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kvond

Radix Philosophy and Knowing Your Kant

The Talk Around the Pub

It seems that the Kantian sore of Perverse Egalitariansm and Larval Subjects is festering a bit. It is it a symptomatic lesion in the Body of Philosophy, or just a bloggist scratch that got an impurity or two in it, and in need of a little antiseptic. It brings to mind though something about argumentation, even in a bloggist environment, that goes right to the body of a philosopher, the way in which we experience the wholeness of arguments with the very sense of our well-being, when we think that we understand what we are arguing for. 

In the comments section  of Larval Subjects attempt to deal again with Kantian normativity, Mikhael repeats the authority of his reading of Kant, after the claim that someone simply is an embarassment:  

“You either don’t get it, or your pretend to not get it – you don’t understand such simple matters as “form” vs. “matter” in Kant’s philosophy in general – are you serious? For such a great reader of Kant, you seem to be spewing nonsensical readings of him right and left, I mean you’ve become a joke around the pub with “Have you read this latest comment by Levi about Kant?….I interpret my Kant the way most of Kant scholarship does, I’m not a genius with innovative ideas, I’m dull and boring – if you knew your Kant, you would see how regular and annoyingly mediocre my views are.”

It is not particular to Kant that I want to speak, but to simply the way that philosophy is discussed. I suppose we all feel this way. If someone disagrees with us (or “us”), they simply do not understand us (it is not that we are wrong). When they show us that we were wrong, if ever, we realize that we didn’t understand us. We all grow frustrated when disagreement cuts to the very roots of our suppositions. And the same may be said when it cuts the very roots of a thinker we greatly admire.

Personally, I find it difficult though, in the particular case of the Kant Krew at Perverse Egalitarians, is that the appeal is ultimately to a kind of “you are an idiot”, “you don’t even understand the very basics of Kant” when Kant is criticized to the root. All this, while they also fall back upon the idea that they themselves are not even Kantians, that they are just telling the world the orthodox position of Kant, in fact regurgitating it in a fashion. It is not so much the entrenchment of such a position I am troubled with (“I am simply repeating Kant Orthodoxy to you, if you question it it is merely that you do not understand him”), but the unengaged nature of this kind of talk. It is as if one is no longer even actively thinking about Kant, taking a critical view, pulling the threads apart, running it through your fingers. If the thought is dead in your hands, and one is simply repeating Orthodoxy stuff you read in commentaries (and how much of philosophy is done like this, wherein one talks like one knows because one repeats what someone “who knows” says), what is the point?

The Inculcation of Vision

On the other hand, I too have had my difficulties with Levi’s appropriations, on occasion; they can seem wild, shoot from the hip, ripping passages/principles out from the rest of the living argument. And certainly many people grow frustrated with the pinpoints of my own criticism, not seeing the value that I see in taking down the building at this one particular mortis and tenon at which I may hammer endlessly. I think that part of the problem is that much of philosophy is actually ecstatic. That is, we go through the discipline of rigorous argument, architecturally linking an entire network of propositions, defitions, axioms, conclusions, so that we can SEE something. Once you have inculcated yourself within a philosopher, or a school/branch of philosophy, the world is seen differently. It glows with potentialities and connections it did not otherwise have. (Are these chimera, or radiations of the Real itself, how things really are but as hidden?) When others question the very foundations of our observatory edifice, hacking at the base before the argument can even get off the ground, they are questioning our experience, our visioning of the world, a world we see more coherently (ultimately, more beautifully) than before.

This is the case I believe even with the most austere of analytic school logic chopping, and of course with the poetic intoxications of Continental melodizing and remixing.

When people question to the radix, they cut to the Umwelt of the philosopher, perhaps we can say. Proponents find this disturbing because “Just wait! Look and see what it can do, before you try to destroy it! Let it get off the Ground!” Or, more so, “No, you don’t see it! You don’t see how it works!” The radical questioners though say: “Not that world!” In this way our philosophical disagreements are not much different than those that make up the rest of discussions with others. They are a question of seeing.

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33 responses to “Radix Philosophy and Knowing Your Kant

  1. Alexei April 20, 2009 at 12:47 pm

    I’m probably making a mistake by responding to this, but here goes anyway.

    You’re right to point out that when folks have devoted some time to the study of a thinker, there’s a sense in which basic errors are irksome, maybe even infuriating. I think that’s probably spot on, especially when the folks making the errors are the same people charged with teaching these texts.

    But that’s not the issue. What needs to be addressed is whether a certain form of criticism actually reaches the quick, or radix as you’ve called it. Now, you’ve decided it has. Fine, I suppose; that just means that no rational discussion is really possible any more, and the case should be closed. My own position is simply that it’s incoherent to say that someone lands a blow against a particular theory with a particular criticism, when that very criticism is premised on a misunderstanding. What could it possibly mean to be ignorant of a position but still be engaged in some sort of fundamental critique of it?

    Of course, ‘ignorance’ is measured against our own understandings, which is why requests for textual support and appeals to argumentative form tend to crop up. What infuriated Mikhail is that Levi’s textual support doesn’t actually support Levi’s argument, and it’s completely taken out of context. In effect, It’s disingenuous. But again, that has more to do with Levi’s MO than it has anything to do with Kant or critiques of Kant.

    Again, the basic issue seems to be that in order to critique a position, one should at least be able to offer an accurate description of that position. Failing this, it’s hard to see how a criticism could have weight. Again, if a criticism is based on a misunderstanding, it’s hard to see how it’s really a criticism of a position anyone actually holds. It may still be interesting in its own right. Fine. But that doesn’t make it anything more than a competing alternative whose merits are judged by different criteria form those of a criticism.

  2. kvond April 20, 2009 at 1:11 pm

    Alexei: “But that’s not the issue. What needs to be addressed is whether a certain form of criticism actually reaches the quick, or radix as you’ve called it. Now, you’ve decided it has.”

    Kvond: This is of course the crux. In my own history of discussions over the Categorical Imperative at the site of course I felt that my criticisms cut to the quick, and I never really experienced that I could not offer an accurate description of the CI (it was rather that the Kantians seemed to do a very poor job of this, in that their descriptions and examples were all over the place).

    In Levi’s case though, it certainly is not that I am sure that he has cut to the quick (or not). I have read similiar points being made against Kant, so I won’t say that it’s out of left field. And you are right that an “accurate” description of a position tends to indicate that you understand it. But philosophy is an adventure of re-description, and aside from simply regurgiating the very words of a philosopher, when we re-frame what those words mean the very notion of “accuracy” is the register upon which the battle is waged. Loyal followers find the “accurate” re-description to be one that support the coherence and power of the argument. Dissenters find the “accurate” re-description to be the one that exposes its inherent flaws, the one that shows its covered over blemishes.

  3. kvond April 20, 2009 at 1:23 pm

    Alexei:”What infuriated Mikhail is that Levi’s textual support doesn’t actually support Levi’s argument, and it’s completely taken out of context. In effect, It’s disingenuous.”

    Kvond: This may be, but Mikhai has leveled the exact same kind of rhetoric towards me, the accusation that I was only perversely, stupidly (or humorously) misreading Kant. In my case I know only that I was sure of my point, and my interest in understanding/critiquing the issue at hand was sincere. I am responding to the very character of the response, where it comes from when frustrations build in miscommunication and it seems that the other is disengenuous in conversation (we all have experienced this). Perhaps on this very specific issue, the citation of the text of Kant, Levi was too brash. I’m sure he’s digging through it to find out if he was or not. I can only say that the level of harshness here suggest that this is something more than an issue of textual quotation, and seems much more an issue of vision conflict.

  4. Alexei April 20, 2009 at 1:37 pm

    It may very well be that ‘the Kantians’ did a bad job of defending themselves on the CI. It may also be that your objections weren’t particularly well motivated, or that they were so polemical that there was no way to fairly, evenly deal with them. I mean really, when one comes to the table determined to knock down an argument, regardless of the details, how can someone respond? This approach simply produces stasis. It’s unproductive, precisely because it forecloses the possibility of exchange before the discussion even begins.

    But that’s not an issue of re-framing a discussion. To re-frame something is to acknowledge its standard frame, and then to argue for a new perspective. That’s simply to say that within an argument ‘re-framing’ = the next step after criticism. Otherwise, it’s unmotivated. To simply begin by changing the perspective is effectively to try to normalize a position by fiat.

    If we are to have a philosophical discussion, then one iWhat needs to be addressed is how one adjudicates both questions.

  5. larvalsubjects April 20, 2009 at 2:01 pm

    Kvond,

    I think you hit on something fundamentally amiss with how much philosophy is practiced these days.

    Alexei,

    You write:

    Of course, ‘ignorance’ is measured against our own understandings, which is why requests for textual support and appeals to argumentative form tend to crop up.

    Yes, this is absolutely true and no one has ever suggested otherwise. The problem is, as I see it, that there has been a tendency for all criticisms of other positions to be conflated with “misinterpretations”. In other words, the axiom seems to be that “if one finds an argument or position incoherent, then they have not understood that position.” As a result, the discussion never arrives at the point of examining positions as competing positions. For example, way back when this discussion started as a discussion about whether or not we can have knowledge of the in-itself. I was told, when claiming that Kant claims that we cannot know things-in-themselves, that I was misinterpreting Kant. This absolutely amazed me as this is one of the most fundamental and basic points in Kant’s entire philosophy. Honestly, either Mikhail is just very poor at articulating his understanding of Kant, or he doesn’t understand Kant at all. Mikhail makes an appeal to authority in support of his position by referencing Allison et. al, but really, why should I assume that he is any better a reader of these texts than Kant given the silliness of a number of claims he’s made about Kant? For Mikhail to sit there, with a straight face, and suggest that Kant argues that we are to take into account the empirical and context when applying the CI is to show from the outset that he doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about and that ultimately he just likes the idea of universal normativity (which is for Mikhail not what follows from the CI, but which is whatever conforms to his “common sense” about what is universal). I’ve read most of the secondary sources he cites on Kant, I’ve taken numerous seminars on all three of Kant’s critiques, I’ve taught Kant’s moral philosophy and epistemology regularly, and I’ve written a good deal on Kant. This doesn’t make me immune to being mistaken, but really I think what’s going on here is the conflation of any criticism with misinterpretation. When I read what Mikhail has to say about Kant it strikes me as a deep distortion of his thought no matter how you cut it.

    You write:

    What infuriated Mikhail is that Levi’s textual support doesn’t actually support Levi’s argument, and it’s completely taken out of context. In effect, It’s disingenuous. But again, that has more to do with Levi’s MO than it has anything to do with Kant or critiques of Kant.

    It might be that my textual support did not support my argument, though I don’t think that’s the case. If the CI is universal and a priori, then of course Kant won’t be teaching us anything we did not already know universally, he would just be making what is implicit explicit as a way of staving off confusion about competing moral theories. The Kantian point would be that we didn’t have to wait around for Kant in order to be moral (this is another bizarre thing about Mikhail’s arguments, as he seems to believe that science, maths, and morality weren’t possible before Kant). If Kant is right, then we would expect to find a good deal of unanimity among various cultures on the basics of norms. My argument is that we don’t and therefore something is amiss.

    Your second remark deserves special comment. you write:

    What infuriated Mikhail is that Levi’s textual support doesn’t actually support Levi’s argument, and it’s completely taken out of context. In effect, It’s disingenuous. But again, that has more to do with Levi’s MO than it has anything to do with Kant or critiques of Kant.

    Here you are accusing me of being disingenuous, suggesting that I am intentionally doing these things. I articulate Kant or any other philosophical position as I understand Kant. I might use different words and express my understanding of Kant differently than you and Mikhail, but in most cases I largely agree with your interpretations and have understood myself to be saying the same thing when I describe Kant’s positions that I’m critiquing (the exception would be Mikhail’s position that we’re to take account of context when applying the CI… I don’t see how anyone who’s read Kant’s moral writings or his essay on lying for philanthropic reasons could possibly offer this interpretation). In short, I am not trying to “do a hatchet job” on Kant or misrepresenting Kant’s position when developing these criticisms. That is Kant as I understand him, and none of the arguments you or Mikhail have presented to me so far have convinced me that Kant’s moral philosophy and epistemology do not fall into the problems I’ve outlined.

    Along these lines, I’ve noticed that both you and Mikhail have attributed motives behind my advocacy of realism and various other positions as a “desire to be cool”. You did this in the context of my reference to Kant’s third critique. As you write:

    As for this comment,

    you are trapped within the logic of the first and second Critiques, whereas I am working in a framework that only became possible with the third Critique, where the question becomes one not of rules, but of the genesis of rules and principles.

    That may sound profound, but it doesn’t really mean anything. I’m not a Kantian. I’m certainly not ‘trapped’ in the first two critiques. And in any event, you can’t make sense of the third critique without the other two. So really, past sounding cool, this kind of claiming isn’t helpful.

    The implication seems to be that I just throw things out there without having a reason for making these claims. To be sure, I should have spelled out my reasons for making this connection, but what I find interesting here is the refrain that my motives are based on a desire to sound “cool and trendy”, rather than strict philosophical motivations. It also comes as news to me that “you are not a Kantian”. You mean we’ve been having this argument all this time while you’re not a Kantian?

    Mikhail makes similar accusations:

    Let’s just cut the crap, I think I’ve given this “realism” discussion a fair share of my attention, I thought I was exchanging my views with a mature philosophically inclined attentive reader, yet I am having constantly to prove that I can read while you don’t show the slightest interest in any of the arguments in addition to demonstrating an astonishing lack of elementary courtesy – you want to create your new awesome realist philosophy? go right ahead, but maybe you should do some research first – read, I don’t know, Putnam, for all of my problems with him, he said more interesting things about realism than you or any of your fancy new realists will ever be able to come up with.

    On the one hand, I find Mikhail’s remarks here ironic, as he has accused me of not reading Kant correctly since the very beginning. Here I think he needs to look in the mirror a bit before lecturing me about courtesy in discussion. If Kant means whatever Mikhail says he means then discussion is impossible. In my view, Mikhail’s reading of Kant’s moral philosophy is simply mistaken based on even the most elementary and standard reading of his thought. But what I find really interesting is his use of terms like “fancy”, “new”, “awesome”, etc. I’m of the view that we always reveal more about ourselves in interpretations of other people’s motives than we do about that other person. Mikhail seems to think that I am motivated in my philosophical ruminations by a desire to be “fancy”, “awesome”, and “new” (he sounds like some old guy during the fifties denouncing rock music), rather than by a genuine desire to get at the truth. Further, the subtext behind this seems to be that somehow anything new must be false or less valuable. It is an odd way of arguing and thinking.

  6. larvalsubjects April 20, 2009 at 2:14 pm

    Alexei,

    You write:

    It may very well be that ‘the Kantians’ did a bad job of defending themselves on the CI. It may also be that your objections weren’t particularly well motivated, or that they were so polemical that there was no way to fairly, evenly deal with them. I mean really, when one comes to the table determined to knock down an argument, regardless of the details, how can someone respond? This approach simply produces stasis. It’s unproductive, precisely because it forecloses the possibility of exchange before the discussion even begins.

    This is a really odd way of characterizing things. From the very beginning Mikhail was up in everyone’s face with the mantra that only a Kantian approach could account for norms and things like peace and justice. At one point you even suggested, months ago, that realist positions such as my own lead to the horrors of Stalin. My disagreement with Kant’s moral philosophy is based on what I know about human psychology and my naturalism. I begin from the premise, which I believe to be very well supported by the existing empirical evidence, that our cognition is the result of evolution and is for the sake of biological survival and flourishing. That position might be mistaken, but that’s where I begin. I also work from the premise that reason and especially moral reasoning, doesn’t function at all if it isn’t deeply intertwined with affectivity. Already this is going to put me at odds with Kant on two points: First, Kant posits moral duties as pertaining to a vocation completely separate from all biological or pathological motivations. He even makes an argument from design at the beginning of the Groundwork, pointing out that reason is poor in delivering us happiness and that nature would have designed reason or given us an instinct for finding happiness. Therefore reason must have been designed for some other end or purpose. Clearly this argument, as well as this conception of normativity, is going to sound batshit crazy insane from a post-Darwinist perspective. Moreover, the post-Darwinist will point out that the fact that reason doesn’t have inbuilt knowledge for how to achieve such and such an end has given us a tremendous adaptive advantage by allowing us to learn such that we can adapt to an incredible variety of environments.

    Second, the naturalist will object to Kant’s position based on his thesis about the role of affectivity. There are huge bodies of well-established research showing the role that affectivity plays both theoretical reasoning and moral reasoning. Recognizing this research, the naturalist concludes that the Kantian has a deeply distorted understanding of how our minds work and how we reason about these things.

    These are legitimate disagreements, not attempts to “knock down Kant” in all cases. None of the arguments either of you presented really responded to these points. You kept protesting that these questions are “outside the scope of the question of normativity”, but to the naturalist that sounds like demanding that humans sense the world as a bat does when they’re, to put it delicately, “ill equipped” to do so.

  7. Alexei April 20, 2009 at 2:23 pm

    Levi, if you think I’m so wrong headed, and that I persecute you with such infantile accusations as “realist positions lead to Stalin” (which I’ve never — ever — said), then feel free not to respond to me.

    For my part, I’m beginning to find this kind of conversation tiresome. Kevin, you have my apologies for withdrawing from what was promising to be an interesting conversation.

  8. larvalsubjects April 20, 2009 at 2:24 pm

    I think that ultimately what is so obnoxious about the rhetoric of these discussions from your and Mikhail’s end is that you constantly portray the conflicting position as that of an ignorant dope that hasn’t read or understood the material. Mikhail seldom clarifies his particular interpretation of Kant at all, but simply says “that’s not what Kant means!” When Mikhail does clarify his understanding of the material, I often find it to be a bizarre misinterpretation of the material or to be deeply uninformed about the history of philosophy. Take this post: http://pervegalit.wordpress.com/2009/04/13/random-quote-kant-against-idealism/

    Mikhail begins the post by saying “Kant did not think of himself as an idealist” and then proceeds to provide textual support. “Wha?” Mikhail seems blissfully unaware that Kant did not think of himself as a subjective idealist vis a vis Berkeley, but did describe himself as a “transcendental idealist”. Has Mikhail really been of the opinion that all of us criticizing Kant are equating transcendental idealism with subjective idealism? Why would such a thought even occur to him? He doesn’t seem to understand even the most basic framework of the debate.

    When you, Alexei, state how you understand Kant I always find myself saying “yeah, that’s right, didn’t I just say that?” Both of you seem astonished that one can understand a position and still not endorse it or believe it to be based on flawed premises.

  9. kvond April 20, 2009 at 4:56 pm

    Alexei: “It may very well be that ‘the Kantians’ did a bad job of defending themselves on the CI. It may also be that your objections weren’t particularly well motivated, or that they were so polemical that there was no way to fairly, evenly deal with them. I mean really, when one comes to the table determined to knock down an argument, regardless of the details, how can someone respond?”

    Kvond: I do sometimes argue in a polemical fashion, but truly my interest was to find the standard Kantian response to what for me were fairly obvious and elemental flaws. But instead of a by-the-book explanation got some rather varying and internally inconsistent answers. I frankly was surprised. But, I do know that I am difficult to argue with. I switch registers sometimes, and bring up thought-experiment examples that are often not the first thing one would think of. This is part of my strength, I believe, because I engage thought from no pre-set line of attack, reading it as freshly as I can, each time anew; but it can also seem like I am being difficult.

    Alexei: “For my part, I’m beginning to find this kind of conversation tiresome. Kevin, you have my apologies for withdrawing from what was promising to be an interesting conversation.”

    Kvond: Just understand the “heat” and also the tiresomeness is because philosophy matters. It matters to the very substance of a philosopher, and to the very coherence of the world. I think it is natural for challenges to that very coherence to sometimes degrade into accusations of moral faults or even stupidity. For in instances where it is not simply egos (and what would it mean for anything to be simply ego?), the whole thing is at risk, the whole ball of wax. We don’t realize the assaults we make when we attack someone’s ideas.

    As the Maoist Zhou ammended Clausewitz’s adage: All diplomacy is a continuation of war by other means, we might say all philosophy is the same. This was the brilliance of Nietzsche, he saw that philosophy mattered, right down to the bone.

  10. kvond April 20, 2009 at 5:00 pm

    Levi,

    As for Mikhail, I have only found him to be good-natured, amusing, perceptive and sparkling with creativity and interest, apart from the topic of Kant. For some reason Kant rests in a very personal place for him. Perhaps he will blog on what Kant means to him. I would really like to hear that. (Or, if he already has, perhaps someone could direct me to a past post.)

  11. Mikhail Emelianov April 20, 2009 at 7:46 pm

    I feel like you’re talking about me behind my virtual back, it feels nice, actually.

    Levi, Kant means the world to me, I have accepted Kant as my personal lord and philosopher when I was in deep existential crisis, it’s been one awesome thing after another since then – stop resisting Kant, Kant loves you…

  12. Pingback: Kant Loves You « Perverse Egalitarianism

  13. Mikhail Emelianov April 20, 2009 at 8:01 pm

    This may be, but Mikhai has leveled the exact same kind of rhetoric towards me, the accusation that I was only perversely, stupidly (or humorously) misreading Kant.

    Notice, if this will helps our future exchanges, that I almost never make those into a personal attack (I try, at least), i.e. saying that your reading is “perverse” for me is just that and I am certainly free to express my opinion and be stubborn about it as well – I think you are approaching this whole thing with a kind of idealistic air of adventure and discovery, while it is not impossible, it’s not likely to happen on a blog, it’s more likely to happen after years and years of conversations, readings and drunken debates – I see no other way…

  14. Mikhail Emelianov April 20, 2009 at 8:05 pm

    I can only say that the level of harshness here suggest that this is something more than an issue of textual quotation, and seems much more an issue of vision conflict.

    Yes, it’s called “being pissed off” – I don’t understand why we should leave our emotions at the door when we talk about philosophy, and I mean both positive and negative emotions. Why can’t I be frustrated with what I perceive to be the worst kind of proof-texting? Even if I am eventually found to be wrong, I’ll probably be the first to admit it, but I don’t think I should somehow efface my feelings about the exchange.

  15. kvond April 20, 2009 at 8:10 pm

    M.E.: “Yes, it’s called “being pissed off” – I don’t understand why we should leave our emotions at the door when we talk about philosophy, and I mean both positive and negative emotions. Why can’t I be frustrated with what I perceive to be the worst kind of proof-texting?”

    Kvond: Well, a Kantian might give you reasons why you should leave your emotions at the door, but I won’t. I simply want to qualify your complaint, and point out that when you get pissed off you make the same kind of wild claim, regardless of context. Be pissed all you want. But I would want to know why you are pissed, and not simply moved to make a correction.

  16. Mikhail Emelianov April 20, 2009 at 8:14 pm

    Mikhail seems blissfully unaware that Kant did not think of himself as a subjective idealist vis a vis Berkeley, but did describe himself as a “transcendental idealist”.

    Really? Well, shit, I better go read me some more Kant then, I clearly lack the very basic understanding of the man – this little bit, Levi, demonstrates how you read my comments: you assume the worst possible scenario in which I have no idea what Kant actually said about idealism, the kind of reading that I am giving your comments as well – shouldn’t someone eventually just say “Fuck it” and leave it be? I think just because I was the first one to do so doesn’t mean that you wouldn’t have done so eventually, so let’s just go our separate ways…

  17. Mikhail Emelianov April 20, 2009 at 8:16 pm

    Well, a Kantian might give you reasons why you should leave your emotions at the door, but I won’t.

    Again, Kevin, if your idea of “Kantian” is of someone who is like Kant, then you might be relieved to know that he was quite a cheerful and gregarious fellow – just because he called inclinations “pathological” doesn’t mean one cannot be emotional…

  18. kvond April 20, 2009 at 8:23 pm

    M.E.wrote here:”Notice, if this will helps our future exchanges, that I almost never make those into a personal attack (I try, at least), i.e. saying that your reading is “perverse” for me is just that and I am certainly free to express my opinion and be stubborn about it as well”

    M.E. wrote on his site: “This sentence shows me that either you are intentionally just fucking with everyone or really do not understand a word of what Kant wrote about ethics”

    Kvond: Of course you are free to express your opinion, and do so in any way you wish. But others are free to track how you express your opinion, weigh it, and form their own opinion of your thinking process.

    M.E.: “Again, Kevin, if your idea of “Kantian” is of someone who is like Kant, then you might be relieved to know that he was quite a cheerful and gregarious fellow – just because he called inclinations “pathological” doesn’t mean one cannot be emotional…”

    Kvond: I’m happy to hear that the “Chinaman of Konigsberg” was a cheerful fellow. What I suspect though was that he imagined that one should argue more like Kant, and less like Nietzsche, and he probably would offer some rational reasons why it is better to do so.

  19. Mikhail Emelianov April 20, 2009 at 8:31 pm

    M.E. wrote on his site: “This sentence shows me that either you are intentionally just fucking with everyone or really do not understand a word of what Kant wrote about ethics”

    Notice that the transition from “you’re intentionally fucking with everyone” and “you don’t understand a word of Kant” to “you are an idiot” is something that is taking place in your head, not my phrasing. Have I called people idiots? Of course, therefore the addition of “I try” in my comment. If I knew you personally and I shouted these words at you in a passionate debate while making wild gestures (which I actually never do), even then I could say that I was excited about the topic of our debate, and meant no personal harm – maybe I’m being sophistic about it, tell me how?

  20. larvalsubjects April 20, 2009 at 8:32 pm

    I’ll write this before I read Mikhail’s posts.

    As for Mikhail, I have only found him to be good-natured, amusing, perceptive and sparkling with creativity and interest, apart from the topic of Kant. For some reason Kant rests in a very personal place for him. Perhaps he will blog on what Kant means to him. I would really like to hear that. (Or, if he already has, perhaps someone could direct me to a past post.)

    What you say is probably true. Certainly Mikhail and I have a long history and I’ve said a number of harsh and insulting things to him in moments of heat and frustration that haven’t helped matters. I don’t think, however, that it’s helpful to characterize every disagreement as a misinterpretation of texts and to mock those seeking to figure things out for presuming to have better answers than the greatest philosophers in history. I think something akin to communicative ethics could diminish a lot of these needless conflicts. Some principles might include:

    1) Assume that your reader genuinely believes what they are asserting or claiming about another philosopher and do not insult them if your reading differs from theirs but rather correct them or express your alternative interpretation.

    2) Treat discussions as discussions and debates about issues rather than a particular philosopher’s text. I’m involved in these discussions about Kant’s epistemology and metaphysics not because I “hate Kant”, but because I am genuinely interested in issues of metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and politics, believe Kant had a decisive impact on subsequent Continental philosophy, and think he got a number of things wrong in a way that has been highly damaging to subsequent thought.

    3) Recognize that the same concept can be expressed in a variety of different ways and allow that there are certain basic and non-controversial root positions pertaining to any philosophers position.

    4) Recognize that one does not need to engage an entire philosophical body of work to critically engage a few key claims.

    5) Avoid sarcasm and mocking humor as much as possible as it doesn’t translate well on the net and makes already heated discussions even more likely to spiral into unproductive directions.

    6) Avoid attributing ugly motives to your opponent and treat them with respect.

  21. kvond April 20, 2009 at 8:36 pm

    M.E.: “Notice that the transition from “you’re intentionally fucking with everyone” and “you don’t understand a word of Kant” to “you are an idiot” is something that is taking place in your head, not my phrasing. Have I called people idiots?”

    Kvond: I was not excessively offended, but this charge of “idiot” floats and inhabits all philosophical dispute. Yet, when you say something like, “I don’t have the time to give you a 101 course” after a half hour of discourse, or another person says something like, “you don’t understand even the basics of the philosopher you advocate for” the charge of idiot comes right up to the fore. But do as you like, its okay. I only wanted to point out that you make this kind of (you need a 101 course) charge regularly. It is possible that it is true, but perhaps unlikely. (And Levi’s characterizations are not always kind either, as might not be mine either.)

  22. larvalsubjects April 20, 2009 at 8:40 pm

    Mikhail,

    You write:

    Mikhail seems blissfully unaware that Kant did not think of himself as a subjective idealist vis a vis Berkeley, but did describe himself as a “transcendental idealist”.

    Really? Well, shit, I better go read me some more Kant then, I clearly lack the very basic understanding of the man – this little bit, Levi, demonstrates how you read my comments: you assume the worst possible scenario in which I have no idea what Kant actually said about idealism, the kind of reading that I am giving your comments as well – shouldn’t someone eventually just say “Fuck it” and leave it be? I think just because I was the first one to do so doesn’t mean that you wouldn’t have done so eventually, so let’s just go our separate ways…

    Two points here. When you wrote this post on your blog, I assume that in some manner, shape, or form it was addressed to the realists and especially myself. It is not that I’m attributing the worst possible motive to you, but rather that you seem to be attributing ignorance to us. Why would you feel the need to point out that Kant is not a subjective idealist? Anyone who has a passing familiarity with Kant knows this and that he presents a criticism of subjective idealism (especially in his so-called “refutation of idealism” in the first critique).

    Based on this, I can only conclude one of two things when you write a post like that. 1) You have such a dim view of my understanding of Kant that you think I’m accusing him of being a subjective idealist. I wouldn’t have felt the need to draw attention to this post had you not implied that I believe such in earlier discussions.

    Or 2) you yourself don’t understand Kant and are actually claiming that he doesn’t belong to the tradition of idealism. From the post I reference it is not clear that you understand this as you don’t there draw a distinction between subjective idealism and transcendental idealism. Moreover, in our debates about Kant’s metaphysics and epistemology you’ve often emphasized Kant’s “empirical realism”, failing to understand the basic bone of contention in these debates that the issue isn’t whether Kant holds that phenomena are objective (i.e., empirical realism), but whether or not we can have knowledge of things-in-themselves.

  23. larvalsubjects April 20, 2009 at 8:43 pm

    Bleck, somehow the blockquoting didn’t take in the first part of my last post.

  24. Mikhail Emelianov April 20, 2009 at 8:47 pm

    Or 2) you yourself don’t understand Kant and are actually claiming that he doesn’t belong to the tradition of idealism.

    I choose 2) then – can I go and revel in my ignorance of Kant now?

    Kevin, you’re right, sometimes I am a condescending jerk, but it says more about me and my attitude in an exchange than it does about my judgment of you.

  25. Mikhail Emelianov April 20, 2009 at 8:50 pm

    Why would you feel the need to point out that Kant is not a subjective idealist?

    Because unlike you I have a very different purpose in mind when I blog, I don’t compose philosophical papers with arguments, don’t create any new philosophies, I am sharing with (imaginary and very likely non-existent) readers my random thoughts and observations, the purpose is to generate a conversation, not to lecture your readers with long elaborate posts, that’s all.

  26. kvond April 20, 2009 at 8:58 pm

    M.E.: “it says more about me and my attitude in an exchange than it does about my judgment of you.”

    Kvond: I am much less of a purest than Levi (officially) is. (His rhetorical armory is quite full.) I do think that philosophy can be argued down and dirty sometimes. Arguments ad hominem, are “to the man”, and because ideas matter, the character-intent of the man/woman matters, and is worth digging into at times. Philosophy is driven by all kinds of investments, and those investments are part of it for me. It’s just, let’s not make attacks cheap. Let’s make them invested, insightful, perhaps subtle, and always pointed back towards an idea.

    There are of course times where the other person has just worn you thin. One no longer is getting anything out of it, nor learning something about themselves or the position in the engagement. In such cases its probably best to just beg off.

  27. kvond April 20, 2009 at 9:02 pm

    M.E.: “I am sharing with (imaginary and very likely non-existent) readers my random thoughts and observations”

    Kvond: As Zizek would tell you, “The Big Other hears you, and commands you to enjoy yourself!”

  28. Mikhail Emelianov April 20, 2009 at 9:06 pm

    I always thought that whoever is silly enough to read PE just must be (or have) a small Other.

  29. larvalsubjects April 20, 2009 at 9:12 pm

    It’s good to know your motives, Mikhail. My motives are threefold. First, my “long and elaborate posts” are, in my view, a sign of respect to my readers. I work to the best of my ability to define concepts and present arguments for my position, because I believe it is a deep sign of respect to make assertions without presenting reasons for that position. When I am unable to support a position but am working on an intuition I try to make this clear and indicate that I’m “working on it”. Second, I am trying to inform my readers of things that I have found valuable and exciting as in the case of Edelman or Malabou so they might look into themselves if their interest is piqued.

    Finally, third, there is a sense in which I am writing to myself as a graduate student or to current graduate students discontent with their training. When I was a graduate student in a Continental philosophy program there was the rather oppressive sense that certain things were just a priori off-limits due to how the Continental tradition had evolved after Heidegger. For example, the Enlightenment thinkers (Descartes, Leibniz, Spinoza, Hume, Locke, etc) were pretty much universally seen as loathsome because they were still caught up in the “metaphysics of presence”. You were never to talk of science and mathematics because these were forms of “enframing” and the “metaphysics of presence”. Everything had to be about texts, the signifier, and language and you were forbidden to take a position about the nature of things that wasn’t about texts or the tradition. And, of course, any sort of realism was off-limits as the world was a construction of texts, discourses, signifiers, a phenomenological givenness, etc.

    As a result of this, I experienced a sort of deep schizophrenia in graduate school. On the one hand, I loved the philosophical tradition. I had the deepest respect for thinkers like Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Kant, Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, etc. On the other hand, I would also spend a good deal of time trying to teach myself various forms of mathematics, reading about biology, physics, neurology, etc., and, of course, some of my deepest philosophical influences are thinkers such as Spinoza, Whitehead, Lucretius, Hume, and so on. It is likely that one of the reasons I gravitated towards Deleuze is because he was the one Continental philosopher that didn’t trace everything back to the human, whether in the form of a transcendental ego, signifiers, or social forces, (i.e., he wasn’t anthropocentric) and was the one Continental philosopher I had encountered that both took things like biology and physics seriously as matters of philosophical concern and who also managed to integrate all these findings about the nature of mind, language, anthropology, and so on. Rather than a philosophy resolutely trumping the natural world with culture, he found a way to think them both together.

    As a graduate student, I wish that I had encountered a figure of authority (a Continental philosopher or professor) that authorized philosophical interest in these matters and worked with them himself. Yet I found no such figures among my professors because it was held, at the outset, that the practice of philosophy is an engagement with the texts of the tradition, not the world. Although I only have very modest success as an academic, my hope is that I at least play something of a legitimate role for others in a similar position by saying “hey, it’s okay to take these things seriously, you don’t have to bow to Derrida’s textualism, Lacan’s constructivism of the signifier, or Heidegger’s critique of presence and enframing.” I think this is something that makes the work of figures like Brassier, Badiou, and Meillassoux so valuable as well. They’re enlarging the domain of Continental philosophy and allowing all sorts of things that formerly went almost entirely undiscussed into the field of discussion. This doesn’t mean that everyone becomes a realist. What’s important is that these things have been put on the table for discussion and thought, regardless of the position one ultimately takes.

  30. kvond April 20, 2009 at 9:36 pm

    Levi,

    From the above, I suggest that you read Wendy Wheeler’s The Whole Organism. I am only on chapter 3, but at the very least she has strong affinity with your experiences so described. If nothing more there would be one more person who is a fellow-traveler of a sorts.

  31. larvalsubjects April 20, 2009 at 9:51 pm

    Thanks for the suggestion, Kevin. I’ll order it now. Although most of the reactions to the work I’ve been doing lately have been positive, I get the sense that the most heated responses to my discussions of neurology, biology, physics, etc., come from an implicit belief that these fields somehow reduce the cultural and social to gene determinism, etc. This is certainly true in some cases. For example, it would apply in the case of Daniel Dennett and Dawkins, where we get all sorts of “just so” stories about human behaviors. By contrast, neurologists like Edelman explicitly argue that phenomena or processes like the “self” emerge only with the advent of language, allowing for self-referentiality or consciousness of being conscious (rather than just “being conscious”), a rich sense of past and future, and the development of norm directed behavior. In other words, there’s no reduction here, nor any suggesting that all of our behaviors are governed by genetics, but rather a whole new domain of experience with its own internal creativity emerges. Great stuff.

  32. kvond April 20, 2009 at 9:59 pm

    Levi: “By contrast, neurologists like Edelman explicitly argue that phenomena or processes like the “self” emerge only with the advent of language, allowing for self-referentiality or consciousness of being conscious (rather than just “being conscious”), a rich sense of past and future, and the development of norm directed behavior. In other words, there’s no reduction here, nor any suggesting that all of our behaviors are governed by genetics, but rather a whole new domain of experience with its own internal creativity emerges.”

    Kvond: This seems right up Wendy Wheeler’s aisle. Her main complaint about biological science is the reduction to the genetic cause. I personally am less clear if I want to embrace an emergence view, but I can certainly see how you would like it. At the very least her references you will likely find familiar, and some of them worth tracing.

    I’ll post something on it when I’m finished, but I’d also love to hear what you to with it with your wonderful explication, theme-braiding skills, especially considering the ground you are moving towards.

  33. Pingback: Is Dialogue Possible in Continental Philosophy? « Larval Subjects .

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