Category: 1990 Philosophy and Human Values

From: Philosophy and Human Values (1990) Lecture 6: Nietzsche – Knowledge and Belief

Transcript: First, what’s supposed to be so scandalous about Nietzsche. Nietzsche is supposed to hold the scandalous view that knowledge is a form of power. Now that is scandalous because knowledge is knowledge. It’s objective. You know, like journalism. And it would be scandalous to show that wherever we find knowledge, we will find it structured and constructed around a system (or systems) of power. Won’t find one without the other. Now, one can think of this along the simplest pedagogical models. By that I mean the classroom models. I mean, I ought to know this from teaching the university. I know how to pass along knowledge.

To get someone to believe me in the last analysis, I give them an “A”, which I could replace with a “happy face”. They are used to that, it’s from kindergarten. They are both just symbols, right, of achievement. They’re not getting paid for this stuff. Just give them a little “A”, they smile. That same system starts in kindergarten: “happy face”… “A”… runs through to “F”. “F”, no face… blank. The same thing would work in kindergarten. That form I used looks fair. I mean, I am grading objectively. But the point is deeper. That what the knowledge is based on is my spot of power as the teacher. That’s what it’s based on. Now, you would go: “oh no – it’s based on what’s really true!” Yeah, but… but… how does that get meted out and parsed out? Who decides that? Well the blunt and ugly answer is: we do. The teachers do. We decide.

Now there are clear counter examples to Nietzsche’s argument. In mathematics at its simplest levels, I will grant you, that if we are doing a mathematics course, I could grade objectively. But I will also grant you that nothing of great importance to human values hangs on truths that everyone can accept. That two plus two equals four, that A is A, are all acceptable, and they are acceptable precisely because nothing of very great human importance hangs on them. The moment you go a little beyond that in any direction, even in math class, when you discuss for example the philosophy of mathematics, then the disputes start, and then power at some point has to insert itself and decide.

So, an important part of Nietzsche’s investigation is in the interconnection between the forms of knowledge and power. Forms of… and for the purposes of our course… forms of ethical behaviour and power, ah, are the subject of his most important book. Well, maybe not his most important, but certainly the one that is the most coherent: “On the Genealogy of Morals”, by Nietzsche.

From: Philosophy and Human Values (1990) Lecture 6: Nietzsche – Knowledge and Belief

Transcript: …so that the process of a world becoming bureaucratically more complex and more intrusive at the level of the state is a world phenomenon. It’s not localisable. The process of an economy becoming ever more diverse – commodifying ever more sections of our lives… until we’ve replaced the “Sunday stroll”, to use another example… I mean, I’m old enough to remember that… when I’d go with my grandad, and we’d go for a stroll on Sunday. Well that can’t be done now without a relation to the commodity. Well it could be, but rarely is. We are socialised to go for a stroll someplace else on Sunday now. The mall is open in the afternoon. Even in North Carolina, after church, they open it up… after church. You can stroll through the mall. So that you can both stroll, and shop. The strolling aspect is still important, I mean I’m not saying it’s not kind of kinky to walk around and watch people buy things. It’s amusing.

So, I don’t want you to think that Marx has a critique of capitalism only, and that’s all I am interested in. The critique of the state and state bureaucracy is also important. And I have mentioned the name of Max Weber, but I didn’t bring in any of his books. They are real thick, real boring, and I have suggested that a sense for what a modern bureaucracy is like can be evoked from reading the novels of Franz Kafka. Things like “Before the Law” and “The Trial” will give you more of a sense of being caught in a modern bureaucracy. And all of you have that sense anyway. If you’ve, you know, moved to a new city and tried to hook up a telephone, and they say: “Go to room 238”. You go to room 238, and they say “Where did you come from? Who did you talk to?” You go “I forgot”. They go, “Oh no, you’ll have to go back to room 104”. You go to 104, 104 says “You’ve been to 232? Well, you can’t come to room 104”. And we all know this. I mean that’s what modern bureaucracies look and feel like, you know. So for that go to Kafka. So, what I was trying to develop last time was a criticism of the state, and of the economy. Of a new arising global order… that I guess has become popular enough to deserve the moniker “New World Order”. A new order. I am always suspicious of new orders.

From: Philosophy and Human Values (1990) Lecture 8: Philosophy and Postmodern Culture

Transcript: Freud compares the conscious mind, in the book I have – I am talking about now, he compares the conscious mind to a garrison. A captured, tiny garrison in an immense city. The city of Rome. With all its layers of history. All its archaic barbarisms. All its hidden avenues. Covered over by civilization after civilization. That’s our mind. That whole thing. But the conscious part of it is that one garrison that’s clear, that holds out in this captured city.

A magnificent metaphor for all the surrounding motives, motivations, motifs, desires, that drive us… that are not philosophical… that cannot, even if we talk to our therapist a long time, all be brought up at once.

From: Philosophy and Human Values (1990) Lecture 8: Philosophy and Postmodern Culture

The goal of a mass telecommunication culture is psychoanalysis in reverse. It’s that the little, last remaining parts of that garrison become unconscious. It’s precisely to reverse that process of enlightenment. Mass culture is enlightenment in reverse gear. Precisely to wipe out that last little garrison of autonomy. It is a constant assault upon it.

That was why the last time I was out here, I approached it from this religious angle of Kierkegaard’s, and characterised the assault as one that caused despair. Where despair was not a mood, but a structure that belongs to a captured garrison. Not an accidental feature of a captured garrison, but part of it. A structure of it. Fundamental to it.

From: Philosophy and Human Values (1990) Lecture 8: Philosophy and Postmodern Culture

…but in a culture so overloaded, where we already suspect – if we don’t know – that it’s goal is psychoanalysis in reverse: to make the parts of us that think into ones that don’t; just react, follow, or replicate.

One thing that we can do, is tune out. So, many of us do that in one form or another. We take the culture and simply try to tune out as much as we can. But there is a flaw in the strategy. And that’s that no culture ever was so pervasive. Even this word [culture] may be bothering you. There was a time when culture meant going to things created by us folks, as opposed to nature. Where is nature now?

From: Philosophy and Human Values (1990) Lecture 1: Socrates and the Life of Inquiry

…and then that makes knowing yourself a crucially important part of knowledge. Now I’ll make this as simple as I can. I love to use references to movies, I mean not many of us read any more, but a lot of us go to movies.

In Superman ONE okay… lets get down to a real case okay… in Superman I, little baby superman is flying from the very sophisticated planet to earth, and there are all these knowledge crystals… and I didn’t like the series that much okay, so don’t frown at me. It’s not that great a movie, I am just illustrating here. These knowledge crystals tell him all the known physics of this advanced civilisation… but the last and the most precious crystal is symbolically important. Because now that you know all this – you know, all these things – you may want to know what is most important… and that’s who you are. And so the last crystal is supposed to give him the Socratic style of knowledge.

So Socrates believed… I mean this is a nice illustration, because Socrates believed that one could have ALL the other kinds of knowledge, and be totally lost – totally aimless – if one didn’t have the other kind of knowledge, which was knowledge of one’s self. And eh, this is nice to remember today, I think. It’s a cautionary tale, because today we live in a society saturated with information. Just… information… which I would want to radically distinguish from wisdom or knowledge… but just saturated with information. But I think in our society, the Socratic question is not only difficult to answer, but even a sense for its importance is being lost. Just saturated with information. We are told so frequently who we are, or given a certain set of roles that are pre-arranged, pre-established, and which in a free society one is able to vary slightly. In other words, to give an example, we all know what a yuppie is, but we know that within that category that there is some variation possible. You could be sandy haired or red haired. You could wear black Reeboks or white ones. I mean there is a little variation possible. But I am trying to give you a sense for the strange distance between… historical distance… between the Socratic search for wisdom, and this kind of way of finding out who you are. It’s very different. It’s a very different thing.

Philosophy and Human Values (1990)
Rick Roderick, Ph. D.
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Last updated: 10 July 2018

Download: Philosophy and Human Values (1990) Lecture 8: Philosophy and Postmodern

Transcript: A brief recap of the whole journey we have taken here. We tried to as it were retrace, sort of, the history of the accounts of human values given in the Western philosophical tradition. That account seemed to dead end with some rather ordinary philosophical problems. In other words, we found out that most of our accounts wouldn’t work too well, until we got to Hegel’s account, which reminded us that human values and moral and ethical problems come up in historical circumstances, which then forced us to investigate society and history, which opened up immense topics that we have only been able to say suggestive things about. View Full Article »

Last updated: 09 July 2018

Download: Philosophy and Human Values (1990) Lecture 7: Kierkegaard and the Contemporary

Transcript: Okay, ah, last time I may have dropped, ah, out of my West Texas mode for a moment and become a little too philosophical, so I am going to try to restate a few things from Nietzsche in a simple way, quickly, before I move on to some remarks about Kierkegaard. Ah, what I was trying to evoke in you was more the spirit of Nietzsche than the specific text. The spirit of Nietzsche is one of deep suspicion, and that suspicion is that power is intertwined with things that we normally like to think of, even today, as not being dependent on power, for example: truth, goodness, and so on. Nietzsche says they are. View Full Article »

Last updated: 28 June 2018

Download: Philosophy and Human Values (1990) Lecture 6: Nietzsche – Knowledge and

Transcript: Last time, in our, ah, last lecture we were screaming about, ah, the United States, ah, government and its many failings. I want to make clear something, and it’s… unfortunately in the current, ah, context… ah, I must tell you that many of you who came here to hear a course on “Philosophy and Human Values” probably expected more “Philosophy” and less on the “Human Values” side. Well, I hope some of you were here yesterday when I ran through a series of ethical theories, and I think I gave some arguments. That was my “professionalising” work. In other words, that was the display of my rough credentials to do this. View Full Article »

Last updated: 28 June 2018

Download: Philosophy and Human Values (1990) Lecture 5: Hegel and Modern

Transcript: Okay. In our, ah, last lecture, ah, I ended, ah, the history of ethics in a way – what would be a usual introduction to an ethics course – by discussing Hegel’s view of ethics with, ah, its, ah… what one might call it… “super concept” of freedom. The very large concept of freedom as formulating those goals and desires of individuals in whatever given historical period. And the idea that freedom represents is to see those goals and obstacles and their overcoming in that period, and to name that activity and those sets of practices “freedom”. View Full Article »

Last updated: 22 June 2018

Download: Philosophy and Human Values (1990) Lecture 4: Mill on

Transcript: Okay, we ended the last, ah… lecture by discussing the, ah, Utilitarian, ah, ethical theory which is that we should always act so as to bring about the greatest happiness for the greatest number, and Kant’s ethical theory that we should always act so that the rule of our action could be willed by us to be universal law, and then we raised objections to both those. Now, a further reminder is in order, and it’s very important. View Full Article »

Last updated: 27 June 2018

Download: Philosophy and Human Values (1990) Lecture 3: Kant and the Path to

Transcript: I have the, ah, daunting task of summarising 2000 years in two sentences, so I’ll avoid it, and hope that you saw the, ah, last tape. Which was basically… the movement so far is to present something like a traditional history of ideas but – if you’ve noticed – with little rejoinders along the way that suggest that that history of ideas is not innocent. Not as though it were being presented in the way that the National Association of Scholars would have you believe. Books being selected as though by very intelligent readers because they are the best books. That isn’t always wrong, but the story of the survival of books and the formations of canons clearly has other factors. View Full Article »

Last updated: 21 June 2018

Download: Philosophy and Human Values (1990) Lecture 2: Epicureans, Stoics,

Transcript: Well, in the last lecture I tried to just make a few suggestive remarks in order to get us off the ground about, ah, what might be called, ah… the Greek way of life, and different forms of human conduct of which only one I suggested and discussed, and that was the Socratic life of enquiry. And I didn’t mean by that life of enquiry an inactive life, an apolitical life or one unconcerned with the state or with other humans. But, in fact, I wanted to present it not as some academic debate, but as a life deeply immersed in your social situation, and to understand who you are and who your fellow citizens are. View Full Article »

Last updated: 20 June 2018

Download: Philosophy and Human Values (1990) Lecture 1: Socrates and the Life of

Transcript: A course in philosophy and human values, ah, may seem paradoxical because, ah, philosophy was that discipline, ah, in our traditions – that’s western traditions, western civilisation – that began with a search for unconditioned knowledge. Unconditioned by human knowledge, of things that transcend this world or any other. Ah, that tradition is very much, ah, alive in philosophy today, mostly in formal logic and mathematics, where it seems in place, and, ah, professional philosophers have a name for that tradition. It’s the “analytic” tradition in philosophy. A course in philosophy and human values has very little to gain from that tradition. View Full Article »