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Религиовед Дмитрий Узланер — о том, почему

религии становятся всё более опасными


Как получилось, что люди становятся религиознее, верующие — обидчивее,
и когда — чёрт возьми! — появится первая православная женщина-
священник

В конце января в Великобритании впервые в истории рукоположили женщину-епископа, и это


вызвало бурную дискуссию среди верующих. Без Русской православной церкви уже не
обходится, кажется, ни один выпуск новостей: представители РПЦ критикуют закон о
домашнем насилии, предлагают запретить бесплатные аборты, запрещают рекламную
инсталляцию «Око Саурона». Религия не сдаёт позиции: число верующих растёт,
религиозность то и дело принимает экстремистские формы — от срывающих концерты
православных активистов до исламских фанатиков, которые объявляют себя верховными
правителями всех истинных мусульман и мстят за оскорбительные карикатуры.

The Village узнал у главного редактора журнала «Государство, религия, церковь» доцента
Российской академии народного хозяйства и государственной службы (РАНХиГС) Дмитрия
Узланера о том, почему верующих всё больше, в чём опасность присоединения Крыма для РПЦ
и как так получилось, что в христианстве больше женщин, а в исламе — мужчин.
О том, почему стало так много верующих
— Даже если не брать ислам, мы же постоянно вынуждены читать и
обсуждать религиозные новости: церковь то, церковь сё. Как получилось,
что мир стал так повёрнут на религии? Казалось бы, XXI век, мы уже
расшифровываем ДНК и при этом до сих пор спорим о Коране или
Библии.
— Если верить социологам, то с 1970-х годов количество людей, ассоциирующих себя со
словом «верующий», выросло. А количество тех, кто ассоциирует себя с атеизмом и неверием,
уменьшилось. Из десяти живущих сегодня на Земле восемь-девять относят себя к той или иной
религии. Это просто статистика. Религиозные сообщества и люди, которые эти сообщества
представляют (назовём их капитанами религиозной индустрии или религиозными
предпринимателями), опираются на этот человеческий ресурс и превращаются в очень
успешные группы влияния с богатым арсеналом средств воздействия: от увещевательных до,
скажем так, неправовых. Что и показали последние события во Франции.

— То есть главы религиозных сообществ — это не обязательно муллы,


пасторы или священники?
— Один из ключевых вопросов здесь — кто является легитимным представителем религиозных
сообществ? Кто имеет право говорить от лица верующих? Грубо говоря, кто имеет право выйти
под камеру и сказать: «Мы, мусульмане, возмущены», — или: «Мы, православные,
возмущены»? Это чуть ли не главный вопрос.

— Как вы на него отвечаете?


— Право говорить от лица гигантской группы — это мощнейший ресурс и колоссальная
власть. За неё идёт борьба. Когда во Франции расстреляли редакцию журнала Charlie Hebdo,
европейцы, да и мы вслед за ними, начали с какого-то перепуга говорить о границах свободы
слова, о недопустимости изображать пророка Мухаммеда и покушаться на святыни. Но при чём
здесь вообще свобода слова и самовыражения, которой мы якобы злоупотребляем? Посмотрите
список убитых во время нападения на Charlie Hebdo: кто-то может сказать, какие именно
карикатуры нарисовали данные конкретные убитые люди? Какие карикатуры нарисовал
полицейский, которого расстреляли буквально в упор? Какие карикатуры нарисовали
посетители магазина кошерной еды, который был захвачен? И, кстати, какие карикатуры
рисовали московские водители, убитые бандой GTA (судя по всему, тренировавшейся перед
поездкой в ИГИЛ)? Это всё звенья одной грёбаной цепи.
Заговорив о свободе слова, мы опознали в этом террористическом акте недовольство
мусульман и фактически признали право террористов-радикалов стать их голосом. Когда мы в
ответ на террористический акт начинаем думать, как мы виноваты, мы фактически
легитимируем радикалов — людей, которые используют шантаж, убийство, насилие для того,
чтобы выигрывать в борьбе за власть. Теперь варвары из подземелий Ирака будут диктовать
всему миру, что думают мусульмане и что надо сделать, чтобы не испытать их праведный
гнев. А голос интеллигентных образованных верующих затихнет. Вы говорите, что мы
научились расшифровывать ДНК, но это происходит в относительно небольшой части земного
шара. А мир в целом уже давно стал тем, что Маршалл Маклюэн называл глобальной деревней:
продвинутые учёные благодаря интернету оказываются нос к носу с жителями кишлаков и
аулов. Немецкий школьник рисует на парте глупую карикатуру, а на следующий день в Египте
сжигают немецкое посольство. То, что происходит во Франции, мгновенно отзывается по всему
миру. Когда не было такой степени глобальности, можно было жить внутри Европы, ходить
друг к другу в гости, пить чай с вареньем и думать, что мир движется к прогрессу и
просвещению. Но сейчас мы смотрим на мир в целом и видим, что это не так.

— Но как так получилось, что в 70-х люди становились более


религиозными? Чего им не хватало?
— Отчасти это связано с разочарованием в светских идеологиях и мировоззрениях (будь то
сциентизм, позитивизм, социализм). Почему-то людей больше не очень вдохновляет, например,
исторический и диалектический материализм. Да и за коммунизм тоже не так много желающих
бороться. Альтернативой становится, например, политический ислам или политическое
православие. Фактически политический ислам выражает те же чаяния, которые раньше
выражал социализм. Это главное антисистемное движение начала XXI века. По Ближнему
Востоку можно видеть, как социалистические партии уходят, а на смену им приходят партии,
которые уже основаны на исламе. Социалист Асад, отчаянно отбивающийся от исламистов, —
хороший символ происходящих процессов.

— В будущем, получается, мир будет ещё более религиозным?


— Трудно прогнозировать. Если предположить, что ничего не изменится и мир будет
развиваться так же, как сегодня, то мир в 2050 году будет более религиозным. Религиозные
люди рожают больше детей. Другое дело, что дети вырастают и часто отказываются от тех
религий, в которых их воспитывали, поэтому будущее открыто.

Теперь варвары из подземелий Ирака будут диктовать


всему миру, что думают мусульмане и что надо сделать,
чтобы не испытать их праведный гнев

О непривлекательности атеизма
— Почему атеизм непопулярен?
— Судя по известным мне исследованиям, религиозность — более естественное состояние для
человека, чем атеизм. Чтобы быть религиозным (хотя бы даже в смысле суеверности), не надо
прилагать никаких особых усилий, а вот для того, чтобы стать атеистом и вжиться в научное
мировоззрение, надо проделать над собой достаточно серьёзную работу. Поэтому атеисты
будут в меньшинстве, но и верующих, которые осмысленно подходят к христианству, буддизму
или исламу, также будет не много. А большинство будет склоняться к специфической
естественной религиозности в духе суеверий и этноконфессиональных обычаев.

— Не связана ли эта заинтересованность в религии с тем, что вторая


половина XX века — это время урбанизации, и у нового городского
жителя просто размывается идентичность? То есть на вопрос социолога «К
какой вере вы себя относите?» человек ответит: «Я — православный», —
хотя на второй вопрос, «Верите ли вы в бога?», может ответить: «Нет», —
как в опросе «Левада-центра», когда 40 % «православных» признались, что
не верят в бога.
— Согласен, люди нуждаются в идентичности. Но тут возникает проблема. Никто не знает, что
означает слово «верующий» или слово «православный»: ни учёные, ни сами люди, ни церкви.
Это такие понятия, которые вроде бы что-то значат, но до конца понять, что именно,
невозможно. Мы можем сказать, что какое-то количество людей идентифицируют или же не
идентифицируют себя с данным набором звуков или букв. Но попробуйте сами себе задать
вопрос «Верю ли я в бога?». Вы сразу же утонете в сотне вопросов: что такое бог? Откуда я
знаю о его существовании? Действительно ли я верю? Действительно ли я верю так, как
должен верить православный? Поиск ответов на эти вопросы может занять целую жизнь, а мы
имеем дело с блиц-интервью с людьми, спешащими по своим делам.

— Но вы как религиовед знаете, кто такие верующие?


— Я могу вам дать миллион определений. Но когда определений миллион, значит, их нет
вообще. Короче говоря, я не знаю, кто такие верующие. Просто этот набор звуков сегодня в
моде. А дальше уже появляются те самые религиозные предприниматели, которые пытаются
это слово повернуть так, как им выгодно. Одним сегодня выгодно, чтобы православных
верующих в России было 80 %. Завтра им будет выгодно, чтобы верующих было 2 %. Тогда
верующих будут понимать другим способом. Мы как учёные можем лишь наблюдать за ходом
этой борьбы и делать для себя какие-то пометки. Людям свойственно бездумно бросаться
словами, например словом «верующий». А потом это слово хватает их и начинает вовлекать в
водоворот, которым эти люди уже не управляют. Назвался верующим — что ж, будь готов, что
тебе сейчас объяснят, что делать. Например, будь готов оскорбляться.

Об обидчивости верующих
— Ну да, оскорбление чувств верующих.
— Религиозные чувства — это абсолютный новодел, который преподносится как аутентичный
и чуть ли не традиционный способ переживания своей веры. Кощунство, богохульство — знаю.
А вот оскорблённых религиозных чувств — не знаю. Это какое-то новшество XX века с его
эмоциональной духовностью. Вместо умных религий (да просто посмотрите на историю
христианской мысли) мы имеем дело с религиозными истеричками, не способными совладать
со своими эмоциями. Этими эмоциями к тому же легко манипулировать. Датский
карикатурный скандал вырос именно из такой манипуляции: когда в 2005 году в датской газете
Jyllands Posten только появились карикатуры, ничего особенного не случилось.
Карикатурная интифада началась только тогда, когда группа исламских религиозных
предпринимателей начала активничать: появился составленный ими документ о положении
ислама в Европе, где к реальным карикатурам были добавлены ещё несколько выдуманных
(например, пророк с пятачком свиньи). Вообще, религия — это очень опасная штука, и
относиться к ней надо серьёзно. Грань между курсами по изучению Корана и участием в
революционном джихаде, между набожностью и помешательством чрезвычайно тонкая.
Можно баловаться всякими историософскими концепциями про Третий Рим, Святую Русь и
Русский мир, а потом начинается война с соседом.

В основе религиозности лежит опыт переживания


запредельного, но заправляют религиями по
преимуществу сами люди

— Если мы уже заговорили о России, хотелось бы уточнить: та


увлечённость нашего государства православием, их сближение — это
началось в 2000-е?
— Почему только в 2000-е? Нет у Русской православной церкви за плечами модели
взаимоотношений с государством иной, чем та, которую она с вариациями всё время пытается
воспроизвести. Комфортнее всего под крылом государства, даже если это государство бьёт и
истязает. Так было всегда. Откуда возьмётся альтернатива? Да и с какой стати государству
отпускать от себя такой ресурс? По идее, здесь должна включаться теология, которая может
продумать христианское понимание природы государства, в том числе государства
авторитарного и тоталитарного, и предложить альтернативные модели позиционирования
церкви. Например, предполагающие некоторую автономию, на случай если государство слетает
с катушек. А если теологии, да и вообще традиции рефлексии нет, то откуда взяться
альтернативам? Теологию включили в перечень научных дисциплин (25 января 2015 года
Высшая аттестационная комиссия (ВАК) утвердила теологию в качестве научной
дисциплины, без присуждения кандидатских и докторских степеней. — Прим. ред.), а самой
теологии как не было, так и нет, а она нужна.

— Но вот в Польше во время коммунистического режима католической


церкви удалось стать оплотом диссидентов. Если ты религиозный, значит,
по умолчанию диссидент. Значит, существуют какие-то альтернативы.
— В СССР интеллигенция тоже находила в религии источник сопротивления
коммунистической идеологии. Если говорить о взаимоотношениях церкви с государством в
советское время, то, знаете, когда ты сидишь в яме с агрессивным медведем, который на твоих
глазах уже разорвал кучу народу, срабатывает инстинкт самосохранения. Тех, кто
сопротивлялся, уничтожили или как-то иначе вывели из игры, остались лишь изначально
согласные сотрудничать. Но есть и другая проблема: близость к государству — в том числе и
советскому — иногда очень даже выгодна. Например, для борьбы с конкурентами. Украинская
греко-католическая церковь была в 1946 году благополучно упразднена совместными усилиями
церкви и государства. Отчасти в этом корень многих сегодняшних бед.

— Хорошо, я поняла: так исторически сложилось, что у нас церковь в


подчинённом положении по отношению к власти. Но почему она не может
оставаться в сфере частной жизни? Почему церковь уже и в образовании, и
в праве, и «Левиафана» обсуждает, и «Око Саурона» вешать не даёт?
Человек, который, может, и не против церкви, уже сидит и думает:
«Доколе?»
— А почему она должна ограничиваться частной жизнью? В каком законе это написано?
Верующие такие же граждане, как и все остальные. У них могут быть самые разные, в том
числе и не самые приятные, мнения по разным вопросам. Их присутствие в публичном
пространстве — это норма демократического государства. С другой стороны, надо знать, где
остановиться. Но если внутри нет никаких ограничителей, почему бы и не поговорить от лица
всей нации? Вообще, не надо смотреть на религии как на что-то мистическое и загадочное. В
основе религиозности лежит опыт переживания запредельного, но заправляют религиями всё
же по преимуществу сами люди. А людьми зачастую движут обычные человеческие мотивы:
расширение сферы влияния, жажда власти, денег, в конце концов. Если есть возможность
захватить в сферу своего влияния как можно больше ресурсов, почему бы этого не сделать?
Чтобы эти ограничители появились, нужна рефлексия, нужна теология, нужен интеллект.

— Да, но эти теологи будут из той же Русской православной церкви. Вы


думаете, они будут объяснять, почему не надо вводить основы православия
в школах?
— Я не знаю, что именно они будут объяснять, но есть серьёзные, в том числе богословские,
причины, по которым от государства и от государственных школ лучше держаться подальше.
Особенно в России.

— Почему?
— Например, один из самых интересных ныне живущих американских богословов Стэнли
Хауэрвас критиковал идею христианской молитвы в стенах государственных школ. Причём по
совершенно теологическим соображениям: он хотел, чтобы христианская молитва оставалась
просто молитвой, а не превращалась в средство сплочения и укрепления «христианской
нации». Внятная, разумная позиция. Внутри сегодняшнего православия много умных и
интеллигентных людей, которые прекрасно понимают всю опасность близости к государству.

Про украинскую паству РПЦ


— Сегодня у стороннего наблюдателя создаётся впечатление, что умное и
интеллигентное православие куда-то пропало, задавлено.
— Знаете, умное и интеллигентное задавлено не только в православии. Вообще, суд над Pussy
Riot стал знаковым событием: он ознаменовался появлением группы активных православных
мирян, которые позволили себе публично не соглашаться с позицией официальных лиц и —
более того — активно от этой позиции дистанцироваться. Обособление этой группы набирает
ход. Это люди, которые сегодня, например, возражают против войны в Украине. И встаёт
вопрос: куда девать этих людей внутри РПЦ? Куда девать тех, кто не вписывается в новый
посткрымский консенсус? Что делать с теми, кто, так сказать, не готов в полной мере разделить
ответственность за абортирование из западной цивилизации? Если мы изолируемся от мира, то
как быть, например, с тем фактом, что Церковь у нас соборная кафолическая вселенская (как
сказано в «Символе веры»)?

По идее, она должна объединять всех правоверных, а не только тех, кто проживает на
территории Российской Федерации. Что делать с теми верующими, которые принадлежат к
Украинской православной церкви Московского патриархата? Они ведь смотрят и не понимают,
как им быть: с одной стороны, они вроде бы лояльны Москве, с другой — лояльны тому
государству, в котором живут. Сама РПЦ оказывается в сложной ситуации: с одной стороны,
она должна привычно поддержать государство, с другой — поддержать государство значит в
некотором смысле предать часть своей паствы, которая находится в Украине. А ведь есть же
ещё и Белоруссия. Просто очевидный пример того, как интересы государства и церкви
расходятся. К вопросу о том, почему к государству надо относиться осторожно.

Поддержать государство — значит в некотором


смысле предать часть своей паствы, которая
находится в Украине

Про РПЦ и права человека


— Вы общаетесь с представителями РПЦ. Как у них всё внутри устроено?
Они зеркалят систему власти — там та же бюрократия и строгая
подчинённость?
— Тут вопрос ещё в том, кто кого зеркалит. Иерархичность и вертикаль власти для РПЦ,
наверное, даже более характерны, чем для российского государства. Никакой даже видимости
той демократии, которая есть в обществе, внутри церкви как бюрократической структуры нет.
Почти военная дисциплина.

— Правильно ли я понимаю, что изначально идея была хорошая —


придумать национальную идею? Поручили это сделать РПЦ, и они так ей
увлеклись, что стали говорить от имени всех россиян, в том числе тех, кто
себя с религией не ассоциирует. Как так получилось, что Россия
превратилась в православную Русь?
— Если нет никаких ограничителей, то почему бы и не поговорить? Выгоднее же говорить от
лица миллионов, а не от лица очень небольшого числа воцерковленных христиан. И дело не
только в том, от чьего лица говорить, но и в том, что говорить. Перед лицом реальной
возможности выпасть из цивилизации разговоры о самобытности и уникальности оказываются
пустышкой, под которой ничего нет. Вот есть пресловутые права человека. Их долго в России
критиковали, в том числе и с православных позиций. Даже документ есть — «Основы учения
Русской православной церкви о достоинстве, свободе и правах человека», который эти права
человека вполне так фундированно критикует и противопоставляет им учение о достоинстве.
То есть как бы в пику Европе с её правами меньшинств. Но права человека — это не просто
абстрактная философская концепция. Это концепция, подкреплённая конкретными
инстанциями, обеспечивающими соблюдение данных прав, — в том числе и на территории РФ.
Ударили вас в милиции палкой по голове, не помогли вам наши суды — всегда есть шанс
попасть в Европейский суд по правам человека в Страсбурге. Выйдет Россия из этого суда,
отринет права человека — и какие механизмы обеспечения того самого достоинства останутся?
Унизили человека в каком-нибудь дальнем отделении полиции — и куда он тогда пойдёт со
своим достоинством?

Про бездуховную Америку и Европу


— Правильно ли я понимаю, что США сейчас — самая религиозная
страна, несмотря на развитие науки и техники? Как так получилось?
— Религия важна для США с самого момента основания: люди, не находившие себе места в
далеко не самой толерантной на тот момент Европе, садились на корабли и плыли в Новый
Свет. Эти люди искали прежде всего религиозную свободу. И основывали государство на идее
религиозной свободы. Степень этой религиозной свободы для нас совершенно
немыслима: человек может поставить табуретку на улице в Нью-Йорке и начать
проповедывать. Это другая планета. Есть какой-то совершенно немыслимый религиозный
маркетинг: община хочет больше прихожан и обращается в PR-агентство, которое придумывает
рекламу, разные акции и прочие уловки для привлечения прихожан. Допустимы любые формы
выражения религиозности — от своеобразного религиозного стендапа до махания «волшебным
пиджаком». Есть такая не лишенная смысла научная теория, согласно которой чем больше
религиозное разнообразие, тем большее количество людей найдёт для себя веру по вкусу. В
Америке это разнообразие приближается к максимуму.

— Что происходит с религией в Европе? В Англии рукоположили


женщину-епископа, одобряют гей-браки. В России любят рассуждать, что
европейское христианство погубит их либерализм. И вообще, у них там
уже не христианство, а какие-то клубы по интересам.
— Мне не кажется, что христианство сводится к вопросу о женском священстве и правовом
статусе однополых сожителей. Но даже если меряться семейными ценностями, то едва ли мы
выгодно смотримся на фоне Европы. Знаете, был такой Дитрих Бонхёффер, один из
величайших теологов XX века. Его фашисты замучили за непатриотичность. Так вот у него
была интересная идея о безрелигиозном христианстве. В чём суть христианства? В особой
религиозной атрибутике и догматике, в поклонах и постах? Или, может быть, в жертвенности,
смирении, братском отношении ко всем людям, уважении к человеческой свободе? Если
христианство — это первое, то тогда Европа действительно ушла от христианства; если второе,
то Европа по-прежнему является христианской, пусть и в нерелигиозном смысле. А есть
обратное явление — религиозное нехристианство. Вроде бы всё на месте: купола позолочены,
свечки поставлены, стулья расставлены — а чего-то главного нет. По большому счету, фильм
«Левиафан» именно об этом: всё канонично и величественно, а по сути — уничтожение
человека.

Про то, почему ислам — не религия


— А что сейчас происходит с исламом?
— Начнём с того, что ислам — не религия. Под религией мы привыкли понимать
самостоятельную, обособленную сферу человеческой жизнедеятельности, отдельную от
политики, экономики, искусства, права. Религия может взаимодействовать с внерелигиозными
сферами, оказывать на них влияние, но от этого она не теряет своей обособленности.
Основатель же ислама по сути создал новое государство, учредил новый образ жизни, где вся
тотальность человеческого существования должна была соотноситься с божественной волей,
зафиксированной в Коране. Ислам — не религия в западноевропейском понимании, которое
само возникает не раньше позднего Средневековья. Христианство знает принцип «богу богово,
а кесарю кесарево», а у ислама есть с этим проблемы. Я сейчас парадоксальную мысль озвучу:
религия возникает в результате секуляризации. Если секуляризация прекратится или
повернётся вспять, то и религия исчезнет.

Политический ислам — это как раз намёк на то, что может появиться после исчезновения
религии и десекуляризации. Другое дело, что в ходе истории — а ведь исламу больше тысячи
лет — возникли разные механизмы приспособления к условиям реального мира, который не
всегда может быть приведён в соответствие с требованиями шариата. Традиционный ислам,
формировавшийся столетиями, имел инструменты нивелирования радикалистских импульсов,
преиодически вспыхивающих в любой религии. Но модернизация и вестернизация подорвали
традиционный уклад, прервали преемственность, позволявшую передавать религиозный уклад
и содержащиеся в нём предохранители от радикализма из поколения в поколения.

Джихад становится своеобразнымсоциальным лифтом:


совершил теракт,убийство — и ты уже
знаменитость

Возник феномен, который французский ученый Оливье Руа называет религией без культуры; то
есть современные технологизированные варвары, оторванные от традиционного уклада своих
предков, открывают для себя религии как бы с нуля. Буквально знают только то, что было в
этот день опубликовано на каком-то интернет-сайте, который они читали с телефона, пока
ехали домой в метро. Эти варвары затем легко вовлекаются в экстремистские группы.
Особенно если в религиозности начинают главенствовать эмоции и чувства.

— Мусульманам тоже в Европе непросто: во Франции были скандалы,


когда в мусульманских семьях убивали женщин, порочивших честь семьи.
— Как быть настоящим мусульманином и одновременно признавать светское
законодательство, которое зачастую противоречит тому, что написано в Коране? Получается,
что ты не совсем настоящий мусульманин, а настоящий мусульманин — это тот, который
сейчас воюет в «Исламском государстве». Не так уж и сложно донести эту мысль до
романтичного молодого человека, жаждущего приключений.

— Ну да. Так в Германии, во Франции, в Великобритании и вербуют


молодых людей и посылают в Сирию.
— Не только в Европе, но и в России то же самое происходит. Вообще, джихад становится
своеобразным социальным лифтом: совершил теракт, убийство — и ты уже знаменитость для
достаточно большого и влиятельного сообщества: родители хотят выдать за тебя своих
дочерей, спонсоры просят прислать им очередной бизнес-план. Это тоже надо понимать, когда
речь заходит о кощунственных карикатурах и благородной ярости мстителей.

— Чем кончится «Исламское государство?» Пока что они показывают


свою силу и запугивают людей: сбрасывают геев со зданий, забивают
женщин камнями, убивают перед камерой журналистов. Есть какие-то
способы их утихомирить?
— Мы уже поняли, что тамошние мусульмане хорошо воюют. Но могут ли они создать такой
мирный уклад, от которого их детям не захочется убежать на край света? А вообще, бывают в
истории тектонические сдвиги: не было на Аравийском полуострове ничего особенного до VII
века — и вдруг бах! И через 150 лет уже империя на полмира. Или Александр Македонский:
кто его дернул идти походом на Восток? А ведь пошёл и создал империю, соединившую
Восток с Западом, что во многом предопределило ход истории — как минимум религиозной. В
истории происходят периодические вспышки активности. Можно для успокоения
предпринимать какие-то действия, но если мы имеем дело с исторической неизбежностью, то
надо готовиться к столкновению. К тому, что мир уже никогда не будет прежним.

Про то, почему сложно быть воцерковленным мачо


— Что сейчас происходит с наукой о религии?
— Она становится более востребованной. Если нерв истории снова бьётся где-то близко к
религиям, то и наука, их изучающая, начинает привлекать всё больше внимания. Появляется
потребность объяснить феномен религии. Модные научные направления начинают включать её
в круг своих интересов. Например, мозговеды задаются вопросом, есть ли в голове участок,
ответственный за молитву, медитацию и вообще чувство присутствия божественного.
Эволюционная биология пытается объяснить феномен религии, сопровождающей человека на
протяжении всей его истории.

— А гендерные исследования есть?


— Безусловно. Любопытно же понять, почему, например, в исламе больше мужчин, а в
христианстве — женщин.

— Почему?
— Хотя бы потому, что в исламе ты можешь одновременно быть и мачо, и верующим, а
христианство в некотором смысле феминизировалось. Мужчине-мачо трудно реализовать себя
в христианстве. Религия, которая упирает на детей, дом, семью, геев, наверное, больше
импонирует женщинам.

— Почему православная церковь так боится каких бы то ни было


изменений? В конце января Англиканская церковь рукоположила первую
женщину-епископа, и никто не умер. Нельзя сказать, что женщина-
священнослужитель — это что-то космически чуждое православию.
Известно же, что в советское время, когда не было мужчин, деревенские
женщины брали на себя функции священников: крестили детей, читали по
покойникам.
— Традиция и преемственность. Так повелось. Полагаю, никто уже и не объяснит почему. Так
отцы делали, деды. Впрочем, церковь всё равно меняется, пусть и не афишируя особо факт этих
изменений. Так что никто не знает, что будет лет через пятьдесят.
Luciano Floridi on the Philosophy of Information

The Oxford Professor of Philosophy and Ethics of Information says methods for
discussing the ethics of information technology have been latent in philosophy
from its origins.
Can you begin by saying something about the philosophy of information? When I studied philosophy there
weren’t any courses on the philosophy of information so I’m not exactly sure what it is.

The philosophy of information is a new area of research. We didn’t study it when we were students, partly because we
didn’t realise that the glasses were on our noses. There’s a lot of philosophy from the ancient Greeks to the present day
that discusses what we now think of as the philosophy of information, it’s just that it wasn’t called that, and the focus
of our society, our cultural interest, wasn’t on this particular concept. But in ethics, for instance, when you discuss
what it takes to make the right decision, it takes a well-grounded rational, well-informed agent. In Epistemology the
foundation of knowledge requires some initial of information that you need to justify, warrant, and support. And so on.
The philosophical discourse has always included an interest in what we would today call information.

When I was a graduate student, I was looking for a way of discussing some of the contemporary issues of information
technology from a philosophical perspective that would be well informed by past relevant theorizing. I came across a
paper by Karl Popper entitled "Epistemology without the knowing subject," and all of a sudden I realised that if you
take the knowing subject away from epistemology all you’re left with is information. If you take away Mary from
‘Mary knows that p’ all that’s left is ‘that p’, and ‘that p’ is just that piece of information. Similarly ‘Paris is the capital
of France’ or ‘a piece of toast’ or ‘water is H2O' are just information. What I found wasn’t entirely unprecedented, but
it was a new perspective on classic issues that could engage with the problems of our time, namely the philosophy of
information.


 So it sounds as if you are saying that there’s been an ‘informational turn’ in philosophy, almost like the
linguistic turn in the 20th century, and that it’s triggered a new understanding of philosophy’s past, this time
inspired by digital technology.

That’s a very nice way of putting it. In the same sense that we’ve been doing philosophy about language forever – it’s
not like there’s no philosophy of language in Plato, in Aristotle, and in Thomas Aquinas, it’s just that it wasn’t called
‘philosophy of language’, and meaning wasn’t the central issue – likewise, the philosophy of information has been
there since day one, it’s just that it wasn’t described in those terms, it wasn’t the main focus. I inherited from my
postdoctoral mentor Michael Dummett a very nice, perhaps oversimplified picture of the history of philosophy, which
is this: ancient philosophy was more concerned with the nature of things and therefore hugely concentrated on
ontology and metaphysics. That continued all the way through the Middle Ages. Then came modernity as the age of
the centrality of epistemology, the philosophy of knowledge. Then contemporary philosophy, from Wittgenstein
onwards, has had as its central idea the philosophy of language: questions about meaning, semantics. In short,
philosophy about reality, philosophy about our knowledge of reality, and then philosophy of the language of our
knowledge of reality. To this oversimplified caricature we could add another stage: the information turning point. Not
what reality is, not what we know about the nature of reality and what it is, not focused on just the means through
which we make sense of our world through reality, but rather the technological and informational framework within
which we make sense of our knowledge of reality.
People who don’t know much about the history of philosophy complain that we never solve problems. I would like to
invite them to eat a steak made from a woolly mammoth and then tell me there has been no progress in cuisine. Of
course there has been progress, it’s just that it isn’t the same kind of progress that you find in science. Likewise in
philosophy, we do things differently, and I would say we now do things better. It’s just that the previous chapters have
not been erased. We just accumulate new chapters. So the fourth chapter in this particular history is the philosophy of
information understood as something more central, from our perspective, and for our time. And mind that the same
people who complain about philosophy tend to forget that we shall be studying good contemporary philosophy in a
thousand years when good contemporary science will have been superseded.


 Of course your caricature of the history of philosophy misses the crucial part which is that, at least from
Socrates onwards, the question of how we should live has been central. It’s interesting how you personally have
been drawn in from your work on the philosophy of information to moral and political debates about privacy in
the age of the Internet as an advisor to Google on the so-called ‘right to be forgotten’.

You’re completely right. I fear that ethics, or the moral discourse, has always been seen as subsidiary to whatever the
mainstream orthodox way of doing philosophy was. For Aristotle it was subsidiary to a metaphysics of anthropology,
the question of what a human being is. You get a virtue ethics perspective following from what it is to be a complete,
well-functioning, human being. Then in the medieval period religious metaphysics determined the ethics. Then
through to modernity where you have to have a complete account of reality and then do the ethics – Kant is a classic
example of this. And so on. I think we see a similar phenomenon today. You do a philosophy of information and try to
extract from that lessons that can inform your ethical discourse. But I would disagree with the idea that ethics comes
second in importance. Not at all. Perhaps a better way of putting this is that you need to do some preparatory work,
some ground breaking, in order to build the right kind of ethical understanding of your time. Depending on the stage
we are in our development, sometimes that ground-breaking work has to be metaphysical, sometimes it has to be
epistemological, or semantic, or logical, and I would say today it has to be in terms of information. Every philosophy
has to look at the nature of ultimate things, it has to be eschatological in that sense, so ethics and, indeed, the political
discourse, are the end of the intellectual journey.

Part of this connection between the philosophy and the ethics of information has very strong practical everyday
consequences. In my case this has led to my role on Google’s Advisory Council. As the only philosopher there I wear
the ethics hat and I’m supposed to be the one who provides input, feedback, suggestions, and recommendations on the
ethics of the ‘right to be forgotten’ issue.

People may want to know why this issue is so important. It seems to have exploded beyond all proportion, taking more
space than it really should. There is a reason for this. The best analogy here is a spark somewhere where dynamite has
been stored. When people say ‘What’s the big deal, it’s only a spark?’ they focus on the spark, and miss the dynamite.
So many issues could explode as a result of this. It’s not just a matter of whether or not some links should or shouldn’t
be removed from a search engine. First of all, it’s a clash between two fundamental ethical principles, which, so far,
thanks to lack of technology and a different culture, had never encountered each other head to head. One is privacy,
which wasn’t even in the index of practical ethics textbooks in the 1980s, but we had treated as a fundamental
principle of a liberal democratic society for a very long time. The other principle is free speech. This little spark has
made these two giants fight each other.

On top of that there is the political side. One of these principles – privacy – is robustly defended in Europe and by the
European Union in the European Court of Justice. The other, freedom of expression, is in the cultural DNA of America
and the corporate world. So you also have an American versus EU fight. On top of that you have politics versus the
corporate world, because politics and Europe defend one side, America and the corporate world the other. Just to add a
further issue: we also have problems about the nature of the law because all this happens in a space which isn’t
physical. From the 17th century onwards law has been grounded by territoriality: my country my law, your country
yours. We might find a point of agreement, in which case it covers both. Borders determined the limit of the law. Once
you move into cyberspace or the infosphere, all of a sudden there are no borders. So should a decision taken by a
European court of justice be applied all over the world? Should an organisation like Google be forced to remove links
in all its search engines including Google.com or not? Again, this seems to be a small issue, but it’s not. Should
Europe legislate for the whole world? It is easy to list other issues, such as the role of mass media in a digital world,
and so forth. This is why this particular spark has ignited a huge, international debate.

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The philosophy of information underlies all these issues. It’s only through understanding what information is
and what it means that we can start to grapple with the problem of privacy or any other issue that arises out of
new technology. You’ve chosen as your first book Plato’sRepublic – a great work of philosophy, but what’s the
connection with information?

As I said near the beginning of this interview, I strongly believe we have been doing the philosophy of information
without knowing it. Plato is a great philosopher of information without the word being there. When it comes to the
classic image of the myth of the cave, you can reinterpret the whole thing today in terms of the channel of
communication and information theory: who gets access to which information. The people chained in front of the wall
are effectively watching television, or glued to some social media. You can read it that way without doing any violence
to the text. That shows two things. First, why it is a classic. A classic can be read and re-read, and re-interepreted. It
never gets old, it just gets richer in consequences. It’s like old wine, it gets better with time. You can also see what I
mean when I say we’ve been doing the philosophy of information since day one, because really the whole discussion
of the cave is just a specific chapter in the philosophy of information. The point I try to glean from that particular
feature in the great architecture of the Republic is the following: some people have their attention captured constantly
by social media – it could be by cats on Facebook. They are chained to that particular social media – television
yesterday, digital technology today. Some of these people can actually unchain themselves and acquire a better sense
of what reality is, what the world really is about. What is the responsibility of those who have, as it were, unchained
themselves from the constant flow, the constant grab of attention of everyday media, and are able to step back, literally
step out of the cave? Are they supposed to go back and violently force the people inside to get away, as the text says?
Updated that would mean, for example, implementing legislation. We would have to ban social media, we could forbid
people from having mobile phones, we’d put some kind of back doors into social media because we want control. Or
do we have to exercise toleration? If so, it would be a matter of education. We’d have to go back and talk to them. In
essence here Plato, by addressing these questions, is giving us a lesson in the philosophy of information.

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Your second choice is another classic, René Descartes’s Meditations. Descartes chose to write that book in the
vernacular, in French rather than in Latin which was the common language of intellectuals of his day in 17th
century France. Presumably this was because he wanted to reach a wide audience and had something important
to say?

From Plato, to Descartes, to Russell — the last philosopher I know of who was good at this — philosophy has always
had this valuable attitude of speaking to both sides of human interest: to the intellectual, the academic, the ivory tower;
but also to the practical, ordinary aspects of the world. From Descartes, through Hume, even to Kant (not the most
accessible philosopher, but at least he made an attempt), all the way down to Russell, we have this double channel of
communication. It is not popularising philosophy, it is not making philosophy cheap, it is not philosophy for dummies,
it is philosophy made interesting to interested people. There are different vocabularies, different ways of speaking.
And that’s why Descartes wrote theMeditations in a language that was available to a well-educated person who didn’t
have that much Latin. Meditations is not only a classic — it’s easy to find almost anything you want in it — but I also
see it as one of the books that you could recruit into a history of the philosophy of information. The debate about
scepticism is often misunderstood. It is not an intellectual game, it is not by someone who has time and money to
waste wondering whether he exists. Anyone who tries to refute scepticism is wasting their time and no decent
philosopher has taken that sort of speculation very seriously. Scepticism in the Meditations is to be understood
technologically. It works in the same way that you benchmark a particular product by testing it in extreme conditions,
so that, when you put the product on the market, it is robust. You test a car in extreme conditions. Nobody would
dream of driving that car in those conditions. Descartes is acting like an engineer testing ideas. Descartes wants to
doublecheck that the science we’re building is going to be so robust that even when you run the most insane test it will
still work. It’s silly to conclude from this that the task of philosophy is to refute the sceptic! That’s not the point.
Scepticism in Descartes is a matter of increasing the pressure and showing how much his ideas can actually withstand.
It is about resilience.

So Descartes is testing the means of acquiring knowledge to destruction. I like that image.

There are many ways of reading the Meditations. Today Descartes speaks more directly to us if you understand him as
the equivalent of an engineer testing a product. Much better to read it that way than suggesting that we are living
in The Matrix.

What about Immanuel Kant? Your third choice, his Critique of Pure Reason, unlike
Descartes’s Meditations, has never reached a wide popular audience.

We all know that he couldn’t write, no matter how much he tried. Even German people prefer to read him in English
translations because the translations clarify what he might be saying. I find reading Kant a bit like understanding
cricket as a foreigner: hard to get at first, but once you get it, it’s very enjoyable. Once you start to understand the
rhythm of that way of thinking, it’s mind-boggling. It’s quite extraordinary. You can feel the power of that way of
conceptualising problems. What I have learnt from Kant is an important lesson: when you discuss any philosophical
problem there is one fundamental clarification that has to precede any discussion. This is, ‘Does that question make
sense to us given the conditions of possibility of the debate?’ When we overstep the limits of what we can process, the
information that it is sensible to ask about, then we know that we are stepping into pure metaphysics. For us, today, it
is pure speculation when there is no way of being wrong. There’s a lot of philosophy of that sort — especially the
philosophy of technology, and some popular philosophy — that’s just pure discourse. Or there is speculation in the
manner of a Sudoku game or a chess problem. I have no time for speculating about some possible metaphysical world,
while the current one is burning. Kant is a good antidote both to pointless speculation, the anything goes approach, and
the purely logical one in which you make some hypothetical assumptions and see what you can deduce. That’s
interesting, but it's no longer philosophy. It’s not talking to its time and to relevant problems that are of genuine
concern. It’s intellectual fun, but ultimately pointless. Kant helps us focus on real philosophical problems. Philosophy
has a major role to play today. What is happening is that some problems can, in principle, be solved by maths,
experiments, and facts, and therefore we don’t call them philosophy any more. Meanwhile, there are more and more
philosophical problems arising from new technology and new ways of living. Philosophy deals with the problems that
lie between the world of facts and the world of logical possibilities.
My simple view of Kant in the First Critique is that he explains how what we are constrains what we could
possibly know. So presumably, if you’re a Kantian, there must be logical limits to the kind of information that
you could actually acquire.

That’s fundamental. Kant has a lesson that we still have to learn which is that any form of naïve realism — based on
the way the world seems to me, or the way science tells me the world is — should not be taken seriously. What Kant
tells us is that we process input (the message) from the world (the source of the message) – what we’d now call data.
Information is constrained by the data: if you jump out of the third floor window, you’ll break your neck. You don’t
build the world from your imagination. Nevertheless, the world isn’t just as it seems to us. The analogy here is, once
again, with cooking. The data are the ingredients of our dish. We process them to obtain a specific outcome, which is
our information. The relation between the dish and the ingredients is not one of representation, but one of constraining
affordances: given those ingredients/data there are only a few ways of cooking/knowing that make sense and transform
them into the right dish/information. To put it differently, I find it very naïve when people talk about knowledge as if it
were “of” reality: reality is the source of the signals, but our knowledge is of the signals. It's a bit like saying you hear
music on the radio. The music is sent by the radio, but it is not about and does not “represent” the radio. Versions of
structural realism in philosophy of science support this view.

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With your fourth choice, we are certainly in the realm of information because we’re dealing with Alan Turing,
who made a major contribution to the evolution of the computer. This is a selection of papers that you’ve
chosen. Is there something you want to single out there as quintessential Turing?

The quintessential Turing for philosophy is certainly the Turing test as described in The Imitation Game. The Turing
test has in it a Kantian lesson. Sadly, if you look at the Loebner prize, they have a medal that has 'Can a Machine
Think?’ on it. Unfortunately they missed Turing’s answer to that question, which is that it is “too meaningless to
deserve discussion.” He didn’t ask that question in the paper. What he did say is that because this question doesn’t
provide the conditions of possibility for an answer – because we don’t know what ‘think’ is, and we don’t even know
what a ‘machine’ is – we can’t answer it. But we can run a test and if you can’t see a difference between the answers
of a human and a machine, then the machine has passed the test. So what Turing tells us is that you need to be clear
about the level of abstraction at which your discussion is taking place. Unfortunately ‘level of abstraction’ has a
technical sense in computer science which is often misunderstood in philosophy because there are no levels – levels of
abstraction don’t come in a hierarchy. If you look at a house, you can look at it from the perspective of the owners, the
council, economic, a lawyer’s perspective – these are all different levels of abstraction. In the Turing test, the level of
abstraction is provided by the questioning game and the comparison of the two players at the level of their abilities to
understand questions and answer them meaningfully.

Turing sounds quite close to pragmatism in that he’s suggesting, with the Turing test, that if a person and a
computer produce the same sort of effect then that’s sufficient for treating them in a similar way.

There’s something of Charles Sanders Peirce in this, you’re right. He’s another of my heroes, another figure in the
history of the philosophy of information, and if I’d had six book choices I’d have included him. Sometimes you really
have to stop looking for the essence of the ingredients but look at the effects that the ingredients have.

You’ve made an unexpected choice for your fifth choice: Lyotard’s book The Postmodern Condition.
I wanted to include a more contemporary book. The reason Lyotard’s book is on my list is that I read it when I was too
young, and I misunderstood it badly and didn’t think much of it. I re-read it when I was more mature and now realise
that there were fundamental lessons and extraordinary insights there that I had missed completely when I was an
undergraduate. Selecting only one, perhaps the most fundamental, lesson that I learnt from Lyotard relates to the socio-
political aspects of technology. There’s an emphasis in Lyotard’s book on the connection between politics and
technology, the politics which manipulate and affect technologies and so impact how we live. The politics of
information is a notion that we need to explore much more deeply than we have done so far.

Is there an example of that, of a specific technology affected in this way?

We used to think that power was about either the creation or the control of things, that it was about the means of
production of goods. That’s what Marx thought. It was not about the production of experiences or services. Then
society switched to a focus on power being expressed through the control of information. Once control of information
is recognised as a source of power, then any powerful entity wants to control this information. Governments and
empires all want to control information. What we’re seeing today is the very beginning of another switch, from power
over things, to power over information, to power about the questions that shape the answers that give the information
about things. If you take the view that semantic information is broadly speaking delivered as a question plus an
answer, then those who control the questions shape the answers. That’s the new power we need to understand and
manage properly today.

Religion’s smart-people
problem: The shaky intellectual
foundations of absolute faith
Religious belief the world over has a strenuous relationship with intellectualism. But
why?
JOHN G. MESSERLY

Should you believe in a God? Not according to most academic philosophers. A comprehensive survey
revealed that only about 14 percent of English speaking professional philosophers are theists. As for
what little religious belief remains among their colleagues, most professional philosophers regard it as
a strange aberration among otherwise intelligent people. Among scientists the situation is much the
same. Surveys of the members of the National Academy of Sciences, composed of the most
prestigious scientists in the world, show that religious belief among them is practically
nonexistent, about 7 percent.

Now nothing definitely follows about the truth of a belief from what the majority of philosophers or
scientists think. But such facts might cause believers discomfort. There has been a dramatic change in
the last few centuries in the proportion of believers among the highly educated in the Western world.
In the European Middle Ages belief in a God was ubiquitous, while today it is rare among the
intelligentsia. This change occurred primarily because of the rise of modern science and a consensus
among philosophers that arguments for the existence of gods, souls, afterlife and the like were
unconvincing. Still, despite the view of professional philosophers and world-class scientists, religious
beliefs have a universal appeal. What explains this?
Genes and environment explain human beliefs and behaviors—people do things because they are
genomes in environments. The near universal appeal of religious belief suggests a biological
component to religious beliefs and practices, and science increasingly confirms this view. There is a
scientific consensus that our brains have been subject to natural selection. So what survival and
reproductive roles might religious beliefs and practices have played in our evolutionary history? What
mechanisms caused the mind to evolve toward religious beliefs and practices?

Today there are two basic explanations offered. One says that religion evolved by natural selection—
religion is an adaptation that provides an evolutionary advantage. For example religion may have
evolved to enhance social cohesion and cooperation—it may have helped groups survive. The other
explanation claims that religious beliefs and practices arose as byproducts of other adaptive traits. For
example, intelligence is an adaptation that aids survival. Yet it also forms causal narratives for natural
occurrences and postulates the existence of other minds. Thus the idea of hidden Gods explaining
natural events was born.

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In addition to the biological basis for religious belief, there are environmental explanations. It is self-
evident from the fact that religions are predominant in certain geographical areas but not others, that
birthplace strongly influences religious belief. This suggests that people’s religious beliefs are, in large
part, accidents of birth. Besides cultural influences there is the family; the best predictor of people’s
religious beliefs in individuals is the religiosity of their parents. There are also social factors effecting
religious belief. For example, a significant body of scientific evidence suggests that popular religion
results from social dysfunction. Religion may be a coping mechanism for the stress caused by the lack
of a good social safety net—hence the vast disparity between religious belief in Western Europe and
the United States.
There is also a strong correlation between religious belief and various measures of social dysfunction
including homicides, the proportion of people incarcerated, infant mortality, sexually transmitted
diseases, teenage births, abortions, corruption, income inequality and more. While no causal
relationship has been established, a United Nations list of the 20 best countries to live in shows the
least religious nations generally at the top. Only in the United States, which was ranked as the
13th best country to live in, is religious belief strong relative to other countries. Moreover, virtually all
the countries with comparatively little religious belief ranked high on the list of best countries, while
the majority of countries with strong religious belief ranked low. While correlation does not equal
causation, the evidence should give pause to religion’s defenders. There are good reasons to doubt that
religious belief makes people’s lives go better, and good reasons to believe that they make their lives
go worse.
Despite all this most people still accept some religious claims. But this fact doesn’t give us much
reason to accept religious claims. People believe many weird things that are completely irrational—
astrology, fortunetelling, alien abductions, telekinesis and mind reading—and reject claims supported
by an overwhelming body of evidence—biological evolution for example. More than three times as
many Americans believe in the virgin birth of Jesus than in biological evolution, although few
theologians take the former seriously, while no serious biologist rejects the latter!
Consider too that scientists don’t take surveys of the public to determine whether relativity or
evolutionary theory are true; their truth is assured by the evidence as well as by resulting
technologies—global positioning and flu vaccines work. With the wonders of science every day
attesting to its truth, why do many prefer superstition and pseudo science? The simplest answer is that
people believe what they want to, what they find comforting, not what the evidence supports: In
general, people don’t want to know; they want to believe. This best summarizes why people tend to
believe.
Why, then, do some highly educated people believe religious claims? First, smart persons are good at
defending ideas that they originally believed for non-smart reasons. They want to believe something,
say for emotional reasons, and they then become adept at defending those beliefs. No rational person
would say there is more evidence for creation science than biological evolution, but the former
satisfies some psychological need for many that the latter does not. How else to explain the hubris of
the philosopher or theologian who knows little of biology or physics yet denies the findings of those
sciences? It is arrogant of those with no scientific credentials and no experience in the field or
laboratory, to reject the hard-earned knowledge of the science. Still they do it. (I knew a professional
philosopher who doubted both evolution and climate science but believed he could prove that the
Christian God must take a Trinitarian form! Surely something emotional had short-circuited his
rational faculties.)
Second, the proclamations of educated believers are not always to be taken at face value. Many don’t
believe religious claims but think them useful. They fear that in their absence others will lose a basis
for hope, morality or meaning. These educated believers may believe that ordinary folks can’t handle
the truth. They may feel it heartless to tell parents of a dying child that their little one doesn’t go to a
better place. They may want to give bread to the masses, like Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor.

Our sophisticated believers may be manipulating, using religion as a mechanism of social control, as
Gibbon noted long ago: “The various modes of worship which prevailed in the Roman world were all
considered by the people as equally true; by the philosophers as equally false; and by the magistrate as
equally useful.” Consider the so-called religiosity of many contemporary politicians, whose actions
belie the claim that they really believe the precepts of the religions to which they supposedly ascribe.
Individuals may also profess belief because it is socially unacceptable not to; they don’t want to be out
of the mainstream or fear they will not be reelected or loved if they profess otherwise. So-called
believers may not believe the truth of their claims; instead they may think that others are better off or
more easily controlled if those others believe. Or perhaps they may just want to be socially accepted.

Third, when sophisticated thinkers claim to be religious, they often have something in mind unlike
what the general populace believes. They may be process theologians who argue that god is not
omnipotent, contains the world, and changes. They may identify god as an anti-entropic force
pervading the universe leading it to higher levels of organization. They may be
pantheists, panentheists, or death-of-god theologians. Yet these sophisticated varieties of religious
belief bear little resemblance to popular religion. The masses would be astonished to discover how far
such beliefs deviate from their theism.
But we shouldn’t be deceived. Although there are many educated religious believers, including some
philosophers and scientists, religious belief declines with educational attainment, particularly with
scientific education. Studies also show that religious belief declines among those with higher
IQs. Hawking, Dennett and Dawkins are not outliers, and neither is Bill Gates or Warren Buffett.

Or consider this anecdotal evidence. Among the intelligentsia it is common and widespread to find
individuals who lost childhood religious beliefs as their education in philosophy and the sciences
advanced. By contrast, it is almost unheard of to find disbelievers in youth who came to belief as their
education progressed. This asymmetry is significant; advancing education is detrimental to religious
belief. This suggest another part of the explanation for religious belief—scientific illiteracy.

If we combine reasonable explanations of the origin of religious beliefs and the small amount of belief
among the intelligentsia with the problematic nature of beliefs in gods, souls, afterlives or supernatural
phenomena generally, we can conclude that (supernatural) religious beliefs are probably false. And we
should remember that the burden of proof is not on the disbeliever to demonstrate there are no gods,
but on believers to demonstrate that there are. Believers are not justified in affirming their belief on the
basis of another’s inability to conclusively refute them, any more than a believer in invisible elephants
can command my assent on the basis of my not being able to “disprove” the existence of the
aforementioned elephants. If the believer can’t provide evidence for a god’s existence, then I have no
reason to believe in gods.

In response to the difficulties with providing reasons to believe in things unseen, combined with the
various explanations of belief, you might turn to faith. It is easy to believe something without good
reasons if you are determined to do so—like the queen in “Alice and Wonderland” who “sometimes
… believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” But there are problems with this
approach. First, if you defend such beliefs by claiming that you have a right to your opinion, however
unsupported by evidence it might be, you are referring to a political or legal right, not an epistemic
one. You may have a legal right to say whatever you want, but you have epistemic justification only if
there are good reasons and evidence to support your claim. If someone makes a claim without concern
for reasons and evidence, we should conclude that they simply don’t care about what’s true. We
shouldn’t conclude that their beliefs are true because they are fervently held.

Another problem is that fideism—basing one’s beliefs exclusively on faith—makes belief arbitrary,
leaving no way to distinguish one religious belief from another. Fideism allows no reason to favor
your preferred beliefs or superstitions over others. If I must accept your beliefs without evidence, then
you must accept mine, no matter what absurdity I believe in. But is belief without reason and evidence
worthy of rational beings? Doesn’t it perpetuate the cycle of superstition and ignorance that has
historically enslaved us? I agree with W.K. Clifford. “It is wrong always, everywhere and for everyone
to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.” Why? Because your beliefs affect other people, and
your false beliefs may harm them.

The counter to Clifford’s evidentialism has been captured by thinkers like Blaise Pascal, William
James, and Miguel de Unamuno. Pascal’s famous dictum expresses: “The heart has its reasons which
reason knows nothing of.” William James claimed that reason can’t resolve all issues and so we are
sometimes justified believing ideas that work for us. Unamuno searched for answers to existential
questions, counseling us to abandon rationalism and embrace faith. Such proposals are probably the
best the religious can muster, but if reason can’t resolve our questions then agnosticism, not faith, is
required.

Besides, faith without reason doesn’t satisfy most of us, hence our willingness to seek reasons to
believe. If those reasons are not convincing, if you conclude that religious beliefs are untrue, then
religious answers to life’s questions are worthless. You might comfort yourself by believing that little
green dogs in the sky care for you but this is just nonsense, as are any answers attached to such
nonsense. Religion may help us in the way that whisky helps a drunk, but we don’t want to go through
life drunk. If religious beliefs are just vulgar superstitions, then we are basing our lives on delusions.
And who would want to do that?

Why is all this important? Because human beings need their childhood to end; they need to face life
with all its bleakness and beauty, its lust and its love, its war and its peace. They need to make the
world better. No one else will.

Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class by Scott Timberg

Yale University Press, 320 pp., $26

L et’s forget about starving artist for a moment and get right to a more accurate, and
ominous, conjugation: The artist in America isbeing starved, systemically and without
shame. In this land of untold bounty—what is usually called, in a kind of blustering
spasm, the richest empire on earth—the American creative class has been forced to
brook a historic economic burden while also being sunk into sunless irrelevancy. When it
came to artists, Comrade Stalin knew all about a bounty of a different sort—he stuck it on
the heads of those whose pens and brushes might transgress against his galactic hubris.
Remember Osip Mandelstam’s quip about how Mother Russia reveres her poets enough
to murder them? Well, with our consummate lack of reverence, we in America kill our
poets in quite another way: We ignore them to death.

Here’s a paragraph grim enough to wreck your week, a sortie of distressing numbers
about the arbiters, facilitators, and creators of culture: Between 2008 and September
2012, there were 66 No. 1 songs, almost half of which were performed by only six artists
(Katy Perry, Rihanna, Flo Rida, The Black Eyed Peas, Adele, and Lady Gaga); in 2011,
Adele’s debut album sold more than 70 percent of all classical albums combined, and
more than 60 percent of all jazz albums. Between 1982 and 2002, the number of
Americans reading fiction withered by nearly 30 percent. In a 1966 UCLA study, 86
percent of students across the country declared that they intended to have a “meaningful
philosophy of life”; by 2013, that percentage was amputated by half, “meaningful” no
doubt replaced by “moneyful.” Over the past two decades, the number of English majors
graduating from Yale University has plummeted by 60 percent; at Stanford University in
2013, only 15 percent of students majored in the humanities. In American
universities, more than 50 percent of faculty is adjuncts, pittance-paid laborers with no
medical insurance and barely a prayer to bolster them. In the publishing and journalism
trades, 260,000 jobs were nixed between 2007 and 2009. Since the turn of the century,
around 80 percent of cultural critics writing for newspapers have lost their jobs. There are
only two remaining full-time dance critics in the entire United States of America. A not
untypical yearly salary in 2008 for a professional dancer was $15,000.

Renovate that bromide making ends meet and you might be nearer the mark: Members
of the creative class are meeting their ends. What does it mean when the middle-class
makers of art are relegated to a socioeconomic purgatory? The dearth of public funding
for the arts mirrors the dearth of public ardor for the arts, and yet, somehow, we’re awash
in dilettantes decanting their wares on the midden of American culture. Everyone, it
seems, is an artist. Toss a stone into any crowd and you’ll hit someone who’s writing a
novel. (Yeats once opened his address to the Rhymers’ Club with: “The only thing certain
about us is that we are too many.”) The vestal and very simple concept of supply and
demand will not be debauched out of its simplicity: When everyone’s an artist and no one
spends money on art, art is stripped of any economic traction and serious artists can’t
earn a living. Couple that with a population that overwhelmingly doesn’t mind if art and
artists go extinct and you have, ladies and gentlemen, what can be fairly called a crisis.

In an important analysis of this mess, Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class,
Scott Timberg delivers a potpourri of bleak statistics and appalling personal stories of
talented and once-thriving artists reduced to penury or making-do. (All but two of the
above statistics are culled from Timberg’s research.) Although Timberg reports no
incidents of literal starvation, you shouldn’t doubt that whole throngs of onetime stable
middle-class artists have been pummeled into a class where they feel the fangs of
hunger. Culture Crash unloads information so soul-stomping that you read on hardly able
to suppress barks of disbelief. You begin Timberg’s book suspecting that things are
bad—you finish it convinced that they’ve never been worse.

One of the personal stories he relays is his own, the plot points of which have become
agonizingly familiar. In 2008, “a risk-taking real-estate mogul” purchased the limping Los
Angeles–area newspaper for which Timberg reported, and soon after, this mogul pile-
drove the paper into the foreboding nullity of Chapter 11. Then hundreds were laid off,
Timberg among them. For several queasy years he hobbled by, writing “for less and less
money,” until his tiny home was foreclosed upon by a bank whose girth is global—a bank
that was lavishly rescued from oblivion by tax money, and one that wouldn’t stoop to
negotiate with a plebeian journalist in order to stay the foreclosure on his home. There’s
a gut-jabbing scene in which he has to tell his five-year-old son that they are losing the
only house he’s ever known, and the child asks, “But then we’ll come back, right?”
Following the foreclosure, the locksmith who showed up to bar Timberg and his young
family from their home drove a car “fancier and substantially newer” than Timberg’s own
“seventeen-year-old Honda.” This is our shining world now, how we prioritize: Locksmiths
earn stabler livelihoods than the makers and chroniclers of our culture.

As a middle-class kid—the grandson of a vaudeville pianist and a Ziegfeld dancer, the


son of a writer and a schoolteacher—Timberg considered himself “in the third generation
of people who had worked in culture without either striking it rich or going broke.” He
didn’t harbor gluttonous ambitions of fame, but preferred this comparatively modest idea
of success, one which he was certain would allow him to remain in the middle-class from
which he’d sprung: “I could get really good at something if I worked as hard as I could
and surrounded myself with what someone once called—in a phrase that now sounds
antique—the best that had been thought and said.” It’s pretty to think so, but what artist
anymore really believes those American mathematics, education plus hard work equals
success? “We are the bastard offspring of Reagan and Warhol,” says Timberg, living in
“an age of creative destruction.”
G olden-age nostalgia is usually a ruse we perpetuate upon ourselves. Every era has
its own catalog of paranoia, its litany of panic about culture and creativity, and some of
that paranoia and panic is cyclical. In Timberg’s above quote, the special someone at the
helm of that “antique” phrase is Matthew Arnold1. In the preface to the 1875 edition
of Culture and Anarchy, Arnold wrote that culture is “a pursuit of our total perfection by
means of getting to know, on all the matters which most concern us, the best which has
been thought and said in the world.” That “total perfection” is a characteristically
Arnoldian construction and one that couldn’t be penned today without the self-defeating
smirk of irony, latte foam on the upper lip.

A poet and critic of unstinting earnestness, Arnold never blushed when asserting his
cultural idealism, one tinged with an urgency he knew was needed in a society polluted
by modernity, by the spirit-sapping forces of the Industrial Revolution. He denigrates “our
worship of machinery” and “our bondage to machinery” and the “faith in machinery,”
certain that “culture looks beyond machinery,” that it “has but one great passion, the
passion for sweetness and light.” That marriage, “sweetness and light,” reaches our ears
as slightly silly, but Arnold, being Arnold, remains wholly sincere: Culture seeks to
command ideas “freely—to be nourished and not bound by them.” In The Culture We
Deserve (1989), Jacques Barzun points out that for Arnold, culture is still connected to
cultivation, to tillage, toagriculture—till, plant, reap, and be nourished. Arnold also
couldn’t have failed to have in mind Candide’s final words in Voltaire’s novella: “We must
cultivate our garden.”

A generation after Arnold, English philosopher and novelist John Cowper


Powys2 penned The Meaning of Culture (1929), an updated version of Arnold’s spiced
polemic, one that emphasized the redoubtable benefits and felicities of art among a
bloated consumer and populist vulgarity. “The aim of culture,” Powys wrote, “is to nourish
within us”—that word again,nourish—“a sturdy yet sensitive organism that shall be able
to deal with the eternal recurrences of life and death.” In other words, art and culture are
“equipment for living,” in Kenneth Burke’s unimprovable definition of literature, but also
equipment for dying, for a dignified acquiescence to the fate of all flesh. Reconcile
yourself to your own death and nothing in life can reduce you.

When everyone’s an artist and no one spends


money on art, art is stripped of any economic
traction.
For Powys, “the greatest of all obstacles to any deep, banked-up, sensitive culture is the
inability to obtain leisure, the inability to be alone,” and consider, for a moment, the
present searing truth of that claim, how insidiously plugged-in we all are, socially
networked into an unsocial stupor, a mental truancy that teeters at the lip of catatonia.
Powys recognized the necessity of attaining “a mind sensitive to rare and gentle things,”
a mind adequately armored against “the frothy nothings of the hour.” Those frothy
nothings are no longer of the hour—they are of the second. “There is no escape from
machinery and modern inventions,” Powys wrote, “no escape from the dictatorship of the
uncultured.” Revolutionary advances in information delivery—the phonograph, the
photograph, the radio, the television—have tended to be chaperoned by yelps from the
cultured, the bellows of those anticipating an end of books and the introspection they
foster. Arnold and Powys had their worrisome inventions that changed the lineaments of
civilization, and now we have ours, except all day long ours ding and ring, quack and
quake.

T he problems Culture Crash unveils wouldn’t exist in their specific form without the
always hungry Hydra of the Internet: “For generations with no memory of a world before
the Internet, there is no outside, no independent ledge” from which to assess the
madness. The Internet gets a bit of a lashing in this book, to be sure, but it’s not a bloody
one. Timberg is aware of how quickly his study could have turned into an anti-Internet
diatribe, how instantaneously he’d be branded a hysterical technophobe. And so he’s
careful to say, again and again, that although the strafing autocracy of the Internet has
led to the necrosis of print and a desperate restructuring of the music and publishing
industries, it is not the only bandit guilty of filching livelihoods from middle-class artists.
He has no wish to banish our gadgets of distraction or zap us back to a time before our
colonization of cyberspace. When Timberg advocates for the virtues of print, he doesn’t
mean that all print is sacrosanct while online essays and reportage are organically
besmirched, a position he knows is demonstrably false. Rather, he laments the
dissolution of the print-publication apparatus that allowed writers, editors, and
photojournalists to maintain a middle-class life.

There are a number of culprits here. There are the Hobbesian market forces, the
consumer-propelled capitalism so sweet for behemoth corporations who are its lungs
and spleen but not so sweet for those artists who need to maintain their integrity outside
the corporate sway. There’s the long-standing and nationwide dedication to anti-
intellectualism—you can’t read Richard Hofstadter’s3 Anti-Intellectualism in American
Life (1963) without pretty quickly coming to the conclusion that an exuberant distrust of
the critical mind has been in our DNA since the Puritans. There’s the winner-take-all
social credo that kills regard for any place other than first—we imbibe the No. 1 movie,
the No. 1 album, the No. 1 book, and then we’re too blitzed and deadened for anything
better. (Timberg calls it “blockbuster culture.”) There’s the academic obscurantism in
English departments, pesteringly prevalent since the 1960s, that shoves students away
from the tonic pleasures of literature just as those students are being seduced by the
more practical interests of science, business, and technology. There’s the widespread
caricature of artists as eccentric idlers or unstrung cranks, romantic boobs, or sexed-up
wastrels we might be better off without.

The ennobling energies of an orchestra will never


ring on Wall Street, nor should they.
Timberg sees the Internet as a confederation of all the most diabolical cultural trends of
the last 50 years—a confederation that plunders both the wallets of middle-class artists
and the minds of everyone else. But would all those who are now microwaving their
minds online be under a tree cradling a copy of The Iliad if TMZ didn’t exist? Please do
doubt that. Those microwaving their minds online would be microwaving their minds
elsewhere, mostly before the quick-fire hues of their television sets. You are now
subjected to an in-your-pocket, round-the-clock mental sacking, but 14 consecutive
hours of outrageously inane TV is not a rarity among those with dishes on their roofs.
There aren’t many books of social criticism that grow more relevant with the decades, but
Neil Postman’s4 Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985), about the hourly blitzkrieg of
electronic media, is one of them. The Internet didn’t create the human propensities for
thievery and indolence, for vitriol and vacuity, for easy distraction and rapid gratification.
It certainly capitalizes upon those propensities, but it didn’t build them.

But there remains this egregiously democratizing effect of the Internet: We believe that
most online content is ours for the taking. The model of the online marketplace might be
the chief obstacle preventing most middle-class writers and musicians from earning a
living with their work, but it’s about time we, the users, come around to the moral side of
the argument: We should purchase what we read and hear on our computers. “The
human cost of ‘free’ becomes clear,” writes Timberg, “every day a publisher lays off staff
… or a documentarian finds her film uploaded to YouTube without her permission.” If you
care about the increasingly dejected plight of the creative class, there’s nothing stopping
you from subscribing to a newspaper or magazine, or from paying for your music and
movies online, just as there’s nothing stopping you from snapping shut your laptop and
reaching for a hardback of Homer.
Y ou’ve heard of all those shuttered bookstores, the already underappreciated
librarians now thought members of the Pleistocene, the thinly attended performances of
new musicians and artists, in part because it’s simpler to stay home in front of screens
that hawk a deceptive sense of community. The cyberspatial nooks we all live in have
begun, says Timberg, “to disregard actual human beings,” and human interaction, its
dynamism of merriment and conflict, is crucial for the creation of serious art. Timberg is
particularly astute on the thriving art scenes experienced in Boston in the 1950s, Los
Angeles in the 1960s, and Austin in the 1970s, the mix of factors needed to converge in
order for artists to flourish—including institutional support, low rents, a humming
population in urban universities, an inviolable sense of a shared culture—and then on
what happens when these cities are infiltrated by Hunnish bankers. When Robert
Lowell5 was reconfiguring American poetry in 1950s Boston, “a life of genteel poverty
was still possible.” Let me tell you, as a Bostonian—a life of genteel poverty is no longer
possible, and hasn’t been for a long time.

American individualism has come to resemble a kind of hermitism, each artist before his
own effulgent machine, without taut lifelines to his fellow strivers and makers. The roiling
and reciprocal group, so central to the early achievements of Lowell and Plath and
Sexton, has been replaced by synthetic socializing online, or by the cloistered academic
department, which is how many artists in America, if they’re the lucky ones, are able to
remain in the middle class. But when you’re an artist in academia, you’re only a part-time
artist, at best. We’ve fled our public places of reciprocity and dialogue, and jettisoned any
commitment to a joint culture. “For culture to work, we need a common language,”
Timberg writes, “and it’s impossible to have one when we are becoming more culturally
and economically divided every day.”

A t the hub of this mess is how we as a nation perceive our artists and stewards of
culture. Timberg quotes the cretinous views of citizens in Kentucky, who, after the
Louisville Orchestra was pestled into bankruptcy, posted comments such as, “Pack up
your fiddles and go home boys and girls. Maybe find real jobs,” and this faux
commonsensical gem: “Get rid of the Orchestra. It isn’t popular with the residents or they
would have packed crowds and not have to worry about $$$.” Timberg urges us out of
this bamboozled, depleted mentation with which we permit the market to dictate the
worth of things. The ennobling energies of an orchestra will never ring on Wall Street, nor
should they.

Of all the realities chronicled in Culture Crash, what would the worst manifestation of the
worst realities look like? No new art but corporate-driven celebrity kitsch, essayistic
advertisements tapped out by algorithms, the annihilation of independent ideas and the
thriving of ideological groupthink, an aesthetical tundra everywhere, a society of
philistines that “tranquilizes itself in the trivial,” in Kierkegaard’s phrase. And what is the
most we can hope for, what would the best manifestation look like? If worse comes to
worst is only slightly more exasperating than if better comes to best and the best is far
from good enough. Artists of independence and seriousness must not be debased into
having to choose between nothing and nothing much.

Last December, Americans for the Arts emailed its supporters with some
buoyant news for a torpedoed ship. The night before, the House of Representatives, in
the midst of its trademark convulsions and incompetence, and by dint of some
abracadabra, managed to pass a spending bill they dubbed “Cromnibus,” an alloy of the
Continuing Appropriations Resolution and an omnibus bill. The $1 trillion in government
funding includes nearly $300 million for the National Endowment for the Arts and the
National Endowment for the Humanities, $30 million for the Office of Museum Services,
$25 million for Arts in Education, and $445 million for the Corporation for Public
Broadcasting. If you squinted during the midterm elections last year, you might have
spotted some morsels among the famine: Citizens of Utah, the great red bastion of the
West, voted for six ballot initiatives that would augment arts programs, and Rhode
Islanders voted for $35 million to be distributed to various arts organizations across the
state. Anorexic though they may seem and irrelevant as they may be when it comes to
individual artists surviving year-to-year, those facts and numbers, nevertheless, look
downright miraculous, an indication that perhaps all is not lost.

Timberg has no choice but to end Culture Crash with a modest toll of uplift, just as some
have no choice but to find a bit of meaning in life after they learn that the cosmos is an
achingly pointless accident. His final lines are a lovely picture of the world he’d like to live
in. He can’t be faulted for offering no specific blueprint for betterment: The journalist’s
objective is to report from the ditch, to slap us awake to the carnage stacking up around
us. Because the artist’s woe has its origin in Washington and on Wall Street, in the very
strands of our socioeconomic structure, and in the unkillable throbbing of the electronic
marketplace, reversing that woe will take a revolution.

In the meantime, poke your elected representatives on the shoulder and say you won’t
be voting for them again unless they have a cure for this pox upon the middle-class
artist. Donate to arts advocacy organizations. Buy physical books from independent and
used bookstores. Redden in shame should you partake of pirated music. Keep your
mouse off Kim Kardashian’s ass. If you believe that the life of your mind is inseparable
from the health of your life, that serious art and artists are an essential component to
human nourishment, then you have an obligation, to yourself and your children and us
all, to read Timberg’s book, and the minute you’re finished, to do something about the
scourge it sets before you.

ERIC LEE GOODFIELD

egel and the Metaphysical Frontiers of Political Theory

Eric Lee Goodfield, Hegel and the Metaphysical Frontiers of Political Theory, Routledge, 2014, 251pp., $145.00 (hbk),

ISBN 9780415698474.

Reviewed byMark Tunick, Florida Atlantic University


Eric Lee Goodfield takes a position in what has become a lively debate between those who insist we
cannot truly appreciate Hegel's political philosophy unless we see how it is inextricably connected to
Hegel's metaphysics as articulated in Hegel's Logic, and those who insist that we can fruitfully study
Hegel's political philosophy and apply it to contemporary issues of public affairs by dislodging his
political theory from that metaphysics. Goodfield defends the former position. His book goes beyond
existing defenses of that position by providing a more extensive treatment of Hegel's logic and by
attempting to link the position that we should abjure appeals to metaphysics to what he calls the
'liberal-positivist school' of political science. Goodfield devotes many pages to arguing against the
'descriptivist' view that Hegel's political theory is divorced from his metaphysics.
But for me the far more interesting and significant question that Goodfield takes up has to do with
what he calls the 'prescriptivist' view. Prescriptivists, like myself, argue that regardless of Hegel's
intentions, we oughtto understand his political philosophy in a way that does not rely on commitment
to his metaphysics. After reading all that Goodfield has to say against that position, I remain convinced
that if we are plausibly to bring Hegel to bear on contemporary political issues, we must understand
him without relying on his metaphysics. (Below I shall try to be a little more concrete about what it
means for an argument to rely on a metaphysics, but to adequately address the issues Goodfield raises
would require a far more rigorous inquiry into what this means.) So not surprisingly, I have some
issues with Goodfield's argument; however, I want to emphasize that he deserves to be commended for
laying out the controversy so starkly and pointing to a deeper issue about the role of metaphysics in
political theory that is of concern to a wider audience than students of Hegel.

Goodfield is properly critical of the descriptivist position, which denies that Hegel intended to link
political theory to metaphysics (75). He is right to insist that Hegel's metaphysics plays a crucial role in
his justifications of key political institutions. But some of his targets, such as Allen Wood, do not deny
that Hegel intended to rely on a metaphysics to ground many of his claims about the state and our
freedom in it. They argue there is still value in studying Hegel's political theory without linking it to
Hegel's logic. Even Goodfield at one point -- though in a footnote -- dismisses the linkage between
some of Hegel's politically relevant judgments and Hegel's logic, saying "there seems no 'logical
necessity' behind Hegel's gender ascriptions [that men are powerful and active, women are passive and
subjective]" (214 n.50). But Goodfield's targets go further, insisting that even when we bracket the
logic there is value in studying not only what Goodfield might regard as Hegel's side remarks, but
Hegel's claims about core practices such as punishment, contracts and promises, property,
monogamous marriage, and hereditary monarchy, practices for which Hegel undeniably intends to
provide a metaphysical justification. Goodfield has a problem with this position and rejects the
prescriptivist view.

One can be a prescriptivist without being a descriptivist. One can think that we should study
Hegel'sPhilosophy of Right while bracketing its metaphysical moorings, without holding that Hegel
himself would have been willing to do this. As Goodfield recognizes at one point, this is the position I
have taken in arguing that in order to bring Hegel's Philosophy of Right to bear on our own practices
and politics we need to modify or rehabilitate him (89; and Tunick, 12-23). Though this will mean
departing from Hegel's own intentions, it may be necessary if we seek to cull justificatory arguments
that do not rest on a metaphysics we cannot accept; "insofar as we intend to represent Hegel" (222),
prescriptivists ought to acknowledge that they are modifying Hegel.
The question then remains, is the position of appropriating ideas and arguments that we find in
Hegel'sPhilosophy of Right while rejecting their metaphysical moorings illegitimate or troubling?

Goodfield insists that we do a disservice to Hegel by detaching his political theory from his
metaphysics. Given the effort he put into writing this and other works about Hegel, I presume he thinks
that Hegel is worth studying carefully, knowing quite well what a large undertaking such study
involves. Yet Goodfield himself is unwilling to commit to Hegel's metaphysics. He emphasizes that the
chapters in which he addresses Hegel's metaphysical theme and its role in Hegel's political thought "is
not taken up in defense of Hegel's teleological metaphysics of the spirit" (2). He says his account is "far
from providing a defense of Hegel's metaphysical system" (5), and he seems unwilling to provide such
a defense (7). Rather, he wants to make a broader claim that metaphysical concerns and frameworks
are "redeemable and useful" (7). But what is useful about a framework one is unwilling to accept?

Goodfield's main target seems to be interpreters of Hegel's political theory who take Hegel as too
liberal and not communitarian enough, though he also takes aim at those who take Hegel as too
conservative. (I was surprised to see that Goodfield apparently associates me with the conservative
interpreters who take Hegel's famous dictum that the 'rational is actual' to mean that all that exists is
rational and there is no need for criticism (89, "conflation") even though the entire thrust of my work
has been to argue that Hegel is an immanent critic, and I devote many pages to noting how Hegel
distinguishes the actual and existence (see Tunick, pp. 152-67).) Goodfield asserts that we "inevitably
get Hegel's political conclusions wrong in missing out on his program of logico-political synergy" (206).
I think he is right in saying that one of his main targets, Wood, misses out on key features of Hegel's
theory of punishment. Wood neglects how wrongs can involve more than just the violation of abstract
rights and gives an overly 'atomistic' reading of Hegel, and so here may be an instance where someone
who rejects the metaphysics gets Hegel wrong (p. 208). But this is not at all inevitable, and Wood's
accounts of several other aspects of Hegel's political thought are quite persuasive.

More generally, Goodfield associates Hegel interpreters who want to put aside the metaphysics with
realists like G. E. Moore and positive political scientists such as David Easton. He repeatedly implies
that liberals and positivists are in union in making an assault against metaphysics (5, 48-9, 55, 75,
229). Positivists like Easton dismiss the notion of free will, and apparently Goodfield believes that those
who dismiss the metaphysics of Hegel do the same (p. 55). Goodfield is critical of these liberal
positivists for failing to recognize "Hegel's organicist thought" (210). I am not sure any significant
Hegel interpreters do this; even Wood recognizes how for Hegel an individual is free only by being part
of an organized whole that Hegel refers to as our system of ethical life (Sittlichkeit). But in any case, we
will naturally be led to the question of what justifies favoring the state over an individual when rights
conflict. Is it a metaphysical argument of the sort Hegel intends to give? Or is it a vision of the state as
an organic whole? We can discern the latter in Hegel's texts and find value in that vision without
assenting to a logic that even Goodfield is unwilling to endorse. Goodfield never defines 'metaphysics',
though at one point he associates it with an account of the "meaning of human life" (63). Hegel's
political theory offers such an account. There are interpreters of Locke who draw on Locke's vision of
man in a state of nature, which is the basis for his justification of a state that respects individual rights,
recognizing that Locke himself supported this vision with an appeal to God that might be unacceptable
to many people today, but who nevertheless offer a Lockean theory that does not command an
acceptance of its theological mooring. Similarly, one can draw on Hegel's vision of an organic state in
which individuals find their meaning and even draw on it in making political arguments concerning
institutions like punishment, property, or marriage without having to appeal to the logical mooring
Hegel gives to this vision.

I think we must be nonfoundationalists at least when doing political theory as a normative enterprise
that attempts to justify laws, practices, and institutions. Of course normative theory about how we
ought to live cannot ignore empirical accounts of how we and the world in fact operate. But normative
and empirical political theorists tend to focus on different sorts of questions. The test of success for an
empirical political theory is whether it explains, predicts, or is in some sense true. The test of a
normative political theory is whether it persuades; and if we endorse liberal pluralism it will not do for
me to try to justify a practice to you by appealing to foundations that are not persuasive to you. I take
the paradigmatic expression of liberal pluralism to be John Rawls's development of the idea of an
'overlapping consensus' (Rawls), with earlier roots in Isaiah Berlin's essay on J. S. Mill (Berlin, 218-251).
The idea is that in a liberal society we cannot impose our own comprehensive doctrine on those who
do not share it -- we cannot rightly justify a practice that will potentially make coercive demands on our
fellow citizens by appealing to a particular religious or metaphysical doctrine that they may not share.
For example, we cannot expect or insist that our fellow citizens accept institutions such as hereditary
monarchy, monogamous marriage, private property, or punishment on the ground that these
institutions are justified by Hegelian metaphysics, for that would be to impose a comprehensive
doctrine on them that they might not accept. Goodfield, as I noted above, is unwilling to endorse
Hegel's logic, so I would not imagine he would accept such a justification either. But a pluralist can,
without assenting to Hegel's logic, argue that Hegel's organicist thought is attractive, tied to a
compelling vision of the past linked to the present and future, of each individual having value by
contributing to a system of ethical life in which each is recognized and has a home -- a 'metaphysical'
conception in the sense that it is an account of the meaning of life -- and draw on this vision in trying
to persuade us that we should accept the political institutions that Hegel defends. However the
pluralist cannot ground this vision in a religious or metaphysical conception that commands our
assent.

Goodfield argues at one point, in reference to 'empirical political theory', which he does not explicitly
distinguish from a normative theory, that a "foundationless" political theory denies commitment to any
metaphysics but really remains metaphysical (227-28). He explains: a view that proscribes metaphysics
from debate is "tantamount to cancellations of truth as a possibility -- a position which itself entails a
strong metaphysical claim and closure" (232). In effect he accuses the liberal positivists who reject
metaphysics of unconsciously having a metaphysics that holds that there are no truths, and wonders
how liberal positivists, whom he equates with liberal pluralists, would ever want to consult Hegel, who
would so adamantly criticize the view that there are no truths. To answer him, I think we can say that
liberal pluralists like Rawls need not deny truth as a possibility; they simply recognize that politics is a
distinct activity that should accommodate people adhering to different comprehensive doctrines to the
end of living together in peace, and believe that this requires that we agree to certain rules of
engagement.

Another reason for hesitating to rely on Hegel's logic in making sense of his justifications of political
institutions is the difficulty of understanding his metaphysics. Hegel is largely to blame for using
obscure jargon, although in his lectures he showed he could express himself in language that was
accessible and even moving (Tunick, 4-11). Goodfield's explication of Hegel's metaphysics can at times
be difficult to make sense of, and even the patient reader may get frustrated with sentences such as
"the . . . unity . . . witnesses Hegel's logical program" (186), "web . . . weaves . . . fabric" (183),
"immediacy . . . is contained in the concept" (180) ,"issues . . . juxtapose . . . theorization . . . with
questions" (235), or "Hegel elaborated . . . ideas . . . in reflection of . . . concepts"(179). One reason
that commentators such as Wood and Z. A. Pelczynski say they need not focus on Hegel's metaphysics
in understanding the political philosophy is that they recognize that for all but a small number of
devotees, the Logic is obscure. Goodfield follows Thom Brooks in responding that we should not care
about the "size of our audience" (89). But we need to question that response when we are talking about
the value of a work of political theory. There is a difference between normative political theory and
disciplines such as quantum physics, neuroscience, mechanical engineering, and even microeconomics
or social psychology. Political theory will be irrelevant unless it can be spoken in a language that can be
understood by political actors, and we are all potentially political actors insofar as we are asked to obey
laws and we have opinions on matters of public affair. It matters not one whit whether most people
understand how to keep a bridge from crumbling during an earthquake, or how drugs interact with the
brain, so long as a small subset of people do -- but it matters a great deal whether many people could
understand what we say when we are engaged in politics and public affairs.
Goodfield says that an advantage of his view is that it will promote "vibrancy of debate" (230), but I am
not so sure. Those who would take Hegel's logic as a justification for adopting practices and
institutions will at some point be forced to say to their opponents, "you just don't understand", and
that shuts off debate. This is a concern I have that I believe is shared by several other interpreters such
as Wood, Pelczynski, and Michael Hardimon. It is not that we should distort Hegel to be popular --
descriptivists but not prescriptivists risk doing that; it is that we should adapt Hegel so he can have
relevance and value as a political theorist, and so studies of Hegel's Philosophy of Right can be more
than an intellectual exercise. Goodfield himself agrees that Hegel intended to "return to the public
'cave'" (109).

Goodfield characterizes the non-metaphysical Hegel as "bland" (201). I think there is a non-
metaphysical way of understanding his theory of the modern state that is not bland and that helps us
think through the problems we face as individuals and societies who struggle with the problem of
existence. If Hegel's political philosophy cannot do this, why take the time to study it?

REFERENCES
Berlin, Isaiah (2002): Liberty: Incorporating Four Essays on Liberty, Oxford University Press.
Rawls, John (1987): 'The Idea of an Overlapping Consensus', Oxford Journal of Legal Studies 7(1): 1-25.
Tunick, Mark (1992): Hegel's Political Philosophy, Princeton University Press.

History and art


SHELLEY WALIA

SHARE · COMMENT · PRINT · T+

Jacques Ranciere aims to show that as one moves through the pages of
history, one notices the function of art as the consequence of cultural
patterns and trends in politics, religion, economics and other
important areas of human activity. By SHELLEY WALIA
JACQUES RANCIERE’S book Figures of History presents a combination of insightful
historising and adept critical attention to art and the demand for equality. His critical
appreciation of films and paintings allows the reader to understand the interface between
history and art and between politics and the artistic creations of civilisation. Only when one
gets to this intimacy with art can one become a part of the artist’s experience.
The first chapter says: “The equality of all before the light and the inequality of the little
people as the great pass by are both written on the same photographic plate.” Such is the
antagonism or artistic tension built into art and photography, film and painting, which
succinctly describes Ranciere’s theory of aesthetics. Questions of history and politics remain
foremost in his reflection on the representative power of works of art. Ranciere’s purpose in
this book is, therefore, to show that as one moves through the pages of history, one clearly
notices the function of art as the consequence of cultural patterns and trends in politics,
religion, economics and other important areas of human activity. His meticulous knowledge
of paintings and films offers pointers to his intellectual involvement with social and political
history. Each painting, according to him, represents in its own way the culture of the artist’s
time, leaving a stamp of his personality on art and the age.
History, according to Ranciere, therefore, is “an anthology of what is worthy of being
memorialised. Not necessarily what was, and what witnesses testify to, but what deserves to
be focussed on, mediated upon, and imitated, because of its greatness. Legends offer such a
brand of history as much as chronicles do, and Homer more than Thucydides.” This leads to
the corollary that “history is a story” as much as is a painting that depicts actions and events
aesthetically organised, “a meaningful fable endowed with appropriate means of expression”.
It is the “presentation of the necessary and the exemplary… the representation of a privileged
instant”.
At the moment, the discipline of history is surrounded by confusion. The traditional,
analytical and conceptual structures of historical knowledge are being battered. It is not
possible to reconstruct the past in all its actuality as all reconstructions are provisional and
interpretative.
However, it is imperative to have a historical consciousness that makes one aware of the past
so that an approach to the present and the future is accordingly defined. What is significant
here is the question of representation, between what is represented and the forms that the
representation takes. Understandably, the forms have an inherent connection with the
material they are constructed in, be it words, stone or paintings: “…a specific style and form
are suited to the given subject—the noble style of tragedy, the epic or history painting for
kings, the familiar colour of comedy or the genre painting for the little people”.
The laws of representation compulsorily dictate the interdependence of the form and the
content. Idea and the medium always coalesce to produce the work: “…the material used is
never indifferent. The texture of the language or the pictorial pigment belongs to a history of
matter in which all matter is a potentiality of form.” It is clear that while the subject of a work
is indifferent to the form used, the power and worth of the work depend on the style, in the
words of Gustave Flaubert, as an “absolute way of seeing things”. For instance, in the case of
abstract symbolism, the traditional ways of representation stand replaced by an “order of
mimesis that plays a role in the community equivalent to the banished vanities of
representation”. This is visible in the plasticity of the art from Wassily Kandinsky to Barnett
Newman.
Ranciere’s approach to art always heads towards the unfolding of events that span a period,
enabling the historian to develop a procedure of general critical analysis by which one can
arrive at the growth and judgment of the correspondence between a range of disciplines to
widen insights and aesthetic experience through vigorous participation in the enriching
patterns of society. Ranciere takes up the problem of value, of the life-giving beliefs and ideas
made visible and audible through diverse mediums such as film or painting, in the works of
Claude Lanzmann, Francisco Goya, Eduard Manet, Kandinsky and Newman, giving a new
robustness to civilisation and the zeitgeist of our age.
In any event, the artist has a certain well-defined function in mind which is always
determined by his age, benefaction and individuality. Perceptions and sensations are
captured, a representation of our collective destinies which “at the juncture of the genre
painting and the mythological landscape, in the sunshine of Renoir’s or
Monet’sGrenouillere (Frogpond) or the shadows of Seurat’s Grande Jatte, another form of
history painting asserts itself. In it, history puts itself on show, matter-of-fact, wonderfully, as
the raw material in which light plays on the water, and games of seduction play out on
riverbanks, in canoes or on sunny terraces, as the living principle of the equality of every
subject under the sun.”
Crossing point

Hence, the crossing point between history and art is as old as civilisation. The Greeks
produced an evocative and eternal art because of a pulsating imagination, of realism and of
humanism that looked at creativity as integral to life. It is a fact that all free men in Athens
could play a musical instrument and, when called upon, sing in the chorus of the drama.
When the splendour had departed from Athens, time was ready for Zeno’s stoicism and its
converse Epicureanism. The imaginative glory that lived with Plato and Aristotle faded into a
period of sensuousness and over-romanticising. The Greeks themselves fell victim to the
Romans.
The broken sword, the dying horse, and the dead child in Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica” all hint
at a feeling of alarm in a war-torn world. Instrumental music, on the other hand, has no
recourse to perceptible symbols but through its rhythmic form underscores the emotive state
vital to its times. The idea of valour and fearlessness in Beethoven’s “Eroica” is obvious in the
animated power of the onrushing sweep of the composition. Daring, restless strokes and
deeply contrasting colours in Vincent Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” point towards the
indispensable vigour of the artist himself.
The metrical motives in Beethoven’s “Fifth Symphony” suggest the knocking of fate at one’s
door. Eugene Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People” is a self-assured diagonal movement
united with the atmosphere of solemn colours against the hazy background, which intensifies
the feelings of self-determination and struggle. Considering the question of history and
representation, Ranciere sees a connection between pictorial genres and the powers of
figuration in the very arrangements of fables and of the power of necessary, common destiny.

The question that seems to be troubling Ranciere is: Can art really represent history or does it
turn history into a devastating power? Here, he evokes Theodor W. Adorno’s comment that
there can be no poetry after Auschwitz, which points to the unrepresentable horror of the
camps. Is this not coterminous with the anti-representative nature of modern art? Ranciere
cites the example of the Slovenian painter Zoran Music, who “devotes himself to
reconstructing Dachau’s corpse-filled fields as ‘slabs of white snow’ or ‘silver reflections over
the mountains’”. The very erasure that the concentration camps stood for compels the artist
to show “what can’t be seen, what lies beneath the visible, an invisible that is simply what
ensures that the visible exists”.
Renaissance of the liberal arts programme comes invariably through attention to the study of
the arts for the enhancement of cultural understanding of the heritage of the past and one’s
awareness of the exigencies of the present. For Ranciere, art is important as it shows and
hides, making every image a representation of what is permissible and what is not as in the
case of what is seen or hidden. Indeed, the image in the very act of showing or hiding reflects
the historical and the official record, thereby either imprisoning history or setting forth new
dynamism in the interpretation of meaning.
For such developments, Ranciere’s interdisciplinary approach operates at a level that takes
into consideration technical knowledge and experience and as the social forces reflected in
art. In view of this close connection between art and life, it is evident that art engages with
the artist’s religious affiliations, his economic status and that of his audience, and his political
leanings, all those fundamental forces that have a direct bearing on the production of history
and meaning.

THE ARROGANCE OF CRITICISM


FEBRUARY 2, 2015 LARB BLOG LEAVE A COMMENT

By Joseph Giovannini
In October 2014, our architecture critic, Joseph Giovannini, wrote about what he called La Comédie
Architecturale. He now sends this update.
LAST JUNE, in his New York Review of Books article “The Insolence of Architecture,” the New York
architecture critic Martin Filler wrote a scathing appraisal of the London architect Zaha Hadid — more
about her character, really, than her work — making a serious factual error when he accused her of
indifference to the deaths of nearly 1,000 workers on the construction site of her Al-Wakrah soccer
stadium in Qatar. The accusation and consequent controversy went viral.
In fact, not one person had died on the site; construction hadn’t even started. She sued Filler
and NYRB for defamation, even as sages of the profession opined the suit was a strategic error on her
part, bringing more attention to the issue. Was she a petulant diva?
Filler’s charges triggered vitriolic condemnations of the architect by laptop critics who gleefully piled
on the issue in the vast echo chamber of the internet — Filler’s error metastasized. His 150-word
retraction, in a letter to the editors of NYRB in September, was both terse and tepid, ending in “I regret
the error,” and although he corrected the mistake in his text, he left intact most of his long, highly
personal attack, which built on the error for thousands of words and still stands accessible on the
internet. This was not the apology Hadid’s writ demanded from the critic and the Review.
Through her New York lawyers, Baker Hostetler, she quietly pursued the suit. In her long, high-profile
career, Hadid of course has encountered criticism, sometimes severe, to which she has rarely, if ever,
responded publicly, and never in court. But for Hadid, whose prominent political family in Iraq had
strong socialist leanings, the charges that she was indifferent to workers’ deaths went beyond
architectural criticism, and beyond “fair comment,” the standard by which opinion journalism is held.
She charged defamation: the article attacked her character, not her floor plans.

Defamation is extremely difficult to argue in court because plaintiffs must prove malice. Was the critic
simply expressing an opinion or actually trying to damage her reputation and destroy her character?
Filler’s piece was a review of a book by British critic Rowan Moore; the fact that he did not simply
critique Moore’s evaluation of Hadid but went out of his way to state his own opinion about her gave
her lawyers the basis for a case: there was malice, they could contend, because Filler’s article far
exceeded the scope of what Moore wrote about Hadid in the book being reviewed.

On Tuesday morning, months of active negotiations finally concluded with a statement signed by the
two principal parties. By signing, the NYRB acknowledged, “Zaha Hadid Architects remains deeply
committed to promoting safe and fair working conditions.” Hadid would also receive a settlement, and
she would donate the “undisclosed sum of money to a charitable organization that protects and
champions labor rights.”
With her donation, Hadid has made clear that she was not seeking personal remuneration; she was
instead seeking redress for the offense. That the actual sum and the name of the charity are
undisclosed also implies she is not taking a boastful, heroic victory lap, and not turning her victory
into a PR event. Her office has issued no comment; she has made no public comment. NYRB has been
equally quiet.
For Hadid, the disturbing episode is now closed: she has been made whole. But the remaining question
is whether architecture criticism as a field has been made whole. The clearly ad feminam article not
only still stands, minus the corrections, but the entire episode has become a case study about the moral
responsibility of critics to their subjects as much as an article about the moral responsibility of
architects to construction workers. Filler’s article on the insolence of architects has now morphed into
a cautionary tale about the arrogance of critics, who, until this suit, have enjoyed near immunity from
prosecution in both the court of public opinion and in courts of law. Critics in all fields may no longer
get a pass.

As a matter of practice, architects are loath to criticize critics, partly because of good manners from the
old days when architects wore bow ties and avoided unseemly conflict. Besides, alienating critics was
never smart, because the critics would probably still be writing when the next building came up for
review.

But Hadid was not afraid of conflict. Had Filler done a closer reading of her buildings rather than
launch into a take on her character, he might have understood that Hadid early on investigated
confrontation as a generator of design: she famously made beautiful architecture out of the fallout
when one form hit another form, the fragments scattered in a force field that replaced the old narrative
of gravity.

The plans tell you, a bit like tea leaves, that she would not back off from a lawsuit. Filler was picking a
fight with the wrong architect, and he put his reputation at risk by writing a piece that skimmed over
the architecture itself in favor of taking the on-ramp to her character.

Nor was she wrong to engage the issue and defend her reputation. While some critics wrote that she
was losing the PR war with the suit, the architect who always designed by principle was suing as a
matter of principle. The critics were arguing form over content, image over substance. They were
vacating a moral position. While none defended the article itself, most managed to find fault with
Hadid’s reaction: they were criticizing a victim who refused to be victimized.

Had Filler thoroughly examined and explained the plans of Hadid’s buildings, like a conductor cutting
through layers of received musical interpretations to get back to the original scores, he might also have
understood not only her architecture but also her character more accurately. An architect’s concerns
and temperament are inevitably inscribed throughout a building, and more than almost any other major
architect now practicing, Hadid has made a career out of shaping public spaces outside and inside her
structures. From her earliest projects in the 1980s, she has been a specialist in creating a dignified and
even inspiring realm for the public, not the way the Romans did with their parades of columns, but
with ramps and levels that sweep into and through her buildings, giving the public access and a sense
of possession through promenades. Hospitable and giving, the spaces are characterized by an
enormous generosity of spirit. Anyone who invents public space in the way that she does, according
the public raw respect through the sheer beauty of the work — all implemented by the plan and section
— cares deeply about the public good.

That concern would apply to the workers who build the buildings: they are the public for whom the
daughter of a socialist builds. Filler would have done his often-astute criticism a service by looking
more at the buildings than the personality. Criticism, not architecture, lost this battle.

Philosophy’s Lost Body and Soul


By GEORGE YANCY and LINDA MARTÍN ALCOFF
FEBRUARY 4, 2015 3:30 AM February 4, 2015 3:30 am 177 Comments

This is the sixth in a series of interviews with philosophers on race that I am conducting for
The Stone. This week’s conversation is with Linda Martín Alcoff, a professor of philosophy
at Hunter College and the CUNY Graduate Center. She was the president of the American
Philosophical Association, Eastern Division, for 2012-13. She is the author of “Visible
Identities: Race, Gender, and the Self.” — George Yancy

George Yancy: What is the relationship between your identity as a Latina philosopher and
the philosophical interrogation of race in your work?

Linda Martín Alcoff: Every single person has a racial identity, at least in Western
societies, and so one might imagine that the topic of race is of universal interest. Yet for those
of us who are not white — or less fully white, shall I say — the reality of race is shoved in our
faces in particularly unsettling ways, often from an early age. This can spark reflection as well
as nascent social critique.

The relationship between my identity and my philosophical interest in race is simply a


continuation through the tools of philosophy the pursuit that I began as a kid, growing up in
Florida in the 1960s, watching the civil rights movement as it was portrayed in the media and
perceived by the various parts of my family, white and nonwhite. I experienced school
desegregation, the end of Jim Crow, and the war in Indochina, a war that also made apparent
the racial categories used to differentiate peoples, at enormous cost. It was clear to me from a
young age that “we” were the ones with no value for life, at least the life of those who were not
white.

My sister and I came to the southern United States from Panama as young children, and had
to negotiate our complex identities (mixed-race Latina and white) within a social world
where racial borders were being challenged and renegotiated and, as a result, ceaselessly
patrolled and violently defended.
To imagine all of our wild diversity in embodiment to be irrelevant required a bad faith that
can be seen throughout the canon: racist asides and ridiculous theories about women
alongside generic pronouncements about justice and beauty and the route to truth.

G.Y.: So, given these early experiences, were you drawn to philosophical questions of racial
identity?

In philosophy I was drawn to topics of knowledge (epistemology) and metaphysics, never


ethics, which may seem odd given this background. But the issue of metaphysics raised
questions about how we name what is, and the issue of epistemology raised questions about
how we know what we think we know. Hence, these sub-fields opened the way for me to
consider the contestations over reality as well as over authority. Of course, the received canon
in philosophy was both useful and infuriatingly silent on the topics I was most interested in:
bodies showed up little, and difference was routinely set aside, and yet the debates
over mereological essentialism and other concepts illustrated the possibility of multiple right
answers and of a social and practical context silently guiding the debate. Quine was in vogue
and his ideas about contingent rather than necessary ways to name what is was a short step
from the political analysis of dominant ways of naming that I was interested in.

For many years my personal and my philosophical life were lived as parallel tracks with little
overt interaction. I went to demonstrations, and then came home to finish my Heidegger
homework. I glanced across the fence now and then, but did not attempt serious
philosophical engagement with race until I had published enough that had nothing to do with
race or gender or Latin American philosophy to establish a foothold in the profession. Tenure
set me free, and I immediately began a project on the metaphysics of mixed-race identities.

G.Y.: You mentioned how questions of embodiment were not treated in any substantive way
in your early philosophical training. Why is it that the profession of philosophy, generally
speaking, is still resistant to questions of embodiment and by extension questions of race?

L.M.A.: In my view this is primarily a methodological problem. Philosophers of nearly all


persuasions — analytic, continental, pragmatist — aim for general and generalizable theories
that can explain human experience of all sorts. And the ultimate aim, of course, is not
description but prescription: how can we come to understand ourselves better, to know
better, to understand our world better, and to treat each other better? Worthy goals, but they
are usually pursued with a decontextualized approach, as if the best answers would work for
everyone. To get at that meta-level of generality, some aspects of one’s context need to be set
aside, lopped off, cut out of the picture, and this has traditionally meant the concrete
materiality of human existence as we actually experience it in embodied human form.

This is just a way of saying that the body had to be ignored except in so far as we could
imagine our bodies to be essentially the same. And to achieve that trick of imagination — to
imagine all of our wild diversity in embodiment to be irrelevant — required a bad faith that
can be seen throughout the canon: racist asides and ridiculous theories about women
alongside generic pronouncements about justice and beauty and the route to truth.

I call it bad faith because, on the one hand, nearly all the great philosophers divided human
beings into moral and intellectual hierarchies even while, on the other hand, they presumed,
from their consciously particularist space, to speak for all. Hence, methodologically, the
problem for philosophy is how to speak for all when one does not, in fact, speak to all. And
the solution is to enact a doublespeak in which one justifies not speaking to the mass of
humanity at the same time that one imagines oneself to be speaking for the human core
which exists in all of us. The body, and difference, is simultaneously acknowledged and
disavowed.
This is why philosophers such as Bartolomé de Las Casas in the 16thcentury and W.E.B.
DuBois from even his early writings in the 19thcentury are such powerful figures: They each
explore their own specificity and its impact on how they view the world and others, even to
how they formulate moral questions. They model a discourse that can become part of a
general dialogue in which others can have a voice as well.

G.Y.: Yes. I understand your point about methodology and bad faith. Speak to how this
presumption to speak for others, to place under erasure our diversity of embodiment, is
something that is linked specifically to whiteness, especially within the context of our field,
which continues to be dominated by white males.

L.M.A.: Entitlement is a core feature of white subjectivity, as numerous works by


sociologists such as Joe Feagin document. There is a sense of entitlement to rights and
resources, comfort and attention, access to space and to deference, or being granted
presumptive credibility until proven otherwise. Entitlement is always complicated and
modified by class, gender, religion and sexuality; poor whites, for example, learn early on to
defer to others. But white people as a whole, or as an imagined grouping, are the presumed
paradigms of rights-bearing American citizens. And this seeps into one’s consciousness.

Latin American philosophers have had to justify their prerogative, and their ability, to
contribute to normative debates over the good, the right and the true.

It is inevitable that these social realities will find some manifestation in white-majority (or
even exclusively white) philosophy classrooms. This is especially so given the fact that
philosophy curricular requirements almost never include course topics that might enhance
students’ knowledge or capacity to reflect about these realities. So it should be no surprise
that the work (teaching and scholarship) produced by a white-majority philosophy profession
manifests, in general, an assumed entitlement to rights and resources, comfort and attention,
access to space, and deference. They assume the ability to access all knowledge, and resent
(and resist) theories that might restrict that access, on the grounds, for example, that one’s
identity and experience play a formative role in what one can understand on some matters.
They assume the right to dominate the space — literal and figurative — of philosophical
thought and discussion. They assume the right to have attention and they assume this is
nonreciprocal: others should be reading their work even while they neglect to read the work
of nonwhites. I am speaking in gross generalities that will be unfair to numerous individuals,
but the patterns I am describing are, I suggest, familiar to marginalized philosophers.

G.Y.: In what way has Latin American philosophy challenged such bad faith and the
proclivity to be so methodologically narrow?

L.M.A.: The philosophies developed in the colonized world during the emergence of
European modernity have not had the luxury of such universalist pretensions or
obliviousness. Philosophy in Latin America is very diverse, but one can discern a running
thread of decolonial self-consciousness and aspiration. Thinkers from Europe and the United
States persist even today in dismissing Latin American philosophy, and as a result, Latin
American philosophers have had to justify their prerogative, and their ability, to contribute to
normative debates over the good, the right and the true. But this has had the beneficial result
of making visible the context in which philosophy occurs, and of disabling the usual
pretensions of making transcendent abstractions removed from all concrete realities.

All of the great thinkers, from Simón Bolívar to José Martí, José Carlos Mariátegui, José
Vasconcelos, Leopoldo Zea, Che Guevara, and Enrique Dussel, have had to develop
philosophical arguments within a contextual consciousness ever mindful of colonialism’s
effects in the realm of thought. Since the social identities — racial and ethnic — of their
contexts were made grounds for dismissing claims to self-determination or original thought,
each of these thinkers engaged with the question of Latin American cultural, racial and ethnic
identities and histories. It’s a rich tradition. Knowledge requires self-knowledge. Philosophy’s
lack of diversity in North America has compromised its capacities for both self-knowledge
and knowledge.

Sonia Sotomayor’s claims about the link between identity and judgment brought vitriol, but
her view is a common-sense one most everyone accepts.

G.Y.: Your very last point raises issues of standpoint epistemology — the idea that one’s
social identity is sometimes relevant to what one notices and how one makes judgments. I’m
thinking here in terms of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s comment that her
experience being a wise Latina woman would help her to reach better legal conclusions than a
white male. My sense is that there still exists within America the assumption (inside and
outside the academy) that Latino/a voices and black voices are biased/inferior voices. Yet,
both within and outside of the academy, it seems that there is a positive relationship between
“racialized” identities and the production of knowledge. I think that this question also speaks
to the “reality” of race as lived. What is your view on this?

L.M.A.: One can make an analogy between how Latin American thinkers have had to
theoretically reflect about the intellectual and political effects of their geographical location
and ethno-racial identities, and the way everyone who is not white in North America has had
to engage similar questions just as a necessity of survival in a white supremacist society. So as
a result, outside of white-dominant spaces, the set of debates and discussions about such
topics is much richer, older and more developed, especially in the African-American
philosophical tradition, than anywhere else. Knowledge is not an automatic product of the
experiences engendered by different identities, I would suggest. But there is more motivation
to pursue certain kinds of knowledge, and one often has willing and able interlocutors in
one’s immediate home and community environments who are comfortable with such topics
and have reflected on and debated them. And it is also true that simply the experience of
being nonwhite provides a kind of raw data for analysis.

Sotomayor received so much vitriol for her claims about the link between identity and
judgment that she was forced to renege on them in order to be appointed to the Supreme
Court. But the view she expressed is quite a common-sense view most everyone actually
accepts. Of course it is the case that our differences of background and experience can affect
what we are likely to know already without having to do a Google search, and these
differences also influence what we may be motivated to find out. There is a wealth of
empirical work on jury selection that bears this out, and the members of Congress and
lawyers grilling Sotomayor knew this literature. But there is a taboo on speaking about the
epistemic salience of identity in our public domains of discourse, although it is a taboo that
primarily plays out only for nonwhites, women, and other groups generally considered lower
on our unspoken epistemic hierarchies.

RELATED
More From The Stone
Read previous contributions to this series.
During the Sotomayor kerfuffle, Jon Stewart helpfully played back clips of all the
congressmen who played up their veteran status in their political campaigns, and even
Supreme Court nominees who talked about their own modest class backgrounds as relevant
to their appointment to the court. It is only accepted for whites, and white men in particular,
to use their particularity to augment their epistemic authority in this way, to generate a
heightened trust in their judgment, almost never for others to do the same.

This is itself an interesting issue to explore. Why can the mainstream media acknowledge the
positive epistemic contributions of white particularities but no others? I believe the answer is
that it would simply be too dangerous to the social status quo. Admitting the relevance of
diversity to knowledge would require too much social change at every level and in nearly
every social institution.

Some believe that capitalism will solve this problem with its natural tendency to maximize
profit over all other considerations, such that if racism and sexism thwart product
development, capital will promote inclusion. I am skeptical of this. For one thing, capitalism
profits too much from racism and sexism to let go. And secondly, the need of corporations to
diversify their management pool has more to do with the need to manage effectively a
diversity of low-paid workers than anything else. And if racism and sexism help maintain the
disempowered and underpaid conditions of those workers, capitalism wins both ways.

If we were to acknowledge the relevance of identity to knowledge, the solution would not be
simplistic diversity quotas, but a real engagement with the question of how our unspoken
epistemic hierarchies have distorted our educational institutions, research projects, academic
and scientific fields of inquiry and general public discourse across all of our diverse forms of
media. And then we could pursue a thorough attempt at solutions. Philosophers working in
many domains — concerning epistemology, the social ontology of identity, moral psychology,
the philosophy of science and others — could contribute to these efforts, but philosophy must
first direct such efforts internally.

G.Y.: Lastly, what do you say to those philosophers of color who might feel the pain of
rejection, especially because, for them, their racialized identities are so important to their
philosophical practice/projects? And, more generally, what advice do you have for our
profession in terms of challenging those “unspoken epistemic hierarchies.”

L.M.A.: Our profession continues to be an inhospitable climate for philosophers of color


working on race, so the first thing to do is to acknowledge this. Some significant progress has
been made, it is true, and there are a few high profile individuals, but one can no more
imagine that these individual successes show that the climate is now open and fair than we
can imagine that Oprah’s and Beyoncé’s successes prove that all is fine for black working
women. Too many philosophers still operate with depoliticized notions of “real” philosophy
and consider both feminist and critical race work suspect because they are politically
motivated rather than concerned only with truth. The result is a lot of micro-aggressions, as
well as general neglect of the emerging scholarship.

I am not optimistic about convincing the mainstream. I don’t believe that if we just do serious
and good philosophical work that its merit will shine through. To believe that, one would
have to believe that philosophy is a true intellectual meritocracy, that philosophers are
immune from racism and sexism and implicit bias, and that longstanding framing
assumptions about the depolitical nature of philosophy will not skew judgment.

A better solution lies in working multiple strategies: 1) carving out, and regularly nurturing,
those spaces — journals, professional societies, conferences — in which all who are interested
in the sub-field of critical race philosophy can develop our work within a constructively
critical community; 2) developing our understanding of the sociology of the profession, in
other words, the extent, causes and effects of its demographic challenges and hostile climate.
We need to develop this understanding in a philosophical way, that might include, for
example, new and more realistic norms of epistemic justification and argumentation that can
provide some redress for our non-ideal context of work; 3) doing as much as we can to widen
and strengthen the stream of young people of color who make a choice, an informed choice,
hopefully, to try their hand at philosophy. The burden is on the marginalized and our allies to
do this work. What else is new?

But what I would also say to young philosophers is that this is actually a great time to join the
discipline. We have the beginnings of a critical mass, a beachhead, with multiple conferences
now each year, several organizations such as the Society for the Study of Africana Philosophy,
the Caribbean Philosophical Association and the California Roundtable on Race. There is a
new journal, Critical Philosophy of Race, as well as some receptivity in existing journals. And
there is a growing community of frankly rather brilliant people busily working to advance our
collective understanding of race, racism and colonialism. Also, there are many students in
undergraduate classrooms receptive to these questions. The margins are flourishing and
growing. In this sense, it is a positive moment.

The World’s Greatest Living Philosopher


ON FEBRUARY 3, 2015 • ( 103 )

by Robert Nola The French Philosophe Alain Badiou gave a lecture at


Auckland University in December 2014 entitled “À la recherche du réel perdu: In search of
the lost real.” The full talk is on YouTube [1].

We are lucky to present here extracts from the diary which he kept while in New Zealand and
which make comments on his talk.

Day 1. In Paradise in search of the lost real! Mon Dieu! Here I am in New Zealand. It is
Paradise as we say in France! And it must be since here they think that I am the world’s
greatest living philosopher. Which I am of course, c’est vrai! Will my world-wide search for
the “lost real” end with its discovery here in Paradise? The economic always hides the real
making it lost. Here as elsewhere the “real” is thoroughly confounded with the economic.
Though I must admit when I tripped over a gutter this morning, the gutter seemed real enough
and not just a bit of the economic.

I also say that all knowledge has been progressively reduced to the economic. Yes, all!
Protesting physicists, chemists and biologists do not get my point; even their knowledge of
the stars, chemicals and bugs they investigate are nothing more than reductions to the
economic. How do we get hold of the lost real? One way is through the scandals with which
we are surrounded. Scandals reveal a small bit of the lost real. With the scandal we touch the
real. It is the real of the real. But there is paradox here in that not only are scandals real but
what they reveal about the previously lost is also real. Is this a real paradox? But if I am in
Paradise there cannot be scandals! If so, it is not likely I will touch the real here. Unless, of
course, I am not in Paradise! My French logic is quite precise here. So I will have to check
what my travel brochures say about scandals in the paradise of New Zealand. As we will see
the large audience at my talk to nod in agreement.

Day 2. The real and the possibility of the impossible In my talk today I took my audience back
to the beginning of philosophy in our search for the lost real. I asked them: What is the real?
Here I quote my French colleague Jacques Lacan who says: “the real is the impasse of
formalization.” This is really obscure! But if we were to clarify it people might easily see
through it and raise objections. So do not clarify it! Instead let me illustrate with an equally
obscure example from arithmetic.

In arithmetic there are formal rules for addition, subtraction, multiplication, and the like. Also
there is no final number because we must be free to calculate whatever numbers we like. So
the sequence of numbers must have no end. Without the idea of an infinite sequence we
cannot have the freedom of calculation. But arithmetic does not accept infinite numbers;
calculation always leads to finite numbers. So the real of numbers within the formalization of
arithmetic must always be finite. But there remains something that is really real — an
inexistent infinity that cannot be captured by the formalization. So the formalization is useless
concerning the lost real; it requires something that it cannot formalize. This shows that the
infinite is the point of the impasse of our calculation which must remain finite. A vindication
of Lacan! Do you grasp this? Our French logic is impeccable, n’est-ce pas? French logic is
always right; if you disagree with it you do not understand it.

Yet there are many critics who say that my account of arithmetic is riddled with fallacies and
that I do not know what I am talking about. In contrast the audience of sociologists in
Paradise were much more polite and accepting and agreed with my French logic. Lacan’s
insight can be generalized. For any formalization, or set of rules, or framework concerning
any matter or system of human thought, of which arithmetic is just one example, there is
always an impasse to something else on which it relies but which cannot be expressed in the
formalization. My work always depends on a principle of French Philosophy of maximizing
obscurity: never say clearly what you can say much more obscurely. Being obscure can make
you famous and give you lots of interpreters. If one is clear, no one cares. Given this principle
we put Lacan’s insight in another way. What is made possible in the formalization depends on
what is impossible in the formalization. Now maximize obscurity and say: the possible is
made so by the real of the impossible. Voilà! The impossible makes the possible! This is the
delicious dialectic of the possible and the impossible. It is the beauty of French philosophy
that it makes the totally obscure dialectic as clear as crystal. Merde!

Day 3. The lost real can never be found? Yesterday’s talk is now on YouTube. This is my last
Day in Paradise, yet the “lost real” has yet to be made fully real, or else it remains in Paradise
lost. Yesterday’s example from arithmetic is trivial compared to other ways in which the
possible is made possible by the impossible. Lacan’s insight also applies to the cinema, or
Marxism, capitalism, politics, or anything. But in general when we are in any formalization,
or play any human game, we must suppose the possibility of the impossible.

We are in the real of something, we touch the real, when we affirm the possibility of
something that is impossible. Is there a problem here? I have said that when we are in some
formalization with its possibilities then there is something impossible in the formalization, the
real, which makes possible the possibilities of the formalization. But what about this first
real? Can we not talk of it and have a formalization of it? If we suppose a second
formalization to be able to talk about the first real, then this second formalization will in turn
suppose a further second real that underpins its possibilities. And so on. It looks as if the real
is like a sequence of Russian dolls inside one another and we have no guarantee that we will
stop at the final real doll — the dolls go on and on. Is this not impeccable French logic?

So the search for the real is hopeless; we will never find it. Not even here in Paradise! But I
did not tell my audience this. Otherwise the university would not have paid my trip here —
the economic of the real trip. My little scandal in Paradise! But they do think that I am the
world’s greatest living philosopher! That is not a lost real but a real real!

_____

Robert Nola is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Auckland. His interests span
philosophy of science, metaphysics (including naturalism), epistemology, selected areas in
social and historical studies of science, atheism, and science and religion. He feels extremely
lucky to have been present at Alain Badiou’s lecture.

Bertrand Russell on Immortality, Why Religion Exists, and


What “The Good Life” Really Means
by Maria Popova

“There are forces making for happiness, and forces making for misery. We do
not know which will prevail, but to act wisely we must be aware of both.”

Bertrand Russell (May 18, 1872–February 2, 1970) is one of humanity’s most grounding yet elevating thinkers, his
writing at once lucid and luminous. There is something almost prophetic in the way he bridges timelessness and
timeliness in contemplating ideas urgently relevant to modern life a century earlier — from how boredom makes
happiness possibleto why science is the key to democracy. But nowhere does his genius shine more brilliantly than
in What I Believe (public library).

Published in 1925, the book is a kind of catalog of hopes — a counterpoint to Russell’s Icarus, a catalog of fears
released the previous year — exploring our place in the universe and our “possibilities in the way of achieving the
good life.”

Russell writes in the preface:

In human affairs, we can see that there are forces making for happiness, and forces making for misery. We do not know which
will prevail, but to act wisely we must be aware of both.

One of Russell’s most central points deals with our civilizational allergy to uncertainty, which we try to alleviate in
ways that don’t serve the human spirit. Nearly a century before astrophysicist Marcelo Gleiser’s magnificent manifesto
for mystery in the age of knowledge — and many decades before “wireless” came to mean what it means today,
making the metaphor all the more prescient and apt — Russell writes:

It is difficult to imagine anything less interesting or more different from the passionate delights of incomplete discovery. It is like
climbing a high mountain and finding nothing at the top except a restaurant where they sell ginger beer, surrounded by fog but
equipped with wireless.
Long before modern neuroscience even existed, let alone knew what it now knows about why we have the thoughts we
do — the subject of an excellent recent episode of the NPR’s Invisibilia — Russell points to the physical origins of
what we often perceive as metaphysical reality:

What we call our “thoughts” seem to depend upon the organization of tracks in the brain in the same sort of way in which
journeys depend upon roads and railways. The energy used in thinking seems to have a chemical origin; for instance, a
deficiency of iodine will turn a clever man into an idiot. Mental phenomena seem to be bound up with material structure.

Nowhere, Russell argues, do our thought-fictions stand in starker contrast with physical reality than in religious
mythology — and particularly in our longing for immortality which, despite a universe whose very nature contradicts
the possibility, all major religions address with some version of a promise for eternal life. With his characteristic
combination of cool lucidity and warm compassion for the human experience, Russell writes:

God and immortality … find no support in science… No doubt people will continue to entertain these beliefs, because they are
pleasant, just as it is pleasant to think ourselves virtuous and our enemies wicked. But for my part I cannot see any ground for
either.

And yet, noting that the existence or nonexistence of a god cannot be proven for it lies “outside the region of even
probable knowledge,” he considers the special case of personal immortality, which “stands on a somewhat different
footing” and in which “evidence either way is possible”:

Persons are part of the everyday world with which science is concerned, and the conditions which determine their existence are
discoverable. A drop of water is not immortal; it can be resolved into oxygen and hydrogen. If, therefore, a drop of water were to
maintain that it had a quality of aqueousness which would survive its dissolution we should be inclined to be skeptical. In like
manner we know that the brain is not immortal, and that the organized energy of a living body becomes, as it were, demobilized
at death, and therefore not available for collective action. All the evidence goes to show that what we regard as our mental life is
bound up with brain structure and organized bodily energy. Therefore it is rational to suppose that mental life ceases when bodily
life ceases. The argument is only one of probability, but it is as strong as those upon which most scientific conclusions are based.

But evidence, Russell points out, has little bearing on what we actually believe. (In the decades since, pioneering
psychologist and Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman has demonstrated that the confidence we have in our beliefs is no
measure of their accuracy.) Noting that we simply desire to believe in immortality, Russell writes:

Believers in immortality will object to physiological arguments [against personal immortality] on the ground that soul and body are
totally disparate, and that the soul is something quite other than its empirical manifestations through our bodily organs. I believe
this to be a metaphysical superstition. Mind and matter alike are for certain purposes convenient terms, but are not ultimate
realities. Electrons and protons, like the soul, are logical fictions; each is really a history, a series of events, not a single persistent
entity. In the case of the soul, this is obvious from the facts of growth. Whoever considers conception, gestation, and infancy
cannot seriously believe that the soul in any indivisible something, perfect and complete throughout this process. It is evident that it
grows like the body, and that it derives both from the spermatozoon and from the ovum, so that it cannot be indivisible.

Long before the term “reductionism” would come to dismiss material answers to spiritual questions, Russell offers an
elegant disclaimer:

This is not materialism: it is merely the recognition that everything interesting is a matter of organization, not of primal substance.

Our obsession with immortality, Russell contends, is rooted in our fear of death — a fear that, as Alan Watts has
eloquently argued, is rather misplaced if we are to truly accept our participation in the cosmos. Russell writes:

Fear is the basis of religious dogma, as of so much else in human life. Fear of human beings, individually or collectively,
dominates much of our social life, but it is fear of nature that gives rise to religion. The antithesis of mind and matter is … more or
less illusory; but there is another antithesis which is more important — that, namely, between things that can be affected by our
desires and things that cannot be so affected. The line between the two is neither sharp nor immutable — as science advances,
more and more things are brought under human control. Nevertheless there remain things definitely on the other side. Among
these are all the large facts of our world, the sort of facts that are dealt with by astronomy. It is only facts on or near the surface of
the earth that we can, to some extent, mould to suit our desires. And even on the surface of the earth our powers are very limited.
Above all, we cannot prevent death, although we can often delay it.

Religion is an attempt to overcome this antithesis. If the world is controlled by God, and God can be moved by prayer, we acquire
a share in omnipotence… Belief in God … serves to humanize the world of nature, and to make men feel that physical forces are
really their allies. In like manner immortality removes the terror from death. People who believe that when they die they will inherit
eternal bliss may be expected to view death without horror, though, fortunately for medical men, this does not invariably happen.
It does, however, soothe men’s fears somewhat even when it cannot allay them wholly.

In a sentiment of chilling prescience in the context of recent religiously-motivated atrocities, Russell adds:

Religion, since it has its source in terror, has dignified certain kinds of fear, and made people think them not disgraceful. In this it
has done mankind a great disservice: all fear is bad.

Science, Russell suggests, offers the antidote to such terror — even if its findings are at first frightening as they
challenge our existing beliefs, the way Galileo did. He captures this necessary discomfort beautifully:

Even if the open windows of science at first make us shiver after the cosy indoor warmth of traditional humanizing myths, in the
end the fresh air brings vigor, and the great spaces have a splendor of their own.

But Russell’s most enduring point has to do with our beliefs about the nature of the universe in relation to us. More
than eight decades before legendary graphic designer Milton Glaser’s exquisite proclamation — “If you perceive the
universe as being a universe of abundance, then it will be. If you think of the universe as one of scarcity, then it will
be.” — Russell writes:

Optimism and pessimism, as cosmic philosophies, show the same naïve humanism; the great world, so far as we know it from
the philosophy of nature, is neither good nor bad, and is not concerned to make us happy or unhappy. All such philosophies
spring from self-importance, and are best corrected by a little astronomy.

He admonishes against confusing “the philosophy of nature,” in which such neutrality is necessary, with “the
philosophy of value,” which beckons us to create meaning by conferring human values upon the world:

Nature is only a part of what we can imagine; everything, real or imagined, can be appraised by us, and there is no outside
standard to show that our valuation is wrong. We are ourselves the ultimate and irrefutable arbiters of value, and in the world of
value Nature is only a part. Thus in this world we are greater than Nature. In the world of values, Nature in itself is neutral, neither
good nor bad, deserving of neither admiration nor censure. It is we who create value and our desires which confer value… It is for
us to determine the good life, not for Nature — not even for Nature personified as God.

Russell’s definition of that “good life” remains the simplest and most heartening one I’ve ever encountered:

The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge.

Knowledge and love are both indefinitely extensible; therefore, however good a life may be, a better life can be imagined. Neither
love without knowledge, nor knowledge without love can produce a good life.

What I Believe is a remarkably prescient and rewarding read in its entirety — Russell goes on to explore the nature of
the good life, what salvation means in a secular sense for the individual and for society, the relationship between
science and happiness, and more. Complement it with Russell on human nature, the necessary capacity for “fruitful
monotony,” and his ten commandments of teaching and learning, then revisit Alan Lightman on why we long for
immortality.

TOM SPARROW

he End of Phenomenology: Metaphysics and the New Realism

Tom Sparrow, The End of Phenomenology: Metaphysics and the New Realism, Edinburgh University Press, 2014, 197pp.,

$34.95 (pbk), ISBN 9780748684830.

Reviewed byTimothy A.D. Hyde, Stony Brook University


Is phenomenology dead? Has it been killed off by Speculative Realism and Object Oriented Ontology
(OOO)? Do those movements at least have phenomenology in their sights or are they merely a
throwback to a pre-critical age? Or, once everything suspect is removed from them, are they not just a
continuation of phenomenology? Tom Sparrow's book takes a stand on these questions, not only by
suggesting that phenomenology is dead, by its own hand, no less, if not stillborn, but also by arguing
that the method essential to phenomenological means that, almost by definition, no continental
philosophical realism can be phenomenological.

Philosophy that relies too heavily on the way it defines its terms, however, is never satisfying, and this
book comes perilously close to defining phenomenology in such a way as to exclude the realistic
elements in it. If one defines phenomenology as anti-realist and speculative realism as realist then, of
course, the two are mutually exclusive. But there certainly are realistic tendencies in Heidegger, as
Graham Harman frequently stresses. The same is true of Merleau-Ponty, and the theological turn of
Jean-Luc Marion, Michel Henry and Levinas claims to have some access to the absolute other as other.
Of course, the question isn't whether phenomenologists claim to be realist, because phenomenologists
frequently repeat that they are not idealist. The question is, as Sparrow repeatedly stresses, whether
they are actually able to escape idealism.

There are two parts to this book: a broad-brush attack on phenomenology and, from chapter three
onwards, a broad-brush overview of various philosophical approaches loosely lumped under the
heading of speculative realism. While I am sympathetic to this project, both parts have shortcomings. I
think that Sparrow's criticism of phenomenology only really sticks to Husserl, thus leaving the
possibility that later phenomenology is more contiguous with speculative realism than Sparrow's
analysis would suggest. And the second part doesn't analyze the speculative realism movement as a
whole or address the individual thinkers critically.

It would be a little otiose to summarize a summary of Quentin Meillassoux (ch.3), Graham Harman
(ch.4) and Levi Bryant, Timothy Morton, Ian Bogost, Jane Bennett and Iain Hamilton Grant (ch.5), so all I
am going to say is that the summaries of the thinkers I know well are accurate, so, to paraphrase
Socrates, I assume the others are too. But the very fact that it would be odd to re-summarize this part
of the book raises a question. What is the purpose of these summaries, who is their intended audience?
Presumably not someone who has read Harman's The Quadruple Object, Meillassoux's After Finitude,
and Grant's Philosophies of Nature After Schelling. But they must be intended for a moderate
proponent of phenomenology, since it would surely be redundant to try to convince a Daniel Dennett
that phenomenology as a methodology is bust. But given that, the thinkers are handled so briefly and
uncritically that it is hard to imagine that even a moderately sympathetic reader is going to be swayed.
Perhaps even more importantly, many of these author's works are admirably concise and
accessible. The Quadruple Object weighs in at 157 pages, and After Finitude at 160, and neither of
them uses particularly small print. If anyone is interested in an introduction to speculative realism,
those are surely the places to go. It might be worthwhile introducing the second generation of OOO
such as Bryant, Morton, Bogost, and Bennet since they are probably less well known and could benefit
by being introduced to a larger public. But the treatment of them is so cursory that it cannot serve such
a purpose. A work such as this surely needs a critical engagement with the thinkers to really command
an audience, as Sparrow admits, while saying that he has "not attempted to defend them" (190).
This is especially problematic because so much of speculative realism is a work in progress. Harman's
use of metaphor and allusion to talk about the inner life of objects that we can never stand in any
relation to is troubling. As is his need for vicarious causation between the inner life of his objects and
their sensuous life, which are cut off from one another by definition. Meillassoux's philosophy is a
promissory note. After Finitude is mainly negative. It sets up a problem but gives us no solution.
Meillassoux's supposed Magnus Opus, Divine Inexistence, is an unpublished manuscript, bits of which
make up part of Harman's Quentin Meillassoux: Philosophy in the Making. And Sparrow's Ray Brassier
fails to explain how third-person scientific description will actually get at the "non-manifest dimension
of phenomenality" (156). I am excited about many of these approaches to philosophy in the twenty-first
century, but it is still far from clear that any of them are viable alternatives to phenomenology, even if
we take it as given that phenomenology ultimately fails. A secondary work on them surely needs to
tackle that question head on.
Not only do the speculative realists individually need to be handled more critically, so does the
movement as a whole, especially since their individual systems are contrary to one another, if not
outright contradictory. But there are other issues that need to be raised, too. Do all post-Kantian
realisms have to be speculative and in what way, and are all of them speculative in the requisite sense?
While Sparrow tells us in the preface, "I hope to provide here an account of the coherence that
underlies [Speculative Realism's] diversity" (xii), nowhere does such an account surface. He tantalizingly
asks, "of what does speculation consist?" (61), but his answer is, basically, "diverse approaches." In fact,
by page 146 he has obviously given up addressing what speculation is, admitting that he won't address
the relationship between realism and speculation. A work such as this needs an engagement with
speculative realism as a movement bound together by something more than all having been at the
same conference in 2007. And it is not as if Sparrow doesn't understand this. As he puts it, "The
specific difference between a realist and a speculative realist must be identified, otherwise speculative
realism will meet a fate similar to that of phenomenology" (190).
What of the other part, Sparrow's analysis of phenomenology? He asks whether phenomenology is or
can be realist. He then notes repeatedly that just saying that you are not an idealist doesn't make it so.
Sparrow is also surely right that the standard phenomenologist's reply that phenomenology is beyond
the idealism/realism dispute or that phenomenology is a realism if you only understand what "to be
real" means are both profoundly unsatisfying responses. To decide what phenomenologists are allowed
to claim, we need to understand how phenomenological description works. A description is only
phenomenological if it takes place "from within some form of methodological reduction that shifts the
focus of the description to the transcendental . . . level" (14). Thus, any phenomenology must follow
Husserl's "Principle of Principles," which involves describing things as they are immanently given to us.
The only candidate for a non-Husserlian phenomenological method or style is something like a shared
respect for concreteness, or access to the rich elsewhere through various forms of resistance we find in
the phenomenal sphere. Sparrow argues that a rhetoric of concreteness is not sufficient to make such
"phenomenology" philosophical, let alone realist; and, although much too briefly, that phenomena such
as surprise are insufficient to allow us to make claims about the existence of something beyond a
world correlated with subjectivity.

What Sparrow proves, it seems to me, is that Husserlian phenomenology, if it had been what Husserl
wanted it to be, namely, a rigorous science, would be anti-realist; but since Husserl never gave us a
definitive explication of the method and everyone else has pretty much given up on it, the "method for
philosophy as strict science" has never existed (185). But this hardly implies that post-Husserlian
phenomenology is anti-realist. In fact, it doesn't even imply that Husserl was anti-realist. It implies that
he was a failed anti-realist, and given the radical break between the Husserlian project and most of
post-Husserlian phenomenology, perhaps what Sparrow shows is that we shouldn't call post-Husserlian
phenomenology "phenomenology" at all. I have long thought that Husserl can be usefully thought of as
the last enlightenment thinker in the tradition of Kant, and Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty and the so-called
theological phenomenologists, as counter-enlightenment thinkers going back to the likes of Hamann
and Jacobi. If Sparrow had used this schema, he would have realized that he needed to spend much
more time proving that the brush he tars Husserl with works against everyone else.

Sparrow's analysis of Heidegger displays the problem of defining phenomenology so narrowly. On the
one hand, having defined phenomenology as the anti-realist transcendental phenomenology of Husserl
-- assuming for the moment that it is such -- much, in fact most, of Heidegger is, of course, not
phenomenology. So while one can admit that one can find in later Heidegger many resources for
realism (39), it can't be produced as evidence that phenomenology has a streak of realism. On the
other hand, Sparrow wants to include all of Heidegger under the umbrella of phenomenology so as to
oppose him to speculative realism, which is effectively an umbrella term for post-phenomenological
realisms. The correct conclusion, of course, should, rather, be that Heidegger, by that definition, is a
speculative realist. But that would take the wind out of the sails of the new kids on the block. If it
doesn't make sense to call Heidegger a speculative realist, and it makes some sense as Harman proves,
it is because it makes no sense to suggest that nine-tenths of Heidegger is not phenomenological.

As it is, Sparrow has two criticisms of Heidegger. The first is based on the centrality of dasein to the
question of the meaning of being in Being and Time. The second is based on Heidegger's criticism of
metaphysics. To criticize Being and Time as too stuck in a transcendental paradigm is really to forget
that the bit of Being and Time that we have is only preparatory. The being it gets at is the meaning of
being on the basis of the being of dasein. Only after that project was Heidegger suppose to get to the
meaning of being überhaupt. The criticism of Heidegger's early approach as a criticism of Heidegger in
general is even more unreasonable since, arguably, Heidegger comes to realize that his approach
in Being and Time is still too tainted with transcendental residue from Husserl to allow him to get to
where he wanted to go Therefore, he has to radicalize his approach -- although the "formal indication"
in his early lectures indicates how he hoped to, if I may say it, speculate about being itself during this
early period -- which, of course, under Sparrow's definition would not be phenomenological either.
Sparrow's suggestion (39), following Lee Braver, that Heidegger's criticism of metaphysics as
ontotheology is radically anti-realist misses the mark even more. Traditional realism is a metaphysics
of presence. A metaphysics of presence is a metaphysics for which the real is either utterly presently
present or eternally present in such a way that time drops out of the picture. That sort of realism is, for
Heidegger, wildly misguided, as is any epistemological realism that stems from it. But it does not
follow from Heidegger's lifelong criticism of metaphysics that philosophy becomes human-centric, as
the "Letter on Humanism" shows and Sparrow notes (40). What follows from it is that we need to think
of being in terms of temporality (in terms of Temporalität not merely the Zeitlichkeit of dasein) or as
event. I will return to this temporal aspect of ontology in a moment.

One of two loci of realism in phenomenology is to be found, as Sparrow notes, in some form of
resistance (Merleau-Ponty (15), Heidegger (43)), saturation (Marion (17)), or surprise (Levinas (57)), a
trick we have been trying not just since Dilthey and Scheler (43), but all the way back to Fichte, at the
very least. Sparrow spends most of his time designating these attempts as non-phenomenological. But
whether they are phenomenological in Sparrow's sense or not is immaterial. What matters is whether
such attempts to escape the transcendental idealism of Husserl succeed, but Sparrow spends only half
a dozen short paragraphs engaging this question directly (57-59). Yet his entire thesis depends on
whether such resistances indicate ruptures and hence the Other, or whether they merely appear within
a horizon of our expectations, in which case we are firmly in the land of idealism. Everything hangs on
whether "What resists phenomenology within us -- natural being, the 'barbarous' source that Schelling
spoke of -- cannot remain outside phenomenology and should have its place within it" (154), or
whether we do in fact have to go, say, with the neo-Schellingen approach of Grant or some other neo-
Hegelian approach to nature (189). Rather than making this argument central to the book, Sparrow
soon returns to pointing out that such claims are not phenomenological in the Husserlian sense of the
term, which, of course, could well be true, but they still leave, e.g., Levinas a non-Husserlian
phenomenological realist.

This leaves us with Sparrow's claim that a methodological reduction is what links phenomenology
together as a philosophical approach, and that a rhetoric of concreteness -- the other candidate -- fails
to make a description philosophical, let alone realist. Otherwise, as he cheekily points out, we might as
well consider Melville as a phenomenologist of whaling (5). But, as Sparrow also notes, Husserl
famously never got "to the specification of a determinate phenomenological method, and many of his
followers famously gave up on it" (189). In fact, not only did we never get a finalized version of the
methodology of philosophy as rigorous science, but also later phenomenology rejected a complete
reduction as impossible. But if phenomenology gives up on the reduction, how is it still
phenomenology? Later phenomenologies are such because they, like so many of the speculative
realists, argue that you still have to go through Husserl or some form of correlationism.

Later phenomenologists mine the implications of the impossibility of a complete reduction. All later
phenomenologies are phenomenologies only in opposition to Husserl. We only call them
phenomenology because they work on the corpse of Husserl's phenomenology. We have to endlessly
return to the question of what phenomenology is (44) and continually bring the reduction itself into a
reduction. As Sparrow tellingly puts it, working off Merleau-Ponty, phenomenology as a method "is
impossible because it must infinitely return to and reflect on its beginning, which means it can never
begin" (48). His mistake is telling. The correct inference is, rather, that phenomenology could never
have begun. It can, in fact must always, be re-attempting to begin. Phenomenology can always have a
future; what it cannot have is a past. Or as Heidegger puts it in "My Way to Phenomenology," quoting
himself from Being and Time, phenomenology's "essential character does not consist in being actual as
a philosophical school. Higher than actuality stands possibility. The comprehension of phenomenology
consists in grasping it as possibility."

There is a temporal dimension to being and the thinking of being, which interestingly enough comes
out in this very dispute. For Meillassoux, we have to be able to think about the reality of a time prior to
any possible givenness, a time in which givenness arises. For Kant, as well as Husserl, the meaning of
the term reality must involve things that can be given to some subjectivity in the present or some
future present. But there is a third option. Being and the philosophy that tries to think it could be
essentially and ineluctably futural. Later phenomenology doesn't give up on the reduction; later
phenomenology only gives up on a rigorous predefined method. As Sparrow himself remarks,

If we attribute sufficient importance to the role that methodology plays in philosophy, then I
think that we must always remain on guard when a phenomenologist begins to talk about the
prereflective, prepersonal, preperceptual and above all transcendent things. (75)

Quite. That is the problem with methodological purity. Dominique Janicaud is right, and Sparrow is
right to quote him, writing that Levinas "is the abandonment of the phenomenological method, a
farewell to the Husserlian ambition of rigor" (53). But for later phenomenology, this is precisely what
the failure of Husserl requires.
So what of the rhetoric of concreteness? Sparrow notes that "the attachment to realism is palpable in
phenomenology's rhetoric [of concreteness], but is this attachment philosophically justified?" (70). The
answer is, of course, no. Methodological justification is what is forsworn by later phenomenology. I
think we can say that later phenomenology has a method without a methodology. Concrete life must
be lived through by the phenomenologist and each and every one of us in turn, not merely talked or
theorized about. Similarly, carnal phenomenology poetically creates an atmosphere to evoke our
embodied immersion in the elemental (78-79). Like all poetry, it can be read as an assemblage of
rhetorical devices, but that is not how to read poetry poetically, and the question at hand is, if such
poetry can be read philosophically, to give us an appreciation of the prereflective, prepersonal,
preperceptual ground of all things. The difference between this approach to philosophy and Melville is
that these descriptions are within a reduction, albeit an incomplete reduction; that is, a reduction of
that very reduction and a discourse that must attune itself to the matter to be thought rather than
dictate to the matter to be thought how it must be thought. As Heidegger puts it in "The End of
Philosophy," "For it is not yet decided in what way that which needs no proof in order to become
accessible to thinking is to be experienced."

Sparrow is right that if phenomenology sticks to the Husserlian project, it can only remain in an idealist
orbit. Ironically, what his work makes clear by implication is that for this very reason we need to think
of later phenomenology as not only rejecting the Husserlian project, but rejecting any sense that
philosophy should rely on a fixed justified pre-given method. For that is the only way it can hope to
escape idealism. Whether it is ultimately successful, or whether some version of the many speculative
realisms will be more philosophically fecund, is, however, yet to be decided.