[Topics: Death, Materialism, Philosophy of Religion, Reincarnation]
Pop Philosophy:

The Mixed Philosophical Legacy of Alan Watts, and His Ideas about Death

 

Alan Watts Sketch by M.R.P. - Philosophy, Death, and Reincarnation

Caricature Sketch by M.R.P.
[High-res prints available here]

Introduction:

Alan Watts—in his time a popular lecturer and philosopher of mind, aesthetics, metaphysics, and religion—was a bit of an oddball. I feel fairly confident in saying that Alan Watts’ interpretations and considerations of Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, and Anglicanism, as well as his general attitude and demeanor, have to some degree shaped the popular image of the field of philosophy (and not for the better).

Much like how producers of pop culture almost always put poet characters in the emotional style and darkly colored trappings of the mid-twentieth-century confessional and beat poets, so the string of airy, unintuitive, and completely self-assured claims that constitute Watts’ works give shape to the nebulous and impractical stereotype of the discipline of philosophy possessed by so many modern students of science in the western world.

It is irrelevant that most of the aforementioned producers and students are not consciously picturing such forebears (in fact, I find it unlikely that most of them have even heard of Robert Lowell or Alan Watts); still, to find the source for a society’s image of an academic pursuit, one often need look no further than the best-selling popularizers of that field in the few preceding generations. These days, philosophical characters seem to always be a caricature of either Freud, Marx, or Watts. (Indeed, the 2013 science-fiction film HerAlan Watts - Philosophy, Death, and Reincarnation featured an artificially intelligent philosopher who was a reconstruction of the consciousness of Alan Watts.)

Now, because I have already, on multiple occasions in this series, concluded that scientists should study philosophy and philosophers should study science, I will let go of these digressions and move on to my main topic for the day: Alan Watts’ discussion of death. I should start by clarifying that, although he and I would have no end of disagreements, I do still respect Alan Watts; he was a sincere thinker and a captivating speaker.

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[Topics: Death, Materialism, Philosophy of Religion, Reincarnation]
Pop Philosophy:

The Mixed Philosophical Legacy of Alan Watts, and His Ideas about Death

was last modified: June 20th, 2017 by Daniel Podgorski

[{Interview}] [Topics: Existentialism, Philosophy of Art, Utopia, Utilitarianism]

Interview with Nabra Nelson,

A Theatre Professional who Calls Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World a Utopia, Not a Dystopia

 

Introduction:

Brave New World book cover - Nabra Nelson - Aldous Huxley - utopia vs. dystopiaThe philosophical issues raised by Aldous Huxley’s Brave New WorldNabra Nelson - Aldous Huxley - Brave New World - utopia vs. dystopia are myriad, touching on everything from the philosophy of science to metaethics. As it stands, Brave New World is often named one of the three great dystopian novels of the twentieth century, alongside We by Yevgeny ZamyatinNabra Nelson - Aldous Huxley - Brave New World - utopia vs. dystopia and 1984 by George OrwellNabra Nelson - Aldous Huxley - Brave New World - utopia vs. dystopia. The subject of today’s article is an interview with daring young theatre director Nabra Nelson. What interested me in pursuing this interview is that I became aware that Nelson—approaching Brave New World from what in philosophical terms is essentially an existentialist and pragmatic perspective—considers the society in Huxley’s novel to be a utopia rather than a dystopia. So I sat down with Nabra Nelson at the Casa Escobar Inn in Malibu, California to ask her about her peculiar take on this classic novel.

The Interview:

Hello, Nabra. Thanks for taking the time to meet with me today. The meat of our discussion is a novel by Aldous Huxley: Brave New World, sometimes called one of the three greatest dystopias of the twentieth century. But as I understand it, you wouldn’t even call it a dystopia. From your perspective, this might stand alongside works in an older genre (begun by Thomas More’s original UtopiaNabra Nelson - Aldous Huxley - Brave New World - utopia vs. dystopia) as a vision of an actual utopian society—regardless of Huxley’s own position. Could you start by talking in general about your experience of reading the novel, and how you came to this conclusion?

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[{Interview}] [Topics: Existentialism, Philosophy of Art, Utopia, Utilitarianism]

Interview with Nabra Nelson,

A Theatre Professional who Calls Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World a Utopia, Not a Dystopia

was last modified: November 11th, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski

[Topics: Assumption, Evidence, Skepticism, Belief]
The Least Assumptions:

Cartesian Skepticism, and Reducing Guesses and Assertions in a Belief Network to the Minimum

 

Portrait of René Descartes after Frans Hals - minimizing assumptions

Portrait of René Descartes (based on the painting by Frans Hals)

Introduction:

I closed the examination of pragmatic ethics in the previous article by saying that this time I would talk about “the one and only assumption I am always willing to make (and the only assumption that you should ever be willing to stand by).” So I’m going to do just that. But before getting to that one assumption, I want to make a few remarks about why it is important to minimize assumptions when forming beliefs.

As René Descartes famously observed, it is always striking how very much of what any given person claims to know (and so believe) rests upon a network of baseless or near-baseless assumptions, assertions, and heuristics so densely matted together that the person fails to realize that there is no actual solidity to its foundation whatsoever. An important feature of this nebulous nest of guesses and half-considered notions is the redundant and overlapping (if occasionally contradicting) nature of its constituent elements. It is just such a nest to which I aim to provide a superior alternative.

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[Topics: Assumption, Evidence, Skepticism, Belief]
The Least Assumptions:

Cartesian Skepticism, and Reducing Guesses and Assertions in a Belief Network to the Minimum

was last modified: March 11th, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski

[Topics: Contractarian Ethics, Culture, Moral Anti-realism, Morality]
Common Phenomena:

A Brief Introduction to Moral Anti-realist Contractarian Ethics

 

Shelly Kagan - contractarian ethicsBack near the beginning of November, I wrote an article on the is-ought problem and moral anti-realism. In that article, I concluded that the moral anti-realist is free to continue speaking of moral oughts as long as their conception of an ought is something rather like a phenomenologically considered is. Humans without moral realism, I concluded, would still have means for an ethics that is contractarian in nature.

This contractarian ethical system would result from an understanding of morality which is in part functionally objective and entirely intersubjective. If you’re not sure what I mean by ‘functionally objective’ or ‘intersubjective,’ don’t worry; I’ll cover each of them in turn right now.

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[Topics: Contractarian Ethics, Culture, Moral Anti-realism, Morality]
Common Phenomena:

A Brief Introduction to Moral Anti-realist Contractarian Ethics

was last modified: February 11th, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski

[Topics: Culture, Epistemology, Philosophy of Language, Truth]
Truth and Lies in a Genealogical Sense:

Tracing Friedrich Nietzsche’s Discussion of Truth through his Life (by Considering Two of his Texts)

 

Friedrich Nietzsche Sketch by M.R.P. - On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense - On the Genealogy of Morality

Caricature Sketch by M.R.P.
[High-res prints available here]

Introduction:

Friedrich Nietzsche’s writing is constantly concerned with tracing the development of ontological and epistemological phenomena as the result of interactions among humans. His conclusions often paint the developments he observes as being rendered inevitable by the nature of human will, knowledge, and consciousness. Because of this fascination with the developmental history of concepts, Nietzsche is always in the mode of thinking which may be termed genealogical.

Indeed, well before his explicit discourse tracing the source of intellectual constructs and moral underpinnings in On the Genealogy of Morality, the early Nietzsche is thinking along the same lines, if not in precisely the same terms, in, for instance, his essay, “On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense.” Despite the aforementioned observable inevitability in Nietzsche’s account for the rise and implementation of the concept of truth, Nietzsche is never forgiving or conciliatory toward humanity for its unwillingness to discard their basic assumptions, nor even to acknowledge them as such. This is in spite of Nietzsche’s apparent awareness, as evidenced in Ecce Homo, that he is a singular thinker whose example and legacy will be no small task to parse. Yet the treatment of truth in these texts is not identical.

Whereas in the earlier essay Nietzsche is more interested in the exact method by which truth is constructed, the later work underscores instead the dangers of appealing to truth as the justification for one’s pursuits; meanwhile, both works are concerned with envisioning the sort of person who faces reality without traditional truth as its basis, in the former termed the “intuitive man” and in the latter the “thinkers” (contrasted with adherents to an ascetic ideal).

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[Topics: Culture, Epistemology, Philosophy of Language, Truth]
Truth and Lies in a Genealogical Sense:

Tracing Friedrich Nietzsche’s Discussion of Truth through his Life (by Considering Two of his Texts)

was last modified: May 12th, 2017 by Daniel Podgorski