Damn the Absolute!

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In the process of creating political worldviews, there are a variety of values we integrate and use as foundational. Liberty, equality, fraternity, and solidarity are commonly held political values in both the United States and Europe. But what might it look like for one to create a political worldview informed by uncertainty, not just as a reality of life to be accepted, but even as a central guiding principle in one’s politics? In this episode of Damn the Absolute!, Jeffrey Howard talks with Daniel Wortel-London. Daniel is a historian of urban economics and political economy based in New York City. He received his Phd from NYU in 2020. Together they examine how a cadre of thinkers around the turn of the twentieth century, including the pragmatist philosopher John Dewey, created a political, ethical, and philosophical framework with uncertainty at its center.  They consider the benefits and dangers of a politics of uncertainty and what we can do to engage with uncertainty in an intelligent and non-dogmatic way. This discussion includes forays into land value taxes, social democratic policies, and progressive politics. Show Notes: Howard Zinn Michel Foucault "Essential vs. Accidental Properties" from The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2016) The Public and Its Problems by John Dewey (1954) "Twilight of Idols" by Randolph Bourne (1917) Uncertain Victory: Social Democracy and Progressivism in European and American Thought, 1870-1920 by James T. Kloppenberg (1986) The Promise of Pragmatism: Modernism and the Crisis of Knowledge and Authority by John Patrick Diggins (1994) "A Land Value Tax Fosters Stronger Communities" by Matthew Downhour (2020) Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking by William James (1907) Henry George Max Weber "The Uses of Anger" by Audre Lorde (1981) "The Uses of Binary Thinking" by Peter Elbow (1993) John Dewey W.E.B. Du Bois Karl Marx
What has happened to the political left since the 1960s? What distinguishes the reformist left from the cultural left? What does it mean for a leftist to have "national pride"? Are metaphysicians more prone to violence? In the very first episode of Damn the Absolute!, Jeffrey Howard speaks with Adrian Rutt, a philosophy professor in Cleveland, Ohio. He is president of the Western Reserve Philosophical Society, a local group that engages the larger community in important conversations across philosophy and politics. Adrian is also an editor for Liberal Currents, an online publication defending liberal principles and institutions. We explore the political thought of the iconoclastic philosopher Richard Rorty. And specifically, we look at his 1998 book, Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America. Produced by Erraticus.   Show Notes: "Rorty on Religion and Politics" by Jeffrey Stout in The Philosophy of Richard Rorty (2010) "Post-ontological Philosophy of Mind: Rorty versus Davidson" by Bjorn Ramberg in Rorty and His Critics (2000) Defending Rorty: Pragmatism and Liberal Virtue by William Curtis (2015) Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America by Richard Rorty (1998) Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity by Richard Rorty (1989) “Lessons for the Left: Achieving Our Country Revisited” by Adrian Rutt (2020) “America Needs a Conservative Labor Movement” by Oren Cass (2020) Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature by Richard Rorty (1979) Richard Rorty: The Making of an American Philosopher by Neil Gross (2008)  Pragmatic Liberalism and the Critique of Modernity by Gary Gutting (1999)
Many Western philosophers have approached questions of knowledge conceiving of truth as something that is “out there,” unchangeable, abstract, and universal. There is an inherent structure in the universe and we must discover what exactly it is. One merely needs to uncover a segment of the structure of the universe and the rest of truth will reveal itself. In this tradition, truth is viewed as foundational and essential. Truth can be reasoned to from the solitude of one’s desk. Experience doesn’t change truth, doesn’t touch it. Truths just need to be gathered in. In other words, obtaining truth means getting the concepts in our minds to mirror or correspond to that which exists “out there” in reality. According to this view, an individual’s reason can carry them to the whole of noble, perfect truth.  By contrast, pragmatist philosophers like Charles Sanders Peirce argue that the pursuit of truth is a collective endeavor manifesting in what he calls “the community of inquirers.” No single individual has a totalized view of reality. In a world that is constantly changing and malleable, we must turn toward experience, pushing against the ease of abstractions moving into the messy realities of existence. Inquiry is not just experiential but experimental. We test out the truth qualities and meaning of our ideas according to their practical consequences, and not what is supposed a priori. By expanding our community of fellow inquirers, we expose ourselves to a wider range of experiences that can tell us a bit more about the practical consequences of ideas in the lives of many people, across many times, and within particular places. Lived experiences matter. Jeffrey Howard speaks with David O'Hara, Professor of Philosophy, Classics, and Environmental Studies at Augustana University in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. He is also Chair of the Department of Religion, Philosophy, and Classics, and directs programs in Environmental Studies and Sustainability. A scholar of Charles Sanders Peirce, Plato, and C.S. Lewis, his current research focuses on the relationships between fish and forests.  He introduces us to pragmatism, or pragmaticism, as Peirce eventually came to call his philosophy in an effort to differentiate his views from those of fellow pragmatist William James. In addition to elaborating on what the pragmatic maxim offers us, O’Hara emphasizes the communitarian ethos necessary for satisfactory inquiry. Central to Peirce’s notion of inquiry are the values of inclusion, humility, and love, which are for both Peirce and O’Hara informed by their pragmatist views on scripture.  Complete truth is an infinite horizon we’ll encounter at “the end of inquiry,” to borrow Peirce’s term, a future that we’ll likely never arrive at. But who is included in the community of inquirers? How are we to make sense of a plurality of communities? How do we preserve the integrity of the community without becoming exclusionary of other much-needed perspectives? What does it mean to be an expert in a community of divergent viewpoints? And do experts’ views receive greater weight within the community of inquirers?    Show Notes American Philosophers Read Scripture edited by Jacob L. Goodson (2020)  "How to Make Our Ideas Clear" by Charles Sanders Peirce (1878) The Future of Religion by Richard Rorty and Gianni Vattimo (2007) “The Will to Believe” by William James (1896) The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James (1902) “A Neglected Argument for the Reality of God” by Charles Sanders Peirce (1908) “Dmesis” by Charles Sanders Pierce (1892)
Early in life we learn rules for moral conduct. We are taught which actions are right and which ones are wrong. Eventually we’re able to grasp principles and closed systems that allege to hold in place the reasons for why any particular action has moral value. In philosophical terms, this might look like John Stuart Mill’s utilitarian happiness principle: an action is right insofar as it maximizes utility or pleasure for the greatest number of people. It might resemble Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative: to act only according to a maxim whereby you can will at the same time that it should become a universal law.  There is an assurance and comfort in having this sort of written in stone approach to morality. A moral reality that is unchanged, universal, enclosed in the structure of the universe. We just have to discover it, reason our way to it, and once we pen it to paper, we have moral laws we can always fall back on. This reliability and simplicity has its appeal, but what if closed moral systems are incomplete, wrongheaded? What if ethical living arises from a more ambiguous and ineffable place? What if we were instead to understand that the moral life is embedded in face-to-face interactions, that ethics is derived from a place of radical subjectivity and infinite responsibility to “the Other”? Emmanuel Levinas is a twentieth-century French philosopher who rejected rules-based notions of morality. Informed by phenomenologists like Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger, Levinas champions a subjective approach to the ethical life that demands a constant vigilance and moral responsiveness from us. The “face” is interruptive and constantly calling after us for attention. Levinas suggests an immense obligation to others that seems inexhaustible, a moral demand we’ll never be able to satisfy. Jeffrey Howard speaks with Megan Craig, a multi-media artist and associate professor of philosophy at Stony Brook University. In her book, Levinas and James: Toward a Pragmatic Phenomenology (2010), she offers us an overview of Levinas’ ethics by positioning him alongside the pragmatist philosopher William James. She does this not only to introduce Americans to an otherwise opaque and challenging continental philosopher but as a way of revealing the more practical or pragmatic elements of his ethics.   She wants us to consider what might be a more creative and vitalizing approach to ethical living, a perspective that prioritizes lived experience over moral abstractions and detached laws. Show Notes Levinas and James: Toward a Pragmatic Phenomenology by Megan Craig (2010) Existence and Existents by Emmanuel Levinas (1978) Ethics and Infinity by Emmanuel Levinas (1985) Otherwise Than Being or Beyond Essence by Emmanuel Levinas (1974) Totality and Infinity by Emmanuel Levinas (1969) Essays in Radical Empiricism by William James (1906) The Meaning of Truth by William James (1909) Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking by William James (1907) A Pluralistic Universe by William James (1908) Being and Time by Martin Heidegger (1927) Creative Evolution by Henri Bergson (1911) Time and Free Will by Henri Bergson (1889) The Writing of the Disaster by Maurice Blanchot (1980) Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman (1985) Altered Reading: Levinas and Literature by Jill Robbins (1999) The Principles of Psychology by William James (1890) “Being with Others: Levinas and Ethics of Autism” by Megan Craig (2017)  “Learning to Live with Derrida and Levinas” by Megan Craig (2018)
Theorists and activists argue that education is the bedrock of a democratic society. Having a well-educated citizenry is necessary for people to meet the demands required for democracies to thrive. In the United States, schooling is conceived of as one of the primary vehicles for educating these democratic citizens. For many who have gone through traditional schooling, physical education seems like an interruption in the school day, for better or for worse, a distraction from the rest of our formal learning. Physical education conjures up a flurry of competitive sports, dodgeball, and fitness tests. Perhaps it brings to mind anxieties around your own body composition and getting in shape, being physically fit or failing to become properly athletic. In part, this is the consequence of designing physical education with a narrow focus on physical literacy, control, efficiency, and a commitment to a contextless ideal. It could also be the byproduct of larger cultural forces obsessed with profit margins, results, and the bottom line. Contrary to this viewpoint, some educators and scholars are pushing to make physical education a more prominent contributor to democratic living.  Nate Babcock is an educator in Southern California. With 18 years experience, he is centered on broadening our views of physical education, approaching it as a way of encouraging mobility, physical and social, and democratic practices like cooperation, inclusion, dialogue, and collective exploration.  How might concepts such as bodyfulness, corporeality, and phenomenology inform a more democratic approach to physical education? What might a more expansive and democratic view of physical education look like? And how do we enlarge conceptions of physical fitness to include how we interact with one another beyond the gym and the classroom, and into our communities? Show Notes “Toward Better Whys and Whats of P.E.” by Nate Babcock (2020) Alfred North Whitehead Henri Bergson Gilles Deleuze Mae-Wan Ho John Dewey Maurice Merleau-Ponty Martin Buber Carl Rogers “Somaesthetics: A Disciplinary Proposal” by Richard Shusterman (1999) “Life and Value: A Whiteheadian Perspective” by Nathaniel Barrett "Enkinaesthesia: Proto-moral Value in Action-Enquiry and Interaction” by Susan A. J.  Stuart (2017)  "How to be an Anti-Capitalist Today" by Erik Olin-Wright (2015) “Who or What is the Self?” by Adam Robbert (2018) ”From Final Knowledge to Infinite Learning, with Chaudhuri, Whitehead, and Deleuze” by Matt Segall (2018) ”Process-Relational Philosophy as a Way of Life” by Adrian Ivakhiv (2018) I and Thou by Martin Buber (1923) Unflattening by Nick Sousanis (2015)  Bodies in Revolt: A Primer in Somatic Thinking by Thomas Hanna (1985) The Play Ethic: A Manifesto for a Different Way of Living by Pat Kane (2004) Lucretius II: An Ethics of Motion by Thomas Nail (2020) Noumenautics: Metaphysics - Meta-Ethics - Psychedelics by Peter Sjöstedt-H (2015) Ethics in John Cobb's Process Theology by Paul Custodio Bube (1989) Attunement Through the Body by Shigenori Nagatomo (1992) The Body, Self Cultivation, and Ki Energy by Yasuo Yuasa (1993) Creating Capabilities: The Human Development Approach by Martha C. Nussbaum (2013) Meaning of Life and the Universe by Mae-Wan Ho (2017)
We want to be in proper relationship with the world. In other words, we want to have as many true beliefs as possible, or, at least, fewer false beliefs. We hope the ideas we hold will suit us well for adapting to the demands of our social, moral, and physical environments. This is also true when it comes to religious beliefs, but how do we discern which ones are justified true beliefs and which ones are wrongheaded? The numberless instances of religious disagreements should cause us to seriously doubt our religious truth claims and to exercise caution when interpreting our personal religious experiences. When it comes to settling religious disagreements, how do we determine who qualifies as an epistemic peer? How seriously ought we to take the religious views of other people? In this episode, Jeffrey Howard talks with Helen De Cruz, the Danforth Chair in the Humanities at Saint Louis University. Her research is concerned with the questions of why and how humans can deal with abstract, difficult to grapple concepts such as God or mathematical objects, and how we can engage in creative endeavors such as art and philosophy. She is also working on the question of how philosophy can help in discussions in the public sphere, including her recent monograph Religious Disagreement. She has received grants from the British Academy, the American Philosophical Association, and most recently, the John Templeton Foundation for a study on the origins of human-specific morality. Her work has been published in journals such as Philosophical Studies, the American Philosophical Quarterly, and the Australasian Journal of Philosophy.  Religious experts are supposed to have privileged knowledge about religion. Yet, philosophers, including philosophers of religion, tend to hold a variety of views that mirror those of the general public. If that’s the case, are they really that expert? Furthermore, what do we do about religious disagreement among laypeople? What are we to make of the knowledge gap between novices and experts? And how can we benefit by taking the conveyed religious experiences and beliefs of other people seriously? Show Notes: Religious Disagreement by Helen De Cruz (2019) Why We Need Religion by Stephen Asma (2018) The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James (1902) The Joy of Religion: Exploring the Nature of Pleasure in Spiritual Life by Ariel Glucklich (2020) ”What Should We Do When We Disagree?” by Jennifer Lackey  (2008) “Experts and Peer Disagreement” by Jennifer Lackey (2018) Epistemic Authority: A Theory of Trust, Authority, and Autonomy in Belief by Linda Zagzebski (2012) “Numerical Cognition and Mathematical Realism” by Helen De Cruz (2016) Fits, Trances, and Visions: Experiencing Religion and Explaining Experience from Wesley to James by Ann Taves (2000)
There is a strong tension between localism or place and the overwhelming forces of globalism. We might say that in addition to living in the information age, that we find ourselves in the age of mass scale. We see it in pop culture, mass media, globalizing economies, and even in expanding bureaucratic governments. There are certainly advantages that come with scaling up, including efficiency and tapping into previously unknown capabilities, but there are also cultural and social costs that come with orienting everything toward large scales. This becomes quite apparent when considering urbanism, architecture, and the ways in which we design our cities. And all the more tangible when examining the role storefronts play in our communities. In this episode, Jeffrey Howard speaks with Jaime Izurieta. A town planner and urban designer by training, Jaime is the founder of Storefront Mastery, a creative agency that brings beauty to local economic development.  Put simply, Jaime helps local economies by creating the optimal setting for people to fall in love with their particular places. He advocates buying locally and designing cities around smaller nodes where he believes urban life actually happens, but he also acknowledges the fantastic power that larger scales can offer us. Now, how do we balance the advantages of mass scale with the unique benefits of having an eye toward the local? What is placemaking and why does fostering a sense of place matter so much? How will the pandemic change urban life? Show Notes Le Corbusier Léon Krier Discussing Le Corbusier The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton (2006) “The Mental Disorders That Gave Us Modern Architecture” by Ann Sussman & Katie Chen (2017) Cognitive Architecture: Designing for How We Respond to the Built Environment by Ann Sussman & Justin B. Hollander (2014) Architecture: Choice or Fate by Léon Krier (2008) The Timeless Way of Building by Christopher Alexander (1979) The Architecture of the City by Aldo Rossi (1982) Storefront Mastery Storefront Mastery Playbook by Jaime Izurieta (2020) Storefront Design Guidebook by Jaime Izurieta (2020)
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Podcast Details

Created by
Jeffrey Howard
Podcast Status
Potentially Inactive
Oct 7th, 2020
Latest Episode
Oct 28th, 2020
Release Period
Avg. Episode Length
About 1 hour

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