisis” and “ego identity”, Erikson was driven by a conviction that psychological disturbances are disturbances of the entire human situation and he conceived of this situation as including biological drives and heredity, personal experience and social crisis. This led him to develop a conception of how the human being grows in terms of the integration and synthesis of a large number of forces, (social, biological, and personal) into a coherent whole. In doing so he developed a highly suggestive picture of how cultural patterns and systems of ideas become important to a human being in synthesizing personal experiences, social demands and biological needs into a coherent narrative which is a prerequisite of sanity and vitality. It is the outcome of this process of synthesis that Erikson called “Identity”. And it was to the tensions inherent in the formation of identity that Erikson ascribed much of the power and pathos of the symbol systems of human culture. It is this conception of general ideas gaining power through their ability to synthesize these wide array of forces that I think is Erikson’s great legacy to the philosophical puzzle of Culture, and perhaps even the puzzle of philosophy itself and its symbolic importance. For this meetup we will study some key texts were Erikson develops the idea of these interdependent forces and the way consideration of them is woven into the practices of a culture. Readings are attached here. https://sites.google.com/site/philosophymeetuptexts/erikson-meetup