Sunday, March 19, 2023

On the Validity of Normative Life

I. Last year I read some Habermas for the first time and it was easily one of the best things I read, and something I have been thinking about since. More specifically, I read his essay “Discourse Ethics” from the collection Moral Consciousness & Communicative Action. I highly, highly recommend it. I then gave a talk on it to my postgraduate peers and I realised I had done enough work on that to convert what I had into an essay. This is that essay. I attempt to summarise and defend the overall argument, though I will simplify it down and exclude a bunch of what I would consider extraneous points, in order to get at what I think is the good stuff. Every quote will be from that essay.

Also, you will have noticed, I have included the audio from the talk version so that you can listen to me give it as a talk, if you wanted to. Some of the material will differ from the essay, which is much more refined, and it might be hard to follow without slides but it includes an extended Q&A where I elucidate Habermas' account and respond to some objections/clarificatory questions, which is probably the most valuable part.

Anyway, the plan is as follows. First, I give a brief summary of what Habermas means by communicative action. Second, how, for Habermas, one kind of communicative action is the foundation of morality. Third, how any instance of this kind of communicative action presupposes a universal principle. Fourth, how this universal principle is the foundation of all morality, and how even the moral sceptic cannot escape this principle of communicative action, lest they also opt out of the distinctive form of normative life that humans engage in, which is virtually impossible. Onto the first.

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

The Phenomenological Papers III: Music, Art for the Soul

This is the third essay in my series, The Phenomenological Papers, a series of three essays on similar topics in phenomenology and metaphysicsYou can find the first essay here, and the second here. Unlike the first and second essays in this series, this one is completely new and a culmination of a few different things I have been working on and thinking about: metaphysics, phenomenology, and aesthetics, all in one. It is my attempt at a philosophical anthropology as well as something it can hopefully explain: our enjoyment of music. It is perhaps the most enigmatic thing I have written, so hopefully it makes sense to people. I have published it with Epoché so just supply the link. Enjoy!

Music, Art for the Soul

Monday, February 6, 2023

Phenomenological Papers II: Art & Self-Consciousness

This is the second essay in my series, The Phenomenological Papers, a series of three essays on similar topicsYou can find the first essay here. Like the first, this is also an old essay that I have substantively revised, so much so, in fact, that the original is unrecognisable in it. This, and the next essay, will be on something I have long been preoccupied with: the experience of art. Not totally happy with the formulation, but I hope you enjoy.

The universal need for expression in art lies…in man’s rational impulse to exalt the inner and outer world into a spiritual consciousness for himself, as an object in which he recognises his own self. He satisfies the need of this spiritual freedom when he makes all that exists explicit for himself within, and in a corresponding way realises this his explicit self without, evoking thereby, in this reduplication of himself, what is in him into vision and into knowledge for his own mind and that of others.
– G.W.F. Hegel
I. There is always an apparent tension between our seemingly complex and infinitely extensive inner life and our ability to deliberately express it in such a way that we feel adequately represented in the world. At any given moment in our lives, it feels as though, even within the blink of an eye, a culmination of memories, thoughts, and emotions flood through us – arbitrating and adjudicating our action. We sometimes tend to see this ocean of subjectivity as something of our ‘true selves’ or as our true and complete feelings about things. Consequently, we have a fundamental desire to represent this in the world, especially to others, whose recognition we desire. We want to feel understood by those around us – to have our ‘private’ subjectivity recognised as legitimate in a world of objects.

What do I mean by ‘legitimate’ here? Something is legitimate to us, in this sense, if there is some external validation of its existence by other persons or by an object that is independent of us, not just ourselves or our own impression of things. For example, suppose that at night I see a bright light flash across the sky that is unlike anything I have seen before, but I’m the only one who saw it. In situations like these, we feel torn because no one else was there to validate or invalidate our perception of this flash, nor can it be integrated into our prior beliefs. “Am I crazy, what was that?” you might think. We desire an explanation of this phenomenon because we are certain that it happened, that we saw something, but uncertain why and wish to settle it through some process of external validation. There are a couple of ways this could go. There could be an external explanation or an internal explanation, and it could be validated either by persons, or by further objects.

Monday, January 30, 2023

Rowan Recommends: Reviewing The 2022 Sight and Sound Top 100

Recently, Sight and Sound released their most recent 'greatest films of all time' list. Every ten years, they ask "critics, programmers, curators, archivists and academics" their top ten favourite films and aggregate the results. Putting aside the thorny issue of whether this list is tracking anything real (I think it surely is), this list is a great guide for getting into great cinema. I highly recommend leafing through the results for a film you like the sound of and watching it. For myself, I think the list is a mix of some of the greatest movies of all time and, to be honest, some overrated ones as well. 

In this post, I do four things. First, I list my 25 favourite picks from the list, which will be my own recommendations if you dive into it. Second, I list picks that I think are overrated. Third, I briefly mention some notable omissions. Finally, I list my top 10 favourite movies of all time, and some honourable mentions. Note that I have not quite seen all of them and that any omissions from my list do not mean I do not love them as well, just that I do not love them enough to be in the top 25.

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

My Philosophical Views (Answering the 2020 PhilPapers Survey)

In 2020, PhilPapers ran a survey. Here is a description of this survey:

...the 2020 PhilPapers Survey...surveyed the philosophical views of 1785 English-speaking philosophers from around the world on 100 philosophical questions.

The 2020 PhilPapers Survey was a follow-up to the 2009 PhilPapers Survey. The 2020 survey increased the number of the questions from 30 to 100 and expanded the target population.

And here are its results. In this post, I will be writing my own answers to the survey. I will only answer those questions I feel strongly enough about answering. Thus, some will be missing. Given my unorthodox metaphysical views, some of the positions/questions are technically nonsense to me, but I will answer each of those as if they were not. Also, I will include the percentage ratio of people that agree with me (including 'accept' and 'lean toward') in brackets after each answer. It goes without saying that I think some of the questions are badly posed, insufficiently precise, and don't allow for unorthodox views, etc. I am just going to pick what seems right for me. And finally, I am much more confident here than I would be in actually answering it, so I do not have a fully worked-out view of many of these questions. I will post any changes to my views next year! Here goes:

Monday, December 12, 2022

A Dialogue Between (Sigmund) Fre(u)d and Theo(dor Adorno)

The following is a dialogue between a character representing Freud's beliefs about the relationship between society and our psychic life and a character representing Adorno's beliefs on the same thing. Neither character should be read as directly representing the thinker in question, as I am not really that familiar with either. They are only vehicles for discussing a point I have been thinking about while reading Adorno's Minima Moralia. My first foray into the dialogue form, which I have been meaning to do for a while. Probably of limited interest to most, but I had fun...

Fred: ...and that's why I think that the formation and maintenance of society will always require us to substantially curb our instincts and desires. Let me summarise: repression and renunciation of our instinctual life, of our ego, is a condition for the possibility of society at all because of the constitutional inclination of humans towards egoism. Society enforces such repression through the promise of love, the threat of punishment (external authority), and the instilling of guilt in the individual (internal authority). These things are actually good, to some extent. We should align ourselves with the higher social goal of forming a great and successful human community, which requires the renunciation of our instincts and desires rather than the selfish pursuit of our own pleasure. However, this means that, in most cases, the formation of social groups means the aim of happiness for the individual necessarily falls by the wayside. Indeed, I would go further. It almost seems as if the creation of a great human community would be most successful if no attention had been paid to the happiness of the individual at all. This is not as bad as it sounds, though. In individual consciousness, we each act according to the reality principle. The idea is simple: in order to gain some great future pleasure, we defer the gratification of immediate pleasures. Such a principle is constantly at work in our decision-making, and the choice to maintain a society at the expense of our happiness is analogous to this. We put aside our immediate well-being for the sake of something greater than us, society.

Theo: Are you serious about this last bit?

Fred: What do you mean?

Monday, December 5, 2022

The Phenomenological Papers I: Two Sites of Self-Consciousness

This is an old essay that I never published here for some reason and have just substantially revised, though without changing the ideas, which I am not totally happy with now. However, I do think some of them are salvageable and even important. I call this series The Phenomenological Papers because it is one of three essays I have written on similar topics that I will be posting over the next couple of months.
A certain inarticulate Self-consciousness dwells dimly in us; which only our Works can render articulate and decisively discernible. Our Works are the mirror wherein the spirit first sees its natural lineaments. Hence, too, the folly of that impossible Precept, Know thyself; till it be translated into this partially possible one, Know what thou canst work at. 
— Diogenes Teufelsdröckh
I. There are two ways of achieving self-consciousness. The first is recognition, through other people. The second is work, through creating something that you feel yourself to be the author of. Thus, the former is the route to self-consciousness through beings like us, animate objects, and the latter is through beings not quite like us, inanimate objects. We can gain self-consciousness through persons and things.

II. What is self-consciousness? Roughly, it is the knowledge of our own individual existence. Now, I could mean this in the trivial sense that we all know we exist. However, this knowledge is without content. I call this formal knowledge. True self-consciousness is not something trivial and without content. Rather, it is knowledge that is actual and embodied. I call this concrete knowledge. Here is an example of this distinction.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

(Sounds From) The Hole - A Music Newsletter

My friend Liam (author of Mr Paul Desmond) and I are starting a music newsletter on Substack that emails you an album recommendation (and a really short comment on it) every week straight to your inbox. All you have to do is enter your email and it automatically comes to you every week. It will go out every Thursday morning starting this Thursday morning.

You can sign up using this link - I hope you join us!

(Sounds From) The Hole

Friday, July 15, 2022

Philosophising & Living

In a remarkably warm and relatable passage, David Hume famously ends his Treatise Of Human Nature by offering some reflections on how and whether his scepticism ought to reflect itself in his ordinary life. He relates the experience of intellectually dismantling all the implicit beliefs of ordinary life, only to subsequently go out and live that life. What he finds is that his slightest engagement with the simple pleasures of sharing a world with others is enough to wash away the obscurities of abstract reasoning and philosophical theorising:

Thursday, June 30, 2022

Rowan Recommends: 5 Great Albums From 5 Underrated Genres

The title should be self-explanatory, but I will be recommending 5 great albums from 5 genres I think are criminally underrated. I've been listening to a lot of new music (at least to me) in sonic spaces unjustly excluded from people's listening. The genres in question are Blues, Soul, Funk, Reggae, and Krautrock. Two quick points about my selection.

First, I tried to avoid classics of the genre that people who do not really listen to the genre might already know. For example, I don't put either Bob Marley or Peter Tosh in the reggae section, even though they are correctly taken to be some of the best of the genre. Same for Otis Redding in soul, Can for Krautrock and so on. However, I do not omit some of the more well-known artists in other genres. For example, I include John Lee Hooker in the blues section, even though most blues fans will be familiar with him and I include James Brown in the funk section, with who everyone is likely familiar. In such cases, and in other cases where I break this rule, I often provide a reason for doing so. It might be because the genre itself is listened to little enough that even the classics will be new to most (funk is like this), because they are essential to the genre, or because a particular album deserves special interest (my John Lee Hooker pick is like this). To counter this, I have also tried to include some stuff that will hopefully be new, even to fans of a given genre. 

Second, there is significant genre overlap when it comes to funk, soul, and some blues. There is not always a particularly clear dividing line between the genres, nor are they particularly well defined. They are very much coming out of the same sonic tradition, especially soul and funk. For example, I put Sir Joe Quarterman & Free Soul in the funk section, but they could just as easily be soul too. In such cases, I simply choose at my discretion, so there will be some arbitrariness to my taxonomy. However, each genre does have a distinctive sound, and I am pretty confident I have done no album any injustice in this regard.

Anyway, for each genre, I have ordered the albums chronologically and linked two songs from each of them that I think you should listen to if you wanted a sample. I was hoping to include a section on African music, which I have been listening to a lot of. But I could not do it justice by restricting everything to one genre, or merely 5 albums, so I scrapped it. Thus, I might put together a list for that at some future time. Oh and lastly, forgive my digressions. It's not often I write about music, and it turns out I have reckons about it.

Thursday, June 9, 2022

Apocryphal Arguments #3: Parmenides & The Way of Truth

This is the third post in a series I'm calling the Apocryphal Arguments series. The idea is to briefly outline, explain, and defend a simple philosophical argument that I think is plausible. It will be in the form of precise premises and conclusions in order to maximise legibility. I aim to post only novel, interesting, and even ridiculous-sounding arguments that might question fundamental sensibilities in order to maximise impact. If all goes to plan each post should be a fun ride.

I want to outline here an infamous argument, one that seems beyond merely apocryphal. It is an argument that also happens to be the oldest remaining sustained (and substantive) written argument in the tradition of western philosophy. (All other works are almost all lost before this period.)  It is also the first work of a philosopher that really drew me in, in a way that nothing had before. Thus, I have a particular affinity for it and the careful reader of my metaphysical works will see that its tendrils still reach their way into my thought to this day. Though one (regrettable) disclaimer I have is that it will be rather more obscure than my previous entries in this series. It just fits the bill so well that I couldn’t put it here as merely another post. Thus, if you are a new reader or not that interested in metaphysics, I recommend reading the previous entries in the series, which you can find here and here. You can also read my arguing along Parmenidean lines for a Being of absolute positivity here.

Monday, May 2, 2022

On Fiction and Fantasy

I recently caught the movie The Break-Up (2006) on TV and watched it the way through. The flick is a typical rom-com of its era, featuring Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn as the leads. However, there is a surprisingly rough edge to it. The relationship depicted is genuinely in a bad place, the characters are broadly unsympathetic (which is not wholly unrealistic considering that those entrenched in a breakup often show the worst parts of themselves), and they face serious life-changing problems people really go through. What interested me was how everything unfolded and especially how it ended. This movie is bad, but it is bad, in my view, for a very particular reason: it is pure fantasy (not in the sense of genre, but in the sense of fantasising).

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Bergson's Theory of Memory

Just had another two essays published with Epoché! These are on Bergson's theory of memory, focusing primarily on chapters two and three of Matter and Memory. His theory has eluded me for some time but I think I really cracked it with this one. Part one goes over the theory itself, how it improves on empiricist theories, the philosophical motivations for it, and the metaphysics of time. The latter will goes over how it solves some outstanding metaphysical issues. Most notably, Bergson's solution to the mind-body problem, which I think is of serious interest. Here they are:

Thursday, March 10, 2022

On Virtue and Goodness

I. I was lucky enough to pick up a second-hand copy of François La Rochefoucauld's Maxims, a book of aphorisms, most of which do not exceed a single sentence or phrase. It was written by a French moralist, first published in 1665. I discuss in brief bursts a couple of interesting themes that pervade it. In doing so, I springboard off of his suggestions and formulate my own theory of virtue. Following this, I link some of his ideas about self-interest to Spinoza's conception of goodness.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

A Note on Personal Rationality

I. Bertrand Russell makes a rather funny argument in his thoughtful little essay In Praise of Idleness

One of the commonest things to do with savings is to lend them to some Government. In view of the fact that the bulk of the public expenditure of most civilised Governments consists in payment for past wars or preparation for future wars, the man who lends his money to a Government is in the same position as the bad men in Shakespeare who hire murderers. The net result of the man’s economical habits is to increase the armed forces of the State to which he lends his savings. Obviously it would be better if he spent the money, even if he spent it in drink or gambling.

But, I shall be told, the case is quite different when savings are invested in industrial enterprises. When such enterprises succeed, and produce something useful, this may be conceded. In these days, however, no one will deny that most enterprises fail. That means that a large amount of human labour, which might have been devoted to producing something that could be enjoyed, was expended on producing machines which, when produced, lay idle and did no good to anyone. The man who invests his savings in a concern that goes bankrupt is therefore injuring others as well as himself. If he spent his money, say, in giving parties for his friends, they (we may hope) would get pleasure, and so would all those upon whom he spent money, such as the butcher, the baker, and the bootlegger. But if he spends it (let us say) upon laying down rails for surface cars in some place where surface cars turn out to be not wanted, he has diverted a mass of labour into channels where it gives pleasure to no one. Nevertheless, when he becomes poor through the failure of his investment he will be regarded as a victim of undeserved misfortune, whereas the gay spendthrift, who has spent his money philanthropically, will be despised as a fool and a frivolous person.

Saturday, January 8, 2022

Propositions of Metaphysics

 (Another set of aphorisms! See my last here. Can't help but feel a little embarrassed posting aphorisms as it may seem like I position myself as some kind of Nietzsche, but it's just a nice way to express the ideas you have in little germs you will probably not develop, or can choose to develop later on. Ah, and apologies, these will be quite obscure to most everyone—I have not earned this kind of obscurity!)

Bergson is an inversion of Platonism (see An Introduction to Metaphysics) in the sense that rather than flux coming out of forms, forms come out of flux (as illusions of the intellect). Whereas Deleuze is an inversion of Platonism (see Difference and Repetition) in the sense that rather than there being a fixed and eternal set of Ideas, there is a constant reproduction of new ones. One reaches the true meaning of difference while the other does not.

Indeed, Deleuze rejoices in his role as sophist—as defined by Plato in the Sophist. Spurred by his rejection of negation, Deleuze is forced to affirm what Plato thinks the sophist does as what reality really is. Namely, the perpetual reproduction of determinate appearances as novel forms generated out of a purely differentiated and indeterminate field. For Deleuze, as for the sophist, there is no truth or falsity, just the problematic.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Future Contingents in Leibniz

I. Leibniz has a problem in his philosophy, namely, the relationship between God, determinism, free will, and moral responsibility. Famously he thought that when God created the world, he chose to create the best of all possible worlds out of an infinite number of possible worlds. This means that what will happen in the world is decided in advance, including all of the sin, evil, and divine punishment. If this is true how can we ultimately be responsible for our actions, how could anyone deserve divine punishment? In other words are we not determined by God, necessarily, to act in a certain way? Leibniz has a clever way of trying to get around this. He argues that while the future is determined in advance, those events are still not necessary, they are contingent.

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Contributions to 'On Human Excellence'

This post is a collection of contributions from friends of mine to my earlier essay "On Human Excellence". As I noted in that essay, there is some peculiar utility in using others as evidence of this phenomenon. This is because, more often than not, human excellence as I have defined it is not even perceptible by some, or even most, unless you have some specific expertise or discernment in any given field of practice. Spending hours of one's life dedicated to studying and immersing yourself in some field or craft allows you to get inside its peculiar technical contours. It allows you to better see the excellence in the first place.

Thus, I had the thought that I could solicit those smart and interesting people around me as to whether they had their own thoughts about, or examples of, human excellence. What follows are their ideas and interpretations, meant as an accompaniment to the ideas sketched out in my original essay. 

If you read the original essay and these others' essay's and have your own ideas for examples of human excellence, reach out to me and I'd be happy to publish anything here alongside these pieces!

Follow the link provided to read each piece. Here they are, in the order I received them:

Friday, November 12, 2021

On Human Excellence

I. One particularly interesting feature of human reality that exemplifies our dynamism and creativity is the limits and boundaries to which people push their bodies or their craft. Spurred initially by watching the Olympics, I have begun reflecting on the kind of craft involved with being the best in the world at something. There is something enthralling and beautiful to me about watching someone at the very top of their game performing in ways no other human ever has or ever will, in the foreseeable future. This has led me to think about human excellence more generally.

II. Human excellence isn't merely about being good or talented at something, nor about winning some competition, or even about being the best in the world. Human excellence, as I will be using it, is something more than that. It is when craft becomes artWhat do I mean by this? Ordinarily, we seem to make a distinction between craft and art, where craft is some skill or practice and art is a product, imbued with the aesthetic imprint of an artist. Thus, what I take to be human excellence is when some craft itself becomes art. Rather than being merely the process that produces something, acting out the craft becomes itself its own aesthetic product. Human excellence is the peculiar aesthetic quality some skill takes on when it is performed at such a high level, to the point that it seems effortless, and utterly one-of-a-kind.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Apocryphal Arguments #2: Radical Enfranchiement

This is the second post in a series I'm calling the Apocryphal Arguments series. The idea is to briefly outline, explain, and defend a simple philosophical argument that I think is plausible. It will be in the form of precise premises and conclusions in order to maximise legibility. I aim to post only novel, interesting, and even ridiculous-sounding arguments that might question fundamental sensibilities in order to maximise impact. If all goes to plan each post should be a fun ride.

I present in this post a funny little argument that states that we are rationally obliged to abolish the voting age. In other words, that there is never a justification for disenfranchising citizens based on age. The apocryphal part of the argument is that this includes young children, toddlers, and even newborns. I make the argument by using a kind of slippery slope argument, often used by detractors of child enfranchisement. (The style of argumentation will be similar to my last entry in this series, so I highly recommend you read that first, here, if you haven't already.) This argument might supply the dumbest reason you could come up with to abolish the voting age, but here we are. This is a shortened version of a longer and more careful essay I have on this. Let's get to it. 

Monday, September 20, 2021

A Theory of Friction (For Bayesian Epistemology)

I. Here I expound and defend probabilism (a.k.a., Bayesianism) in its capacity as an epistemological theory. First, I outline what is meant by probabilism and in what sense it is an epistemological theory. Following this, I outline what I take to be a substantial obstacle the theory faces to success: various problems of 'subjectivity.' Next, I reply to these associated objections and outline why I think that not only is this concern not a worry for Bayesians, but that probabilist epistemology gives us reason to be optimistic about the state of knowledge in the world. Finally, I argue that that the internalism about rationality this account implies is not a bad thing. In an important way, I think this can be read as a partner piece to my previous post "The Tendency to Know", where my 'theory of friction' in this essay is basically my theory of the state of knowledge in a system applied to what is considered a serious problem for a Bayesian epistemology.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

New Essay With Epoché

In which I attempt to reconstruct Bergson's views on free will, as presented in Time and Free Will in light of the later changes in his ontology. (Makes a nice companion piece with my previous piece on him outlining that ontology.) Check it out!

Rebel Without a Cause - Reconstructing Free Will in Bergson

Friday, July 2, 2021

The Tendency to Know

I. I have a theory that human knowledge is analogically like the second law of thermodynamics and entropy. However, it is not that systems of human knowledge tend towards disorder or less knowledge, but instead towards more knowledge. This is not the entropy of Claude Shannon's information theory, in which there is a stochastic rate of loss in the transmission of information. It is rather a theory about how knowledge proliferates in closed social systems (at any scale). I begin by defining the second law of thermodynamics and entropy as I understand them and pointing out how certain parts of a system defy the law (local reversals) even though the system as a whole tends towards an increase in entropy. Next, I outline by analogy how I think a system structured like entropy occurs in systems of human knowledge. Finally, I close with some remarks on Charles Sanders Peirce, who ultimately sowed the seeds of this idea. If you understand entropy and thermodynamics already, you can skip to section three.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Apocryphal Arguments #1: A Rocking Universe

This is the first post in a series I'm calling the Apocryphal Arguments series. The idea is to briefly outline, explain, and defend a simple philosophical argument that I think is plausible. It will be in the form of precise premises and conclusions in order to maximise legibility. I aim to post only novel, interesting, and even ridiculous-sounding arguments that might question fundamental sensibilities in order to maximise impact. If all goes to plan each post should be a fun ride.

What I attempt to show in this post is that if you accept the common-sense premise that objects endure through change, you commit yourself to the idea that the universe is made up of that type of object. For example, if you say that an apple tree is still the same tree when it loses an apple, it can be shown that you must think the universe is made up of apple trees. Also, if you deny this principle you must endorse 'presentism' about objects, the view that each object only exists for a moment and as each moment passes the universe is made up of an entirely different set of objects. I know this sounds ridiculous but this is the kind of thing I have in mind for this series...

Sunday, June 13, 2021

A Critique of Negation

[Disclaimer, I know Absolutely nothing about Hegel's metaphysics, nor even really that much about Deleuze, this was a fun exercise though. I'm kind of sloppy all the way through with interpretation.]

I. In Difference and Repetition, Deleuze critiques Hegel's metaphysics for making determinate negation the engine of history, change, differentiation, and individuation. For Hegel existence is constant change. However, it is not chaotic Heraclitean flux, but rather the logical unfolding of a constantly inverting movement: dialectics. This inversion is the process of negation. The negation of a thing (or of the absolute, at the largest scale) is entirely contained within that thing-itself, such that the way it (the dialectic) unfolds is determined according to the movement already contained within itself. History moves according to change, which moves according to the negation of concrete forms. This is where his contradictions come from - the movement ~p is contained in p. The main reason Hegel needs to affirm contradictions in this way is to avoid collapsing into Eleatic homogeneity, which would otherwise be a consequence of his monism. He has to save the intelligibility of the world and it can't be done with just being, thus he appeals to non-being (negation). Thus, Hegel's system must necessarily be both teleological ("It may seem as if this progression were to go on into infinitude, but it had an absolute end in view") and deterministic ("the whole of the history of philosophy is a progression impelled by an inherent necessity...a priori determined through its Idea...Contingency must vanish") as each moment is both directed-towards some end and contains within it a necessary direction (the negation of itself), according to its internal constitution. It strictly excludes any external determination. Therefore, future situations and possibilities are limited in advance by their constitutive conditions.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Double Feature Series #3: Sex, Love, & Jealousy

This is the third post in what I'm calling my double feature series, in which I post a pairing of two movies that I love. These movies will usually be made 20+ years apart and are thematically related somehow. I see one as a sort of a spiritual successor of the other. The point is to avoid blatantly obvious pairings or homages that have been pointed out before (like certain Woody Allen movies combined with certain Bergman movies, for example). Instead, I aim to bring two seemingly disconnected films together, into one thought.

The third entry in this series, as the title indicates, pulls together two films about relationships. They are:

La Notte (1961) and Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Epoché Author!

 I have an author page at Epoche magazine now that I have published two pieces with them! Check out my new article on Bergson and the page generally for my longer and (better) writing!

    "Enjoy those beautiful blue sky and golden sunshine all along the way. Everyone, have a great day!"

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

A Sketch of Similarities Between Bergson and Heidegger

There is a remarkable similarity between the philosophies of Bergson and Heidegger. Bergson's notion of the body as a 'centre of action' and Heidegger's notion of Dasein as "that entity which in its Being has this very Being as an issue" get at this similarity. In both cases, the being is entirely immanent and contiguous with reality; that is, they are merely a part of a larger set of environmental relations (extensity for Bergson, Being for Heidegger). 

In their formulation of this aspect of their metaphysics, they both stringently avoid mentioning an inextended consciousness or inextended representations in the form of perception. Instead, they favour a relation that is continuous with its environment. They both want to repudiate a certain kind of dualism or subjective atomism that postulates the observer as a metaphysical island from which we peep at the world through a tiny hole. They prefer to analyse the body in terms of its direct and practical engagement with the world. 

What makes humans peculiar for both thinkers is the self-consciousness of our being-in-the-world. We ask the question of being to ourselves and end up thinking we are of a unique kind, which is partially true, in that we seem to be the only kind of thing really asking, but partially false, in that we obviously are extensions of the world. 

Bergson reduces perception from a faculty of representation and knowledge to an evolved and fine-tuned faculty for carving up and abstractly select those elements of the fluid world that practically benefit each organism and grant the freedom to navigate the world and itself as it needs to. Heidegger historicises and relativises what beings there are to that which Dasein has as its concern and to the historical epoch or cultural moment in which beings are revealed.

In both cases, the intellectual activity of objectifying the world, the thing that makes us think we grasp Being most intimately, for Bergson 'the intellect', for Heidegger 'ready-to-hand', paradoxically distances us from a true metaphysics - of duration, or Being, respectively. Both reject the presence (in the Derridean sense) of (small-b) beings. Only the former thinks we can go beyond this and intuit this true metaphysic.

Ultimately I think that Bergson ends up giving a more satisfying picture of metaphysics proper (though I am still grappling with his views about memory which make a surprisingly good candidate for a sort of soul). My problem with Heidegger is that he never seems to really escape Kant while I think Bergson really does.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Objects Aren't Real (Vagueness as Process)

This essay tackles the paradox of the heap and the problem of vagueness. It's honestly a surprisingly intractable problem for me and one that, if you are interested in it regarding more than just language use, has to be dealt with. Its one of the main reasons I have become interested in process metaphysics as it is the only satisfactory solution I've found to this problem. For those uninitiated to this problem and in need of something tantalising to keep you on the page, I end up denying objects exist - including atoms and subatomic particles - in order to solve it. Thinking deeply about the intrinsic continuity of the world has only further convinced me of its truth.

The only other approach that is a live option (for me) in terms of saying something substantial about what makes the problem interesting is Tim Williamson's epistemic approach which I really like. It's just a very strange bullet to bite. I think my solution leaves an incredibly tidy state of affairs. This is adapted from an essay written for class so it might assume some prior knowledge about some analytic philosophy stuff but I'm quite proud of this one and want it documented. If nothing else, maybe read the first and last section for the problem and my solution and the source of my inflammatory title and heretical views.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Rowan Recommends: 5 Great Performances by Women in Film (with Honourable Mentions)

The purpose of each of these picks is not just to single out great individual performances from women (which they all are fantastic) or to pick out great films in which women play the lead (which would be a totally different list). Thus this list is not a best-of or a list of my favourite films. The purpose is to pick out those performances that are indispensable to the concept or the success of the movie as a whole. Simply put, for each of these picks, the movie is not only made great by the leading lady but that their performance carries or simply is the movie. In each performance, the actress takes the role and embodies it completely, becoming the character, and making the movie.

In hindsight, I have realised most of these roles (including the honourable mentions) include as the bulk of their character some kind of mental anguish which more often than not also constitutes the centrepiece of the movie. Perhaps that kind of role is conducive to producing the kinds of performances that carry a movie in this way. (Indeed, if I was writing a list for men with the same criteria I would probably include David Thewlis for Naked (1993), Jack Nicholson for Five Easy Pieces (1970), and Harry Dean Stanton for Paris, Texas (1984) who all constitute similar roles, in form - so there may be some truth to that.) I won't really talk about the plot as you can look them up as they sound interesting. Some of these are not for the faint of heart (3 & 4 specifically)! In no particular order:

Friday, August 7, 2020

21 Dumb & Boring Reflections on Politics and Moral Philosophy

(Don't take me too seriously here...)

Politics was a mistake.

Rates of happiness or depression and their link to a political system or conditions are not a good argument for why something is bad or doesn't work. I'd rather people are not happy for bad reasons than good ones! (Perhaps the utilitarian replies: "then what is a good reason?" Bah.)

Rejecting something because it is given is the same mistake as advancing something new for the sake of being new. Worse, the new thing taken on is even more arbitrary than the tradition.

Call me a class reductionist all you want but it really is the most important vector in political decision making. I think we should just give people money. 'Some of us are still Marxists you know!'

'The Personal Is Political' while trivially true in some distant sense, is a waste of energy. Especially since it is usually used to justify bringing politics into the most banal and peaceful corners of everyday life. Let people enjoy themselves! The government has actual hard power and there is actual political activism you can do for actual people that are actually poor.

Separate the aesthetic from the political. Normatively, the political badges we wear are not for show. You might not like it, but actual praxis is pretty boring!

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Balancing the Self With Kierkegaard

I. In Kierkegaard’s The Sickness Unto Death, the self, “at every moment it exists, is in a constant process of becoming.” It is at once identical with itself and continuously projecting into the future, seeking itself or some improved form or fully realised form of itself. This seems right to me, in being such a self I have my character traits, memories, opinions, quirks, idiosyncrasies: what I have, my actuality of self. But I also have hopes, dreams, goals, dispositions or desires: what I could have, my possibilities of self. He then goes on to say the self is a synthesis of the finite and infinite (among other things), which is the subject of this essay. Both can be thought of as psychological states, or dispositions of the self, that concern how we comport ourselves towards our possibilities. Of course, each self is not literally one or the other, nor do they switch between the two discretely, but we each dwell somewhere along the continuum between the two extremes. Kierkegaard outlines only what it is to be situated, as a self, at each polarity and the danger posed in being there.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

When Do Friendships Last

"Being-with-one-another in the they is not at all a self-contained, indifferent side-by-sideness, but a tense, ambiguous keeping track of each other, a secretive, reciprocal listening-in. Under the mask of the for-one-another, the against one-another is at play."

The maxim:

Don't say anything about someone you wouldn't say to their face

has long been attractive to me. I enjoy the sentiment of straight-up, no-games relationships. The idea that we are better to talk things through and come to an agreement, reconcile, and move on is profoundly and demonstrably true in my life - there is only so much resentment we can harbour before utterly exhausting ourselves. Not only that but it dispenses with the lies and deceit - there's something profoundly dishonest about those who eschew loyalty to skulk around behind people's back, sowing dissent.

I've come to have some reservations about it though. I think it very much applies to the big stuff, things that really matter that need to be externalised. But the everyday bread and butter of our relationships (in which we see each other most days) are not this at all. There are many circumstances in which we should not say things about someone to their face. And just to be clear here I am not merely talking about the fact that we shouldn't barrage someone with a permanent stream of our thoughts about their being; that much is obvious. What I am talking about is that: there are things we ought to say behind their back, but not to their face.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Heidegger, Disney & David Lynch

[This has not been proofread or edited really at all as I wrote it in two hour-long fervours a few days apart, so hopefully, it is not too jumbled, nonsensical, or just an annoying rant]

Martin Heidegger, in his essay The Question Concerning Technology, argues that man is conditioned by ‘modern technology.’ Modern technology is the peculiarly calculating, exacting, automated, mechanistic, nature of modern life – the quest to reveal all. It “pursues and entraps nature as a calculable coherence of forces.” It is the difference between craftsmen, artisans, or tools of old who take what they need and live somewhat reciprocally with nature and the factories, machinery, and modern science that grabs nature by the balls and demands that it give up the goods.

In Heideggerian language modern technology is a way of revealing. What he means by this is that modern technology is, to put it simply, an entirely different way of seeing things – a historical epoch that reveals the world in its terms. Heidegger uses the example of the Rhine. It appears first as a part of nature, something to live with, as something to marvel and respect. But under modern technology it is revealed in a different way. A hydroelectric plant is built on it as a way of challenging it, it demands of the river that it be instrumental in our wants. It literally becomes a water-power supplier instead of a river. Sure, it is still there, it is still part of the landscape, but it is not as a river, or even really as an object, it is there as ‘standing-reserve.’

Friday, January 24, 2020

A Certain Lightness

Just read William James' The Will to Believe and I come across this great quote:
He who says, "Better go without belief forever than believe a lie!" merely shows his own preponderant private horror of becoming a dupe. He may be critical of many of his desires and fears, but this fear he slavishly obeys...It is like a general informing his soldiers that it is better to keep out of battle forever than to risk a single wound...Our errors are surely not such awfully solemn things. In a world where we are so certain to incur them in spite of all our caution, a certain lightness of heart seems healthier than this excessive nervousness on their behalf
While this is more targeted at the sceptical scientistic tradition I think it's applicable to everyday life. I talk to people all the time who are only willing to critique and dismiss ideas without putting forward any positive account in response. It can be frustrating because putting oneself out there basically gives the grounds for the most interesting and informative conversations you'll ever have and sharpens your own understanding of your beliefs. Mere critique or response becomes a non-starter. Take Richard Linklater's Before Trilogy for example. Ethan Hawke (and less often Julie Delpy) can often be pretty cringy in his dialogue (a pattern with Linklater) but they end up moving towards saying things that are genuinely interesting that they would not have had otherwise.

Whether people pride themselves on being a cynic or claim to be particularly responsive to evidence; I think James' gets it right with his diagnosis of a private horror of being wrong. This obviously dawns from the fact that there is a precipitous asymmetry between the two, that is, putting forward vs. critiquing ideas. Not only is it hard to feel like you are saying something worthwhile in putting yourself forward but its also intimidating to put something forward knowing it takes a lot less for someone to come along and find a fault or be dismissive than it was for you to put yourself out there. So often we don't even bother. We ought to cut those who do put things forward a little break and engage constructively with them ourselves.

But imagine if all we had was those picking apart and faulting wider speculations and theories. We would have such an impoverished world. Some of the ideas we hold most dear to us we know are highly flawed. Why do we still read [insert literally any notable philosopher in history] when most people think they are totally wrong about almost everything? Why do we read them and not their foremost critics (that didn't put together an alternate system)? Not only in philosophy and art - that same creativity and speculation is even a crucial part of the development of science (see: Kuhn, Popper, James, and others).

In part, this blog is something like what James calls for in the 'certain lightness of heart.' I say things regardless of whether they are argumentatively airtight (they're not), but because in putting oneself and their interpretation forward in the world enrich's everyone's life (even if no one reads this blog, which they don't, the idea that they are at least means this is still good for me). I'm tired of what is a borderline pathological fear of giving a positive account yourself. Our day to day life can be enriched by talking a little more freely with ourselves.

Thursday, January 16, 2020


Part 1: Public Commitment

The Structure of Commitment

To begin I would like to present a model of commitment. Commitment is the restriction of one’s freedom or potentiality in order to achieve some end. All acts by their very nature are commitments to something instead of something else. We are, as humans, always fundamentally acting towards some end or projecting towards a possible state of affairs[1], which entails that we are not free to do otherwise in that act. Only in acting (and in no other way) do we make transparent what our commitments actually are. For example, the amount one gets out and swims, cycles, and runs is a commitment to being able to finish or participate in a triathlon. Likewise, failing to undertake this training is itself a commitment towards (probably) not finishing or participating in a triathlon. While this is somewhat obvious, where it becomes interesting is the interaction between verbal enunciations of said commitments (which is still an act) and the credibility of it as a signal, perceived by others.

All acts (even negatively defined) are fundamentally acts towards some end instead of another; this is commitment.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Rowan Recommends: Summer Interlude (1951)

Apparently, this blog is now officially just posting screenshots from Bergman films; really enjoyed this one. If these screenshots aren't enough to convince you to see this one, take it from me, they don't even capture half the magic or ground this film covers in ~1h30m. 

Monday, December 30, 2019

Quick, Dirty, and Dismissive Movie Reviews for the New Year

Somehow I have watched a slew of movies that I actually loved (and some that I didn't) in the last month or so that I thought I'd talk about.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

The Serious Stance

Upon reading Simone de Beauvoir’s Ethics of Ambiguity, I was struck by how close her description of the ‘serious man’ resembles a certain species of self-righteous political disagreement, especially online. Here, I attempt to explicate upon some of her remarks about how I see it playing out in Twitter, ‘the culture wars,’ and wider discourse. I develop a notion, born from her serious man, of a subjective state I call the serious stance and how it fails to consider error and change. I instead argue we ought to take up the fallible stance.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Double Feature Series #2: Mob Justice

This is the second post in what I'm calling my double feature series, in which I post a pairing of two movies that I love. These movies will usually be made 20+ years apart and are thematically related somehow. I see one as a sort of a spiritual successor of the other. The point is to avoid blatantly obvious pairings or homages that have been pointed out before (like certain Woody Allen movies combined with certain Bergman movies, for example). Instead, I aim to bring two seemingly disconnected films together, into one thought.

The second entry in this series illustrates the temporal possibilities of influence we see in film! They are two quite harrowing movies about the dangers of mob justice presented by Fritz Lang and Thomas Vinterberg respectively:

Thursday, October 31, 2019

On Vagueness

How do we measure and classify things quantitatively? What is the true difference between a pile, heap, handful, and speck of sand? Are these true distinctions or conventions of language? At what point does one become the other if one grain of sand is being removed? This is a problem one can find in many features of our life and the way we use language. So many of our concepts are loosely defined instances of a qualitative pragmatism designed to enable us to have a coherent conversation without defining our terms every step of the way. To really get to this is a problem I would like to discuss something that gets at this issue of vagueness: sorites paradox.

Monday, October 21, 2019

On 'Old Moralists'

I do find something particularly striking about this quote from Nietzsche; it is not exactly what he intended to illustrate, I think, but it stirs up something for me...
That tartuffery, as stiff as it is virtuous, of old Kant as he lures us along the dialectical by paths which lead, more correctly, mislead, to his ‘categorical imperative’ - this spectacle makes us smile, we who find no little amusement in observing the subtle tricks of old moralists and moral-preachers.
It reminds of an interesting kind of phenomenon we (at least I) see every day; we often despise or tire of those who moralise small actions in the world (small actions constantly, that is, not just one-offs). It seems at least prima facie true that we would want a more just world and would like society to enforce just norms and practices, so why is it that we see moralisers as more of an obstacle, or, something to be ignored?

False Solutions & Climate Change

The (Very) Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie or (The Young and the Damned)

(an essay submitted for a paper at uni)

In this essay I use insights given on society by Herbert Marcuse to analyse the way in which the development of advanced society and economic relations has perpetuated climate change and mitigated the efforts to prevent it. I begin by outlining Marcuse’s notion of false needs, which is drawn on in the rest of the essay. Next I discuss three ways in which advanced industrial society has perpetuated climate change which are; (1) perpetual economic growth; (2) wasteful incentives and; (3) the co-optation of the climate conscious movement and the administration of a substitutive mindset. Finally, I argue that in lieu of this, we adopt an eliminative mindset. Advanced industrial society (conceptualised by Marcuse) has accelerated and perpetuated climate change, even convincing us it has the solutions in substitutes, when the solution is in elimination.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Double Feature Series #1: Man's Search for Meaning

This is the first post in what I'm calling my double feature series, in which I post a pairing of two movies that I love. These movies will usually be made 20+ years apart and are thematically related somehow. I see one as a sort of a spiritual successor of the other. The point is to avoid blatantly obvious pairings or homages that have been pointed out before (like certain Woody Allen movies combined with certain Bergman movies, for example). Instead, I aim to bring two seemingly disconnected films together, into one thought.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Rowan Recommends: Sawdust and Tinsel (1953)

Who gave Bergman the authority to write such beautiful scripts?

I see Phantom Thread (2017) as the spiritual successor of this film.