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Archive for July, 2015



I find myself disappointed by humans much more than by dogs. Why do you think this is?


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I’m thinking the term “self fulfilling prophecy” might be a bit redundant?



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I believe I myself have spent much of my life in a state of selbstverschuldeten Unmündigkeit. This is a German phrase which roughly translates as “self–incurred voicelessness.” It is an impossible expression really. How could I have self consciously incurred my own predicament, if I was already –somehow –banished to silence?


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I’ve always loved this simple statement by Immanuel Kant, age 60 at the time, penned shortly after he had written his most important work, The Critique of Pure Reason:

Aufklärung ist der Ausgang des Menschen aus seiner selbstverschuldeten Unmündigkeit.

Enlightenment is our emergence from our self-incurred voicelessness.

The final phrase is highly significant, and cannot be fully captured in English. The word selbstverschuldeten is a compound of the reflexive with a word which implies indebtedness, as if something has been voluntarily wagered, risked or mortgaged. The last word Unmündigkeit is a noun which literally translates as “mouthlessness” but which in German refers to an absence of developmental or legal maturity. I think there is a subtle irony (melancholy? compassion?) in saying that the immaturity is self incurred, since it would seem call into question the very nature of a self that, though green and untested, yet assumed this mysterious debt. What I think Kant means to suggest is that humanity finds itself apprehended in a Faustian bargain that traps us and keeps us—immature, incapable, voiceless, disenfranchised. In the context of the first critique, I think he is proposing that we have mistakenly acquiesced our reason to an algorithm of certainty, fate, and God, to the detriment of our ability to live, negotiate, and mature.

How well Nietzsche understood the old man!


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More and more I’m considering the proposition that many (most?) people live life thinking “X should be easy” and then are really pissed off when they discover it isn’t. X could be just about anything, it seems.


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One of the problems with moral disputes in the US is that they tend to be couched in terms of essentialist ethics. On the one hand the neo-liberal ethic is one of limited government: A Government which makes sure the streets are kept in good repair, (mostly) free of bloodshed, and no more. On the other hand the social justice movement demands that we recognize the essential goodness of all beings, and on that basis treat everyone as “equal” (whatever that means). The problem with both of these perspectives is that they propose to cash the value of an essentialist view of human nature in an algorithmic approach to civic life. Which clearly doesn’t work so well in a world that (apparently) neither heard of their algorithms, nor contracted to follow them. An alternative unconsidered by either camp, probably due to fears of “relativism,” is the notion of civic virtue. The central question of for civic virtue is not “how are we” but “how do we wish to be?” As such it is not nearly as algorithmic as either transcendentalism or utilitarianism – in fact it pretty much gives up entirely the notion of a fixed heuristic approach to human life and instead embraces the apparent contingency of language and community. Rather than asking “what are we?” and then trying to fit everyone into a deductive theory of how we should behave, the question is much more one of “what type of ‘we’ do we wish to be 500 years from now?”


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Knowledge is often defined in terms of correspondences to reality or facts, and this is indeed useful in certain situations, very ineffective in others. We should not be afraid to jettison such a model when, like an old pair of shoes, it no longer serves our purposes. In such cases knowledge may be defined as a felt sense. That sometimes others feel as well. Or so they say.


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