"Don’t forget as you watch the TV that the fires of Belsen burn in the TV tubes every night. Don’t forget that the structural principles of our society are as barbaric in their structure as they ever were. Perhaps more so... perhaps more so. We have to remember we are talking at a historical moment when most folks want to nuke somebody again and why not!"
- Rick Roderick, 108 Philosophy and Post-Modern Culture
…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.
Transcript: In this lecture I want to discuss one of the most important philosophers who is still working, still alive, his work ranges over many areas in social theory, it ranges in areas of philosophy, linguistics and so on, and that’s Jurgen Habermas. Habermas is one of the last great defenders of rationalism in a period in philosophy in which rationalism is not held in very high esteem. In many ways Habermas is an outgrowth of one of the figures that we discussed last time, namely Herbert Marcuse and the Frankfurt School; that would include Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer. Habermas was in fact Adorno’s graduate assistant and so the original project that Jurgen Habermas set himself was to reformulate the kinds of theories being worked on by Marcuse, by Horkheimer and by Adorno. In particular his first venture was to reformulate their distinction between traditional theory – understood as both philosophy and science, both – as opposed to what they called “critical theory”; a theory whose interest was in the emancipation of human beings. View Full Article »
Transcript: The course that I am about to present: “Philosophy in the 20th Century – The Self Under Siege” has been a difficult course for me to develop over the years, and it’s been a difficult subject matter for me because I have been trained in the classic tradition of philosophy, studied ancient philosophy, know many of the methods and taken all the required logic courses and so on. I have also done a lot of work in Continental Philosophy as well. It seems to me that the late 20th Century presents us with one great and overriding problem and that will be the focus of this course; and I had second thoughts about even calling it a course in philosophy because the most current philosophical attempts to understand both the self, society – our place in it and so on – have been what I will call “deflationary”. View Full Article »
Transcript: This lecture is on a very troubling thesis of Nietzsche’s: The Eternal Recurrence. Before I discuss Nietzsche’s idea of The Eternal Recurrence I want to do a little bit of what I promised that I would do last time when I recounted the parable of The Death of God, and that’s to interpret it a little bit more. One of the nice things about parables – and I am going to compare that parable to some other parables. One of the nice things about parables is that in a certain sense if one is to read them at all – engage in reading them at all – parables demand, require interpretation. They quite literally can’t mean what they say, quite literally. And if you notice in many traditions, the attempt to communicate through a parable is the attempt to communicate a truth that, as it were, could not possibly be communicated in another, sort of, more linear form without, as it were, the aid of a story. View Full Article »
Transcript: In this lecture I want to pick up on my discussion of “On the Genealogy of Morals” by Nietzsche and return our argument concerning the value of our values, the origins of our ethical judgements and so on, and look at the question of – as I stated in the opening lecture – the paradoxical situation that our morality may, oddly enough, have an immoral origin. And so this is the argument to which we will return. One of the points I didn’t make about the genealogical method in the last lecture, I want to make now and it’s very important. When we look genealogically at “The Greeks” as a type, or Christianity; Nietzsche uses a kind of typology where we don’t look for who speaks in a document, but for as it were, what motivates the speaker behind the document. View Full Article »
Transcript: Lecture two will attempt to answer one of the paradoxes I raised in the first lecture – and this will be a specific form of it – and that’s a rather famous charge in philosophy. In fact this is the charge of relativism and one of the things that professional philosophers do in order to display their professional credentials is to respond to the relativist and to the sceptic. Nietzsche has been accused of being a relativist. One form of this accusation is a kind of mislabelling – in my opinion it’s a mislabelling – of Nietzsche’s view about the function of truth and lie; he opposes that to true and false. Truth and lie; the function of that within philosophical discourse, he has an account of that we are going to discuss. View Full Article »
Transcript: The first lecture will be an introduction to Nietzsche that I have called “Myth and Mythmaker”. I’d like to say a little bit about his life because there is really not too much to say about it. It will only take a few minutes, I think, to summarise. He had a really unexciting life, and so we need to distinguish right away two things. One is what I like to call “The Nietzsche Effect”, and I am a child of the sixties, so I am very familiar with the so-called “Nietzsche Effect”, and that’s the effect that Nietzsche has on adolescent young males who read him for the first time [crowd laughter] and begin to name their cars “Ubermensch” wagons, ah, and begin to quote Nietzsche in order to date women who dress in black, as I am dressed today, and the Nietzsche fascination. That characterises one’s first encounter and certainly it characterised my first encounter with Nietzsche as well. View Full Article »
Transcript: A course in philosophy and human values may seem paradoxical because philosophy was that discipline 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. That tradition is very much alive in philosophy today, mostly in formal logic and mathematics, where it seems in place, and 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 »