Monday, December 5, 2022

Empiricism: A far too basic primer

"Never interpret; experience, experiment." -Gilles Deleuze

Speculative pragmatism or speculative empiricism seems to have had a moment (maybe is still having a moment). It is best understood as something like an intercontinental inquiry, beginning with the works of William James and Henri Bergson, then including Jean Wahl, Alfred North Whitehead, Gilles Deleuze, Isabelle Stengers, Brian Massumi, and the various people working in their wake. As such, I’ve been reading a lot of random articles and chapters that engage William James and radical empiricism. And it is really shocking the number of articles that just seem to get basic terminology wrong (the worse was that article attacking “radical empiricism” and yet never cites James, and clearly has no idea what radical empiricism is). Anyway, if you planning to write in this area, here are some basic definitions that would help to know. The four terms are empiricism, rationalism, radical empiricism, and neutral monism. The funny thing is when I finished writing the part below, I went to check some stuff on Wiki and SEP, and all of this was there. So, no one really needs this. But still! It’s worth knowing some of the basic terminology. 

(1) Let’s start, obviously, with empiricism. It has something to do with experience. Perhaps also experiment. The term comes from a school of Ancient Greek physicians, who opposed the Dogmatic School. The Empiric’s believed that the knowledge that they needed to treat the body would come from experience and dissection of bodies. The Dogmatic School stressed reason. It might be interesting to see how much the field of empiricism has a reoccurring connection to medical science. William James, a college dropout, only ever earned one degree, an MD. However, when philosophers use the term empiricism without qualifier, they are usually referencing the school of thought that includes Francis Bacon, Thomas Hobbes, George Berkeley, David Hume, and John Locke. Like their Greek medical forerunners, they are all variously emphasizing that knowledge comes first from experience. And while it is true that we often call things empirical sciences, and that these thinkers were promotors of the empirical sciences (that focused on experiments) it is important to note, empiricism doesn’t have anything in particular to do with science. Or at least, it is not a synonym for science. It is possible that much of science is empirical, but empiricism is primarily about experience as such. Indeed, the rationalists also supported the empirical sciences. 

(2) If the ancient empiric’s were in opposition to the dogmatists, we have tended to contrast the empiricists of modern philosophy to the rationalists. One of the most common mistakes I see is a tendency to treat empiricism and rationalism as being coterminous with each other, when the normal way of treating these subjects is to see them being in tension. The sort of b-flat understanding of both would be that the empiricist believes we access knowledge through experience, while the rationalist believes that we access knowledge through reason. Indeed, the usual way of talking about this sort of thing is to compare the British empiricists (Francis Bacon, Hume, Locke, etc.) with the continental rationalists (Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, etc.). Now, obviously this story of reason versus experience is far too neat and tidy, and the separation here is not in reality that clear. But one should at least know that usually there is an understood tension between rationalism and empiricism, and these terms are not synonyms for each other. And yet I see this confusion again and again. (I assume it has something to do with critiques of modern or instrumental rationality and the connection there to the physical sciences, and I guess empiricism again. So people assume that a discussion of empiricism and of reason are discussing the same things). Another confusion, that is far more plausible, is confusing rationality and empiricism as synonyms for that other split in modern philosophy between idealism and materialism. But again, this isn't completely right. Berkeley, for example, was both an idealist and an empiricist. The way this is usually understood is that rationalism and empiricism are epistemological problems--how do we know the world--and idealism and materialism are metaphysical or ontological problems--what kind of stuff is the world. But these separations are never really that neat, either. When Deleuze names his project transcendental empiricism, we are supposed to hear it in tension with Kant’s project of transcendental idealism. Nor is it the case that empiricism is clearly an epistemological project. The way James is read by most of us doing speculative pragmatism or speculative empiricism is that his project of radical empiricism is mostly a metaphysical project. 

(3) The radical of radical empiricism seem to also confuse people. It is not a political label, nor is it a distancing or critical label. Radical here is meant as “thoroughgoing, or extreme” (from for what the term was used as in the late 1800s). One might say one could call it hyper empiricism. The argument James is making here is that the previous empiricisms were not empirical enough, he is not saying that he is making a leftist empiricism, or rupturing his views from the empirical project. The famous way of understanding this from William James is his lines from “The World of Pure Experience,” “To be radical, an empiricism must neither admit into its constructions any element that is not directly experienced, nor exclude from them any element that is directly experienced. For such a philosophy, the relations that connect experiences must themselves be experienced relations, and any kind of relation experienced must be accounted as 'real' as anything else in the system” (emphasis in original). So, relations are as real as the object you are relating to (the beauty or horror of an artwork is as real as the artwork itself). This is principally a metaphysical claim. As Barry Allen puts it in his book Empiricisms, “Radical empiricism is not an epistemology, not even a radical epistemology; instead it returns empiricism to ontology. The modes of being are experimental, not semantic. We do not know with finality how many different beings exist or even what the modes of existence are” (p. 305). As James pithily put it from "The Place of Affectional Facts", “There is no thought-stuff different from thing-stuff.” Our relations to the world is not a mere psychic addition to what is real, our relations to the world is part and parcel of reality. This is how James is both a neutral monist and a pluralist. 

(4) Neutral Monist is a term coined by Bertand Russell, so it is not a phrase that James uses about himself. But it is a common way of discussing both James and radical empiricism. In debates about mind versus bodies, or idealism versus materialism, the neutral monist refuses to take sides (that’s the neutral part). Consciousness is the same sort of stuff as bodies, and neither of them are inherently material or ideal (that’s the monism). And James does say that thought-stuff and thing-stuff are the same thing, they are all experience. Buuuut, this is where things get weird. As James clarifies in "Does 'Consciousness' Exist", “there is no general stuff of which experience at large is made. There are as many stuffs as there are ‘natures’ in the things experienced.” It might be better to understand James as a neutral pluralist. Yes both thought-stuff and thing-stuff are made of the same thing (experience), and they are equally real, but really, experience is not one thing, but every thing, all the things, and as such, always more. 

Sunday, September 25, 2022

The Sophist Socrates and Other Heresies

 I've been teaching Classical Rhetoric this semester, and I have become convinced of something I have long believed. Not just convinced, but really discovered that for anyone who studies this stuff, it seems to be an obvious truth (so obvious in the literature, I almost decided not to write this post).  Namely, that Socrates was a sophist. 


What is the evidence of this? 
(1)Well, first, the term itself was widely and generally used. In Aristides Orations 46 he tells us that sophist was "a general term," and tells us that Solon, Pythagorus,  Socrates, even Plato, were called sophists. The term itself seemed to have meant something like sage, and applied to all sorts of people, including rhapsodes and other poets, learned leaders, prophets and seers, philosophers, and the like. But it also had an ambiguous meaning, in which the term could both be used as a compliment or an insult. Edward Schiappa tells us to think of term like "intellectual" today, and Robin Reames tells us to think of the term like "elite." So it just wouldn't be that surprising that Socrates was seen as a sophist. I mean, it would be weird if he wasn't. But if you need other evidence. 
(2) Famously Socrates is a sophist in Aristophanes' The Clouds, who runs his own Thinkery. I have seen people call this depiction a mistake, unfair, and inaccurate. While it is clear there are plenty of inaccuracies (Socrates did not charge for lessons, and he was not particularly interested in the cosmos) it doesn't seem to be a mistake, but rather a representation that was widely agreed upon. 
(3) In the Protagoras, we can see Socrates acting like a sophist. And in Plato's The Apology, Socrates is actively defending himself from being seen a sophist. 
(4) In Xenophon's Memorabilia he writes, "Now Critias bore a grudge against Socrates for this; and when he was one of the Thirty and was drafting laws with Charicles, he bore it in mind. He inserted a clause which made it illegal “to teach the art of words.” It was a calculated insult to Socrates, whom he saw no means of attacking, except by imputing to him the practice constantly attributed to philosophers, and so making him unpopular." Now it is clear that Xenophon disagrees that Socrates teaches the art of words (logôn technê), but it is also clear that it was widely understood that he did. 

Okay, so there is ample evidence that Socrates was considered a sophist. That he, along with the other Athenian born sophist Antiphon, were put to death partially because they were sophists. That indeed, it would have been weird if Socrates was not considered a sophist. But I haven't proved he was a sophist, because I have been using the term generally. But I have not defined it, and then tried to show that Socrates matches that definition. Which raises the next question: If Socrates was so widely seen as a sophist at the time, why do we tend to see him as an anti-sophist now? 


Several years ago here I wrote two blog posts defending the sophists, and arguing that they were engaged in a pluralistic metaphysical project (you can see them here and here. Robin Reames also has an interesting article contending Protagoras was devoted to a project of becoming, which you can read here). The terms I used in those posts--eristic, antilogy, and dialectic--were all invented by Plato. In the 90s, Thomas Cole and Edward Schiappa sought to show (among other things) that rhetoric was also a term invented by Plato (see Cole's The Origins of Rhetoric in Ancient Greece and Schiappa's Protagoras and Logos). You can read their arguments yourself to decide if they are convincing, but it seems clear at least to me that the term rhetoric (a) was an invention of 4th century BCE, not 5th, and (b) really fits into how Plato worded words. If so, it is Plato's Gorgias that this term is first introduced (interestingly, the work carries a second title, Peri rhêtorikês--Concerning Rhetoric--and it is at least possible this second title originates with Plato). Why does it matter? Well first, the usual claim that the sophists were ones who taught rhetoric, as opposed to the philosophers, would certainly not have been understood during the time period of the Older Sophists, because the word rhetoric was not in use. They did teach logos, but of course, so did Socrates. So what was at stake was a move by Plato to distinguish what he was doing (and Socrates) from other intellectual schools. (The exact relationship of Plato to rhetoric is certainly complex, and I highly suggest Reames' nuanced treatment in Seeming and Being).  As Schiappa argues Plato was engaged in a project of dissociation. Long excerpt coming: 

As Charles L. Stevenson has noted, many of Plato's dialogues can be described as promulgating persuasive definitions: "The purport of the definition is to alter the descriptive meaning of the term, usually by giving it greater precision within the boundaries of its customary vagueness; but the definition does not make any substantial change in the term's emotive meaning." One of the rhetorical objectives of the dialogues was to dissociate the usual or "commonsense" usage of a term such as "knowledge," "justice," or "sophist" from what Plato believed should be the correct usage. Thus, by giving the terms "sophist" and "philosopher" more precise technical meanings and portraying his characters as more or less attractive-depending on the objective of the dialogue-Plato provided a favorable emotive and technical meaning for "philosophers" and a negative emotive and technical meaning for "sophists." [...] Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca have suggested that rhetors rarely offer dissociations in isolation. Rather, "the philosopher will establish a system that will lead essentially to the relating of the various philosophical pairs with each other." (Protagoras and Logos, p. 8). 

So, Plato's dialogues on the sophists is an attempt at dissociation, to take something that would have been grouped together in the reader's head, and show that they are actually distinct. Our understanding of Socrates as opposed to the other sophists is not because of how far apart he was from them, but because of how close he was. To put it in less generous terms, Plato was engaged in a branding campaign. And branding campaigns requires us to know why the competition is different and worse. This becomes obvious when you realize the goal here is not just to rescue his teacher from bad reputation of the sophists, but to help promote the Academy against his rival, Isocrates. It is, for example, regularly assumed that the target of the Phaedrus was Isocrates, who used written down speeches to help teach. Indeed, Isocrates never claimed to teach rhetoric and instead called what he taught philosophia, which one assumes had to infuriate Plato. it makes sense that a discipline that still involves argumentation, thought experiments, technical and precise distinctions, requires that a regular claim that they are not sophists! And while branding requires making precise distinctions between things that seem alike, it does not necessarily mean the branding is a lie or incorrect. Those distinctions might matter, and it very well could be that all the distinctions that Plato marshals to make Socrates different from the other Older Sophists are exactly the key and important distinctions. But for us, we should remember that the teaching of logos was not seen as a rival of philosophy, and that those trying to adhere to such strict distinctions might be trying to sell us something. 

Saturday, April 9, 2022

The Varieties of William James Scholarship

I started reading James after I finished the rough draft of my dissertation, but before I defended. No one had ever taught me James in any class, and seldom brought up his name. I had no close friends in school who worked on James or the American Pragmatists. I basically started reading James because of the Whitehead resurgence created by Stengers & Co. Because of this, what little secondary literature I knew about James was either from French thinkers, or what could be understood as French-influenced Deleuzians. So it is only after I had been reading and thinking alongside James for a few years that I started to understand his reputation in other intellectual circles, including standard American philosophy ones. Some, like the persistent charge that sees James as a Dale Carnegie figure are completely baffling. One of the things that attracted me to William James is how he frequently makes central depression, sickliness, and failure as parts of the human condition that we need philosophy for. Philosophy is an existential enterprise to make life livable. His work often serves as a rejoinder by the attempts to gas-light us in the world around us, and instead to affirm our experience. James, more than most, is the thinker that has connected the metaphysical to our lived reality. Other charges, like that he is a subjectivist, I disagree with, but I get where it is coming from, and it is a serious claim. Then there is the emphasis that is normal in the French and French inspired readings that are not as common in the American and Anglo-American interpretation of James. Most particularly is that James' pluralism tends to be emphasized (indeed, Jean Wahl basically saw the question of pluralism as the question of American and British philosophy), and the rest of his work is often seen as an engagement with his pluralism. His radical empiricism is often interpreted in ways that relate heavily to both Bergson and Whitehead's critique of a bifurcation of nature (I was basically lost the first time I read a Jamesian explaining radical empiricism in a way that was clearly not Bergsonian and Whiteheadian). Lastly, of course, there are the turf wars between various schools of classical American Pragmatists. There are the Piercians who believe that James is basically not a real philosopher but a stylist, and a deeply sloppy thinker. And the Deweyians in political theory and especially communication theory, who believe that James is an important precursor to the mature understandings of Dewey. (though in general my personal experience with Piercians and Deweyians is not this way). Basically, there is no thinker I have invested my time in that running across the common interpretative framing is a source of constant surprise. But I am always surprised by the secondary literature on James. So here is a little primer on the secondary readings that really have shaped my understanding of William James. In order to not be here forever, I am going to do 10 things, 5 books and 5 articles or chapters. Though I am going to cheat a little.

My initiation into William James

1. Isabelle Stengers- "William James: An Ethics of Thought"(2009): This is one of the first, if not the first, things I ever read on William James. I was busy consuming all the random things by Stengers I could read. I often joke that I finally came to the conclusion that I wouldn't ever be good enough in French to be considered a Deleuze scholar, so I thought, What about this Whitehead guy that everyone is talking about? But then I went and tried to read Process and Reality. That book is hard. Anyway, much like Goldilocks, discovering William James was just right.

2. Kennan Ferguson- William James: Politics in the Pluriverse (2007). I'm not really sure how I came across this book. I had read and taught Kennan's "I <3 My Dog," and I read his book on William James around the same time I read Stengers. Indeed, really, Stengers and Ferguson were my initiation into William James.

My understanding of James' Politics

3. Deborah J. Coon- "One Moment in the World's Salvation: Anarchism and the Radicalization of William James" (1996). This essay is a classic, and for good reason. There is a tendency to see William James as apolitical. Indeed, for many of his immediate promotors after his death, there was a desire to make him apolitical so he was more acceptable. And many Deweyians were happy to see James' politics as something that was expressed in the more mature works of Dewey. But as Coon and later Livingston argue, James was radicalized by anti-imperialism. Indeed, his politics were first and foremost against imperialism, against bigness in business and government and metaphysics. Coon follows this up, with an argument of seeing James influenced by the anarchist tradition. Indeed, there is a way to see James' individualism as being deeply connected to his anarchism.

4. Alexander Livingston- Damn Great Empires! William James and the Politics of Pragmatism (2016). Like Coon, Livingston is interested in articulating James' own politics, and is directly inspired by his anti-imperialism. Livingston shows how the anti-imperialism is woven throughout James' pluralism and pragmatism. He also has a fascinating chapter on the rhetoric of William James on toughness. It is something that has always bothered me, and Livingston manages to have real insight into what is going on there. It's also just a well-written book. It is the first non-fiction book I read after my first son was born, and I was too exhausted to get into much.

Connecting James to contemporary theory.

5. Brian Massumi's "Too-Blue: Color-Patch for an Expanded Empiricism" (2000). I originally read it in his Parables for the Virtual (which I just saw has gotten the 20th anniversary treatment). Massumi connects James to the study of affect. And here is where I will just completely cheat, because there is a wealth of great works on William James and affect. There is Donovan Schaefer's "The Wild Experiment" (which is also the title of his forthcoming book), Shannon Sullivan's "James and Feminist Philosophy of Emotion," (from Feminist Interpretations of William James), and Vinciane Despret's chapter on William James from her Our Emotional Makeup. But I want to draw your attention to two articles in particular, Lauren Guilmette's "Teresa Brennan, William James, and the Energetic Demands of Ethics" and Kate Stanley's "Affect and Emotion: James, Dewey, Tomkins, Damasio, Massumi, Spinoza." In these articles, William James is tied into a tradition of embodied affect studies from Tomkins and Brennan, where he is usually associated more with the Deleuzian strain of affect studies because of Massumi's connections.

6. David Lapoujade- William James: Empiricism and Pragmatism (2020). Lapoudade's first version of this book came out in French in 1997, and then again in 2007. His work is in the background of all the Stengers and Latour uptake of William James. Lapoujade would go on to write books on Bergson, Deleuze, and most recently, Souriau. And so you get a sense of the sort of intellectual trajectory that he sees James starting. It's an important book for connecting James to thinkers of French pluralism like Deleuze.

Connecting James to lived experiences.

7. Paul Stob- ""Terministic Screens," Social Constructionism, and the Language of Experience: Kenneth Burke's Utilization of William James (2008)". Stob has a great book on William James' rhetoric entitled William James and the Art of Popular Statement, but I want to focus on this earlier work by Stob. In this essay Stob connects William James' psychological work to Kenneth Burke's famous terministic screens. In short, just as James understands the too muchness of the world (the "blooming, buzzing confusion") and the psychological need to choose and ignore parts of the world, Burke makes a similar point with rhetoric. That use rhetoric to choose and ignore parts of the world, because the world is too much for representation and understanding (something like this is going on in Whitehead's short work Symbolism).

8. Hilary and Ruth Anna Putnam- Pragmatism as a Way of Life: The Lasting Legacy of William James and John Dewey (2017). This is a collection of essays from Hilary Putnam and Ruth Anna, some co-authored, over the course of their career, on pragmatism (and mostly William James). Ruth Anna Putnam is a serious scholar of William James, and both Putnams are trying to understand pragmatism as a kind of existential philosophy, connected to our lived experiences and our decisions about what sort of beings and world we want to make. It briefly confused, and I tried to read some other analytic thinkers on James. I'm sure there are other good things out there, but without knowing how to look for it, I was mostly wasting my time. But while not every essay here is worth it, most of the essays are good to very good.

Recent things I have read on James

9. Erin McKenna "What Makes the Lives of Lifestock Significant?" in Pragmatism Applied: William James and the Challenges of Contemporary Life (2019). McKenna has frequently written on the overlap of pragmatism and animal philosophy (though I tend to associate her more with Dewey). Her most recent book is Livestock: Food, Fiber, and Friends. But in this essay she surveys William James' somewhat ambigious relationships to other animals, focusing particularly on some asides in James' "What Makes a Life Significant?" From James, “When you and I, for instance, realize how many innocent beasts have had to suffer in cattle-cars and slaughter-pens and lay down their lives that we might grow up, all fattened and clad, to sit together here in comfort and carry on this discourse, it does, indeed, put our relation to the universe in a more solemn light.”

10. Martin Savransky - Around the Day in Eighty Worlds: Politics of the Pluriverse (2021). Here Savransky draws upon James to develop a pluralistic realism. It very much continues the project of his previous book, The Adventure of Relevance, but this one centers the work of James even more. I think it's great if you want to get a sense why Jamesian pluralism matters for social analysis.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Reading A Thousand Plateaus

 Today would have been Deleuze's 97th birthday. Here is a short homage of him I wrote several years ago. Today I also got in a new copy of A Thousand Plateaus. I got my first copy, and until now my only copy, May of 2001. So, that copy is now old enough to drink. And it is falling apart, tons of notes and underlinings. It has seen things. Cameron Kunzelman told me that the Bloomsbury editions were nice sizes, good font size, etc. (actually, seems he told the world!) So I ordered one from the UK, and waited for it to randomly appear. Today is the day! I got the new copy because I decided I wanted to read the book again from cover to cover. Despite being a book that has inspired me a lot, I haven't read it cover to cover since early in grad school. There are chapters I return to again and again, and a few I have barely touched. So, I am going to move through it. Nothing special, about a chapter a week. My goal right now is to post reflections and impressions on each chapter as I go through. Maybe you will want to read along. 

Sunday, January 9, 2022

The Truth Is Not Out There: William James and the verification of truth

Over at his blog, Michael Huemer has a recent post dealing with, among other things, pragmatism and its conception of truth. I don't know Huemer's work in general, but I am familiar with his writings on ethical vegetarianism and veganism, but most likely some of his other work might provide better background here. So I am going into this ignorant of any of his arguments about epistemology or metaphysics, sadly. 

Okay, so Huemer argues that pragmatists like William James and Piecer get the concept of truth wrong. He argues that concept of truth is trivial, and that is basically the correspondence theory of truth. So, as he points out in a pervious blog post:

The correct theory of truth is the correspondence theory: truth is correspondence with reality. I.e., if a sentence or belief represents the world to be a certain way, and the world is actually that way, then the sentence/belief is true. If the world isn’t that way, the sentence/belief is false.
I think this is trivial, but somehow people have managed to have big debates about it.

This leads him to point on the first blog post I linked to,

Some smart and important philosophers have held what I would describe as complete non-starter theories about “truth”. (These theories are so far off that I refuse to recognize them as actually being about truth; hence the quotation marks.) For example, “truth is what is useful”. [...] Sometimes people say things. When you say things, sometimes stuff is the way that you say it is. Other times, it isn’t. When stuff is the way that you say it is, we call your statements “true”. When stuff is not the way that you say it is, we call your statements “false”. For instance, if you say that all cats are green, then your statement is “true” if and only if all cats are green.

So let's talk about William James. First of all, James agrees. Sorta. As he says in ch. 6 of Pragmatism:

Truth, as any dictionary will tell you, is a property of certain of our ideas. It means their 'agreement,' as falsity means their disagreement, with 'reality.' Pragmatists and intellectualists both accept this definition as a matter of course. They begin to quarrel only after the question is raised as to what may precisely be meant by the term 'agreement,' and what by the term 'reality,' when reality is taken as something for our ideas to agree with. .

Okay, so we agree that reality and our ideas have to be in agreement, but, uhm, we are actually going to disagree about all those terms and how we do that. So, James argues a little further down in the same chapter his famous claim that truth is verification and validation:

The moment pragmatism asks this question, it sees the answer: True ideas are those that we can assimilate, validate, corroborate and verify. False ideas are those that we cannot. That is the practical difference it makes to us to have true ideas; that, therefore, is the meaning of truth, for it is all that truth is known-as.
This thesis is what I have to defend. The truth of an idea is not a stagnant property inherent in it. Truth happens to an idea. It becomes true, is made true by events. Its verity is in fact an event, a process: the process namely of its verifying itself, its veri-fication. Its validity is the process of its valid-ation.  

So when Huemer says your statement that all cats are green if, and only if, all cats are actually green, we have to take a step back and figure out what it means to say something is green in reality? Remember this?

Is the dress blue and black or white and gold? The correspondence theory of truth might say something like: if you went and saw this dress in the original, it is clearly white and gold, so it is true to say it is white and gold, and false to say it is blue and black. But, to paraphrase Magritte, ceci n'est pas une robe. The question is not what color is the original dress itself, but what color is the dress in this picture. Is color in the eye of the beholder? Does it belong solely to the image? Is color produced through some sort of interpretative community? The pragmatist, under the right conditions, could accept the as true that this image of the dress is white and gold, or blue and black, or even both. The condition for the answer requires us to first decide what processes of verification and validation we are engaging in. James again:

Pragmatism, on the other hand, asks its usual question. "Grant an idea or belief to be true," it says, "what concrete difference will its being true make in anyone's actual life? How will the truth be realized? What experiences will be different from those which would obtain if the belief were false?

Now when we get to issues of verification, or what beliefs make different, we are no longer according to Huemer, really talking about truth.

Another possibility is that people confuse the idea of the meaning of “truth” with the idea of a criterion for telling when something is true. Hence you get coherence or ideal inquiry theories of truth.
I’m fine with asking these other questions. “What beliefs do you approve of?” and “How can you tell when something is true?” are better discussion questions than “What is truth?” But you shouldn’t just reinterpret the latter question as meaning one of the former. Making huge confusions like this just makes it hard to get the right answers to anything. If you want to answer one of the more profound questions, instead of claiming to be giving an account of truth, just say, “Look, the nature of truth is a boring question. Instead, let’s talk about what beliefs one should approve of …”

But for the Jamesian pragmatist believes if you don't answer what we are corresponding to in the correspondence theory of truth, the whole thing is question begging. Let me give one of my favorite examples, the placebo. Does a placebo work? As I argued in that previous post, if you are a patient, and you are given the placebo, and the placebo works, in what way can we say that the placebo didn't make you feel better? Did that not happen in reality? Is that not true? But what if you are working to create a drug trial, there is another mode and experience of the placebo. Another process of verification and validation. Then, of course, we can say the placebo does not work, it does not treat. So the mode within which you are engaging the placebo matters dramatically about whether it is true, or not. This why James says that truth happens to an idea, that it is an event. We can't simply say, is an idea true or false until we also say under which processes of verification. Let's take a different example. We are beset by various problems that large parts of both our country and the world are simply in denial about. And it is common in certain Democratic discusses of global warming or covid to say something like, we should do what the science tells us. This statement is baffling, because it basically combines at least two different processes of verification. Science, including perhaps social sciences, can tell us things like how big of a potential problem we are facing, what are some of the possible solutions, maybe what some of the solutions are. What science cannot do is to tell us what to do, how much risk we should take, what trade offs we are okay with. You can affirm these second set of questions are about truth without undermining the first set of truths (the scientific ones), because are just dealing with two different processes of verification and validation. This is why James might something like (though not exactly) usefulness matters to truth. Usefulness is one of the ways we can figure out what process of verification we are engaging in. James' committed pluralism is on full display here. This not a position where anything gets to be true, but there are as many truths as there are processes of verification. The Truth Is Not Out There

Friday, December 31, 2021

Best Albums of 2021

According to my admittedly sloppy records, I listened to 435 albums that were released in 2021. Here is my list. First my top 5, then the next 25, then the next 50, and as a bonus, my top ten EPs. Each category is internally organized alphabetically. I only had time to talk about the first five, but it was a great year for music (though again, when isn't it?). 

Best Albums 2021

Top Five

1.Art D’Ecco—In Standard Definition

A glam rock and pop album from another time. Conceptually it is obsessed with celebrity, and also concerned with celebrity obsession. Sure, the influences are pretty obvious, but when you are doing your best to channel early Roxy Music and 70s Bowie, that might not be so bad. And sure, it doesn’t hit those immortal highs, but I found myself wanting to groove along from start to finish.

2.Midnight Sister—Painting the Roses

Why just do one glam pop album? If Art D’Ecco wants to channel Roxy Music and Bowie, Midnight Sister is more T. Rex and Donna Summers, trying to give us some sort of glitter disco cabaret. And sure, it doesn’t always do that, but I found myself seduced by their vision and enthusiasm. Also, I don’t know much about music videos, but they direct their own music videos, and I really suggest watching them. It’s a different way to see the surrealistic soundscape they are seeking to create.

3. Shungudzo—I Am Not a Mother, But I Have Children

Okay, this is clearly trying to produce a protest album. And has gotten some criticism for being too on the nose, too try hard. Which… sure. But sonically something is often working against the lyrics, winking subtly at the audience. I found myself caring less about the obviousness, and more often being impressed by the sheer audacity of the thing. Not to mention so many of the songs are dangerously catchy.

4. St. Vincent—Daddy’s Home

I said on facebook that it was weird to choose this album to begin the inevitable St. Vincent backlash, because the whole thing is so good. It is a self-aware attempt to both change her sound, and try to maybe undermine her reputation as aloof while, you know, trying to actually cement that reputation. Okay, let’s backup. I was lukewarm when it was released. But I found myself listening to it again and again, liking it more and more. And well, here we are. The album, for the five of you who haven’t listened to it, is trying to reproduce a kind of 70s New York grimy sound (kind of like Nick Cave attempts on Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!). But of course this meets St. Vincent’s trade mark precision and careful production values. I think that is why we have an artifact that doesn’t fully work on the first listen, but really captivated me by the end. 

5. Sarah Mary Chadwick—Me and Ennui are Friends, Baby.

This was a year in which many of the women musicians who wrote personal and haunting lyrics of my teenage years released albums. Including new work by Ani DiFranco, Tori Amos, Aimee Mann, and Liz Phair. None of them were bad, but something was missing. Maybe they had changed, or I had, or probably both. But then I listened to this album by Sarah Mary Chadwick, and it captured a bit of that old feeling. It probably helps that Chadwick is close to my current age. Before I go further, I should say this album needs basically every kind of content warning, dealing with depression, death, suicide, drug and alcohol abuse, and lots of explicit lyrics. But it’s deeply confessional, and clever, and sad, and I listened to the whole thing with my eyes extra big. If you want 42 minutes of heartbreak and brilliance, you should give this a try. 

Next 25

Amyl and The Sniffers—Comfort to Me

Amythyst Kiah—Wary + Strange

Arca—Kick ii-iiiii

Cassandra Jenkins--An Overview on Phenomenal Nature

Charley  Crockett—Music City USA

Clever Girls—Constellations

The Coral—Coral Island

Curtis Harding—If Words Were Flowers

Death From Above 1979—Is 4 Lovers

Dominique Fils-Aime—Three Little Words

Faye Webster—I Know I’m Funny haha

Jupiter & Okwess—Na Kozonga 

Lael Neale—Acquainted With Night

Lingua Ignota—Sinner Get Ready

Lord Huron—Long Lost

Melissa Carper—Daddy’s Country Gold

Mon Laferte--SEIS

Nancy—The Seven Foot Tall Post-Suicide Feel Good Blues

Nick Cave & Warren Ellis—Carnage

Nick Shoulders—Home on the Rage

No-No Boy—1975 

Shannon & The Clams—Year of the Spider

Tele Novella—Merlynn Belle

Valerie June—The Moon and Stars: Prescriptions for Dreamers

Viagra Boys—Welfare Jazz

Next 50

Allison Russell—Outside Child

Anna B. Savage—A Common Turn

Arlo Parks—Collapsed in Sunbeams

Billie Eilish—Happier Than Ever

Black Country, New Road—For the First Time

Black Midi—Calvacade

Claire Rousay—A Softer Focus

Clio—L’amour Hélas

The Courettes—Back in Mono

Daniel Knox—Won’t You Take Me With You

Deap Vally—Marriage 

Field Music—Flat White Moon

Gary Louris—Jump for Joy

Haiku Salut—The Hill, the Light, the Ghost

Hamish Hawk—Heavy Elevator


Illuminati Hotties—Let Me Do One More

Jack Ingram, Miranda Lambert, & John Randall—The Marfa Tapes

Jarvis Cocker—Chansons d’Eunni Tip-Top

Joy Crookes—Skin 

John Hiatt & Jerry Douglas—Leftover Feelings

Jungle—Loving in Stereo

La Luz—La Luz

Lana Del Rey—Blue Bannisters 

Le Ren—Leftovers 

Lil Nas X—Montero 

Little Simz--Sometimes I Might Be Introvert

Matthew E. White—K Bay

Maxwell Farrington & Le SuperHomard—Once 

Mdou Moctar—Afrique Victime 

Monophonics & Kelly Finnigan—It’s Only Us 

Nick Waterhouse—Promenade Blues

Night Beats—Outlaw R&B

Parquet Courts—Sympathy for Life

The Peacers—Blexxed Rec

Pearl Charles—Magic Mirror

Pokey LaFarge—In the Blossom of Their Shade

Pom Pom Squad—Death of a Cheerleader

Riddy Arman—Riddy Arman

Riley Downing—Start It Over


She Drew the Gun—Behave Myself

Sierra Ferrell—Long Time Coming

Tamar Aphek—All Bets Are Off


Vincent Neil Emerson—Vincent Neil Emerson

The War on Drugs—I Don’t Live Here Anymore

William Doyle—Great Spans of Muddy Time

Willie Nelson—The Willie Nelson Family

Yola—Stand for Myself

Top Ten EPs

Ber--I'm Not In Love

Billy Nomates--Emergency Telephone

Blood Red Shoes--Ø 

Car Seat Headrest--Madlo

Dessa--I Already Like You

Gabriels--Bloodlines/Love and Hate in a Different Time

Molly Lewis--The Forgotten Edge

Near Tears--Get With the Program

Olivia Jean--Palladium 

Pixey--Free to Live in Colour 

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Some Long Awaited For Philosophical Titles

This is one of those times where it seems that several long awaited for academic books from France are coming out in English. Some of these are translations of works that have been in French for decades. Others are titles that have only have recently been released in French, but were in the archives of the authors instead.

1. Michel Foucault--History of Sexuality, Vol. 4: Confessions of the Flesh.
If you are interested in why the long delay of the fourth volume of the History of Sexuality, along with a good review of the book itself, I highly suggest reading this review from Stuart Elden.
But here is the summary from the book:
Brought to light at last--the fourth volume in the famous History of Sexuality series by one of the most influential thinkers of the twentieth century, his final work, which he had completed, but not yet published, upon his death in 1984.
Michel Foucault's philosophy has made an indelible impact on Western thought, and his History of Sexuality series--which traces cultural and intellectual notions of sexuality, arguing that it is profoundly shaped by the power structures applied to it--is one of his most influential works. At the time of his death in 1984, he had completed--but not yet edited or published--the fourth volume, which posits that the origins of totalitarian self-surveillance began with the Christian practice of confession. This is a text both sweeping and deeply personal, as Foucault--born into a French Catholic family--undoubtedly wrestled with these issues himself. Since he had stipulated "Pas de publication posthume," this text has long been secreted away. However, the sale of the Foucault archives in 2013--which made this text available to scholars--prompted his nephew to seek wider publication. This attitude was shared by Foucault's longtime partner, Daniel Defert, who said, "What is this privilege given to Ph.D students? I have adopted this principle: It is either everybody or nobody."

2. Jacques Derrida--Geschlecht III: Sex, Race, Nation, Humanity.
This is the third, out of four, Geschlecht works, and it was recently recovered in Derrida's archive. The first one, "Sexual Difference, Ontological Difference," and the second one, "Heidegger's Hand" (which is important for us animal scholars), can both be found in the second volume of Psyche. Geschlecht IV, "Heidegger's Ear" can be found in the collection Reading Heidegger. (One more quick note is that the new set of Derrida lectures, Life Death, is also forthcoming).
A significant event in Derrida scholarship, this book marks the first publication of his long-lost philosophical text known only as “Geschlecht III.” The third, and arguably the most significant, piece in his four-part Geschlecht series, it fills a gap that has perplexed Derrida scholars. The series centers on Martin Heidegger and the enigmatic German word Geschlecht, which has several meanings pointing to race, sex, and lineage. Throughout the series, Derrida engages with Heidegger’s controversial oeuvre to tease out topics of sexual difference, nationalism, race, and humanity. In Geschlecht III, he calls attention to Heidegger’s problematic nationalism, his work’s political and sexual themes, and his promise of salvation through the coming of the “One Geschlecht,” a sentiment that Derrida found concerningly close to the racial ideology of the Nazi party.
Amid new revelations about Heidegger’s anti-Semitism and the contemporary context of nationalist resurgence, this third piece of the Geschlecht series is timelier and more necessary than ever. Meticulously edited and expertly translated, this volume brings Derrida’s mysterious and much awaited text to light.

3. Gilles Deleuze--Letters and Other Texts

This is the third collection of shorter Deleuze works edited by David Lapoujade (following up Desert Islands and Two Regimes of Madness).
A posthumous collection of writings by Deleuze, including letters, youthful essays, and an interview, many previously unpublished.
Letters and Other Texts is the third and final volume of the posthumous texts of Gilles Deleuze, collected for publication in French on the twentieth anniversary of his death. It contains several letters addressed to his contemporaries (Michel Foucault, Pierre Klossowski, François Châtelet, and Clément Rosset, among others). Of particular importance are the letters addressed to Félix Guattari, which offer an irreplaceable account of their work as a duo from Anti-Oedipus to What is Philosophy? Later letters provide a new perspective on Deleuze's work as he responds to students' questions.
This volume also offers a set of unpublished or hard-to-find texts, including some essays from Deleuze's youth, a few unusual drawings, and a long interview from 1973 on Anti-Oedipus with Guattari.

4. Gilbert Simondon--Individuation in Light of Notions of Form and Information, and Volume II.

5. Édouard Glissant--Treatise on the Whole-World AND Introduction to a Poetics of Diversity AND The Baton Rouge Interviews.

6. And a German one, Theodor Adorno--Aspects of the New Right-Wing Extremism