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Re: Can anything escape 'the political'?

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  • jimstuart46
    Mary, Thank you for further clarification. I now have a much better understanding of where you are coming from. Possibly on your Sartrian definition of
    Message 1 of 13 , Aug 12 9:25 AM
      Mary,

      Thank you for further clarification. I now have a much better
      understanding of where you are coming from.

      Possibly on your Sartrian definition of existentialism, I don't
      count as an existentialist, but as a moralist instead – perhaps
      similar to Camus.

      I haven't read much Sartre, so I am grateful for your comments on
      his position. I do, however, find a tension between two of the
      things you say:

      First: "JPS posited that choosing for yourself is* choosing for
      others."

      Second: "Discussion of personal freedom in and of itself isn't
      existential unless it includes activism for the personal freedom of
      others."

      Let me try to articulate why I find a tension between these two
      claims.

      "Choosing for others" seems to imply that the others are not capable
      of choosing for themselves, and sounds like a paternalistic
      overriding of their freedom to choose for themselves. It sounds
      like "I know better than you, so I'm choosing for you. If I left you
      to yourself, you'd choose the wrong alternative."

      Perhaps this interpretation is not what you meant, and, the second
      quote seems to go against this interpretation. The second quote
      implies that I ought to act so as to further the freedom of others.
      Again, I'm perplexed, as I thought that Sartre argued that every
      human being was completely free. If this is true, how can I possibly
      increase the freedom of others?

      Sorry for being such a dumb student.

      Jim
    • Mary Jo
      Yes, it appears to be an apparent tension. My terminology is simplistic and perhaps misrepresentative, but choosing for others doesn t literally mean choosing
      Message 2 of 13 , Aug 12 10:57 AM
        Yes, it appears to be an apparent tension. My terminology is
        simplistic and perhaps misrepresentative, but choosing for others
        doesn't literally mean choosing for others, and increasing others'
        freedom isn't what the U.S. is doing in Iraq. Existentialism isn't
        paternalistic. I haven't time today to answer comprehensively but
        here are some helpful websites. I recommend the last link first.

        Mary

        http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/sartre/works/exist/sartre.ht
        m
        http://www.uri.edu/personal/szunjic/philos/human.htm
        http://www.uri.edu/personal/szunjic/philos/human2.htm



        --- In existlist@yahoogroups.com, "jimstuart46" <jjimstuart@...>
        wrote:
        >
        > Mary,
        >
        > Thank you for further clarification. I now have a much better
        > understanding of where you are coming from.
        >
        > Possibly on your Sartrian definition of existentialism, I don't
        > count as an existentialist, but as a moralist instead – perhaps
        > similar to Camus.
        >
        > I haven't read much Sartre, so I am grateful for your comments on
        > his position. I do, however, find a tension between two of the
        > things you say:
        >
        > First: "JPS posited that choosing for yourself is* choosing for
        > others."
        >
        > Second: "Discussion of personal freedom in and of itself isn't
        > existential unless it includes activism for the personal freedom of
        > others."
        >
        > Let me try to articulate why I find a tension between these two
        > claims.
        >
        > "Choosing for others" seems to imply that the others are not
        capable
        > of choosing for themselves, and sounds like a paternalistic
        > overriding of their freedom to choose for themselves. It sounds
        > like "I know better than you, so I'm choosing for you. If I left
        you
        > to yourself, you'd choose the wrong alternative."
        >
        > Perhaps this interpretation is not what you meant, and, the second
        > quote seems to go against this interpretation. The second quote
        > implies that I ought to act so as to further the freedom of others.
        > Again, I'm perplexed, as I thought that Sartre argued that every
        > human being was completely free. If this is true, how can I
        possibly
        > increase the freedom of others?
        >
        > Sorry for being such a dumb student.
        >
        > Jim
        >
      • jimstuart46
        Wil, You write: Freedom and responsibility are antipodal. They are contradictions, in a dialectical sense, if you prefer. Kant s (ethical) philosophy is a
        Message 3 of 13 , Aug 12 12:06 PM
          Wil,

          You write:

          "Freedom and responsibility are antipodal. They are contradictions,
          in a dialectical sense, if you prefer. Kant's (ethical) philosophy is
          a testament to that ambiguity. He winds up opining that one is most
          free when one is most bound beneath universal law, or a categorical
          imperative, the argumentative counterpoise being the self-imposed
          bondage of caprice."

          I am well aware of Kant's argument. In fact I think it is one of the
          best arguments in the history of philosophy. I think he may be right
          to conclude that the person who just follows his strongest desires is
          less free than the person who voluntarily binds himself to some
          ethical absolute.

          However, unlike you, I don't think Kant's argument implies that
          freedom and responsibility do not go together. Kant's argument is
          about how a human being should be in order to be free. I don't see
          the argument as introducing a tension between freedom and
          responsibility.

          I agree that talking of free will is problematic, but I think we all
          have a good pre-philosophical idea of what is involved in a person
          having free will.

          Also, I find it perverse that you wish to distance talk of free will
          from the essence of Existentialism. Do you disagree with CSW's choice
          of definitions of existentialism, which he has put on
          the "Definitions" page of his "Existential Primer"?

          This is what CSW has put on his Existential Primer:

          "Though existentialism is a term applied loosely to a range of
          philosophies, there are unifying themes in the writings of the
          existentialists. Dictionaries and first-year philosophy texts offer
          simple definitions of existentialism:

          The doctrine that existence takes precedence over essence and holding
          that man is totally free and responsible for his acts. This
          responsibility is the source of dread and anguish that encompass
          mankind.
          - Webster's New World Dictionary, Second College Edition; William
          Collins Publishers, Inc.; Cleveland, Ohio; 1979

          A philosophy that emphasizes the uniqueness and isolation of the
          individual experience in a hostile or indifferent universe, regards
          human existence as unexplainable, and stresses freedom of choice and
          responsibility for the consequences of one's acts.
          - American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition
          © 1992 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Electronic version licensed from
          INSO Corporation. "

          As an existentialist do you really want to say "Freedom and
          responsibility are antipodal. They are contradictions, in a
          dialectical sense, if you prefer"?

          I agree that we do not "choose the manifold of choices", but I want
          to insist we do choose from "the manifold of choices" which present
          themselves to our consciousness. At least, I make a commitment to
          this way of looking at things.

          When discussing the nature of responsibility, you write:

          "I think you are thinking of the terms here in too much their reduced
          conversational usages. But even speaking in that way, what possible
          meaning can the word "responsibility" have if it does not implicitly
          contain some sense of 'ought'; and what is 'ought' but moral law?"

          Here you seem to be implying that existentialism is committed to the
          idea of the moral law. Again, I find this perverse. For me, one of
          the basic tenets of existentialism is that there is no moral law. The
          human being finds herself in a universe without moral laws, and for
          this reason is compelled to make her ethical commitments in complete
          freedom. Or at least, this is how I understood the existentialism of
          writers like Sartre.

          Let me summarize my puzzlement with two questions to you:

          First, are you saying that the existentialist should define
          existentialism without reference to "free will" and "freedom"?

          Second, are you saying that because existentialism involves the
          concept of responsibility, it should also embrace the concept of the
          moral law?

          Jim
        • eupraxis@aol.com
          Jim, responses follow. Jim: I am well aware of Kant s argument. In fact I think it is one of the best arguments in the history of philosophy. I think he may be
          Message 4 of 13 , Aug 12 1:26 PM
            Jim, responses follow.

            Jim: I am well aware of Kant's argument. In fact I think it is one of
            the
            best arguments in the history of philosophy. I think he may be right
            to conclude that the person who just follows his strongest desires is
            less free than the person who voluntarily binds himself to some
            ethical absolute.

            Wil: So much for your "radical freedom" then.

            Jim: However, unlike you, I don't think Kant's argument implies that
            freedom and responsibility do not go together. Kant's argument is about
            how a human being should be in order to be free. I don't see the
            argument as introducing a tension between freedom and responsibility.

            Wil: That is hardly what I said. I was assuming some academic
            background on the subject here. In any case, I was using Kant as an
            example. For more, though, on that tension that doesn’t seem to exist
            for you in Kant, I recommend Kant himself, say the "Groundwork, Section
            Three", although it is implicit throughout Kant's practical works.

            Jim: I agree that talking of free will is problematic, but I think we
            all
            have a good pre-philosophical idea of what is involved in a person
            having free will.

            Wil: A pre-philosophical idea of a completely philosophical idea!
            Superficial, common-sense "ideas" of metaphysical concepts are
            precisely what critical discourse, including Existentialism, excludes
            in principle.

            Jim: Also, I find it perverse that you wish to distance talk of free
            will
            from the essence of Existentialism. Do you disagree with CSW's choice
            of definitions of existentialism, which he has put on the "Definitions"
            page of his "Existential Primer"?

            Wil: Perverse? You don't know the half of it, my young friend. But I
            find it remarkable that you find yourself the defender of some imagined
            orthodoxy, and to the point of alleging something sordid and unnatural
            about me, by my opinion, agreed to by all of Continental philosophy
            since Voltaire, that "free will" is a pseudo-metaphysical construct no
            more ontologically vouchsafed than "soul", immortal or otherwise,
            "fate", "eschatological end", or even -- sit down now -- Truth! In the
            bookish sense, you need to get out more.

            Jim: As an existentialist do you really want to say "Freedom and
            responsibility are antipodal. They are contradictions, in a dialectical
            sense, if you prefer"?

            Wil: Why would I have said it if I didn’t want to, with all of that
            free will at my disposal? Do you know what is meant by "in a
            dialectical sense"?

            Jim: I agree that we do not "choose the manifold of choices", but I
            want
            to insist we do choose from "the manifold of choices" which present
            themselves to our consciousness. At least, I make a commitment to
            this way of looking at things.

            Wil: I choose Colgate with Tartar Control. Hurray! I am free.

            Jim: Here you seem to be implying that existentialism is committed to
            the
            idea of the moral law. Again, I find this perverse. For me, one of
            the basic tenets of existentialism is that there is no moral law.

            Wil: Again your evangelistic finger wagging. Such remonstrations! But
            to the point, a basic tenet of existentialism is that there is nothing
            transcendent to existence; that is, nothing supernatural, otherworldly,
            etc. But have you heard of "existential ethics"? No? If you can hold
            your nose at the perversity there, I think you will find the study
            enlightening.

            Jim: The human being finds herself in a universe without moral laws,
            and for
            this reason is compelled to make her ethical commitments in complete
            freedom. Or at least, this is how I understood the existentialism of
            writers like Sartre.

            Wil: Not quite. Yes, there are no transcendent laws or obligations.
            But, no, ... well, I'll tell you what. Sartre, Being and Nothingness --
            the section on objectification. Part Three, Chapter Three, in
            particular (on concrete relations).

            Jim: Let me summarize my puzzlement with two questions to you: First,
            are you saying that the existentialist should define existentialism
            without reference to "free will" and "freedom"?

            Wil: The concept of the Will is archaic and moot. We have not really
            discussed freedom yet. Yes, it is all about freedom.

            Jim: Second, are you saying that because existentialism involves the
            concept of responsibility, it should also embrace the concept of the
            moral law?

            Wil: No.

            Wil


            -----Original Message-----
            From: jimstuart46 <jjimstuart@...>
            To: existlist@yahoogroups.com
            Sent: Sun, 12 Aug 2007 2:06 pm
            Subject: [existlist] Re: Can anything escape 'the political'?























            Wil,



            You write:



            "Freedom and responsibility are antipodal. They are contradictions,

            in a dialectical sense, if you prefer. Kant's (ethical) philosophy is

            a testament to that ambiguity. He winds up opining that one is most

            free when one is most bound beneath universal law, or a categorical

            imperative, the argumentative counterpoise being the self-imposed

            bondage of caprice."



            I am well aware of Kant's argument. In fact I think it is one of the

            best arguments in the history of philosophy. I think he may be right

            to conclude that the person who just follows his strongest desires is

            less free than the person who voluntarily binds himself to some

            ethical absolute.



            However, unlike you, I don't think Kant's argument implies that

            freedom and responsibility do not go together. Kant's argument is

            about how a human being should be in order to be free. I don't see

            the argument as introducing a tension between freedom and

            responsibility.



            I agree that talking of free will is problematic, but I think we all

            have a good pre-philosophical idea of what is involved in a person

            having free will.



            Also, I find it perverse that you wish to distance talk of free will

            from the essence of Existentialism. Do you disagree with CSW's choice

            of definitions of existentialism, which he has put on

            the "Definitions" page of his "Existential Primer"?



            This is what CSW has put on his Existential Primer:



            "Though existentialism is a term applied loosely to a range of

            philosophies, there are unifying themes in the writings of the

            existentialists. Dictionaries and first-year philosophy texts offer

            simple definitions of existentialism:



            The doctrine that existence takes precedence over essence and holding

            that man is totally free and responsible for his acts. This

            responsibility is the source of dread and anguish that encompass

            mankind.

            - Webster's New World Dictionary, Second College Edition; William

            Collins Publishers, Inc.; Cleveland, Ohio; 1979



            A philosophy that emphasizes the uniqueness and isolation of the

            individual experience in a hostile or indifferent universe, regards

            human existence as unexplainable, and stresses freedom of choice and

            responsibility for the consequences of one's acts.

            - American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition

            © 1992 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Electronic version licensed from

            INSO Corporation. "



            As an existentialist do you really want to say "Freedom and

            responsibility are antipodal. They are contradictions, in a

            dialectical sense, if you prefer"?



            I agree that we do not "choose the manifold of choices", but I want

            to insist we do choose from "the manifold of choices" which present

            themselves to our consciousness. At least, I make a commitment to

            this way of looking at things.



            When discussing the nature of responsibility, you write:



            "I think you are thinking of the terms here in too much their reduced

            conversational usages. But even speaking in that way, what possible

            meaning can the word "responsibility" have if it does not implicitly

            contain some sense of 'ought'; and what is 'ought' but moral law?"



            Here you seem to be implying that existentialism is committed to the

            idea of the moral law. Again, I find this perverse. For me, one of

            the basic tenets of existentialism is that there is no moral law. The

            human being finds herself in a universe without moral laws, and for

            this reason is compelled to make her ethical commitments in complete

            freedom. Or at least, this is how I understood the existentialism of

            writers like Sartre.



            Let me summarize my puzzlement with two questions to you:



            First, are you saying that the existentialist should define

            existentialism without reference to "free will" and "freedom"?



            Second, are you saying that because existentialism involves the

            concept of responsibility, it should also embrace the concept of the

            moral law?



            Jim





















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          • jimstuart46
            Wil, Thank you for your detailed replies to my points. I ll consider at length what you write, and aim to follow up your references. I ll just make a couple of
            Message 5 of 13 , Aug 12 2:46 PM
              Wil,

              Thank you for your detailed replies to my points. I'll consider at
              length what you write, and aim to follow up your references.

              I'll just make a couple of points here.

              First, the best philosophy, I suggest, is not too remote from our
              ordinary pre-philosophical ideas. Unless philosophical ideas can be
              made accessible and relevant to ordinary people, then there is little
              ultimate value in them. If the essence of existentialism cannot be
              understood by a non-academic, then existentialism is a dead
              philosophy. (I write this as someone who has a PhD in Philosophy.)

              As I said I think ordinary people have a basic grasp of the
              difference between being free and responsible for one's actions, and
              not being free and responsible.

              Second, I'm still not clear if you accept or reject CSW's two
              definitions of existentialism as being fundamentally accurate or not.
              My own reading of those definitions, and my own understanding of your
              own position, suggests you would reject those definitions because
              they contain the words "man is totally free and responsible for his
              acts" and "stresses freedom of choice and responsibility for the
              consequences of one's acts". Perhaps you could clarify your attitude
              to these two definitions.

              Finally, you seem to have taken great exception to my suggesting that
              some of your existentialist ideas are "perverse". You write:

              "But I find it remarkable that you find yourself the defender of some
              imagined
              orthodoxy, and to the point of alleging something sordid and
              unnatural about me."

              I wonder if you are confusing the word "perverse" with the
              word "perverted". All I meant by my use of the word was that your
              ideas came across as "wayward or contrary" to use phrases from my
              dictionary definition of the word. Perhaps "perverse" means something
              different in American English from what it means in English English.

              Jim
            • eupraxis@aol.com
              Jim, Jim: First, the best philosophy, I suggest, is not too remote from our ordinary pre-philosophical ideas. Unless philosophical ideas can be made accessible
              Message 6 of 13 , Aug 12 4:21 PM
                Jim,

                Jim: First, the best philosophy, I suggest, is not too remote from our
                ordinary pre-philosophical ideas. Unless philosophical ideas can be
                made accessible and relevant to ordinary people, then there is little
                ultimate value in them. If the essence of existentialism cannot be
                understood by a non-academic, then existentialism is a dead philosophy.

                Wil: I can't agree less with that. First, what in the world is an
                "ordinary pre-philosophical idea"? Are you talking about some
                Husserlian natural attitude? Some Lockean throwback? Or are you
                proffering some notion of "common sense" as something more original and
                down to earth than it would be if otherwise critically examined? If you
                pardon me for saying so, common sense is a very naive notion, and I do
                not intent the pun. (Yes, there is a pun there.)

                But your second sentence, which advocates the twiddling down of things
                to the weak of mind, suggests -- adjoining the two sentences -- that
                the best of philosophy is that which can be made accessible to the most
                ordinary of people. Spoken like an ad man. I would turn that ethic
                around: the best society is the one that doesn't have to be talked down
                to.

                To go on, you say that if anything cannot be understood by
                non-academics, it is thereby dead. First, that something is dead
                doesn't make it untrue. Second, Existentialism is not a doctrine to be
                made accessible to anyone; it is what is left after the cornerstones of
                an epoch's metaphysics have been laid waste. It is a conversation about
                the meaning of life in a world after "the death of God" (in Nietzsche's
                sense, only). The works that have been produced either in that genre or
                which impact on that theme are called, as it were, post hoc,
                "existentialist"; not the other way around.

                But why do you even bring that up? You are suddenly arguing for easy to
                read books, when you had begun with an epistemological claim about
                common sense vs. critical thinking. Point one was that you can derive
                the best philosophy from ideas not already tainted by philosophy. But
                your second point, which is something entirely different, demands that
                we speak slowly to some imagined chimney sweep about his essence being
                his existence.

                Jim: (I write this as someone who has a PhD in Philosophy.)

                Wil: Not so much.

                Wil


                -----Original Message-----
                From: jimstuart46 <jjimstuart@...>
                To: existlist@yahoogroups.com
                Sent: Sun, 12 Aug 2007 4:46 pm
                Subject: [existlist] Re: Can anything escape 'the political'?























                Wil,



                Thank you for your detailed replies to my points. I'll consider at

                length what you write, and aim to follow up your references.



                I'll just make a couple of points here.



                First, the best philosophy, I suggest, is not too remote from our

                ordinary pre-philosophical ideas. Unless philosophical ideas can be

                made accessible and relevant to ordinary people, then there is little

                ultimate value in them. If the essence of existentialism cannot be

                understood by a non-academic, then existentialism is a dead

                philosophy. (I write this as someone who has a PhD in Philosophy.)



                As I said I think ordinary people have a basic grasp of the

                difference between being free and responsible for one's actions, and

                not being free and responsible.



                Second, I'm still not clear if you accept or reject CSW's two

                definitions of existentialism as being fundamentally accurate or not.

                My own reading of those definitions, and my own understanding of your

                own position, suggests you would reject those definitions because

                they contain the words "man is totally free and responsible for his

                acts" and "stresses freedom of choice and responsibility for the

                consequences of one's acts". Perhaps you could clarify your attitude

                to these two definitions.



                Finally, you seem to have taken great exception to my suggesting that

                some of your existentialist ideas are "perverse". You write:



                "But I find it remarkable that you find yourself the defender of some

                imagined

                orthodoxy, and to the point of alleging something sordid and

                unnatural about me."



                I wonder if you are confusing the word "perverse" with the

                word "perverted". All I meant by my use of the word was that your

                ideas came across as "wayward or contrary" to use phrases from my

                dictionary definition of the word. Perhaps "perverse" means something

                different in American English from what it means in English English.



                Jim






















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