Habermas: An Intellectual Biography

This book follows postwar Germany’s leading philosopher and social thinker, Jürgen Habermas, through four decades of political and constitutional struggle over the shape of liberal democracy in Germany. Habermas’s most influential theories – of the public sphere, communicative action, and modernity – were decisively shaped by major West German political events: the failure to denazify the judiciary, the rise of a powerful constitutional court, student rebellions in the late 1960s, the changing fortunes of the Social Democratic Party, NATO’s decision to station nuclear  weapons in Germany, and the unexpected collapse of East Germany. In turn, Habermas’s writings on state, law, and constitution played a critical role in reorienting German political thought and culture toward a progressive liberal-democratic model. Matthew G. Specter uniquely illuminates the interrelationship between the thinker and his culture.

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Habermas and the Fate of Democracy

Jürgen Habermas’s career, with its prodigious philosophy and social theory now translated into forty different languages, can be interpreted primarily as an effort to make intellectual sense of democracy and its untapped possibilities. But the Habermas who emerges in the German sociologist Stefan Müller-Doohm’s illuminating new biography (Habermas: A Biography) also appears as an intensely political creature, an intellectual whose public interventions over the course of sixty years have regularly galvanized popular debate in Germany and beyond. Beginning in the 1950s, when he was perhaps the first in his generation to take on Martin Heidegger and other older intellectuals who had embraced the Nazis, Habermas’s public political interventions have been instrumental in shaping our understanding of and aspirations for democracy.

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Read also: Habermas: A Biography

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Teaching Philosophy of Science to scientists: why, what and how

This paper provides arguments to philosophers, scientists, administrators and students for why science students should be instructed in a mandatory, custom-designed, interdisciplinary course in the philosophy of science. The argument begins by diagnosing that most science students are taught only conventional methodology: a fixed set of methods whose justification is rarely addressed. It proceeds by identifying seven benefits that scientists incur from going beyond these conventions and from acquiring abilities to analyse and evaluate justifications of scientific methods. It concludes that teaching science students these skills makes them better scientists. Based on this argument, the paper then analyses the standard philosophy of science curriculum, and in particular its adequacy for teaching science students. It is argued that the standard curriculum on the one hand lacks important analytic tools relevant for going beyond conventional methodology—especially with respect to non-epistemic normative aspects of scientific practice—while on the other hand contains many topics and tools that are not relevant for the instruction of science students. Consequently, the optimal way of training science students in the analysis and evaluation of scientific methods requires a revision of the standard curriculum. Finally, the paper addresses five common characteristics of students taking such a course, which often clash with typical teaching approaches in philosophy. Strategies how best to deal with these constraints are offered for each of these characteristics.

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Nous in Aristotle’s De Anima

I lay out and examine two sharply conflicting interpretations of Aristotle’s claims about nous in the De Anima (DA). On the human separability approach, Aristotle is taken to have identified reasons for thinking that the intellect can, in some way, exist on its own. On the naturalist approach, the soul, including intellectual soul, is inseparable from the body of which it is the form. I discuss how proponents of each approach deal with the key texts from the DA, focusing on four of the most important and interesting topics in this area. Two of these topics concern the activity of understanding (noêsis): first, what does Aristotle mean when he claims that the intellect cannot have a bodily organ and, secondly, what role does Aristotle think phantasmata (“images” or “representations”) play in understanding something? Two of the topics concern DA 3.5, one of the most difficult passages in Aristotle’s corpus: first, what is the nature and role of the productive intellect (nous poiêtikos) introduced there and, secondly, what are this chapter’s implications for the question of whether the intellect or intellectual soul can exist apart from the body? I conclude by identifying areas where further research is necessary.

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Aristotle’s Cognitive Science: Belief, Affect and Rationality

I offer a novel interpretation of Aristotle’s psychology and notion of rationality, which draws the line between animal and specifically human cognition. Aristotle distinguishes belief (doxa), a form of rational cognition, from imagining (phantasia), which is shared with non-rational animals. We are, he says, “immediately affected” by beliefs, but respond to imagining “as if we were looking at a picture.” Aristotle’s argument has been misunderstood; my interpretation explains and motivates it. Rationality includes a filter that interrupts the pathways between cognition and behavior. This prevents the subject from responding to certain representations. Stress and damage compromise the filter, making the subject respond indiscriminately, as non-rational animals do. Beliefs are representations that have made it past the filter, which is why they can “affect [us] immediately.” Aristotle’s claims express ceteris paribus generalizations, subject to exceptions. No list of provisos could turn them into non-vacuous universal claims, but this does not rob them of their explanatory power. Aristotle’s cognitive science resolves a tension we grapple with today: it accounts for the specialness of human action and thinking within a strictly naturalistic framework. The theory is striking in its insight and explanatory power, instructive in its methodological shortcomings.

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The Love Affair between Philosophy and Poetry: Aristotle’s Poetics and Narrative Identity

In order to grasp the distinctive character of the object imitated in tragedies, Aristotle’s Poetics introduces a new notion of action (praxis), which does not refer to individual ethical deeds as in the Ethics. Rather, it signifies a whole with a beginning, a middle, and an end, whose constitutive components are events (pragmata). This paper argues that the notion of agents undergoes a parallel transformation in the treatise on poetry. It no longer refers exclusively to the authors of ethical deeds, but to the characters who enact the entire dramatic action (prattontes). Their nature can be understood in terms of a potential story whose logos (account, articulation) is a muthos (story, narrative). On this ground, the suggestion is made that the Poetics provides the elements of a narrative conception of human identity.

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Foucault, Power, and Education

Foucault, Power, and Education invites internationally renowned scholar Stephen J. Ball to reflect on the importance and influence of Foucault on his work in educational policy. By focusing on some of the ways Foucault has been placed in relation to educational questions or questions about education, Ball highlights the relationships between Foucault’s concepts and methods, and educational research and analysis. An introductory chapter offers a brief explanation of some of Foucault’s key concerns, while additional chapters explore ways in which Ball himself has sought to apply Foucault’s ideas in addressing contemporary educational issues.  In this intensely personal and reflective text, Ball offers an interpretation of his Foucault–That is, his own particular reading of the Foucauldian toolbox. Ideal for courses in education policy and education studies, this valuable teaching resource is essential reading for any education scholar looking for a starting point into the literature and ideas of Foucault.

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Foucault’s Last Decade

On 26 August 1974, Michel Foucault completed work on Discipline and Punish, and on that very same day began writing the first volume of The History of Sexuality. A little under ten years later, on 25 June 1984, shortly after the second and third volumes were published, he was dead. This decade is one of the most fascinating of his career. It begins with the initiation of the sexuality project, and ends with its enforced and premature closure. Yet in 1974 he had something very different in mind for The History of Sexuality than the way things were left in 1984. Foucault originally planned a thematically organised series of six volumes, but wrote little of what he promised and published none of them. Instead over the course of the next decade he took his work in very different directions, studying, lecturing and writing about historical periods stretching back to antiquity. This book offers a detailed intellectual history of both the abandoned thematic project and the more properly historical version left incomplete at his death. It draws on all Foucault’s writings in this period, his courses at the Collège de France and lectures elsewhere, as well as material archived in France and California to provide a comprehensive overview and synthetic account of Foucault’s last decade.

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Ineffability and its Metaphysics: The Unspeakable in Art, Religion, and Philosophy

This is a very ambitious book. Silvia Jonas sets out to articulate ‘a common ground for any account of the metaphysics of ineffability’. She defines the ineffable as a nonlinguistic item which it is in principle impossible to express in conceptual terms or to communicate to others by the use of language. She is particularly interested in the uses of the term ‘ineffable’ in religious, aesthetic, and philosophical contexts, where it seems to mark something of special importance or significance, and she aims to provide a basic account that will illuminate both these and many other sorts of talk about ineffability in literature.

The book is difficult, because it deals with many technical issues in recent analytical philosophy. But it is worth-while for the same reason, and it offers a bold substantive thesis that is well worth pondering. Jonas begins by arguing that there are four types of entity which might be called ineffable. First, there are ineffable objects or properties, like ‘the Absolute’ or ‘the One’ (as in Hegel and Plotinus). Second, there are ineffable propositions — truths which cannot be linguistically uttered or communicated. Third, there are ineffable contents, mental states that cannot be linguistically expressed. And fourth, there is ineffable knowledge, epistemic states that are not linguistically communicable. There is clearly overlap between these, since knowledge is a mental state which seeks to express some sort of objective reality, but Jonas uses the division to allow her to consider — and largely reject – a number of different moves in contemporary philosophy which might be thought to support claims to ineffability.

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The Quest for the Good Life: Ancient Philosophers on Happiness

This volume, containing fourteen papers, focuses on happiness in ancient Greek philosophy. There has been growing interest in happiness and its history within various disciplines like psychology, social sciences, literary studies, as well as in popular culture. Indeed, this shift of interest has been characterized as a “eudaimonic turn”, where “eudaimonic” comes from the Greek eudaimonia, standardly translated as “happiness”. Thus, the focus of this volume is very much in line with our contemporary interests, but above all it contributes to the scholarship on ancient Greek ethics.

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