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message 1: by Elenabot (last edited Feb 05, 2014 01:50PM) (new)

Elenabot (makingsenseofmakingsense) Does the postmodern condition with its almost endless proliferation of information problematize the philosophical project in any way? I am thinking here not only of the effort at systematization, which had already become problematic immediately after Hegel, but of the whole attempt of a single human mind to gain some kind of comprehensive grasp of human life (ie, the ideal of the examined life), however intuitive and provisional that may be. Is that still possible?

And if such an act of thought is no longer possible, then what kind of philosophy are we left with? What can wisdom and its pursuit still mean for us in such a hyper-pluralistic culture?


message 2: by Steven (new)

Steven | 4 comments I believe some of the work that was once the bread and butter of philosophy can now be automated. I'm thinking primarily of Kant's categories of knowledge being analyzeable by looking at the wikipedia API, collecting hyperlinks as part of a project for visualizing the web of beliefs. But really, this is just a part on the emerging field of Digital Humanities. Check out Indiana University analyzing the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. https://inpho.cogs.indiana.edu/


message 3: by Tim (last edited Feb 06, 2014 07:12AM) (new)

Tim Colgan | 16 comments Interesting question Elena. One that I've been pondering for a while, though perhaps from a different perspective.

The one big issue which strikes me is the, perhaps, inevitable loss of privacy which our technological advances in communication may be engendering.

Suppose, for a moment, that the whole debate over surveillance is a meaningless discussion in the sense that loss of privacy is inevitable. That is, the genie has been let out of the bottle and cannot be put back. If we proceed from this assumption then might we be returning to our tribal state where there were no secrets? That is everyone knew everyone and nothing could be kept hidden.

Now, there are pros and cons with this new situation - although we may dread our lack of privacy, the ability to keep an eye on those wielding power is a definite advantage. But beyond that, it also represents a shift from thinking of each of us as individuals, to refocusing on individuals as members of a community. This is what strikes me as the most significant impact of the (post)modern situation.

What do you think?


message 4: by Carina (new)

Carina (neslom) | 3 comments Thanks to Steven for the link. It will come in handy.

My thoughts on this topic:
I don't see a problem with the huge amount of (new) info being send around everyday. Hoaxes and fakes are discovered just as fast as it's shared. Each individual will use whatever new information is relevant for him/her and his/hers thinking process.

The problem to me is the constant need for comments, analyses and debates from experts. Since it has to be done fast it can be a bit superficial and not really give a new view on things.


message 5: by Elenabot (last edited Feb 12, 2014 11:26AM) (new)

Elenabot (makingsenseofmakingsense) Tim, perhaps the deterioration of privacy will give rise to a new sort of thinker. Changes in the existential situation of the thinker do arguably give rise to changes in the structure of their thought. Since the late Middle Ages, creative progress in the West has been conceived in terms of the individual. Before that, culture worked with a more collectivistic, tradition-based model of creativity. If privacy and the privileging of the individual would disappear, we'd be moving to something closer to the collectivist model, but not quite. Something beyond the two, perhaps. I cannot think of that change in positive terms however. Totalitarianism could have a heyday in such an environment, as soon as someone hijacks the collectivist system.

What I was more concerned with when I posted this though was how increasing specialization (and the standards of rigour it introduces) might affect the philosopher's quest for a comprehensive perspective on human life, without which one can't achieve the ideal of "the examined life." A thinker must use the particular instances at his/her disposal in order to generalize and intuit larger patterns. Yet this leap from the particular instance to the general pattern seems problematized when any number of specialists will come by to point out how the thinker really had a sloppy understanding of the particular instance they specialized in studying.

Steven, I can see how such a project would be invaluable to the Humanities. However, perhaps the difficulty here lies in illegitimately overexaggerating the scope of the latest tool. I can't see how, for instance, information technologies could co-opt the Kantian critique of the a priori structures of the understanding. The latter has a phenomenological dimension that would slip through the methodological framework imposed by the former.


message 6: by Joshua (last edited Feb 13, 2014 01:10PM) (new)

Joshua | 21 comments I am not at all sure that the postmodern condition offers any cues for the practice of philosophy, particularly not under the guise of a sophisticated technological apparatus in which information circulates in commodity-form. I'm going to crib from Alain Badiou here, because I think he summarizes this well, "Cultural relativism cannot go beyond the trivial statement that different situations exist. It does not tell us anything about what,among the differences, legitimately matters to subjects."(Badiou 2005). The first challenge of philosophy, therefore, is to think against the grain of a determinism which, no matter how sophisticated,can only amount to a philotechnics and not a philosophy.

In my own understanding it seems that attention has to be paid to form, and not only the flow of data or the proliferation of information. The "postmodern condition" is itself an interested description of the world which is directed primarily towards the globalized flow of capital and data. Access to and control of the means of knowledge production, meanwhile, remains severely restricted. The fact is that knowledge, to be counted in the virtual utopia, must be accessible as a commodity. The intellectual labour that goes into producing these commodities is considerable, but that labour is not apparent in their inert form as data.

Philosophy, however, has nothing to do with such inertia. Serious questions are, however, posed to philosophy in terms of its ability to think its object, as well as to think itself as subject when it has become apparent that the reflective and centred founding subject does not exist. This does not mean we have to give up on Descartes, but rather renarrate the thinker as a creation that arises from its thought. The being of thought is coterminous with its deployment.
I am also not sure that the obstacles of rigorous standards by specialists should be thought of as a new obstacle to the project of the examined life. Rigorous standards and interminable distinctions were well known to the sophists in Plato's day and were certainly present in the scholasticism of the middle ages. Our main challenge is still, I think, to undo the reification of thought into information/data.


message 7: by Elenabot (last edited Feb 14, 2014 08:46AM) (new)

Elenabot (makingsenseofmakingsense) Joshua, four things you suggested that I can really embrace:

1) philotechnics does not equal philosophy - a brilliant distinction, and too often overlooked.

2) more attention has to be paid to form and to the foundational problem of meaning. The philosopher whose work deals with these questions, and who helps guide the way to bypassing the postmodern condition is Ernst Cassirer.

3) "Our main challenge is ... to undo the reification of thought into information/data." This reification is perhaps among the most characteristic traits of the postmodern condition. The reification of abstraction leads to the desubstantiation of the embodied subject and his experience, as I'll argue below.

4) "labour is not apparent in their inert form as data" - the Information Age, as well as the Postmodern crisis of the decentered subject are both, I'd argue, caused by the gradual disembodiment of the mind. The existential situation of the thinker has changed in our historical period; we live in an environment of mass-produced, standardized objects, scarcely wading past the gridlocked environment of the city. Having little direct intercourse with a world that is not shaped by such impersonal modes of production, our experience is such that we are basically brains in vats (hence perhaps the logic of movements that trumpet the necessity of "recovering our roots"). Also, most of our work is conducted from an office chair, shuffling papers or punching data, none of which involves embodied interaction with the environment we are shaping at a distance. Our existential situation determines our possibilities of experience, which in turn delimit our thought. We cannot help concluding that we are decentered subjects constituted solely of symbols and somehow hovering indeterminately in an indeterminate world when our grasp of reality is limited by the context of our embodiment such that we in fact do deal primarily with symbols.

As the above passage suggests though, where I would part ways with you is on the nature of the subject. You concede too much to the postmodernists by unduly privileging the narrative metaphor of subjectivity. To an extent, narrative is constitutive of our experience; the narrative act shapes and delimits, it filters out of myriad possibilities one pattern that alone becomes actualized, consolidated, determinate. Yet still, we have here the old problem of infinite regress... Before the first narrative act there was... Some Thing waiting in the darkness. Only God, supposedly, has the power to compel being out of words. We can only create according to our nature, whatever that is. So we're back to square one, the ancient and foundational problem of philosophical anthropology - the nature of the knower, and more fundamentally still, of human nature.


message 8: by Steven (new)

Steven | 4 comments Man! I had a long response, and my tablet ate it. I wish I had my laptop with me.
I agree with the idea that the subjective is the question of our age. It goes all the way back to Descartes' Cogito, was addressed by people like Hume, Fichte, even Wittgenstein. The philosophy of mind in the analytic tradition is sort of dealing with it. Qualia. Yeah. Okay, that's all I've got the second time around. I lost my enthusiasm.


message 9: by Joshua (new)

Joshua | 21 comments Elena,
I must have made a mistake somewhere. I certainly don't intend to privilege the narrative metaphor of subjectivity. I had hoped to reclaim Descartes here, and surely that can't be postmodern? Of course I should add that I am interpreting the cogito with a Lacanian gloss, "I think where I am not, therefore where I am I do not think. I am not wherever I am the plaything of my thought; I think of what I am where I do not think to think." Negation is part of the thought process. I should not have said, however, that the founding subject does not exist. It might, the question is how we come to know that, as you suggested. Also, rather than saying that the thinker arises from its thought I should probably have qualified that the thinker is coterminous with its own actuality but is not thereby fused with the object of its thought. Certainly not a self-creation.


message 10: by Kevin (new)

Kevin | 8 comments The nub for me is the extent to which thinking becomes synonymous with knowledge, and the latter becomes reduced to the accessing of information. To put a fine point on it, data mining might be pragmatic, but it's not philosophy. I suspect that as soon as we put philosophy to use for an explicit end it ceases to be philosophical. Okay, so who needs it, anyway? Perhaps philosophy is most important at a time when it appears to have outlived its usefulness, because it is concerned with the enduring validity of asking questions and of exposing nested assumptions in established modes of thought and conduct. Nietzsche would say that it is timely in its untimeliness.

I view postmodern theory as being aligned with such a philosophical attitude to the extent that it questions foundational assumptions inherent in these belief structures and social relationships. The decentering of the subject exposes and problematizes the ways in which such assumptions have been rooted in our understanding of our world at all levels: existentially, socially, institutionally, and epistemologically.

If we begin to question what counts as knowledge, what sort of individual, social, and institutional practices stem from this, and what is at stake in this arrangement, then I would say that we have the basis for a conversation about what we value and what is at stake in this view. I would leave it to the philosophers among us to tell me if that is a properly philosophical insight, but it is the type of conversation that I would like to have.

Thanks for raising it.


message 11: by Elenabot (new)

Elenabot (makingsenseofmakingsense) What seems to emerge as a unified thread in this discussion is that the postmodern condition somehow emerges from the failure to provide a coherent, all-encompassing philosophical anthropology (or an interpretation of human nature and of the foundational human subject that can satisfy all the special disciplines). The crucial task seems to be to find a way to wed the transcendental subject (a la Kant) with the wealth of information stockpiled by the various special disciplines of science and culture alike.

Take the state of the human sciences as an example. Each of them - the various branches of psychology, neurobiology, sociology, economics, political science, anthropology, etc - operates with its own (often not articulated and therefore not evaluated) pet theory of human nature. Compare economic man with anthropological man on the one hand and with neurobiological man on the other. These various foundational pet (philosophical) theories do not gel with each other and they certainly do not gel with the world-picture(s) implied by the various natural sciences (there is a diversity of world-pictures even there; just compare those with a more Einsteinian, classical bent with those of proponents of String Theory. Biology is another conceptual universe, and ecology yet another).

It is this philosophical work that should be done to connect these disparate provinces of knowledge, but which is never performed by anyone because everybody thinks that such general, foundational problems can never be "rigorously" treated. Perhaps though, the real reason is not stout and principled adherence to one's own methodological principles, but rather the lack of research grants available for such foundational and purely conceptual work. Whose pockets would it fill? Its aim is not to prove a point anyone can capitalize upon; its aim is merely to increase understanding, and therefore, it is literally worthless as nobody could stamp their name on it, brand it, and use it to develop the latest and greatest invention. Perhaps this is the real reason why foundational philosophical problems have fallen into such oblivion in our production-oriented age. Far from being the cause of philosophy's death as Derrida and others claimed, the postmodern condition of knowledge is a symptom of it.


message 12: by Feliks (new)

Feliks (dzerzhinsky) | 101 comments Derrida and Foucault are the two worst schmucks in the history of thought, besides Karl Popper.


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