Archive for the 'methodology' Category


A change of strategy

I am finding that I am reading much faster than I am able to find the time to write here. This makes my original plan for this blog–to begin with a thorough, linear exegesis of various philosophical notes–very unpractical. Updates have been too slow to be any sign of progress.

So I think I will table that method for now.

A more realistic and interesting (for me) way to use this space is to actively work on some ideas that past readings have already inspired. I will attempt to apply the same amount of rigor to these problems, but my coverage of any particular work will be more sporadic, and I expect that for some time topics will appear disjointed. I may resort to using this space for notes; if I do so, I will make an effort to elaborate on them later, or incorporate them into some larger statement.

I think that this sort of work will likely hold my interest better, and maybe ultimately be of more use.


The Society of the Spectacle, 1:2

The images detached from every aspect of life fuse in a common stream in which the unity of this life can no longer be reestablished. Reality considered partially unfolds, in its own general unity, as a pseudo-world apart, an object of mere contemplation. The specialization of images of the world is completed in the world of the autonomous image, where the liar has lied to himself. The spectacle in general, as the concrete inversion of life, is the autonomous movement of the non-living. (TSOTS, 1:2)


I have no idea what Debord is talking about. What should one do in this situation?

But since we are experimenting with methodology here, let’s try this: just as before we have kept a record of the propositions we have gleaned from our sources, let’s keep track of the questions our sources raise in a similar way. Here is my list for this section:

(TSOTS-1:2-A-?) “The images detached from every aspect of life fuse in a common stream in which the unity of this life can no longer be reestablished.” What does this mean?

(TSOTS-1:2-B-?) “Reality considered partially unfolds, in its own general unity, as a pseudo-world apart, an object of mere contemplation.” What does this mean?

(TSOTS-1:2-C-?) “The specialization of images of the world is completed in the world of the autonomous image, where the liar has lied to himself.” What does this mean?

(TSOTS-1:2-D-?) “The spectacle in general, as the concrete inversion of life, is the autonomous movement of the non-living.” What does this mean?

This may not look like progress, but I am guessing this sort of record keeping may aid us in the future.


Propositional knowledge and beliefs

Our knowledge has a propositional structure; beliefs can be represented in the form of statements. I shall presuppose this concept of knowledge without further clarification…’ (TOCA, 8 )

Habermas is reluctant to elaborate on this presupposition. Thankfully, Christopher Hill, in Thought and World (T&W), isn’t:

When one has a belief, one is thereby related to a proposition. Thus, for example, if one believes that the universe is expanding, one stands in a certain psychological relation, the relation of believing, to the proposition that the universe is expanding. (T&W, 1)

Hill fleshes out what he means by “proposition” by making some assumptions about them:

…I will assume that that [propositions] have logical structure, and that concepts are their fundamental building blocks. ….
The assumption that propositions have logical structure should be stressed. It is intended in a very strong sense — specifically, as claiming that it is appropriate to view propositions as having constituent structures that parallel the logical structures of sentences. It is meant to entail, for example, that it is appropriate to regard the proposition Hannibal crossed the Alps and Caesar crossed the Rubicon as a complex structure consisting of two simpler propositions and a logical concept (the concept of conjunction). It is also meant to entail that it is appropriate to think of each of the simpler propositions as having an internal logical organization, an organization that can be expressed by saying that the proposition consists of two nominal concepts and a predicative concept that plays the role of a transitive verb. (T&W, 2-3)

The congruence between Habermas’ brief characterization of the propositional nature of beliefs (“beliefs can be represented in the form of statements”) and Hill’s characterization of the nature of propositions makes it tempting to conflate the two positions; so tempting, in fact, that I’m going to do it until it gets me into trouble. One of the purposes of this blog is to trace the extraction of a philosophical theory from the various sources that it draws from in a disciplined way. To this end, I will list some of the positions that have come up (at least under a cursory interpretation of the sources) so far below:

(T&W-1) When one has a belief, one is related in a certain way (the relation of believing) to a proposition.
(T&W-2) Concepts are the fundamental building blocks of propositions.
(T&W-3) Propositions have structure that parallels the logical structure of the sentences.

(TOCA-8-A) Beliefs can be represented in the form of statements.


Beginning without foundations

We have to bear in mind that philosophical thought, which has surrendered the relation to totality, also loses its self-sufficiency. To the goal of formally analyzing the conditions of rationality, we can tie neither ontological hopes for substantive theories of nature, history, society, and so forth, nor transcendental-philosophical hopes for an aprioristic reconstruction of the equipment of the nonempirical species subject, of consciousness in general. All attempts at discovering ultimate foundations … have broken down. In this situation, the way is opening to a new constellation in the relationship of philosophy and the sciences. (TOCA, 2)

In Habermas’ introduction to The Theory of Communicative Action, he pronounces that an old conception of philosophy has failed. Under this conception, the philosophy is intellectually primary. It provides the grounds on and means with which we can build an ontological or transcendental theory; this latter theory in turn provides the grounds and means for natural and social sciences. All knowledge stems from basic philosophical knowledge.

When this foundationalist approach fails, as Habermas claims it has, how can we recover? One option is that we declare the entire project of the search for truth to be a failure. This is skepticism or nihilism.

But for the purposes of the inquiry of this blog, let us proceed instead with a more hopeful course. Rather than denying ourselves access to the world for lack of grounds, we can instead be more risky and promiscuous in our choice of grounds. We can tentatively hold the claims from a wide variety of sources–philosophy, psychology, social theory, methodologies of every stripe–as unproblematic, and see where the force of their arguments takes us. If a starting point leads to a contradiction or is confronted with a compelling argument against it, then we can always revise our position on the fly.

Of course, this fallibilist and anti-foundationalist methodology applies to itself.


What I am reading, and how I will read it

One purpose for this blog: it is a space where I can interrogate philosophical texts in a thorough, public, and disciplined way.

There are two books that I have begun recently that I intend to give special attention to here. The first is J├╝rgen Habermas’ The Theory of Communicative Action. I think I have a good idea about what to expect from this book, and I suspect that the positions Habermas expresses in his opus will be very compatible with many that I already have (partially because my own current views have been informed by some other works by Habermas, as well as some secondary readings). On the other hand, after reading just a little bit of the first chapter, I have some disagreements with some of Habermas’ basic presuppositions. Some time in the near future, I’ll explain those complaints.

At this point, I admire Habermas from afar, so to speak. I haven’t read much by him, but I hear that his theory is a grand synthesis of many other intellectual traditions–including Marxism, analytic philosophy of language, American pragmatism, sociology, and so on. I appreciate this interdisciplinary approach and humbly hope to work in a similarly open way here. I also hope to justify this methodology in some future post.

The second book is Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle. Whereas I’ve taken up Habermas expecting him to resonate, Debord is a wild card for me. I have picked him up hoping he will take a position that I will find very challenging.

In both cases, I intend to post responses to my recent reading in a systematic and, initially, linear way.