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.

Read

Posted in Aristotle | Tagged

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.

Read

Posted in Aristotle | Tagged ,

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.

Read

Posted in Aristotle | Tagged , ,

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.

Read

Posted in Foucault | Tagged

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.

Read

Posted in Foucault | Tagged

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.

Read

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , ,

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.

Read

Posted in greeks | Tagged

Althusser, Spinoza and Revolution in Philosophy

Warren Montag: My political and intellectual formation was governed, fittingly I suppose, by a logic of the encounter: that is, I was extraordinarily lucky. If I had not been in the right place at the right time and in proximity to the right people, I would not have thought or written as I have. In the mid to late seventies in Los Angeles (to which I returned after receiving my B.A. from UC Berkeley), I met both Geoff Goshgarian and Mike Davis and we soon formed a kind of collective with a few others (in particular I remember Samira Haj, now a historian at CUNY, I believe). We also organized a study group in which we read the three volumes of Capital, as well as Mandel’s Late Capitalism and other works.

Read

Posted in Althusser, Spinoza | Tagged ,

Kafka: The Early Years

How did Kafka become Kafka? This eagerly anticipated third and final volume of Reiner Stach’s definitive biography of the writer answers that question with more facts and insight than ever before, describing the complex personal, political, and cultural circumstances that shaped the young Franz Kafka (1883–1924). It tells the story of the years from his birth in Prague to the beginning of his professional and literary career in 1910, taking the reader up to just before the breakthrough that resulted in his first masterpieces, including “The Metamorphosis.” Brimming with vivid and often startling details, Stach’s narrative invites readers deep inside this neglected period of Kafka’s life. The book’s richly atmospheric portrait of his German Jewish merchant family and his education, psychological development, and sexual maturation draws on numerous sources, some still unpublished, including family letters, schoolmates’ memoirs, and early diaries of his close friend Max Brod.

The biography also provides a colorful panorama of Kafka’s wider world, especially the convoluted politics and culture of Prague. Before World War I, Kafka lived in a society at the threshold of modernity but torn by conflict, and Stach provides poignant details of how the adolescent Kafka witnessed violent outbreaks of anti-Semitism and nationalism. The reader also learns how he developed a passionate interest in new technologies, particularly movies and airplanes, and why another interest—his predilection for the back-to-nature movement—stemmed from his “nervous” surroundings rather than personal eccentricity.

The crowning volume to a masterly biography, this is an unmatched account of how a boy who grew up in an old Central European monarchy became a writer who helped create modern literature.

Read

Read also: Review

Kafka: The Decisive Years

Posted in Kafka | Tagged

Islamic Philosophers to Know

If challenged to name ten philosophers in ten seconds, some of us might make it to ten. Most of us could possibly hit seven. Of those, the majority are likely to be ancient Greek figures with the remainder more modern, western ones. If a non-western name is to be offered it is likely to be one of the extremely famous thinkers of Asia, such as Confucius, the Buddha, Lao Tzu, or Sun Tzu. How many of us would produce a thinker from the Islamic world as an example?

This is a shame, as the Islamic Golden Age produced some of the most important thought in human history. It is through Islamic thinkers that the west was able to regain access to the thought of Aristotle and Plato. Of the stars that have proper names in common usage, most of them have the names given to them by Arabic astronomers. We use the numeral system they devised, including the zero. They set the standard for the scientific method for hundreds of years. It is impossible to fully understand western thought without understanding the ideas of Islamic thinkers.

Here are ten of the most underrated and under-appreciated philosophers from the Islamic world, ordered by date.

Read

Posted in islam | Tagged ,