Author Archives: JoB

Con-science

What do we say when we say ‘she couldn’t have done otherwise’? Does science tell us she could only do as she had done? Or does conscience tell us that, in her position, we would, probably, have done the same? It is a question that fascinated philosophers for a simple reason: it fascinates all of us and fascinates us all the time. It is a question whose upside is that she can go on with clear conscience and whose downside is science treats her, and therefore us, as believing in the quasi-religious myth of conscience. In the latter case, as I will argue, we are captive to the quasi-religious myth of con-science; science as a con act, or, in French, science as practiced by ‘un con‘. The former case teaches us something very interesting about science: it is something that we do together, something that’s intimately linked to conscience.

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On being progressive

Some hold that we actually do make progress, others that we can make progress and still others that we must make progress. This progressive spectrum from (neo)liberalism over Obama-ism to Extinction Rebellion is jointly attacked by reactionary forces who want to make things great again.  The progressive defense against it is weak, specifically because of a tendency to organize circular firing squads over who is truly progressive. In times of actual regress it makes sense to do something (admittedly quite unprogressive): build up our defenses.

So let’s analyze once for all: what does it actually mean to be progressive.

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Why life isn’t precarious

There are many who focus on life’s precariousness or its intrinsic vulnerability for good reason. They want to protect us from the many threats that we face. It is, however, quite a precarious thing to highlight our intrinsic vulnerability to extrinsic threats. Indeed, as soon as we feel vulnerable we feel alone. And when we feel alone we get our defenses up to the extent we do not want to let anyone in. This much is clear from our reaction to the various immigration crises around the world. Focusing on a first person’s precariousness creates the third person’s threat; me and him, us and them.

What the feeling of precariousness does is create the feeling of a Hobbesian dog-eat-dog world. We may then have good intentions, even be convinced with Rousseau that man or nature unspoiled is intrinsically good, but the result is the same: the struggle to retrieve a long lost freedom is our essence. As Derrida deconstructed it, the arrow points backward instead of forward. And that’s not good because whatever way you look at it, we will live our lives predominantly in the future.

The question is: ‘Can we do better?’. My answer is: ‘Yes, we can!’ Here’s why.

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A Plea to Qualify what we Quantify

Quantification rules the media waves. The more psychology is reduced to experiment the less we are called to try to understand the other. In the end the only ones remaining free are people like ourselves. We are exempt of explanatory reduction. They are determined by the darkness of their unsophisticated and as yet unenlightened creeds.

Bergson in his Time and Free Will offers a scathing rebuttal to these modern ways before they took over the news headlines (‘Scientists find cause of X in brain area Y’). Following him not only invites us to qualify this but to qualify all quantitative science. This, in fact, was also Bohr’s conclusion. Let me have at it.

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On ‘not seeming’ autistic

Some people say it and others I just see thinking it: “You don’t seem autistic.” It is mostly meant as a compliment but it is one with a jagged edge. The thing to keep in mind is that being different has, always, this in-built tension between not wanting to be defined by it and inevitably being defined by it. In the case of autism the Catch-22 reads this way: “I’d be insane if I accepted to be autistic but, if I’m sane, I have to accept I’m not autistic.”

So I’ve spent months being strong in order not to divert the attention of others to the way I’m feeling (or not feeling, to be more exact). I’m pretty proud of that because I was there when I was needed. It was tiring though. Whilst the gap between the world and me was, at least seemingly, small the internal chasm grew bigger all the time. Ultimately it, again, swallowed me in a vortex of alienation that left me literally lost. I am a lucky bastard and the people whose back I had when they needed me had mine when I needed theirs. But it is not a given that this is the case which is why I feel the need to explain myself.

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Empirical & Experimental

“Society clings with bewildered obedience to scientific expertise, and the ideal of conscious planning and precisely functioning administration dominates every sphere of life even down to the level of the molding of public opinion.” Gadamer as quoted in the introduction of Philosophical Hermeneutics (p. xli), University of California Press, 1976.

The empirical and the experimental have become equated in public opinion to the extent that what cannot be objectively measured simply does not count. There is almost visceral animosity against non-experimental sciences to the extent that philosophy has become to some a synonym of lazy armchair thinking. Philosophy has internalized this animosity as is abundantly clear from the self-guilt with which it enters the public domain, as it were bowing to the experimental emperor whilst subserviently moving backward towards its goal. Philosophical writing already looks more and more like scientific writing, and there is every chance that it will also be force fed the experimental method.

But why do we have two words? Is that a matter of historical accident? A bit like having the word water and the concept H20, with the latter being the exact term that happened to be only discovered after we got used to colloquially using the former? Should we pack up our philosophical bags and use our thinking power only to clarify the presuppositions going into our experimental set-ups? Or, as Gadamer would have it, is it a mere historical accident that the experimental has laid claim on the empirical and that it just happens to be empirically so that the grip of the experimental is extremely hard to break?

If, as the introduction to Philosophical Hermeneutics has it, “Hermeneutics has its origin in breaches of intersubjectivity.” then, in order to move on, we need an understanding of why people tend to get so upset at even hinting that the empirical and the experimental are not co-extensive. The operative word, as the above quote suggests, will be control.

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“What now?”,

is what he asked himself, quite unoriginally. Except, maybe, for the quotation marks and comma in the title. It dawned on him self-referentiality might well be what he (hmm, not quite getting this sentence right?) was starting to refer to. Weird is what he was, but what was weird? (other than writing this in the past tense).

You with me? Was! Well, I lost my self. Then I regained one. Just to ask: “What now?” and that question is always in the past so always already answered but also always – all over – again and again ready to be asked; always all over. I am trying to make sense, you know, as did he (whom I am) did, starting all this on a whim.

More or less? You wanna know? Well, I do. So fuck you, here’s more.

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