tirsdag 27. november 2012

Look to Norway.

Most foreigners probably didn't know this, but in an episode of Entitled Opinions, aired November 22, 2005, Richard Rorty expressed opinions most Norwegians have known to be true for a long time, namely that the Norwegian liberal bourgeois society is (or should be) the endpoint of History. Quote: "We [I am not entirely sure who this refers to] are reformers in the sense that we think that liberal philosophy is as good as it is ever going to get. All we need is for the United States to get a lot more like Norway, and for the rest of the World to become a lot more like the United States." (About 30:00 into the interview. I couldn't make the web link work, but you should be able to access the interview in iTunes.)

Should someone find this grotesque, claiming that this cannot possibly be the whole story, that all would be well if the entire World ended up like Norway, Rorty answers them with a challange: "Well, then tell an alternative story!"

I believe telling that story is doable, but as these sweet endearing comments made my day, I am not at all tempted to try to.

lørdag 24. november 2012

Mer enn snakk.

Foreldre som velger ikke å sende ungene i barnehage, men holde dem hjemme har alltid forundret meg. Jeg snakker ikke om den første tiden. Våre jenter begynte ikke i barnehage før de var nærmere to år gamle. I løpet av disse årene var det stort sett jeg som var hjemme med dem. Pappapermisjon var stor stas, svært lenge -- men etterhvert, vokser det vel frem et behov hos de fleste foreldre for å treffe andre voksne i blant, og hos de fleste barn for å treffe andre barn? Om ikke annet, et behov for en pause og et sceneskifte? Jeg spør fordi jeg akkurat har sett Vi må snakke om Kevin.

Dette er trolig blant internetts mest banale kommentarer til filmen; men kunne ikke mange av problemene, i alle fall mye av slitasjen på mor-sønn-forholdet, vært unngått om guttungen hadde gått i barnehage?

torsdag 22. november 2012


Here's a list of some things I've been up to lately, when I, in all honesty, ought to have done other things.

1) I have been engaged in a short exchange of opinions about the usefulness of philosophical biographies, or rather biographies of philosophers, mainly concerning Ludwig Wittgenstein, with Duncan Richter.

2) By way of this interview with Ken Taylor and John Perry (hosts of PhilosophyTalk) on "The Uses of Philosophy", I discovered Entitled Opinions a couple of weeks ago -- a podcast of which I have grown fond. It is hosted by Robert Harrison, a professor in Italian literature at Stanford University. Over the years, the programs have covered a wide range of topics "about Life and Literature". The archive now contains more than 140 shows. Evidently, I haven't listened to all of them, but have had a few great moments. One of my favourite episodes so far, is this interview with Joshua Landy about Marcel Proust, which provoked me to philosophise about voluntary and involuntary memories -- a topic I may (or not) blog about in the near future. And I have seldom, if ever, heard a deeper and more thoroughgoing discussion (much of which went over my head) of any literary topic on public radio than this discussion of Moby Dick. Yesterday I began reading one of Harrison's books too. Now, I am half way through his book on Gardens, which, among other things, has a beautiful chapter on the similarity between gardening and tutoring, Plato's academy, and the importance of discussion in education. I also look forward to his earlier book on Forests. So far I have only leafed through it, but it looks like mandatory reading for anyone, like me, who struggles to grasp our conception of human-nature relationships.

3) Speaking of which... Yesterday, while going through some old notes of mine on nature, this unrelated passage on pains and phantom pains appeared. It seems worth sharing. I am commenting on the following proposition by the materialist philosopher D.M. Armstrong:
We say that we have a pain in the hand. The SENSATION of pain can hardly be in the hand, for sensations are in minds and hands is not par of the mind. 
I am quoting from Consciousness and Causality here. According to my notes the passage should be on page 105, but when I tried to look it up, I was unable to retrieve it. Anyway, my reaction was as follows:
Imagine that I went to the doctor with pains in one hand, and the doctor replied that it was all in my head. I would be surprised, if not offended. Normally we distinguish between real and imagined pains, pains that are, as we say, in the hand and pains that are only in our heads. To say that the pain I feel in my hand really is located in my head, would in most circumstances suggest illusion or hypochondria.
What about phantom pains? Phantom pains are often brought up in this discussion. People can apparently experience pains in limbs they no longer have. Doesn't that suggest that sensations take place in the mind rather than in our limbs? The experienced pain certainly cannot be located in the hand because that location simply doesn't exist! The argument supposedly strengthen the view that all sensations, even experiences of pain in existing limbs, take place in the mind. But I doubt that arguing from phantom sensations can demonstrate that.
But think of the experience, the sensation of pain -- wouldn't the sensation be the same whether the hand exists or not? And if so, wouldn't that sensation have to be located the same place too? I am not convinced by that, because I am not convinced that the experiences will be identical in the first place. But this needs a little investigation. Examples might help. Imagine a person wanting her right arm experiences pain in her non-existent index finger. Wouldn't that experience be identical to the pain experiences in her left finger? Not necessarily. Say, if she lost that arm three years ago, and she has learned to live with only one arm and so on. Phantom pains certainly can be painful, but won't she experience them as phantom pains? I mean, how would she describe her experience? Would she say "My right index finger pains me", or would she rather say something like "oh no, not this again"? But let us modify the situation a little, so we can put these reservations out of play. Imagine a woman waking up from coma in a hospital. She has survived a terrible car accident. She experiences excruciating pains in both her arms. However, while she was unconscious, the doctors have amputated one of the arms. Could we confidently deny that the sensations would be identical in this case? Perhaps not. I, for one, doubt that the injured woman could, just by introspection, could tell that one of the pains were, in a sense, less real. Let us put more pressure on our commonsensical view. Let us imagine that this woman was, when the accident happened, on her way to the hospital with a badly injured arm -- incidentally the one now amputated -- and when she wakes up in the hospital, wouldn't she cry out something like "The pain is still there!"? 
However likely that is, does that in any way suggest that the pains were not in her hand even before the amputation?
Consider this case: A woman is about to have her arm amputated because of the excruciating pains it gives her. She watches as the knife removes the arm, but to her horror, the tormenting pains continue. What should we say about that? I am not sure. Saying that the pains somehow migrated from her arm to her mind (or whatever) at the moment of separation, or that the pains instantly jumped from reality to illusion, or that real pains with a stroke of magic were replaced by phantom ones, certainly looks unhelpful. Should something like this ever happen, I think we might find it reasonable to believe that phantom pains may somehow occur in existing limbs too, though such a concept would hardly be much in use, as amputating the limbs in question would be the only way to tell whether the pains were physical or mental. But to conclude that all bodily sensations are mental, as Armstrong seemingly does, wouldn't be helpful at all. First of all, the case we are now considering would be just one incident, and a rather extreme one at that. A deeper problem is that this conclusion is suicidal because it undermines the distinction between real and illusionary experiences altogether -- the very distinction that makes all talk of phantom pains possible in the first place -- the distinction which all arguments from phantom experiences rest on.
At this point my train of thoughts sort of wandered off, but I think these paragraphs contains some points worth pondering.

(Finally. While surfing on the internet -- as a way of not working on this post -- I just now came across this piece about philosophy and parenthood. The text seems like a possible topic for a future post. While I never would say that "one cannot fully realize one's potential as a philosopher unless one is a parent", I think being a parent might help you philosophise about, say, parenting and parenthood....)

torsdag 15. november 2012

Apropos Simone Weil.

Jeg ser ingen sammenheng mellom formiddagens (fruktesløse) leteaksjon etter et spesifikt Weil-sitat og det faktum at dagens episode av In Our Time også handler om denne franske filosofen -- men jeg konstaterer at Simone Weil er i dytten i dag. Jeg har ikke hørt programmet ennå, men planlegger å ta det med på kveldens joggetur.

Eternal Question.

Today I wanted to look up a quote from Simone Weil, but I seem to have misplaced my book. Her topic is Time versus Eternity. I know, roughly, the content of the quote (approximately, that Time helps us imagine Eternity, but that Time is still just a weak Ersatz for the real thing), but I wanted it in her exact words. It vexes my so much when this happens. What a waste of time! Instead of doing what I meant to do, I am searching for the proverbial needle in the haystack!  What is worse, I see no final solution to this problem. Of course, this particular missing book will turn up, eventually (I know it is around here somewhere), but alas! it will only be a matter of time before a new book goes missing, or a paper, or a computer file, as the case may be. To me, this looks like one of the so called Eternal Questions. Where is the damned book!? Throughout history, every philosopher must have asked this question hundreds of times, and they surely will continue to do so, if not eternally, to the end of time.

onsdag 14. november 2012

Philosophising Away from Home.

In the Wikipedia article about Oswald Hanfling we read:
It was impossible to tell, either from his conversation or from his writings, that Hanfling was not a native English speaker. He once commented to Elizabeth Anscombe that he found it strange that Wittgenstein had continued to write in German throughout his life. Anscombe; who must have assumed that Hanfling was English, replied that only someone who wasn’t able to read Wittgenstein in German could have made that remark.
Oswald Hanfling was a native German, so Wittgenstein's original texts were not incomprehensible to him. His incredulity had other sources. Hanfling lived most of his life in England, and always wrote the language. Maybe he found it hard to understand why others with similar stories were unable (or unwilling) to do the same? Wittgenstein also lived in England for many years, and was a competent English speaker -- not just the everyday language; he was apparently an eminent philosopher in English too. He would dominate philosophical discussions with English colleagues. His lectures were all in English too. So, I think I see where Hanfling's question comes from -- I am not sure I share his sense of strangeness, though.

Now, I do not know why Wittgenstein kept writing in German even when he must have done quite a lot of his actual thinking in English. (When discussing in English, you need to think in English too, don't you?) Some think that certain languages are better at certain tasks than others. German, some have claimed (was it Nietzsche?), is a more philosophical language than English. I cannot see why this should be so, and find it harder still to believe that Wittgenstein should have harboured such ideas.

Still, there might be something to this line of thinking, if we strip it of the metaphysics. Jon Hellesnes, for instance, has suggested that Hans Skjervheim was helped to philosophical excellence because he was a pioneering Nynorsk (one form of written Norwegian) philosopher:
His thinking was probably helped a little by writing in Nynorsk. Because there exists relatively little philosophical literature in this language, there are no standardised ways of saying things. There are few patterns, few clichés. Anyone who philosophises in Nynorsk, has to be a creative user of the language. The linguistic situation, therefore, is in it self an aid in avoiding certain bad habits.
Neither German nor English lack philosophical tradition. Still, much original philosophy continues to be written in those languages, and Wittgenstein himself was hardly a man of a thousand clichés. Philosophising in a small language may help you to avoid (bad) habits, but a philosophically innocent language is not a necessity. Hard critical thinking is more important. But philosophy contains more than critical thinking. Creativity is also important. Both critical and -- perhaps especially -- creative thinking might be harder on linguistically foreign turfs.

Lately I have been thinking about philosophising away from home. As readers of this blog will have noticed, during the past few months I have written quite extensively in English. This marks a change in attitude with me. I am, as it were, moving away from Anscombe's position towards Hanfling's understanding of things. I used to be sceptical about philosophising in English. Today I am less so. Not that I have forsaken my objections entirely.

One objection is that philosophising is working with language. Philosophical problems arise and needs to be fought in the sphere of meanings, where, as Cora Diamond has put it, language is being used at full stretch. And one's native language is usually far more elastic than any other. Mastery of the language is no guarantee for good philosophy, of course; but philosophical bewilderment often feels like being out on slippery ice -- good footwear is a prerequisite for getting somewhere.

Another objection is that philosophy often is a personal quest. Philosophical problems are problems I have with my own thinking. The problems are mine in the sense that others cannot solve them for me. This is an important difference between philosophical confusion and practical problems. If there is a leakage in my bathroom, a plumber may well fix it for me. But if I am confused, say, by the mind-body relationship, I cannot simply let an academic philosopher do the thinking for me. This is not denying that we can learn much from other philosophers struggling with the same issues. It is just that for my problem to go away, I am the one who must stop being bothered by these questions. Sometimes I read another's thoughts in total agreement, but for this to solve my philosophical difficulties, I have to see it as a solution to my difficulties, and that is something only I can do. This is connected with seeing some thoughts as one's own -- and that again, may be connected with language. To me at least, my own thoughts sometimes seem alien, or dressed up, when expressed in a language that is, as it were, not my own.

That, I suspect, was the source of my earlier scruples about blogging in English.

This feeling of alienation used to seem deep and important to me, because, I believe, my instincts were that this feeling of alienation (when seeing my own thoughts expressed in English) reviled some deep and important truths about the connection between thought and tongue and personal identity. I never actually tried to spell out my instincts, so I am not sure exactly how this connection was imagined. Perhaps something like this: One can only reach one's full potential in one's own tongue; one cannot get to the bottom in one's thinking in other languages; in foreign languages one's thinking will inevitably be foreign too, so in order to think authentically one relies one's native language. But this looks like bad metaphysics. Some people claim that you feel most at home on your childhood's playground. There is a kernel of truth to that perhaps, but it is not a very deep truth nor is it of a metaphysical kind. We simply tend to be at ease with what we are accustomed to.

Nevertheless, I do, for these very reasons, think that good philosophy written in a foreign language is admirable, and not simply because good philosophy is admirable (bad philosophy, of course, isn't admirable in any language). Great writings are always impressive, but isn't it additionally impressive that Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen) wrote most of her wonderfully crafted and many-layered stories in English or French; that the Polish Joseph Conrad ended up as one of English literature's great stylists even though English was only his third language; or that Samuel Beckett is recognised not only as an important playwright but also as a giant in modern French literature?

Talent is evidently important to reach such mastery of foreign languages. But you can get quite far by way of practise too. I don't know how gifted Oswald Hanfling was, nor for that matter Hans Skjervheim, who also wrote extensively in both English and German. (Internationally Skjervheim is best known for his thesis, Objectivism and the Study of Man (1957), that actually preceded Peter Winch's influential The Idea of a Social Science and its Relation to Philosophy (1958) on some important points, and has had some influence, particularly in Germany, where both Jürgen Habermas and Karl-Otto Apel reckon Skjervheim as an inspiration.) Come to think of it, philosophising in your second language is, historically speaking, the rule rather than the exception. For nearly two thousand years, from Antiquity through the Middle Ages and well into Modernity, Latin was after all the language of international philosophy.

Wittgenstein was a genius, a philosophically troubled soul, and a genuinely deep thinker. Perhaps things are different for his kind. Or perhaps he just felt that he needed the sharpest tools available to him to rid himself of his troubles, and that those tools happened to be German. Perhaps he did not see the point in (or have time to) sharpening up his English to do something he already could do in German. I am not in any sense comparing myself to Wittgenstein, but lately I have come to see things differently. Blogging in English does not just provide a needed brush up on my language skills. It also attracts more readers to my blog, which I like. Lately I have been writing at a slower pace, and yet the traffic has been steadily increasing. This I ascribe to my English posts. Last, but not least, there is a kind of philosophical reason for writing in English too. Philosophy is largely a struggle with one's own perplexities, but keeping things too close sometimes make it hard to see clearly. Taking a step back or pushing things away might actually improve one's vision. Sometimes, when I am stuck on a problem, or my foothold is constantly slipping, it is helpful for me to put on my English hiking boots.

fredag 9. november 2012

Fakkeltog mot pels.

I morgen går det årvisse fakkeltoget mot pels av stabelen. Demonstrasjonen arrangeres av NOAH, og finner sted i landets fire største byer samt Bodø og Ålesund. (Informasjon om tid og sted finnes her.)

I den forbindelse har jeg noen tanker om de forferdelige bildene som nok en gang vises i media. I sommer brøt dyrevernere seg inn på 24 norske pelsdyrfarmer over hele landet, og dokumenterte noen av de verste forholdene de noen sinne har sett:
Vi har funnet skadde dyr, lidende dyr, dyr som har tvangsatferd. Vi har funnet mink med avspiste bakbein, hvor de har halt seg rundt etter forbeina, vi har funnet dyr med store sår fra hodet og nedover mot ryggen, avspiste ører og haler.
Ingen forsvarer slikt. Selv senterpartisten Harald Buttedahl, som også er statssekretær i Landbruksdepartementet, finner tilstandene uakseptable. "Vi må få bort utskudd og kjeltringer som ikke vil følge regelverket," medgir han, før han legger til at "slike enkelttilfeller forekommer i alle næringer." -- Det er her min bekymring ligger.

Naturligvis er det viktig at regelbrudd avdekkes. Den unisone enigheten om at slik dyremishandling er uakseptabel, er også gledelig. Problemet er imidlertid at fokuset på disse rystende tilfellene kan gi en uønsket legitimitet til pelsnæringens innøvde svar, som ved hjelp av det magiske ordet "enkelttilfelle" forsøker å trylle bort enhver kobling mellom pelsdyrnæringen som sådan og dyreplageri. Folk skal tro at dyr i bur stort sett har det fint. Sannheten er snarere at det dyreplageriet disse utskuddene og regelbryterne står for kun er ekstremvarianten av det dyreplageriet som er sanksjonert av regelverket.

I manges ører -- mine også -- låter det desperat når representanter for næringen gang på gang bedyrer at dette kun dreier seg om enkelttilfeller. Hvordan i alle dager kan man snakke om enkelttilfeller når avsløringene kommer så tett og regelmessig!? Men Mattilsynets statistikk synes faktisk å gi en viss støtte til den oppfatningen. Bloggen "Pels -- en del av norsk husdyrhold" er helt ukjent for meg, men jeg har hørt disse tallene nevnt i andre sammenhenger også, så jeg siterer:
I norsk pelsdyrhold ønsker vi Mattilsynets kontrollører alltid velkommen. I tillegg har vi en  selvpålagt ordning med flere årlige veterinærbesøk. Veterinæren gjennomfører en grundig inspeksjon av dyrene. Besøkene utføres av uavhengige privatpraktiserende veterinærer. Det er over 100 veterinærer knyttet til denne ordningen. I fjor konkluderte 95% av veterinærene med at dyrevelferden i norske pelsdyrgårder er meget god, og de resterende sier at den er god. Kan så mange fagarbeidere ta feil?
Kanskje ikke, men -- og nå nærmer jeg meg poenget mitt -- hovedkritikken til NOAH og andre dyrevernere har jo aldri vært at norske pelsdyroppdrettere er forbrytere. Man henger riktig nok ut alle utskudd og kjeltringer som ikke følger regelverket også, men hovedkritikken har alltid rettet seg mot regelverket: Det regelverket som flertallet av oppdretterne følger til punkt og prikke er fullstendig uakseptabelt! Og denne oppfatningen deler faktisk veterinærene med dyrevernerne. I 2009 gikk en samlet Veterinærforening inn for å avvikle pelsnæringen i Norge nettopp av hensyn til dyrevelferden. Dette betyr ikke at norske veterinærer snakker med to tunger. Det viser bare at man kan vurdere pelsdyroppdrett etter ulike kritierier i ulike sammenhenger. Inspektørenes mandat er ikke å vurdere forsvarligheten av pelsdyravl, men å vurdere hvorvidt de norske reglene for pelsdyravl etterleves. Inspektørene rapporterer få slike regelbrudd. Veterinærforeningen vurderer derimot om dette er ensbetydende med god dyrevelferd. Dyrevelferdsloven stiller nemlig slike krav til enhver form for dyrehold. I dette innlegget diskuterte jeg blant annet den uhyre tynne forståelsen av dyrevelferd som ligger til grunn for reglene for pelsdyravl. Vurdert med en mer substansiell (og, vil jeg legge til, forstandig) forståelse av dyrevelferd, er pelsdyrhold uakseptabelt. Kort sagt: Inspektøren kan sertifisere en gård som tilfredsstiller visse minstekrav, og samtidig finne disse kravene dypt utilfredsstillende.

Det faktum at pelsfarmere flest etterlever forskriftene, er derfor på ingen måte noe svar på den grunnleggende kritikken om at forskrifter som tillater å holde dyr i bur -- uavhengig av om det resulterer i avgnagde bein eller ei -- er uforenlig med god dyrevelferd. Det er dette -- den mer prinsipielle og grunnleggende kritikken -- jeg frykter kan komme i skyggen av spektakulære "enkelt"-avsløringer.

tirsdag 6. november 2012

Nordic Wittgenstein Review.

Første nummer av Nordic Wittgenstein Review er nå fritt tilgjengelig. Endelig! Jeg så denne notisen for over et år siden, og har ventet på denne datoen. NWR er et open access tidsskrift. Bladene utgis på papir og frigis online etter tre måneder. Første utgave inneholder flere meget lovende artikler. Selv ser jeg særlig frem til å lese Mikel Burleys "Contemplating Evil" og Stephen Mulhalls "Realism, Modernism and the Realistic Spirit: Diamond's Inheritance of Wittgenstein, Early and Late", som Lars Hertzberg har diskutert her.