This is a pretty significant revision of a draft paper I first posted in 2013. It gives a good bit of attention to the reactive attitude of "revenge" that polite philosophers usually ignore. The abstract:
This is a substantial revision (especially in its second half) of a paper first posted in 2013. I offer an interpretation of Nietzsche’s striking idea of “the innocence of becoming” (die Unschuld des Werdens), and a partial defense of its import, namely, that no one is ever morally responsible or guilty for what they do and that many of the so-called “reactive attitudes” are misplaced. I focus primarily, though not exclusively, on the arguments as set out in Twilight of the Idols. First, there is Nietzsche’s hypothesis, partly psychological and partly historical or anthropological, that the ideas of “free” action or free will, and of responsibility for actions freely chosen or willed, were introduced primarily in order to justify punishment (“[m]en were considered ‘free’ so that they might be judged and punished”). Call this the Genetic Thesis about Free Will. Second, there is Nietzsche’s claim that the moral psychology, or “psychology of the will” as he calls it, that underlies this picture is, in fact, false — that, in fact, it is not true that every action is willed or that it reflects a purpose or that it originates in consciousness. Call these, in aggregate, the Descriptive Thesis about the Will. (Here I draw on earlier work.) Finally, there is articulation of a programmatic agenda, namely, to restore the “innocence of becoming” by getting rid of guilt and punishment based on guilt — not primarily because ascriptions of guilt and responsibility are false (though they are), but because a world understood as “innocent,” one understood in terms of “natural” cause and effect, is a better world in which to live. I focus in particular on a reactive attitude often ignored by philosophers, but of crucial importance for Nietzsche, namely, revenge. I aim to explain and defend Zarathustra’s recommendation: “Enemy’ you shall say, but not villain; sick you shall say, but not scoundrel; fool you shall say, but not sinner.” Nietzsche’s views are contrasted with those of important modern writers on these topics, especially P.F. Strawson and Derk Pereboom.
We received nearly forty papers in response to the CFP for the 2017 meeting of ISNS, and once again chose three papers for presentation at the meeting and for subsequent publication in the special issue of Inquiry devoted to ISNS papers. Three members of the Executive Committee reviewed and scored each submission (all blind review), producing about ten finalists, which were reviewed by the entire Executive Committee (again blind review). Once again, many of the strongest submissions, including some that narrowly missed being chosen, were by philosophy PhD students, which is very heartening. Congratulations to the authors whose papers will be presented at the 2017 ISNS: they are philosopher Harold Langsam (University of Virginia), and PhD students Ian Dunkle (Boston University) and Claire Kirwin (University of Chicago).
The papers from the 2016 ISNS conference in Bonn are now available at Inquiry.
I appreciate the many blog readers who also read my scholarly writing--it has been one of the best things about the blog for years that it has been a vehicle for sharing my work with other faculty and students across many fields. In that spirit, here are publications--or working drafts--that I made available this year:
"Philosophy of Law," co-authored with Michael Sevel, in the Encyclopedia Britannica (if you can't access the whole essay, google "philosophy of law," it should come up as a top result and you can get the whole essay that way)
I love Nietzsche, for his wickedness, truthfulness, and posing the most serious challenge to Marx, but he's got nothing to do with Ayn Rand. Poor Fred! A literate, sensitive, psychologically astute intellect and champion of aesthetic excellence, a thinker of world-historic significance, conjoined with a sophomoric apparatchik of bankers and flatterer of narcissistic mediocrities! Could there be a more grotestque irony?
...but in a world with lots of blogs run by people with varying levels of knowledge, sometimes stupidity finds an audience, and innocents need to be warned. The only thing that Babette Babich knows less about than the Continental traditions in post-Kantian European philosophy is what is going on in Anglophone "analytic" philosophy, but on neither topic is she an informed or reliable commentator. As one commenter correctly remarked:
I think you do the Continental Philosophy tradition a serious disservice by raising this (to my mind very important) topic in the context of a rant by Babich and one of her acolytes. She’s well known to try to discredit speakers at Continental Philosophy conferences by insulting them on Twitter (sometimes with the retort that they are secretly “Analytic”, and sometimes with more mundane insults). She’s barely taken seriously by Continental Philosophers anymore, except for a small die-hard crop of apologists who are thankfully diminishing in numbers fast.
And another patient commenter, Jonathan Mitchell, responds effectively on the "merits" of this intellectual muddle:
As someone who writes on Nietzsche I find much of what Babich has to say quite poorly motivated (for reasons I will explain below). But first I want to start by quoting Babich’s definition of ‘continental philosophy’:
The question the interviewer sets up is this:
“CC If, as I am suggesting, logical argumentation is at the heart of the analytic methods, can you express the essence of the continental practices in philosophy?”
“BB: Continental philosophy includes a historical sense, a sense of historical context which it does not name ‘the history of philosophy.’ If Heidegger writes about Anaximander he is not reflecting on philosophy’s history as if this were a thing once done, passé, whereas we now, today, do some other sort of thing when we ‘do’ philosophy. At the same time the continental tradition also emphasizes everything that has to do with context, with interpretation, as a difference that makes all the difference.”
For starters, there is no obvious reason why one can’t study philosophy with a ‘historical sense’, where this involves paying due attention to historical context, and at the same time be involved in ‘logical argumentation’, if by the later one is taken to mean providing reasons, arguments and evidence for the claims one makes (especially, but not least, claims of exegesis). The two would only seem mutually exclusive if one had an incredibly narrow understanding of what ‘logical argumentation’ amounted to (i.e. equivalent to applying the most abstract of formal logical methods which is not the trend in Nietzsche studies!).
MOVING TO FRONT FOR LAST TIME--ORIGINALLY POSTED AUGUST 4
The CFP is here. Two of the three papers chosen last year were by PhD students. We are able to cover travel and lodging costs for those whose papers are chosen. All papers presented at ISNS appear in a special issue of Inquiry each year.
...improved again, I think, by workshops at both Berkeley and Chicago, as well as other feedback. The paper will appear in a special issue of The Monist on Nietzsche, to be edited by Ken Gemes (Birkbeck, London).
It gives me particular pleasure to share this announcement:
New editorial leadership at the Journal of Nietzsche Studies—The JNS editorial board and Penn State University Press warmly welcome Jessica N. Berry, Associate Professor of Philosophy Georgia State University, as the new Executive Editor for the Journal of Nietzsche Studies. Professor Berry is an expert in the field and the author of Nietzsche and the Ancient Skeptical Tradition and numerous articles on Nietzsche and antiquity. For nearly four years, she has served as Associate Editor for the journal and brings considerable experience with content editing and development. Along with this transition, the Philosophy Department at Georgia State University will become the new editorial home for the journal.
The outgoing Executive Editor, Christa Acampora (Hunter College/CUNY), deserves credit for reviving the journal and making it, for the first time, an important forum for Nietzsche scholarship. I am confident that Professor Berry will build on Professor Acampora's work, and establish JNS as the premier forum for Nietzsche scholarship in the world.
This new review essay may interest some readers; a version will appear in NDPR soon (those interested can cite and quote from either the SSRN version or the NDPR version when it appears):
This review essay discusses Paul Katsafanas’s The Nietzschean Self (Oxford, 2016), which purports to offer an interpretation of Nietzsche’s moral psychology, including questions such as “reflection’s role in action, the genuine action/mere behavior distinction, the nature of evaluative judgment, the structure of human motivation, the possibility of freedom, and the nature of responsibility.” Katsafanas also claims that Nietzsche “wants to understand how ethical claims are justified” (hereafter, the problem of “normative authority”), although no textual evidence is ever adduced anywhere in the book showing Nietzsche to be concerned with this question.
I argue that (1) Katsafanas’s claim that Nietzsche thinks that only conscious mental states are conceptually articulated is not supported by the texts and trades on Katsafanas’s own confusion between linguistic and conceptual articulation, one that vitiates many of the arguments in the book; (2) Katsafanas has a more successful account of the role of drives in Nietzsche’s philosophical psychology and their influence on conscious reflection; (3) Katsafanas’s attempt to resist the import of the latter account for Nietzsche’s ideas about free will and the role of conscious deliberation depends on misrepresentations of the texts and philosophical confusions about the thesis that consciousness is epiphenomenal; (4) Katsafanas misrepresents Schiller’s views about the “unity” of a self, and thus fails to refute the popular view in the literature that unity, for Nietzsche, is a matter of unity among a person’s drives; and (5) many of Katsafanas’s mistakes, and especially his frequent carelessness with Nietzsche’s texts, are best-explained by his desire to construe Nietzsche’s moral psychology as responding to the problem of normative authority.
In the end, the “Nietzschean moral psychology” of this book is largely Katsafansas’s invention, occasionally inspired by snippets from Nietzsche.
His 2013 book on Nietzschean Constitutivism--putting aside the interpretive issues, which took a backseat there--is more interesting and successful in my view. It also involves far fewer philosophical mistakes than the new book.
UPDATE: I uploaded a very slightly revised version today, August 12. The main difference comes in the treatment of nonconceptual content and psychological explanation at 3-4.
A nicely written essay by Zena Hitz (St. John's College, Annapolis). It offers an interesting defense of a decidedly Christian understanding of the "interiority" and "dignity" of humanistic reflection (also a Platonic one, though as Nietzsche said, "Christianity is Platonism for the people") against the neoliberal ("the humanities produce people who are useful for capitalism") and liberal ("the humanities make people good democratic citizens") defenses of humanistic study. As Nietzsche notes in the Genealogy, the "slave revolt" in morality made human beings interesting, giving them interior lives. And the humanities (here understood capaciously to include the cognitive sciences generally) are, when done well and seriously (e.g., not Badiou studies!), are precisely those that help one become a human being who is "interesting." That concern has no resonance for the neoliberal or liberal defenses of the humanities. Since our age is still neoliberal to its core, that means humanistic study is doomed in the neoliberal countries. But it will likely return elsewhere.
What do readers think of Prof. Hitz's interesting essay?
Tamsin Shaw (whose fine work on Nietzsche I've written about here and here) had an essay in the NYRB that discussed recent work in moral psychology by psychologists (some of it spectacularly and notoriously confused, like Joshua Greene's stuff) and the involvement of Martin Seligman and the "Positive Psychology" movement in the CIA's torture program. This was unfair and misleading, I thought, a kind of slippery guilt by association. Two psychologists, Jonathan Haidt and Steven Pinker, now reply, and Shaw replies to them (same link). I'm not a big fan of Haidt or Pinker (though they've each done interesting work, though both fall short in interpreting the philosophical import of their own results), but I think their position in this debate is the slightly stronger one here. I'll write something more substantive at a later date, but I thought readers here might find the back and forth interesting.
This essay offers an interpretation and partial defense of Nietzsche's idea that moralities and moral judgments are “sign-languages” or “symptoms” of our affects, that is, of our emotions or feelings. According to Nietzsche, as I reconstruct his view, moral judgments result from the interaction of two kinds of affective responses: first, a “basic affect” of inclination toward or aversion from certain acts, and then a further affective response (the “meta-affect”) to that basic affect (that is, sometimes we can be either inclined towards or averted from our basic affects). I argue that Nietzsche views basic affects as noncognitive, that is, as identifiable solely by how they feel to the subject who experiences the affect. By contrast, I suggest that meta-affects (I focus on guilt and shame) sometimes incorporate a cognitive component like belief. After showing how this account of moral judgment comports with a reading of Nietzsche's moral philosophy that I have offered in previous work, I conclude by adducing philosophical and empirical psychological reasons for thinking that Nietzsche's account of moral judgment is correct.
It's quite a bit revised from earlier versions: Jessica Berry (Georgia State) persuaded me that my treatment of moral responsibility and guilt was difficult to square with passages in the Genealogy; and Joshua Cohen and colleagues at Berkeley forced me to expand the critique of Rawls, though I still think Arneson's criticism is basically correct. And many others helped on many points of detail, so with thanks to them all, here's a new version.
The response to the Call for papers was extremely gratifying--we had nearly 50 submissions, which, for those of us who have done program committee work for the old North American Nietzsche Society (admittedly, during its years of decline under the Schacht dictatorship), was remarkable, since 10 or 12 submissions was the norm, with many being obviously unacceptable. By contrast, this pool of papers was extremely impressive. Two members of the Executive Committee blind reviewed each submission, from which we came up with not quite ten finalists. The whole Executive Committee then reviewed each of the finalists (again, entirely blind review), and there was consensus on three papers, two, as it turns out, by advanced PhD students, Jonathan Mitchell at the University of Warwick and Avery Snelson at the University of California at Riverside, and one by an established scholar, Christopher Janaway (University of Southampton). I am especially pleased that two PhD students (from excellent programs) prevailed with excellent papers in this blind review competition: it bodes well for the future of the field. All three papers will be presented along with the invited papers at the inaugural conference in Bonn.
I'm grateful to Jonny Thakkar for calling my attention to this nicely written essay by a recent Oxford DPhil. It includes some funny remarks about the "effective [sic] altruist" Church, though is perhaps too uncritical in the end about Williams, whose no doubt genuine interest in Nietzsche never translated into very much courage in criticism of morality. But the piece is an enjoyable read!
MOVING TO FRONT FROM DEC. 21, FOR THOSE WHO MAY HAVE MISSED IT DURING THE HOLIDAY PERIOD
I review it at the New Rambler. The book gets some remarkable endorsements on the dustjacket from historians, though historians, I fear, who didn't know much about Nietzsche and didn't read the book too carefully.
In the last ten days or so, we've had four philosophers ask for more time for submissions, while some members of the Executive Committee turn out to be unavailable to referee submission until after the holidays (grading, holiday travel etc.) So the deadline for the first ISNS conference is extended to January 15, 2016. And Mattia Riccardi (Bonn) has confirmed that we will be able to pay for travel and lodging for accepted papers from those who do not have tenure-stream faculty positions (faculty or students).
ADDENDUM: The Executive Committee also wishes to advise those who submitted before the December 15 deadline that they may revise and resubmit the paper until January 15; refereeing of papers will take place thereafter.
We've gotten a remarkably strong (and quick) response to the invitations to participate in the inaugural workshop in Bonn of ISNS, and since we are trying to keep the event relatively small to facilitate serious discussion, we are capping acceptances at around 20 (though there will be a waitlist).
Anyone may submit to the Call for Papers; authors of accepted papers will be invited to present in Bonn and the papers will appear in Inquiry.
ADDENDUM: For those interested in Nietzsche, I discuss a recent paper by Andrew Huddleston (one of the three invited speakers for the inaugural ISNS workshop) here.
Nietzsche famously proclaimed the "death of God," but in so doing it was not God's death that was really notable--Nietzsche assumes that most reflective, modern readers realize that "the belief in the Christian god has become unbelievable” (GS 343)--but the implications of that belief becoming unbelievable, namely, "how much must collapse now that this faith has been undermined," in particular, "the whole of our European morality" (GS 343). What is the connection between the death of God and the death of morality?
I argue that Nietzsche thinks the death of God will undermine two central aspects of our morality: its moral egalitarianism, and its belief in moral responsibility and warranted guilt. I offer an account of how Nietzsche sees the connections, and conclude with some skeptical considerations about whether Nietzsche was right that atheism would, in fact, undermine morality.
UPDATE: A friend on FB, an historian at Harvard, posted the following excerpt from the preceding paper, which leads me to think it might be worth sharing:
Consider the Nietzschean Trolley Problem (apologies for anachronism): a runaway trolley is hurtling down the tracks towards Beethoven, before he has even written the Eroica symphony; by throwing a switch, you can divert the trolley so that it runs down five (or fifty) ordinary people, non-entities (say university professors of law or philosophy) of various stripes (“herd animals” in Nietzschean lingo), and Beethoven is saved. For the anti-egalitarian, this problem is not a problem: one should of course save a human genius at the expense of many mediocrities. To reason that way is, of course, to repudiate moral egalitarianism. Belief in an egalitarian God would thwart that line of reasoning; but absent that belief, what would?
From a piece on the making of jihad fanatics among French Muslims in prison:
The leading authority on jihadism in French prisons is an Iranian sociologist in Paris named Farhad Khosrokhavar. For his book “Radicalisation”...he spent three days a week in French prisons for three years, developing a theory of inmate conversion. It happens in stages. Most of the recruits grow up without fathers and without any religious knowledge—only anger and alienation in the banlieues. They fall into crime and end up in prison....One former prisoner I met...explained that Islamists target the fragiles, psychologically weak inmates who never receive visits. They are offered solace, a new identity, and a political vision inverting the social order that places them at the bottom.
This paper is forthcoming in an issue of the leading European journal devoted to the Frankfurt School, Analyse und Kritik, in a special issue on an important topic in Marxist theory, namely, "The Normative Turn Away from Marxism." The abstract:
Marx did not have a normative theory, that is, a theory that purported to justify, discursively and systematically, his normative opinions, to show them to be rationally obligatory or objectively valid. In this regard, Marx was obviously not alone: almost everyone, including those who lead what are widely regarded as exemplary “moral” lives, decide and act on the basis of normative intuitions and inclinations that fall far short of a theory. Yet self-proclaimed Marxists like G.A. Cohen and Jurgen Habermas have reintroduced a kind of normative theory into the Marxian tradition that Marx himself would have ridiculed. This essay defends Marx’s position and tries to explain the collapse of Western Marxism into bourgeois practical philosophy, i.e., philosophizing about what ought to be done that is unthreatening to capitalist relations of production (more precisely, practical philosophy that is addressed to individuals, that is primarily concerned with what to believe, and that is obsessed with moral trivialities).
Part I argues that the Marxian account of revolution under capitalism presupposes only that the agents are instrumentally rational (and thus Marx is, for all important purposes, a Humean). Part II offers a kind of intellectual genealogy of the rise of bourgeois practical philosophy in America, England, and Europe, focusing, in particular, on Cohen and Habermas, but also Peter Singer. Various forms of intuitionism (Moore, Rawls) are central to the story in the Anglophone world, while the crucial event in the European context was the merely philosophical challenge to instrumental rationality launched by Horkheimer and brought to Kantian fruition by Habermas.
Part III concludes with some speculative structural hypotheses about why Marxism should have collapsed into irrelevant normative theory over the last half-century, noting the political and legal purge of Marxists in both American and Germany, as well as the massive expansion of the university system and the premium placed on an appearance of a “method.”
Here. Selected papers will appear in Inquiry in late 2016. Anyone may submit papers, per the instructions on the site. We will be able to cover most travel and lodging costs for those without a tenure-stream position whose papers are accepted.
I'm very pleased to announce an exciting new scholarly initiative, the International Society for Nietzsche Studies. The inaugural conference will be at the University of Bonn in late June 2016, and a Call for Papers will be issued soon; Bonn will be able to offer financial support to grad students or non-tenure-stream faculty whose papers are accepted. All conference papers will appear in a special issue of Inquiry each year.
Nietzsche studies is at a particularly fertile moment, with an unusually strong cohort of talented younger philosophers around the world working on Nietzsche, in whole or in part. The existing Nietzsche societies are, in my personal opinion, somewhere on the spectrum from moribund to uneven. I am hopeful this new initiative will provide an attractive alternative.
Was ist vornehm? Was bedeutet uns heute noch das Wort "vornehm"? Woran verräth sich, woran erkennt man, unter diesem schweren verhängten Himmel der beginnenden Pöbelherrschaft, durch den Alles undurchsichtig und bleiern wird, den vornehmen Menschen? - Es sind nicht die Handlungen, die ihn beweisen, - Handlungen sind immer vieldeutig, immer unergründlich -; es sind auch die "Werke" nicht. Man findet heute unter Künstlern und Gelehrten genug von Solchen, welche durch ihre Werke verrathen, wie eine tiefe Begierde nach dem Vornehmen hin sie treibt: aber gerade dies Bedürfniss nach dem Vornehmen ist von Grund aus verschieden von den Bedürfnissen der vornehmen Seele selbst, und geradezu das beredte und gefährliche Merkmal ihres Mangels. Es sind nicht die Werke, es ist der Glaube, der hier entscheidet, der hier die Rangordnung feststellt, um eine alte religiöse Formel in einem neuen und tieferen Verstande wieder aufzunehmen: irgend eine Grundgewissheit, welche eine vornehme Seele über sich selbst hat, Etwas, das sich nicht suchen, nicht finden und vielleicht auch nicht verlieren lässt.- Die vornehme Seele hat Ehrfurcht vor sich.-
Forthcoming inThe Blackwell Companion to Experimental Philosophy, co-authored with Daniel Telech, a PhD student here who is very knowledgeable not only about Nietzsche, but about empirical and philosophical moral psychology (Dan is the lead author on this piece).
I was corresponding with a philosopher elsewhere about yet another cyber-example of the pathetic identity politics/language police, whom my correspondent described as an SJW, or "social justice warrior." I had not heard the term before, but my correspondent's explanation of it is worth sharing:
Functionally defined, "SJW" designates someone who monitors cyberspace for slights or miscues that reveal bias, and then exploits the various tools of social media to shame the offender, express outrage, and summon the digital mob, whilst achieving for themselves a righteous fame that ties their identities and their actions to the heroes and achievements of the civil rights movement, the landmark moments of which preceded their adulthood. SJWs divide the world, GWB-like, into the evildoers ("shitlords") and the oppressed, with the possible, but problematic remainder, being allies, whose status is ever tenuous and usually collapses into shitlord. SJWs do not distinguish between major and minor offenses -- unintentionally using "transgender-ed" instead of "transgender" is as unforgivable as any other act of oppression -- nor do they distinguish repeat and systematic from first-time offenders. They employ a principle of interpretation that is something like the opposite of charity. (If the utterance gives offense under one interpretation, that interpretation is correct.) It is a harsh "justice".
Indeed, it's unclear whether SJWs do not fully grasp the cruelty and inhumanity of their cybermob shame tactics, the anguish it causes, typically to the socially clueless and ASD spectrum types (itself a form of ableism), or just people with older, less plastic, brains, who are unable to keep pace with the rapidly shifting pronoun and non-slur requirements, or whether this is fully grasped, and indeed the retributive point of the exercise. In any case, the SJW hallmark is cruelty in the name of compassion. (And creating incredibly dangerous environments in the name of "safe space".)
Well, as a Nietzsche scholar, I can hardly tell you anything you don't already see better here. The difference between the Christian slave revolt and this one is that with Christianity at least, there is forgiveness.
The irony, of course, is that the SJW squanders his or her efforts on matters that rarely have anything to do with justice.
ADDENDUM: A reader in the UK writes:
I wanted to send you a quick note with regard to your most recent post on "social justice warriors". Whilst I am entirely sympathetic to your criticisms of the online mobs, vague identity politics, etc. I thought that seeing as you hadn't heard the term before you might want to be made aware that it originated and still continues to be used almost exclusively (to the best of my knowledge) as a pejorative by so-called 'Men's Rights Activists' (read: genuinely horrible and regressive misogynists) to describe anyone with a liberal or progressive disposition. Without impugning your correspondent, I am immediately suspicious when the term is used as it suggests (and originated from) an entirely different and also toxic version of identity politics. I think the most mainstream use of the term so far has been in the 'Gamergate' movement, which many (myself included) think was a thinly veiled attempt by the same misogynists to create an aura of legitimacy around their sending of rape and death threats to relatively benign (if sometimes mistaken) critics of video game tropes/culture.
Anyway, given the amount of baggage the term carries, I worry that you might (unintentionally) be, or be seen to be, lumping yourself in with a line of thought that is altogether more horrible than your actual political and moral beliefs. A google search of social justice warrior, or especially SJW, will demonstrate that its still very much the preserve of a nasty sort.
Though of course you could still agree with the definition given by your correspondent without necessarily endorsing all the horribleness associated with the term, I think there are some worrying signs in the definition itself (like the move towards claiming victimhood on neurosciencey terms) which are suggestive of additional beliefs on your correspondent's side, and of course the term itself is still used exclusively as a slur by a particular sort.
All news to me (I had never even heard of "Gamergate," though have now looked it up)! I'm quite sure my correspondent had nothing to do with any of this, far far from it in fact. It still seems to me an apt term for describing a kind of facile and superficial cyber-posturing.
ANOTHER: Some readers disputed the genealogy of the SJW term, though I don't think its etiology matters. See also this comment just submitted to the open thread.
This is a lightly revised version of a paper I gave last week at a very enjoyable conference on "Philosophy in the Public Sphere" at the Jindal Global University in Sonipat, India, near Delhi; the abstract:
The idea of “public philosophy”—that is, philosophy as contributing to questions of moral and political urgency in the community in which it is located—is paradoxical for two reasons. The first is that normative philosophy has no well-established substantive conclusions about the right and the good. Thus, philosophers enter into moral and political debate purporting to offer some kind of expertise, but the expertise they offer can not consist in any credible claim to know what is good, right, valuable, or any other substantive normative proposition that might be decisive in practical affairs. But philosophers—at least those in the broadly Socratic traditions--do bring to debate a method or way of thinking about contested normative questions: they are good at parsing arguments, clarifying the concepts at play in a debate, teasing out the dialectical entailments of suppositions and claims, and so on: Socratic philosophers are, in short, purveyors of what I call “discursive hygiene.” This brings us to the second paradox: although philosophers can contribute no substantive knowledge about the good and the right, they can contribute discursive hygiene. But discursive hygiene plays almost no role in public life, and an only erratic, and highly contingent, role in how people form beliefs about matters of moral and political urgency. I call attention to the role of two factors in moral judgment: non-rational emotional responses and “Tribalism,” the tendency to favor members of one “tribe” at the expense of others. The prevalence of emotional responses, especially tribalist ones, undermines the efficacy of discursive hygiene in public life.
I conclude that the role for public philosophy is quite circumscribed, though public philosophers should learn from their cousins, the lawyers, who appreciate the role that rhetoric, beyond discursive hygiene, plays in changing moral attitudes and affecting action. Along the way, I discuss Stevenson’s emotivism, what we can learn from Peter Singer’s schizophrenic role as a public philosopher (lauded for his defense of animal rights, pilloried for his defense of killing defective humans), evolutionary explanations of tribalism, the lessons of American Legal Realism for the possible relevance of discursive hygiene, and Marx and Nietzsche as "public" philosophers.
...by voting to ban a student group devoted to discussing Nietzsche. (Thanks to the many readers who sent this piece in the last few hours.) If the students are too stupid to undo the damage themselves, hopefully the Administration will step in. The idea that at a major English university one can't have a student group for the discussion of one of the two most important philosophers of the 19th-century is quite remarkable. The opponents are quite correct that Nietzsche is a real anti-egalitarian, but quite silly in thinking that means he is a "fascist."
UPDATE: The full motion suggests that they think the "Nietzsche Club" is really just a front group for some fascist/reactionary group. If so, it's a shame this has been presented by the media (perhaps aided and abetted by the students) as a smear of Nietzsche as a fascist.
Continental Philosophy Farhang Erfani, a philosopher at American University, provides a useful set of links to news, events, interviews, reviews, videos, etc. related to "Continental philosophy" (broadly construed)