I just finished re-reading The Myth of Sisyphus for my philosophy book club. It has been almost twenty years since I last read it. When I read it before I thought it was brilliant, a cri de coeur for everyone to go out and live an authentic life. Today it doesn’t feel nearly so effective. No doubt some of that is due to changes in myself but there are still some exogenous factors that seem worth exploring.
From John Dewey’s Pragmatic Technology by Larry A. Hickman
“What, in Dewey’s view, constitutes responsible technology? This book is an attempt to suggest some answers to that question. By way of review and conclusion, it may be said that Dewey rejected what I have called “straight-line instrumentalism,” or the view that neutral tools are brought to bear on ends that are valued for reasons external to the situations within which those tools have been developed.
Cognition in Practice, by Jean Lave, 1998
“So far I have described a series of dichotomously polarized issues that have sustained limitations on debate between paradigms and disciplines over a considerable period of time. I have yet to describe the sources of the coherence with which the issues reinforce on another. They take their shape, the great divides formed, in terms of a positivist epistemology which specifies a series of assumptions on which they are based: rationality exists as the ideal canon of thought; experimentation can be thought of as the embodiment of this ideal in scientific practice; science is the value-free collection of factual knowledge about the world; factual knowledge about the world is the basis for the formation of scientific theory, not the other way around; science is the opposite of history, the one nomothetic the other ideographic; cognitive processes are general and fundamental, psychology, correspondingly, a nomothetic discipline; society and culture shape the particularities of cognition and give it content, thus sociocultural context is specific, its study ideographic; general laws of human behavior, therefore, must be dissected away from the historical and social obfuscations which give them particularity.
From the movie My Dinner with Andre
ANDRE: Well, I think that’s right! You know, it may be, Wally, that one of the reasons that we don’t know what’s going on is that when we’re there at a party, we’re all too busy performing.
ANDRE: You know, that was one of the reasons that Grotowski gave up the theater. He just felt that people in their lives now were performing so well that performance in the theater was sort of superfluous, and in a way obscene.
I just finished rereading A Theory of Justice by John Rawls for a philosophy reading group. One of the themes I noticed is the attempt to deal with contingency in politics.
Rawls acknowledges that everyone approaches political decisions from their own point of view, with unique biases and ideas. The original position is designed to overcome these biases by acknowledging them and then rationally agreeing to make decisions while ignoring individual personal biases.
Last Saturday I met with some friends from the Minnesota Independent Scholar’s Forum to talk about Dangerous Games: The Uses and Abuses of History by Margaret MacMillan.
The book is a short, well-written introduction to the many ways people use history for purposes other than understanding or getting to the truth. It parallels Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism by Benedict Anderson. Both MacMillan and Anderson discuss the often contentious moments when history becomes part of nation building and community definition.
My top 7 scholars:
Donald Davidson. Reading “On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme” is still one of the high points of my philosophic career. I was a pretty naive cognitive relativist in college when I read this essay and it convinced me then and still convinces me now that humans share much more intellectual and cognitive background than not. Thomas Kuhn. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions altered my perception of science and forced me to question my belief in a naive, progressivist narrative of scientific development.
Another of my favorite economic-moral connections is choice. I recently talked with a friend about health care and choice and was treated to the full-on Republican explanation that as long as people have choices they will do fine. Choice becomes the most important value and making bad choices becomes the fault of the individual. The organizations and social structures that force a particular choice are glossed over or completely ignored. It all fits into the Randian argument of the economic overman.
Back in March there was a brief media flurry over a libertarian rant by Rick Santelli. I was struck at the time by the persistently moral language used by the right to describe economics and capitalism. Making money has become a moral obligation for the right and a reflection of the moral worth of a person. If you’re poor then you are a moral failure, if you are rich then you are an angel.
In the spirit of answering my own questions from last weeks Kierkegaard discussion I noticed this interesting article on the cross-cultural similarities in moral development.
Researchers have been conducting studies of moral development across cultures. The summary by Bruce Bower at Science News suggests that there are universal themes to moral development across cultures. This contradicts the arguments of some scholars that Eastern and Western cultures have different values about the role of individuals, family, institutions, women, etc.