Philosophy

Julia Kristeva: In Conversation

French-Bulgarian psychoanalyst Julia Kristeva occupies an enviable seat in the rarefied arena of female philosophers in the expansive traditions of western thought and philosophy; although, I do get the sense that she does not quite wear the singular ‘descriptor’ of ‘philosopher’ with ease, for her ‘oeuvre’ is anything but conventional and she continues to bring together insights from fields as far flung as religious scholarship, avant-garde literature, psychoanalytic theory, and philosophy. In one of my quests to comprehend religious belief better, I picked up Kristeva’s ‘This Incredible Need to Believe’ (2011) a couple of years ago, and was much the wiser for it. Kristeva is possibly part of a philosophic tradition that takes the notion of ‘Subjectivity’ as a starting point. Read More…

Arne Næss, Ecosophy and Deep Ecology

Norwegian professor and philosopher, late Arne Næss, remains a key figure in the awakening of 20th C occidental consciousness to the real threats of the ecological-environmental crisis. I am posting this on ‘Earth Day’ to bring his (often marginalized and neglected) ideas to the fore, and also to remind us (myself included) of our inter-relatedness with, and the common fate that we share with all life forms on our planet. My first brush with Næss, quite a few years ago, was through readings about deep ecology – I thought him too ‘white-male-crisis’ for my taste then, but with distance, and time, I have come to appreciate his ideas more. His personal philosophy, which he called Ecosophy (not to be confused with Félix Guattari‘s usage of the same term,) encompasses the complexity of the relationship of humans to their natural environment, and he calls for a higher spiritual and psychological evolution of humankind, to ‘Self-realization’, a set of ideas which he formulates later as Deep Ecology. The deep ecological attitude is not only a state of ‘Self-realization’, but also a state of questioning – asking the bigger questions of life, being, society and culture, natural diversity, human instrumentality. The deep ecological attitude is also ‘longitudinal’, the ability to envision human activities and the natural world in large sweeps of time – giving rise to the ‘deep long range ecology movement.’ Read More…

John Rawls: Justice and Modern Political Philosophy

John Rawls was the only American philosopher of the last century who made a considerable impact on modern debates on ideas of justice and the nature of the welfare state, constitutional, individual liberties, permissible inequalities and political duty/obligation. My first, and I should say only, encounter with Rawls was through the pages of his magnum opus ‘A Theory of Justice‘ (1971/1999) where he posits his principles by which a just society could be given direction – that there must be basic liberties (of faith, association, speech etc.) and that the perceived and palpable inequalities that inevitably arise from liberty are so organised to bring maximum benefit to the worst off, and that includes vital equality of opportunity. As a political philosopher, Rawls was certainly influenced by the earlier social contract theories of John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in which citizens willingly give up some of their liberties in return for state protection and order. Rawls states his ‘priority rule’ thus: “a less extensive liberty must strengthen the total system of liberty shared by all.” Another ‘priority rule’ is that equal opportunity is more vital than heading towards a certain totality-of-society outcome, or what a (paternalistic) government may believe is for the good of the citizens of a nation. Read More…

William James: The Will to Believe and other Ideas

19th C American psychologist and philosopher William James (brother of novelist and writer Henry James), pioneered pragmatism and set the tone for much of subsequent 20th C philosophy. In laying the foundations of pragmatism, he, arguably, seeded the first American indigenous school of thought. One of quite a few brilliant Harvard intellectuals of his time, James’s background in medical school and psychology prompted him to engage with philosophical problems with an anti-idealist stance of radical empiricism while abandoning the search for absolutes. In his optimism and ‘commonsensical’ rigor he theorized that reality is whatever we make it, and that universal principles are to be ‘militantly’ questioned. In this engaging (and entertaining) lecture at the Peninsula College (Port Angeles, Washington, USA), Prof. Wesley Cecil lays out the formative years of William James along with elucidating some of the key approaches and positions in his pragmatic philosophy. Listen in. Read More…

Søren Kierkegaard: Conscious opposition and crucial contention

Danish thinker Søren Kierkegaard certainly remains one of the rebels and emphatic iconoclasts of 19th C Europe. An unorthodox writer and thinker of wit and elegance, imaginative, God-faith oriented and equipped with a melancholic bent while straddling a broad range of authorial positions (as is known, much of his influential work was published using pseudonyms) – his earliest publications ‘Either/Or’ (Feb 1843) and ‘Fear and Trembling’ (Oct 1843) I found a bit tricky to unpick, to say the least, as it became difficult to place Kierkegaard precisely in relation to the likes of ‘Victor Eremita’, ‘Judge Vilhelm’ and ‘Johannes de silentio’. I revisited Kierkegaard through my readings on ethics, especially through Wittgenstein’s interest in Kierkegaard, with Wittgenstein voicing that “Kierkegaard was by far the most profound thinker of the last century….”. Indeed, Kierkegaard, remarkably laid the foundations of ‘Existentialism‘ which emerged as a philosophical movement many decades after him, only in the early to mid 20th C. In his conscious opposition to the prevailing assumptions and conventions of his age (his antipathy and hostility to the Church and the academic establishment, professors inclusive, is well known) and in his crucial contentions about the human condition (of doubt, faith, love, spirit, flesh, paradox, choice), Kierkegaard remains relevant to this day. Read More…

Albert Camus: The Madness of Sincerity

Like most, my introduction to Albert Camus many years back was via the translated ‘L’Étranger‘ (The Stranger/The Outsider.1942). At that time, and probably more so on re-reads, it became less a parable of the absurd and the existential, and more of a beautiful, fully realized, hallucinatory depiction of living in that heat soaked, summer crazed place. ‘Meursault’, the anarchistic anti-hero, had and still has huge appeal, and is afflicted by what Camus called ‘the madness of sincerity’, a character distinguished by never wanting to say more than he feels. Camus remains one of the most influential writers of the last century, yet the man himself was somewhat of an enigma. In trying to put together the Camus puzzle in 1997, Phares & Balises, the BBC & ARTE came together to actualize this bio-film on Camus, by way of attempting to retrace his life, work and travels. The five women in Camus’ life (who were closest to him) take us on a journey through his times and their recollections interweave through the three chapters Camus himself outlined as the signposts of his literary intentions – the Absurd, Revolt and Happiness. Read More…

Hannah Arendt: the Language remains. 1964

Hannah Arendt remains one of the leading German-American intellectuals from the last century. In this televised interview with German journalist Günter Gaus from October the 28th, 1964, Arendt (then 58) responds to a wide range of queries centering around philosophy, politics and gender, regarding herself more of a political theorist than a philosopher as she does hint at a ‘disdain’ of sorts for the circle of philosophers. She also reflects on Auschwitz, Germans, Jews and Judaism, assimilation, anti-Semitism, Zionism and Israel, Germany and German. At a particularly telling moment she says “What remains? The Language remains”. For Arendt, history is a chronicle of the exceeding of expectations. As one of Arendt’s formative influences, German philospher Martin Heidegger, stressed, individuals do matter. In this interview Arendt does come across as the charismatic public intellectual that she was, but at the same time, her states of tension over certain contradictions convey themselves as well. Towards the closure, she pays a loving tribute to her mentor, German philosopher and psychiatrist Karl Jaspers, with resonances from her genuinely uplifting work ‘The Human Condition’. Watch.

Read More…

Georg Friedrich Wilhelm Hegel: Dialectic and ‘Geist’

In taking Immanuel Kant‘s mind-ordered world from the human level to the cosmic one, 19th century German philosopher Georg F W Hegel created a ‘total system’ into which all past, present, and future experience and thought fit together rationally in an encompassing dialectic that is constantly evolving toward supreme self-consciousness, or ‘Absolute Spirit’. Here Australian philosopher Peter Singer (in his pre bio-ethics avatar, when he was professor of philosophy at the Monash University) discusses the essentials of Hegelian thought and its influence. Hegel’s writings, are, of course famously, notoriously difficult to decipher – leaning into territory that may distinctly be identified as pedantic, pompous, and obscurantist. By the end of the 19th century, most academic philosophers of any stature were ‘Hegelians’, which is to say they embraced, theoretically, the notion of ‘Change’, accepted ‘Strife’ as essential to ‘Progress’, saw things as ‘Parts of a Whole’ and themselves as characters in the ‘Unfolding of History’, and argued dialectically. Read More…

Baruch Spinoza and Gottfried Leibniz: 17th Century Rationalism

Arguably, Baruch Spinoza, was the world’s most sensible mystic, who constructed the first thoroughly logical, consistent metaphysical system and made the first attempt at an objective, scientific study of human behavior. Spinoza is credited with carrying all arguments to their logical conclusions, even when those conclusions meant trouble! A pantheist and a pure determinist, who believed, as all good mystics do, in the oneness of the universe, in the supremacy of immutable natural law, in the necessity of learning to go with the flow. The other Rationalist, Gottfried Leibniz is considered by many to be one of the greatest logicians of all time, who invented infinitesimal calculus, and founded the first system of symbolic logic. A metaphysician in the tradition of Rene Descartes, he created the famous analogy of the Cartesian Clocks, which postulates that mind and body do not interact, but only seem to, because they are synchronized by God. Leibniz publicly espoused a philosophy that was pious, logical, and, one might say, somewhat simpleminded.

Read More…

Edmund Husserl: Cogitations on First Philosophy

Moravia born philosopher Edmund Husserl spent his life teaching in German universities, and during the course of his intellectual life, he came to be regarded as the leading and influential figure in phenomenology (which took two successive forms in his own work, descriptive and transcendental). In this Husserl Memorial Lecture from 2009, Prof. Robert Sokolowski speaks on “Husserl on First Philosophy”, where, he argues that in this day and age, Husserl offers the possibility of a return to first philosophy. In Aristotle, first philosophy is defined as the theorizing of being as being. It is also called metaphysics, even though it was not given that name by Aristotle himself. The book in which Aristotle carries out this first philosophy was was entitled ‘ta meta ta physika’ by its editors. They called it the study of issues that are “beyond’the physical things. The study of separate entities comprises only a small part of Aristotle’s ‘Metaphysics’. His first philosophy spends most of its time examining things like prediction, truth, falsity, contradiction, substances and accidents, definition, form and substrate, and the potential and the actual. Metaphysics theorizes truth. Beyond the physicals – “meta ta physika”. Logic, truth, contradiction and predication, belong to being as being, and not being as material. Aristotle turns to the examination of being as being, which is also what Husserl does. Husserl’s phenomenology can be defined as the study of intellect as intellect, mind as mind, reason as reason.

Read More…

1 2 3  Scroll to top