Friday, January 13, 2017

British Wittgenstein Society Newsletter

[Warning: the following consists of little but bragging, although there is also a link to videos of talks by various Wittgenstein-related philosophers.]

The latest BWS Newsletter contains a short piece by Anshel Cohen, a student at Cambridge, about the 8th BWS Annual Conference. He writes:
One highly interesting lecture was Rowan Williams’ on Wittgenstein, Kierkegaard and the Gospels, which uncovered many unexpected connections between these topics. However, my favourite talk was by Duncan Richter,...
Woo hoo! (The talk in question is this one, on "The Value of Clarity".)

There's a video of the talk here. Perhaps more interestingly, the same link takes you to videos of the talks given by Gabriel Citron, Genia Schӧnbaumsfeld, John Milbank, Stephen Mulhall, Rowan Williams, Sophie-Grace Chappell, Michael Scott, and Wayne Proudfoot 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Houellebecq's The Possibility of an Island

This essay of mine used to be available online but has disappeared, so I've uploaded it to If you like his work, or don't like it but want to understand why others do, you might be interested.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Philosophy as a kind of rebellion

A thought occurred to me the other night, while I was more or less asleep, that seemed like a revelation. In the light of day it seems less exciting, and less certainly true. But, as I have to keep reminding myself or else I will never post anything, this is only a blog. It is just the place for these possibly significant but probably nothing thoughts. So here it is.

A philosopher's not being a member of any community of ideas is the other side of the coin that says to talk ethics is to run against the boundaries of language. In a community of ideas people think, speak, and behave in similar ways. Not to be a member of any such community is not to go along, not to join in. Of course (or: presumably), a philosopher so defined might go along here and there, or now and then, but accidentally, not out of conformity. This does not guarantee running against the boundaries of language (if we recognize such things as existing in the first place), but it does suggest unconventional movements within any such boundaries, and probably increased likelihood of running against them. It will not be conventional thinkers who run against these boundaries.

Another thing I would assume is that a philosopher will not run against the boundaries of language just for the sake of it. Rather, he or she will take their cue not from society or convention but from something else, and this is what will cause the unconventional thinking/speaking/behavior. If this something else is a voice in one's head, say, then the results might not be good. But if it is what you might call God or Nature then perhaps it will be.


Thursday, December 29, 2016

Where's the harm?

Two thoughts about harm, neither of which is perhaps very interesting (although if they are uninteresting because they have been expressed before I'd be grateful for a reference).

The first is about Mill's so-called harm principle, which says, roughly, that adults from civilized countries should be allowed to do whatever they like as long as they don't harm anybody else. As is well known, he does not say what he means by harm. Generally, I believe, it is taken to mean direct physical or financial damage, but there is no obvious reason why this should be so, and it isn't what Mill says. (For instance, why count a small physical harm as more significant than a great psychological harm?, or a great but indirect financial loss as less important than a small, direct financial loss?) In fact Mill clearly does not believe that people should be allowed to do whatever they want as long as they don't directly harm others. For instance, he thinks it's OK to compel people to give testimony in court or to help defend their country from attack. And you should not be allowed to sell yourself into slavery, since this would be giving up your freedom.

So it's more that there is a certain sphere within which you should be free than that you should have virtually unlimited freedom. But this limited sphere of freedom includes some very vague terms, such as freedom of "tastes and pursuits," which seems to put us back in the realm of freedom to do what you like as long as you don't harm anyone else. Except that this is explicitly not what Mill means, and we still have not defined harm. So I wonder whether Mill is really saying anything at all. That is, does the harm principle, or at least Mill's harm principle, really exist?

Speaking of harm, Judith Thomson sees no morally significant difference between killing and letting die. If, because I want you dead, I fail to intervene when I see you accidentally eat poison then this is just the same, morally speaking, as if I deliberately poison you. On the other hand, Henry Fonda does no wrong if he fails to cross the room and touch my head, even if his doing so (and nothing else) would save my life. This is because I have no right to his help, and hence his inaction is not unjust. If he crossed the room and killed me, though, then this would be unjust killing. I have no right to his help, but I do have a right to his not harming me. But harming is the same, morally, as not helping. So I'm struggling to see how Thomson thinks of this. I imagine she has addressed it somewhere (unless I'm hallucinating the problem), but I don't remember reading about it.  

(This is one of three or four posts I started before Christmas and didn't post because I didn't get around to editing them. Apologies if it is still only half-baked.)    

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Wittgenstein and Modernism

These two new books (both collections of essays by various people) look good, and are nothing to do with me:

Wittgenstein and Modernism and Understanding Wittgenstein, Understanding Modernism

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Forthcoming books from Routledge

I've got chapters in each of these books coming out next year:
Analytic Philosophy: An Interpretive History edited by Aaron Preston
Wittgenstein's Moral Thought edited by Reshef Agam-Segal and Edmund Dain

Here's the table of contents for the second one:
1. Wittgenstein’s Moral Thought Edmund Dain2. Ethics and Philosophical Clarification Oskari Kuusela3. Clarifying Clarification: Wittgenstein on Moral Clarity Reshef Agam-Segal4. Ethics and World in Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Eli Friedlander5. Ethics, Aesthetics and Nonsense: Elucidating the Unity of Truth, Beauty and Goodness Kristin Boyce6. Wittgenstein and the Poetics of Failure Jean-Philippe Narboux7. An "Exclusively Self-Regarding" Ethics Kevin Cahill8. Making Sense of Wittgenstein’s ‘Lecture on Ethics’ Craig Fox9. Moral Sense: Scandalously Plain, Persistently Ambiguous Joel Backström10. Sketches of Blurred Landscapes: Ethics in the Philosophical Investigations Duncan Richter11. A Wittgensteinian Notion of Descriptive Moral Philosophy Anne-Marie S. Christensen12. Disposable Thinking Kelly Dean Jolley13. Wittgenstein’s Radical Ethics Hannes Nykänen14. Wrongdoing and Shame: A Worry about Wittgensteinian Ethics Martin Gustafsson