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Justin E. H. Smith
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Thanks for this very thoughtful post, Christian. I agree with Brian Leiter that representing ethnic or cultural constituencies among students is not a good reason for transforming the curriculum to better represent non-European traditions in philosophy. I also strongly agree with Jonardon that there are extremely good philosophical reasons for such a transformation, independent of identity politics, and if graduate students continue to articulate their own case for the transformation in terms of improved representation of constituencies, we shouldn't assume that they are making the only, or the best, case that can be made. As Jonardon says, the burden of articulating the strong philosophical reasons for inclusion of non-European traditions cannot be placed on grad students. This point might be strengthened by the observation that when even prominent scholars articulate these reasons, as Jonardon has in a number of books, the lesson is lost on most of our colleagues. It's no wonder, then, that a young scholar such as Eugene Park would prefer to push for the desideratum of greater inclusiveness in the hammer-and-nails language of representing student constituencies, of 'getting the ethnic vote', when book after book about the tremendous philosophical contributions of Nāgārjuna or Gaṅgeśa do not sway philosophers like Brian Leiter (and most others) from their tendency to see non-European philosophy as of mere secondary importance, as at most a legitimate side interest of philosophers. This tendency was expressed with surprising and disappointing clarity in Brian Leiter's appeal to the 'limited resources argument', namely, the argument that the relative neglect of non-European traditions, periods, and authors in philosophy is justified by the fact that there are still many gaps in most departments' curricula when it comes to covering even European traditions, periods, and authors. This argument more or less explicitly commits the person who makes it to a hierarchy of importance, on which philosophy is primarily a European endeavor with secondary or lesser echoes or approximations occurring elsewhere in the world. Try to imagine this sort of reasoning occurring in the hiring decisions of a history or anthropology department, or any other department that is at least in principle committed to the study of some aspect of human cultural and intellectual activity per se, in contrast with Slavic or South Asian or Latin American area studies departments, which explicitly commit themselves to concentrating on a circumscribed geographical range of human cultural and intellectual productions. At present, philosophy remains a sort of de facto area studies department, in which the area in question generally goes unspoken, and which only grudgingly and hesitantly opens up to other areas when pressured. Again, it does not open up on the basis of the overwhelming evidence of noteworthy philosophical activity that has gone in the extra-European world, and in the face of this inertia it is not at all surprising to see overtly political and constituency-based arguments replacing the (more interesting) philosophical ones.
You're right! A moment's reflexion easily leads one to see that Scott is being exceedingly, and probably groundlessly, skeptical. Of course we can make conjectures about how groups were or may have been in their relatively more isolated period. And we can do so using the same general methods we use for getting back to any past event or process, resting assured that we're getting close to something like an accurate picture thanks to what Whewell nicely called 'a consilience of inductions'. We can claim to know here much like we can claim to know the features of an intermediate species between two paleontological species, even if we have no remains of it. In neither case are we talking about something permanent or eternal-- the isolated culture is never static and never fully isolated, the extinct species was always on its way to becoming something else, etc. So, in sum, I'm pretty un-skeptical about knowledge of the past, and I don't think Scott gives any compelling reasons why I should give that up. But I think my initial point was just that if it's *hard* to talk about *the* Yanomamö, as if this were something fixed and sharply individuable, then it seems to me this would be a fortiori the case for anyone who would want to make claims about *the* French, who have from the beginning been entirely constituted, as a national identity, through international relations. I hope to get a chance to read Kelly soon. Thanks for starting this conversation.
Thanks for the coverage, Eric! As for Benny's concern, I could have stated it a bit less categorically (hell, come to think of it, it's my blog, so I still can!), but as a matter of fact there was a 2010 statement, widely reported in the media, that at least distanced social and cultural anthropology from claims of scientificity. The news coverage caused an uproar, mostly among conservative scientistic types, and today if you try to see the original statement on the AAA website, you will be notified that you are looking at an amended version of May 4, 2011. It may have only been a subcommittee deciding on a matter limited to social and cultural, and it is true that no one ever told, say, specialists in hominid evolution that they can't call themselves scientists. But for me it is enough that even social and cultural anthropologists would shy away from the idea of science, or that they would do so in a subcommittee but then backtrack when they saw the ensuing controversy, to say that there is a problem in anthropology's self-conception, and indeed in the contemporary understanding of what science is. So I stand by that, but will be happy to write an amendment myself to the effect that the decision was both of limited reach, and ultimately did not stand up, as stated in its original more radical form, under public pressure.
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La bâtisse corrézienne qui servait de repaire au néo-nazi norvégien Kristian "Varg" Vikernes semble somnoler derrière ses lourds volets de bois hermétiquement fermés. Posée au milieu des pâturages du centre de la France, la ferme est entourée d’un petit terrain soigneusement délimité où quelques poules abandonnées à leur sort picorent... Continue reading
Posted Aug 7, 2013 at Causerie.fr
Si la norme est un critère auquel se réfère, implicitement ou explicitement, un jugement de valeur ou une action, le monde de l’université et de la recherche est un vaste et vénérable producteur de normes : de validation de la recherche, de vérité des savoirs à enseigner, de notation des... Continue reading
Posted Aug 6, 2013 at Causerie.fr
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Causerie.fr est en train de devenir un site web agrégatif, qui s'inspirera un peu de Arts & Letters Daily, un peu de Slate, et qui aura des liens vers les articles les plus intéressants dans les médias francophones, ainsi que des articles originaux écrits par nos contributeurs. “Mais est-ce que... Continue reading
Posted Aug 4, 2013 at Causerie.fr
Justin E. H. Smith added a favorite at Causerie.fr
Aug 4, 2013
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Veuillez contacter Justin Smith par mail (jehsmith@gmail.com) ou par téléphone (+33 1 83 95 37 48). Continue reading
Posted Aug 4, 2013 at Causerie.fr
Hi Catarina, Yes, Dutch and English are good examples of IE languages that lost their gender gradually by natural means. Dutch is really interesting, since it has a sort of vestige of gender in the distinction between neutral and non-neutral. Of course it's not as if dividing nouns up by gender (leaving the neuter aside for now) really attributes human-like gender attributes to the things named: Germans don't think parks are more feminine than Russians do, even though 'park' is a feminine noun in the one language and masculine in the other. It's just that feminine and masculine struck people at some point as so fundamental in the constitution of the world ('cosmic') that it seemed to make sense to organize the world under these umbrellas. It's been a long time since I studied this, but as I recall proto-Bantu had something like eight gender-like categories that gave nouns their distinctive endings, and these appear from the outside to be a Borgesian encyclopedia of disparate criteria ('horizontal things', 'things that are bigger than a jackal', or the like). As I recall, Boris Gasparov argued that the IE languages could have been the same way back, and all of these Borgesian 'genders' gradually collapsed into the neuter, leaving only 'masculine', 'feminine', and 'everything else' as the organizing principles of the world. I'm perfectly happy (and fascinated!) to see these changes take shape in natural languages, but I'm linguistically conservative enough to feel that there's no need to hasten them. There's certainly no political progress to be expected from top-down language reforms.
Fair enough. We'll wait and see if it helps the Swedes. Of course beyond pronouns there is the vastly bigger problem, for most Indo-European languages besides English, of the nouns themselves, which, though modern grammarians are often coy here, are ultimately said to be 'masculine' or 'feminine' because a very long time ago speakers of the proto-languages took genders to be something like cosmic principles that informed all of nature, and under which all the things of nature could be grouped. A thoroughgoing commitment to gender neutrality in language would involve scrapping grammatical gender. I'm not sure I'd be ready to welcome such a radical break with the linguistic and literary heritage of, e.g., French, German, Russian, Latin...
It is important to note that there is no correlation at all between the absence of gender-specific pronouns from a language, on the one hand, and the relative degree of gender equality in the society that speaks that language on the other. The official languages of Iran, Turkey, Tajikistan, and Azerbaidjan, and the regional languages of most of Afghanistan, for example, all lack gendered personal pronouns as well as gendered noun declension. Yet somehow men in these societies have found a way to work around this limitation in order to assert and perpetuate masculine domination. Now Sweden wants to create a new personal pronoun that will effectively duplicate what Persian, e.g., has had all along. This precedent suggests that Sweden should not put too much hope in the power of pronoun-engineering to improve gender equality.
To 35, 36, 38, and perhaps others: there seems to be much confusion here between the call for decency, humanity, and charity toward perpetrators on the one hand, and on the other a call to pity them and excuse them, which also involves an implicit zero-sum refusal to extend sympathy where it is truly deserved, to the victim. The unfortunateness of this sort of confusion struck me in particular as I was re-reading some of the work of the great radical theologian Will Campbell, who died a few days ago at 88, and who once found it perfectly natural and fitting to march with MLK one day and to minister to members of the Klan the next. There's a nice profile of him here: http://www.maryellenmark.com/text/magazines/rolling%20stone/920S-000-031.html Now you can decline to take up this moral stance yourself, and go on being as punitive and us-vs-them as you like. But heavens, as a matter of simple literacy, please at least be aware that such a stance exists, and it is not the same thing as blaming the victim or withholding sympathy from its proper target.
Julie, Sorry, I missed your comment before. I find nothing to disagree with in what you say. My original comment was a call for restraint and decency, made towards those (mostly men, I suspect) who seem caught up in a frenzy, and seem simply to be enjoying another man's downfall. I understand that there is also sanity-preserving and necessary ridicule, and it would be unfair to insist that victims of systemic injustice refrain from it. But I still think this needs to be distinguished from supposedly high-minded, norm-enforcing ridicule, and as I said before I don't see much of a place for this. John, the comparison to Sharia is imperfect (particularly since this is a rigid code and ideally is enforced in a dispassionate and unfrenzied way); the one to Nancy Grace-style justice is also imperfect but a bit better (since her mission is to work people into a frenzy and, in the name of victims' rights, to pressure the justice system to break through the rigidity of the code through which it works). All I mean to say by mentioning the preference for truth and reconciliation over these is (i) that my discomfort with the frenzy has nothing to do with defending male privilege; and (ii) I honestly believe that justice is best served by confronting transgressors earnestly and in a human-to-human way, rather than by excluding them from the scope of human consideration, and I believe this whether it is sexual harassment or genocide that is at issue. I hope I'm not posturing to appear morally glamorous when I say that. Anyhow I don't think I am, and I'm sorry if I've expressed myself imperfectly on this complicated matter.
Thanks, John, Katy, Jon. I was hoping to just say my peace and move on, and that's what I'd still like to do, but very quickly: Yes, I agree that Erwin deserves criticism; mockery, I'm less convinced. Katy, I appreciate your comments, and I understand the therapeutic, sanity-preserving function of mockery for victims. But please note that I never mentioned empathy or sympathy for discriminators, but rather recognition of their humanity. It is this recognition that is obviously missing in memes such as the one I linked. And please also understand that this is a general principle of justice that I'm defending, and one that extends far beyond the issue of sexual harassment. It's the same principle that would lead one to prefer truth-and-reconciliation commissions to Sharia law or to Nancy Grace-style justice.
With due respect and some understanding of where you're coming from, John, I strongly disagree. I think there is an alarming mob mentality in reaction to cases like these, and I find particularly troubling the amount of Schadenfreude and downright giddy glee that many people seem to take in the opportunity to mock. I have noticed two voices of decency emerge out of all of this: one, Brian Leiter, who, from a legalistic perspective I generally don't share, is equally troubled by the 'get McGinn' frenzy; and the other, Jon Cogburn, who coming from what he identifies as a Calvinist perspective wisely reminds us and himself that 'I am no better than Colin McGinn'. I am also no better than Colin McGinn, but to mock is to set oneself up as better. I understand the need for norm enforcement, but I seriously doubt that this need is even incrementally helped along by mockery: the people who 'just don't get it' will only dig their heels in and find their distaste for the stridency of the other side deepened. Anyhow I just need to stay away from the blogs. I think this stuff is toxic, and much of it simply hateful and evidently ageist, e.g.: http://www.quickmeme.com/meme/3upsu3/ . I personally do not think there is anything intrinsically disgusting about the thought of Colin McGinn masturbating. There is something obviously wrong with his telling a grad student about it, but that's not what this meme is about. This meme is meant to incite revulsion at the thought of a man in his sixties masturbating. There is something wrong with a culture that considers this sort of incitement constructive or morally salutary. Finally, I fear it may be necessary to underline that I am not excusing sexual harassment. I am calling for decency and charity-- really just the same virtues one should manifest, according to a certain old and venerable morality, towards murderers and other wretched people whose deeds we obviously aren't interested in excusing. I don't agree with Jon Cogburn that manifesting these virtues while at the same time caring about justice for the victim amounts to an impossible attempt to square the circle. Real justice for victims is best achieved in an environment in which everyone is treated decently, and no one's humanity is forgotten.
I exchanged a number of e-mails with Flanagan a few weeks ago, mostly on the topic of Louis Riel. He sent me a fairly interesting article he had written for the Journal of the Canadian Church Historical Society (which I don't often read) on the influence of theosophy on Riel. All in all a pleasant exchange. It was only later that I realized it was Flanagan who wrote a book I read some years ago and absolutely hated, entitled 'First Nations? Second Thoughts'. Even so, I still judged that he was a wrong-headed but decent guy. It was only after that, in turn, that I learned of his regular gig as a talking head on Canadian TV (which I don't often watch). It seems that in that role his task is to say outrageous things, get people riled up, and flirt with scandal. The scandal he finally managed to provoke, for something so innocuous, suggests a very American variety of media machine at work. CBC has reacted particularly shamefully: it's his damned job to get people to watch their news shows by saying outrageous things; to fire him for saying something reasonable, just because his audience was not ready to hear his entire argument, is disgraceful. I agree with Flanagan that it's worth asking whether incarceration of consumers of child pornography is the best strategy for fighting the problem. That's not at all the same thing as 'being okay with' child pornography.
There have been many circumstances in history in which people taking religious vows, or adopting some other life course that removed them from the mating pool, actually constituted a very high percentage of the population. Whether this was by choice or not is a complicated matter, but it is likely that then as now there were coercive forces operating on individuals, who were nonetheless often able in some degree to maneuver into the sort of life they preferred. Besides those who chose or maneuvered out of the mating pool, there were also slaves, prisoners, prostitutes, conscripted cannon fodder, etc., for whom 'finding a partner' and procreating was hardly the normal course of events. Finally, even for that segment of society that was expected to reproduce, this undertaking has almost never been conceptualized as involving a partnership between the two people who exchange genetic material. It has usually had more to do with the collaboration of gods, ancestors, and the rest of society, than with the collaboration of two people. I think these points are important, if one is seeking, as you are at the beginning of this interesting discussion, to highlight what is peculiar about our contemporary situation in matters of kinship and reproduction.
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This is my latest in the New York TimesOpinionator series, "The Stone." To read the whole thing, go here. Kenan Malik has written a very interesting critical response, here. I intend to write a follow-up post soon in which I reply to some of Malik's criticism, and also to some... Continue reading
Posted Feb 15, 2013 at Anton Wilhelm Amo
For me 'contextualism' has come to mean application of the methods of historical anthropology for the decipherment of aims and intentions in texts removed from us in time. This is an idiosyncratic understanding, though I wish it weren't. I wish it were obvious that this is the most fruitful and adequate way to approach the history of philosophy. In any case I feel ill-equipped to join in debates among philosophers about whether contextualism is the right way to go or not, since I don't even understand the concern that if we elucidate an idea or argument as an intervention in a particular time and place, we are therefore somehow cordoning it off from anything that might interest us about our own time and place. This is a concern that scholars in other disciplines who deal in part with historical materials simply do not have.
Hi Carolyn, On my reading to say that the term was 'probably influenced by association' with the term 'genie' (as in 'genie in a bottle') positively forces us to go back and look for a preexisting term that was already there and waiting to be influenced. And when we do that, the only plausible candidate is 'genius' in the non-Arabic-influenced sense in which Leibniz uses it, to mean 'a being having ingenium, i.e., intellect'. I take it that the notion of genius that does not sit well with you is one that takes shape largely in the work of Schiller and contemporaries, partially influenced by the phonosemantic matching from Arabic, which sees genius as something quasi-mystical, beyond intellect, which cannot be shared with or described to those who do not experience it. But this overrides the earlier understanding, as in Leibniz, of the obvious link between genius and ingenium. I can't understand why the OED describes this as a 'confusion'; it certainly wasn't in 17th-century Latin, and if it is in the English for which the OED is responsible, this doesn't negate the fact that the two are branches of the same tree in the language from which they come. It's certainly true that the way we use 'genius' today shows that we are living more with the legacy of Schiller than of, e.g., Rationalism, but rather than simply scrapping the term it could also be useful to go back and excavate some of its previous, complex significations, some of which, I take it from your original post, would be more agreeable to you than the sort of ineffable channeling we tend to understand by the term today.
Thanks, Carolyn. I don't think any of what you add here contradicts the point that 'gen-' is a very rich and polysemous root in English, Latin, and related languages, and it's a shame to compare the notion of 'genius' to the proverbial genie in a bottle, without looking at all the other concepts in the same semantic cluster. By the way, there are a few passages in Leibniz from the late 1690s where we find him using the term 'genii' to refer to massive, superhuman, celestial beings (in which he believed). This would be before Galland's French translation of the 1001 Nights, and L. seems to be using it to mean simply 'intelligences' in a way that descends from the classical belief (cf., e.g., Aristotle) that the celestial bodies are thinkers. But I've taken us too far afield from the original post.
Ben is right about the probable Arabic source for the modern English notion of 'genie' (it's more commonly rendered as 'djinn' or 'jinn', from جن), and he's right that there was a happy coincidence between the Arabic term and a preexisting Latin root. But in Latin this root gave us much more than the word for 'tutelary spirit'; it also gave us 'ingenium', as in the term in the title of Spinoza's famous work on the emendation of the *intellect*, as well as the words that would evolve into the modern English 'engine', 'engineering', etc. At a deeper Indo-European level, the root is connected to the 'gen-' in words like 'gentry' and 'genetic', and to the 'gyn-' in the Greek word for 'woman'. So it's a huge mistake to think of 'genius' as simply originating in a bit of folksy superstition.
Johann Peter von Ludewig (1729): In this very place a baptized Moor by the name of Mister Anton Wilhelm Amo, in the service of His Highness the Duke of Wolfenbüttel, spent some years for the purpose of studying. And after he had attained a proficiency in the Latin language, he... Continue reading
Posted Sep 23, 2012 at Anton Wilhelm Amo
I've been working through Johann Ernst Philippi's 1747 satirical poem, which is said by a number of researchers to have played an important role in damaging Amo's reputation and in causing him, most likely in the following year, to return to Africa. The work is not at all like I... Continue reading
Posted Sep 19, 2012 at Anton Wilhelm Amo
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