Thursday, September 17, 2009

Heidegger On Cartesian Ontology

Today, I had to give a brief presentation on Heidegger's criticism of the Cartesian Ontology; namely, I had to summarize section 21 of Being and Time. This was for the UCBerkeley class on Heidegger.

Here is the actual, paper outline that I handed out to the other students and the professors.

Here is the transcript of the presentation, which lines up with the paper outline in terms of content.

(Right-click and "save link as" to download the documents.)

Saturday, September 05, 2009

A Schedule for next Semester

This semester, Fall 2009, I am enrolled in four classes.
  • Heidegger 185 - (seminar) with Drs. Katharina Kaiser & Dorothea Frede
  • Theory of Meaning 135 - with Dr. John Campbell
  • Philosophical Methods 100 - with Dr. Seth Yalcin
  • Attic Greek 1 - (language) with Rachael Preminger
Next semester, Spring 2010, there are several classes which seem appealing. First of all, I'd very much like to enroll in these two:
  • The Phenomenology of Action 189 - with Dr. Hubert Dreyfus
  • Hume 176 - with Dr. Barry Stroud
The other classes that I am considering, depending on times and availability, include,
  • Schopenhauer & Nietzsche 183 - with Dr. Katharina Kaiser
  • Philosophy of Mathematics 146 - with Dr. Paolo Mancosu
  • Philosophy of Mind 132 - with Dr. John Searle
  • Aristotle 161 - with Dr. Dorothea Frede
  • Attic Greek 2
Additionally, next semester, a wonderful graduate seminar co-taught by Drs. MacFarlane and Yalcin is scheduled. However, I'm not sure exactly what sort of preparation is expected for this particular seminar.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Class on "Later Nietzsche"

As many students of philosophy also have noticed, many universities list classes on the later Wittgenstein and classes on the early Wittgenstein. The Later Wittgenstein class focuses on the work in the Philosophical Investigations, and the Early Wittgenstein class focuses on the work in the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Such a focus seems wonderful.

However, Nietzsche is rarely (or never) given this detailed exposure (at the undergraduate level). With a far greater volume of published texts, nevertheless, professors seem to want to teach the contrasting views of the early, middle, and later Nietzsche, all in one semester, and in some cases they lack explicitely made distinctions in their program. (A studious friend who took the class on Nietzsche at Carnegie Mellon, having had to sprint through Nietzsche's published corpus in a single semester, left the class with a gigantic confusion and wondering "whether or not Nietzsche would have agreed with the values of the Nazi party.")

Yes, reading some of the early or middle Nietzsche does help illuminate the position of the later Nietzsche and so would mastering the Tractatus before proceeding to the Philosophical Investigations; however, at the beginning of the semester, a professor could do the task of briefly summarizing the issues of similarity and difference and then continue the semester with an exclusive focus on the delicate material of the later Nietzsche.

Such an upper division class would have many advantages for the student and for future Nietzsche studies, for many reasons: A more detailed exposition of his ideas would be available to students, students would be able to follow it more clearly, and this would spread a more scholarly introduction to Nietzsche himself, advocating a naturalist view and stimulating students to focus on specialized topics for their senior thesis (e.g. refined topics in Nietzsche's Philosophy of Action & Mind, of Language, Epistemology, etc.). The current approach to teaching Nietzsche to undergraduates leaves students confounded, uninformed, misled, and gives them an impression that the prolific writer was confusing, contradictory, and lacking in scholarly arguments. (Why do some philosophy professors attempt to include the entirety of Thus Spoke Zarathustra in introductory courses?)

I spoke to the instructor at Berkeley who will be teaching the class on Schopenhauer & Nietzsche 183, next semester. She told me that her tentative plan was to focus on "Schopenhauer & Nietzsche on Art" at which point my heart sank while she described that we would read from The World as Will and Representation, The Birth of Tragedy, and some excerpts from Nietzsche's later writings. I felt a little better when she reminded me that understanding their views on art would of course implicate understanding their metaphysical views. Nevertheless, as Leiter says in his Nietzsche on Morality,

As Whitman argues, part of what made The Birth of Tragedy an "embarrassment to classicists" was that it represented a return to "the magisterial tradition" of philology, then in disrepute due to the influence of the newer "scientific" model for the discipline.

Even Nietzsche himself finds The Birth of Tragedy to be a poor text (however, he notes in hindsight a few undeveloped inclinations that show evidence of his later ideas). So why in god's name do professors seek to incorporate this absurdity in their undergraduate courses? I could see the use perhaps in historical graduate courses - but why would you expose students to Nietzsche's worst writing? The next worst thing to do would be to add "On Truth and Lies in the Non-Moral Sense" to the syllabus or even Thus Spoke Zarathustra to an undisciplined audience.

At the least, the Schopenhauer & Nietzsche course could be miraculously restructured to "Schopenhauer & Nietzsche on the Will." This course could then focus on the development of theories of agency, beginning with a brief summary of the views stated by Kant and developed by Hegel, leading into a more detailed reading of Schopenhauer's contrasting development, and finally, discussing the influence these individuals had on Nietzsche's naturalistic thoughts on agency. This course would, of course, point out similarities between Nietzsche and Schopenhauer's psychological and physiological views (e.g. type-facts, the unconscious). To continue in this vein, the instructor could include some secondary literature (e.g. Leiter's article on "Nietzsche's Philosophy of Action") as well as some empirical, psychological literature on consciousness and against freedom of will. Now, THAT would make for an exciting class! - Schopenhauer & Nietzsche on Agency.

To end this post, I'm leaving a brief, hypothetical syllabus of a course exclusively on the Later Nietzsche. I'll keep this portion updated, based on any new ideas that come into my mind. (Plus, I'll add more details when I have time.)

Later Nietzsche

This course will focus on the ... course description.

Primary Texts:
On the Genealogy of Morality, trans. by Clark and Swensen.
Twilight of the Idols, trans. by . . .
Course Reader (including aphorisms from D, GS, BGE, A, EH, and WP).

Secondary Literature:
Nietzsche on Morality, by Leiter (introducing ideas of ch. 1 & 2 in lecture, and assigning the reading of ch. 3 & 4).
"Honest Illusion," by Hussain in Nietzsche and Morality edited by Leiter and Sinhababu.
"Nietzsche's Theory of the Will," by Leiter in Nietzsche on Freedom and Autonomy edited by Gemes & May.

. . .

Recommended Reading:
Nietzsche's Philosophical Context: An Intellectual Biography, by Brobjer.
Nietzsche's System, by Richardson.
. . .

I will update this syllabus.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

3 Quarks Daily - Philosophy Blog Post Contest

3 Quarks Daily is conducting a philosophy blog posts contest. These are the steps.
  1. Public nominations of particular blog posts.
  2. Public voting of these nominations until the night of September 7th, whereby the top 20 will progress onto step 3.
  3. The four main editors of 3 Quarks Daily will select 6 finalists from these 20 (with the possibility of adding up to three additional finalists from the remaining original 64 nominations).
  4. Daniel Dennett will then read through these finalists and select the first, second, and third place articles, as well as providing some commentary on these three. (Contest information, included prizes, detailed here.)
I have nominated the article "Nietzsche's Causal Essentialism" from this blog. Currently, you can read all the nominated articles here. Then you can vote here. Leiter Reports has also provided a generous preliminary opinion here.

Nietzsche on the top-right, hoping that this Nietzsche related nomination will win.

September 22nd:
Dennett seems to be of the opinion that blogs are more likely to be locations for clear writing rather than sporadic, undeveloped thoughts. I'd categorize my entry particularly as a sporadic essay written specifically in the vein of responding to my reading of a particular article (and my essay would be easier to grasp had he read the original article). I'd expect streamlined blogs (those that are presented as self-contained news articles) to be written in the most ordinary language, but numerous philosophy blogs will expect a reader to have a background in the specific areas that that blog discusses. My candidate seems to have fallen into this specialized category and beyond the taste of Dennett, giving him the confidence to call himself an eccentric. Here are his remarks and the three winners.

September 11th:
This is extremely exciting. Having made the top six of the chosen finalists, the blog article will now be read by Daniel Dennett. Three wildcards have been added, and now, Nietzsche must compete against eight other articles in the finals. This is a true reward to have the article read by Dennett. Let's hope that the article makes top three so that we can get some feedback on the article itself - directly from him. Winners will be announced on September 22nd, 2009.

September 8th:
Thanks for your support and enthusiasm. I hope this reflects that the discussion has provided some fruitful insights and inspirations. Here is the list of the semifinalists where "Nietzsche's Causal Essentialism" finds itself in the first position! Let's hope we move onto the final round where Daniel Dennett will decide the winners. Finalists will be announced on September 11th, 2009.

Dennett did not deliver presents to Nietzsche and I this year.